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04 October, 2013

The Curse of Oh No, or, The Rum Diarrhea

The week took it's time in skulking up behind and bludgeoning me with what I can only assume was a femur unearthed from the San Quentin boneyard. If I'd been more aware, the signs were there: truck reluctant to travel, resulting in a starved frenzied drive to the very tip of the lower 48, a headache so long in the tooth that it reached my manawa, the skull-top whose calcification signals passage to something beyond infancy for all but our Tea Party brethren.

But for the time being, said signs hid and instead I saw the rainbow over an inlet, and enjoyed the presence of mind and present of time to pull over and photograph this glowingly fine apparition. I felt the truck complain and turned back before I ended up stranded hours from town. I got another evening in my own bed. I spent the next two days at an uncharacteristically sunny Neah Bay, basking in the warmth of government and tribal resource managers mostly in agreement. Somewhere offshore, I was sure, sea lions and lambs lay together in harmony.

I, I, I. As long as my phone was back home and the internet proved too slow to deal with. Everything was fine, as long as it was just I. Aye-aye-yai. No them.

Them them phoned in on Thursday. Him, specifically. He who is a legendary island archaeologist and drunkard (there is a difference, so he gets double credit), who began working in Hawai`i about when I did, and whose strait is now dire (same as it ever was). He who was not cajoled into an MA, or out of the field and into the bidness, or into a marriage. He who now faces another bout of unemployment with no back-up. He who is one of the best in his field, but archaeological fields are parochial, so when there is no work locally, emigration is no option unless cannibals nip at his heels. If some project does not emerge soon, he's fucked.

So he was frustrated, down, and was several days out into booze ocean when I heard from him. Gone the moderate wine of the past few months--down the gullet with rum and coconut milk. I had to go not long after he called, but rang back later only to get an answering app. Responding later that evening, having forgotten what day it was and that we'd talked earlier, he was Out...



Which I can understand. No job. He made the calls and found no work among the usual suspects (the only kind there are in the islands, really), so who's to question despondency and maybe even dependency on a bottle of that which will be there (for a while) when employment (gainful or joyful) has walked out? So a guy may well plead the fifth, and then another, and so further past a gallon, maybe firkins and before all is said and done a hogshead. But to any hard drinker, it's not about the cumulative total, it's about taking it one bottle at a time.

But so goes the spiral that heads down or stagnates. There are few ups from weeks blacked out and besotted. Regrets, yes, sometimes leading to another round. Recoveries, perhaps, but sure to be challenged by another layoff.

If we lived in a world where enthusiasm, skill, and knowledge were rewarded, he'd be fine, and if being funny counted he'd be sitting pretty. But we live in a world where "just" being a field guy comes off as unambitious, and skepticism spiced with comedy comes off as trouble-making. Besides which, it's easier to hire new kids who work for peanuts than to offer a man a living wage because he gathers the data upon which the whole enterprise depends. Predictably and sadly, this is true even if the kids have little clue and the 40-something vet has the benefit of decades of experience. Missed sites are bulldozed away, none the wiser except for the veteran shovelbum who knew the deal, and was cut out or walked out.

But the honor of a guy like my friend, who would walk out on a crook's deal, does not demand much on the market. If it's not for sale, the fixers and fiends find a work-around--someone willing to sell fake honor, typically--and then honor's Cash Value = Zero. As a consolation prize, cast-aways of this system receive enough unemployment to live a seriously bleak life or a drunkenly numb one.

Either ailment in this short list of options weighs so heavily on any one man that recovering without company can crush vertebra. So, I'll keep calling from time to time. Maybe I cannot fix the economy, or thirsty genes, but I can be better than nothing, if only barely.

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