by Citizen Snyder
My Steel box. Or my stainless steel box to be more precise. A box, a cube, more akin to a three dimensional rectangular place. I lived there once or mostly lived there I was in it for 18 hours a day in a forty some day stint. The dimensions of this space was 80 ft. by 60 ft. the ceiling ran up 18 feet in the middle about 16 ft. on the ends. Three sides were stainless steel and most of the ceiling as well. If the box actually had a center in relation to everything else, the forward part of the box would be filled up with bin boards all the way to the top. Placed in slots of steel these white painted 2x4? lead practically up to the overhead. This wall that stretched and reached was split into two sets of boards running side by side up to create the forward wall. This bifurcated wall could be torn down or built up merely by sliding the elongated planks up and out or inversely down and in.
The floor was stainless steel, a thick nearly seamless floor with a tapered middle careening downward in the midsection. This floor had hinged plates that ran on each side running forward to the wooden wall. These were hinged hatches 2x2 ft., five on each side. Notched on top the two dimensional squares within the larger cube would be swung up on there hinges and there on the ninety degree angle from the floor are welded little stainless hooks that would hold the plates up once hooked in the prospective plates notch.
The back wall opposite of the wooden wall (which looked like two wooden fences turned on their sides) was that same shiny metallic alloy, stainless steel. Out of the top corner on each side sprang a spigot on which a rubber red hose could be attached. These fixtures of the box were symmetrically located on each side above the hinged plates that ran up the sides. Now also mounted on the back wall, were massive brackets on which sat a powerful hydraulic ram that jutted upward at a 45 degree angle. This ram was connected to an extremely heavy hatch overhead, weighing at least a ton it was a massive thing. The ram could be lowered at will and thus the hatch as well.
This hatch was an integral part of a seemingly endless routine so it merits special attention. The hatch itself was 20x20, forming a large portion of the overhead, indeed, dominating it. It had rounded corners and a thick rubber seal that held it snug, giving watertight integrity to the cube. The underbelly matched the steel ceiling and thus the rest of the box almost seamlessly. Though when lowered one could see that the top hatch was painted a dismal gray. In the middle was a large recessed indentation which laid a massive steel ring, the thing had the look of the doorknocker to Dative Jones Locker.
The walls on each side were merely walls they had hooks for the plates and there was a series of pipes that ran in the upper corners on each side, entering the forward part and exiting the after end under the spigots at the back of the box.
Viewed from within or without. The thing is a three dimensional rectangle box, a box with steel pipes running lengthwise, couple of water spigots, a large hatch set towards the back that swings down, a few liftable mini-hatches on the floor. The whole thing was stainless steel, save the front wall, which was horizontally laid planks of wood. Ah what a place!
The People gather in anticipation around the front of the steely cubicle, eager eyes peering over the bin boards as to see what may happen next. Several indiscernible languages were being spilled out around the thing, hushed and angry. Tough rigidly connected to its surroundings the box lurched and heaved. Everything shook and vibrated erratically like a super heated kernel of popcorn before it bursts into fluff. The large ram suddenly began to contract into itself with a snake like hissing. It whooshed and a mechanical humming could be deciphered through the boxes walls. As the hatch began its descent its rusty hinges ground ignobly together piercing the brain with a high pitched owlish screech. Eyes flashed between nationalities murmurs rose; teeth gnashed. The hatch continued its slow torturous descent. Clashing metal on metal seemed to expostulate the fact that the downward shift was complete, the hatch resting on the back wall left a gaping hole overhead into the darkness. The contact of hatch on wall reverberated about the rectangular place until escaping out into the deep blackness of the open hatch.
Soon strange noises poked and prodded down from above. Heavy machinery grinding, devilish motors running. Above was heard the din of raw industry. Mixed up with that was something altogether different, the garbled high-pitched voices screaming in an oriental tongue. Apparently struggling against something and together for some common end. That something appeared integrally related to the box that lay before all eyes to see. There was an ominous shrill sound of metals sliding against one another, there was a whoosh and a crash. All jumped suddenly as a deluge of water poured forth from the hatch. This drew the throng into uneasy shifting. A shout rose up or did it plummet down from the waterfall that poured into the tank. Slowing to a trickle the hatch produced groans out of the pitch black. Foreign tongues and curses formed and spilled down below as these men in the darkness struggled to release something?something upon us below. That something we would all set to work on in a systematic violence usually reserved for war it is the nature of us beasts. For an instant the whole of the hatch was completely blotted out. Then there came a quick sudden thud.
Suddenly they poured forth from overhead out of the black hole in a renewed voracious deluge. First there was an almost flapping noise, like someone was smacking the bottom of the tank with a rubber hose. Smack, smack, smack many smacks per second until the brain simply could not gauge each individual smack separately, they all combined into a steady rushing noise like the rapids of a swift river. It really began to dawn on me what was being poured forth from the dark Horn of Plenty. A great deal of raw live writhing flesh was steadily funneled into the box. Each thump every smack was a living beast and the stream set forth upon us was many, many strange, bizarre, slimy, bloody and I daresay lively waterborne beasts. The dark hole/hatch looming overhead continued to give. Minute after minute innumerable members of nature found themselves placed in a stainless steel box. The box slowly filled with them, slithering and writhing in a frantic struggle thousands of tails flapping, claws snapping, jaws tearing into random flesh. The tank filled the hatch seemed never to stop feeding the box, the layers of flesh piled on top of each other the top continuously flapping in wild chaos. Never screaming but flapping as though they would scream if they had lungs. The latter being a godsend for the nerves of us in this place. The unwavering repetition of the thousands of tails, upon the thousands of bodies of flesh sent ones heart into a polar chill. Soon the hatch began to slow to a trickle, the box being topped off at about six feet in height, of pure flesh crushed and maimed living and dead things. Indeed, some were very lively and others were crushed to a bloody pulp. All ranges of physical torment handily trapped in a box.
A blood curdling screech rose from this metallic beast as the hatch began to close us in down below a signal to begin. A great haul of carcasses had been obtained and placed in this temporal container of steel. Knives flashed in eagerness. The vat of scaly creatures neatly corralled for slaughter. The whole fleshy tank writhed in revolt.
Orders came from a thick Polish accent, "Chreess Chreess give us dee feeesh quickly."
Placed gruffly and forcefully into my hands was an object that I had handled rather deftly a time or two back on my Grandmothers little farm in Iowa. But this instrument here was fashioned for different intents and purposes. For my bright orange rubber gloves clasped onto a pitchfork, the tool of a time a bit past an American Gothic classic the symbol of rural farming folk. But in this place there were no neighing horses, nor bleating sheep, no pigtailed lasses gathering eggs from the chicken coop that lay in a gentle pasture. Far from it I beg pardon. But nonetheless there I stood before a box of live flesh with a three pronged pitchfork in my hand. Those prongs were not straight though but bent at right angles as a rake. Fashioned to pierce the flesh of sea creatures and draw towards one like a pile of fallen scaly leaves. I stood dumbfounded as I clenched the thing. The daunting task dawned on me as I peered into that cubicle corral. A conveyor belts started up running out from beneath each side of the box; the thick rubbery belt rotated on its course around and round.
Jacek the Pole became extremely bellicose sending a tirade of incoherent what I guessed to be Polish profanity in my direction. "Chreees get en zeee #$%*#! Tank and breeng out de feesh", the Pole leered and screamed shoving me violently towards the writhing flesh.
I scrambled up the sides of the bin board, pitchfork in hand, the boards were built three quarters of the way up and I sat precariously upon the four inch ledge my eyes cast upon the sinuously moving life that was to be pitched on the conveyor belt. My stomach churned I was sick and not just from motion sickness. I had not a clue what lay beneath the five feet of fishy flesh. What manner of beasts were brought up from bottom of the deep? This could not possibly be safe I thought to myself. What on earth had compelled me to consent to this alleged adventure?
There were two sides of the box and I could perceive a large black man cursing expletives on my right as he tore into the pulp with his hooked fork, pouring and powering all manner of serpentine beasts with his massive black arms onto the conveyor belt. Slowly I lifted my fork and sank the prongs into a pile of pulsating flaps. I put my back into a mighty tug and managed to fling a few fish out of the top of the box and onto the conveyor belt I heard harsh snickering and redoubled my efforts.
Cold and slimy a strong hand clenched the back of my neck, it squeezed its grip strong? dropped my fork flailed my arms to free myself and whoosh straight away I was shoved directly into the box. I screeched in terror as my body landed on top of the vat of live fish. Laying on top momentarily afloat I had time to see the creatures that I was sinking into. Flapping tails, bulging eyes never blinking, sharp little teeth, even fleshy wings I observed in angst. I began sinking steadily into an oozing rue of their blood mingled with salt water the stench permeated the entirety of our little cube. The more I struggled the further I sunk into the half living tissue. I righted myself through a series of awkward body movements(like moving in a ball cage when you were a tyke only everything is moving against you as well)sinking upright to my thighs; eventually my feet drifted through the viscous substance and I felt the hard steel deck under heel. Swallowed up to my chest by a multitude of creatures drug up from the sea and filtered into a box for further easier filtering. My bright orange Grunden foul weather pants(northern latitude rain gear of Swedish make) pressed tightly against my slight frame, I had made the greenhorn mistake of tucking my rubbery pants into my insulated rubber boots. I also failed to wear a rain jacket. Realization came only too soon being up to my chest hairs in fish rot, soon the slimy things started to slither down the sides of my pants; I could feel their tails smacking against my sides. Fish slim being a very oily substance lubed the way for all manners of deep sea creatures to slid over my flesh cold and clammy, like a smelly gritty fish hand lotion. All the while the pressure of fish against flesh pressing in all directions upon me. I flailed about making frantic movements in fear of what surrounded me. To make matters worse the little beasts began to weasel their way into my boots, my ankles nibbled and flapped against. All I could do was curse and scream. A good two feet of blood and slim and pulp had made its way onto the floor I was standing upon. My boots were only eighteen inches high, the fish lined the insides of my boots around my ankle on top of that the repugnant slim seeped over the top of them as well filling them with the slaughter slim of the new industrial fishing industry.
This is the very moment I lost all romantic notions of fishing in the 20th century. No more wooden boats with wise old Greek looking men sitting about smoking rich pipes whilst mending their nets and spinning yarns. I am sure Henry Ford smiled in self assurance and delight at knowing how far reaching his influence was even upon this dissemble line.
Laughter rose from the ranks of factory rogues as they hauled my body from the bin like some drown rat, My long stringy hair glued to my head with scales and slim. A good joke for them to play on the horn. I was deeply disturbed. Ha ha harhardeeharharthe swooning images of foreign faces taunted it seemed. I was not allowed to change my blood soaked clothes. But instead was compelled to rake out fish, ells, crab, skates and all sorts of strange things both living and dead. Things one does not see in the suburbs. I raked them out as evenly as I could onto a conveyor belt that left the box in the direction of a large factory that lay within a larger box. Half inside a box within a box facing the wild things, numbly I contemplated nothingness. Upon the petrifies of my reality, fast hands were a work separating the fish that went whizzing by on the belt that I raked them on. As it was I do not recall much of my first days at sea, but my first days were spent emptying a box of carcasses on a conveyor belt. I slipped into a bitter physical struggle barely being able to think much less exercise any mental faculties, merely a dazed apathetic robotic morality.
From this point forward I worked eighteen hours a day spending almost the entirety of it in that box pitch forking or kicking those beasts of the sea onto a rotating belt that lead into a floating factory. Actually we only needed the pitchfork for the first few hours of the day, when the level of creatures sloped downward like a wedge to the exit of the tank where the small hatches lifted on the sides, well then it was time to wade in knee deep open the first hatch on the deck(the belt ran under the hatch) and start kicking fish. In fact the pitchfork was but a small time percentage of the process of emptying the box. The vast majority of species was removed via the foot, I would kick the things onto a belt all day long eighteen hours a day for forty some straight days deep, deep in the northern latitudes of the dismal Bering Sea. Basically I crawled into a box of living or half living things drug up from the deep ocean and kick them out. This for forty days in the year 1994 was my cog in life. I was a Fishkicker.