I was recently watching my favorite TV show of the moment, Deadliest Catch, on the Discovery Channel. For those not familiar with the show, the Discovery Channel has film crews embedded (damn you CNN) on about a half-dozen crab fishing boats during the mid-winter King crab season in Alaska. It’s called “Deadliest Catch” because crab fishing in the Bering Sea is supposedly the most dangerous job on the planet. I say supposedly because I really have no way of knowing if this is true. Personally, I think being a fire fighter, or a Mediterranean sponge diver, or an alter boy would be riskier. But I enjoy the show because of all the angst and suffering on the boats. Call me a schadenfreudist.
Although I swear that I don’t watch any “reality” television, I guess Deadliest Catch qualifies. It has all the necessary ingredients; crabby people, tight quarters, danger, emotional instability, questionable IQs, and unusual smells (I’m just guessing about the smells.) Ordinarily, these crab fisherman are an entirely predictable lot. The boat captains are sleep-deprived task-masters, the deck bosses are seething usurpers just waiting for the captain to tip over, the deckhands are monosyllabic meat sacks who get paid more than I do, and the green horns are usually brooding and always pitiful targets for the rest of the crew to abuse. All things are as they should be on the Bering Sea. I don’t mean to imply that everyone on these boats is a sadistic moron; there are some marginally normal people who do this job. The boats captains, for example, must be able to read. But most of the guys on the boats are there because, like every Alaskan, they’re hiding from the law.
Every once in a while, though…
On the most recent episode there were two occasions that had me asking my kids, who were watching with me, “Are you smarter than a crab fisherman?” The first was innocuous enough. One of the deck hands, after not-so-nearly being cut in half and dragged overboard, said that the accident almost happened because of “complacency.” I turned to my kids and said, “Oooh, bonus points for excellent word usage.” They both looked at me as if I was drinking…again, so I asked them if they knew what complacency was. Nope. This surprised me not only because they’re smart kids and it’s not really a big word, but more because my kids are complacency masters. I probably shouldn’t be so hard on them. I was the one who bought them the Wii Sit game after all. I defined the word, using both their names in the definition, and there endethed that lesson.
Back on the crab boats one of the boat captains turned over the helm to the deck boss so he could sleep for the first time in three years, or something like that–you know how they hyperbolize everything on these shows. Mid-way through the deck boss’s shift in the wheelhouse he spotted a flock of walrus swimming in the open ocean. Even though these guys have been fishing the Bering Sea for many years, none of the crew had ever seen a walrus so they all “oohed” and “aahhed.” The captain slept through it. When he awoke and was informed of what he’d missed, he was livid. He went off on the deck boss, telling him that walrus sightings always meant good crab fishing and that the captain should be notified immediately of three things, regardless of circumstances; icebergs, mermaids, and walrus. (Okay, I made up the icebergs and mermaids, but those are things I would want hear about.) Apparently no one, not even a Major League baseball player, is more superstitious, and infatuated with walrus, than a crab fisherman. So the captain turned the boat around through perpetually stormy seas and headed back to drop his crap pots where the walrus had been. I was still belittling the puny-brained captain and his silly omens when they raised their first pot from Wally World, (their term, not mine.) It was plum full of 50 dollar-a-piece King crabs. Apparently no one in my family is smarter than a crab fisherman.