Down Days

March 23

Down days are a certain breed of existence. You are on this ship off the coast of Alaska’s Alutiean Islands and you’re supposed to be making loads of money processing fish for 14 hours a day, seven days a week, but it’s a down day and there have been down days several in a row frequently over the last few weeks.

Almost all of the crew don’t come to work on down days. Work is optional. But the alternative is sitting in the galley, sleeping, pacing the hallways, or playing board games. There’s nowhere to go and only your coworkers to talk to.

But, if you do come to work you really have to be motivated. You have to drag yourself out of your bunk knowing that you have to spend the day cleaning a clean factory. The factory was already cleaned when the fish stopped coming in the day before, but the foremen are gracious enough to give people work who want to keep making money. I show up every day.

So I put on my rain gear, fill a bucket with soapy hot water and scrubbing pads, and hunt the factory for spots and corners with left-behind, rotting fish guts, slime and scales. Often that leads to getting on the ground, belly up, facing the underside of a belt and praying while scrubbing that nothing falls in my mouth. We do that for eight hours.

But occasionally, which just so happened to be today, I show up to work with six other members of my squad and my boss looks at me and asks, “What do you want to do today?” “Bake cookies!” I reply with enthusiastic sarcasm. He asks, “What kind?” I say, “M&M chocolate chip!” He says, “Sounds good. Go to the galley.”

I go upstairs and he shows up moments later with three recipes he printed from the Internet with a sticky note on top that reads, “Please choose an acceptable recipe and manifest cookies for yellow squad. Thx, D$.” 

So I do it. And I make the best dang M&M chocolate chip cookies I’ve had in a long time. The boss calls in the handful of others that are in the factory scrubbing those elusive slimy spots for a non-break-time break.

Everyone loves the cookies. They’re still warm and have lightly crispy edges with squishy middles and fill the break room with a scent of soft sweetness, where normally all your nose gets is stinky fish smell.

We eat all the cookies and read aloud poems we printed from the Internet by Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allen Poe like we’re serious, melodramatic poets. There’s applause and laughter and we return to work lighter.

It was a good day. The end.

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