A Working Stiff’s Manifesto, by Iain Levison (Chapter Four, Part One)

Nick’s Notes: Strap yourself in, folks! This chapter is the biggest chapter in the entire book at 60 pages and as such I’m going to try to split it up as event-based or as dramatically as I can…or every fourteen pages. Whatever works, really. So expect this part of the chapter reviews to be at least four parts. 

Not the ship that Levison was on but hey, couldn’t it have been?

When we last left our intrepid hero, Levison was on his way to Alaska to do some fishery work at Rayford Seafoods.

And man, from briefly flipping through this chapter and reading various passages to figure out where to stop…is he in for a bumpy ride.

To start with Levison is rushed right into the thick of things. There’s no orientation or training, there’s crabs always coming in and not a lot of time to be messing around about this fact. And as you might figure one of the biggest problems in this job is the mixture of coldness and water. Having rain gear is part of the job but having good rain gear that can stand up to a 16 hour shift is another thing completely. Levison describes the end result as having your clothes chafe up against your skin while feeling cold and having the wetness in your clothes expand as time goes on.

Levison’s first morning doesn’t go much better than this with him banging his knee up against something (because he can hardly see in the room where he sleeps thanks to the fact that someone is almost always sleeping) and soaking through his dry socks as soon as he steps down.

Here’s the incredibly safe and welcoming work environment he has

The place where we work is a giant warehouse, the former hold of the ship. Windows and doors are open everywhere, allowing the cool, damp November air in. … There is also seawater flying everywhere, and the cooking steam from the tones of packed crab legs that we drop into boiling vats produce a foul and abrasive odor that clings to our clothes and hair. Because of the wetness and smell, we wear plastic outer garments called rain gear. (p. 79)

So at least Levison has that going for him, right?

Thankfully for Levison he doesn’t stay long.

One of his co-workers, Hale, is a supervisor of a crew deck for loading boxes which, compared to the non-dry job of crabs sounds positively dreamy to Levison.

It’s also worth noting that his roommates include a 19 year old Klansman from Seattle, Hale who is a black man and Jeff a white guy who, according to Levison “likes to start trouble”. Oh, and all of them own guns. Not that there’s anything wrong with owning guns…but when walking into a room of people you don’t know and all of them have guns on them…it can be a bit intimidating I’d guess.

Hale says he’ll talk to somebody named Rick tomorrow and see if he can get Levison the job.

Wouldn’t you know it, Levison gets in without much of a problem.

Of course once he’s at the job is where the real fun starts. It’s always been the same way for me either. Getting into a job has never been that much of a pain, even when it didn’t work out. But even within a matter of a few days the job itself proves to be way more “detailed” or “not fun” then they make it sound during orientation or the interview process. Of course, that’s part of the work world’s charm these days. Constant surprise for new employees and not a lot of surprise in store for the bosses.

Part of the fun for Levison is actual fun that makes the experience a bit more bearable. Like talking to a Filipino woman who can barely speak English but makes good enough conversation to go by. Of course, her husband would take exception to their talking and one of Levison’s co-workers relate that when he got back from a shift where he was talking to her and teaching her some English he found holes in his jacket.

Levison sees the husband,and confirms that that’s what happened which, after which his co-worker, Mike, points out that Levison’s coat is probably next.

This encourages Levison to say,

“Let’s get the fucker”. (p. 82)

They launch a surprise attack on the husband with Levison hitting him on the head from behind and Mike holding him while Levison pummels at the guy’s ribs and face for a few seconds. Some other Filipinos who were also surprised by the attack and step forward to stop it. Levison walks away and goes back to packing crates but not before Rick tells him to go topside and help with the loading.

Now, I am of the opinion that violence isn’t going to solve much. Especially not in situations where you’re in tight corners with anyone you’re going to act violently against. Levison could easily be running into future problems because he decided to be a tough guy and go after the woman’s husband for poking holes in their rain gear.

And look, I get it. I know you probably couldn’t tell management much. The Filipino may have been a good worker or a long-time worker or have ins with the boss or he might just have enough racial support within the workforce from other Filipinos that him leaving may have either hurt the morale too much of the entire group or causes them to leave, which would have really wrecked the work force.

I’m sure these aren’t the only complications involved and it’s true that direct action gets the goods. I’m just not sure that this direct action is really going to work for Levison in the long-run. Especially if all of those other Filipinos liked the guy that Mike and Levison beat up. It might be a short-term victory for a really painful long-term loss.

It also seems wildly disproportionate and illogical to physically assault someone because they are pinning pricks in your coat. I mean, it sucks that the guy is doing it but you can easily just not talk to his wife, right? I mean, the dude is a jerk and he has ass-backwards norms about trust in relationships but that’s his problem and not yours. I understand he’s being an asshole by messing up your stuff but I don’t think that justifies (let alone makes it a good idea) to fuck his shit up.

But hey, that’s just my 2 cents on the matter. I wasn’t there and I’m still not sure what’s going to happen to Mike and Levison.

Though him being sent topside for beating up a co-worker doesn’t exactly strike me as a promising start…

As it turns out…nothing of recourse seems to happen to him. At least as of this next section. I’m not sure why no one retaliates but here’s some nice and baseless speculation for you:

No one expected Mike and Levison to attack that guy and when it happened it appeared (according to Levison) like it had been beautifully choreographed and meticulously planned. Such a level of detail wasn’t actually involved in the attack but the fact that onlookers thought it was may have scared them into thinking Levison knew what he was doing.

It’s also possible the fact that he felt confident enough to do it meant for everyone else that he didn’t care about his job and/or he had ins with the people up top. So why fuck with him when he either doesn’t care or doesn’t need to care?

Finally, the fact that Levison didn’t do that by himself could’ve been crucial. As it makes it seem like Levison has a ton of friends willing to back him up in case he needs to get rough with someone to show them that he doesn’t take kindly to them doing something he doesn’t like.

But ya know, I have no idea, really.

Anyways, topside Levison enjoys some fresh air and a lovely day for a while. Manages to get a job with Hale and Jeff in an hour and then doze off during his wait-period. Beautiful.

Before that though, Hale points out that there are some seagulls hovering around the water and repeatedly being eaten by sea lions. And they just keep staying there and getting eaten time in and time out.

I’m…not sure if this is a metaphor for something but it very well could be given the conditions they are in.

Levison, before he takes a nap feels bad that he’s been rescued from being down there and being wet, cold and begging for a break. He decides that it’s just to good to be on the topside of the boat at an matter and lets the boat rock himself to sleep as he rests up against some rigging. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

Levison’s job with Hale and Jeff is mostly focused around putting ropes around pallets and giving someone the OK on another ship that it’s okay to be put on it. It doesn’t take much work and the scenery is nice so despite working well after nighttime (which happens at four o’clock in the afternoon) Levison isn’t feeling too bad.

Of course, that changes when he sees the state of the ship he just delivered all of that cargo to.

The people in it are more cramped than he is on the boat he works on and their surgical equipment on the boat seems to be about as advance as a rusty knife on a string. Clearly, as Levison puts it, “It’s good to be an American, even on the bottom rung.” (p. 86)

But even on top, as Levison has learned before there are prices to be paid. Being part of “the club” means your also part of a whole bunch of drama you never knew about and never probably wanted to be a part of. Jeff, for example, asks if Levison would “back them up” with Levison dumbly just saying yes and not questioning it much.

Mind you, I don’t think Levison is dumb because you probably have to act dumb in situations like this.

Levison is asked by an older man later in the day about Jeff or Hale and where they are but Levison isn’t sure.

And for the first time in the book, Levison loses his cool:

A few minutes later, Jeff and Hale come back.

“There was a guy here looking for you a while ago.”

“What did he look like?”

I describe him.

“Did he seem pissed off?”

“A little bit.”

This freaks them out. They ask me ten questions about the guy, mostly concerning his attitude and mental state. Did he seem this way, did he seem that way? the encounter was too brief and insignificant for me to remember the type of detail they need, and they become annoyed with me.

“You need to pay attention,” Jeff tells me.

“Maybe the next time you guys wander off you can tell me where the fuck you’re going,” I snap. They look at each other curious, then back down. I’m usually quiet and polite, at least by Alaskan standards.

Hale explains, “That guy makes about five million dollars a year.”

“He looks like a street person.”

This amuses them, a little bit. They laugh harder than necessary to let me know that all is well between us again. I laugh too. Oh, what fun we’re having.

These guys are nuts. (p. 87)

At a certain point in this book (probably before you got here) you get to thinking…does Levison ever lose his cool?

Apparently he does.

There’s a problem in working with people who hold fairly obvious and glaringly contradictory opinions than you do. For example I had a fairly racist white guy at one of the jobs I worked. He was somewhat middle-class, older and didn’t really seem to understand that the humor he was saying (which included saying the N word) wasn’t really funny for most of us there. Instead of figuring that out though he just tried to tell it around people who wouldn’t as strongly object or object so loudly.

Oh, and he never told this joke around non-white people.

My solution was to try to politely dissuade him from telling those jokes around me though I don’t remember how strongly I actually tried to enact this solution. And thankfully he only acted like this a few times so it was never a huge deal. He was also generally friendly and hard-working and offered me a ride home a few times. So it isn’t like he was all bad (I don’t mind if other people are hard working so long as they aren’t obnoxious about it) and it seemed kind of overblown to give him hell for racist jokes when he could report me or it could put my wages in jeopardy.

So for the most part I didn’t do too much.

Levison, when he has to deal with Billy the Klansman just nods and smiles when Billy talks about how black people should be sent to Africa and what really bothers him is that Billy almost never showers. In a confined space, a really bad smell might be a little bit more on your immediate side of concerns.

Besides disliking blacks, Billy also dislikes women (they won’t sleep or talk to him), he hates his father (for bringing him on the ship) and he also hates Mexicans too. In case you were curious.

Surprisingly he doesn’t like the job and Levison has no real pity for him. He doesn’t say he has no pity of course but he makes no motion one way or the other about it. All Levison does is encourage Billy to take a shower and occasionally Billy does.

Billy is, of course, too scared of Jeff and Hale to insult them and Billy’s father is a big boss on the boat so neither of them want to mess with him either. So there’s some sort of weird equilibrium in the room despite of Billy’s backwards views on just about everything. They even manage to have conversations sometimes about music or home as Levison tells us.

And then just as world peace seems attainable…the police bust in.

They scream  and ask where Hale is and take him after finding him, threaten to arrest Levison if he “pulls a stunt like that again” (what “stunt” they’re talking about isn’t clear).

So…what did Hale do?

Apparently Hale was someone who liked to talk tough about his exploits in Seattle and although Levison would never have said anything someone in the Rayford office took notice of Hale’s stories and did a background check. They found that Hale was wanted by the Seattle police…for homosexual prostitution. Which, is dumb on so many counts because who the hell cares what Hale does with his body? I’m not saying that prostitution is a great thing to do but man, if that’s how he can make money and if he actually likes it then throwing him in prison or sicking the police on him sure isn’t gonna help!

So anyways, this leads to Jeff being ridiculed because he always hung out with Hale due to them being good friends.

Soon after at a party that Jeff, Billy and Levison are all at Billy gets rejected by a Mexican girl and starts getting really upset and calls him racial and homophobic slurs which Jeff doesn’t take kindly to.

Jeff pounds Billy’s head into some railing and two nearby Mexican men join in on the “fun” and start kicking him in the ribs.

Levison weakly intervenes, telling the guys that at the rate they are going to kill him. So they end up walking away and Levison is left wondering, “whether  should carry his blood-soaked smelly body up there ramp…” (p. 92) when a ship welder named Tony offers to have Levison join him for a drink in Dutch (a nearby town).

Levison obliges and leaves Billy to bleed in the snow.

So um…that was the first part of chapter four I’ll be looking at.

I can’t say I’m not intensely enthralled with the chapter. If I didn’t have better restraint I’d probably just read the rest right now because I’m pretty interested to see what happens. Both with these characters Levison has been talking about and introducing as well as what might happen to him too.

The storytelling and pacing of this chapter so far is really great and I’m definitely enjoying it and can also see all of the difficulties that come with this job.

So yeah, I think I’ve said enough for now, onward!

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