Alaskan Tales: Fish Hearts

Ouch! Something small and kind of spongy, but also very dense, had hit me in the chest. I looked down to see what it was, but could not distinguish anything in the vat of fish guts and icy water in front of me.  Before I could resume work on the slime line, I was hit again. OUCH!! This time I saw it land.  A blood-red, sort of roundish oblong-shaped, 3 inch monstrosity floated in the water in front of me.  I looked over just in time to see a guy on the other side and further down the assembly line launch another one of the things at me with a big spoon. He had obviously perfected this firing technique, because even though I saw him aiming at me, he launched it with such velocity and accuracy, that before I could react, I was hit again, this time on my ear. OUCH!!! I soon learned that it was a salmon fish heart with which I was being bombarded. This was part of my initiation on my first day at a fish processing plant, in Valdez, Alaska.

Valdez, Alaska

I had worked across the bay at a much bigger plant, but because it was the worst fishing catch in 12 years, I got very few hours, and my goal of saving $5,000 for the summer was looking very unlikely.  So after my savings was depleted, and I nearly starved for a few days, fortunately I got a job at this smaller plant.  I worked on an assembly line with frozen fish, mostly salmon, but some halibut, which had just been loaded from the fishing vessels. The “headers” would cut the heads off, then pass the fish on to the “splitters”, who would cut the fish down the middle.  Then they would pass them onto the “slime line”, where I worked. My job was to rub the membranes off of the freshly slit salmon, then pass them on down the line.  Working for hours on end with frozen fish guts, in icy cold water, in a very cold room, was not for the faint of heart. The only way to survive was to wear many layers of clothes under a rain suit, and even then you were always freezing. Every three hours, we had a ten-minute break, when we would hover in a heated break room, and try to regain our sanity.

Salmon Fish Heart

But one day I had a whole hour off between boatloads, and walked over to meet my girlfriend at her workplace cafeteria. I ate lunch with her and a few of her co-workers, who all worked at a facility who cared for developmentally challenged people.  As we got up to clear our tables, we all said what fun we had talking, and that we have got to do this again soon.  But suddenly, to my surprise, a fish heart tumbled out of the bottom of my pant leg, and rolled out onto the floor, right in front of everyone. For a few seconds, they all looked at it in horror, completely speechless.  They had no idea what this little bloody blob was. Finally I said, “Uh, sorry about that. It’s a fish heart. It must have gotten stuck inside my rain suit this morning”. The look on their faces was sort of a combination of “we are glad that this thing did not fall off of your body, and yuck, that is the grossest little bloody thing I’ve ever seen”. 

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About Timothy Reed

Timothy Reed is a composer, pianist, singer, actor, writer, and piano and voice teacher. In 2010, he released a CD entitled “Euphoric Owls”, which alternates between solo piano and piano with what he calls “ethereal voices”. Imagine George Winston meets Schubert and Chopin, often with soaring vocals, with Tim and the amazing Brown Sisters.

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