It was one of those moments that pop out of the Daugherty space-time continuum on its own. The lead-up was as ordinary as breakfast. San Diego State had just lost their Sweet 16 game, which was unfortunate; I’d developed an affectionate interest in the team. I gathered gear, clicked off the TV, walked out to my truck, and drove over to Carl Dixon’s house. Dixon is a charming, intelligent man who keeps large portions of his life private. One of the few facts I know about him is that he worked in Barrow, Alaska, in the early ’80s, the same time I was there. I was a laborer; he worked for the geophysical institute. Our paths did not cross. Nowadays, I see him every three months or so. He’s a freelance acoustical engineer, makes enough money at it to work at home. Ancient friends, Todd and Denise Robertson, would be there. Denise is a fiction writer; Todd works as a database developer. And two friends from Fairbanks were in town: Kermit McNeill and wife Paula. It’s dinner followed by a movie on Carl’s enormous TV.
I should put in here that I am finished with Alaska. It was a great run; I called Alaska home for 25 years. That was my youth, and that is a couple decades gone. It took a long time — a long time — but I’m a California boy now.
Getting back to Carl’s house and the dinner/movie night. Everybody is in the kitchen holding drinks and small-talking while Carl finishes broiling quail. I hear a reference — I don’t remember in what context — to a Swiss Army knife. I lift my shirt and show mine, which is in a leather pouch hung on my belt, say, “30 years, folks.” That’s how long I’ve owned that knife. Granted, nowadays I only wear it when I’m going to dinner at somebody’s house carrying a bottle of wine as good-will offering. It’s annoying to root around a strange kitchen looking for a wine opener when there’s a corkscrew attached to my knife. Saying that, and even if by technicality, it is a 30-year-old Swiss Army knife, and I do have it on my person.
Kermit points to his belt and says, “Here’s mine.” Carl reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Swiss Army knife. “Here’s mine.” Paula says, “Mine’s in my purse.”
What are the odds of four out of six people bringing Swiss Army knives to an urban California dinner, much less a dinner followed by a pre-code 1931 Barbara Stanwyck movie? That’s when the Daugherty space-time continuum broke open and I remembered why I loved Alaska.
Chitchat continues, but now I listen with new ears. Paula says there was a story in the [Fairbanks Daily News-Miner] about moose being slaughtered by cars, 230 run down by the end of February. Moose meat used to be given to charities, but not enough of them signed up, so authorities opened the program to the public.
Paula and Kermit signed up, along with their friend David. A few days later, Paula’s phone rang. At 2:00 a.m.
“The moose was killed on the Mitchell Freeway where it crosses Lathrop,” Paula says, “right on the edge of the road underneath the streetlights. David got there first. The rules said you had to be on the scene within 30 minutes.”
I make a manly dig at Kermit, “So, David does all the hard work. What did you do?”
Kermit huffs, puffs, “I froze my ass off. I drug guts on the highway. I carried quarters of moose. I drove the truck.”
Paula says, “We carried the head and put it in the back of David’s trunk.”
“In other words, you ravished a defenseless corpse like filthy vampires.”
I am ignored. Kermit says, “We used a fine tooth Sawzall, which, for those of us who are citified weaklings, is battery powered and able to hack through bone.”
Paula says, “And an ax.”
“It was 15 below. Moose hide was freezing to the pavement. In order to move the carcass off the road, we had to get the hide off the pavement. Which meant we had to split its guts and empty the stomach so we could shovel stomach gruel over the road bank. It was huge. It was completely filled.”
Paula says, “The three of us could not drag it. So, we had to split the stomach and squish the green stuff out and then drag the guts over the bank and shovel the green stuff on top of it.”
I observe, “Very handy to have a public guts disposal facility right there on site.”
Paula says, “They didn’t want it on the road for the ravens.”