– A curious case of dimenhydrinate psychosis on the Gulf of Alaska
Obsolete alarms. 5:00am holds little significance to those of us who have been up all night. Torrentials drowned Valdez into morning. I’m not feeling good. I’ve been awake for too long and I did not drink any alcohol last night. I think I might be sober.
Valdez is the northernmost year-round ice-free port in the US making it a key location in Alaskan economics. But Valdez wasn’t the way I imagined it would be. All I knew of Valdez was Exxon. Exxon’s Valdez was all barbed wire fenced and orange lights carving circles through thick black smog. Puddles of dead animals line the roads and it would always be night. Orphaned children cower in the corners of Exxon’s Valdez and sulphur dioxide belches of fat rich men echo through the rotting streets. Everything beautiful will die here.
My secretary and I wander the harbourside.
Exxon is not Valdez. The real Valdez is white, not black. The real Valdez is still and serene. Circled by mountains striped with snow, Valdez is perpetual winter; the edge of a dream with no sound. The streets are empty and the bars are raucous – the way it should be – and it smells of the sea and is overrun by rabbits. This was a delight to my secretary and for a moment her eyes lit up with bunny shaped joy and she disappeared into the mist to chase Cuddles and Tweeker and Giblets around town.
We check in at the ferry terminal at the end of Hazelet Avenue. We arrive with plenty of time to spare and park the car on the deck before heading to the lounge. This is one of the last things I will do as a normal, functioning member of society.
My secretary and I have urgent business to attend to in Seward, the nature of which cannot be revealed here for reasons which cannot be revealed here, but it is imperative that we should be in The Salmon Bake bar and restaurant by sundown. Needless to say, the consequence of our absence would be devastating – for all of us.
Between us and The Salmon Bake lies one hundred miles of Alaskan highway and Prince William Sound – 15,000 square miles of frigid black waters. A road circumnavigation of Prince William Sound would take around seven hours, a ferry crossing six. The path of least resistance beckons…
The inconvenience of this crossing and the trouble it has caused us is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that I will be happy when this is over. I take some of my secretary’s sea sickness tablets. Maybe they will take the edge off this unholy continence. A toast to modern day pharmaceuticals!
But there is to be no lounging in this lounge. No respite from this awkward purgatory. Why do they make seats like this? Some serious R&D must have gone into making them this uncomfortable. So tired, yet sleep is but a dream. My mind falls over pointless tangents and nothing I do makes it better. I cannot outthink my thoughts. The shapes are all wrong. The tangents still pointless. No-one would ever fit in this. Knees around face or spine backwards until neck almost touching floor. Neither works. Who designed these things? And why does everything sound so strange? And why am I upside down? Perhaps I’ll sleep better upside down. Submerged. No sleep for the drowning.
Am I drowning?
SHITTING HINDEMBERG JESUS! I’M DROWNING!
No, wait. No. No, I’m not. No. But it is three and a half hours later and my connection to reality has taken a spongiform turn. These drugs appear to be significantly more mental than I had given them credit for. A huge ice cube floats past the window. I hadn’t even realised we were moving. Windblown cocktail umbrellas on legs oscillate queasy outside. I feel 5/8ths terrible.
Standing up does not go well for me. But before I can even hit the floor, one of the other passengers flings himself across the lounge. He rants and raves hysterically. He speaks in tongues. Eyeballs rolling on the most impossible of axes in the grip of some pitiful theolepsic fever. I can make out something about having no batteries for his Gameboy, but the rest is gibberish. What ghosts possess this terrible creature? And, perhaps more importantly, what games does he have for his Gameboy?
On all fours.
The tragedy of it all.
No, these are not early 90s Nintendo branded games, but the atrocities unfolding in front of us. He drags his defective body face first around the lounge, babbling like a lunatic. Like a dog dragging its dirty arse backwards across a carpet. Right arms at wrong angles. I do like his jacket though. Syllables. Saliva drenched pieces of words.
Hey, that’s my jacket! He must have taken it while I was being upside down.
Help! Police! They never come.
On my knees for a closer look. There is no doubt that this is my jacket, but reason is useless down here. Every time I try to speak, he starts shouting obscenities over me. This man is clearly insane. Or worse. He may be a dangerous criminal for all we know. He has already shown himself to be a kleptomaniac; what other social ills is this degenerate responsible for?
We engage in a silent staring match. Black holes for eyes. He does look very familiar. Maybe… a little too familiar.
Yeah, you see where I’m going with this.
nnnyyyyyyggggotoouuuuuuyetout. Outt thessside!! Ouutt sssideouttt! FFFFukinbatreesalllllllgon. Sdideout! Innnnendto! Ecxsit!!. Werrrssecx it! Nnnnabort! nnBbabort! Eye mayc at empht off… out, butt these flaws rrrrall moovin/ng end mie spiral collums sisz operaten ning on terms unnegnochiated. Ttthhhe .daaw! Isz alive? Grayvy.tea ssssgon- rong. Tyme nnnnn sprayse corupht. . Onn feat. Not 4> orlong. arriYved too at criptoh gandle on/hte misery yi ttery dorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. !
The door flies open and I spill out onto the deck. Taken by the wind. Almost overboard on these partially anesthetised legs, I slide across cold steel to the rail. The ocean pulses a deep wobble. High winds from The Gulf. Rain drops are like splinters of glass at these velocities.
The cold and wind and rain seem to pull me back from the comedy gravity and curious dimensions of mild dimenhydrinate poisoning and I cannot help but wonder: when Captain James Cook first navigated the HMS Resolution into Prince William Sound in 1778 and named it after the Earl of Sandwich, is this what he would have envisaged for the future of maritime travel?
Today a great shame has been bought upon the good people of the Alaska Marine Highway System and its proud seafaring history; an indignity that it may never recover from. But I am too off my face to entertain any notion of complicity in the downfall of this once great institution and it isn’t even midday yet, so fuck it.
We pass Fairmont Island. Small pod of whales. Out to sea is bleakly beautiful. Grey drizzles and blue icebergs emerge from the fog. Further small island silhouettes and sine waves glide out of nothing and into nowhere. This vast expanse is the tiny door to the Pacific Ocean. 64 million square miles of sea. There are still, in this post exploration era, maps that do not work here. There are still things we have only guessed at.
Too many eyes in the lounge and too many questions that would be better unanswered, so I hunker down on deck and fall into a weird fitful sleep.
The rain is sideways in Whittier. Originally a World War Two military facility, the stern grey buildings of contemporary Whittier betray its history. Even the relatively new ferry terminal looks like a postmodern prison. In fact, the town of Whittier is about as close to incarceration as one can get without a serious redefinition of the word ‘town’.
I wake up at the wheel of a car. It’s mine, which is a relief. This is neither the time nor place to challenge the modus operandi of this conservative corner of America.
I feel good. Grounded. Cogent.
I am a respectable, law abiding citizen. I pay the appropriate taxes to the relevant authorities. I live in an apartment that is comfortable, but not extravagant. My job isn’t what I originally set out to do, but it pays the bills. I am in a stable, long term relationship endorsed by a recognised religious body. I purchase groceries and other household items at retail outlets suggested by government approved advertising media. I’m not fat, but I would like to lose a little weight to make it easier for other people to look at me. I recycle and compost. I support my local sports team. I am afraid of immigrants and junkies. I look like everyone else, I talk like everyone else, and most importantly, I definitely have nothing to hide.
We fire up the magic cloud car and fly neon into the belly of the yellow hexagon mountains.
Not really, we just drove into a tunnel.
2.518 miles into Maynard Mountain and we emerge from the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, Whittier’s only land link to the outside world. Drowned forests surround Portage Glacier Highway. Kenai Peninsula. Dead fingered tree tops still protrude from the swampy flats around us. Seward Highway south through mountains and lakes. The Salmon Bake – salvation – is near.
In 1989 Bill Hicks said the following words:
“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.”
Today I am not that young man on acid.
There has been no great revelation or insight and, if anything, knowledge has been lost, not gained. If there is no death and life is only a dream, then today I am a slow vibration running along a string of dribble to the black pool of eternal inconsequence.
Today I am one consciousness erasing itself subjectively.
Today I am Tom with the weather.