You have to think of it as a globe


I was born in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in 1956.  Park Ridge is also the hometown of Hillary Clinton.  As far as I know, she and I never hung out together around the crib, but I do like to mention this fact-of-little use around my politically right-angled friends,  just to needle them, knowing full well that they will almost always start gushing about their gal from Alaska, Sarah Palin, as if Hillary and Sarah were worthy of equal consideration…

Okay, so I’ll admit:  that was a pretty obscure way to get to my next point;  and despite what many of you think might be some awkward foreshadowing about a political discussion, this posting has nothing to do with Hillary, Chicago, or Sarah.   Actually,  my story is more about being born 1956, and 20 years later when I worked up in Alaska, but mostly about how we can all work together if everyone understands (and mostly) plays by “the rules”…

When I was a kid, playing with the other lily-white kids, in what was called a ‘upper middle class neighborhood’, whenever some toy we were playing with broke, someone in the group would invariably yell out, “Made in Japan!”.  Those words were the ultimate, as the kids say now (or was it ten years ago?) “dis”…

While it probably would not have mattered where the toys we broke came from (as most of us were fully capable of breaking any toy at any time… I, for one, was the recognized Superman of Toy Breaking), Japan always got the blame.

In the early-to-mid-60’s, World War II was still in the lexicon (Vietnam was not yet considered worthy of marching in the streets with draft cards ablaze); and it was not uncommon to hear our fathers talk about “Japs”.  Many of the products that came out of Japan at that time were nowhere near the quality we have come to expect from present day Japan, a process that arguably began with products from Panasonic (Matshusita), Honda, and other Japanese companies who made sure quality was consistent and reliable.  In fact, one could argue that the recent problems with Toyota have as much to do with expectations of superior products from Japan as it does about the problems themselves…

Fast forward to 1978, my final summer working up in Alaska (Bethel) in the salmon industry, and you’ll see me working for a company called Kemp and Paulucci Seafood.  Paulucci was Jeno Paulucci, of Jeno’s Pizza Roll fame;  Kemp was Lou Kemp, childhood friend and road manager for Bobby Zimmerman, a.k.a Bob Dylan.  It was my second summer working for Kemp and Paulucci, my third summer overall in the vast tundra where Bethel sat .  The work was hard.  The pay was great.  Danger was everywhere in that cold cloudy water, and how I lived through the numerous close calls with sure death has its answer blowing in the wind.  I was rolling, and I was stoned…

It’s amazing what 24 hours of sunlight fools the body into believing, and I would spend 16 – 18 hours a day in a 29′, flat-bottomed skiff, powered by a big ol’ Volvo Penta Six inboard, navigating up and down the Kuskokwim River, buying fish eggs from the Eskimos in villages with names like Napaskiak, Kwethluk, Akiak…  Those eggs (roe) were brought back to Bethel–where the Kemp and Paulucci barge was anchored–and I would off-load the eggs (sometimes 1000 lbs a day) at the barge to be processed by a group of 10 or so Japanese workers who were brought in to brine the eggs and box them up for shipment to Japan.

The Japanese used the eggs as part of their staple diet, pouring the salty little red things (that look just like the bait we use to catch trout here in Nevada) over their starchy white rice, a meal stock-full of protein and things that make people live long, healthy lives.

At the barge we also processed salmon we bought from the Eskimos in what were called “seasons”.  Seasons were generally 6 hours in length (from 6pm until midnight), and during that time it was legal for the Eskimos to sell salmon they caught, with the rest of the salmon they caught during the summer used for subsistence.

There were long stainless steel tables where the salmon started their next journey.  Guys like me, young kids for the most part, some on college break, would stand at certain stations along those long cold tables, and we used to fly Eskimo women in from outlying fishing villages to help process the fish.  The women put us to shame.  They worked longer hours between breaks, and they laughed and sang strange songs in Yupik, a language that sometimes sounds like someone who had a bad cough and sometimes made sounds like a song bird.

Station number one was where the heads were cut off, after their beheading, the fish were slid down the table to where someone else sliced its long, almost always silver, belly (eggs removed if they were female), and then the salmon were washed clean and loaded in these instant freezer room, a room so cold that none of us could stay in there for more than 15 or 20 minutes without turning stiff like the fish we lay on long tin pans.

After only a couple of hours in “the cooler”,  the fish resembled big bowling pins: when two of them were thrown against each other they sounded like one someone making a 7-10 split;  their fins, stiff little razors, caused serious injuries if one didn’t pay attention, and it was not uncommon for one of those fins to slice through the thickest army surplus jackets that we all seemed to be wearing those days to try and keep warm, and we wore gloves that barely fought off frost bite.  Breaking a finger was a common injury, and only compound fractures got any sympathy from the tough kids I worked with who came from Duluth, where Kemp and Paulucci had its headquarters.

Freezer duty was punishing, and if you worked in there more than a couple of times a week, it meant you had broken some rule, pissed off the foreman, or were going through an initiation that the crew put all new-comers through.  Those frozen fish were then arranged in a  wax-coated cardboard box, those boxes were filled to hold about 120 lbs of fish, and then those boxes were thrown down the hold of the barge.

The first couple of weeks all this hard work would make us stronger; and while the first week it would take two guys grabbing each end of the box to get them down in the hold, by the second week or so, one could do this by them self.  Soon that strength would be sapped by all the long hours of work, and then it was back to two guys necessary to move them around, and there are few things more depressing than feeling that fatigued knowing that only half of that night’s catch had been processed yet.

Those frozen fish would then be hoisted out of the hold when the big ship from Japan somehow made it up through the very narrow channel of the Kuskokwim–a curvy river with 20″ tides and sandbars a big as football field at low tide.  And after a day or so of loading up the big ship, off it went to Japan, a journey that I always imagined full of cold winds, big waves, and the type of fear that comes from being all alone on a deep stormy sea, a fear that stays with you no matter how big the vessel…

That last summer I worked in Bethel the word came down that “consultants” were coming in to improve production efficiency, and when they arrived, I was surprised to see that all of them were from Japan.  After much inquiry, and maybe a joint or two shared with Lou, I learned that Kemp and Paulucci was not really owned by either Kemp or Paulucci, but, rather, the fish processing operation was owned by the Japanese!  I also learned that almost all the other salmon processing plants in Alaska were owned by the Japanese.

One night (with the sun still shining brightly), there was a big argument that commenced between Lou and the Japanese.  The usually soft-spoken Japanese, I later found out, were angry that Lou and the rest of the fish-house owners (who weren’t really owners, but just really there to offer their American-sounding names) up and down the vast  western edges of Alaska were bound to the rules about the number of salmon that could be bought commercially, and the number of pounds of roe that could be processed.  The Japanese could not understand why there were limits imposed by State biologists, and why we Americans did not simply find ways to get around these limits…

The limits on fishing, of course, were imposed to try and preserve the fishery for years to come.  In fact, I never went back to Bethel after 1978 because the amount of money being paid for salmon roe was starting to tempt folks to catch salmon only for the valuable roe.  My job had been eliminated by an effort to preserve the fishery. Plus, I had blown out my knee my last year up there when a big piece of timber fell on my leg during a storm that can only be described as a hurricane, the timber was part of a futile attempt to build up a seawall… What we were trying to protect by building up that seawall escapes me, and it certainly escaped Mother Nature:  the seawall, along with my knee, was smashed to smithereens…

So between the bad knee and the fish poachers my preferred way of paying for college was over.  The poachers that were catching the salmon and tearing the eggs out, leaving the fish to rot, were never the Eskimos.  The Eskimos always respected the most important law of all:  the law of nature–the essential practice they had practiced for thousands of years, a conscious practice that kept everything in balance, a (tough) way of living that provided their subsistence not only for that day, that year, but, hopefully, for generations to come…

The Eskimos called us white folks “Gussecks”.  From all I can tell, this comes from the Russian word “Cossack” .  I do know it was not a term of endearment.  Some of the white folks called the Eskimos “Mo’s”, and this too was not one of laudatory affectation.

If one takes the Kuskokwim River out to the Bearing Bay, one can almost see Russia, and the villages mentioned above, like Napaskiak, had churches that looked Russian, and many of the Eskimos “white name” were things like Ivan and Boris.  So you end up with guys like me, from San Diego (where I was attending school), working with guys from Duluth (who could arc-weld before they learned how to ride a bike), working in Alaska, buying fish and fish eggs from Eskimos, with those fish going to Japan;  and, in theory, everyone making a living…

If the Chinese are coming here to the U.S. to “invade” our gaming industry, perhaps there is a lesson that can be applied from looking at the “fishing limits” that are in still in place in Alaska.  Not to say that Chinese are the same as Japanese experience I had in Alaska–far from it…

However, if the rules of how one gets a gaming license are upheld–as appears to be the case in the stated justification with MGM’s problems in AC due to Pansy Ho’s father–then I reckon the real lesson is that we all we’re all connected, and that rules can help us all work together without destroying the world’s future, and that not everyone can play in a privileged game like the casino industry until those rules are satisfied…

For those who know me, and know how much I abhor rules for rules’ sake, and how much I detest false authority, having me advocate living by rules sounds like some sort of defection–like a guy from the 60’s who abandoned his principles once he entered “the rat race” and started to earn a little dough… But, then again, I really am not adverse to rules–rules are what really makes most sports my own, and many others who love sports, a sanctuary of fairness.  Life is not fair, they say, but in baseball there’s a line that denotes when things are a foul.

One of my dearest friends to this day is a guy named Jake.  Jake and I worked together in Alaska, as I did with several other friends from college:  Stan, Jimmy, Mike, Rich, Karl, Bruce, Linc, and some other guys with American-sounding names that were born from the baby boom.  Jake used to remind all of us how much further west Bethel was to the ‘lower 48’–he used to say that you can’t think of places like they appear on the globe unless you made sure to continue to turn that globe to get the real perspective…

Having the Japanese own the fisheries in Alaska seems to be still be working, and most will say this is because the rules have been enforced.  No one has told the Eskimos that they need to cut back on their subsistence fishing, just as no one should be trying to change the cultural roots of gambling amongst the Chinese.

Having Chinese own casinos here in the US should work too, as long as they follow the rules… And, we need to stop this belief that we somehow own something, and that ownership is permanent.   We need to think globally, and all of the players in that globe need to not only take temporary ownership, but to also believe they can attain a piece of the pie, just as long as we always give it back, and, hopefully in better shape than what we got in the beginning.  Most call that progress.  Using “pie” in the analogy makes it unfortunate, as I am not sure if I want a piece of pie after someone has used it, but you know what I mean…

I warned y’all last week that this story was fishy;  and, however clumsy as my linkage with Park Ridge, Alaska, Japan and China may seem,  despite all our efforts to think otherwise, we’re all connected.  And, I believe, the more we embrace that connection, the more we continue to ‘turn the globe’,  and the more we think of things in terms of how they are mutually beneficial–complementary…where “winners” and “losers” can live another day–the better we’ll be in not only the gaming industry, but in all industries, including the industry of life…

Can I have a witness, or is this grounds for excommunication?   What do you think about this great subject Kenny has brought up about China?  Will this be something my home girl Hillary should intervene on, or is gaming slipping back into the shadows, not worthy of State-to-State debate?  While Ms. Ho cannot help who her father was, you don’t need to be a pansy…  Is your input valuable?  You betcha!

Rex

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1 Response to “You have to think of it as a globe”


  1. 1 Ken Adams April 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    The Las Vegas Sun has taken up the subject, implying that Nevada, and by inference any other state, is incapable of controlling Chinese gaming; the article quotes Bill Eadington as saying: “it is too big too fail.” I agree with Bill’s choice of metaphors, but would apply it differently. Nevada has three or four companies that have reached that “too big to fail” category; that makes the Macau dilemma even more challenging. If they are too big – the major casino companies with operations in both jurisdictions – than Nevada cannot revoke any license, removing its ability to effectively regulate. The debate Nevada needs to have is not about the invasion of Chinese – or Rex’s Japanese silent partners – but the size and importance to the state of the major gaming companies. Can Nevada afford to have that dependence any more than the American economy can afford to have a few financial institutions that are too large to fail? While Rex is spinning the globe, I am stuck in my ego-centric world of Nevada gaming and struggling to see what the next era of gaming in Nevada will be.


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