Thursday, July 26, 2012

Departures: Last Day of English 354, July 26, 2012

Deborah Bernard

English 354: Final Craft Essay


You Can’t Beat a Deadhorse

The process of taking the work of this intense, six-week creative writing/non-fiction course and weaving it into one final portfolio was truly a learning experience.

“Show, don’t tell,” was New Rule Number One that I learned from my instructor Kelly Magee, and my 15 fellow writers who generously critiqued my work. The students had heard there was sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in the early oilfield. They wanted to know more, but through scene, not summary. New Rule Number Two.

Framing was critical, New Rule Number Three, so I revised and rewrote to try to present my scenes from my point of view.

I learned about tension, pacing, and manipulating energy (NR#4) while avoiding wordiness and writerly language. Most of my rewrites resulted in less words with more bang for their buck; I searched and destroyed, seeking out excessive adjectives and dispatching them, in cold blood.

I had a serious challenge in the last section of my portfolio: I needed to sum up 30 years of arctic retailing without using straight narrative, my new worst enemy. I wanted to avoid the clichés, the wrap-it-up-in-a-bow pat ending that we love in our sitcoms, hate in our writers. I consciously added some scenes but am not sure if the final quote, “It’s just Deadhorse” is conclusive enough.

Reference: at the end of Jack Nicholson’s movie Chinatown, the woman he loves, Faye Dunaway, is gunned down in the streets as she flees in her car.


Final line: “Forget about it, Jake. It’s just…Chinatown.”

That’s what I was going for in mine but I’m not sure I provided enough drama.

I strove to be generous to my (loyal) subjects, not smugly judgmental (NR #5.)

I tried to work small and not just give some haughty overview.

I loved learning the word didactic and vowed not to be that way in my writing.

My goal is this final piece: “Get out of their heads and into their bodies.”

I take away this great quote: “Sanity is madness put to good use.” Who said that? Was it Adam or Nietzsche? I always get those two mixed up.

Did I succeed in my communication goals in this final piece, of sharing that crazy, mushroom-trip-of-a-world with my readers? Only you and my other readers can tell me that.

But I am grateful for this: the skills and techniques that I learned in this class will forever influence all my future writing. These New Lessons will also influence how I live:

With gusto, energy, variety. With generosity. Varying my pace to keep everyone interested, and engaged. Most of all me.

Thank you, Kelly!

And thank you, fellow writers.

You Can't Beat a Deadhorse

Deborah M. Bernard

English 354: Final Portfolio

You Can’t Beat a Deadhorse

July 26, 2012

3579 Words

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;

I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.

Was it famine or scurvy--I fought it;

I hurled my youth into a grave.

--Robert Service

Being from Deadhorse, Alaska, is absurd. Nobody has ever really been from here.

We are the southern-speakin’ oilfield workers from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana. We are the Inupiat, the Eskimo people, whose fathers and uncles roamed through Deadhorse in a nomadic effort to acquire caribou or whale for our villages, who built temporary igloos as a hunting camp, but who never claimed, nor wanted to claim, possession of this land. We are the Alaskans who came up to cash in on the cornucopia of jobs that would change our state forever. We are the opportunists from the Lower 48 who heard there was work, there were wages to be earned in this remote wilderness region.

Yes. We are “The Breed of Men Who Don’t Fit In,” according to Robert Service.

Being from Deadhorse, we inhabit frantic, yet hilarious, family-like subgroups. We know that we are here because dinosaurs once walked on the tundra, plankton lived in the warm shallow seas that covered the arctic, and then they all died off. Millennia of pressure and heat turned their remains into fossil fuel, the black gold underground.

We know that we are here because global investors have deemed it profitable enough to mine this oil.

But the SMALL picture, the relevant reality of our lives is this: We are a group of adult human beings who have arrived here with neither pedigree nor family history.

Such things are meaningless in the environment of the early oilfield. Our reactions with each other are virginal, fresh, raw. Nothing is based on prior entitlement nor privilege. The playing field is level, for once. It’s not about from whence we came, who our people are, or what we have accomplished. It’s not about where we may be going in the future.

It’s only about what, and who, we are in this present moment. There is no class system here, save one: the working class. On steroids: Seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day, striving to achieve what may be impossible in brutal conditions which may be intolerable.

Like souls in Antarctica, or people who have gathered in a Plexiglas bubble containing heat and oxygen on the ocean floor, the only relevant thing is what we are capable of right now.


There’s a breed of men that don’t fit in,

A race that can’t stay still;

So they break the heart of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

If they just went straight they might go far,

They are strong and brave and true;

And they’re always tired of the things that are,

And they want the strange and new.

--Robert Service

1981. Ronald Reagan has just taken office and had cancelled all extensions to unemployment benefits. Joseph, the love of my life, and I were enjoying unemployment for the only time in our lives. (I was 29, he was 35.) We had been looking forward to a “long winter’s nap.” When President Reagan cancelled the benefits, we were more or less summoned to Fairbanks, Alaska, by Joe’s older sister Jean.

May Day 1981 was record heat in Fairbanks. Literally 90 degrees. We had to leave Jiminy Cricket, our poodle mix, in Jean’s pickup while we went into the unemployment office.

After a surreally long wait, we got up to the window, where a weary, black, 40’s-something clerk greeted us. We told him we wanted to find work in the oilfield, preferably together, with the same R-n-R schedule.

“Honey,” he said, his dusky voice plaintiff, “don’t you imagine that if I knew how to get up to the oilfield, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to YOU?”

We registered for unemployment anyway, then went back to Jean’s pickup where poor Jiminy’s tongue was hanging out. Emergency water rations for our dog, then on to the employment agencies

Three days later, Alyeska Security called Joseph to be a security guard at Pump Station Four. I got a call from Cecil Kessick, Far North Insurance Adjustors, because Frontier Equipment just had a shop burn down, up in Prudhoe Bay. Cecil needed a temporary secretary to help him catalogue all of the items lost in the fire for the insurer, Lloyds of London.

Joe put the Alyeska job on hold, hoping for something where he and I could eventually work together. Pump Four is 120 miles south of the oilfield. I left with Cecil the next day to fly to Deadhorse.

Cecil was 60-ish, a compact and chipper little man who wore an Eddie Bauer tan plaid wool shirt, beige khaki chinos and rubber soled boots under his fur-trimmed beige parka.

Cecil was a hunting guide who worked insurance claims as a sideline. He proudly showed me the stuffed musk ox, Boone and Crockett certified World Class, on display at Fairbanks International Airport. It bore a brass plaque engraved with “Cecil Kessick, Hunting Guide.” A musk ox looks like a giant hairy ox with a prehistoric headpiece over its horns that resembles the parted hair of Dagwood Bumstead.

We boarded a Wien Air Alaska 727 for our 75-minute flight into Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay. We flew over majestic snow-capped mountains, snaking frozen rivers. The terrain only flattened as we began our descent.

Prudhoe Bay is as flat as a pancake. North Dakota in summer. Mars in winter. It may not be the end of the world, but you can see it from here. The ground was still frozen and the snow had not melted, despite the 90-degree weather in Fairbanks, 500 miles to the south.

Driving us over the gravel roads to Frontier Base Camp, Cecil acted as tour guide, pointing out the facilities that rose impressively from the gravel pads built on the frozen tundra.

“We call this one The Hilton,” he said, pointing to Sohio’s camp, an ultra-modern modular two-story structure, balanced on steel girders. “It has an Olympic-size swimming pool, with saunas and stream rooms. And they’re no fools. The standing water of the swimming pool reduces their fire insurance.”

Frontier Base Camp is about a 30-minute drive from the airport. Like most smaller camps, it is a collection of ATCO trailer units, with a roof and a floor built over and under so residents walk down interior halls to their rooms, bathrooms, dining hall.

The company was owned by John C. “Tennessee” Miller. He was one of that breed of men that don’t fit in, who went from rags to riches to rags to riches on a regular basis. He had raised Tennessee Walking Horses down home on the Tennessee/Kentucky border.

He was a brilliant “dirt man” and had brought his bulldozers and other equipment up from Fairbanks before there was a road on a “cat train.” Which was: ATCO units and heavy equipment loaded on skids and pulled along by D-8 Caterpillars over impossible terrain in the dead of winter. Snow and ice made this feat possible. This project was so dangerous that the progress was charted and reported in every edition of the Anchorage Daily News.

He was rewarded later with the contract to build the Dalton Highway, the 500-mile gravel road from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay.

I complimented him on his Cat Train accomplishment the moment I met him. “Oh, that was a necessity,” he drawled. “I had to keep that equipment movin’. It was about to be re-possessed!”

Tennessee Miller had several companies in the greater Prudhoe Bay area. Frontier Rock and Sand was the union side, using all union workers: Operating Engineers Local 302, the Pile Drivers, Laborers, etc. Except for the Teamsters Local 959. Jessie Carr, president of the Alaska teamsters, and Tennessee Miller had bad blood between them, akin to an old fashioned backwoods feud. Nobody knows what caused it. Had both men loved the same woman? Had one cheated the other out of money? Oil lease land? Nobody knew.

But every Monday morning Tennessee Miller’s secretary sent a letter to Jessie Carr’s Teamster offices in Anchorage, requesting so many Teamsters for that week’s work. Jessie Carr never sent him any so every Wednesday he would hire non-union “drivers” from the general population.

I found out years later that it wasn’t my secretarial skills nor my stellar resume that caused Cecil Kessick to hire me. They were looking for the quintessential dumb blonde, somebody naïve from out of state. Somebody who had never heard that the owner of Frontier Companies and the president of the Alaska Teamsters were sworn enemies. Why? Because if one breath, one hint of even slightly suspected arson were whispered, the insurance company wouldn’t have covered the shop fire loss.

Cecil set me up in an office. I interviewed man after man who came forward with a list of what they had lost in the fire. Everybody had arctic gear, tools. A half dozen guys had large boom boxes, worth about $500 each in those days. Many had Walkmans, extensive cassette collections. My only job was to neatly type up the contents and estimated retail value, without judgment. I did secretly wonder how large that shop would have to have been to accommodate six large boom boxes.

The foremen came forward with their lists: giant pieces of equipment. D-8 Cats and Front End Loaders and a B-70 Belly Dump. One cab over Peterbilt 18-wheeler truck. All foreign terms to me except for the truck. I had heard truckers guffawing at their Fairbanks hangout, The Sunset Strip: “How’s YOUR Peter Built?” they would say, then roar with laughter.


My temporary job would soon end. I inquired who a girl had to hug to get a permanent office job at this company. Tim Tyler, Frontier office manager, was known as The Round Mound of Sound. He commandeered a desk that had three telephones and two crackling CB radio. Sometimes all six were squawking at once. He took me under his wing. Said to go see K. Freeny, the manager, up in the Crow’s Nest. Do not accept a drink, if one was offered, and whatever you do, do NOT wink at him.

“Why would I wink at him?” I asked Tim.

“Mr. Freeny has a tic that makes his right eye wink constantly,” my new mentor Tim explained. “Don’t wink back. He’ll think you’re mocking him.”

We met. I didn’t wink. He hired me.

From the ashes of Frontier’s shop rose the Phoenix of my oilfield career.

Joseph landed a job with Childs’ Equipment Services less than a week later. He was hired to be their Hardware Man, to build and stock a new hardware section connected to their general store, which was already a going concern.

Joseph was an accountant and not familiar with tools. He wasn’t handy at all; his gifts lay elsewhere. We once had a fight because we couldn’t hang a paper towel rack together, and the rack had pre-drilled holes. (In our defense, the holes had been drilled wonkily at the factory, but we didn’t discover that until later.) Joseph embarked on his oilfield career on uncharted waters over unfamiliar seas.

As did I. I went from being a journalist to being a secretary for an oilfield construction company. I learned about heavy equipment and the men and women who operated it. I developed a southern accent from sheer osmosis.

I loved the structure of a construction job: A beginning, a middle, and an end. And afterwards you could point to your project forever: We changed the map of North America by building that causeway into the ocean. It’s called West Dock. I was there.

Thus began our oilfield adventure. Kind of like a fairy tale, to me.

The difference between a fairy tale and an oilfield story was explained to me by a sweet-talkin’, southern roughneck gentleman named Billy Joe:

“Well, a fairy tale begins with, ‘Once upon a time.’ But an o-field story begins with, ‘Now this ain’t no shit.’”


You come to get rich (damned good reason);

You feel like an exile at first;

You hate it like hell for a season,

And then you are worse than the worst.

It grips you like some kinds of sinning,

It twists you from foe to a friend;

It seems it’s been since the beginning,

It seems it will be to the end.

--Robert Service

“Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money,” said my camp roommate Bobbi. She sat cross-legged on her twin bed in our shared room, her Hello Kitty bedspread already neatly in place, expertly drawing lines of white powder on a mirror in her lap. It was 6:30 in the morning.

Bobbi had thick black hair and creamy brown skin. She was pretty of face and figure, soft spoken, genuinely sweet. She was 20 years old and working as a Teamster Office Technician for a surveying company. She made $20 an hour for basic secretarial work. $30 an hour at time-and-a-half, and $40 an hour on Sundays. In 1981, this was

Money. Beyond. Belief.

I worked for Frontier Rock and Sand, doing the same kind of work that Bobbi did, but I was a non-union secretary. I made $12 an hour, time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours a week. No double-time Sundays. No shop steward nor union protection.

Still, that translated into $1200 a week for me. That was $400 more, per week, than I had made in a month as a fulltime journalist and bureau chief, Orcas Island Branch, Friday Harbor Journal. I was thrilled.

Bobbi made double what I made for doing the same job, and I taught her the tricks of the trade: how to center a title on our IBM Selectric Typewriters. How to change the metal ball for different fonts, a necessity for the Sunday reports that ARCO required: seven copies of a 15-page report on that week’s progress for our respective contractors.

Extra credit for charts. How to highlight the name of each recipient. How to bind the reports in the clear plastic folder with the ARCO Blue slider down the left side.

In return, Bobbi taught me the ropes for surviving arctic camp life.

My first day at Arco’s MCC (Main Construction Camp,) I put my suitcase in my 8x10 room which I would share with Bobbi. I walked down the green paisley carpeted hallway to the ladies’ bathroom. I encountered a woman, a fellow East MCC Camp dweller, and said, “Good morning.” As nice and bright as I knew how to be. She was three feet away and did not acknowledge that I even existed.

“Oh, dear,” I thought. “Perhaps she is deaf?”

Then I encountered another woman. Same greeting. Same non-response.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “Have I been in a couple relationship so long that I have lost

my ability to relate as an individual?”

After work that night I met Bobbi for the first time, in our room, and shared my experiences. She laughed brightly and said, “Oh! Don’t take it personally! Those women work directly for ARCO. They’ve been instructed not to fraternize with us.”

“Who is us?” I asked Bobbi.

“Well, we work for the contractors that work for ARCO,” she said. “We even made up a little song about it.”

She launched into this ditty, sung to the tune of Camp Town Ladies Sing This Song:

“Lowlife, scumbag, contractor hands,

Doo-dah, doo-dah!

Lowlife, scumbag, contractor hands,

Oh, da doo-dah day!”

Well, I was relieved. It wasn’t me so much as it was who I worked for. Phew!

Bobbi also taught me the cocaine protocol:

If somebody offers you a line, snort the line if you want to. But, if you do, remember that you are socially obligated to reciprocate at some future date. Like going to somebody’s house for dinner, you will be expected to pony up in the future.

“Well, that lets me out,” I told Bobbi. “I will probably never spend $125 for a tiny envelope of cocaine, so I will just always say no.”

“Unless---,” Bobbi said, “you are at a gathering in somebody’s room, and they pass around a mirror with several lines on it. Then you should partake so they don’t think

you’re a nark.”

Good to know.

Bobbi enjoyed her cocaine, and I enjoyed our friendship. So I was sad when her oilfield career was cut short by her passion for the substance.

Bobbi stayed out late, 3 a.m. late, on a Saturday night, partying with her friends. I didn’t go. I never went because of The Protocol that she had taught me. She was so exhausted that she missed work on Sunday. That was $480 in wages, in her world, plus somebody else had to do the mandatory ARCO report.

Severely reprimanded, Bobbi vowed to never let this happen again. But it did. The following Sunday. The oilfield is a harsh and demanding mistress; it’s miraculous that she was allowed even a second strike.

As Bobbi packed her suitcase to leave, forever, she hugged me, then shrugged, philosophically, and said again, “Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money.”


I wanted the gold, and I got it--

Came out with a fortune last fall.

Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,

And somehow the gold isn’t all.


There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;

It’s luring me on as of old;

Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting

So much as just finding the gold.

--Robert Service





Thus began our arctic adventure. Soon we both became Shopkeepers to the Slope. For over three decades, we were the touchstone, the one thread of continuity as this myriad of subgroups came and went.

There were the Vietnam veteran pilots who came to work for ERA Helicopters.

Fun-loving, free spirited guys who had flown into hell and back. The arctic challenges were child’s play after what they had survived. Transporting workers to an ice-choked riverbed or airlifting a rogue grizzly to a different locale in a net suspended under the chopper was infinitely better than sniper fire.

Roger Ramjet (we never knew his real last name) walked into the store one day while Stephanie was discussing penis size with another customer. This was before the “Apparently Size Does Matter” advertising campaign. Right about when the “Where’s the Beef?” commercial had begun.

It was typical for men to brag about the size of their penises (peni?) Roger proudly told us, “Mine is just like anybody else’s penis, only much, much smaller. Put it this way: I will probably never touch bottom, but I can sure bang the hell out of the sides.” We loved Roger, and not just for his small penis.

There were the Powder Men, the guys that used explosives to blow up the Oxbow pit to create the gravel used for roads, pads, West Dock. By day, they created explosions, using “Prell,” a mixture of diesel and seagull poop (“guano”.) Its explosive qualities were discovered in an unfortunate accident on a tanker in the Gulf of Mexico.

All of these guys were registered with the state of Alaska; all had name tags with their photos and certifications on display. By day, demolition experts. After work, the most genteel, sweet, generous guys you’d ever want to meet. Their foreman, Smitty, was missing his right arm.

The Powder Men reminded me of Joe’s old poker buddies in Bellingham. Truly gentlemen when not playing. Because all of their sexual aggressions were played out on the table. The masochists. The sadists. The screamers-during-orgasm. The flirts. The commitment phobics. The spankers. The spankees. The role players.

Shortly after we first got to Prudhoe Bay, one of Joe’s old poker cronies showed up there, dancing at the Shriner’s fund-raiser party with three of the most gorgeous black women the slope had ever seen.

“Cutter Jack! It’s me! Joe’s girlfriend!” I shouted over the Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away.” He barely acknowledged me. He was here to hit a big poker game, to let his girls make some serious coin. It was as if he didn’t know me from The Outside.

It was always surreal when our two worlds collided.

Once we talked Jim Childs, our boss, into hiring our friend Dana Jefferson to cook for our camp. But we forgot to tell him to take the six earrings out of his right ear. He was a great cook and the oilfield workers loved him. But Jim thought his cooking was “too fancy” when he made a breakfast quiche. (This was the time of the book: “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.”)

Having Dana in our camp was like having a long-lost brother walk into your dream.

“Cook American, Hiawatha!” Jim Childs told Dana. Our friend was a homosexual Lummi Indian man , so the slur couldn’t have been more politically incorrect.

Dana was fired after only a few months. His fatal mistake: He cooked corned beef and cabbage, carrots, potatoes. But he wrote on the dry-erase board, “New England Boil.”

“I told you to cook American, Hiawatha!” Jim said. Back home in Bellingham, he would subconsciously revert to a southern accent while drinking. “What did you do to Dana?” our Bellingham friends would ask.

“It’s just Deadhorse,” we would say.






Tuesday, July 17, 2012


7/09. Thunder and lightning woke me at 3:40 a.m. Remarkable, because nothing wakes me up. If I'd been alone in a stateroom on the Titanic, I would still be there. The flashes of lightning were so bright that they lit up our bedroom like a lightswitch had been turned on. Then off. At first I thought it was the party house across the street, blowing off the last of their Indian reservation fireworks.Then I heard the thunder. Like the ominous rumble of snare drums in the Civil War that signalled: You are about to be fired upon. I thought: I'm so lucky. Nobody has ever fired upon me. Until now? I couldn't be sure it was just a storm. I was afraid to peek out the levelor blinds for fear that there was a militia on my lawn. Afraid to open the door for fear Athena the cat would run out and become the victim of a drunken fireworks prank. Mr. Insomnia, my sweet lover, slept like a rockabye baby upon the treetops.
7/10 Last night's thunderstorm was front page news. Oh good! It really was just a storm.

7/11 The lightning and thunder came again and was spectacular. I have not heard thunder that loud in my life. It sounded like God was bowling. Not just a rumble, but a sharp report. We sat on the front porch on Forest Street and watched the sky light up, the drops of rain start to fall in the birdbath and cat bowl in the yard, listened to the crack of the thunder, yelling, "Yay, God!" each time. It's possible there was wine involved. Just sayin'.
7/12 The Forest Service announced that it is on full alert because of the lightning storms. Forest fires typically start several days after the storm, as a spark becomes a flame becomes a FIRE!!!!
7/13 Sad news from my home town of Lake Stevens today. There was a fatality in the lightning storm that hit there, hard, early this morning. A bolt of lightning hit a tall tree in south Lake Stevens just as an eagle landed on the tree.
The impact was so intense that the tree exploded. The eagle died instantly, not one mark on her body. The death possibly caused by the concussion. Everyone there is afraid that this was Martha,
who has been mated to George the bald eagle for over 25 years. There are road signs and metal art about George and Martha all over town. They are icons in Lake Stevens, nobody ever dreaming that Martha would die so dramatically. The eagle's carcass was sent to Colorado for a Necropsy. If that proves she was a 25 year old mature female, people will know it was Martha. But locals think they already know, as a lone eagle circles and loops and drifts over the remnants of the tree struck by lightning. George already knows. Lightning storms are all fun and games until somebody dies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nudity in the 21st Century

Naked Cyclists in Bellingham, 2012

Bellingham. A hot summer's night in 1972.  The Shriners were having a fund-raiser in the formal ballroom, the Chandelier Room, of The Leopold Hotel, the Grande Dame of hotels. The finest hotel north of Seattle, festooned with art deco lions and original art by Sydney Lawrence. Its inlaid marble and tile lobby was presided over by a massive, yet soulful, night auditor named Joe Bernard.

He had watched Bellingham's high society assemble that evening, saw distinguished couples arrive in  black tie and ballgowns. He figured the average age of that crowd was probably right at 70. There was much glad-handing and back-slapping as some paused at the downstairs bar. Scotch for the gentlemen, champagne for the ladies. This was Their Night. The night when they could Make A Difference and raise money for those less fortunate. Which probably included everyone outside that ballroom at that moment, in their estimation.

The couples left the lobby and retired to the Chandelier Room. Joe started his nightly auditing of the seven restaurants and bars of the Grande Dame from his perch at the front desk.

Suddenly the tranquility of the lobby was shattered. The side door slammed open and five naked  people burst into the room. They all had hair down to the middle of their backs. All appeared to be in their early 20's. All were lean, athletic. And all had a destination in mind: The Chandelier Room.

Streaking was a phenomenon that occurred in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Naked people would run through serious events of the time. It happened at the Republican National Convention. It happened on late night talk shows and at PTA meetings. Perhaps the streakers were trying to make people really evaluate the societal norms of that day. Also, they probably really liked their own physiques: I never heard of an overweight streaker.

Joe was secretly thrilled at the colorful interruption to his ho-hum night shift. This was going to make a great story later at the after-hours poker game he was going to when he got off work at 6 a.m.

The streakers entered the Chandelier Room and stayed for what seemed like an enternity: three minutes? four? Joe couldn't be sure.

Then, like a group of synchronized swimmers, with no water in sight but the small fountain bubbling from the lion's mouth into a 19th century tile bowl in the lobby, the streakers left the ballroom. Zipped through the lobby like a school of fish. Exited through the double set of bevelled glass doors leading to Cornwall Street, where surely there was a getaway car waiting. For they disappeared into the night.

Couples burst out of the Chandelier Room. One white haired woman, garbed in white satin and sequins, fell upon the antique embroidered couch in the lobby. "Oh! What has become of society?" she sobbed, as her tuxedoed husband fanned her with the  program from the fundraiser. "Oh, Harold, it's just hideous! Hideous, I tell you!" the lady in the burgundy formal with white fox fur collar shrieked.She fluttered her hands into the air, her two-karat flawless diamond ring shimmering in the chandelier light.

Another matron fell into a Henry the 8th side chair, the back of her hand dramatically shading her eyes. Alas! Too late to keep her from seeing the spectacle.

The police arrived in moments.

"So, how many were there, and were they men or women?" the uniformed cop barked at Joe the Night Auditor.

"There were five streakers, but I couldn't tell if they were men or women: they all had long hair!" Joe told the cop.

"Oh, a wise guy, huh? I can see we're going to have to talk to somebody else!" the cop said.

Bellingham. A hot summer's Sunday in 2012. Joe Bernard is in a van with his friend Luke, heading off to walk the trails of Whatcom Falls Park. In the van are Luke's sons, Jacob and Adrian, and their friends Olin and Soren, and Joe's wife Debbie. The boys range in age from 10-12. Minutes into their ride, at the foot of Forest Street, 30 nude bicyclists suddenly appear and ride towards the van.

Some of the women cyclists have painted flowers on their breasts; some have painted eyeballs. One is wearing an extremely adorable pink tutu. The men sport loincloths, or nothing at all except a coonskin tail tied around their waist and extending down their backsides. All are wearing helmets. Some are carrying cardboard signs that say, "Get out there and do it!"

Luke, Joe and Debbie, the adults, are mesmerized. "Wow! Look at this!" The four boys are mortified.
One of them bends down and puts his windbreaker over his head, avoiding the naked assault on his eyes. The other three boys have a red-cheeked, "What just happened?!" look. Luke is a good father and tries to make the sighting seem like no big deal. But all seven of us will remember it forever.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Thoughts on the Tour de France

By Deborah Bernard

My dear husband just retired from 32 years in the oilfield. I left with him, to begin the next chapter of our life. Plus we wanted to see if there really was “Life After Deadhorse.”

The people of the oilfield gave us an incredible sendoff. There was a party with two cakes and Felix’s wonderful h’ors doevres. There were stories and lots of laughs as we shared memories. There were cards and gifts. A baleen boat from Stevie and Gary that Joe cherishes. And….cash! These generous folks took up a collection for us!

We were thrilled, kind of embarrassed, but happy. We decided that we wanted to do our friends proud and buy something significant with their cash. Not just a case of expensive champagne, but something symbolic of newfound freedom.

So we are proud owners of two Raleigh 21-speed bikes. His and hers. Of course we bought the helmets, too.

But. We hadn’t rode bikes for over 30 years. We had been avid bicyclists when we lived in Carson City, Nevada, before our oilfield career began. But, our bikes were stolen, one at a time, and we never replaced them.

So now we are learning to ride bikes all over again.  Joe noticed something strange:

He asked, “Is this a sign of old age? When I ride my bike around the neighborhood, people say things to  me like,

“Awww, that’s great!”

“Are you okay?”

"God bless you!"

“Are you training for the Tour de France? Well, it's just great that you're out  there!"

Since the Tour de France is going on right now, Joe thought this comment was a little more appropriate.  "The frenetic first 60 km of the 158 km from Belfort claimed another casualty as Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez briefly lost consciousness after hitting his head in a crash," we read on the BBC Sport website. So of course we do not ride without our helmets.

Joe is happy to be biking, and yet he is quite sure that nobody would've made such comments to him when he was in his 40's.

George Burns said there are three ages of men:

Middle Age.  And,
"You look good!"

Joe is afraid that there are three stages of bicyclists:

"You kids be careful on the road!" (Youth)
"If you're zipping down to the store, pick me up some cheese, can you?" (Middle Age) and
"God bless you! It's so great you're still riding!" (Old Age)

But he's determined to keep riding until people stop saying such things.
Is it getting any easier? No, but it's not getting any harder. So he will take
that victory in the spirit of Lance Armstrong and keep on riding every day.
With gratitude in his heart for the generosity of the people of Prudhoe Bay.

Debbie Does Deadhorse

Debbie Does Deadhorse
By Debbie Bernard
English 354, July 9, 2012
The difference between a Fairy Tale and an Oilfield Story was explained to me by a roughneck from Tennessee. Visualize a slow, sexy, sweet southern drawl:
“Well, darlin’, a fairy tale beings with, ‘Once upon a time.’ But an oilfield story (pronounced O-field story) begins with, ‘Now, this ain’t no shit.’”

It was 1981. Ronald Reagan was in office and had cancelled all extensions to unemployment benefits. My fiancé Joseph and I were on unemployment for the only time in our lives, and were looking forward to “a long winter’s nap.” I was 29, he was 35. When the benefits were cancelled, we were more or less summoned to Fairbanks, Alaska, from our Bellingham home, by Joe’s sister Jean.

Jean and her husband Art lived in a house trailer off Peger and Davis Roads in Fairbanks with two fat little poodle mixes whose nasal incessant barking made it sound like they must have asthma.

Single wide trailer with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Shiny fake pine paneling and green shag carpet. Oh, and a “wanagon,” the Alaska name for a plywood room tacked on to the front porch that kept the excruciating cold of winter and the gloopy mud of spring breakup from entering the trailer.
Sharing their quarter-acre was a giant metal shop building that housed Art’s pride and joy, his 18-wheeler truck, a Peterbilt, or Cab Over Pete in the trucker vernacular. “Hey, how’s YOUR Peter Built?” the truckers would joke with each other at
The Sunset Strip, Fairbanks’ local trucker hangout. And they would laugh like nothing had ever been that funny before.

Joseph and I had come to Fairbanks, sponsored by Joe’s sister Jean, for a visit. “For God’s sake, Joey! Please don’t wear your pink and white belt here! And please don’t kiss in The Strip!” Jean would plead.

Art was Jean’s second husband. Both were old enough to be our parents.
He was explosively angry much of the time, and profane. He bellowed at Jean all day long, making us wonder if “verbal” was his only form of abuse.

His fingernails were always dirty with truck grease, which is why Jean had married him. Her first husband, Bill, the love of her life, had been obsessed with hand-washing. When he died, Jean actually listed as one of her pre-requisites for her next husband: dirty fingernails. Art drove their little pickup like a maniac around Fairbanks, driving way too fast, then slamming on the brakes at a stoplight, miraculously avoiding collisions. On ice. Which made us wonder how he maneuvered in his 18-wheeler.

We frankly feared him.

So when Art started talking about taking us up to Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse in his 18-wheeler, we were nervous. Remember that Art was the original Ice Road Trucker, 30 years before the History Channel romanticized these truckers. But Jean was insistent that we had to see it! The Great Alaska Pipeline! Jobs for the unemployed!

The Dalton Highway, the “Haul Road,” is a 500-mile gravel road that connects the Prudhoe Bay oilfields with Fairbanks. It is as far as you can go by road in North America. End of the road. Top of the world.

In fact, if you want to be in the Guinness Book for having traversed the longest road in the world, you have to either start or end in Deadhorse. The other end of your journey will be Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of South America.

The James W. Dalton Highway, once called the North Slope Haul Road, parallels the pipeline and is one of the most isolated roads in the United States. Despite the remoteness, the Dalton Highway carries a good amount of truck traffic, according to Wikipedia: about 160 trucks daily in the summer, plus large and small tour buses, and about 250 trucks daily in the winter.

The BBC featured this road on World’s Most Dangerous Roads.

Truckers have named parts of this road. The Bluffs. Oil Spill Hill. Oh Shit Corner. Beaver Slide.

“Sure, I’ll take ya, on two conditions,” Art grumbled. Smug, grudging. “”First, you can’t tell anybody I brought the both of ya at the same time.” Art owned his own truck, but the Weaver Brothers employed him. And they frowned upon passengers.
Especially more than one, since we would have to take turns riding in the sleeper. Which didn’t have a seatbelt.

“And,” he said, emphasizing the word by taking a noisy slurp on his ceramic coffee mug, which looked like he was drinking out of a woman’s tit, “if I tell you to jump out of the truck, ya gotta jump. No questions. No jabber. Just go, as far out as you can.”

He explained that if we were going over Atigun Pass, the highest of the three mountain ranges that we would be passing through, and that if the truck lost momentum, or the tires locked up in the ice and snow and started sliding backwards, there would be no stopping it and therefore our only chance to survive was to jump clear of the truck. Pronto.

We said: All righty, then. But we felt:

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot. What The Fuck? In trucker vernacular, which uses the military alphabet on their CB radios.

The ride up was visually spectacular. We saw the snow-capped mountains in the distance, and suddenly, we were driving up the gravel road to the mountain summit. Joseph, Art and myself in the cab and sleeper. A load of 36 inch pipe, weighing tons, being pulled by us.

But emotionally it was a white-knuckle roller coaster ride. With the threat of “Jump!” hanging over us, we were nervous anyway. Art stopped for a flat tire. I had to pee. We were flat smack in the middle of flat country, with no mountains or hills anywhere. I picked the only private spot I could find: in between the two big tires on the front of Art’s truck.

I now know Alaskan women who can pee outdoors, discreetly and efficiently. I am not one of those women.

I was squatted down, hoping to pee on the gravel road between Art’s big tires, and not on my own pants, shoes or socks. At the critical moment, just as I was about to let ‘er rip, a giant SHUSH! emitted from Art’s truck. Novice that I was, I didn’t realize that these giant trucks emit such a noise a few minutes after they have stopped. So I thought the truck was starting to roll. With me, vulnerable, squatting in between its massive wheels.
Of course my pants were up and I was out of there in a split second. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

And Art was bellowing: “Joey! Bring me a five-inch extension!”
Joe had no idea what a “five-inch extension” was, or its reason for existence. But he knew that Art needed one RIGHT NOW. Unable to discern what that might be in Art’s giant red toolbox, Joe simply picked up the entire tool box, which had to weight 150 pounds, and ran it over to Art.
Finally, Joseph and I and a truckload of pipe were delivered into Deadhorse. We offloaded the pipe at Lynden Trucking in Deadhorse, then Art drove us through the guard shack and onto the Prudhoe Bay oilfield.

Prudhoe Bay is as flat as a pancake. North Dakota in summer. Mars in winter. It may not be the end of the world, but, you can see it from here.

So the gleaming, modern buildings that suddenly appeared on the gravel pads built on the flat tundra seemed amazing. It was like Art’s 18 Wheeler had fallen out of the hurricane of the Haul Road and landed in the Merry Old Land of Oz. The dreary black-and-white of the gravel roads gave way to glorious Technicolor!

Inside the gleaming structures, the oilfield camps were posh. Amenities finer than any five-star hotel. The dining rooms offered sumptuous offerings, several entrees, salad bars, dessert tables groaning with food.

Workout rooms with state-of-the-art treadmills that monitor your heart with an aligator clip on your ear! A second-story indoor walking track, scientifically banked so you walked one direction on Mondays, the opposite on Tuesdays, so you didn’t overdevelop muscles on one side of your legs. Who knew?

Indoor atriums full of green plants. Wouldn’t that be a fun job, tending to the indoor plants in this arctic wonderland?

“Spike Rooms” full of donuts, oozing with caramel frosting, soft ice cream machines with vats of hot fudge, hot dogs on a carousel, cases of four-ounce cans of juice, and pudding cups, all free for the taking. Which would explain the glittery trail that twinkled in Art’s truck headlights all the way up the Haul Road. Juice cans and the foil tops off pudding cups, discarded by truckers like Hansel and Gretel so they could find their way back to civilization.

So the Fairy Tale and the Oilfield Story blend into one. And “Once Upon a Time” morphs into, “Now, this ain’t no shit.”

Monday, July 2, 2012


I've always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn't matter. I’ve stuck to those principles for my entire professional career, even when I’ve been directly 12039_084asked “the gay question,” which happens occasionally. I did not address my sexual orientation in the memoir I wrote several years ago because it was a book focused on war, disasters, loss and survival. I didn't set out to write about other aspects of my life.
Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something - something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true. --Anderson Cooper's comments, 7/02/2012

Wow. Anderson Cooper has come out with his secret today, although it was never a secret from his colleages, or, presumably, from his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.

Which brings me to the dichotomy between old school journalism: accurante, unbiased reporting of the events of the day, wherein the reader does not know The Messenger's background nor attitudes. Versus, my current college course, Creative Writing Non Fiction, where the writer employs many techniques: point of view, imagery, conflict/tension, setting, scene, dialogue, metaphor, succinct description, to connect with the reader; yes, even self-disclosure.

Reportage vs. Revelation.

My former profession vs. my future profession.

Which is not to say that some communication techniques cannot be shared by the two intersecting universes. They both celebrate and promote great writing.

I am not exactly sure where these techniques will take me, nor what impact they will have on my writing style.

But I am quite sure that the ride will be entertaining, at the very least.  So stay tuned to this blog for future updates. 

And now, in the immortal signoffs of those past great communicators:

"And now you know.....the rest of the story.  Good day!" --Paul Harvey

"And that's part of our world tonight." -- Dan Rather

"That's the news and I. Am. Outta here!"  -- Dennis Miller

"I'm so glad we had this time together." -- Carol Burnett

"And that's the way it was, July 2nd, 2012." --Walter Cronkite