Go to Sea

Adventure, Beauty, Death . . . a brief explanation of why the view on your barstool is a little pallid

Though, he continues, "It's an honest job because you honestly give every ounce of your blood and soul, then you honestly get a pocket full of money and every ounce of your time, blood and soul when you are off. You get these big windows of time when you're not working. Sometimes two, three months. I'd travel to South America and other places around the world."

The brothers agree that a mythlike bond develops with the sea. The idea of a last frontier means you're able to get away from society and all its influences and madness, the perimeters and corruption.

You become just one more shape cloaked in foul-weather gear pulling in the fish. A Joseph Conrad adventure laced with fisheries, narrow inlets and empty canneries.

Chris Robson wields the bane of his existence.
Paolo Vescia
Chris Robson wields the bane of his existence.
Friggin' in the riggin': Skater punk to club DJ by way of four hellish years in the North Pacific.
Paolo Vescia
Friggin' in the riggin': Skater punk to club DJ by way of four hellish years in the North Pacific.

"A friend of mine just got out of prison and we're changing stories, and we both have the same feeling; once I got on land, once he got out of prison. . . . These situations here would make him nervous. When there's a lot of people around, a lot of women around. . . . Problems we've never had before."

Off-season, between trips to Phoenix, he often worked the Tacoma docks and lived in "a sleazy dock-workers hotel in Fife. Hookers, drinkers, steel workers and dirtballs and truckers everywhere." A few months of this and that mythlike bond had him longing for boat and sea.

Robson says his search for adventure morphed into a search for truth, an integrity. He developed a sense of pride, not an arrogant pride, but one of self-respect. The inaccessibility to dry land, the onboard knuckles-and-gore were a physical and moral battlefield.

A year and a half ago, Robson suffered an accidental blow that changed his life. While on deck, a steel, medicine-ball-like bobbin swung around the air and smashed the side of his skull. His left eye popped out. The weather was the worst it could be, freezing spray, high seas and zero visibility.

"It was toward the end of the season, but we were catching good fish," he says, detailing the nightmarish episode with obvious discomfort. "Your eyes pop out pretty easy. When it happened, the captain wasn't too worried; he's seen eyes pop out before. You see 'em in bar fights. They shoved the eye back in, taped it up and called the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard wouldn't make the trip because of the bad weather. So they filled me full of pills."

He wound up on an Aleutian island on pain pills with two drunken ambulance drivers. A private jet took him to an Anchorage hospital where he learned his retina was shattered. The doctors told him there was little they could do.

"I remember sitting next to me was a man sitting very calmly with a bungee cord stuck in his eye. His wife sat next to him holding his hand. He politely asked me how I was doing."

From Anchorage, he flew to a center in Seattle that specializes in retina reconstruction. It was there he learned that he had a pre-existing degenerative retina condition.

"That's how I got screwed in my lawsuit," he says, half self-mockingly.

A maritime law called the Tuberculosis Act says employers are not liable in instances of pre-existing conditions.

"I had all these lawyers telling me what I needed to do. Tyson Seafoods offered me a job on land. They really valued me 'cause I was a good worker. I was winning best employee bullshit, this and that."

He says he'd rather not talk about his ex-employer because the lawsuit is still pending.

Five surgeries and bucketloads of eye-growth steroids later, there was no improvement. His new shrink said he showed signs of posttraumatic stress syndrome, said he feared Robson might off himself.

His fiancée at the time bailed and she emptied his bank account on the way out of town.

"I pretty much lost it. My life would consist of going up the hill to talk to the shrink and they would dope me up even more than I was doped up. I wanted my left eye back. Then I would walk down the hill and hit my favorite pub. I was drinking like a fish, 15, 20 pints a day.

"They say my right eye could go at any time. I can't skateboard anymore, I can't mountain bike, and I can't life weights."

With less than 50 percent vision in his right eye, Robson is now considered legally blind. A lawyer had to sue on his behalf to receive disability from social security.

A good deal on turntables inspired Robson to take his downtown discotronic mix of pop, jazz and hip-hop public. He spins at parties and small functions. He spins the first Friday of each month at a downtown bar, a scene in which artists present their work.

He's attending school with hopes of becoming a special ed teacher with a focus in Braille. He's getting married soon.

In the end of The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago takes to his bed and is "dreaming about the lions." He's found his maker and has a sense of calm with the world around him. That's why we cared about him, even envied him, despite his hard life.

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