Category: Harper’s

Bare Necessities — A visit to the edge of the Arctic Ocean

Amy Butcher writing for Harpers Magazine
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Writing for Harpers magazine, Amy butcher travels out to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, one of the most isolated working communities in the US:

Fun, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, is a calendar event. Out here, on the largest and most remote oil field in the United States, thousands of workers rise each morning in endless summer, eternal darkness, mosquitos, and snow, to begin twelve-hour shifts, which on the drilling rigs requires a discipline that is taken seriously: a mistake, however small, could cause this entire place to explode, as it did in West Texas two years ago, or in Texas City twelve years ago. For a change of landscape one can board a bus with elderly tourists to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, point out the artificial palm tree, suggest a dip, and laugh—the water is 28 degrees—but even that route grows dull: the single gravel lane that traces tundra abuts miles of pipeline. For the oil workers, there is little to look forward to before the end of a two-week shift except for scheduled socialization. Each summer, such fun goes by the name Deadhorse Dash, a 5K race traced across nearby Holly Lake.

“Last year, someone dressed up as a dancing polar bear,” Casey Pfeifer, a cafeteria attendant, tells me when I arrive at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel for lunch on the afternoon of the race. Casey is wearing purple eyeliner and a sweatshirt that reads MICHIGAN in looping gold-glitter cursive. Every two months Casey travels between Idaho and Prudhoe Bay—for her, life in Alaska is synonymous with adventure—to work in the service industry at places like the Hotel, which is not actually a hotel at all but a work-camp lodge, with hundreds of tiny rooms housing twin-size cots and lockers. Casey smiles at me from behind her warming tray and I feel cozy, despite the dirt and dust clinging to my skin. The fluorescent lights illuminate her golden hair, which is tucked into a sock bun, and she tongs a sliver of battered cod. “Picture it,” Casey says. She sways her butt to the sound of nothing. “This giant bear, and he is grooving.”

I picture an enormous mascot gyrating to the Backstreet Boys. It is not my idea of fun, but I am an outsider. I had arrived on the North Slope only the day before, seeking a week in the most isolated community in America and what I hoped would be storybook Alaska: purple arching Coho salmon, caribou, moose, air that belongs in a breath-mint commercial. Instead I found square buildings like so many others, and a cafeteria just like that of a high school, with wheels of cheesecake and racks of chips. How normal everything felt. At an empty table, I watch workers lay playing cards out in front of them. Behind them, mounted televisions loop the Steve Harvey Show and Maury, The Price Is Right and Dr. Phil. Workers in heavy coveralls spoon cubes of honeydew onto their plates, consider the merits of the cacciatore, and pile their bowls with limp linguini. They puff their cheeks like chipmunks, gearing up, they joke, for what would no doubt prove a feat of monumental athleticism.

“The calories aren’t expended in the walking,” one worker tells me, reaching into a basket of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. I watch as his hands, the largest I have ever seen, raise the cakes to his mouth. He consumes them whole, parting his lips dramatically—wet pink petals, upon which the skin blisters, burned by Arctic sunlight. His name, he says, is Jeff Snow, but he goes by Snowman. He earned the nickname in the dead of winter, because up here, he comes alive: a redneck, forklift-driving Frosty the Snowman, made animate by extremes.

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Tower of Babble

Joe Kloc sums it all up in Harper’s Magazine
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Over on the Harpers Magazine blog, Browsings, Joe Kloc frankly sums it all up:

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Trump announced that he would win the Latino vote, and tweeted a photo of himself eating a taco bowl from Trump Grill in Trump Tower with the message “I love Hispanics!” Trump referred to a black man at one of his rallies as “my African American,” and pledged his support for black people at a gathering of mostly white people in Wisconsin, whom he often referred to as “the forgotten people.” “I am the least racist person,” said Trump, who was sued twice by the Justice Department in the 1970s for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to black tenants, whose Trump Plaza Hotel was fined $200,000 by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1992 for removing black dealers from card tables, who allegedly told a former employee that he hated “black guys counting my money,” who in 2005 floated the idea of pitting an all-black Apprentice team against an all-white one to reflect “our very vicious world,” and who was endorsed by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, one of whom said, “What he believes, we believe.” Trump tweeted statistics credited to a fictional government agency falsely claiming that the majority of white murder victims in the United States are killed by black people. Trump tweeted a photoshopped picture of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who Trump had said “had blood coming out of her wherever,” standing next to a Saudi prince, who tweeted back that he had “financially rescued” Trump twice, including once in 1990, when the prince purchased Trump’s 281-foot yacht, which was formerly owned by a Saudi arms dealer with whom Trump often partied in Atlantic City, and with whom Trump was implicated in a tax-evasion scheme involving a Fifth Avenue jewelry store. Trump disputed former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s claim that Trump magazine is defunct, showing as proof an annual circular for his clubs that was not Trump magazine, which folded in 2009. Trump republished his book Crippled America with the title Great Again. Trump told and retold an apocryphal story about a U.S. general who executed Muslim soldiers with bullets dipped in pig’s blood and proposed that Muslims be banned from entering the country. At the first primary debate, Trump praised his companies’ bankruptcies, including that of Trump Entertainment Resorts, in which lenders lost more than $1 billion and 1,100 employees lost their jobs, and that of Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, a publicly traded company that Trump used to purchase two casinos for almost $1 billion, and from which he resigned after the company went bankrupt for the first time, but before it went bankrupt for the second time. “I made a lot of money,” said Trump. At the fifth primary debate, Trump defended the idea of retaliating against America’s foreign aggressors by killing non-combatant members of their families, saying it would “make people think.” At the eleventh primary debate, Trump told the crowd there was “no problem” with the size of his penis. Trump said that he knew more about the Islamic State than “the generals,” and that he would “rely on the generals” to defeat the Islamic State. Trump said he would bring back waterboarding and torture because “we have to beat the savages.”

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