July 14, 2011

A Day in Ketchikan

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There’s a candy store in Ketchikan called KetchiCandies.

“Oh, that’s .  .  . clever.”  I said

The owner looked up dolefully, “Yeah,” he said. “I was drunk.”

It has a reputation for the rough and rowdy, does Ketchikan. The stormy afternoon we arrived, four ships had already tried to dock, had given up and moved on.  Our captain was an intrepid guy.  Earlier in the week he had gotten us closer to the Hubbard glacier than the ship before us.  He managed to dock at Ketchikan despite the storm. The wind blew us down the gangway and onto a street that miraculously turned into a walkway through a huge tourist warehouse.  Who’d have thought?

Spit out the end of the warehouse, we found ourselves on the Street of Many Jewelers with shop guys waving us into their dens like the men in the Tenderloin in San Francisco.  We had coupons for free umbrellas at one of the jewelry stores and we availed ourselves of this rare value. While the wind was snapping the hinges right off the frame of mine, Nancy stopped to talk to the shop guy on the sidewalk.  He was our source about the four ships that didn’t dock.  Apparently they listen in to the ship’s bridges on their Ham radios.

“Is this a formal night for you folks?” he wanted to know.  Jewelry sales go up on formal night.

I buttoned the top of my raincoat and put my hood up. Our destination was Dolly’s House, the brothel museum at 24 Creek Street.  It was staffed by women in the kind of business attire that would have gotten us put off the boat at Juneau.  Our guide, who I immediately pegged as a 10-packs-a-day-for-25-years smoker, was poured into her bustier and leaking out the top of her tights.  She rasped through her introduction with no inflection and hustled us into the next room where we listened to a video that informed us all the wallpaper was original.

“I think our guide might be a cross-dresser,” Nancy whispered.

I stuck my head out the beaded curtain and looked casually around the front parlor.

“Did you need something?”

“This wall paper is original?”

“Everything in the house is the way Dolly left it.”

I pulled back into the video room.

“She doesn’t have an Adam’s apple.”  I whispered.  I learned this tip from watching The Crying Game with a gay friend

Here are a few highlights from Dolly’s House:  In the bathroom are flowers that Dolly made from French early 20th century silk condoms that were demonstrably not good for anything else.  In the hall is a framed copy of an application for employment.  Here are a few of the questions:


Do you speak any foreign languages?

Any other skills our clients might find pleasurable?  How do you know?

Dress size?  Shoe size?  Unmentionable size?

Have you ever worked this side of the street before?


Okay, I am guessing the employment application might not be as original as the wallpaper or the condoms.

We wandered back into town.  I found a Russian tchotchke shop and KetchiCandies.   Nancy found a free WiFi spot in a tavern in a back alley.  We were wet and tired when we re-boarded the ship.

It had been just the sort of day that wanted to end up in Michael’s Club, a quiet little place which I had discovered earlier when I was attempting to flee the noisier venues on the ship.  I had stood inside the door and listened to Tom sing old standards while his fingers danced up and down the keys of the piano.  Clean, simple, and no subwoofer.

Nancy and I went back the next night for a drink.  She ordered a Manhattan and I asked for a Laphroaig.  The bartender, Valentine, looked at me in surprise.

“Laphroaig,” he said.  “That is a very fine Scotch.”

“Yes it is,” I said.  “I like it neat.”

Later that evening, I said to Nancy, “Did you see how appreciative Valentine was when I ordered the Scotch?”

“Yes, Elena,” Nancy said patiently.  “I was there, remember?”

We went back several more nights.  Nancy has a varied palette but I always asked for a Laphroaig.  We chatted with Valentine.  He was Romanian from Transylvania.  My maternal grandparents were from Romania, but when I told Valentine they were ethnic Bulgarians from what used to be called Bessarabia, I believe I lost all the points I had racked up from ordering Laphroiags.  I expect there are hidden political animosities in the Balkans that are beyond me.   Not unlike my mother’s family where all the adults seemed to be seething at one other in no particular order and with no fathomable reason.

On this evening in Michael’s Club, and while we were still docked in Ketchikan, we got to chatting with an old Korean War vet and his wife.  They asked if we had done much traveling.  I have, in fact, done a lot of traveling but I shoved Nancy onto the front line.

“Nancy, here, has been traveling all her life,”

“Don’t get it started,” Nancy murmured to me.

It was too late.  The Story of Nancy began to unravel, beginning with her birth in Beirut.  Nancy told me later she doesn’t like to reveal anything about herself in such situations because she ends up having the kind of conversation I had with the war vet.

“She was born in Beirut?” he asked me as though Nancy wasn’t right there.  “But she lives in the United States now?  Well, that’s good she can live here.”

“She’s American,” I said. “Her parents were American.”

“Well, good for her.  She’s all settled here then?  She can be here permanently?”

“She’s an American.”

“Well, good for her.”

*               *                *               *               *                *               *

I have a friend who has wisely commented that sometimes the farther away one gets from a trip, the better it becomes.  That has been the case here.  Except for the time spent with my congenial traveling companion, I have enjoyed writing about this trip more than the actual experience of it.   Someday, if I drink too much Laphroaig, I might even sign up to do it again.



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