yellowknife -- if someone had told me a year ago that I'd be living on a houseboat on Yellowknife Bay, crapping in a pail, I probably would have thought that someone was crazy. Nevertheless, that is what I'm doing after unshackling myself from Mama Chrysler's teat. Boomtown Yellowknife is my hometown. For now.
DaimlerChrysler's fortunes were looking brutal, and the opportunity to be a working journalist in Yellowknife beckoned, so I took a six-month leave from the assembly line.
The six months turned into a year, the maximum leave period I could take. Sometime in the next week or so, DaimlerChrysler's computers will terminate my eight-year association with industrial labour. Kiss the 30-year pension goodbye, along with the safety net (some might say crutch) of going back to the body shop if I fail in my new incarnation. Surprising how conflicted I feel about a job I hated so much.
I miss the paycheques, dreadfully. Pursuing my dream job has meant 20 grand off my annual wages. Add to that the fact that I've moved to a region whose cost of living would make the most jaded Torontonian cringe, and the word "penury" suddenly has a far more immediate meaning for me.
I lived in Inuvik for two months, where two litres of milk will set you back six bucks. Ditto Iqaluit, where I spent three months, and 12 bucks for a burger. Most consumer goods are a little cheaper down in Yellowknife, but the rental market is brutal. My choices were to live with two or three roommates somewhere in town or take a houseboat sans electricity, plumbing or much of anything else.
The houseboat life has some cachet, what with visions of summer months of eternal daylight spent lounging in deck chairs. Pity I moved in just as the temperature dropped to 40 below and didn't creep above for two weeks.
I'm getting the hang of some things, which at least means no longer having to sleep in a snowsuit. A cord of wood costs around $200. Propane for my stove is $75 a tank. The privilege of privacy and a great view of the aurora borealis from my bedroom windows is setting me back $600. My dog (rescued from the Iqaluit pound) ate someone's eyeglasses the other day, putting me another $170 in the hole. Don't get me started on the cost of weed.
My dilemma goes a little deeper than moving away from the autobody lifestyle. Those were years spent closely identifying with the working class.
Even before I tied myself to the line, my dad worked in the same plant. It's simplistic to say he imbued me with a working-class ethic, but I gleaned some things from him. You work, you get paid for the work you do. It's essentially an agreement made by someone who has only the capital of his or her labour to offer up. So I did, and continue to do so, but things are a little more fluid now. That's the problem of trading in a job for something I consider a vocation.
When I took my leave of the metal shop a year ago, some well-meaning friends told me I'd be back. I sensed that they thought I was destined to fail in this endeavour, and I've wondered since if they think I'm trying to rise above my station in life.
Our culture is littered with characters like Paddy Chayefsky's Marty or Steinbeck's George and Lenny, workaday drudges who sold their labour in the hopes of raising enough scratch to pursue a dream. Lenny, as you'll recall, just wanted to "live off the fatta the land." Is it dreaming, aspiring or mere uppitiness?
On bad days, I wonder if the last one is the most apt description.
Therein lie some of the major pangs I'm feeling right now. I'm trapped between two lives, no longer a member of the gigantic community I once belonged to, but not really fiting in to the ranks of the upwardly mobile.
When my colleagues and I go for beers at Le Frolic or the Black Knight after work on Fridays, I think I stick out like a sore thumb, surrounded as I am by civil servants, CBC types, deputy ministers and their minions.
Still, Yellowknife is probably the best town I could have gone to. It's non-judgmental, like much of the North. One gets a sense that a degree of tolerance is necessary to keep things running. Lots of people come here for work, to start over, to (if you'll pardon the cliché) find themselves. I don't feel like I belong, as I did in Windsor, but I don't feel unwelcome either.
In a few more days, DaimlerChrysler's computer system will ensure that I no longer have a net to fall back on. "A momentous occasion," according to my managing editor. He should know. He came to Yellowknife from Windsor himself, and though he never chased an assembly line, he saw enough people who did to know the seductive pull of putting in eight hours and leaving it at the plant.
Simply put, I miss that sense of connectedness with a community. I miss friends like Gary, Barry, Mike, Roger, Dave, Serge, April, Dennis and dozens of others. I miss overtime and weekly paycheques that bought the best dope in town. I miss not fretting about work and devising creative ways to fuck the dog. I don't miss turning my brain off. And I especially don't miss having to get permission to take a crap. Even if it's in a pail. Kevin Wilson is the justice reporter for the Yellowknifer.