After graduating from college, I looked for absolutely nothing meaningful to do. I read about opportunities to work on farms in Europe. Sounded good.
The Cubs were typically horrible, so what would I miss?
I signed up with a kind-of exchange student service that would put me in touch with Norwegian farmers. They would hire me for the summer.
Cool. Drink beer with Norwegians! Yo! What could be better?
I arrived on the farm via a 4-hour ferry, followed by a cab ride over a mountain, a motor boat ride along a fjord, and a brutal hike up a mountain path.
There were no wheels. There was no electricity. There was no plumbing. There was no English language.
The farmer told me, through a nephew who translated, that if it was too difficult I could leave any time I wanted.
I was already exhausted. Coming from Chicago, where everything is very flat, walking along those fjord/mountain paths was enough to cause major heart palpitations.
Over the course of the months I worked there, I had to learn some Norwegian. But I was pitiful.
Soon enough I learned that the job didn't just involve farming, or in our case harvesting hay, but also fishing for mackerel, an important source of income for the farmer.
One morning the farmer and I sat in the fishing "blind" waiting for some mackerel to swim into our net. The "blind" looked like a prison watch tower on the side of the fjord. I usually read books while the farmer patiently waited for fish. The net was about forty yards long and maybe ten yards wide with one end weighted down so the fish could swim into it.
On this morning the farmer gasped and then very slowly pointed with his index finger to our left. I saw nothing.
I stared and stared and stared. And then I saw it.
A huge churning wheel of thousands of mackerel heading straight for our net. The sun glistened off of their deep blue and silver backs.
"Wha ...!" I almost shouted. The farmer grabbed my arm. The fish would see me and change course!
But they swam into our net and we caught them.
It was more fish than we could handle. We sold tons to a local fish merchant, but the farmer also wanted to sell as many as possible in the local small town markets, door to door, and at the ferry landings that dotted the fjords. The margin was better!
We loaded our boat and crossed the fjord to a small town called Vikedal. I thought that we would stand there and sell our fish in front of the general store as we normally did.
Ha ha ha! The farmer flagged down a bus and loaded seven milk crates of mackerel and me onto it. My mission? Sell them all at a ferry stop called Sand. There was so much fish that we had to split our duties!
So there I was. At a ferry stop with seven crates of fish, and I had to sell them to the locals in Norwegian.
I stood there for a while hoping the citizens of Sand would notice me. But they didn't until I pulled a mackerel out of one of the crates and shouted, "Skal du ha makerel?"
They made no judgments about my accent. They checked out the fish and then bought them from me. I sold all seven milk crates.
Best piece of work I've ever done.
That night I found a baseball game on the Armed Forces Network radio station. But it wasn't the Cubs. Didn't matter. It was baseball.
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