CONFESSIONS OF A GRIM REAPER II


Earlier this week I reminisced about a job I once had. I processed road kill carcasses for a comparative reference collection. The idea was to take the bones out of the dead animals and make collections so archaeologists, such as me, could compare them with the bones they dig up.

My crew and I called the enterprise grim reaping. So did everyone else, and I don’t blame them. We all found it hard to get dates during the grim reaping years. For that matter we found it tough associating with anyone other than ourselves in the cafeteria owing to the smells processed along with the dead animals.

Like people in other university jobs, we had frequent encounters with students. Their thirst for knowledge often had them puzzling over one or another vivisection we conducted at any given time. They gazed at us with fascination as we pulled the headless sea lion around in a tub on a dolly through the biology building – especially when we took a corner too fast and slopped blubber all over the place.

At one point, we had a thirty-pound halibut in a warming cabinet. It was in a bucket with water, baking soda, and a digestive enzyme called trypsin. In a few short weeks, the enzyme reduced the fish to bones and liquid. We set up a screen over an outside drain to separate the bones as we “poured it off.”

The lab was in the basement of the math building, and the drain was immediately below a classroom filled to the brim with first year math students. As I opened the lid of the bucket, hundreds of green faces appeared at the windows to get the full brunt of the aroma.

The letter in my mailbox the next day was from the chairman of the Anthropology and Sociology Department. He demanded I tell him I was doing something about the pollution I was causing. I phoned him and told him not to worry. I was developing a new technique to process some spring salmon I recently got.

“Good,” he said. “I knew I could count on you.”

The Student Union Society vs. the Dead Spring Salmon.

Salmon bones in an archaeological site are very important for determining what time of year prehistoric people occupied a site. Bones found un huge numbers mean fishermen likely killed them during their annual spawning runs. These only happen annually. The trick is to detect which species they killed and match that with the modern timing of the runs.

This is what I explained to my crew as an outside commotion interrupted me. Thousands of students paraded past the lab and on to the administration building. Luckily, they weren’t protesting the smells. Their issue was increasing fees. At the time I held a spawned out carcass of a thirty six-inch spring salmon that was leaking once vital fluid down the front of the lab coat.

I suppose I was a little incensed that the mob interrupted my lecture. I hoisted the fish over my shoulder and charged out the lab door to follow the crowd.

“Stop making so much noise!” I said. “You’re scaring all the fish!”

The Revenge of the Skunk.

I’ll bet you’re wondering where I managed to get the dead and spawned-out fish – especially nowadays when many species of Pacific salmon near extinction. I got them on an expedition to the Little Qualicum River hatchery. All I had to do was phone up the hatchery and get them to pop thirty or forty of them into the freezer. They did and I picked them up in the archaeology truck.

The truck, affectionately known as “The Time Machine,” propelled all of us through many hair- raising adventures. Here, the adventure was trying to move the carcasses back to Vancouver before them thawed. I intended to trade them for other dead animals en route. To an archaeologist, a truckload of dead and spawned out salmon is like a truck load of gold nuggets to a prospector. I felt like a scout building a hockey team. There is trade value in salmon, and I intended to get full value.

The University of Victoria had no carcasses, so I left them ten fish for future considerations. At the Royal BC Museum, I scored big time. I got two beavers, two eagles, a muskrat, a moose, and a wolverine. I arranged them in the truck with the remainder of the fish so they could all see out the windows as I drove to Schwartz Bay to catch the afternoon ferry to Vancouver. At the Tsawwassen Causeway on the Vancouver side, I added to the collection. There was a big juicy skunk on the side of the road.

Nobody has a skunk in their reference collections. The obvious reason is that nobody is stupid enough to throw a dead skunk into the back of a truck. I, however, am and did.

I knew I could put the rest of the fish and other critters into cold storage the next day. I did not think that I should leave the skunk in the truck all night, so I drove straight to the lab. I dumped the skink in a plastic pail with warm water, baking soda, and trypsin. I put the lid on and jammed it into the warming cabinet. At that point I remembered the truck had a roof rack.

Trypsin usually works quickly. An animal the size of that skunk should only take a week to dissolve. I didn’t want any screw-ups. I didn’t want any more memos from the head of the department. I didn’t want to loose the skunk. I waited a month.

As usual, I set the screen up in front of the math building and prepared to “pour off” the skunk juice. No such luck. The skunk was in tact – which was more than I could say for the sobbing math students above trying to grapple with the quadratic equation.

I needed a place to pour off the skunks. I remembered there was a mink farm off-campus, and asked the mink professor if I could come out to his operation to pour off my skunk. “What do I get out of it?” he asked.

“I’ll give you a dead spawned-out salmon,” I said.

“Deal,” he said. I hope he intended to use it to feed the mink.

When you try to make a skeleton out of a dead skunk, there is no end to the story. For several months I felt like I was in a time loop. I made countless trips before I eventually got all the bones. In the end, all that was left was a wad of black and white fur. I put the fur ball into a garbage bag and hauled it off to the incinerator. As I opened The Time Machine, the incinerator attendant jumped back.

“Whoop,” he said. “What the _____ is that funky smell.”

“Me,” I said. “I got sprayed by a skunk and I have to get rid of these clothes.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He also does some work as a field Archaeologist. He is also a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine, and the proprietor of The Résumé Doctor in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at  michael_broderick@telus.net or at michaelb@neilsquire.ca. When he is not doing all this he lives in Port Coquitlam with his partner Cecelia

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3 Responses to “CONFESSIONS OF A GRIM REAPER II”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Oh Gross! And funny!

    I was dumb enough to read this while I ate supper. Yuck!

    How did you ever get Cecelia to stay with you? Pee – yoo!

  2. mikebroderick Says:

    She has guts. Also, she hasn’t read about my past life as an archaeologist – nor would she want to. The close she wants to come to that is the reason I needed to drop out of grad school. I had no stomach to conduct animal experiments

  3. mikebroderick Says:

    Are you sure you want your likk next to a heron wearing panties?

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