“It was a hard life, but it had the satisfaction. But it was hard. Terrible hard in them old days. You’ll hear stories would turn your hair blue overnight and I’m the boy could tell ‘em. There was some wild, lawless places, a man did what he wanted. Guess you know about that, being who you are! But things changed. When the damn place give up on the hard times and swapped ‘em in for confederation with Canada what did we get? Slow and sure we got government. Oh yar, Joey Smallwood said ‘Boys, pull up your boats, bum your flakes, and forget the fishery; there will be two jobs for every man in Newfoundland.’ ” He laughed mirthlessly, showing Quoyle four teeth, lit another cigarette.
“Well, I was a sucker, I believed him. I went along with everything the first ten years or so. Sure, I wanted them things, too, the electricity and roads, telephone, radio. Sure I wanted health care, mail service, good education for me kids. Some of it come in. But not the jobs.
“And the fishing’s went down, down, down, forty years sliding away into nothing, the goddamn Canada government giving fishing rights to every country on the face of the earth, but regulating us out of business. The damn foreign trawlers. That’s where all the fish is went. Then the bloody Greenpeace trying to shut down the sealing. O.k., I says, back when I see I couldn’t make it on fish no more, o.k. I says, I’ll get smart, I’ll get with it, get on the government plan. So, I goes to the Canada Manpower office at Killick-Claw and says, ‘Here I am. Need a job. What you got for me to do?’
“And they says, ‘What can you do?’
“ ‘Well,’ I says, ‘I can fish. Worked in the woods in the winter.’
“ ‘No, no, no. We don’t want fishermen. We’ll train you in a marketable skill.’ See, they’re bringing in industry. Jobs for everybody. First thing they got me into a damn tannery down to Go Slow Harbor. There was only ten or fifteen men working there because it wasn’t in full production. The skill they learned me was throwing these stinking hides, come from where, Argentina or somewhere, into vats. I done that all day long for four days, then they ran out of hides and no more come in, so we just stood around or swept the floors. Couple more months the tannery went belly-up. So I goes back home and fishes long as I could. Then to Canada Manpower again.
“ ‘Fix me up,’ I says. ‘I needs another job.’ ”
“ ‘What can you do?’ they says.
“ ‘I can fish, I can cut wood, I can throw hides in a vat all day long, sweep floors.’
“ ‘No, no, no. We’ll train you. Industrialization of Newfoundland.’ They send me down to St. John’s where there’s a big new plant that’s going to make industrial machinery, all kinds of machines, feed mills, crushing machinery for rocks and peanuts, diamond drills, grinders. That was one hell of place. Big. I never seen nothing like it. Five-million-dollar plant. But nobody in it. So I go down there, I get a room I shared with some stinking old bug, I wait. I was down there, half starving, finding what I could for a quarter a day waiting for that damn plant to open up. Son of a bitch never did. Never turned out a single thing. So I goes back home and fishes the season.
“Come fall, I hit Manpower again and says, ‘It’s gettin’ rough. I need that job.’ At that time I still believed they was going to find something for me, what with the industrialization and all. ‘Well,’ the Manpower feller says, never misses a beat, ‘there’s heartbreak in every trade, Jack. But we’re looking out for you. We’re going to put you in the Third Mill over to Hyphenville. Going to make cardboard liners.’ I worked in that nuthouse for three months. It closed down. They told me next, with my experience, I could get a good job either at the new oil refinery at Bird Wing or at the Eden Falls power project. The refinery wasn’t operative yet they said, so they helped me fill out this job application about two miles long, told me to go home and wait for the letter from Eden Falls. I’m still waiting. Yar, they started it up, all right, but there’s only a very few of jobs. So I stayed home, doing what fishing I could. Lean times. My wife was sick, we’re on the pinch end of things. It was the worst time. We’d lost our oldest boy, you know. So back I goes.
“ ‘Look, boys, things is hard. I needs a job.’ They said they had the perfect thing for me. Saving it all these trial years. And it was right across the Omaloor Bay, a glove factory! Right out there, Quoyle, right out there by your place on the point. They was going to make gloves there, leather gloves. Made it sound like the government built the thing just for me. They said I was a natural for a job due to my experience in the tannery. I was practically a master craftsman of the leather trade! I could prob’ly get an overseer’s job! Wasn’t I some glad? They got the ferry going. Big crowd showed up to go to work first day. Well, you believe it, we went over there, went inside, there was a lot of people standing around, a nice cafeteria, big stainless steel vats for dyeing, sewing machines and cutting tables. Only two things they didn’t have-somebody who knew how to make gloves, and the leather. See, the leather for the gloves was supposed to come from the tannery I worked at years before, but it had folded and nobody ever told the guys building the glove factory, nobody ever told Canada Manpower. That was that.
“So I’m on my way home across the bay, the ferry’s making its second and last run. And I’m thinking. I’m thinking, ‘If I’d knew this sucker didn’t have no leather I could have saved myself a trip.’ Now, how do you know things? You read ‘em in the paper! There wasn’t no local paper. Just that government mouthpiece down to St. Johns, The Sea Lion . So I says, not knowing nothing about it, hardly able to write a sentence-I only got to ‘Tom’s Dog’ in school-but I made up my mind that if they could start a glove factory with no leather or nobody that knew how to make ‘em, I could start a newspaper.
“So I goes over to Canada Manpower and I says, ‘I want to start a newspaper. You fellows think you can help me out?’
“ ‘How many people you gonna employ?’ they says. I takes a wild flyer. ‘Fifty. Once I gets going,’ I says. ‘ ‘Course there has to be a training period,’ I says. ‘Develop skills.’ They ate it up. They give me boxes and boxes of forms to fill out. That’s when my trouble begun, so I got Billy Pretty to give over his fishing and come on board. He writes a beautiful hand, can read like a government man. We done it.
“They sent me off to Toronto to learn about the newspaper business. They give me money. What the hell, I hung around Toronto what, four or five weeks, listening to them rave at me about editorial balance, integrity, the new journalism, reporter ethics, service to the community. Give me the fits. I couldn’t understand the half of what they said. Learned what I had to know finally by doing it right here in my old shop. I been running Gammy Bird for seven years now, and the circulation is up to thirteen thousand, gaining every year. All along this coast. Because I know what people want to read about. And no arguments about it.
“First I hired Billy, then Tert Card. Good men. Out there in Toronto half the place was filled up with women yakking and laughing and looking the men over, or them looking the women over. Not working at all. Billy knows all you have to know to write the women’s stuff up. He’s an old bachelor can cook like hell. My wife, Mrs. Buggit, looks it over just in case. I know what my readers wants and expects and I gives ‘ em that. And what I say goes. I don’t want to hear no journalism ideas from you and we’ll get along good.”
Stopped talking to light another cigarette. He looked at Quoyle whose legs had gone to sleep. Nodding slowly into his hand.
“O.k., Mr. Buggit, I’ll do my best.”