This is what counts as a vacation for me: Sitting by Lemon Creek in a camp chair with a bunch of Unitarians and a cooler full of pop, waiting for the Hooligan run to start. I’ve got my cap pulled down over my eyebrows and I smell like turpentine because I’m covered in a thick layer of Deep Woods Off.
The Unitarians aren’t the only ones here, but they seem to have clout because all the hopeful bachelors and the starry-eyed dreadlock chicks are hanging back, drinking bottled water and huffing Binaca. Julie, the alpha Unitarian, is checking the supplies for the twelfth time. I guess she’s as keyed up as the rest of us. There’s a flash in the water and all our heads turn but it’s just some kid on the far side chucking rocks into the creek. His mom hustles him off with her head pressed down to his, presumably explaining why this is a very bad day for rock-chucking.
Then there’s another splash and a lithe young Hooligan bursts from the water and dashes toward the road. Julie sizes her up as she runs past, and tosses her a packet. The girl catches it without looking or breaking stride and streaks naked up the road, her waist-length hair bobbing soggily along behind her.
The rest of the Unitarians and I are now all on our feet, making snap size judgments and slinging packets at Hooligans as fast as we can work our arms. It’s a lot like passing out Gatorade to triathletes. Each packet contains a Tyvek jumpsuit, a Clif bar, a liter of water and half a dozen condoms. The Hooligans couldn’t be more motivated if they were being chased by wolves. All those months in the open ocean and only this one day a year to swim upriver and spawn. I suppose it’s not too different from sailors on shore leave, except with fewer clothes and longer hair. In bars all over Juneau, shallow-breathing Romeos are fingering hundred-dollar bills, with their eyes on the door in case any jumpsuited amphibious girls walk in. But good luck to them. Plenty of Hooligans aren’t even making it into town—they’re leaping into the bushes by twos and fours and shaking all the leaves loose. Quiet old couples who ought to be used to this by now are phoning 911 and getting whatever calming boilerplate the operators have ready. The lawn-chair bachelors have all picked out favorites and are running and jogging after them as best they’re able. By rights the Hooligans ought to be shooting a nature documentary about them, the heavy, balding bachelors for whom hope springs eternal, chugging and sweating after women they have no more chance of catching than they would an antelope or a deer. They remind me of my childhood dog chasing squirrels: maybe it’s more the chasing than the catching that counts.
The dreadlocked women show more cool. They keep their seats and wait for Hooligan men to tire and loop back to them. Then they open bottles of red wine and smile and do their best not to startle the men. Some of the men have struggled into jumpsuits and some are hanging loose. Some accept plastic cups of wine and some feign disinterest and pretend to be shy. I sure hope they use the Unitarian condoms. No woman deserves to watch her newborn baby swim out to sea.