The Michigan Daily and written by Jasper Kigar.
It started with the Discovery Channel. I’ve always had a yen to travel, but the show “The Deadliest Catch,” may have had a greater impression on me than on the average viewer. The summer after my freshman year in Ann Arbor, I packed my bags and left for Alaska to seek adventure and fortune as a crabber. I never made it to the Bering Sea, but that summer changed my life.
My name is Jasper Kigar, but it hasn’t always been. My parents named me Taylor. That’s what I went by before my trip to Alaska. When I left I was hoping to change my personality from the cloistered and meek church boy to something more fierce and attractive. It’s debatable whether I’m more attractive now, but after spending the summer vacation as a vagabond and a fisherman, my personality changed, and along with it, so did my name.
When I landed in Anchorage, I was scared. I quickly learned that the crabbing season was winter, not summer, and I had to find some other way to make the $20,000 cut a crabber might take home after a run. My best friend Josiah encouraged me, and after asking around in local bars about where to find fishing jobs (the next best thing to crabbing), we hitchhiked the 210 miles from Anchorage to Homer in three days, thanks in part to a Cajun man named Steve who preferred to drive with a buzz. He sipped Jim Beam while barreling down the curvy Alaskan highway at speeds I think averaged at least 105 miles per hour.
When we got into Homer we had no housing and it was too cold to camp so we enrolled in a homeless shelter called the Refuge Room. Josiah shared a bunk with an old sex-offender named Dan, who smelled of piss and semen. I slept above a 4-fingered chef named Larry, who had a propensity for falling asleep while talking.
After Josiah and I parted ways, I took a job on a salmon seining boat. When it went bankrupt, I took a job on the docks working at a cannery and lived for a few weeks with a hippie named Caressa in the back of her camper on the beach. After Caressa left to help out on a real crabbing voyage, I was left high and dry and homeless, again. I saw her out to sea, and later that evening, walked down the docks, hungry.
I heard laughter coming from an old cargo boat called the Beaver, which I would later learn was a sort of Vietnam Veteran’s commune and a place the weak of stomach were advised to avoid. I walked in to see five burly men sitting around a table in the galley drinking cheap beer and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. They stopped talking and stared.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“He looks like a fisherman,”
“Smells like a slime liner,”
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Jasper,” I replied.
“You play crib, Jasper?”
It was the first time I’d used the name Jasper. Until then I’d gone by Taylor. At the time, I didn’t think about it very hard. I was nervous, and I wanted an alias.
We did play crib that night. If you ask him now, he’ll say he won, but our memories from that night differ slightly. To make a long story short, we hit it off. Ken let me stay in the captain’s quarters for as long as I was in Alaska. He slept in the engine room because he said he preferred to be “close to (his) diesels.”
I don’t know why I pulled the name Jasper out of my head to talk to those rowdy guys, but I think it was because I was scared. I thought it was possible they might try to kill me, so I gave them a fake, rugged-sounding name, partially to protect myself in case I had to make a run for it. For whatever reason, it stuck. On the ship, I started to fit in and feel at home. We were a ship of rejects and ruffians, of which I was the youngest. I hid my sheltered background along with the Arabic and Spanish I learned at the University. I learned to speak their slang, and I learned to drink – a lot. Beer break on the Beaver started at 3 p.m., and we usually went strong past midnight.
Today my name is Jasper. When I came home from Alaska and stepped back into the college life at the University I held onto my scruffy face and the name. My friends didn’t know what to make of me and most didn’t accept it, but every new person who I introduced myself to met me as Jasper, and my mother and grandparents took to the name. Jasper had a more exotic story to tell than Taylor. Plus, he could work all day and hold his liquor.
I returned to Alaska last summer. I lost all my money again and quit the business for good. The name, though, will stick with me. In fact, I’m making it permanent. My hearing for a formal name change is April 3 at 3 p.m. at the Washtenaw County Courthouse. But before that happens, I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Captain Ken, without whom I never would have been scared enough to recreate myself, and Taylor, who had the courage to try the next best thing.