When I saw the name in the paper after the Glalaxy went down I hoped it wasn’t the George Karn I knew. Then I saw the picture. George was a cook at UIC-NARL in Barrow during the 90s. He was a true Alaskan character at a time when this state seems to be slipping towards the banality we all fled in the lower ‘48. My friend K.C. tells the best story about George. Here’s what she wrote:
“Remember that stupid little plastic bloody hatchet he had that when swung and hit on something would play this tinny little recording of a classic horror movie scream?
Several years ago when I was in Barrow working on the whale census, I went to visit George at NARL one evening. He had this dinky little room with a bed, a chair, a dresser, a huge TV and a big window with a great view of the lagoon. We’d usually talk and gossip and laugh and just visit for hours.
This evening, however, George was acting strangely. Now, I know you’re thinking �K.C., there is no way that George Karn could simply act strange, because he really WAS strange.’ Well, that’s true.
But this night he was absolutely scary. His eyes and cheeks were sunken, his complexion was splotchy and sallow and his beard and hair were scraggly. He was twitchy and nervous,
acting very creepy and spooky. He seemed distracted, wasn’t finishing sentences, and was jumpy. At first I figured he’d just been in Barrow too long without a break except for…the book.
George had this really frightening book he kept paging through. It was some sort of forensic thing about really, REALLY awful, gruesome murders or accidents. I kept telling him I didn’t want to see it, but he just couldn’t seem to leave it alone. Pretty soon he’d pick it up again, reading aloud vivid descriptions about nasty, grisly wounds and organs hanging out of bodies and things like that.
Worse were the subtle hints and casual remarks that made me begin to get the very creepy feeling that maybe he was on the verge of doing something really ghastly or hideous himself. For the first time in my life I actually started to feel very uncomfortable being around George. I kept saying I should be going and he kept urging me to stay. I managed to break away with the excuse of having to use the bathroom, though he made me promise to come back.
I crept back to fetch my parka with extreme trepidation. I knocked on his door and got no answer. But I could hear the TV was still on, so I grasped the knob, opened the door part way and peeked in. The room was empty. No George. Now what?
I walked in and suddenly this insane maniac burst out from behind the door and lunged at me with a roar. His arm was upraised, and I shrieked and threw my hands up over my head as he swung at me with THE SCREAMING PLASTIC HATCHET!
The ridiculous tinny little recording of the classic horror movie scream played over and over as he swung it repeatedly at me. I cowered pathetically in a little puddle of spent adrenaline and relief where I had fallen on the floor. George, of course, was laughing hysterically. He had spent the entire evening setting me up for this one silly little gag, and it had worked. The whole crazy twitchy thing was a total act, and I had fallen for it hook, line and sinker.
After that he put the book away and was his own usual insane and hilarious self, if maybe just a tad smugger for having me on so thoroughly. He told me that I he usually didn’t get along well with women, but that I was “O.K.” I was flattered by the praise. And now he’s gone and lost himself at sea. Lost at sea! What a totally outrageous and flamboyant way to go. How very George. And how I will miss him.”
I’ll miss him too. There just never seems to be enough George’s to go around in this world anymore. An individual with a sense of the absurd and his place amidst the absurdity. An Alaskan.