Roughnecks, roustabouts, derrickmen, drillers, toolpushers, virtually all male, working 12-hour shifts, night and day, atop platforms balanced on steel columns thrust thousands of feet into the Niger Delta, the gulfs of Mexico and Persia, the coastal waters of California, the North Red, and Caspian Seas, operating diamond-encrusted drills that bore deeper still past the permanent dark of the ocean floor, into bedrock, seeking ancient, untouched canyons of natural pressured gases and the black pearlescent flow of crude oil deposits to be pumped underwater back to the populated shores, while they remain out in all weathers, no drinking allowed, rarely a phone to use, housed in bunk beds, sometimes four to a room, wives, girlfriends, kids, or no one at all waiting for their return, this fraternity of dangerous and repetitive labor confined together on 10,000-ton metal rigs, the lone survivors, they seem, or some apocalyptic flood, out there in international waters on the energy industry’s edge, where taxes are low and the local population, so often troublesome when human, and worse yet when organized, consists only of marine life, seals using the lower walkways to bask in the sun, or the variety of mollusks that attach themselves to the legs and must now and again be forced off by divers with high-powered hoses, these thick-muscled men, the younger and less well paid of whom work every day with their hands and arms smeared in the grease of hoisting tackle and winches, no one but each other as company for weeks or even months at a times, some hostage a few years back to Nigerian protesters wanting a portion of the revenues for their villages, others from the Philippines or Mauritius paid 81 pence an hour to work in the North Sea by middlemen providing labor to the oil giants, another threatened again and again with rape by his male bosses on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 10 dead when the then-largest rig in the world sank off the coast of Brazil, 167 killed by a gas-leak explosion in the North Sea, while those sill at it live with daily disaster drills and the monitoring of hundreds of dials and gauges measuring the heat, pressure, and flow of the deadly and eminently valuable mineral that has brought them to these harsh outposts of extraction, where in the hours between shifts they lift weights to make themselves yet bigger or watch satellite television in windowless cabins or just play cards until they can sleep or their shift comes around again and they lift supplies from boats sent out with parts and food to keep their metal cities running despite the strain, the bad practical jokes, the fear of death, the macho kidding around, the fatigue, the dirt on the body, the way the whole rig shakes when the wind gets strong, these frontier workers making grimly good on God’s grant of the planet to man, of what, I would like to know, do they dream?
Adam Haslett is the author of three works of fiction: the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist; the novel Union Atlantic, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize; and his most recent, the novel Imagine Me Gone. His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and his journalism and fiction have appeared in The Financial Times, Esquire, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Short Stories. A graduate of Swarthmore College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Yale Law School, he has been a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Columbia University. He lives in New York City.