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  • I am a counter.
    I wasn’t born that way.
    I used to be able to let things flow without tallying and categorizing. I didn't always play the counting game.

    I know just when it started.

    I was the night donut man at the Duncan Donuts in Ellsworth Maine.
    It was the winter of 1978 and I worked the 10 until your done shift.

    Caroline worked the day shift. She walked me through the first few nights.
    In the summer you’ll be making three, four times as many, she said.

    I looked at the racks of congealing cake donuts and the racks of yeast donuts still to fry rising in the proofing cupboard.

    I watched her flip sheets of dough like she was airing bedsheets then rapid fire cut the rings so they flew off the floured table onto her fingers.

    You’ll get the hang of it, she said.

    Production at Dunkin’ Donuts went by the numbers.

    I mixed and kneaded, rolled, cut and fried:

    4-50 pound bags of plain cake donuts
    2-50 pound bags of chocolate cake donuts
    8-50 pound bags of yeast donuts
    I lined them up on wire trays, 12 rows of 8 on a tray.
    A 50 pound bag made 4 trays and a bit more.
    400 rings if the dough was rolled to just the right thickness.

    So I mixed and kneaded and rolled and cut;
    So many cinnamon
    So many powdered sugar
    So many plain sugar
    So many plain. We called them buttermilk but all they were was plain.
    So many glazed
    Crème filled
    Chocolate crème filled
    Boston crème
    Raspberry, strawberry, blueberry
    Cinnamon swirl

    I counted them as I cut them and flipped them up onto my fingers like flappy, flippy dough rings.

    Counted them as I laid them out on the wire racks and set them to sizzle in the just about smoking oil.

    Counted them as I worked down the rows and flipped them with my flipping sticks. Perfectly brown on each side with a thin ring of pale between.

    Counted them as set them in the racks to cool.

    Counted them into baskets for Julie, the counter girl, to fill and dip, roll in sugars, set out in the counter for the morning caffeine and calorie rush.

    Julie had one eye that looked straight ahead and the other stared out 90 degrees to the right. She didn’t speak to me the first month. Just made sure I got the numbers right. As the fall spun down to winter she decided I wasn’t an asshole and talked about what she cooked for her mother and going shopping, and the curtains she was making for the trailer and the funny thing her puppy did the other day.

    I graduated donut academy that early spring. My diploma was the note I left stuck to the office door.
    A pencilled note that said, I’m done and I won’t be coming back.

    Julie watched me go. I knew you wouldn’t stay for summer she said. You’da had to triple your production. I knew you was going to leave. You got that island.

    Yeah, I told her. I got that island.

    I graduated from multiplication and sets a la donuts to the more advanced maths of commercial fishing.

    Lobstering is a counting occupation.

    I counted like a knitter as I cast on loops to make heads and bait bags

    Counted rope in fathoms. 10 fathom short warps, fifteen fathoms for the ones off just a dite, Twenty-fives for the strings between the islands.

    Two fathoms of floating warp on the bottom and 13 fathoms of top warp. Bouy at one end, trap on the other, and a float to thirds of the way up. That’s fractions.

    Counted traps in gangs and strings.
    Counted the minutes between strings of traps in the fog.
    Counted the lobsters I kept.
    Counted the pounds I sold
    Counted the dollars earned.

    In donut land as the lonely, lowly donut man I was little involved or concerned with the habits of the donut muncher. There my production was fixed and set. But lobstering involves probability and patterns. The hunter lives with and through his prey.

    I figured a percent of the lobsters caught against lobster kept.
    Sorted them by size and considered the percent of each against the whole.
    Counted the per trap average for each string around each island.
    Kept the count and compared it to the weight
    Compared day to day, location to location, month to month.

    In school now I watch kids learning to count. They get up to a certain number and lose count and start again. After a while they just shove the ones they want into a pile and carry on. We say they have lost count and devise strategies to help them be more organized.

    I dunno.

    The numbers run on. Sometimes I sit a long while working at nothing, working to stop counting and just be again.

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