The tall fisherman, incoherently drunk and bleeding about the face from some earlier fight, refused to leave the tiny lobby of the Dillingham Hotel. But hotel manager Lois Robinson, 45, had lived long enough in this little fishing port, one of the most alcohol-ridden towns of a liquor-prone state, to know what to do next.
From behind the hotel counter she produced a large wooden baseball bat, and, hitting with as much force as a 125-pound woman can muster, pummeled the intruder on the back and shoulders as he slowly retreated out the door.
Incidents like that happen at least once a day, she later told a shocked witness; she thought herself lucky on a recent weekend when "I didn't have to use my baseball bat once."
For much of its history, since the Russians first settled its bleak little seaside harbors in the 18th Century, Alaska's arctic nights and much of its days have been awash in alcohol.
Today it may have the most unself-consciously alcoholic resident population in the country. The small towns of the bush and the long seacoast nearly all share Dillingham's hard-drinking habits. Anchorage seems almost to cherish its skid row.
But studies show that Alaska's residents pay a high price for their drinking. Alaska has the highest state percentage, 3.53 percent, of deaths due to alcoholic psychosis, alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver and accidental alcohol poisoning. An estimated 70 percent of Alaska's traffic fatalities involve alcohol, compared with about 50 percent nationwide.
The Alaska Council on Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse said the state has 2 1/2 times as many bars and four times as many liquor stores per capita as the national average, and liquor in Alaska is relatively cheap, considering the unusually high salaries and the cost of other goods.
But now, for the first time in the political arena, many Alaskans have begun to do something about their 200-year addiction to hard liquor.
Despite well-financed lobbying by the liquor industry, an unusual coalition of Alaskans ranging, in the words of one, from "radical feminists to members of the Moral Majority," has managed to reduce significantly the open hours of bars in Anchorage, the state's largest city, and here in Dillingham.
They almost succeeded in passing a bill to raise the state drinking age from 19 to 21, winning approval in the Alaska House of Representatives but finding the proposal held up in a Senate committee.
At least 48 native villages in the bush, where alcohol has raised the crime rate and has hurt family life significantly, have voted in the last year to ban the sale and import of liquor.
Carole A. Baekey, alcohol project coordinator for the Alaska Legal Services Corp., said her state-funded staff has visited 90 rural communities and has contacted 140 others in the last 18 months to help set up such elections under the state's new alcohol local-option law.
One of the largest and richest native corporations, the NANA Regional Corp., closed the Imikvik Lounge, the only profitable part of its hotel in the far northwest town of Kotzebue, after native elders complained about what its liquor sales were doing to community life.
Alaskan natives may have reacted so strongly to alcohol because they were so unused to it when the Russians first brought it in.
"It's one of the few cultures with no intoxicating beverages of its own," said Howard Scaman, a consultant to the Alaska Council. For many years village councils tried to control the alcohol problem on their own, but by the mid-1970s, Baekey said, they were telling the legislature that they could no longer handle alcohol locally and were in need of some kind of state law.
One of the native villages, Togiak, about 60 miles west of here across foggy marshes, voted 93 to 23 to ban all sale and import of liquor as of June 1 under the new state ordinance.
The largely Eskimo community decided it was tired of alcohol-inspired fights in town, said village council President Andrew Franklin, "but there is still drinking going on. We can't completely stop it." Franklin said they caught one pilot trying to bring in two cases of beer, and that he suspects that others have escaped detection.
"The problem still exists, because a person can hop into a plane, get a bottle and bring it back home," said David Nanalook, 28, a fisherman from Togiak.
Nearby villagers seeking refreshment and local fishermen seeking nighttime diversion after long hours on choppy Bristol Bay often leave the dirt and gravel streets of Dillingham decorated with several sprawled drunks by midnight. Until recently the bars stayed open until 5 a.m.
"You just had to sit for three hours, tough it out and you could be back at the bar at opening time, 8 a.m.," said Mike Jacobson, 27, a recent law graduate working for the summer as a fisherman.
Dillingham recently voted that its bars would have to close at 1 a.m., open not before 10 a.m. and be closed all day Sunday. The action has not restrained the town's most serious drinkers, Jacobsen and other residents here said, which would not surprise sociologists who have studied the problem in similar cultures around the world.
As the only Americans living in the vicinity of the Artic Circle, Alaskans share a weakness for alcohol with Russians, Finns and other people who suffer unusually long, cold winters.
"All arctic cultures have high alcoholism rates," said James Orvik of the University of Alaska's Center for Cross-cultural Studies in Fairbanks.
The bad weather and long winter nights make Alaskans sympathetic to anyone's need for distraction. Marijuana is largely tolerated here. Anchorage's skid row, along the storefronts of West 5th Street between A and D Streets, receives comparatively tender care from city authorities.
"The Anchorage attitude toward public inebriation is extremely permissive," said Scaman, a recovered alcoholic who 17 years ago spent much time on Los Angeles' skid row. Special city cars often take the unconscious to a special detoxification center, or even to their homes.
Bette O'Moor, 50, an Anchorage resident who says she is a recovered alcoholic, said she moved to Alaska 12 years ago principally because "I felt I would be able to drink and drive without being arrested as easily."
The 19-year-old drinking age and other liquor regulations often are not strictly enforced. A spokesman for the state alcoholic beverage control board acknowledged that his office had only five investigators to cover the largest state in the nation.
"None of these guys are old enough, and they are always in the bars," said Judie Satterfield, 19, of some of her friends here. Her twin sister, Julie, agreed, and noted that disturbances at the bars often were overlooked. "There is no way that the state trooper can enforce the law there and keep track of everything else," she said. "If they don't take you to jail, they let you lay in the streets all night."
Barbara Hoffman, executive director of the Alaska Council, a non-profit, state-supported organization, blames a phenomenon she calls "geographic escape" for much of the state's drinking problem. Many people, unhappy and alcoholic and hoping that a change of scene would make them happier, "have brought their alcoholism with them to Alaska."
The state, she noted, has a high percentage of "risk-taking" occupations -- loggers, truckers, oil-rig workers, pilots -- which create stress that can lead to alcohol abuse.
The state also has a high proportion of young adults, often likely to drink to excess. Hoffman, who said she is a recovered alcoholic, said her drinking problem began when she was in her 20s.
Her two sons, now in their mid-20s, encountered the same sort of problem, "particularly when they started to make big money out on the pipeline," she said.
O'Moor, administrative manager of the Alaska Council in Anchorage, had been in Alaska before and knew when she moved back in 1970 that "in the bars that I patronized it would be okay for everyone to be drunk when we left."
By 1973, she said, she was living on skid row in Anchorage, trying to convince herself that she was just there "to write a book about the other people there." She had what she called "a spiritual experience" and stopped drinking.
Obed Nelson, director of an alcoholic treatment program at Humana Hospital in Anchorage, chairs the Safer Alaska Coalition, which is pushing the legislature for a higher drinking age, shorter bar hours, tougher drunk driving laws and more restrictions on liquor licenses.
After persuading the municipal assembly in Anchorage to limit bar hours to 10 a.m to 2 a.m., Nelson said, the coalition fought a $120,000 campaign by the liquor industry to overturn the new rules on last fall's city ballot.
The coalition won by a 2-to-1 ratio, "which made everybody sit up and take notice," he said.
In response, the liquor industry has funded its own Alaska Alcohol Beverage Education Institute and has hired alcohol counselors Ralph and Carol Kopansky to train bartenders, waitresses and liquor store clerks in how to refuse liquor to customers who are drunk. Kopansky said the program, begun this month, has put 20 employes of the Brown Jug package chain and 35 employes of The Pines restaurant through the 12-hour training session.
The efforts to limit drinking by law, she said, are not likely to work.
"As professionals in the alcohol field," she said, "we feel that control of the supply does not limit the abusive drinker or the alcoholic. It simply makes them plan better so they get their supply."
In Alaska, with so much money around and such a joking attitude toward alcohol, many officials expect the problem to continue.
Carolyn Lathrop, an attorney with the legal services office in Dillingham, noted how many of the criminal cases she handled involved alcohol. Later she was asked what she planned to do with the $1,000 dividend she, like every other Alaskan, is getting this year from the state's oil money.
"Drink it up, I guess," she said.