SALEM -- Like two old fishing buddies, Sebastian Junger and Linda Greenlaw sat at the bar last night and swapped stories about her black eye, the Boston Strangler, and the book that made them both famous, "The Perfect Storm."
Meanwhile, 2,200 people at the O'Keefe Sports Center at Salem State leaned forward, eavesdropping on every word.
The pair appeared at the opening of the 18th annual Salem State College Series with a presentation that seemed equal parts lecture, writing seminar and stand-up comedy act.
Greenlaw described the first time she saw Junger, who found her by chance in a boat yard after months of searching for the woman fishing captain who had ridden out the killer Halloween storm of 1991. Greenlaw suspected that Junger was seeking a job and she sized him as "a definite possibility": clean-cut and sober.
"In spite of the fact that we were in New Bedford, that was a compliment," said Greenlaw.
But Junger was actually fishing for information on the book he was writing, charting the loss of the Andrea Gail, a Gloucester fishing boat that vanished in the storm along with three crew members.
By cooperating, Greenlaw became an important part of that story. In fact, she was probably the last person to contact the Andrea Gail. Months after sharing her experiences with Junger, she read his book. "And I remember thinking 'Wow, this is a great book. It's really a shame nobody's ever going to read it.'"
In fact, people have been reading Junger's book for months, keeping it on best-seller lists and making both Junger and Greenlaw famous, transforming their lives. Eventually, the woman fishing captain wrote her own book, "The Hungry Ocean," which is also a best seller.
And recently a movie company, complete with stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, arrived in Gloucester to film a movie version of Junger's true life tale.
"She's so thin," Greenlaw remarked of the actress slated to play her. "How can she play me?"
Junger told the audience that he is satisfied with the movie company's script for the book, a book he modestly hoped would be "well written" and win the approval of its subject, the fishing community. Prior to the publication of "The Perfect Storm," the Belmont-born Junger was over 30 years old, writing an occasional magazine piece and supporting himself mostly by waiting tables and cutting down trees.
"I was free-lance," he said, "I was way too free-lance."
Because the Andrea Gail never returned, its final month at sea and its ultimate fate remain a mystery. This left "a hole in my story," said Junger. He began filling it with details. It was "journalism by analogy," he told the audience.
"Have you seen George Clooney?" Greenlaw interrupted to laughter.
Sporting a black eye, Greenlaw explained that she was injured when a wrench slipped as she repaired an alternator. But then, she made clear that she has not sought a gentle life.
A question on the 100-foot waves that Junger describes in "The Perfect Storm" made her shrug. Waves are difficult to measure in the ocean. "I don't know the difference between a 50 or 100 foot sea," she dead panned. "I suppose it might be 'This sucks,' or 'This really sucks.'"
Junger did not discuss the topic of his next book, but he told the audience that he has been writing for major magazines and plans, for example, a piece on the Boston Strangler.
Albert DeSalvo, long thought to be the infamous serial killer, actually worked as a carpenter for six months at the Junger home when Sebastian was a boy.
One day, an agitated DeSalvo arrived late for work and highly disturbed. Junger's mother then received a call from a friend telling her that the Boston Strangler had just killed someone in Belmont.
"My mother went out back and said, 'Al, you won't believe it.'"
DeSalvo, who eventually confessed to the crimes, later told investigators he nearly fell off his ladder at that point.
The school provided a poignant backdrop for the talk, a reproduction of the Crow's Nest, the Gloucester fishermen's bar where the book was researched. On either side of that was a list of the Gloucester fishermen who have died at sea in the past century and more. Incredibly, the list contains more than 10,000 names.