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Pearl Harbor

Let us ponder this:

On Sunday it was 80 degrees in Fargo. On Monday it was 50 in Fargo. Now, I’m sitting in a hotel at Pearl Harbor, cooling myself in front of some lovely air conditioning.

Tomorrow: Getting an ID card and then off to the ship!


Then We Came to the End

I finished Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came To the End today. I picked up the book at the airport on my way back from my West Virginia interview back in March. I only now found the time to finish it (I read 200 pages while at the Phoenix airport Friday).

I found the book really easy to read. Ferris uses first person plural – we – throughout the book to demonstrate the herd-like mentality of office drones. It really works to give a greater meaning to the story and what these characters felt. I was also interested because to a lesser degree I use the first person plural in my memoir. It’s a technique very rarely used and I think Ferris really makes his story stand out by using it.

Ferris does some interesting things with the narrative. There’s a section in the middle of the book that switches from first person plural into third person for no apparent reason. The reader doesn’t figure out why Ferris does this until the end, and I think that’s what makes this book work – the writer takes some chances with his story and the way he tells his story, ultimately giving the narrative greater meaning.

Check it out if you get the chance.


I was talking to my brother Bo yesterday. I mentioned my couple days of traveling coming up. I drove from Mankato to Fargo yesterday. Now, I’m waiting to catch the train to Minneapolis, where I’ll catch a taxi to the airport, and then a plane to Hawaii.

“Wow,” Bo said. “Planes, trains, and automobiles, huh?”


On a final note, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to post once I’m on the ship. Some of the information is classified so I’ll need permission to post on a blog. Therefore, if you don’t hear from me for a while, don’t fret. I’ll post when I can. If nothing else I’ll do a big photo dump at the end of the trip.

  • Places my ship may be headed: Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines.
  • Ships typically dock for 2-4 days.
  • I may be the only young teacher in this program. The two instructors I met today were retired and over 50.
  • Navy ships are like cites. Big ships operate like a city, where people can loss themselves among so many people (like PBS’s Carrier). Small ships are like small towns; everyone knows everyone else. I’ll be on a little ship – about 200 people.
  • Some Navy ships are cashless, but people don’t use credit or debit cards. They must put money onto a card and use that for everything. Kind of like MavCash.
  • Not only will I act as teacher but I’ll also have to sell my own books. I’ll be responsible for selling the books, collecting money, and sending back unused books.
  • I will be the only civilian teacher aboard C-Ville (which is what they call the USS Chancellorsville).

San Diego

Well, the word came down today that Central Texas College wants me down in San Diego for three days – starting tomorrow. I didn’t think I’d be leaving for training until next week, but I guess that got bumped up. So, I’ll be in San Diego tomorrow through Friday.

The adventure begins …


There is a pissed-off blackbird living next door to me.

She lives in a birch tree, along Broad Street, and in front of the Episcopal Church next door. If you leave my apartment by the side door, walk to the front of the building and down the three concrete steps to the sidewalk that runs parallel to the street, you may see her. Turn left and walk down the sidewalk, toward Warren Street, and you may meet her outside the church. She’ll swoop down and grace the tip of your right ear. She’ll scare the living crap out of you and make you run like hell, so the people in the cars along Broad Street will watch, point, and laugh. If that first attack doesn’t scare you away, she’ll do it again. A couple days later, after you’ve forgotten that there’s a pissed off blackbird living in a tree outside the church, she’ll attack again. You’ll be walking to get a cup of coffee before work and she’ll attack. You’ll see her sitting atop a scrub when you turn back after running across the street. She’ll look all smug and content and you’ll think you see her smile.

She’s clearly pissed off and I don’t know why. Do blackbird get PMS?

I have a ton of books I haven’t read. I think all writers do. We buy books, and then for some reason or another (lost interest, not enough time, forgot about) we don’t read these books and they remain on our bookshelf – spine in perfect condition, pages never touched. While packing up my books, I set aside the ones I haven’t read. I figure that I’ll have some time to read while in China, so I’ll take five or six with me.

Here’s the problem: which ones do I take with? I’m currently reading Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, and while on the USS Chancellorsville, I’ll read River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hassler (which Dick recommended because it’s a recent book about teaching in China). But in order to narrow down my list to a handful of books, I’m enlisting your help. Below is a list of books I own and have not read (or have not completed).

Which should I take with to China and why? Leave comments with your suggestions.

  • Later, At the Bar by Rebecca Barry
  • Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
  • The Untouched Minutes by Donald Morrill
  • Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  • Walden : And Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau (I’ve read part of this put not all)
  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  • Fishboy by Mark Richard
  • We’re in Trouble by Christopher Coake
  • The Evil B.B. Chow by Steve Almond (Started the first couple stories)
  • Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty
  • Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
  • Not that You Asked by Steve Almond
  • Dispatches by Michael Herr
  • Thieves of Baghdad by Matthew Bogdanos
  • My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum
  • The KGB Bar Nonfiction Reader
  • A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo
  • A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
  • The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the middle of Nowhere by Debra Marquart
  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  • Just Another Soldier by Jason Christopher Hartley
  • What Was Asked of Us by Trish Wood
  • Generation Kill by Evan Wright
  • Babylon By Bus by Ray Lemoine and Jeff Neumann
  • My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
  • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
  • Meeting Faith: An Inward Odyssey by Faith Adiele

Good morning everyone! I know, it’s 2 in the afternoon now, as I’m posting this, but I slept in today. I covered my windows in thick quilts to block out the morning light, and slept until 12:30 today. Tomorrow: I’m doing the same.


Diana pointed me to an essay in the Modern Love column at the New York Times web site. The essay is called May I have this dance? and is about a soldier dreaming about Natalie Portman while in Iraq. Whether you love Natalie Portman or not (I know there are some haters out there!) you should check out the essay. I like how the whole sweeping narrative comes together in the end. I envy the writer’s ability to pack so much (a bullet hole in his helmet, dead bodies floating in sewage, the whole atmosphere of being a target in Iraq) into his essay. Modern Love hosted a college writing contest and are now publishing the winner and four runners up. Look for a new essay every Saturday through Father’s Day.


Last night I sat on the back stairs drinking a beer and thinking, when I realized how quiet Mankato has become. It used to be incredibly noisy downtown, especially on a Friday evening. All the college kids would hop from house to house drinking and partying, and the house across the parking lot from us would constantly have parties. If they weren’t having parties, there would be at least half-a-dozen random yahoos loitering around their back porch, smoking, grilling, and playing beer pong. Now, nothing. Silence.

I thought I would like the silence, and I kind of do, but there is something eerie about it. Maybe it feels extra quiet because Jessica is gone and school is over and I have a week off. Or maybe, deep down inside my gut, I actually miss those crazy college yahoos across the parking lot.



Before Jessica left she hid 25 bite-sized Reese peanut butter cups around the apartment. I’ve done two searches thus far and here’s what I’ve found:

Thursday: blue coffee mug, Everglades shot glass, filing carrier, Easter basket, blue mixing bowl, cupcake tin, and among comp. books.

Friday: desk organizer, steaming pitcher, crock pot, coffee container, and ice cube tray.

On Thursday I just did a casual search around the apartment. I found the shot glass and filing carrier ones right away. I didn’t find the cupcake tin and mixing bowl ones until that evening when I was making cookies. I started to look in places I would hide peanut butter cups: in the teapot, at the bottom of my French press, behind the clock in the living room. What I’ve come to realize is that I wasn’t thinking like Jessica. I was thinking like Bronson, looking in all the places I would hide them, and getting disappointed when I didn’t find them. So I started to think like Jessica. That is how I found the one in the ice cube tray. I was working on cleaning out my closet when it suddenly struck me. Of course she’d hide one in the ice cube tray. That’s perfect!

12 down, 13 to go. Any ideas?

Butterfly Boy

This is what Diana made me on craft night Monday. We painted gnomes and put together pages for Luke’s book. At the end of the night, Diana was going to make a heart with Luke’s face on it, but it turned into this. She must have seen me staring at it because she offered it to me. It is now appearing on my fridge, for a limited time only.


… OK. Here’s how yesterday went:


Ok, I’m off to work. See you tonight. You better have supper on the table when I get home!


What?!?! I wouldn’t see you tonight

(high-pitched squeal)

Are you going to leave without hugging me goodbye?!?!?!

Jessica fled back to New York yesterday. I came home for lunch at 11 a.m. and the apartment was empty. All the boxes Jessica had been packing and stacking in the living for the last two weeks were gone. I walked down the hall to her room. I stood in the doorway and stared into the empty room. I remember standing in the exact same place when we moved in, trying to take a picture of a sweaty Jessica as she painted her room pink and brown. We need to document this occasion, I said. NOOOOOOOOO! She was pissed, I mean totally pissed. Why would I want a picture of her like that? I took one anyway.

I walked across Jessica’s empty room. I opened the drawers on her build-in desk and remembered the sound her make-up brushes made when she dropped them into the plastic tray and the fizz of hairspray being released from a can. I opened her closet doors and looked inside. A few hangers left but nothing else. Empty. Gone. I turned and walked out of the room. I thought about closing the door, about shutting that room up until I moved out. But I left it open, the cool breeze drifting into the room.

I walked down the hall and made myself lunch.

I received my orders from the Navy yesterday. I will be teaching a 6-to-8 week college composition course aboard this behemoth:

USS Chancellorsville

She’s the USS Chancellorsville. She is named after the Confederate victory over Union forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia. She’s a fairly new ship – commissioned in 1989 and first used during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

My favorite bit of information comes from the ship’s website: “When CHANCELLORSVILLE is not putting warheads on foreheads or otherwise striking fear into the hearts of our nation’s enemies, she resides in homeport San Diego or calls on friendly foreign ports around the world.”

I like the mental picture of warheads on foreheads. Anyone else?

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