The Art of Crash Landing

A new entry in my “Books I Can’t Stop Talking About” Series:

514j7krrsrl-_sx330_bo1204203200_The Art of Crash Landing, by Melissa DeCarlo.

The hero, Mattie Wallace, is mean, selfish, foul-mouthed, utterly lacking in morals … and impossible not to love. Broke and homeless, recently single and unexpectedly pregnant, she winds up in her mother’s hometown. It’s a sweet, cozy southern town full of people who immediately either love or hate our Mattie. Her mother never spoke about her childhood, or why she ran away and never returned. Mattie starts picking up the pieces of the story her mother buried …

I had no idea what to expect of this book and it kept me guessing all the way. Even the final chapter was still taking unexpected twists. It’s a rare book that keeps you laughing in the middle of this many ruined lives.

Best Line: Most people would probably have a hard time totally (screwing up) their life in under an hour. But then again, I’m not most people. I’m amazing. I’m like some kind of (screw-up) savant.

 For more book recommendations, see my “Books I Can’t Stop Talking About” series

Battle for Birdland

Trivia question: Name the town on American soil that the Japanese occupied for almost a year during World War II.

Yeah, I’d never heard of this one, either.

The answer isAttuMap Attu, Alaska, the western-most point of America, so far off the mainland that it’s hard to believe it’s really part of America. They have to seriously bend the International Date Line to keep this island on the same day as the rest of the state.

In June of 1942, there were less than fifty people living there, almost entirely indigenous Aleuts. The government had evacuated the natives from most of the other islands on this chain, but hadn’t gotten as far as little Attu by the time the Japanese raiders showed up.

And, man, did they invade. They sent over two thousand soldiers. Apparently, Japan was convinced that this was a strategic port, sitting as it does between us and Russia.

It’s hard to imagine how two thousand soldiers managed to live there for a year. Sure, it’s one of the largest islands (about 20 miles by 35 miles), but it’s a cold and desolate spot to live. The Japanese soldiers dug caves in the ground for housing, set about building landing strips, and waited for the US forces to show up.

We were a little busy, of course. And, to be honest, their stronghold on that little island didn’t inconvenience America all that much.

But when we did arrive in May of ’43, we didn’t mess around. America sent three battleships, carrying just shy of eleven thousand soldiers. You’d think simple math would have won it for us, but the Battle of Attu was a month-long bloodbath. In the end, America lost almost three thousand men, and the Japanese were left with only 29 men taken alive.

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Photo by National Geographic

It’s a shame that neither side really wanted the land. We maintained a tiny Coast Guard base there until 2010, but the island is now deserted.

In fact, if you’ve even heard of it in your life, chances are it’s because you are really into birdwatching. Because it’s so close to Russia, the island became a favorite destination of Birders, as trade winds often blow in birds that are not native to North America.

Even the Birders can’t reach it anymore, since the US has closed the only air base. The only thing left is its footnote in history and the catchphrase that is too cute to forget. Because of that business with redrawing the International Date Line around the island, their slogan is, “From here you can see tomorrow!

Trying to Stay Asleep

I’ve never shared this with anyone, but when I was very young I had some strange, intense, and oddly complicated dreams. I still remember most of them, but one from when I was 4 stands out as by far the most trippy.

It started with me “waking up” in a different universe. Everyone around me was an alien, like nothing I’d ever seen before. They were spongy blobs in pyramid shape, purplish-green with one large eye centered below a smaller eye.

Grimace
I’m no artist, so try to imagine Grimace + the Coneheads + Leela

It took me a bit to realize I was one of those aliens, too, and that I could understand their oop-oop language. I was scared of them, particularly the two who kept telling me they were my parents.

Eventually they explained that I was one of them, a little kid, and that I was groggy from waking up from a hibernation sleep. They said that everything in our world was just part of my dream, that the Earth had never really existed. I started crying because I wanted to go back to my family.

Eventually, my alien mom took pity on me and told me I could sleep again and try to go back to this dreamworld. But she told me sternly that the next time I woke up, I’d have to shake it off, forget everything, and be part of their world.

I went back to sleep and … returned to our universe.

When I got up the next morning, I was somewhat convinced that it was real, that I’d stumbled onto the truth somehow. I don’t want to admit how long I at least partially believed this whole thing might have been real. I never told anyone, of course, because worst-case scenario was that they’d think I was crazy and start worrying about my mental health, while best-case had them believing me and being sad when they realized that you all only exist in my imagination.

I was one weird kid.

Part of this has always stuck with me, however. Throughout my life, whenever I’ve pictured going to Heaven, I always imagine every new arrival saying exactly what I said when I ‘woke up’ into that dream:

“Dang it, not now! I was just getting to the good part!