Walk of Fame

It was my first professional job after college and I was eager to make a good impression. Gawky, self-conscious, and shy, I had been hired at a newspaper that I’d always respected. They had 100 people on staff, about half in the offices, so I assumed I was just another face in the crowd, easily forgotten.

Because I started on the swing shift, there was never a spot in the parking lot when I arrived and I had to park a block away and walk down the sloping hill to get to the office. This would have been fine except that I quickly realized that half the office faced the bank of windows which I had to walk past, and so few people used that sidewalk that any movement out there automatically drew the eye of every bored worker.

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This was especially bad for me because I was so clumsy I often stumbled when I walked fast. So each morning I began my day by strolling slowly past all the people I hoped to one day impress, trying to watch my posture and not do anything embarrassing.

That aim was short-lived.

I remember it vividly, walking down the hill one clear summer day about two weeks after I took the job. An odd sensation came over me, one of impending doom. I heard a wooshing sound and sensed something coming at my head.

In one of the rare cases in my life of acting on instinct, I dropped to a squat, high heels and all, and brought my hands up in defense.

My attacker missed me and kept aiming right at the building.

It was a redwing blackbird dive-bombing my head. I had no idea that bird attacks were real outside of Hitchcock movies. Apparently the darned thing had hatchlings in a nest just a few yards beyond where I was walking and it took me for a predator.

All of this I learned later. At the time, I crouched on the sidewalk, incredulous, wondering what in the world I’d done to deserve that.

Then I realized I’d done this right in front of the office. And I still had to walk in the main doors and trudge past 3/4 of the staff to get to my desk.

I stood up tall and traipsed along as though nothing odd had just happened. Just outside the door, I took a deep breath and thought, “I hope no one noticed that.”

Yeah, right.

Two steps in, I realized that everyone in the office was talking about it. Someone had spotted the bird coming at me and called everyone’s attention to it in the split second before I reacted.

The girls at the front desk said something along the lines of, “You poor thing.” Most people grinned or chuckled and got back to work.

But this one guy in the far corner of the office shouted out, “Nice bird dodge!” and started slow-clapping me.

I scurried to the back room, not acknowledging a soul, and got right to work. I thought if I didn’t say anything, it would die. Nope. I was “the bird girl” for my first two months there.

It could have been worse. I’m not known for my reaction time, let alone avoiding disasters, so I’ve always been thankful that I managed to not get head-splatted by a nasty bird that day.

In retrospect, “Nice bird dodge!” is one of the cooler things anyone has ever shouted at me.

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Heads You Lose

This recommendation is for my writer friends, particularly anyone considering collabora9556239ting on a novel.

Heads You Lose” by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward is one of those ‘experiment’ books that are increasingly common in the mystery genre. Each author alternates chapters so you get both male & female writing styles.  For this book, they opted not to discuss anything in advance – plot, characters, storylines, etc. – but instead each is writing blind and trying to create a coherent mystery.

Does it work?

Nah, not really. There are some great characters here, and a few memorable scenes, but overall it’s a disjointed mismash.

What makes it a great read, though, is the publisher’s decision to include the authors’ letters to each other between the chapters of their novel. Here they include their thoughts about where the story should go, as well as inevitable criticism of each other’s contributions.

This is a good spot to mention that these co-authors are also ex-boyfriend/girlfriend with a slew of unresolved personal issues.

The real reason to read this is to watch it unravel, one dig at a time. Soon they are killing off each other’s favorite characters out of spite, throwing in major plot twists just to irritate each other, and having the characters argue with each other in all the things they really want to say to the other author.

It’s a madhouse.

The book they intended to write would have been just OK. This book, as published, made me laugh out loud several times per chapter.

Best line (unintentional): “Communication was never our strong suit. For example, the news that you considered [our book] a ‘broadly comic, mainstream undertaking’ would have been useful.”

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

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!