This novel starts off with a bang and does not let up until the last page is turned. Miles Derry, a down-on-his-luck man who, in his sole pursuit to make his monthly child support payment, has taken on a string of dead-end and often seedy jobs. One night, while working at the Little Pink Bookstore, he comes across a stiff (in every sense of the word) who turns out to be a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Deciding to take the chaplain's identity as a way out of his own miserable life, Miles burns the body--and his bridges--and reports for duty on the USS Warren Harding as it embarks for the Far East. The drama of his double-life at sea not only transforms him from a recovering alcoholic to a military man of the cloth, but he discovers he's married and a closet homosexual to boot. As the ship travels from Okinawa to the Philippines to Thailand he finds himself in murky waters, but it's certainly our pleasure as the author skillfully draws out the tension and humor inherent in the situation. Thanks to his own varied experiences, including a stint aboard a Navy ship, Young captures perfectly the tone and feel of life on a military tanker. The characters in the novel are at once real and colorful. As a chaplain, he deals with men at their most vulnerable. His inherent gentleness and empathy wins him respect, and the affection of the widow of the real chaplain.
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Robert Clark Young began writing fiction at the age of thirteen. He went on to study writing on full fellowships at the University of San Diego, the University of California at Davis, and the University of Houston. He has supported himself as a hot-dog vendor, a shoe salesman, a microfiche reader, and ultimately as a civilian contract employee teaching college courses to sailors and marines aboard U.S. Navy ships. In this capacity he rose to the technical rank equivalent of a lieutenant commander in the navy or a major in the marines, and visited every continent except Antarctica. His short stories have appeared in the Penguin Books anthology Bless Me, Father as well as various literary journals, and have won a number of national prizes.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Possibility and willfulness intersected for Miles Derry, at long last, half a mile from the imaginary point where the U.S. border runs out of land and continues into the Pacific. For this was where, stopped by water and Mexican mountains, he had ceased moving west and south, so completely humbled that it required all of his hyperalertness, at three in the morning, closing time, to come out from behind the cash register and walk past the red neon entrance of the video arcade, up an aisle of shiny magazines, past the salmon colored dildoes, which stood variously on the shelves like up-pointed weaponry, until he arrived, unhappily, at the mop closet of the Little Pink Bookstore. Kari, Kari, Kari, he was thinking as he rolled out the bucket on wheels, owing this was easier if he concentrated on her name. He hadn't missed a Support payment in all three years. The canceled checks came back monthly from Illinois, with Mary Lou's signature on their backs, the only evidence of his responsibility and fatherhood. Last Christmas, when he'd been working at the Laundromat in Salt Lake, there'd been a treat--pictures--and he had them in his wallet, which he kept in a front pocket of his pants because he didn't want those pictures anywhere near the latex gloves he carried in one rear pocket or the hardened sponge he carried in the other.
Outside, in the parking lot, as he used a garden hose to fill the bucket, Miles stared at the loaves of Mexican hills, heavily sugared with light, near and looming. He could smell the fish-and-sewage odor of the confluent waters of the Tia Juana River and the ocean. Between the Little Pink Bookstore and the water there was a night-black, unthinkable swamp, and to the north, too bright and clean-looking and angular to seem real, the lights of downtown San Diego. Kari, Kari in Illinois. It wasn't working tonight, he hadn't seen her in--a year?--a year next month, it was, too long, and he focused instead on making a joystick of the mop, putting it into the waterfilled bucket, steering it dutifully back into the store.
He added the disinfectant. Sewage outside, cigarette smoke and Lysol inside. When he left this job, it would be for the sake of his nose. And his dignity, whatever would be left of that.
Miles rolled the bucket into the video arcade, where the floor of every cubicle would have to be mopped semen-free, left unsticky, by four A.M., because he wasn't paid beyond that. He pulled the latex gloves out of his back pocket, stretched them on, then took the hard sponge out of the other pocket. He'd forgotten the Windex. He would have to clean the TV screens first, the ones that were streaked with dry or wet semen. It was the worst part of the worst job he'd ever had, the best job he'd been able to find after they'd let him go at the supermarket in El Centro (too many stockers, they decided, so cut the new guy), and he'd come to San Diego, still a man--he wasn't going to let anyone argue with him on that one, not even as he knelt in a video stall to wipe other people's jism off the walls and TV screens--still a man, still supporting himself, still sending $249 a month to his daughter, care of his ex-girlfriend, two thousand miles away.
... He'd done four of the booths and was entering the fifth when he saw, protruding from the wall of the cubicle, from the glory hole, an erect purple-headed penis, looking, in the snow-light from the television monitor, as rubbery-false as any of the dildoes in the store. Miles dropped his Windex bottle into the bucket, and the questionable water slapped him on the knee.
He stepped out and knocked rapidly at the door of the next booth. "We're closed. Hey!" The red light over the door was off; he tried the door, but it was locked. "Hey buddy, we're closed. Pull up your pants and go home."
He looked again into the other booth, where the erect insult stood out from the wall, curved up slightly, not looking like any human appendage, but like an outrageously inappropriate party novelty suction-cupped to the wall. Miles stripped off the gloves and jammed them into his back pocket and went out to the counter for the keys, giving himself a disjointed, agitated lecture in his mind, that this was the sort of shit the world was always offering him, and yes, he'd made mistakes, many of them, but not everything a man did was a mistake, and so it was still incredibly mindfuckingly unfair for the world to hand him nothing but shit, stubborn idiotic annoyances that he knew other people would never have to imagine, much less overcome. Like the time in the Laundromat in Salt Lake when those kids had poured a gallon of red paint into one of the washing machines when he wasn't looking, or at the gas station in Cheyenne when he was the full-service man and the windchill was fifty below, and he kept breaking off the customers' keys, as though they were made of crackers, in the gas-cap locks, seven keys and much yelling at something that wasn't his fault.
He found Jerry Archer's key ring--for some reason the world was still entrusting him with its keys-ln a drawer beneath the cash register, and as he returned to the video arcade, the words of Jerry Archer--Jerry Polynesian-Shirt-White-Chinos-Prescription-Bifocal-Sunglasses-Black-Loafers Archer, the porno entrepreneur who owned eleven adult bookstores in the San Diego area--the words of Jerry Archer repeated themselves, complete with Boston accent, inside Miles Derry's head:
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Book Description Harper Perennial, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0060931892
Book Description Harper Perennial, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110060931892