Dave’s Mai Tai Challenge

Meet Dave:

Meet Dave

Dave is my brother-in-law and all-around Exceptional Human Being—the kind of guy who comes home from a long day of work and tutors his needy 8th grade sister-in-law in algebra (algebra was hard), plans magic tricks and Mudder runs, charms the heck out of old ladies at the pharmacy, and knows all the lyrics to “Rapper’s Delight,” which he blasts while leaning up against his sports car in your driveway (okay, okay, it was the ‘80s). Basically, whatever team you’re on, you want Dave on it.

Before we left for Palau, Dave challenged Brian with a top priority assignment, something you could really only do while living on a tropical island: Drink a mai tai a week for a year. It’s a tall order, but Brian is up to the task, and I’m here to offer all the emotional support, encouragement, and rides home Brian needs in order to see this one through to the finish line (and, of course, I will be documenting the results).

Monthly photos to follow. For now, rest assured that we are grabbing the bull by the horns on this one. We know Dave would do the same if he were here:

Dave & Brian Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

The Good News & The Bad News

The Good News is…

1) While Brian’s dream of flying remains distant, we are regularly suiting up, strapping heavy metal on our backs, and leaping into spaces unknown to participate in what he calls “the next best thing to a jet pack.” We were promised that the scuba diving in Palau was some of the best in the world, and six dives in, we’re believers. Brian Quirk is even more relaxed underwater than he is on land, if you can believe it. Anna is grateful for such a competent diving buddy, especially since it looks like those white tip reef sharks have a thing for Blue Finned Blondies. (We’re told they’re harmless, but when they’re swishing under your elbows and looking so…sharky…it’s a little nerve-wracking.)

2) Anna has some exciting stuff happening on the writing front:

  • Her essay “As Seen On TV!,” originally published in Ninth Letter (a hip little journal out of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champagne), was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013 by the venerable Cheryl Strayed (guest editor) and series editor Robert Atwan. The essay is available in print only through the 9L link above. If you’re the instant gratification type, you can watch a super cool chick named Diane Park do an ambidextrous drawing using excerpts of the essay here.
  • “On Modesty,” an essay she published in Shenandoah, was shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize and received Special Mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses 2014 anthology.
  • What this means: Twice in two weeks, Anna did a little dance in the living room—she didn’t make the final cut, but she did manage to rise up through the slush pile into the company of some of her favorite writers and writer-friends—and we popped the bottle of champagne we bought for a special occasion. (The $18 Barefoot brand was a splurge, second shelf up from the $16 Andre. That’s right. The stuff we bought for $2.99 in college has a 500% markup in Palau.)

The Bad News is…

Come to think of it, “bad” is relative. We are out of the typhoon zone. We don’t have ticks or cockroaches or geckos taking up residence in our apartment (well, the occasional gecko, but those guys are pretty cool). Our previously-clunking car got totally fixed up for a mere sixty bucks. We hear that the U.S. even managed to avoid a government shutdown! (Trust us, it looks even more absurd from a distance.) And while Brian has taken to wandering the apartment singing “What does the fox say? I don’t know, ‘cause I don’t have the Internet,”* we are happy to report that we have no idea what Miley Cyrus is up to these days. Life is pretty damn good.

*While we appreciate your YouTube links, songs, audio clips, etc., we can’t stream them. We hereby request that all viral videos be translated and reported to us in written form. Keep us posted.

Privacy Settings

Palauan Meeting Space

We are used to the window as an object of easy metaphors, a symbol of openness, clarity, gateways to the soul, etc., etc. But Palau blows that metaphor right off its hinges: if you walk down the street here, you’ll find most people leave the doors and windows of their homes wide open—if they have windows at all. The more common structures have wide open spaces where you would normally see a window pane or a wall. Every neighborhood has a gazebo-like common space—generally a thatch roof propped up by wooden pillars and equipped with long benches, where people stretch out on lunch breaks and hold customary family-wide picnics on weekends. If it rains, they pull a shade. Otherwise, they are open to the world.

This is, in part, for obvious reasons. It’s hot here, people. Not oppressively so—not the perpetual steam room of guaranteed skin cancer my overactive imagination had prepared me for—but a reliably humid 80-something, 365 days a year. (Thanks to some nearby typhoons, we may even be experiencing a “cold spell” which basically means a breeze and a few clouds overhead.)

But it’s also because concepts of “personal space” and “alone time” as we Westerners know them aren’t part of the island psyche. Families share land. They share bedrooms. They share kids. (Palauan adoption and family structures warrant their own post, so more on this later.)

“I lived in Baltimore,” a Palauan woman named Julie told me as we stood in an open-air cafe, “and my father-in-law was always yelling at me for leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open.” She gestured toward the view of coconut trees and empty beach outside the hut. “Why even have windows at all?” she said. “Why close yourself off to the world like that?”

So, when you walk by a house, maybe you see a man stretched out thinking on his cool stone floor, or a woman hanging her underwear to dry, or kids fighting over who gets to smack the mangy dog around. Either way, everyone’s business is all out there—on an island this size, we’re quickly learning, it all comes out eventually anyway.

The Case of the Missing Clunker

Everyone told us we’d never have to worry about our car getting stolen in Palau because, hey, it’s an island! Where are they gonna go with it?

Which is why I was so surprised the other day when Brian called and the following conversation ensued:


“Hey. You’re home, right?”

“Yes…” Koror is a mile and half away, and it’s hot out there–unless I ride in with Brian in the morning, I’m usually home.

“So you didn’t take the car anywhere?”


“That’s what I thought. Well, I’m standing in the road where I parked, and the car is gone.”

Conveniently, the Court Marshals were on the case (who steals a car from the Supreme Court parking lot?), checking their surveillance videos and running the plates of another Honda CRV parked nearby. It’s a common car in Palau, so it would be an easy mistake to walk up to a lookalike. The Marshals recommended Brian try his key in the door. No luck. Besides, the lookalike had black tinted windows and plush seats, and probably a passenger door that opens, and operable shocks, and non-screeching brakes—if a driver somehow missed the great swaths of rust stains on our silver paint job, then surely, he or she would have noticed daylight coming through the windows and a far less cushy ride.*

The Marshals found the owner’s name and number and called him. He’d sold the car a few months ago, he said, and gave them the new owner’s number to try. No answer.

Two hours later, two guys pull into the court parking lot in our car, looking sheepish. They apologized. One of the guys owns the other CRV. His key worked in our door. That’s reassuring.

“No problem, man.” Brian said, shaking his hand. And the Mystery of the Missing Honda was solved. We had our beloved car back. Until…

Two nights later, we discovered the car had a severely flat back tire. Brian went to work cranking bolts and jacking the frame, but when the flat tire came loose, the jack slipped, the car gave way, and it sounded like a stack of metal pipe spilling onto the concrete. We’re not sure how this works, but it seems the entire back undercarriage of the car came crashing to the ground.

We’re told there’s only one tow truck on Palau, and we’re told we really don’t want to have to use it.

So, to the dude who stole our clunker: we’re at the Belvedere Apartments. Come and get it!


* I should note, in all seriousness, that by Palau standards our car is considered reeeally nice. We can take it off-roading. The A/C cranks. It’s not infested with ants or cockroaches (sorry, Becca & Suz!).

For Dad on His Birthday

Today, my dad enters a new decade. I won’t tell you which decade, I’ll just tell you that when I was home in August, he water skied every day, and at least once while I was driving he told me to take it up past 40 and he dropped his slalom ski and barefooted across the lake all the way home. So he’s pretty much invincible.

In honor of the World’s Greatest Pops, here’s a little tune my sister and I recorded last year, an old Loretta Lynn song we used to sing when we were younger. It’s one of Dad’s favorites. Our good friend Drew Piston learned the guitar part in three minutes and recorded for us in his living room in two takes (I think we started laughing in the middle of the first one). That angel voice on harmony is my little sister, Betty Lou.

I wish we were all home celebrating together, but this is the best I can do from across the ocean. So, for the man who taught six kids to water ski, to make music, to work hard, to be thankful for what we have and never take a day for granted, this one’s for you, with all my love:

“When They Ring the Golden Bells”

Independence Day

Well, I didn’t have sufficient time, utensils, or ingredients (namely: beer brats) to prepare a usual Vodicka family Independence Day fare, but we made do with what we had: fresh pineapple, garlic-lemon shrimp, and the big winner, homemade ginger beer for an island-appropriate Dark & Stormy. After an afternoon at the Japan-Palau Friendship bridge, where we watched the Independence Day boat races–an annual event that supports the long and healthy rivalry of two of Palau’s most prominent families, who own competing grocery stores located directly across the street from one another, in addition to other business ventures–we had an apartment full of people, sang Happy 19th Birthday to Palau, blew out some candles, and waved mini Palaun flags with newfound pride.

But it was the final event of evening, when our friends Jelga and Nikkita took us out on the town for live music and dancing, Palaun-style, that really cemented my belief that Palau is the stuff of dreams, a place where any dude with a drum machine constitutes a live band, where old men ask you to dance but only so they can sway slowly, at a respectful distance a few feet away from you, and where everyone—and I mean everyone—can sing, and you’ll hear it in the streets or in the aisles of the competing grocery stores, as folks are stocking shelves or doing their daily shopping, but you can’t truly understand it until you witness the ubiquitous and sincere appreciation Palauans have for the fine art of karaoke.

Yep. It’s gonna be a good year.