Chapter Summaries

The book contains ten chapters. The first six are summarized below.

Chapter 1: Back to School

Chapter 1 shows that Mike is starting at a school for legally blind adults. It also introduces the place, time, and key characters. The place is Portage Bay, a fictitious town that’s similar to Bemidji. The time is 1976, in the winter. This was a tough time for Minnesotans because the Vikings had lost two of the last three Super Bowls and were about to lose one more, in January 1977. It was a tough time for Americans because they were still troubled by Nixon’s pardon. It was a tough time for Mike because he lost most of his sight. The novel focuses on Mike, but those other events enrich the story. The story is also enriched by mentioning bicentennial events in 1976, cardboard milk cartons with unfolding spouts, and new gadgets of the time—like color TVs, microwaves, and Pong.

The main characters are introduced when Mike walks into his first class, starting with Pam. She’s a teacher who greets Mike and helps him find a place to sit. Mike notices that she’s small in size but large in stature, reminding him of a 1950s grammar teacher. Just as Mike is about to introduce himself, another student shows up, whose name is George. Mike quickly likes him. George is about his age, has a curious mind, and is quick to tell a joke. After the introductions, Pam describes some classes and activities. One of the classes is Independent Living, which includes cooking without sight. One of the activities is downhill ski racing, with blind skiers.

Chapter 2: Exploring

Chapter 2 shows more about Mike and the town of Portage Bay. The description of Mike shows how he is more legally blind than blind, so he can see enough to walk without a long, white cane. The description also shows how he used to enjoy driving snowmobiles, building his house, and settling into it. Losing his sight meant losing his job, so he no longer owns that house.

At the start of this chapter, Mike wakes up just before sunrise and can’t get back to sleep. He decides to explore the neighborhood by taking an early morning walk, which feels comfortable because there are fewer pedestrians and cars to avoid. When he starts walking, Mike remembers that he must find some landmarks, to find his way back. That’s harder than expected, since most of the shops are closed and dark. Eventually, he comes to some cars that are stopped at a red light. Mike glances around and starts crossing the street. A horn blares, a driver shouts, and a car stops inches from Mike. He feels angry and remembers that Minnesota just passed a law that allows cars to turn right at a red light, good for drivers but bad for blind folks.

Minutes later, he finds a grocery store and a bar with lit storefronts, which Mike enjoys looking at. A moment later, he finds a café that’s open. He walks in, orders breakfast, and has a pleasant conversation with a waitress. Like many people in Portage Bay, she knows George. Later in the story, Mike returns to the grocery store, bar, and café.

Chapter 3: Lessons

Chapter 3 starts at the school and shows a typical class, called Independent Living. Pam teaches the class and gives an overview of how it will work. One of the topics is cooking, and whenever they cook, she will pick two students to lead the effort. Today’s meal will be simple, since they’re just starting. The meal is coffee and muffins, from a pre-made mix in a box. Pam overhears Mike and George joking about whose cooking skills are worse, so she asks them to lead today’s lesson.

Cooking takes longer than expected. Sometimes, this is from challenges like measuring water without sight, and other times, it’s from Mike and George exchanging too many jokes. Pam continually tries to keep them focused on cooking, which isn’t easy.

When the muffins are in the oven, students discuss how long it took to cook. Pam says this improves with practice, but Mike and George ask questions about faster meals. George mentions Dominoes Pizza, since they introduced a thirty-minute delivery guarantee in the mid-1970s. Since Mike has always enjoyed gadgets, he asks about microwaves, which also became popular in the mid-1970s. Pam discourages both options because of their poor nutrition and taste, but Mike and George remain unconvinced. The class ends with all the students having muffins and coffee, still wondering about how long it took to make this simple meal.

Chapter 4: Happy Hours

Chapter 4 starts with Mike sitting alone in the dayroom of the school, after classes on a Friday. He’s thinking about what he’s learned and waiting for George, since they are going out for drinks. Some students walk by, followed by a teacher a few minutes later. She also has limited sight and doesn’t see Mike, as he sits still in a dark corner. Mike can see her well enough because she stops in bright light to search through her purse. Even with his limited sight, he can tell she’s beautiful. She opens her purse wider, searches more, swears intensely, and rushes out of the room. Mike talks to himself, commenting on her good body and lousy language. George walks into the room, overhears Mike, and tells him about the woman. She’s a young teacher called Samantha, or Sam for short.

The two men leave the school, board a bus, and go to a bar. Being young men, they drink more than they should. George tells some funny stories about blind sports, like beep-ball and skiers who compete without sight. Eventually, they discuss tougher topics, like the low chance of finding work, getting married, and even having sex. George also asks Mike how he lost his sight. Mike enjoys George’s company, but answers by saying it was bad luck and changes the topic.

Chapter 5: Cleaning Up

This chapter starts with Mike waking up in his, very cheap, motel room. It’s the morning after his night out with George, which means Mike is feeling the effect of having too many drinks. After taking some aspirin and a long shower, he decides this is a good time to clean his room and do laundry. A funny moment happens in the laundry room. While looking for an empty machine, he finds a red bra. After he sets it down, one of his neighbors shows up. She’s a prostitute who Mike has talked with a few times. She learns that he was looking at her bra and offers her services to Mike. He declines, but his hangover slows his quick wit.

He returns to his room, cleans for a few hours, and decides to get groceries, at the store mentioned in chapter 2. As that chapter also mentions, there is a bar nearby. After getting groceries, he stops by the bar for a drink and meets a small group who is planning the next downhill ski race for blind adults. Mike is enjoying the group when Samantha appears, which makes him nervous.

A couple of drinks help him relax, and eventually, he and Sam flirt. She also asks if he wants to help with the ski race. They need people to tell the skiers where to turn, by shaking a tambourine at the ski gates. Mike replies, “Let me see if I got this right. You need somebody to stand in the middle of a freezing ski slope and shake a tambourine while blind skiers head right for you?” He playfully resists for a while but eventually agrees, to impress Samantha. He also agrees to find one other volunteer, who will also shake a tambourine at a ski gate.

Chapter 6: Challenges

The chapter starts with Mike being excited about talking and flirting with Samantha, the night before, but he’s also worried. Students and teachers are not supposed to flirt, and he told Samantha he’d find another volunteer. The first person he thinks of is George, but the volunteer needs some sight. Mike still considers asking him, since George knows so many people. Unfortunately, asking him is risky. George might ask uncomfortable questions about why Mike volunteered, which could lead to him learning about Mike’s interest in Samantha. That could lead to George telling other people, probably with jokes.

The chapter continues at school, with another cooking lesson. After the meal, Mike and George wash dishes. Mike spontaneously, and cautiously, asks George to find another volunteer for the ski race. George is surprised that Mike wants to stand on a freezing ski slope and shake a tambourine, but fortunately, George thinks that Mike is helping because of his generous tendencies, instead of trying to impress Samantha.

The chapter ends with George and Mike talking in the dayroom, of the school. George tells Mike that he’s been volunteering in a store that sells car parts. There’s a chance that George could work at the store, since the manager told him about a job opening. Only about half of blind people find work again, so George is excited about the possibility. The chapter ends with Mike walking George to a bus stop, since George needs to go to the car parts store where he volunteers.