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From Chicken Fingers  (p. 69-71)



The China Beach USO had a liquor store, reading room, game room, and space for in country R&R.  It also had a real café, telephones to call home if there was an open booth and a guest book—though the definition of “guest” was loosely interpreted.  As if especially invited, soldiers passing through signed the book and looked over the list of previous signers to make connections with someone they might know from their own state or hometown.  Despite the incongruity, it was nice to know you were not alone. ...

Cow was not looking for anyone special, just someone who could lend a moment of reality to the peculiarity of being in Vietnam: someone to say, “Hey, I know you; you’re from Hillton and were a year ahead of me—or behind—in high school.”  Someone to share the reality of neighbors, girls, cars, beer bars and all the little idiosyncrasies that spoke to belonging somewhere, anywhere other than where they were. 

The sign-in was an exercise that said, “See, I’m not the only one here,” even if the signer was usually standing there alone.  In ten months, Cow saw only two names he had recognized.  One of them, Stephen Craig, was a small kid who he remembered from grade school and had not seen since.  He knew he was the right guy, however, from the hometown inscribed and by the small circle above the “i” in Craig’s last name.  Cow took one look at that circle and was instantly transported back to the 8th grade.  For some unrecalled reason, instead of a dot, Craig began to put a small circle above the “i” in his last name.   It was a miniscule breech of practiced penmanship but rankled the 8th grade nun to no end.  She wanted him to use a dot like everybody else and quit showing off. 

The battle went on for nearly a week and Cow remembered the day a new touch was added.  The “smiley face” had caught on and an amateur rendition floated above Stephen’s last name at the top of his English paper.  It was the crowning insult and the nun went into a tirade for nearly an hour until the closing bell ended her hoarse discourse.  They had a substitute teacher the next day because the sister had lost her voice; and by the end of that day, nearly every kid in the classroom with an “i” in their name, and some that did not, had a smiley face drawn above it.  The nun had lost the battle and the war.

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