Chow procedures were clearly delineated in the cumbersome OCR, or Officer Candidate’s Regulations. One of these large, plastic covered books was issued to each room in the barracks to share between the two occupants therein. Even though I immediately went to H, and therefore had nothing to do all day except go to chow, there was still a steep learning curve. Candidates who remained with their original class just had to pick it up as they went along. This meant lots of mistakes. Lots of mistakes means lots of corrections, and lots of corrections means very little time to eat. Desperation and hunger are excellent teachers.
Frequently in the first week, and sometimes even beyond for punitive measures, a class would be fed personally by the numbers, all lifting their war spoon in unison, chewing in unison, zombie-arming their cups in unison. It is very easy to see when someone is jacking up this way. A remarkable number of things, first of them being dignity, fall by the wayside. Looking out over the sea of sweaty, concentrating, fear-filled faces facing your direction, and the number of shaved heads facing away, there is at a minimum the comfort that you are not alone. Not alone with eggs or sauce smeared all over your face, because you will not earn napkins for weeks or perhaps months. Not alone with rice dribbled all over your tray, water spilled down your front, hip joints straining in their sockets. Sometimes it would be far better if you were.
Nakanaela was short. He had an excellent sense of humor, a great laid-back island outlook that was a breath of fresh air when he rolled into H. One of the best things about him was the fact that he didn’t speak unless he needed to. All day, all night in one hallway with the same 40 people can get old.
It had been about a week, I guess, since Nakanaela rolled in. We were at chow, senior H-ers seated strategically throughout the new kids on the block to keep an eye on potential disasters and try to surreptitiously answer questions. Eating literally everything with only a spoon could have its pitfalls. Nakaneala was across from me, and fortunately I’d gotten a good table-leg spot, so I was fairly relaxed. H did have a few perks, especially in the area of food. We were allowed salads, though dressing was taboo. We were also afforded napkins, something regular classes didn’t enjoy until they were at least midway through the program. Though I was uncomfortable and injured, I could still have a clean mouth.
I snapped my head down, going for the salad on this trip through the numbers. A juicy, ripe looking cherry tomato sat on top. I shoveled it in, replacing my war spoon to the right side of the plate and returning my hand to my lap. My head snapped up, lips slightly pursed around the tomato. Nakaneala blinked owlishly at me from across the table, eyes magnified by the freakishly large, navy issued BCG’s. I bit down, and the tomato exploded.
The force of the fruit forced my lips open and shot across the table, splattering his tanned face and the lenses of his glasses with thick, red juice interspersed with seeds. In my shock, I almost laughed, remembered where I was, then nearly choked. Nakanaela didn’t flinch. He brought his hand up out of his lap and shot it out towards me, the white square of napkin coming into sharp relief between the two of us. Then, in one precise, military stroke, he brought the paper to his eyes, wiping across the BCG’s like a large windshield wiper. His hand shot out towards me again, then down into his lap.
Across the table, I grunted and shook, and then got stuck for a while on step five.