This story is set during the Vietnam War.
But it really isn’t about the war.
It’s a quirky love story, about people, American and Vietnamese.
It's a short, simple novel.
Its hero, John Jay Peckfogle, is a 1960s Catholic school rebel whose defiance results in a court-ordered choice: prison or Vietnam.
Once in-country, faced with the realities of war, he gets a tattoo on his saluting hand that reads F.T.A. (Fuck The Army).
This, he hopes, will result in a discharge and a plane ticket back to America.
But this scheme backfires, and enmeshes Peckfogle, and his Vietnamese girlfriend, in a dangerous world of Saigon gangsters and drug lords.
Before I go to prison for assaulting that nun, I’d like to say:
The bitch deserved it.
I’m truly remorseful, Your Honor.
The trouble began in the Year of Our Lord 1966.
I wore patent leather shoes and gray trousers with dark military stripes running down the leg.
My gray schoolboy blazer announced to every Hell-bound Protestant that I adhered to the One True Faith at Saint Sebastian High School.
However, I spurned Salvation, so for the Nth time, I sat in the Bad Boy chair in Sister Charles’ office
My father squirmed in the Angry Parent chair across from me.
Sister Charles! Dominatrix of the Jersey Inquisition.
Said torments took place in the office behind the cloak room.
I have no idea why it was called the cloak room, since Saint Sebastian students never wore cloaks.
Just another example, Your Honor, of the unreasonable nature of Authority.
Anyway, my crime was cutting Latin class, hiding in the hedges, smoking cigarettes and mocking Authority.
“Smoking?” Barked my father, a pack a day smoker himself.
He leaped out of that hard wood chair and slapped my face.
“Well!” said Sister Charles, “I certainly didn’t expect that.”
She sat back with a glowing smile.
She happy-fingered her rosary beads.
Do I need to point out, Your Honor, that she enjoyed it?
And so did he.
Oh, yes, John Adams Peckfogle put on a wonderful act for the nuns.
I ultimately became a US-Army-Certified Professional Writer.
I might have been a star student in English composition.
But obviously, I failed the lesson on paragraphing.
A paragraph is a self-contained discourse formed into a single, unifying idea.
I know that, Sister.
But I am compelled to disobey you, Sister Charles, by my inner voice.
I was perfectly content to write in formal paragraphs until I discovered that it meant so much to you.
Now I write in a style disjointed you could say sometimes omitting proper, punctuation just because it pisses you off.
I’m talking to you, Sister Charles, you who hanged me by my tie for the crime of writing one sentence at a time.
I know I taunted you, Sister, and provoked your sweet loving nature until you were compelled to resort to corporal punishment.
I made you do it.
Because I am the Devil.
You rushing down the aisle, rosary beads clacking against your hidden thigh.
You, named for Charles Borromeo, Bishop of Milan, cousin of Pope Somebody the Third.
Charles Borromeo, a murdering Medici.
Your hero, “Saint” Charles, who burned women alive.
And now your scrubbed-clean hands grab my tie.
And lift me out of my chair.
And march me down to the principal’s office to sign me up for another week of detention.
Don’t you know, Sister, that I adore detention?
I’ll tell you what I’ve learned in the years since you collared me, Sister Charles.
We’re all as guilty as sin.
Every one of us has stood there, gaping oafs, as our opportunities to do the right thing slipped by.
This is our greatest crime.
The Sin of Omission, as they say in the Church.
You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you, Sister?
I’ve seen you on your knees in the chapel, begging forgiveness from Our Savior.