I lost my appetite. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone had shoved my hand into a wall socket while standing in water. My mind raced in a thousand directions. What happened to my student deferment? How far is Canada? Had I soiled my underwear? I wiped the gravy off my notice and stuck it in my pocket.
“Well, this is wrong,” father said, “You march right down to the draft board tomorrow and straighten this out.”
“Okay,” I said. “But what happens if they deny my appeal?” Nobody had an answer. Getting up from the table, I began pacing back and forth. Why me? How did this happen?
I decided to drive over to John Winston, my best buddy and fellow lifeguard, to help me figure out an alternative plan. John, who is my height with sandy hair and brown eyes, sat on the front porch drinking a beer. I joined him in an adjacent chair. Noting my frown, he asks, “What’s up?”
“I just got my draft notice.”
“I thought you had a student deferment?”
“I did. Draft board says my school certification didn’t arrive in time.”
“That happened to Dave Harrington, and he got sent straight to ‘Nam.”
I hesitated to ask. “Did he make it?”
“Nah, he got wasted by the Viet Cong somewhere near Da Nang. You wanna beer?”
We sat there drinking for a few minutes without speaking. Finally John suggested. “Some guys are going to Canada. You don’t believe in this war do you?”
“Are you kidding? Not that I’m afraid to go, it’s just…”
“Take it easy, killer. You’d have to be crazy to put yourself in harm’s way just because LBJ wants to improve the economy.”
“So screw the government. What are my options?”
“You got any physical defects?”
“I’m blind as a bat without my contacts.”
“Nope, that doesn’t count. Uncle Sam wants you up close and personal, so you won’t miss the little yellow devils when you shoot them. You like girls, right?”
“Are you sure? Because they kick you out if you’re queer.”
“Check with Karen, if you don’t believe me.”
“You know if you get your girlfriend pregnant and marry her, they won’t take you.”
“I can’t see ruining both of our lives.”
“Can you say it’s against your beliefs to kill another human being?”
“That idea has possibilities. Maybe my minister would write me a letter.”
“No, forget about it.” John laughed. “Pastor Tom hates you. Remember when he threw you out of church, because you questioned his belief in front of the entire congregation that you had to be Christian in order to be happy.”
“I just observed there are millions of Buddhists and Muslims in the world, and that some of them had to be happy—then he turned purple, started sputtering and calling me the anti-Christ.”
“I thought he was going to have a heart attack,” said John.
We were getting nowhere fast and I had to get to work, so I finished my second beer in the car, threw the empty in the boot, and put the pedal to the metal. But even the joy of flying in my Corvette through the night on a winding, narrow road couldn’t get my mind off that draft notice.
Normally working at WBLY, a middle-of-the-road station, gives me a chance to relax after a hectic day at the beach. All the other employees go home at five p.m., so I have the place to myself from eight to eleven. All I have do is intro the records, read the news on the half-hour, and write down the transmitter readings in the daily log. But tonight, I just couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t deserve to be drafted.
At 10:00 p.m. on the dot, Karen walked through the back door, wearing flops, tan shorts, and a thin white top with no bra.
“Happy to see me or just cold?” I joked.
As she sat down on my lap, Karen cooed, “Happy to see you of course, darling.” Her eyes got real big. “I feel like you were expecting me as well.”
Oh yeah, I couldn’t have been more ready. My life was in the toilet, but Karen still could make me horny. I shook my head and tried to ignore the hot woman sitting so close and smelling so good…and focus on the problem at hand.
“Karen, I’ve got some bad news…”
“Don’t tell me…you’re pregnant.”
“No, this is serious. I got my draft notice today.”
“Something got screwed up with my student deferment.”
“You can’t go.”
“What choice do I have? I don’t want people thinking I’m a coward.”
“One out of every 13 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam comes home in a bag. Do you want to die for some unknown political agenda?”
“I’m 19. Death is not on my agenda.”
She kissed me on the forehead. “Then you need to do whatever’s necessary to stay alive.”
Karen continued to console me until my shift ended at midnight. Since I’m the last announcer of the broadcast day, my responsibility includes shutting down the equipment and locking the door on the way out. Karen loves to dance, so we jump in my car and continue our late-night date by heading to one of the nearby clubs.
“Need any help with your stick shift?” Karen volunteers.
“No thanks,” I said. “The little general is still recovering from our torrid hour in the studio.” I flip on the radio and we sing along with Tommy James & the Shondells, My Baby Does the Hanky Panky. After two months of dating Karen, I knew they had to be singing about her.
We get to the Diamond Club at one AM. Everybody of drinking age come here because of the cheap cold beer, the great house band and no cover charge. We show our IDs, and the guy at the door stamps my hand with a red symbol, but gives Karen blue, since at nineteen, I can only drink 3.2% beer, while Karen, having just turned twenty-one, gets her choice of poisons.
We found a table, sat down, and started reviewing my options. To her credit, Karen didn’t run out of the room when we got to the marriage part. We also discussed me claiming to be a homosexual.
Karen pondered. “Hmmm…that could work…if I dress you in the right clothes.”
“Are you kidding?” I shout over the band. “Do you think anybody would believe I’m queer?” Of course, the band stopped playing right before the “I’m queer” part. Upon hearing my loud confession, everyone stopped and stared. “Mind your own business,” I said, using my best Paul Lynn voice.
We continued discussing, dancing, and drinking until closing. I took Karen home, thanked her for her help, and after a proper goodnight kiss, headed for Silver Lake. If it got too late, I’d crash on the beach in a sleeping bag (stored in the guardroom), allowing me a few extra minutes sleep in the morning. Tonight was one of those nights. I finally drifted off sometime after three, overcome with swirling images of a naked Karen and bombs falling from the sky.
The next day I went to see good old Doc Brown, the first person on my list. After a quick stop to give the lab a blood sample, I proceeded to the examination room, which still held a lingering hint of Old Spice aftershave. I undressed and put on the blue cloth dressing gown with the big slit down the back, which provided both natural air conditioning, and an occasional peek-a-boo view of my naked posterior.
After a few minutes wait, Dr. Brown entered and checked me over from head to foot. Exam concluded, he said, “We’ll have to wait on the blood tests to be sure, but I’d say you have nothing to be concerned about.”
“You must have missed something Doc, because I haven’t felt well for the last couple of days. I’ve had violent stomach cramps, boils under my arms, and dark patches all over my body.”
“Oh?” He looked surprised. “I don’t see anything now.”
“Well, it comes and goes. Do you recognize the symptoms?”
“It sounds like the Black Death.”
“Oh no,” I put my hand over my mouth and start to weep. “I could only have a few weeks to live. You have to tell my draft board I can’t go.”
“Now I understand the sudden need for a physical. You don’t have the plague. It died out in the 12th century. Do you take me for a fool?”
“I’ll take you dancing, if you’ll write an excuse to my draft board.” Before he could reply, I walked over to the skeleton hanging in the corner, “You know, Doc, you’re not looking too good yourself. Have you lost weight?”
The real Dr. Brown stood with his arms crossed, looking not the least bit amused. “Oh I believe you’re crazy, but I won’t write any letter…you…you, draft dodger. I can’t stand any man who won’t proudly serve his country. Now get the hell out of my office!”
While Dr. Brown looked for something heavy to throw, I ran toward the exit. “Remember they can draft doctors up to the age of 50!” I escaped to the safety of the waiting room, just before hearing a loud crash against the door.
After waiting an hour, the receptionist gave me the high sign to enter Rabbi Cohen’s chamber. He invited me to sit down. “I understand you are a conscientious objector. Is that correct?”
“Yes, your worship.” I intoned. “I can’t bring myself to shoot our poor helpless Viet Cong brothers, who never did me any harm.”
“Are you a member of our synagogue?”
“No, your holiness, but I have a lot of Jewish friends.”
He looked somewhat surprised. “You’re not Jewish?”
“No, but I could get circumcised again, if it would help—what do you call it—a bisque? Oh, and I could start wearing one of those funny round hats.”
“That won’t be necessary, Eli.” The Rabbi chuckled. “And by the way, ritual circumcision is called Bris Milah. What religion are you, assuming you do attend somewhere?”
“I’m Methodist by nature.”
“So why doesn’t your minister write the letter?”
“Pastor Tom and I have different religious philosophies. He’s asked me not to set foot on church grounds again, or he’ll have me shot. Obviously he’s not a conscientious objector.”
“Well Eli, you’re not Jewish. I don’t know you from a cake of soap and have no clue if you’re a conscientious objector. Why should I write you a letter?”
“Can you do it on faith? Please, I’ll look terrible in green.”
“Sorry, I think not.” He started to leave but turned back. “Just out of curiosity, how many others have you asked?”
I counted in my head, “Six—three ministers, Rabbi Cohen, and two priests.”
The rabbi smiled. “Besides, even if they accept you as a conscientious objector, you can still be drafted. Think about it. You’re on the front lines and bullets are flying all around, do you want to be carrying a medic’s bag or a rifle?”
I sighed. “You’re right,” and started to leave. “But, I’m not giving up yet.”
“Good for you, Eli, and best of luck.”
“Say, do you know where I could find any Buddhist monks?”
The day finally arrived for me to present my appeal to the draft board. I picked out my best suit and tie, practiced my arguments, and then headed for Springfield and my moment of truth. A clerk told me to wait on a long wooden bench in the hallway, so I took a seat next to several other draftees. I figured the kid with the dark glasses and white cane had a valid case, and it looked good for the guy with a wife and two kids, even if they were a rent-a-family. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
They called my name and told me to go inside. I swallowed hard, stood up, and entered the dark, foreboding chamber. I could barely make out the five guys sitting behind a table on the far side of the room. It reminded me of TV news where the testifying mob witness is shrouded in shadows and his voice disguised, so he can’t be identified and killed.
I was instructed to stand behind a yellow line painted on the floor about 12 feet away from the board. A deep, gravelly voice rang out, “Eli J. Jones?”
The same silhouette spoke again. “What additional testimony or evidence do you wish to present concerning your 1A status…you whiner.”
I could swear this guy called me a whiner, but I cleared my throat and began. “Well sirs, I’ve been a full-time student at Ohio State for the past two years with a “B” average. My tuition’s paid for this fall, and I have a letter from OSU verifying my attendance.” I handed a copy to an outstretched hand. “It’s obvious I’m entitled to an exemption.”
“What is your major?” A friendlier voice asked.
“I’m studying radio and television production. One of my summer jobs is right here in Springfield at WBLY-FM.”
“Pussy station and pussy major,” the gravelly voice muttered again.
“Excuse me, is that a question?”
“…And you’re deaf and stupid as well.”
No one spoke for a moment, and then all at once, the five shapes started shuffling papers and muttering. There appeared to be some disagreement. The gravelly voice whispered loudly to the other members, “Our quota has been raised again. We can’t let any of this cannon fodder get away.”
“But, Willie, he has a valid educational deferment.” I heard a loud slap and watched the last speaker, along with his chair, fall over backwards. The man moaned and tried to sit up, but his head hit the floor with a thud, when struck a second blow.
His attacker, the gravelly-voiced one they called Willie, addressed me, his voice dripping with venom. “Tough luck, Nancy boy, your 1A status stays. Report to the Springfield Induction Center at nine in the morning on September 25th. You’re going to be a soldier. NEXT!”
I ignored the yellow line, rushed the table and grabbed him by the throat. “You can’t draft me…you old fart.”
Willie screamed. “Get this crazy son-of-a-bitch out of here!” Two burley guards took my arms and dragged me out of the room backwards, while I continued to rave, “You cheated me and I won’t let you get away with it!” Willie blew me a raspberry and gave me the finger. The board member next to him put his hands over his ears; another covered his eyes; the third put his hand over his mouth.
Back in the hallway outside the chambers, I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. The other draftees were staring at me—I could see the hope fade from their eyes (except for the blind guy), but resolved not to panic, nor give up. One way or another, I would right this wrong.
“DRAFTED” by Rich Allan http://www.amazon.com/Drafted-ebook/dp/B004LGTRSK/ref=tmm_kin_title_0