Thought I would share my recently completed 2nd edition of my comic adventure novel, “Drafted,” the semi-autobiographical story of Eli Jones, carefree college student drafted illegally into the Army during the life-threatening era of Vietnam. Over the next series of blogs, you can follow the story, but if you get impatient, you can always get it at the link at the bottom of this first installment.
Inside the old wooden bathhouse, twelve-year-old Ricky and his best buddy, Jimmy, pressed their faces against an unpainted cement block wall, each straining for position. Eventually, everyone found out about the gap in the divider between the men and women’s dressing rooms. Rumor had it that late at night the owner’s son would chip away with an awl at the original settling crack to improve the view—and paid attendance—at Silver Lake Beach Club, the town’s favorite swimming hole.
Jimmy complained, “Move over, it’s my turn to watch.”
“There’s nothing to see yet,” said Ricky. “Wait, somebody’s coming…oh, my god, it’s Judy.”
Every red-blooded American teenager’s fantasy, Judy stood five-foot-two, with long blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a physical maturity beyond her sixteen years.
There were individual changing booths on the ladies’ side, each with a wooden bench, and a cloth curtain that could be drawn to preserve one’s modesty. Only two stalls were within range of the famous hole in the wall, so why Judy always chose a spot in plain sight, and never drew the curtain, is anybody’s guess. To the young voyeurs, her motivation didn’t really matter.
The boys stopped struggling and glued one eye each to the crack in rapt anticipation of the wonders they were about to see. Jimmy held his breath because he didn’t want to do anything that would make this lovely specter prematurely disappear.
Judy began to undo her blouse—one agonizing button at a time—until her massive white bra appeared. Ricky moaned and Jimmy clamped his hand over his friend’s mouth. If Judy heard anything, she didn’t seem to care. She smiled mischievously while reaching behind her back to unfasten the three clips that stood between the boys and heaven. In a second, the bra removed, her ample young breasts swung free.
But, the show had just begun. Judy then slid her short shorts down her long tan legs, all the way to her painted toenails. She had already stepped out of her sandals, so when her shorts completed their journey, Judy neatly flipped them into the numbered wire clothes basket.
One item remained—a light blue pair of cotton bikini briefs that gently clung to Judy’s hips. Drool formed at the corner of Jimmy’s mouth and his eyes assumed an Eddie Cantor-like stare.
As Judy’s briefs headed toward the cement floor, Jimmy sprang into manhood. Some of the world’s greatest achievements—John Glenn’s trip around the planet, night baseball, and the splitting of the atom—paled in comparison to Judy’s ability to make boys into men. She stood there for just a moment, in all her glory—then quickly pulled on her bikini and vanished from view.
“Damn,” Ricky said, shaking his head in disbelief, “If I die tomorrow, I will have lived a full and satisfying life.” Jimmy nodded in agreement and wiped the spittle dripping from his chin.
From high above the water on the main lifeguard stand, Eli Jones watched Judy exit the bathhouse trailed closely behind by Ricky and Jimmy. He had to laugh at the puppy dog expression on the boys’ faces—no doubt a direct result of having recently seen Judy naked—like most of the young male population in New Carlisle, Ohio.
Turning his focus back to the swimming area, Eli leaned back in his wooden swivel chair, smeared some zinc oxide on his nose, and continued scanning the large roped off area of the lake. It was a typical summer weekday with several young kids yelling and splashing in the shallow water while their mothers soaked up the sun on the sandy beach.
One of the youngsters caught Eli’s attention as he made his way from shore to the deep water line by half swimming and half pushing off the bottom. Standing on his tiptoes, with water up to his chin, the boy eyed the closest deep-water raft, more than twenty yards away. Eli sat up and slid forward to the edge of his chair. Don’t do it, son, you’ll never make it.
But kids have more balls than brains, so the boy pushes off and starts flailing about like a wobbly windmill. He covered about half the distance to the raft before his strength gave out and his body transitioned from horizontal to vertical. That’s always the first sign. Kicking and splashing as hard as he could and barely keeping his head above water, Eli saw panic creep into his young eyes.
So, why not immediately jump in and rescue the child? Well, believe it or not, people had yelled at Eli in the past because they were embarrassed that they needed saving. What are you doing? I’m fine. How could you be so stupid?
Now sinking faster than the Titanic, the young man definitely needed assistance, so Eli blew a long blast on his whistle to let the other guards know a rescue was in progress. Taking off his sunglasses and white cotton jacket, Eli jumped into the water, not letting his head go under, so he could keep the victim in sight. Closing the gap in a matter of seconds, he grabbed the boy just as the youngster slipped below the surface. Totally exhausted, the victim put up no struggle. Many times in an effort to keep from drowning, swimmers will do anything to keep sucking in air—including kick, bite, scratch, or climb on top of his rescuers head.
Eli put the boy in a cross-chest carry and towed him back to the one and three-meter diving platform, where another guard helped lift the lad out of the water. The young man had stopped breathing, so Eli reached into his mouth, pulled out his tongue, and started CPR. After each breath, Eli turned to watch his chest rise and fall to make sure enough air was reaching the lungs. After a few seconds, the boy coughed, spit up some water and started to breathe. Eli made him lie there for a few minutes because training had taught him it’s easy to go into shock after a near drowning. When his pulse, color, and breathing returned to normal, he helped the boy sit up.
Eli smiled. “Welcome back.”
“My baby, my baby,” cried the boy’s mother, running along the wooden walkway that led to the diving platform and main guard stand; pushing her way through the crowd. The woman knelt and wrapped her arms around a still dazed and confused son. She turned to Eli, tears flowing. “I’m so sorry. I only took my eyes off him for a second.”
Eli wished he had a dollar for every time a mother had said that to him. “It’s okay, lady. Your boy is going to be just fine.” It’s true. It takes, at least, four minutes without oxygen before brain damage occurs. “Just make sure he stays in shallow water where he can touch…and sign him up for swim lessons.”
“I will. Thank you so much.” She kissed Eli on the cheek, and then ushered her boy back to the beach, scolding the poor kid all the way.
The rescue concluded, the infamous, barely covered Judy, part of the crowd who had gathered to watch, pressed up against him. “Eli, you can give me mouth-to-mouth anytime”
Now, it’s a crime in most states—except maybe West Virginia—to get involved with a girl that young, even if she is willing, so he politely declined.
She pouted and drew a smiley face on his still wet, naked chest. “…and why is it you never ask me out?”
“Because, young lady you are off-limits, and your father, Policeman Sam, would beat me up, arrest me, and then beat me up some more.”
Judy shrugged her lovely shoulders. “It’s your loss.” Flipping her hair, she walked away like a Ford model on a runway—pure poetry. With a twinge of regret, he watched her go.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Eli Jones. Most folks around here already know me. Not that I’m famous, it’s just that, well, it’s a small town and I am the head lifeguard at Silver Lake Beach Club. Picture a bronzed god sitting high above the crowd, chiseled features in profile, the wind in his hair, sweeping the horizon for signs of danger, ready to spring into action at the slightest hint of trouble. Adoring females reclining at my feet, awaiting a kind word and ready to do anything for my attention.
Okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit. Girls don’t worship me. And unless I concentrate on sticking it out, my chin has a tendency to disappear. It’s a family trait. But, I do have bedroom eyes, shoulder-length hair, and a dark tan from sitting in the sun seven days a week.
Silver Lake is a great place to work. There’s a wide sandy beach, a huge swimming area, two deep water rafts, a giant slide, paved basketball court, two ping pong tables, a classic jukebox, snack bar, paddleboats, terrific fishing, a swing set, and several wooden picnic tables scattered amongst an extensive grove of tall shade trees. It’s a private club, so you have to join to swim there. But the fee is so reasonable that practically every local family belongs. In the summertime, if you weren’t working on one of the nearby farms, then you were hanging around at Silver Lake.
I’ve been working here for the past three years earning money for college. You don’t make a lot of dough, but there are extra benefits—like being surrounded every day by beautiful women in a minimum of clothing.
Karen, one of the new lifeguards, is a perfect example. Standing five-foot-four, with green eyes and sandy brown hair, I first met her at the spring guard interviews. When I told her about the required swimming test, she said, “Do you have a swimsuit I could borrow…and someplace to change?”
I took her to the guard shack, and with a straight face, tossed her an extra guard uniform–a paper-thin, one-piece, red Speedo. “The job is yours…if you can fill out this form.”
Karen smiled and without hesitation replied, “No problem. Do you want to watch or wait outside and be surprised?”
I had found my summer romance. We’ve been dating ever since, including some steamy sessions at the local drive-in theater, where we have yet to see a movie all the way through.
Once a day, I lead Karen and the rest of the lifeguard team on a mile swim across the lake and back—capped off by a free dive to the deepest spot in the swimming area. My fellow guards complain about going down forty feet because Silver Lake is a natural spring-fed lake with continuously flowing cool water that gets even colder once you drop below the thermocline.
I insist on this training because once I had to rescue a guy from those murky depths, who stood six-foot-three and weighed nearly two-twenty. He had gone beyond the deep-water line, got a cramp, doubled up, and sank like a torpedoed battleship. Picture the struggle I had trying to bring that incredible hulk back to the surface, especially when I couldn’t push off the soft muddy bottom. I managed, but only because I kept in shape with our daily swims.
Normally I only picked lifeguards who were excellent swimmers to cover the large swimming area. But one season, I spotted this guy named Hal in nearby Dayton at Gold’s Gym bench-pressing more than 300 pounds and he looked so good I decided to hire him without a swim test. Well, Hal did look outstanding sitting on the guard stand but had so developed his chest and shoulder muscles, his bulging arms had not touched his tiny waist in ten years. As a result, the man couldn’t swim a lick. After I found out, I didn’t have the heart to fire him, so we only used Hal in shallow water where he could wade to make a rescue. You’d be amazed at how many females tried to drown that year in less than five feet of water.
My stomach grumbled reminding me it was lunchtime. I grabbed Karen and we headed to the snack bar where I ordered my usual hamburger, fries and a Coke. Karen selected a cheese steak sandwich & an iced tea. Food in hand, we plopped down in the lifeguard break room and turned on the small TV. In living color, the channel two CBS noon news once again featured their daily coverage of the escalating war in Vietnam, up close and personal, with exploding napalm searing the earth, the rat-a-tat-tat of M-16s firing, helicopters wop-wop-whopping above and dead soldiers from both sides scattered around a rice paddy where they had fallen. Walter Cronkite reported the daily body count, followed by a close-up of LBJ, with his big nose and Texas drawl, justify the unpopular conflict by mumbling something about a domino theory, where if Vietnam fell; then in short order, the communists would take over America.
What a lot of crap, I thought. How could losing a civil war in Vietnam have anything to do with freedom in this country?
Ignoring the political propaganda, I turned to Karen, who sat munching away on my basket of ketchup-covered fries. “So…are you glad to be out of school for the summer?”
She said, “You bet. No studying, no exams, no term papers, just lots of sun, sex and suds.”
I grinned. “Must be why we get along so good.”
“Especially the sex part.” Karen patted me on the leg. “How about you? Do you miss school?”
“I love Ohio State. I can’t imagine any other time in my life when I will have this much fun.”
“What about taking exams?”
“No problem. I’m a good guesser and have perfected correctly answering true/false and multiple choice questions without studying. My life couldn’t be better.”
“Unless Uncle Sam decides to draft you.”
I winced. “Ouch, why did you bring that up?”
“Because you are ensconced in a ‘what me worry’ college cocoon—ignoring the world’s problems, as society crumbles all around you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’ll bet you are real popular at parties.”
Karen continued to rave. “The innocence of the 50s is gone. We have rioting in our cities. Children go hungry. Factories pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink. Young men are dying in Vietnam.”
“Hey, I’m aware. I even tried protesting once.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Fred, my sophomore college roommate used to complain about everything—from high tuition fees to not enough free campus parking spaces. We shared a cheap apartment just south of the university in a neighborhood that ranked a slight notch above an official Columbus slum—even rats refused to visit our place.
Anyway, a card-carrying communist came to OSU to talk about why the U.S. military advisors should get out of Vietnam, but the school decided it went against policy to let the guy speak. Not that big of a deal to me, but Fred went nuts. “We are being denied our constitutional right to assemble.” Fred then proceeded to organize a sit-in at the OSU administration building and invited me to go along. I only went because I had heard girls got aroused at protest rallies, and you stood a good chance of getting laid.”
Karen smiled. “Why am I not surprised at your motivation?”
“May I continue?”
“About thirty of us arrived late in the day and marched through the seven-foot-high, bronzed entry doors into Derby Hall. We ascended the marble stairs to the large waiting room just outside of the bursar’s office and sat down in a big circle in the middle of the room. The campus cops were pretty cool about it. They just stood there with their arms folded watching us—with a little curiosity—wondering what we intended to do. The other students and office staff mostly ignored us, going about their business as usual. At five o’clock, the student dean announced, “We are closing. So if you want to leave, do it now.” It sounded good to me, so I got up to go.
But the suggestion did not appeal to Fred. He had everyone link arms and start chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go,” over and over again. The dean shrugged and left. But our merry band of the protesters kept chanting and swaying back and forth anyway. I hesitated, not sure what to do, and ended up getting locked in with the others.
So, there we were, no food, no lights, staring at each other in silence because thank God the chanting had stopped. Fred stood up, illuminated by his BIC lighter, and announced. “Thank you for your solidarity. We have scored a major victory here tonight, confirming the right of any individual to speak his piece, regardless of point of view. And since they have locked the bathrooms, we have an opportunity to hold the nation’s very first college campus shit-in.”
“That’s gross,” said Karen.
“I know. So after being trapped for fifteen long hours with several apprentice hippies and a smelly carpet, the campus police arrived, marched us back outside, and my protest experiment came to an end. I heard Fred ended up transferring to Berkley, and got arrested trying to blow up an Army recruiting station.”
Karen smiled. “You shouldn’t be discouraged after one bad experience. I’ll bet if enough students kept complaining about Vietnam, the Johnson administration would have to listen.”
“I don’t know…maybe. I sure as hell don’t want to go to Vietnam. Can you see me as a trained killer?”
Karen laughed. “No, I can’t.”
“Well, thanks to you, I plan to spend the rest of the day worrying about society’s ills and getting my ass shot off.”
“I’ll bet I can make you forget your troubles for a while.” Karen leaned over and planted a serious lip lock on me while her tongue checked out where my tonsils used to be. Finally coming up for air, she asked, “See you later tonight…about eleven o’clock?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.” I thought about what Karen had said. True, the world wasn’t perfect, but I had money in my pocket, a beautiful girlfriend, and the sun was shining. What could go wrong?
* * *