I am standing in a long line of young men, all in our underwear, all shivering and all ascared to be in a long hallway waiting for our physicals, waiting for our fates.
So, this is the Army, I muse.
Shivering before I die, I muse.
Nixon can shove it up Kissinger’s ass, I muse.
Then, I hear a voice. Faint. It comes from mid-air just above and to the left of my head. The voice says, “Walk out.” The voice repeats, “Walk out.” Like a good soldier, I obey orders. I get dressed. I walk out. No one says, “Hey, you.” No sentry shouts, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” I go home. I wait for another letter pushed under my door. I wait for the knock of the MPs. Nothing. Then, a week later, the Lottery brings deliverance in the form of a life-saving high number. And, just like that, it’s over. Over. I have slipped through the cracks. I have avoided Vietnam – avoided the Draft, dismemberment, death. I feel joy, of course, but it’s tempered by survivor’s guilt – I know young men who have lost the Lottery. Most of all I give thanks to that Voice. How? What? Why? Who was that Voice? Was it the voice of my Guardian Angel? I didn’t believe I had a Guardian Angel but I’d been hedging my Catholic bets and sorta-kinda hoping he was there.
I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in strange towns and since I was broke that was my only entertainment in Milwaukee – a strange town indeed. On Saturday nights, I watched German and Polish farm-boys, come to the big city for an evening of beer drinking and beer vomiting, challenge each other to daredevil leaps across the opening drawbridges that spanned the Milwaukee River. Sometimes they made it.
Milwaukee hippiedom amounted to one music store that sold records, bongs and crucially, pot to put in those bongs. It was there I met a speed-freak wraith named Tulip. This sixteen-year-old ruin was another sign to me that all was not well in the post-Woodstock days of 1969. We’d just had Manson. Altamont lay dead ahead. The party was if not over, definitely winding down and the casualties were piling up.
Earlier that summer, I’d met another faded flower child. She had allowed a motorcycle gang to pull out all her teeth with pliers. She was tripping on acid at the time of the extraction and was sure her sacrifice would win her the bikers’ undying approbation. No wonder I felt a millennial chill.
Tulip asked me for spare change when she’d been kicked out of the record store for loitering with sonic-erotic intent. She was one of several speed freaks I’d observed attach themselves to the front of the mountainous Marshall amplifier used to play records at ear-bleed volume. They glued their emaciated bodies to the amp’s front like an octopus to a rock. There they clung thrusting their pathetically thin pelvises into the vibrating sound cone as they and the guitar solo reached climax. And, there they remained until the store clerk peeled them off or the music ended and they slid to the floor in post-coital bliss.
Sheboygan looked like Our Town and it was. As in: “This is our town you no-good, long-haired, faggot hippie-freak! What the fuck do you think you’re doing in our town? If you so much as look at one of our women (not that a faggot like you looks at women), we’ll cut your dick off and throw it on the grill at our next Bratwurst Festival.”
As I’d driven into Sheboygan, I’d passed this cheery, road sign –
Welcome to Sheboygan!
Bratwurst capital of the world!
The sign was lined with the crests of the Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Masons, Moose, Owls and Odd Fellows – everything but the Raccoon Lodge and the Mystic Knights of the Sea. But, the town’s “Welcome Wagon” committee hadn’t taken that big-hearted, big-bratwurst sentiment to heart; especially where bearded, longhaired, hippie-freaks were concerned. If you looked like I did and weren’t in college or crippled then folks, especially in places like Sheboygan, were mighty suspicious –
“Why aren’t you in the Army, boy?”
You know the scene in the movie where the stranger walks down Main Street and merchants pull down their shades and hang the “Closed” sign on the door while parents cover their kids’ eyes and pull them indoors? That was me in Sheboygan in 1969. You know the movie scene in which the stranger turns a corner and walks smack into the high school football team who proceed to kick the stranger’s long-haired behind? That was me. Or, the scene where the town’s folk speak angrily about the stranger in the third person while the stranger is standing right next to them? Me, again. So, getting a job in Sheboygan in 1969 was near-on impossible. In fact, it was impossible. Employers asked to see my Draft card which listed me as 1A, which marked me as bound for Saigon which raised alarm bells about my being in Sheboygan and close to Canada.
In the spring of 1969, I dropped out of college and was instantly stamped USA PRIME CANNON FODDER – FOB VIETNAM. So, I did what any red-blooded, college dropout would do – I dropped a tab of LSD. Then I wrote a letter to my Draft Board. So, along with the FBI’s recording of my castrato voice in Casa Storta restaurant, there sits somewhere in the U.S. government archives my literary attempt at dodging death in the Mekong Delta.
My apologia was neatly handwritten and coherent until I peaked on the LSD at which point my penmanship and prose style achieved heights of evagination, opacification, introflexion, contusion and abrasion not seen since the automatic writing of the Surrealists. My text was pre-post-modernist in the truest sense while its semiotics encompassed elements of proto-Beat, neo-Symbolist and crypto-koan poetics. The last legible bit was a Socratic dialogue between Ho Chi Minh and The Electric Prunes. Then I reached for my Crayolas and lost all connection with coherence and sanity.
My Draft Board read my cri du cœur.
My Draft Board told me to report.
I reported and, with knees knocking, told my Draft Board to their astounded, furious faces that they could go fuck themselves. Then, with knees knocking even louder, I wobbled out of the room.
Single proudest moment of my life.
And, I remain proud that I was a Draft resister, not a Draft dodger. I publicly proclaimed myself opposed to the unfair Draft system. LBJ and Secretary of Defense McNamara had become so desperate for fresh meat that they were drafting men who were physically deficient and mentally defective. (Look up “McNamara’s Morons” if you don’t believe me.) Meanwhile, Bill Clinton and many other politicians of the Left and Right were Draft dodgers. They did not publicly oppose the Draft lest it harm their political futures. Instead, they had influential people protect them from present and future harm. I had only my Crayolas.