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.
I reckoned my next/best hope was Milwaukee. (And, if that isn’t the textbook definition of a dilemma I don’t know what is.) But, I figured it was a big enough city where I could be anonymous and find a job – maybe even an acting job. If Milwaukee didn’t work out, I’d ride the rails. In yet another LSD-addled fantasy, I hallucinated my life as a rugged, soulful vagabond – Paul Muni in I Am A Fugitive from A Chain Gang, but with music by Woody Guthrie. I might even change my name to Woody or Slim and I would wear nothing but denim accented with red bandanas. I’d learn harmonica and my Mulligan Stew would be legendary in hobo jungles from Bangor to Baja.
Yeah, just try and find me, Uncle Sam. So, one morning after Steve left for work, I left him a note. Then I grabbed my few rags, grabbed a Greyhound and made for Milwaukee aka “Beertown.”
Dilemma: Milwaukee was Sheboygan, only larger and less welcoming. Worse – it reeked of roasting hops, beer and beer vomit. I hated beer. I hated beer vomit. And, “Beertown” hated me.
To avoid the Draft, Steve who’d been my drama teacher in the Catholic seminary, suggested I move in with him in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan. It seemed like the best way to save my 1A ass. If the Draft noose tightened, I could easily slip across Lake Michigan to Canada and safety. In my LSD-addled brain, I hallucinated myself wearing a leather-fringed jacket while felling a redwood on the shore of Lake Michigan which I assumed was an easily navigable, tranquil pond. I imagined myself hewing a canoe out of the fallen trunk then paddling across to Canada where the Indian maiden pictured on packages of Land O’ Lakes butter would await me – kneeling on a rock, her arms extended in wise, warm Native American greeting. We would then retire to her wigwam for some wise, warm, Native American fucking. When my squaw and I presented our papoose to the people of Canada, they would toss their Mountie hats in the air while Neil Young and Joni Mitchell serenaded the scene. Never mind that had I canoed across Lake Michigan I would have landed in… oops… Michigan. (So, okay, geography wasn’t my strong suit.)
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.