CURSE OF MY FATHER
“You will NEVER get a good job,” Dad expounded. Then, thundering, with pointed index finger quavering in my direction, “YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT!”
“Dad, I don’t care.” I stuck to my Principles then. We’d had arguments, but rarely as emotional as this. He, too, had his principles.
He rarely talked about it, but we were all aware of his service in WW2. He had been awarded the Purple Heart and had the scars to prove it. He had fought in the “good fight” — a war with clear and unambiguous intent. But this was different …
He became aware of my intent to “fail” the U.S. Military Draft pre-induction physical exam. I was going for a “psycho” deferment. The year was 1969. The height, or depth, of the Viet-Nam quagmire. Hell no, I wasn’t going to go.
Before the military sunk its clutches into you, there was an Induction Physical, sort of a foregone conclusion that if you were there to be checked and probed and not-too-seriously questioned, you were on the train to boot camp shortly. The Pre-Induction physical was a preliminary to the Induction, where only the most unacceptable candidates would be identified and not pursued any further.
During that time (“Viet Nam War”), and presumably during similar periods of national crisis, all young men had to register for the Draft. One had to register upon turning the age of 18, and I could accomplish this at my high school!
This was a couple years before the unpleasant discussion with Dad. When I came home from school and announced that I registered for the Draft, my parents were surprised. “What?!” One never expects the Spanish Inquisition. But even then, the thought of their little boy slogging through the swamps of SouthEast Asia seemed very, very remote.
Every young man was eligible for “the call” unless you had a deferment status. As long as a boy was in school (be it high-school or college), this qualified for a deferment. After a couple more years, this weasel-way out no longer qualified as a “get out of the meat-grinder” card and one needed a more stringent excuse, I mean deferment. “Hardship cases” were becoming increasingly more difficult to qualify for.
Three of my good buddies had gone into different branches of the military. Larry was in the Navy. Willie joined the Air Force. Roy H was an Army guy, and all of them wrote all their friends expressing the same sentiment – “If my going into the military has served any purpose whatsoever, let it be this. I passionately and sincerely implore all my friends to NOT DO THIS!” and I and all the Friends heeded their call.
I lived in an attic in Boulder with (it varied) between 3 to more than 5 of my friends. Only one of us was in College, so he didn’t have the specter of the Draft breathing down his neck, just yet. The rest of us not only were under the influence of psychedelics much of the time, occasionally engaging in minimum-wage employment, but were continually aware of the however-many-hundread-pound-simian outside the room. That is probably one reason we drifted in and out of altered reality states so much.
Reverend Bob somehow could not and did not “fail” the pre- (and later induction physical, the one without a “Pre”-fix) and slipped into Canada – yes, one of the (in)famous Canadian Draft-Dodgers. I kept in touch with him for almost ten years and wonder where and how and what he is today.
Richard Olson (we knew him as “Dick”, but he has shed his past and his reprobate un-inspired un-enlightened former friends and is achieving some measure of fame as an artist (and mystic, so his bio implies) in New Mexico) also astonishingly did not FAIL the Induction physical and some of us accompanied him to our secret mountain camping spot where he was to hide while the U.S. Military Gestapo/Brain Police searched for him. He hunkered down in the camp-site several days, and one night snuck back to the Attic. The Gestapo/Brain Police never came for him.
One of many mysteries of the era. If Dick, our high-end calibration-standard of day-to-day psycho-ness, PASSed muster, what hope was there for the rest of us?
But when my turn came up, I had already learned. You had to convince the officials, the humor-less government drones conducting the evaluation that you WERE NOT FIT nor appropriate military material.
The Attic-dwellers heard many stories. Frank Zappa was alleged to have filled his, uh, space between the buttocks with peanut butter. When the time came for the “bend over and spread” exam, the examiner is alleged to, well, have gotten pretty disgusted.
“What the hell is that?!”
“I don’t know,” Frank (is alleged to have) said, taking a finger and gouging out a big chunk. Putting it into his mouth he said “but it sure tastes good.”
Legend has it that Mr. Zappa’s performance qualified him as a dismissal from those deemed fit to become part of the military. And that wasn’t the only story …
My sister had a friend named Chris who told a story of a friend of his who somehow could tell his body (and his body obeyed) to NOT TAKE A SHIT FOR A WEEK. (I never could come close to that, but …) Said friend of Chris’ followed this regimen until the morning of the Pre-Induction. He woke up, drank several cups of coffee, took ex-lax, and during the day’s proceedings had, among other more-minor embarrassments, several “explosions.”
“How often does this happen?” the examiners asked.
“Oh, maybe three or so times a week” Mr. Potty-Problem replied. He too, was not invited back to try further to get into the Army.
There was the sad story of a guy who drank a couple hundred bottles of Coca-Cola during the two or three days before his test. He exhibited strange symptoms and I’m sure his blood-test turned out ‘un-ordinary.’ (Or, I can’t help but insert that famous line from Young Frankenstein, “Abby somebody.”) And said rumored Coke-over-dose guy continued to have adverse health effects a long time after.
It used to be that if one announced that he was a homosexual, THAT dis-qualified you. Heck, if you said that you’d taken LSD – that was a sure-fire ticket to the coveted Looney Deferment. In earlier times “flat feet” or a deviated septum might not buy a ticket on the train to Boot Camp.
But at the height of Viet Nam, it seemed they were taking just about anybody.
The Denizens of the Attic found out from friends, acquaintances, and the rumor mill that saying you were “queer” or had taken LSD up to a few dozen times no longer was an abrupt end to the Induction proceedings. Heck, when I went in I said I’d taken LSD 80 (eighty!) times and though the questioner looked a little bit dismayed (and I think he looked a little impressed), it was obvious he’d heard worse. And told them (and I) to continue down the hall to the next room. (By the way, I exaggerated on that claim, and most others).
It came to pass that the Attic Denizens gained minor recognition as a sympathetic ear and abode of consultation for those about to make the Bus Trip to Denver to be Poked, Prodded, Given written ‘tests’ and ‘questionnaires’, Scrutinized, Donating Blood (and other) Samples for the Good of The Nation (BT2D2BPPTQSB4GON). Earnest (especially since the situation was dire) young men dropped by a few times a week. Whoever was home in the Attic would invariably sit down, listen, suggest whatever might work and everyone would brainstorm to come up with new ideas.
My time came to put my foot where the money was, or demonstrate the Preach of the practicing I/we had been doing. May, 1969 (I don’t remember the exact date. I’m somewhat sure of the month, though). I received the letter to take the BT2D2BPPTQSB4GON.
I dropped by my parent’s house and Dad must have gotten wind of my intent. The conversation we had ended with the Pronouncement at the beginning of this story.
Long story, short: some day I might write the details (such as I remember) of the proceedings of the Pre-Induction Physical. One of the high- (low?) lights was that as the day progressed, I forgot I had a melted chocolate candy bar in my back pocket, and started to slip my hand into the pocket and then wipe the sweat off my face. (I didn’t know what I looked like ‘til I glanced at my reflection in a window after leaving the exam building).
Needless to say, I succeeded, I mean, flunked the test. I got a notice of “1Y” draft-classification in the mail shortly afterward. 1Y meant “available only in the event of national emergency.” So, you see, the military was practically taking practically everybody.
Several, many, years later I talked to Dad about what I felt was his curse regarding my future. He didn’t mean it – that is, cast a witch’s spell on his own son, I knew that then, but he BELIEVED in certain things about America. Stepping up to perform military service was integral, part of being American. And he believed that there was some sort of “system“ (he must have thought that there was a primitive pre-cursor of the NSA) keeping track of everybody – and if one failed to heed to call to honor, well, THAT would be on one’s “record” – and, among other things, disqualify one from working in any branch of the government.
Trouble was (and still is), basically that’s all I’ve ever been able to work for. I humorously told him that yes, indeed, he had put a curse on my work-future. I felt I had never really had “a good job.” And a large part of that failure in my work history was that I seemingly was only able to work for the government.
1969: dishwasher in the student cafeteria for state-funded college (WSC).
(1970 – 1973 didn’t work for the government! Mostly construction carpentry and dishwashing. Oh: a few months microfilming insurance policies for John Hancock in Boston. I was promoted to supervisor!)
1973 – 1975: real-estate appraiser for Gunnison County Assessor.
1975 – 1977: as part of college student-aid, truck-driver, machine-shop assistant and parts-fabricator for Colorado State University.
1976 – 1977: temporary seasonal mail-man and package-sorter for USPS (back when it was a government agency). Brief stint sorting mail while laid-off from DOE in 1996.
1977: forest-fire fighting and search-and-rescue crew, under auspices of Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
(1978 – 1979: detour into oilfield services in private sector. Laid off during bust after the boom-cycle ended.)
1979 – 1998: subcontract engineering tech, later technical writer/editor, for U.S. Department of Energy.
1998 – 2016: Inspector (9 years) then Engineer for Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission.
My father has been ‘gone’ a dozen years now. But he always had a good sense of fun and funniness, and when we talked about this – my so-called work history, it was obvious he saw the humor in that.