Three Short Stories
(CSU, having been the state’s “agricultural” college earlier (Colo. A & M Univ) was also affectionately known as “Moo U.)
These three (stories, &/or experiences) all occurred while I lived in Fort Collins, either while attending or just after graduating from Colorado State University
I was arrested and led away in handcuffs for shooting Hitler
When a 4F draft status is “no problem”
My five seconds of Hollywood Movie Stardom
First, the second. During the initial heavy-duty Vietnam War years encompassing the later 1960’s, I had three friends who went into the military. Larry joined the Navy, Roy H went into the Army, and Willy enlisted in the Air Force.
I corresponded frequently and as eloquently, fervently, sincerely as possible with all of them. We all wrote LETTERS in those daze, long before hand-held twittering sniveling substitute-for-reality-gadgets took to the fore.
And each of them, all three, summarized their lot: “if my going into the military has accomplished any purpose whatsoever, let it be this: to convince all my friends, all of you, to NOT go into the military.” I, and all my remaining non-service cronies, took that passionate edict to heart.
At first the path to deferments was somewhat well-marked and easy to follow. College students got the student deferment, married guys had the married deferment, and I suppose psychopaths had the whacko deferment. But as the ’60’s rolled towards the ’70’s, the need for meat for the sausage-making apparatus intensified, and it seemed the military was drafting just about anybody.
And we all collected stories about how people “got out.” Frank Zappa allegedly filled the space between his buttocks with peanut-butter and when the “bend over” examination occurred, the attending military medical personnel looked, then stepped back — “what the heck is that?”
“I don’t know,” Frank allegedly replied, taking a couple fingers, reaching back for a big gob, popping it in his mouth, “but it sure tastes good.”
None of us were quite ready to go that route. We heard other stories, some almost as bizarre, some routine. There was a time when one could simply announce he was a homosexual. After a while, that by itself would allegedly not disqualify a candidate. I heard of someone who refused to poop for several days (I have NEVER been able to do that). The morning of the pre-induction, this guy drank lots of coffee and possibly a laxative and was a “real mess” all during the pre-induction exam.
But when our friend Dick Olson, unanimously acknowledged as the craziest of all of us, took the pre-induction AND PASSED — we were worried.
“Long story short:” when it came time for me to take the pre-induction in early 1969, I got the “psycho” deferment. This merited a “1Y” draft status — to be considered for the military only in the event of a true major national emergency. Back in those daze I figured that a ‘true’ and major national emergency would be as it sounds — something major, like the Armageddon itself. So, in the words of a Frank Zappa song, I felt free, and could go “back to the alley, with all of my friends, still running free.”
A few years later a change of draft status arrived unannounced and unexpected in the mail. “4F.” I was completely and totally un-draft-worthy. The 4F meant “not to be considered for military service — ever.”
Fast forward a few years, to 1977. I had just graduated from college and was going to every college-sponsored “meet and greet” potential employers event. My watered-down physics degree didn’t make much headway in all the interviews I had attended thus far.
One particularly depressing day, I was dressed in a suit and interviewed with Tektronics — a company which made research equipment, mostly electronic measuring devices. I had by-passed all hardcore and useful electronics courses when I switched majors from Physics to Physical Science a year before.
After a brief introduction and summary by the visiting Tektronics recruitment staff, the interview got down to the ‘brass tacks.’ “What do you know about …?” and “Have you worked with …?” and “Tell us what you’d do if this happened …” type questions.
It wasn’t long before I felt like I was a village idiot looking for work in a series of villages each of which already had one.
I was also reminded of a Monty Python sketch about the Cheese Shoppe. A man is studying at the Library, stops, and decides he must have some cheese. He saunters to the nearby Village Cheese Shoppe, stopping at the counter. Again, after a brief introduction, it’s —
“Do you have any roquefort?”
“How about edam?”
“Oh, it’s Tuesday, never have any on Tuesday.”
“Ah, delivery truck hasn’t brought it yet.”
“Sharp cheddar, then?”
“No, none right now.”
After several dozen inquiries, asking for every cheese you’ve ever heard of, including many obscure ones like Siberian Yak’s Milk Curdled Sour and the like, the answer is the same. Nope. None.
“This isn’t much of a cheese shoppe.”
“Oh, best in these parts, sir.”
To every question, many dozens of them, about my knowledge of electronic circuits and using equipment and how it all worked, I had to truthfully answer “no.” Sometimes I’d pause a bit, trying to look like I was considering, and say “not much.” I slunk out of the interview room, feeling two-foot tall.
As luck (?) would have it, I encountered an acquaintance, Captain Jim Fulks, who was sitting at the Marines recruitment table in the Student Center foyer/entry. I knew Captain Jim because of Roy H, who, in spite of his decade-earlier admonition to everyone NOT to go into the military, had gone back and was on temporary duty to recruit in the area. I was “enlisted” to be on the Marines team during a series of ROTC challenge cross country running races. It was implicitly understood during these events that I was a “guest” on the team, and it was hand’s off in regards serious solicitation.
“How’s it going Rosco?” cheerily intoned Capt. Fulks.
I was straight-forward, open, regarding him as a friend. After all, it’s therapeutic to discuss one’s problems with friends. “Jim — I recently graduated and just finished a terrible job interview. Things are not looking good.”
Jim switched off the projector showing scenes of the Marines in action, used (probably not too successfully) to lure possible recruits to the table to talk shop. “How about me buying a pitcher of beer at the Ramskellar and you tell me about it?” Slap on the shoulder.
Actually, that sounded pretty good at the time. Yes, I knew he’d discuss another job option, but I wasn’t worried. I had two aces up my sleeve.
We took a table in the Student Center Tavern, pitcher of beer between us. At first we attracted a little attention. Students at tables nearby gazed at the unlikely duo of Marine Captain in his bright dress uniform, and the long-haired depressed-looking slouch in the cheap suit.
It wasn’t long before Capt. Jim asked the inevitable: “Rosco, have you ever considered joining The World’s Finest?”
“Jim, I can’t. I’m too old.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-eight.” I had read that the military wouldn’t consider anyone older than twenty-seven.
Jim made a quick somewhat-veiled glance around at nearby tables. I’m sure he didn’t want anyone to know The World’s Finest would compromise their lofty standards. “Under our ‘Old Men in Good Shape Program’ we can recruit up to age thirty-five.”
A couple beads of sweat broke out on my brow. “Is that so?” We talked a for a few minutes more. “Okay, is there anything else which is a problem?”
“Jim, I’ve got a 4F.”
Another glance at nearby tables. “Tell me about it.”
“It was during VietNam …” was as far as I got.
“VietNam era? No problem. We can easily make it go away.”
I glanced at the imaginary watch on my bare wrist. I told Captain Fulks I was late for my next appointment, got up and left. I haven’t seen nor heard from him since.
In later 1976 I was a Physics major at C.S.U. My wife was working at some mundane vitality-sapping job with a bunch of lifeless zombies to pay the bills and concurrently put her husband through school. I was at my desk, fulfilling homework requirements and feeling weighted-down by whatever I figured the oppressive demands of the quotidian sought to drain from my soul. Like rainwater, my attention went from the textbooks to listlessly turning the pages of a C.S.U. general information booklet. I flipped through the requirements for other degrees, and, lo and behold, there was a certificate I was well on the way to fulfilling which was somewhat similar (maybe only in name only) to that which I had two years yet to attain. I could graduate with this other degree in one year. I felt better already.
Physical Science. I already had the biology (a prior attempt at another major), all the math (hard-core physics mandated an additional four or so courses), most the miscellaneous requirements, except for two categories. Humanities and upper-division courses.
I became an expert at upper-division humanities without prerequisites. I believe I took all classes in that category that the university offered.
History of Jazz. Introduction to Formal Logic. The Nature of Culture. History of Ancient Israel (at least I had to, finally, read the entire “old testament”! among other things). The only non-post-grad-level Linguistics course. And Politics and the Environment.
Politics and the Environment was intended to be somewhat ‘left-leaning,’ in that the professor who had always taught it was of the viewpoint that The Environment usually got screwed when coming up against Politics. The first day of class, Professor Meeks took the lectern and made his introduction. Apparently the usual teacher for this course was missing in some foreign country or something like that, so the university procured a last-minute stand-in. And he announced that though he did not share the other teacher’s view of the environment needing some assistance in the fight with politics, he’d try to present the material as even-keeled as he could.
He was an enthusiastic lecturer. He’d pace back-and-forth on the stage (the venue for the class was a small auditorium) gesturing and debating points, usually smoking a cigarette, with a NO SMOKING sign high on the wall over-head. He’d finish each smoke, looking down to crush the butt under his heel while maintaining his monologue.
I’d look around at the three or so dozen other students, most of whom appeared to be in a trance, or between bouts of light sleep. It seemed incongruous — no, not the smoking — that he’d be pontificating loudly, sometimes waving his arms to make a point, and we’d seem to be … well, so dead.
One day I sat for coffee with him after class. I mentioned the seemingly strange phenomenon of him lecturing enthusiastically, while most or all the class sat there quietly, as if in a stupor or something. I said that I’d been considering doing something to liven up the class. I had a starter’s pistol at home (used to start running races) and thought of staging a mock assassination as he lectured. I am fairly sure that he was not adverse to this idea.
THE VERY NEXT DAY the lecture topic was Politics and Overpopulation. And, I had packed the aforesaid starter’s gun in my daypack. Professor Meeks paced back and forth as usual, puffing on a cigarette every few sentences. He progressed toward the scenario of a regime in a country deciding that having many more citizens would be an asset. Out-number the neighbors, more bodies for the army.
“Now imagine that I am the dictator of your country. I am not a democratically-elected leader, I have seized control through ruthless means. And I appear on the national media and issue an edict: YOU MUST HAVE MORE CHILDREN! How would you REACT?”
I’m sure he looked right at me. “He’s calling my bluff!” I thought. Professor Meeks repeated the ultimatum. “You must have more children! How would you react?”
“Why, I’d shoot you,” I said as I stood, aiming the pistol at him and pulling the trigger.
As expected, the class was not only stunned, and it’s safe to say everyone was awake. The Professor did not miss more than half a beat.
“That fellow would shoot me,” gesturing in my direction. “What would the rest of you do?”
“I’d complain and write to my congressman,” announced a girl. A few other classmates joined in the discussion. This was more group interaction by far than this class had ever had. I thought my job was done, until the next day.
I should not have continued to carry the pistol in my knapsack, but after class the following day several town and university officers were waiting for me to leave the room. I was arrested, and led away in handcuffs. After telling my story, more than once, ending up with the Chief of the University police, most of them thought that this circumstance was not only ironic, but a little silly. Arrested for shooting Hitler. The Chief was surprisingly human, and in spite of the uniform, very much like a normal open-minded reasonable person.
I was called a few days later and told that the charges were dropped. The CSU police had consulted with the County D.A. Charges? “Using a facsimile weapon in a manner intended to cause stress and alarm.”
Oh, the things I do to help make class interesting.
Ah yes, my five seconds of major Hollywood movie stardom. Like the arrest-and-handcuffs incident, AND the “4F — No Problem” encounter, this episode also occurred while enrolled or just-after-having-graduated from C.S.U. in the later 1970’s.
An announcement was published in the college newspaper. It was a solicitation for people to fill up the basketball arena to play the part of a crowd watching college games. We weren’t going to be paid, but the movie-producers would provide food, drinks (soda, mostly) and every hour there would be a drawing for prizes. In an effort to keep most the crowd ’til the end, the big prize drawings were after our work was done.
The movie was called “One on One” and centered on an athlete and his trials and tribulations. Robby Benson played the main character. We — me and thousands of my friends — were supposed to spend the entire day pretending to be the enthusiastic crowd rooting for the home team.
The Robbie-character left Colorado to play for a Southern California university — loosely (?) modeled on UCLA. We walked into Moby Arena and the usual Colorado state flags were replaced by the California Bear flag. And — amusingly, since this was supposed to be warm and sunny California, we were instructed to hide our cold-weather hats, gloves, and coats. No small feat for this cast of thousands.
I just happened to be wearing my Western State track shirt — a red skin-tight garment with a big white flying “W” in front. The mythical University, whose athletes wore cardinal uniforms, was named Western University. During a scene in which Robbie and team were far, far ahead of the hapless visitors, we were supposed to look bored, and some of us were selected to get up and be seen leaving the game early. I was singled out to leave, slowly, doing my best to appear unenthusiastic, as the camera followed me for a few seconds. I’m sure it was because of my shirt. Certainly helped with the cardinal California Western U image.
And, therefore, my five (might have been four) seconds of being the main ‘actor’ in a Hollywood movie. Ha!