Bombers, with glove-less goalie to right

Bombers, with glove-less goalie to right


A true story of adventure, betrayal, perspiration, psycho-sociological interaction, and, of course, schizophrenia

John?!, the frantic young man bellowed to another telephone’s answering machine.

Where the phughk are you? You better get down here quick!  Cursing, he hung up. His anxiety increased. He hit redial on the phone, and got the answering machine again.

John, you better get your ass down here! Where the heck are you?! There’s this old guy reeking of whiskey who’ll be our goalie if you don’t get here soon!

I don’t really hate the Frozen Reservoir Dogs. I’m supposed to, I think. They are the Detroit Red Wings of the Glacier Arena novice hockey league. Things are not antagonistic between my team, the Bombers, and the other teams we play. However, it seems that there is more than just a hint of that when we play the Dogs. And, to be among them, hang out with them, to be one of them, I imagine would definitely qualify as consorting with the enemy.

Last season their previous incarnation, named the Rovers, “lit us up” two of the three regular-season times we played them. But the Bombers prevailed in the championship game.

That was last year. The new Bombers lost our first two games, which were played fairly close. The Froze Rez Dawgs had played three games already (we had a ‘bye’) and were on a roll. They beat a team which we lost to, 11-2. So, I was a little apprehensive when we played, but
things in our hockey world often were so weird that I thought we might have a chance.
No way, 11 – 1.

After that loss, and one more the following week to another winless team, I started to think the Bombers would be better off without me. I left a message with the arena hockey director, inquiring if there might be a potential goalie on the substitute list. If so, I was going to suggest that whoever he/she might be play half the remaining games. This way, I’d get an idea of how much of what appeared to be a ‘long lonely season’ was my fault.

Actually, I wasn’t feeling too guilty. Our defense was pretty porous. Quite often I faced attackers (yes, sometimes plural) alone with no teammates nearby. (This changed after game four.) The Bombers team captain called me at the same time I was trying to reach the hockey director regarding a half-replacement.

“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way,” Joe began. “I know another guy who would like to also play goalie for our team.”

Before he could continue gauging my feelings, I headed him off at the pass. “I had the same idea, Joe. I called the rink to see if there were substitute goalies not with any team.”

And — the team had, of all things, a practice (!) before the next game. I met the new goalie, Brandon. Not only did he have his own pads, he had goalie skates. I had no idea that they made skates specifically for goalies! Brandon was to play the four remaining early Tuesday games, and I would be goalie for the four games scheduled at 10 p.m. on Mondays.

Our next game was the following Monday. In our previous encounter with that opponent, the game was close, a 4 – 3 loss for us. This time our defense was much quicker, and, apparently, so was our offense. We cruised to a 13 – 3 victory. After the game, I felt the closest to ‘swell-headedness’ (and walking, if not on air, then with 1 or 2% less gravitational attraction) that my short goalie career would allow. I had never felt sorry for the other team before. I also learned that, after 14 games, I’d been wearing the leg pads on the wrong leg all the while. (That isn’t really surprising. It took me several games to get somewhat familiar with putting all the stuff on. The first two times I tried to put the leg-pads on upside down!)


The following week our game was Tuesday, so I watched Brandon and the Bombers post another lopsided win.

The week after that we were to play the Frozen Reservoir Dogs again. (We play each of the other teams in our 5-team league three times each.) Based on our recent performances — plus the fact that the team we had just beat took the Dogs to overtime recently, and the Dogs lost their only game so far this season the week before — I felt that we might show them a thing or two, especially as Brandon would be our goalie.

Did I already say that “things in our hockey world often were … weird”? In my brief season-and-a-half career, strange occurrences still could, and would, emerge.

The week before, I sort of missed feeling like I was on the team. I was the dutiful mascot — taking post-game team photos and then passing out beer in the locker room. This week I considered suiting up anyway, skating around during the pre-game warm-up, then sitting on the bench with the team. And, there was the chance that one goalie (or the other) might get injured or something and I’d be there to step right in. Yes, the thought occurred that the other team might need a goalie.

Suiting up would look silly, and probably be confusing to my teammates. (Even though I know “real teams” have a spare goalie, just in case. But in our recreational leagues, I’m fairly sure nobody has a ‘spare’ goalie suit up.) I sat briefly in our locker room, noting that Brandon showed up earlier than his previous game.

I went out and talked to some members of the Dogs. Another Dog player appeared and talked to two teammates nearby. Their goalie, John, had apparently called him a few minutes ago with the news that he wouldn’t make it to the game. His grandfather had fallen seriously ill and John was on his way to Rangely, about 90 miles away, to be with him. “Sorry for the short notice.”

Apparently, none of the nearby Dogs, now about six in number, wanted to play goalie. A couple turned to me, and I volunteered just before it seemed they would have extended the offer.

“You realize I’m with the other team. Is this all right with everybody?” Everyone nearby was unanimous — and nobody wanted to be goalie. I went into their locker room and queried the few players still suiting up. No-one was opposed to the idea.

At the time I didn’t know it, but there was one player who had a problem with my being their goalie. I didn’t know this until AFTER the game.


I hurried to my car to get my stuff (helmet, breezers, skates) and continued hurrying to get a set of pads and stick from the Glacier’s storeroom. As I was hurrying to get the equipment I passed a couple of my … teammates. Yes, I’m going to sound like I’m confused. Which teammates? In this case, my usual, former, Bombers teammates … Mike (who gets my vote for Bombers “monster”) chuckled as he saw me leaving the Dog’s locker room. “Are you lost?”

“Good news. I think I’m going to be their goalie.” I figured this would cheer up the Bombers because they had our ‘good goalie,’ and the other team would have the worst goalie in the league. Not that I wouldn’t try, though.

Individually, I thought that all the Dogs were nice guys. The usual good-natured bantering in the locker room. Nothing derogatory about the team they were to play. I asked if anyone had a dark jersey, and Tim said that he had a spare. Later I asked Tim to assist me with tightening straps on the leg-pads which I couldn’t easily reach. He stayed a few more minutes to be ready to help with anything else. Finally, when it was just my helmet remaining, I thanked him and said that he could leave.

I didn’t know until a few days later that he played mandolin in the same jazz group my brother plays in. This may be just a somewhat interesting (?) bit of trivia, but I suspect he knew I was his band-mate’s brother. If so, it was just as well he didn’t say anything. He was a much-appreciated goalie-equipment assistant — a position I usually find a ‘volunteer’ from among the Bombers before each game.

I started to begin feeling … conflicted. Prior to then I had been hurrying too fast to feel much of anything. ‘Conflicted’ gave way to mild schizophrenia. However, pretty soon after this weird and strange turn of events got underway I thought that “Either way, I win.” If the Bombers win, that should be what I really want — where my allegiance lay. However, if the Dogs won, well, I would be part of the winning effort, and get another “W” in my very thin W-L column. And, I think it is just ‘human nature’ that whatever team one was on, a normal person would prefer winning to not.

Dave, our team's young hot-shot, and the team's senior citizen goalie ...

Dave, our team’s young hot-shot, and the team’s senior citizen goalie …

Betty recently started working at the Glacier. This night she was sitting at the entry/ticket counter. She knew I had shown up to watch, but got a clue that I was possibly going to play when a dark-blue-clad player rushed up to the counter. He asked, no — he probably demanded to use the phone because he had “an emergency.”

Betty told me of this incident after I got home. She said that if she wasn’t a Glacier employee, she would have told him off AND been real tempted to shove her fist down his throat.

We’ve had a few days to put things in perspective. At first she was outraged that some stranger would say disparaging things about her husband. I pointed out to her that it was probably true. She is married to an old man who smells like whiskey (“and cigars,” she was quick to add). Except the frantic Dogs player was wrong about the whiskey part. It was wine. I had had a couple glasses of wine before the game. Whiskey is for after the game.

However — if the player was so upset about the substandard replacement goalie — why didn’t he (or get someone else to) volunteer for the position? As I said, I personally heard no murmurs to the contrary.

During my previous game against the Dogs, something happened to me which hadn’t happened in a hockey game. And it was something which hadn’t happened to me in all other aspects of my life for quite some time. There was a point where I was going after a player with the intention of getting into a fight.

In the game a few weeks back, after scoring the first half-dozen points from out and away from the goal, they started bringing the puck in. The player (sometimes plural) would smash into me, we’d fall down, ending up in a heap IN the goal. A couple of them would ask if I was all right, and then they’d skate away.  However, there was one guy in particular who, upon realizing he’d scored as he and I and sometimes another were lying in a heap in the goal, would start whooping it up. He would NOT ask how I was.

The last time he did this, I guess I just snapped. My immediate reaction was to go after him as he started to skate away, exulting loudly. Fortunately, I was slow in getting started. I tried to reach out after him, and also tried to trip him with my stick. Just as I had gotten on my feet and was closing in on him, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

The referee was standing behind me, wagging a “no no” with his index finger. Darn. Maybe next game, I thought.

I told Tim, and various others, about this. It was part of my schtick, the more-or-less constant commentary — to talk about something, anything, just talk. I think I also told them, as a team, that I hated them (on “general principle”). No-one seemed to pay any more attention than the Bombers would before our games together.

Like I said, each individual seemed like a nice guy.

Out of the locker room, feeling stranger than usual. Probably due to the dark blue (think ‘Darth Vader’), rather than cheery yellow (Bombers) jersey.

Before I joined “my team,” — the Dogs, I did my usual stumbly skate around the arena. Stumbly because when I first get on the ice, it’s like my skate bottoms are banana peels. I attempted a half-assed shot at the Bomber’s goalie, Brandon, and we bumped into each other, acting tough for a few seconds. The frivolity continued as I skated through the Bomber’s half of the ice, doing faux checks hits and bumps into a few until-this-game teammates. Chris came at me with his stick across his chest, gave me a light whack, and skated away.

The Dogs had a shot-on-goalie ritual which in itself was much more organized than anything the Bombers do. The Bombers have no pre-, during, or post-game rituals.

They stood in a semi-circle, each with a puck, about 15 yards out. They were waiting for my acknowledgment. I pointed at the player on the left, and he dutifully skated a few glides towards me and shot the puck. Then I pointed at the next player, and he either shot from where he stood or came in a few yards before shooting. I stopped most the shots.
An interlude of skating around our half of the ice, then back to practicing stopping shots in the goal, and the ‘game on’ buzzer sounded.

I feel the same at the start of any game. Surreal. Apprehensive. A slight bit scared. Of course. This game, so far, was no different in those regards. But, of course this was different. I was more, for lack of a better word, schizophrenic than usual.

A couple of the defensemen assured me early on that they’d do their darnedest to deflect all the shots and threats they could. They adhered to this promise pretty well. Tenacious. The Dogs scored the first goal, and the Bombers seemingly tied the game a short while later. That goal, scored by Bomber ‘monster’ Mike, was discounted. Another player in the crease, I think. Of course Mike complained.

The Dogs kept it up, and at the end of period one the score was 4 – 1. I may have had five or so saves, and the Dogs defense continued their assurance that they would keep me out of trouble.

Things got a bit more interesting in the second period. A few minutes into the next round of play, a player from each team got whistled for a mid-rink altercation. The Bomber player dutifully went to the box, while the Dogs player skated away as if it didn’t concern him.

Within seconds of the brief fight, I went to the Dogs guy to just chat — but my intention was to defuse him from whatever aggravation he might still have to vent. I congratulated him on a spectacular save he had made a few minutes earlier. I was completely out of the goal and the Bombers made an on-ice slap shot which Mr. Fighter stopped by sliding on his side with his stick extended at arm’s full-length — the very tip of the stick stopping the puck.

My calming-influence chat did not accomplish the desired effect. When the Dogs player realized he also had to go to the box, he skated by the Bomber’s bench. Bomber Rich “pulled one of the oldest tricks in the book” and said something derogatory to Mr. Dog as he skated by. Incensed, Mr. Dog tried to dive into the Bomber bench to attack Rich, and the refs intervened. This time was expulsion from the game AND a 5-minute major penalty.*

“Oh great,” I thought. What a thing to do to the team. We’re a player down for three minutes (remember, the Bombers had a guy in the box for the next two minutes). The Bombers put one in during the penalty time. There was another Bomber goal later on and the scoreboard read 5 – 3 at the start of period three.

Well, now, as usual, I’m sweating. In more ways than the usual. Actually, I start perspiring as the pads and jersey come on in the locker room. I sweat all through the game. Thanks to the contacts, I don’t have glasses to wipe nor slip off, and maybe ’cause of the contacts the sweat doesn’t sting my eyes.

And, my sense of self-identity has been subsumed into the universal void.  I’m integrated into the Dogs.  I’m one of them, now.  In the Belly of the Beast.


The Bombers continued to close the gap. The Dogs defense, which was stingy earlier in the game, started to fray. Bomber Mike in particular capitalized on some one-on-ones with the goalie. After every goal, a couple Dogs defenders would skate over to me and apologize. The Bombers rarely, if ever, did that! “My bad.” “I should-a stopped that.” “Sorry.” Even if I felt that a goal was, indeed, my fault, they still apologized.

With two minutes to go, the score became 5 – 5. The intensity of play increased. After an icing call there was a face-off just to my left. Bomber Chris, waiting for the puck drop, looked right into my eyes. I remember the captain of the other team in my previous win this season, doing the same thing. It was as if each guy was gauging me. Telegraphing. Part of picturing the puck in the goal?

I avoided being scored on in that instance, and a couple more. And, I thought: “I don’t want to do overtime. Somebody score.”

The Dogs put one in, and the 6 – 5 stood at the end of the game. I felt somewhat elated but also a little guilty. Post-game hand-shake. Most the Dogs congratulated me. Then and later, some of the Bombers claimed that they had never seen me play so well.

The Dogs were mildly jubilant in the locker room. Some of them turned to me and asked how I now felt about them. I thought a short while, then stated: “I still hate you guys.” I think everybody laughed.

I went in the Bombers locker room. I guess it was force of habit, but they really were (and are) MY TEAM. It seemed everyone booed and threw trash and wads of tape at me. I held my middle fingers up, jeered back at them, and left.

Things were back to normal the following week. The Bombers (and I) were “run over” by the next team we played.

* “Mr. Fighter” is/was one and the same as the fellow who was apprehensive about the substandard goalie. Of course I didn’t know this until after the game.


(It took a couple years AFTER the Bombers-Goalie era, but I finally acquired ALL my own stuff.  Although, rarely is there a cat out in the game … )

“cancer in the penalty box” & other unrelated essays

hockey diaries, part IV:  CANCER IN THE PENALTY BOX

      the team dynamic was changed.

whereas previously i was a mostly-extraneous member, i became the poster-child for the “make a wish foundation” once the news spread.  (yes, i know, things will be back to normal sooner rather than later, where extraneousness and milling about in the background will again be my place on the team).

i knew “i was in trouble” when Dave, the one team member whom i count on to be rude and insensitive confronted me when i left the locker room.  he stood directly in front of me, my back to the wall.  he looked right into my eyes and asked, “are you all right?”

shit,” i thought.  he knows.

he acted concerned and continued to act that way ever since.  i think there were two games remaining until i “went under the knife” — and my very last game the team captains acquiesced to all (‘all’ being about 3) my wishes and demands.  “i want to be right wing” (not left, which i’d have to share with Lloyd, the time-hog).  “i want to be on a line with Tucker.”  and i spent about as much time as anybody else on the ice.   and, astonishingly? we won that game, against the first-place team in our league.

afterwards, the team presented me with a … going-away/get well/pain-killer-medicine gift.  a bottle of single-malt scotch whiskey.  we clicked our beer-bottles, they wished me well.

i also got to play goalie twice during the wednesday night “dave ash league” — which is a casual pick-up game.  nothing casual about it, though — it seems most the players are upper-division but not out to kill anybody.  never-the-less, i had fun and look forward to trying to continue to do THAT perhaps a couple times a month.  cheap, too! (a little more than $10/game).

one month to the day after the operation, i ‘celebrated’ by getting back on the ice.  i sent a mass-email to the team (as if they gave a poop) announcing that i’d show up, skate about during warm-up, and asked to play just one minute per period.  this was because my team was to play the one team which, the last two games, just barely outplayed/out-scored us.  i knew the team would want to utilize the ‘better’ players more than, say, team-members of my (lack of) ability.

there was a bit of the “welcome back” syndrome in the locker room, but the player who warranted more of that was Miguel, who had been injured for most the season and had just now come back for this game.  and … our bench was sort of short.  Brian, the team captain, ventured that i would probably end up playing much more than one minute per period.

although i felt a bit sluggish (as usual) when we started warming up, things were not much different than the norm.  oh, i was a little more wobbly and clumsy, but irregardless of whatever happens the rest of my life, without resorting to performance-enhancing steroids and bionic surgery, i will definitely NOT ever be considered adept enough to play in the “upper” leagues.

i played every other shift the entire game, and didn’t dwell on my condition, much.  although i was slightly apprehensive, even being knocked down towards the end of the game, bumping into a couple others a few times, i felt and skated pretty much as i normally do.  and though we lost, i felt the same afterwards as i almost always do.  it was fun.

there was a fair amount of “chippiness” during the game — contact which was not inadvertent, elbows and such a few times, words exchanged, time in the penalty box, etc.  i was, as is becoming usual, immune from that.  i can’t help but think that the other team leaves me alone, as the sentiment is that i do my team the “most damage” (and assist the opposition) by being out on the ice.  oh well.

flashback, to … gary snyder (& how i “met him”) telling the most valuable possession of the Papagos; and a song imparted (& lost) in the midst of a bad sickness

             I was a college student at CSU and read in the paper that Gary Snyder was to be part of a panel discussion that night in the Student Center.  This was the sort of thing I could not pass up, and the price was right ($0).

After dinner I shuffled off to the campus and entered the building.  At the main information desk I asked where was the “poetry panel discussion”  and the info-desk-person there did not know.  Another guy (who looked very much like the picture I had just seen in the paper) dropped by.

I knew of him mostly thanks to Jack Kerouac (‘Dharma Bums’) but was aware that he had continued to be ever-more the artist, the word-monger since then.  I didn’t know he would appear to be so … “hippy.”  Counter-culture.  Like me.

I announced to him that I was looking for the room in which Gary Snyder, among others, was to discuss some aspect of poetry.  He replied that he was looking for the room also.

I experienced a surreal twenty minutes or so, as we strode up and down the hallways and stairs, engaged in light conversation — centered mostly about how lost we were.  At least we came to THE ROOM, in which the audience and panel members were waiting.  Since we arrived together, and looked somewhat similar, I’m sure everyone thought that I was “with him.”  I kept that secret to myself as I sat among the audience.

I know I enjoyed the evening’s ‘entertainment,’ but remember little of what was specifically imparted.  Save one thing — Gary talked about a northern Mexico/south Arizona Indian tribe, the Papagoes.  They were not a ‘rich’ tribe, in the sense of possessions nor fertile crop-land nor much else.  What was the most valuable possession to an individual was a song.  I suppose “rich” Papagoes had many songs.

How they acquired a song varied, and the songs would usually come in dreams.  However, to merit/deserve/make oneself worthy of such an impartation a Papagoe would have to do something heroic.  One might hike all the way to the sea and bring back some salt.  Or go beat up on some warriors of another tribe.

When one Indian was real good friends with another, and wanted to make a gift, he’d give his friend a song.

About two years before, Deb and I were vacationing/hanging in Mexico.  We had gone on a prodigious train- and bus-tour from San Carlos to Mexico City.  On our return leg of the journey, we each were beginning to become quite ill.  The flu, probably.  A severe, head-clogging, pain-filled, tedious, foreign flu.

It was so bad that one night around midnight, as I was tossing and turning and occasionally moaning as if that would help, I did an experiment to “pass the time.”  I lay still for as long as I could, trying to sink into sleep, but trying to pass the time never-the-less.  I lay for what seemed to be a couple hours.  I looked at my watch.  Two minutes had passed.

I did sink into a pain-free sleep later that night.  I was in a cave.  I couldn’t see anything, but knew that this was right on the ocean.  I could hear the waves, smell the salt-air.  It was a large cave, and I was not alone.

They were singing — in a language I surmised to be the local indigenous aboriginal tongue.  Several layers of chanting, humming, weaving in and out.  A solo-ist would intone the next line of melody, and the others would join in, point-and-counter-point with increasing layers of background chorus.

I wish I could say that I woke up and the flu was gone.  But I did remember the song for several months.  It seemed sorta “polynesian.”

i guess everything is a “new start.”  new running ‘records’?  new job.

yeah, telemarketer, but not on commission.  well… the commission would be if i actually do acquire/round-up/conjure up some work, i “stay on.”

but still, the maya is closing in, the illusion gets thicker, polar ice caps melt as the ozone spreads; ZPG quite a way off…

The Smelter Mountain Mutants, “old (wild) west” style un-easy stand-off when encountering the Uranium Savages.

             Hallowe’en, 1986 or so, Durango.  I was part of the Dept. of Energy (DOE) radiological characterization crew — to ascertain the contaminatedness of the uranium-mill-tailings pile just outside of town.  We had been in town several days, with many more to go.  Halloween night was rumored to be a ‘big deal’ in downtown Durango.  So, after dinner, we gathered around our trucks and vans and started dressing-up.  Which was easy — we had hazardous-waste suits (Tyvek over-alls), hard hats, thick gloves, some of us wore the gas-mask-like air-filters.  And, each of us had “URANIUM SAVAGES … TRUST US !” scribbled in felt-tip on our backs.

We wandered the streets, hardly distinguishable in the over-all crazy vibe which prevailed.  We turned a corner, and, there they were.  The Smelter Mountain Mutants.  (Smelter Mountain was the place where the old uranium mill was).  They wore more-or-less matching outfits, each with a “moon-crater” mask — looking like moon-craters with the eyes peeking out among the indentations.

It was like the old west middle-of-the-street showdown.  They stood, warily, as a group assessing us; and we them.  After what seemed half-a-minute, each group slowly pulled away — eyes on the other group in case they’d try to get the drop on us, or something.

Captain Jim Fulks.  A nice guy.  He was a friend of my friend, Roy H Johnson, when Roy was still in the Marines.  Capt. Jim was a recruiter, and would make the rounds to the college campuses in the area.  Roy would stop by and visit when they recruited at CSU (I was a student there).

We had a fun afternoon with beer and pizza one day.  Roy called asking me if I would be a “Marine for the day” and run on their cross-country team.  The CSU Army ROTC was sponsoring a “military challenge race,” and Jim and Roy spearheaded the Marine team.  Although it was understood (at least by Roy) that I had no interest whatsoever in “jinin’ up” I was on the team, as well as another similarly-militarily-disinterested friend of mine.

After the race, we went to a pizza place for the requisite beer and.

I would see Capt. Jim periodically, when I was cruising through the Student Center and he’d be at his recruiting table in his dress uniform, brochures and other information, as well as a projector and screen showing jets screaming through the skies in the background.

The last time I saw Jim, I had graduated a short while before but was in the job-hunting mode.  The college arranged for recruiters to talk with prospectives on campus, and I had just ‘interviewed’ with a computer-component manufacturer.

The interview reminded me of a Monty Python sketch — the one about the cheese shop.

you know the one, don’t you?  a fellow walks into a cheese shop, is greeted by the proprietor, and asks if the shop has a specific kind of cheese (let’s just say, “jarlsberg”).

            “no,” the shop-keeper replies.  “just ran out.”

            “how about some muenster?”

            the proprietor looks up, musing.  “it’s Tuesday.  we get it shipped in on Wednesdays.  sorry.”

            “okay, lets have some roquefort then.”

            “we just sold the last bit of that to the last customer.”

            and so the exchange goes, the hungry customer asking for this, and that, and the shopkeeper comes up with some funny “no” replies.  sometimes he just  says “no” — as many as a dozen or so queries in a row.  towards the end of the skit the would-be customer asks for such things as “siberian yak cottage cheese” and other esoterica, and still there is/are none in the shop.

            “this isn’t much of a cheese shop,” the potential customer intones.

            “best in these parts.”

             I don’t remember exactly how the exchanges end, but you get the idea.

And so, the Tektronix (I think was the company name) representative asked me if I had experience in many categories of electronic component design.  After just as many incidences of answering just “no,” I would sometimes pause, consider, then say “none” or “very little,” etc.

I was made to feel like I was looking for a job as a village idiot in a series of villages each of which already had one.

And, obviously, there was extremely little chance Tektronix would arrange a follow-up interview.  I slunk out the door, and down the hall, feeling three-feet tall.  The slunk was in full feeling-worthless mode as I went past Captain Jim.  He was resplendent in his dress reds and blues, sitting ramrod straight, the projector displaying jets napalming Vietnamese villages or something.

I probably nodded “hi” to Jim as I began to walk past.  He asked me how I was.  I turned to him, as I would to a friend, and bared my soul.  I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of how my job search wasn’t going so well.  Now, I expect you, whoever you are, might say what did I expect next?  I did expect it, but I wasn’t worried — I had a couple aces up my sleeve.

“Hey Rosco,” Jim said.  “How about me buyin’ you a beer in the Ramskeller and tellin’ me about it?”

It was the best offer I’d had so far that day.  It would be therapeutic.  Beer, and the opportunity to discuss my situation in the Student Center beer-tavern.  Just like a friendly session with a psychologist … did I mention with beer?

Jim turned off the projector.  The Ramskeller was a short distance away and soon we were seated with a pitcher between us.  People at nearby tables initially looked askance at us — a somewhat unlikely duo; although I was wearing a suit, I hadn’t had a haircut in possibly two years.  There isn’t much variety in how a Marine officer dressed-to-impress appears.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before Jim would ask the inevitable.  Up ’til then I mentioned the types of interviews I’d had, and although I don’t remember everything, whatever I really wanted to do, work-wise, probably was not well-identified.

“Rosco, have you ever considered joining the world’s finest?”

“Jim, I can’t.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I’m too old.”

“How old are you?”

I told him that I was twenty-eight.  That age was a year or more over the maximum that the military accepted.  Or so I had recently read.

Jim gave a brief stealth glance at nearby tables.  I took this as a sign that he didn’t want to advertise that the world’s finest would compromise it’s lofty standards.  “Under our ‘older men in good shape program’ we can recruit up to age thirty-five.”

“Is that so?” I replied.  A couple small beads of sweat materialized on my brow, but still I wasn’t worried.  I still had the BIG ACE up my sleeve.

We talked a while longer and a couple minutes later he basically repeated the initial question.

“Jim I can’t.  I’m ineligible.”

“Tell me about it.”

In 1969 the draft was hot and heavy on the minds of all young men.  If you didn’t volunteer, the draft, or successful means to avoid it, was a part of the rites of passage of the era.  Everyone, and by everyone, everyone I knew had either signed up or waited for the summons to the pre-induction physical.

My three friends who were already in the military wrote to all their friends with basically the same message.  “If my going into the military has served any purpose whatsoever, let it be this:  don’t go in.”  I (and everyone remaining) took that to heart.

So, I prepared, studied, psyched myself up, read hindu texts, went without food for three days and water for a day, to get myself in the right mood for my pre-induction experience.

I’ll spare the details, but I passed, I mean flunked that exercise … well, not completely.  I went back for a “follow-up” a few weeks later during which I did even better.  I received a “1Y” deferment, which, at that time, meant “available only in the event of a national emergency.”  This was upgraded a few years later to the “4F,” which meant “totally unacceptable for military service no matter what.”  I had assumed that the 4F was written in stone.  No room for any other interpretation.

Jim casually looked around at the nearby tables, then leaned towards me a little.  “During the height of Viet Nam?  Totally understandable.  We’ll take care of it — no problem.”

More beads of sweat.  I pulled my suit coat back to reveal my wrist, upon which there was no watch.  I announced that I was late to my next appointment, got up, and left.  I haven’t seen him since.