Vietnam War

The New Draft Lottery of 1969

The New Draft 

When I went to school in 1965, college students were exempt from Selective Service draft status. Everyone else age 18 or older could be randomly called up for active duty because at that time there was no volunteer army. If you were expelled from college or if you flunked out, the SS (Selective Service) was notified immediately, would then swoop down like its Nazi Party namesake and cart you off to a barrack; then ship you over to Viet Nam. The only other exempt categories were Medical Students and Chicken Farmers because future doctors, eggs and poultry were considered vital to the American economy.

Sometimes I think this must have been prophetic to the future plight of many primary care physicians in the twenty-first century: No better off than being a plucked hen.

However, the later news was not very good, because once graduated from Medical School, the SS could then draft any new physician based first on age, then on marital status, and then on whether or not there were dependents. Since I was single and had no children, I prayed nightly that the Viet Nam war would finally be over before June of 1973.

At that time, it looked as though the war was going to last forever and that I might wind end up like Howard Levy; being assigned as some physician hacksaw quack in a tropical mosquito infested Green Beret camp. Levy, was a Psychiatrist who was told when he was drafted that he was now a Surgeon. He said he did “on the job training.”

But in 1969 a miracle occurred. The rules were changed as an effort to mollify critics who felt that draft eligibility was statistically skewed against the poor, the blacks and the economically disadvantaged. The solution to the problem was brilliant in its simplicity: Create a lottery system based on a person’s eighteenth birth date, then draw 366 calendar dates from a hat and assign the number 1 to 366 in sequence as each date is drawn.

The first number drawn was 258, which attached to September 14th, and which also corresponded to incredibly bad luck. Anyone born on September 14th was at the top of the draft list. And so on.

My brother’s date corresponded to number 17, while mine corresponded to 320.

This was the only lottery I have ever won, which is perfectly fine considering the stakes were life and death as opposed to lump-sum cash.

The bad news was that my brother’s number did come up. It was predictable. The good news was that years before, he had sustained an ankle fracture that healed, leaving his right leg slightly shorter than his left one.

The injury occurred when he and I were fighting and he fell down a small hill. I felt guilty after the fact because I was still so mad at him I made him walk home on it for about half a mile. Knowing that he had the devious Evetts gene, I thought he was faking the injury so that my mother would later blame me for the entire episode. While she never did blame me because it was an accident, what she did take out on me was my callous disregard for my brother’s well being; and as usual, my father could just “not understand” how the whole thing could have happened in the first place.

When my brother’s number came up, we thought he would be drafted and sent off to Viet Nam. My mother and I were beside ourselves with angst, but my father’s reaction was one of patriotic indifference.

  • So what? Serving your country is a high honor and a sacred patriotic duty.

My mother and I both verbally assaulted him.

I came at him from the war protestor’s point of view, about the lack of a moral validity to even be in Viet Nam, and my mother attacked him from the point of view of a mother’s love along with a hysterical foreboding premonition that her son might come home in a black body bag.

  • Dad. It isn’t the same as World War II.
  • And why not?

The circular argument ended when my mother proactively took my brother to the Orthopedic Surgeon who had set his fracture and who produced enough documentation to get my brother a 4-F draft exemption.

My mother and I were elated.

My father believed my brother to be a coward.

What everyone seemed to forget was that if the cause had been a good one, and if the nation’s security had been held at the same risk threatened by Hitler and Tojo, everyone would have signed up to go.

The final irony:

There is no time limit on draft status for a physician. There is also no limit on how many physicians can be drafted at any given time. I never served, so I am still eligible. Luckily, however, the doctor lottery goes by age:  Youngest first. Then by marital status and dependents. Then by status of health.

Thankfully, I finally got old. I eventually got married. I have step-children and I also have a bad arthritic back with bulging lumbar discs.

Unfortunately, any of my contemporaries who already had served, can be also be called up again; one of the great attributes of military conduct being that the rules can always be changed to suit the circumstances because war itself changes everything.

Hopefully, the next war will not be one of global annihilation because if so, there will not be anyone left to treat. But then again there will not be anyone left to shoot at me, either. After the war, being completely out of patients would certainly make for a strange condition of forced retirement.

One can only imagine the look on the face of a welfare screener if any modern-day physician applied for unemployment benefits?

  • Let me get this straight. You are a doctor and you are unemployed?
  • Yes ma’am. We finally cured death.

Except for the fact that some Four-Star General, holing up in the bunker at the Greenbrier with the President and the Congress, would probably then order me to immediately change hats, like they did to Howard Levy, and to expeditiously become a coroner.

  • Yes sir. Definitely radiation poisoning, sir and definitely not terrorism, sir. I am very certain of that, sir. Trust me on this one, sir. Just a mass extinction event. There are simply far too many nuclear bomb crater holes out here. Oh, and how are you and the Congress holding up in your bunker? Are you sure you are all right in there, sir? And by the way sir… who won?”
Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

 

 

www.pastposterscom

The Notorious Summer of 1967

The Summer of 1967  

I would venture a guess that even today by about the middle to the end of sophomore year most college students probably become “know it alls”. I was no exception.

During the summer of 1966 after freshman year, I began to have political arguments with my father. These debates became progressively more vehement and ugly, once again reflecting the political division of the country. He was a hawkish conservative who believed in the righteous cause of anti- communism while I had become liberally freethinking and socially compassionate. My honest beliefs were that the Military industrial complex was fascist to the core, while America had forgotten its poor, its illiterates and its impoverished classes.

My father would rant about the economic waste of social welfare programs or the inability and lack of desire on the part of poor people to “raise themselves up by their own bootstraps,” because after all his father as well as himself were self-made, so why could not everyone else be so or do so as well. Of course in his later years, however, he certainly did not mind buying into and deriving certain expected benefits from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Societal experiment called Medicare.

He said:

  • That’s different. I earned it.
  • I’m not sure you really earned Carte blanch ad infinitum for any and all of your medical bills, dad.
  • And why not?

For my part, I had been exposed to the continued abject poverty in the South where poor whites lorded over poor blacks and where closer to home, black workers on campus were not even getting minimum wages. I think they were agitating to get up to 90 cents an hour, but without a union and with no advocates, they were not making any headway. My father told me I would change my mind when I began to pay taxes, while I told him he was a heartless fascist. It was a no-win Mexican standoff.

In the summer of 1967, my father finally did get the last word and played his trump card. I had lined up a job the previous year as a busboy at an old hotel, The Irving in Southampton, which at that time catered to the blue bloods who wintered in Florida or Palm Desert, and who summered on Long island’s famous East End. Many of these people moved into the hotel for the entire summer, allowing common folk like myself to get a first hand look at their decadent lifestyles.

The Irving Hotel was an elegant old establishment complete with a black tie Maître D’hôtel. An old professional German named Fritz, he supervised a formal dining room that still set tables with real silverware and Pewter accessories. If I thought that the summer of 1966 was bad because I had struggled through work with mononucleosis, little did I know how much worse the summer of 1967 would turn out to be.

My long unruly hair embarrassed my father. He had already freaked out earlier in the year when we made a rare family appearance at church for Easter Sunday at which time the long hair had caused numerous stares and giggles, all of which culminated in a great row after the fact of getting home. When my Aunt Jean saw this mop on a visit to Texas she was more direct. She followed me around all day, every day, torturing me by repeatedly calling me a “little girl” and offering to take me to town to buy a calico dress. But I could care less and indifferently let the taunts roll off my back because just like the Beetle Haircut in high school, I knew in my heart that I was in the fashion vanguard and adamantly refused to capitulate.

However, when my father got my grades for the last semester, he delivered his ultimatum in a true “come to Jesus” diatribe: I was going to get a haircut, I was going on probation for the next semester, if I did not pull my grades up to an A level he was not going to pay for school, I could get drafted into the Army on my lost educational deferment and I could go to Vietnam. He said that was it and he didn’t even care if I came home in a body bag. Although I tried to play on his guilt by telling him that he would not like to see me come back in a pine box, I really had no choice. He said again that he didn’t care one way or the other; that being hidden away in a body bag would avoid public embarrassment and thus because obviously my life on the line, I finally capitulated and got a haircut. I may have been stubborn, but I was not stupidly suicidal.

The only time I head ever seen him that mad was the night I tried to sneak into the house two hours past my curfew because of a sincerely dedicated but failed attempt to seduce a date in the back seat of the family station wagon. I had just crept into the final turn before the hallway leading to the safety of my bedroom when my father bolted out of the shadows, grabbed me in a neck throttle and slammed me up against the wall.

  • You’re late. Do that to me once more and you will never drive again.

How was I supposed to know he had a slipped disc and was trying to unsuccessfully sleep away the foul mood inducing pain in the living room recliner?

Meanwhile more shit hit the fan when my mother and Aunt Polly raided my bedroom one day, ransacked the drawers and were sitting at the kitchen table burning incense sticks when I came home from the beach.

  • We found your pot and we’re burning it up. What we really want to know is how you can get high by smoking this awful smelling stuff. We’re surprised it doesn’t kill you and if you ever bring this stuff into the house again, you’re out of school, you’ll have to get a job, then maybe get drafted, then go into the Army and we don’t care.

Although things settled down after I educated them as to their error by telling them that I only used incense to make my room smell nice, I felt it nonetheless best to be safe by giving away the safely hidden lump of the real hashish I had procured at school which was earmarked to get me through the entire summer.

Then to make matters worse, the girl I had met at the SDS meetings and had started seriously date informed me that she was pregnant.

In those days birth control pills had just come onto the market, were hard to obtain and still carried a certain stigmata as to their safety as well as the real intention behind their proposed use. Women who used ‘The Pill’ naturally then had to be secret sluts. God forbid, Grandma, if they smoked too, what you might think of the combined pharmacopeia of estrogen, progesterone and nicotine. (I have previously alluded to the fact that my Italian Grandmother’s favorite query about my father’s potential dates was to ask if they smoked. If he said” No” she was happy. So when he asked her why she wanted to know she quipped: “Because if she smokes, she fucks.”)

Completing the stupidly circular argument, women who got pregnant out of wedlock were labeled as obviously proven sluts, leaving the only logical conclusion to be that chastity should be the easiest and safest way out of the raging hormone dilemma. However, no matter how the argument is sliced or no matter what religion one subscribes to, there will never be a way to stop pre-marital sex because as previously elucidated; we are all biologically programmed to have it in our teens. For a young woman the, birth control pills and diaphragms would ultimately be easier to hide from a mother, than an oddly shaped ever expanding midline and suddenly larger bra cup size.

My girlfriend and I were both 19. She was a Baltimore debutant who went home from school for the summer, while all I could hear playing in my head were the wrathful expletives about to be delivered by my mother if I told her what was going on. It would undoubtedly be one of her worst nightmares come true: A pot smoking college-drop-out, longhaired hippie teenaged son, who was about to become a father. Not good.

However, being one of the original “Women’s Libbers”, my girlfriend made an automatic unilateral decision that we were both too young to become parents, that our prudish families would be horribly scandalized, and that our academic careers or any potential future careers for that matter would very likely be ruined or severely hampered. She wanted an abortion.

We were in quite a bind with the outlook seeming hopeless at best, if not bleak at worst We would probably have to confess the plight and then take whatever consequences came of it, including teen-age parenthood. There weren’t too many available options because unfortunately at that time in America, abortion was illegal. It was also associated with numerous real or anecdotal stories about women dying from clandestine coat hanger jobs or green soap dilatations and curettages at the hands of self styled home schooled butchers.

I was emotionally prepared to become a hotel busboy for life.

The Irving Hotel in Southampton imported help for the summer, most of it being college age students who were housed in a motel like hovel on the large grounds owned by the hotel corporation. I had already befriended one of these itinerants, Bradley, a bright guy from Springfield, Massachusetts, who was going to high school at home and was in his second summer stint at the Irving to make money for college at the University of Massachusetts.

He was an eternal optimist and a gentle soul with a great sense of humor who glibly brushed off any and all adversity. He was also a fellow pothead, and although quite bright intellectually, managed to hide the fact behind a likable goofy affect that reminded me of Our Gang’s Stymie who once told Alfalfa that:

  • I ain’t gonna show my intelligence to noooo body”

Some of the best times we had during the summer were to smoke pot after work in the concrete bunker provided as housing for the summer help, put on headphones and listen for hours to The Doors, Canned Heat, or Iron Butterfly.

When I confided the pregnancy situation, he seemed completely nonplussed and told me he knew a man at home in Springfield who had dedicated himself to a campaign for the legal right to abortion. He had also helped numerous women in trouble, or women who wanted to have their own right to choose. When I contacted Brad’s friend by phone he related how he had helped a number of women to have safe legitimate abortions in Nogales, Mexico and outlined how it could be accomplished over a weekend. There was nothing in it for himself other than to ensure medical safety, so he subsequently arranged the appointment for us with his Mexican connection, Dr. Jose Romo De Vivar who completed the circle of the notorious Massachusetts-Mexico illegal abortion ring.

Financing this endeavor was not easy, but I somehow managed to borrow about $1500 from a friend at Duke, the son of a wealthy Jewish lawyer from Northern New Jersey who happened to have had his own relatively flush personal savings account.

I procured airline tickets and successfully communicated with the doctor’s office. That was the easy part.

The hard part was to come later as for one full year after the fact, I ate nothing but small tins of Star Kist Tuna as I had to live on about two dollars a day in order to be able to pay back my friend. Guilt, of course, having played a significant role in this self-imposed sacrifice, I did not ask my girlfriend for a single dime toward our expenses as I assumed complete financial responsibility for my actions. My girlfriend and I double lied by informing our parents that we were going to visit each other. Then I flew to Baltimore where I picked her up, we then flew to Arizona, rented a car and drove over the border to Nogales, Mexico.

Nogales is a twin city. There is the American Nogales that is neat, clean modernly prosperous town. Then, just across the border there is the Mexican Nogales that is filthy, dirty, antiquated and impoverished. Nothing could better highlight the difference between America and the third world than the juxtaposition of these two towns, while nothing could better predict the future mass exodus of Mexican immigrants and illegal aliens than the visible opportunities that beckoned these poor people, who were only separated from a better life by an imaginary line drawn in the sand. The abject poverty and the juxtaposition of these two towns bearing the same name but existing in two diametrically opposed worlds was a startling eye-opener for me, because an International border was the only thing separating a bustling, clean United States village from a dilapidated, run down slum.

It was easy enough to locate the doctor’s office although it first required navigating our way trough a bevy of urchins; street beggars and shoe shine boys who hung on our heels like lampreys.

Among other things, prostitution happened to be a considerable portion of the local underground economy and was not too seriously suppressed by local authorities making the town seem to be a Mecca for U.S. citizens looking for a cheap trick. The street pimps were quite brazen, as exemplified by one of the more pernicious street solicitors, a young boy in his early teens, who nonchalantly approached us and repeatedly proposed:

  • Hey meestah. You wanna fuck my seestah? You can have her for a quarter. An’ don’ worry. You can go upstairs while I stay down here an’ watch your girlfriend. Everything weel be OK. I weel take especial good care of your girlfriend.

Given the circumstances of our situation and purpose, the solicitation was not appreciated, but was not dissimilar to a proposition we got in New York City the next summer when a street solicitor wanted us both to do a screen test for a pornographic film. It must have been something in the way she moved because I knew for sure I didn’t happen to have any of the same ‘je ne se pas de quoi.’ Or as they say in the street vernacular:

  • It must be jelly, ‘cause jam sure ‘nough don’t shake like that.

Even discounting the time value of money, I can hardly imagine what other unsolicited calamity or health hazard might have come along with that quick ride on a twenty-five cent Mexican whore. All I really needed to complete the vision of hell I already thought I was in would be to get an incurable strain of VD, a stolen wallet, no U.S identification, a kidnapped pregnant girlfriend and no way to get back home. Ultimately, although entirely nerve racking, and despite biting my fingernails to nubs while I waited, the D& C was completely uneventful and mercifully uncomplicated, which then allowed us to scramble back to our respective homes.

The entire episode lasted less than 48 hours during which time fortunately no parent had called any other parent while we both went on to make up lies about how great each other’s respective home visits had gone. Putting it all behind us was a great but nevertheless very sobering relief, as well a very harsh lesson in the value of practicing very careful birth control methods.

Thank goodness contraceptive pills soon became readily available and over a short period of time after coming on the market finally lost the stigma that those women who used them were nothing better than street whores, common sluts or lost souls who were doomed forever to roast in hell.

 

Nogales

(Nogales, Mexico / Nogales, Arizona)

 

 

Laid back in an old saloon, with a peso in my hand

Watching flies and children on the street.

And I catch a glimpse of black-eyed girls who giggle when I smile

There’s a little boy who wants to shine my feet.

And it’s three days ride from Bakersfield

And I don’t’ know why I came.

I guess I came to keep from payin’ dues.

So instead I’ve got a bottle and a girl who’s just fourteen

And a damned good case of the Mexicali blues.

Is there anything a man don’t stand to lose

When the devil wants to take it all away

Cherish all your thoughts. Keep a tight grip on your booze

‘Cause thinking and drinking are all I have today.

(John Barlow and Bob Weir: The Grateful Dead: Mexicali Blues)

 

 

 

 

 

College Liberals and Radical Roots (1960s)

Unsolicited Influences 

Shortly after arriving at Duke, the University held the customary annual orientation program in which the entire freshman class was herded into a large auditorium and given the usual run down and pep talks about campus life. In the case of our class, the senior student who gave the introduction could not contain himself with a crude sexual allusion to the “Class of 69”, as being the one they had all been anxiously awaiting; “The Class of Reciprocal Oral Sex.” Although the comment was greeted by loud guffaws, little did he know that his offhand reference to a Kama Sutra position would be nothing compared to the several sexual and cultural revolutions about to take place in the near future, all to be spearheaded by the “Class of Incurable STDs.”

In adding stern warnings about the various temptations associated with being free of direct parental supervision, of the need to study hard and in particular of going astray or avoiding the dreaded “Sophomore Slump,” he felt as though his message had been successfully delivered.It was business as usual with the routine accolades being accorded to yet another freshman class.

Having done reasonably well in freshman year with a decent grade point average; emotionally, however, it was a disaster. My girlfriend, M., was immediately absorbed into a sorority and shortly thereafter began dating upper classmen. This was a double blow to my self- esteem as she was both now the member of an elite club while our eternally pledged true love had gone down the tubes.

She and one of her girlfriends were particularly enamored with a tall blond member of the Junior Class they had nicknamed “Many Pennies,” being their sub-Rosa method of referring to the size of his genitalia. Indirect logical intuition led me to believe then that they either both of them had sex with him or he had sex with both of them at the same time.

Meanwhile, while she was out with Mr.Mega-penis, I firmly began to think that no one of the opposite gender would ever remotely love me again. I got through the depression by studying in the library, and also making a few half hearted efforts to win her back. It was a lost cause because I was simply outclassed, upper-classed and outsized.

She finally dumped me for good one day shortly after we had sex under an old Live Oak tree behind her dormitory on the Woman’s Campus, while afterward she complained bitterly about the crudity of the episode in comparison to the nice milieu of fraternity dorms. I guess she preferred soft pillows and sheets to picking prickly oak leaves and hard Carolina clay out of her butt crack. She also didn’t have respect for hundred year old trees or the way our Grandparents snuck out to do it romantically under the moonlight; because there was no place else to go.

After this final breakup, I incrementally began to become brainwashed by my friend Arthur. He constantly berated my conservative Barry Goldwater politics as he slowly but surely began to make me believe that Democratic Liberalism was equivalent to having a social conscious. However, because the Democratic Party under LBJ beginning in 1965 had begun to escalate the war in Vietnam, as he reneged on his campaign promise to keep American troops at home, there now seemed to be no legitimate political force that embraced social consciousness at all.

It was ironic that LBJ, who had campaigned against Goldwater with an ad depicting a nuclear bomb blowing up a little girl picking petals off a daisy, was now the principle instrument of napalm mediated death in Southeast Asia.

Napalm, or jellied gasoline, is a weapon of particular cruelty that was developed in World War II as a means of making the gasoline burn more effectively. It was used both as an incendiary device designed to maximize urban burning in the great fire raids over Germany and Japan. But even worse, being used as an antipersonnel device, it also had the great advantage that skip-bombs could be made to spewed pellets that are the equivalent of flaming Crazy-glue as they bounced along the ground. These fiery little balls would then stick perniciously to the enemy’s skin, could not be wiped off, with any attempts to do so only serving to spread it further, as though it might be incendiary flypaper or malignant poison ivy. Burning at temperatures between 800 to 1000 degrees Celsius, napalm could not even be extinguished with water. Personally speaking, I would prefer to die in an instantaneously vaporizing nuclear blast.

Arthur’s take on the political scene was that most politicians were stooges of mediocre intelligence who were fronted by wealthy businessmen or corporations. This iconoclastic view, while upsetting to my childhood view of the sanctity and infallibility of the U.S. Presidency, has obviously turned out to be quite visionary.

Feeling as though there was no political alternative at all, college students become distracted by and attracted to more radical elements such as the Student for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Panthers or other subversive organizations, who began to get footholds on campus and who began to preach for the complete overthrow of the US government. I can recall attending small seminars by Dr. Howard Levy and Tom Hayden who were gaining notoriety on a national level. Hayden was the founder of the SDS and eventually married the notorious Hanoi Jane Fonda.

Levy was particularly engaging in recounting the story that although he was a Dermatologist, the Army bureaucracy told him he had to function as a Surgeon. It did not seem to matter that he knew nothing about surgery; and basically had on the job training.

He also focused on the fact that the Green beret doctors being used to set up small hospital outposts in the Vietnamese countryside where the philosophy of “winning hearts and minds” was predicated entirely on the concept of delivering medical care first. This age-old ruse which goes back to antiquity is best exemplified by the Apostles of Christ whose faith healing escapades founded the nucleus of what is now one of the largest worldwide religions. The concept of “doctor as God” has only recently fallen by the wayside in modern cultures. However, in primitive cultures that have little in the way of medical services, providing even a few basic amenities goes a long way in establishing a foundation of trust.

Levy eventually spent 3 years in Leavenworth for his antiwar activities and in particular because of his vehement opposition to the subversive practice of offering medical care as propaganda tools, while the other hypocritical face of America’s presence was offering to maim or maul innocent women and children with the likes of jellied gasoline. The carrot and the stick: at its best.

I also vividly remember being privy to watching an interview at the campus radio station with Stokely Carmichael because Buck, Arthur and I had just gotten jobs at the station, which allowed to go behind the scenes. Carmichael was instrumental in promoting the idea of Black Power, Afro-American identity and separatism.

He venomously spewed repeated hate that the root of all societal evil in the World was centered in the history of Western European culture and world conquest. While it was simultaneously inspiring to watch his charismatic delivery, I was still left to wonder what he might do with all us White folks after the Black revolution established him as Emperor of America, and in particular how one could so romantically explain away the history of African tribal warfare, genocide, and slave trading.

I had the unpleasant premonition that life under a Black dictator would not be a predictably pleasant experience. It was also the first time I had ever seen anyone of celebrity accompanied by body guards and wondered why anyone would have to be that paranoid. After all, this was America where free speech was a protected right under our Constitution, was it not?

Although all these individuals were very charismatically persuasive, I also had the same premonition after attending a few SDS meetings where I listened to the venomous hate being hawked by the local cell leaders. The Students for a Democratic Society was a left wing organization that was probably the white equivalent of the Black Panthers. It was never comforting that any of the people in these groups were really delivering a message of brotherly love or a clear vision of world peace but rather that the message of the day was simply to preach the violent overthrow or the U.S. Government.

It was a confusing time and it became increasingly difficult to decide which one of the many devilish public icons one should put any faith in; a problem many citizens had and which sewed the seeds for much of the anarchy that was soon to follow. Because I eventually came to realize that living under a government formed by SDS hate mongers might be the worse of any current evil, as well as being more potentially hazardous to ones health, I paid the SDS lip service, then quit soon after joining. Early fans of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot would have been better off if they too had jumped ship at the beginning. Still wondering to this day if the fact of my brief membership is still in my FBI file, I regret not keeping the membership card for my scrapbook.

The only real good to come out of all this was that I met my first college girlfriend at an SDS meeting and started going with her after the President of the cell dumped her for someone else. Although she was one of the original “women’s libbers,” which made her exciting to be around for a while, she definitely took it all too seriously. This subsequently led to one too many humorless dates involving more in the way of tedious arguments over social reform than fun, laughs and good sex.

Added to all this social turmoil was the enormous pressure of trying to maintain grades and the intensely cut throat competition engendered by those individuals who remained oblivious to what was going on in their surroundings or in the world and who could actually have cared less. Being an A student at a small high school in N.Y. was no guarantee of getting A’s in an environment where everyone else had been selected for extreme intelligence.

However, even genius could have its pitfalls as exemplified by several emotional crack-ups in the student body. This manifested itself in something as simple as the hitchhiking Dan dropping out of school, to the extreme example of the engineering student who blew his brains out with a perfectly functional miniature cannon he had designed and then molded out of solid brass. Having successfully aimed it at eye level from the top of his dormitory dresser, it was even set up to absorb recoil when it fired.

Or the likes of the notorious Duke Shit-Bomber who would defecate in a shoe box, plop a cherry bomb into the pile with a delayed fuse, then place the device in a dormitory hallway and run for cover. No one ever knew where he would strike next until one day the terror stopped as he simply mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again, so to speak. Perhaps he was recruited by the C.I.A. to work in Viet Nam.

Last but not least, there was an acquaintance of ours, Jack, who fancied himself a world-class oenophile and who always brought his own personal bottle of Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc to parties, hogging it to himself as he lorded its superfine qualities over the rest of us wine ignorant peasants. Jack the Wine Taster, as we nick named him, would sniff, sip, drool, and then moan in ecstasy as he swirled his libation around in a fluted glass. One night however he failed to realize that one of his so-called friends had tired so much at the snobbish effrontery, that when the bottle was half empty had poured in about two jiggers of his piss just to see if Jack could tell the difference. Apparently his highly cultured epicurean taste buds did not bat an eye as he sipped and finished off his subtly refined but slightly reprocessed wine.

As the tenor of the times and Art’s brainwashing began to take root, I did start to lean to the left of center politically and began to fall into the enticing snaring promises of anti-materialism and free love. These philosophies were being spun out of the antiwar movement, and were being made ever more visible in the media by their focus on the flower people in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. It was certainly more agreeable to pursue these ideals than those being promulgated by the fifth column organizations that had begun to preach the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government. The times were so confusing and unsettled it was easy to succumb to the idea that our culture was seriously flawed and unbalanced, that the fascist powers-that-be were fully in control, that little people counted for nothing and that ultimately, nothing really mattered at all. Anyway the wind blows. Strawberry fields, forever.

Forgetting that my father’s hard working materialistic job was actually responsible for sending me to school, I let my hair grow down to my shoulders and started to pipe smoke aromatic tobaccos as well as those tasty unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes that cost only 18 cents per pack. In reference to his purist anti-filtered smoking philosophy, Arthur justified both habits as such:

  • So what’s the point in smoking, if you really aren’t smoking? Smoking filtered cigarettes is the same as having sex wearing a condom.

Then becoming increasingly saturated by the propaganda of the ultra left, it wasn’t long before I began to smoke marijuana and to begin experimenting with psychedelic drugs.

Arthur kept talking about dropping out and moving to California, regaling me with tales of the free life being enjoyed by a friend of his, Randy, who had gone out there the year before. These fables made me progressively and increasingly begin to seriously question all the values I had been raised to believe in. I also began to intensely hate the military industrial complex and to harbor equal distain for Lyndon Johnson’s having creating a social environment that fostered a cloudy uncertain paranoia about the future.

As students, we all knew that any one of us could easily be conscripted to fight in a God forsaken jungle on the other side of the world when the free pass of educational deferment expired at graduation; all thanks to a cracker from Texas, whom my uncle Bill stated with direct certainty had won his first congressional election on the stuffed ballots of deceased constituents in his district. LBJ might have even calculated how many dead soldiers from his own state would have been necessary to vote from the crypt on his bid for a second term in the White House.

Freedom of choice was ingrained in my Catholic upbringing. I did not have to follow the flower people, I did not have to waste my time frittered away smoking pot while listening to the Rolling Stones or the Grateful Dead, and although I did only pay lip service to the radical movements instead of direct participation I had already opted instead to take the path of least resistance by cheering from the sidelines. The final result was the free choice of copping out and not participating in anything organized or useful at all, or not to even study too much anymore, which in retrospect was all a regretful waste of time. But the times were confusing, and I did not really know any better.

If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed off drugs, kept out of politics and flown under the radar by taking up golf instead.

Duke had a championship level golf course on campus; lessons would have come free covered under general tuition as a gym elective, while a round of golf in the serenity of nature could have easily substituted for a toke of smoke.

Arthur 

So what’s the point in smoking, if you really aren’t smoking?

(Arthur)

 

(Photo and name printed with permission)

School Daze 2: Freshman Year at College 1965

School Daze 2

The freshman dormitories on the men’s campus at Duke are on the quadrangle west of the Chapel. They are a long series of structures resembling Gothic row houses; and are arbitrarily divided into sections that are lettered in alphabetic sequence. Contrary to this generic lettering, the upperclassman Independent Houses have proprietary names of identification, like Canterbury, while the Fraternity Houses have the customary Greek nomenclature such as Alpha Tau Epsilon. This seems to emphasize your relative worthlessness as you start your academic career and seems modeled after the nameless rank-less military plebe class at West Point.

When my parents dropped me off in front of my new home, the freshman dormitory simply known as “J House”, then hurriedly unpacked the station wagon, put all my things in my room, and abruptly headed home, I had a panic attack. Although I should have been elated at the arrival of my long anticipated emancipation, instead I felt nothing but instantaneous homesickness.

To make matters worse the dormitory interior was crypt-like with narrow sunless hallways, tiny rooms with narrow windows, and even narrower beds. The two young men expected to co-habit the room, whose parents were trying to save on expenses, could immediately feel a pervading claustrophobically interpersonal angst. The housing was nice looking on the outside but akin to living inside a medieval tomb. In addition I had to bunk with a roommate who had been arbitrarily assigned to me.

He was a nice enough, but a very straight-laced person who was in college under the Reserve Officer Training Commission (ROTC), a factor that required him to wear a Navy uniform most of the time. I suppose it was the natural progression after Boy Scouts and did nothing to help my previously ingrained distain for uniforms.

The good thing was that he spent a lot of time out of the room, which was fine with me. However to this day I do not know if this was because of his ancillary military obligations and studies, because I was giving off unfriendly vibrations, or because of the constant taunting of the dormitory political liberal, Arthur, who in salutation would repeat his last name over and over again making it sound like the croaking of a nocturnal marsh frog.

  • Brrrrent, Brrrrent, Brrrrent.

Freshman dorm relationships in general tend to be a bit like a group of vacationers stuck together on a long tour package. After a lot of random interactive shuffling about, the various personalities sort themselves out, and then cliques form. The absurdity of it all is that even though you are now buddies, if you met the same people on the street or at a cocktail party, you would never even give them the time of day. Eventually the re-sorting evolved and everyone either joined a fraternity or moved into an Independent Dormitory.

But during that first college year, the blend of disparate souls can make for a significant degree of diversity, camaraderie, or interpersonal tension and hostility before it does eventually re- shuffles. Perhaps this accounts for the origins of the “birds of a feather” Fraternal system in the first place. Better to be with an asshole identical to ones self than to be a diametrically opposite asshole who in relative terms is a real asshole. Our dorm was no exception.

Living next to me in a single room was a good-natured carefree soul from Pennsylvania, Doug, who was totally unperturbed by the world as he let everything roll off his back. He was passionate about golf, and despite his lack of a legacy, got into a fraternity simply because of his athleticism.

Across the hallway was a highly neurotic Jewish pre-dental student who could not get going in the morning unless he repeated his bathroom rituals in a predetermined properly correct order. He could easily be tortured by simply placing one of his previously and neatly aligned pairs of shoes out of line, or by moving his toothbrush two inches to the right. One day he actually had a near nervous breakdown when he lost his Mezuzah. It was the first I had ever heard of this uniquely religious good luck charm and its loss caused the small world of our dormitory came to a screeching halt until the item was finally relocated, then once again placed above his doorway, with all of its associated blessings and mystical protections happily restored.

We had to find it or he would still be perseverating to this day:

  • I lost my Mezuzah. I lost my Mezuzah. I lost my Mezuzah. Where’s my Mezuzah?

He eventually joined the small Jewish fraternity that consisted primarily of intellectual nerds, and was never seen by us again; although I subsequently learned he has made a fortune in cable television but not in amalgam dental fillings or in realigning crooked teeth in some glitzy northern New Jersey suburb.

Being Jewish at Duke University may have fulfilled certain admission quotas, but generally speaking, the Jewish students were a targeted minority. Being a northern Catholic with an Italian last name this made me look good by comparison.

Perhaps it was no accident that the Jewish fraternity house, the Tao Epsilon Phi, (The TEPs) was physically adjacent to the football athlete’s Fraternity house, the Alpha Tau Omega (The JOCKs); such that  on many a liquored up Saturday night it would not be infrequent that these frustrated animals would crash through the barrier door in the basement separating the dorms and proceed to use the Jewish “dweebs” as footballs.

That is if they were not first entertaining themselves or their sorority sisters by their unique tradition of group mooning out the windows or  throwing a television set off the dormitory roof and then gleefully screaming as the screen and neon tubes disintegrated as the appliance completely disappeared into a pile of tiny silver dust particles. The authorities would usually turn and look the other way or slap some inconsequential punishment on the cheeky offenders.

Administrative authorities also turned their other cheeks to the jock’s generally poor academic performances and the fact that their sorority sisters wrote most of their term papers. But after all, what is a major University if it does not have an athletic program, even if the athletes themselves do not really go to school, or in order to matriculate will enroll in specially designed classes such as “Citizenship 101” or “Advanced Primitive Tribal Face Painting”

This particular course comes in especially handy for them on football game day when they put that idiotic black paint under their eyes, a ritual ostensibly designed to keep reflected sun glare from bouncing off their mirror-like steroid induced shiny skinned faces and temporarily blinding them.

  • Sorry coach. I flubbed it cause I couldn’t see the ball. I forgot to wear my war paint.

So what if Duke Football at that time ranked consistently in the bottom ten percent of all Division I colleges. Since the team consistently gets pummeled into the gridiron every Fall Saturday afternoon, their tactics and tendencies to beat up on TEPs may have in reality been nothing better than a simple case of Kick the Dog Syndrome. It certainly was not an example of putting the elements of “Citizenship 101” into daily practice 

In general it seems strange that many Division I colleges continue to maintain both football and basketball programs, but that very few seem to excel in both simultaneously. I was told once that it all revolves around solicitation of alumni donations backed up by a perpetual hope that someday, no matter what, the monetary support will bring in a National Championship. Duke football fans will be dead three times over before that ever happens again. 

At Duke, an equally strange curiosity was the fact that there seemed to be an inverse proportion between the size of the athlete and the size of his unusually diminutive girlfriend, which gave rise to our jocular reference to their imagined sexual encounters as being “spinners” or “propeller jobs.” All in all I suppose that is probably better than the imagined sexual implications attached to the fall and spring Fraternity classics known as the “Greek Games.” 

Further down the hall, in J House, lived another Jewish student, Dan, who was the antithesis of the obsessive pre-dental nut case. He rarely studied, eventually flunked out and later enrolled in a smaller college that was easier to survive academically.

His favorite pastime was to have everyone come into his room, turn off the lights, lie back on his bed, then pull up his legs and ignite his farts with a butane cigarette lighter. He could fart at will and we all laughed hysterically as he entertained us with a repetitive flame throwing demonstration that could have made him a comfortable living in any carnival side show: Methane Man: The Human Flame Thrower.

Of course this is not to say that we neither discouraged him nor did we ever think we were not freaky ourselves when we attempted to measure the distance of the flaming eruptions with a ruler. These activities can be lumped into the general classification of: ND-SN-FBS: No Date-Saturday Night-Freshman Boredom Syndrome.  

Because Dan had no problem hanging cartoons up in the dormitory lounge for public review one of his most legendary achievements was to sponsor the first annual “Gross-Out Art Contest,” an event that nearly got him expelled when one of the contestants submitted a picture of Donald Duck giving Jesus Christ a blow-job. He was an advocate of freedom of the press, having taken some inspiration from the radical contemporary author’s Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs who were breaking down the barriers of literary censorship on a national level with books the likes of “Howl” and “Naked Lunch,” while at the same time Bob Dylan was breaking down the barriers of racial segregation by questioning the morals and mores of polite society or centralized government with his music.Dan was also a natural born stand up comedian, who because of not having a car or other monetary means, traveled back and forth to New York by hitch hiking with a handmade placard stating:

Dan F: A laugh a mile

He always got a ride.

 

Dylan

(Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Allen Ginsberg)

Another standout was the good natured Georgia boy, “Buck”, who had an innate sense of humor, an open curiosity about the world, was always too quick to fall in love, but who also had a tendency to be easily influenced and easily led astray. Sometimes I think the world was simply a little too much for him. At one point he had to temporarily drop out of school when he retrieved his mail, only to find a note written by his parents to this effect:

“Dear son; Had enough, decided to quit, sold the house, moving away, and sorry but now you are on your own. By the way, this also means you get no more money. Pay for school yourself. Love, Mom and Dad.”

He then decided to either sell or to give away all his possessions, as he became a passionate follower of the teachings of the transcendental meditation icon, Maher Baba, who had concurrently been made famous by the Beatles. Although he was only following his own soft, kindly heart, and truly did believe he could make a difference in the world by following the pacifist trail, we all thought Buck was a little crazed with his fascination for the squeaky impish rodent-voiced little Indian prophet.

Even though cultural issues in America were then turning out to be quite troubled, as America’s youth was beginning to turn away from materialism, most of us seemed to be able to smell the phony little rat wrapped up in the white Sari. We were also still a bit mercenary and not quite at the stage where we were about to think twice when we absorbed all of Buck’s cast aside 33 speed records into our own vinyl collections.

As it turned out Buck was but one of the many, including the Beatles, who were hoodwinked into believing that this great teacher was going to reveal the long awaited key to salvation, but who then were equally and horribly disappointed when on his death bed the Baba’s highly anticipated pre-advertised final words of holy revelation were:

  • I was Rani, I was Shiva, I was Krishna, I was Vishnu, I was this one, I was that one. I am also Maher Baba. I will die, but I shall return.

Why should any one who knows anything about Buddhism or Brinkmanship have been disappointed or even remotely surprised at this wondrous, ever so profoundly clever yet fraudulent revelation? After all, if one believes in reincarnation the Baba did not tell a lie, did he?

Sadly, several years ago I heard that Buck had gone on to become a high school teacher who in being well loved by most but apparently not by all in Atlanta, Georgia, was subsequently shot to death one day in class by a disgruntled student. Perhaps his biggest flaw was that he was the kind of person who could never even hurt a fly and that the disgruntled student probably took his offbeat sense of sarcastic humor without the necessary grain of salt.

In dorm life as well as in societal life, as might be expected, there is always an alpha personality that rises to the top and tends to lead the pack. In J House, his name was Arthur, a pre-law student from Trenton New Jersey, who had an insidious ability to insert his views, to make them predominant, and to cast an air of arrogant condescending superiority.

He was extremely intimidating and liked to prey on weaker personalities while attempting to turn them to his point of view, or if he could not, then spent a great deal of time torturing the intended victim until he at least raised a reactive response. Then when all else failed, his final tactic was to simply raise his voice higher than any one who might be trying to propose a countervailing argument.

My ex-wife also liked to use the torture tactic as she consistently misinterpreted peace and quiet as meaning a lack of interest or lost love. Equally confusing was her belief that having a nasty loud argument meant I was actually taking a sincere interest in our relationship.

Art’s political philosophy was inherently to the left side of liberal. He was also far ahead of me intellectually as he had already been versed in literature I had never even heard of, lording over our conversations with ideas and quotations he had extracted from the likes of T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac; to name few. He also had very broad musical interests, and despite the intimidation factor, was instrumental in elevating my awareness to considerably more expansive horizons than those attached to my insular introverted upbringing.

Finally and ultimately then, there was myself. A nerdy, conservative northern boy, who originally intended nothing more than to go to school, to study hard, to get into medical school, to subsequently have a life and career that would basically run predictably on auto pilot; with a lucrative almost guaranteed income.

Nice house. Perfect wife. White picket fence. Two perfect kids playing in the yard. Dream on.

I could have never possibly guessed that God had somehow sent my own personal devil, Arthur, to test and to tempt every value I had ever known, or that the War in Vietnam had already set the substrate for my not unwilling journey into largely uncharted waters. I was about to be tested on my ability to tell the difference between black and white. In fact the entire country was headed in a direction that would not allow for any shades of gray whatsoever.

It was 1965 and Lyndon Johnson had just committed the first 200,000 Marines to an escalating firefight, in a geographically divided Southeast Asian country, despite a foreboding forewarning by the fleeing French who had already abandoned the contest that it could never be anything but a no-win situation.

This was a war being proffered by a paranoid super power interfering with a foreign struggle for independence, in a place it had no business to be, and which nearly resulted in tearing the United States to shreds by igniting a domestic civil war of opposing philosophies and moral differences. It was a conflict that in this country was about to cause a borderless internal division having nothing to do with the Mason-Dixon Line and a conflict which ultimately gave Ho Chi Min the ongoing fortitude to see his mission fulfilled and his own visionary dream for his country won and finally realized.

It was a contest that shortsighted American politicians had failed to realize, could only have been successfully accomplished or completed by genocide, an idea that might have actually crossed the minds of some Washington politicos, except for the small fact that the Vietnamese people were not about to go quietly and gently into that good night.

 

Black and White

 

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune

The Titanic sails at dawn.

And everybody’s shouting

“Which side are you on?”

And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot

Fighting in the captain’s tower.

While calypso singers laugh at them

And fishermen hold flowers.

Between the windows of the sea

Where lovely mermaids flow

And nobody has to think too much

About Desolation row.

(Bob Dylan: Desolation row)

Dylan, Robertson and Ginsberg: Source  robbie robertson.com
Poster www.ragtime-society.de/Video/Deutsch/cover.htm