Hop in! Where you headed?

I aim this blog at Hitchhiking stories, obviously. However, you can take that in the 'poetic' sense, as we are 'snakes' in time and the asphalt rivers take us to many places, as well as 'places'..

.... occasionally my own 'Road' spurs me to use this blog to communicate with someone I've 'travelled with' who holds a special meaning to me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vietnam and the Draft

The year was probably 1971. I think I'd been hitchhiking around during 1970 and ended up having travelled to Boulder, with side trips to Kansas and Steamboat Springs, then a spontaneous adventure that lasted a month in denton,texas, after which i shot down through San Antonio and west through El Paso where I got a hitchhiking ticket which mom and dad paid later. West from there across a desert after a cold night in phoenix, and another crazy adventure with two nutty texan woman in a cadillac that i'll relate later, and ended up in san francisco. I moved north from there. towards 'home', the northwest. I spent perhaps a few weeks in ashland in early november, staying with a great alaskan fellow named john, and saw from time to time my friend morley hughes who owned a head shop.
winter was closing in. morley and i had showed up in medford  for roles in the movie "the northfield minnesota raid". I remember a someone rushing in from another room and saying that if any five of us would shave their heads there was a role for twice the going rate which was about $25 a day, thus $50..for a chain gang scene. I don't think they used the scene if it was filmed, but maybe i'm wrong.  Thanksgiving and the desire for familiar faces made me leave before we ever heard back from the movie people. When i saw the movie I saw the baseball scene in which  I recognized a guy I'd hitched very briefly with one afternoon up I-5 below Ashland, I think it was, from California. We'd both gotten into the same van heading north, credence blaring. This guy had a little shaving bag in which he had what appeared to be a 'disc' of gouda cheese, but it wasn't. it was hash. and at the going rate worth a small fortune. he broke some out for everyone, but i never needed much.

Soon after I hit the road for portland stopping by eugene, with friends of morley's. Then to seattle, and arlene's place, my surrogate mom, who's two sons were friends of mine from yakima.

In texas my dad had told me on the phone that the FBI was looking for me because i had not replied to draft notices. dad was upset. i was mostly blase. the idea of going to fight in a war was not a reality for me. at arlene's, I believe they had gone there too, so i called them up, saying, "I hear you guys are looking for me". I was cuffed and put into a cell for a couple hours after talking with mutt and jeff. good cop bad cop. one asshole one guy not so bad.
next thing i knew i was in the courtroom, the two FBI behind me. ok. my case came up, charges read "not informing the selective service bureau of my whereabouts", rather than "evasion".
the judge quickly asked me if I have anything to say for myself. I told him I did. He said, "go ahead..".
Me: "Your honor. I believe...(I paused alot for effect)..the the selective service bureau.."
Judge: "mm Hmm?..."
Me: "...are just...a bunch of guys.... like me..."
Judge: " Yes..."
Me: "....who believe....(judge nodding)...that they know what I should be doing with my life... I am me. I simply disagree."
Judge: .....long pause, "I see...Ok."
and that was it..for that day, anyway. I was released on my own recognizance, to obtain legal counsel in yakima, and take care of it there.

meeting with my attorney, he made a phonecall after which he informed me that i had probably just been an unknowing part of the first court case even held over the phone. The charges were dropped on stipulation that I volunteer. i was to appear at the induction center on Elliott Bay avenue in seattle on a set date, and volunteer to join the army.

i saw a family doctor who had been getting more active in psychiatric cases. i knew him and his sons, one of whom was my age. his oldest son had been in time magazine with his reed college buddies, having chained themselves across a selective service bureau entrance. the other two sons were also consciencious objectors. during a conversation with my attorney he'd asked me how I myself thought i might get out. I thought that the ss would probably think i was crazy, thus the assessment by my doctor. the attorney himself had gotten at least one client out of going to vietnam, and explained to me that if all else failed, to go awol repeatedly, and they would get tired of dealing with me.

so there i was, a letter from doc in my hand, and an appointment set.
flash forward to the seattle induction center. I saw an old friend there from school in yakima, who was feeling 'gung-ho', or at least felt obliged to go, but i could tell he was uneasy. I intimated to him that if he changed his mind he could try what my lawyer had recommended. I heard years later that he did change his mind and I think got out in some manner like I had told him.
But staying with the story here, at the induction center that day, we got our physicals, hearing tests, vision, etc,etc..then listened to all they had to say. Must have been 40 guys there.
An asian officer was explaining to us what we would be doing for the next 8 or so weeks of our lives..boot camp, etc. On and on. Then he abruptly stopped.
there was a brief pause, then he spoke. this is what he said, I swear to God:
" now, gentlemen. I have explained to you everything the army wants me to tell you." now a very poignant pause, as his entire tone had changed.
" gentlemen. I am now going to tell you the truth! If there is any way, ANY way!!,... that you can think of to get out of going into the Army, then DO it! Because it is NOT what you think it is! And if I wasn't being discharged in eight weeks, I would not be here telling you this." He paused and just gazed at all of us, seated there, many following like lemmings what they've been told is the right and good thing to do. I felt more justfied somehow. I'll never forget that man.
After this meeting I was pulled aside and told to fill out the same information  I'd filled out before because they had 'lost' the first set. Only me? yep. So I sat there filling it all out again..everyone else had moved on somewhere or left the building, I didn't know. I was cut off from the group now. half way through the second set of stuff, a doctor exited an adjacent office room, and said to the medic in charge, " Is it alright if I disqualify him now? I'm late for lunch." "Yes, Sir!"
I went into the room with this wry physician. He made a joke about his name and read through what I recognized as Dr. C's letter describing my 'condition'. I worked, years later, in psychiatry and I don't believe I've ever seen some of the words he used in that letter. The army doc made me 1-Y, which later turned into 4F. However you may feel about that war, I'm glad I didn't go.

A humorous note is that my attorney, a well respected local lawyer, was appointed to be on the selective service board shortly after my successful experience.

As an aside (which I am full of) an old musician friend a few years before had been summoned. Mike was living in Los Angeles, working for Electra, I think. He showed up at a house I lived at with some friends, real screwy like he hadn't slept, or couldn't sleep. He had just arrived from L.A. and explained to me he'd used what was referred to as a recipe to get out of being drafted. It involved some combination, starting 3 to 5 days before your induction physical, of dropping a big hit of acid, then so many hours later taking speed..and a few other things, perhaps. I didn't memorize it, but the idea was to just F*** you up!  but he told me what had happened, as he'd just come back from his seattle induction physical.

They passed out paperwork to everyone to fill out before the meetings and physical. everyone else having finished, mike was still working on it. let's make a note that michael is a fantastic guitar player, and a highly intelligent individual. That being said, his this drug induced exhausted state caught the eye of some sergeant or whatever. The officer approached mike, who looked like very stressed out, sweating, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, and the effects of the drugs.
"Can I help you, son?"
Mike didn't answer so much as look even more stressed.
"Ok. Let me help you. What question are you on? Let's see." It was the line that said, simply,"Name".
"What's your name, son?".....
"OKAY Michael, just write that in.."
His state of mind convinced the fellow eventually that Michael was more trouble than the Army wanted to deal with. He was given a way out.