Public Speaking
Stories and Articles

The Fighting Yankee

It was the sixties, it was spring and America was at war. 'course they never declared it, but there's some things you don't have to declare. In fact, the good old peace loving U S of A has never declared a war in my lifetime, and I'm a middle aged man. W W two was the last war war.

There'd been all these anti-war demonstrations but, tell the truth, they were more of a social thing. Find out where the party is, meet other young "like minded" people. Junk like that. Didn't really have that much to do with your "beliefs", if you know what I mean. And, since there was this war on—only  it really wasn't  a war—everybody figured out that sooner or later their number would be up. Most of the guys went into the military when their time came. I mean, it was serious stuff and draft boards were famous for their lack of senses of humor, so you didn't want to piss 'em off. In fact, draft boards were considered the best audiences for green comics to cut their teeth on. Anything less than getting three years shoveling shit in Alabama was considered a warm response, already.
And, one day there it was in the mail. GREETINGS and all that junk.  Just the way it was on TV.  After all the talk and the demonstrations and the mouth you knew that if you fucked around they were going to fuck with you seriously.
So, I made up my mind that if it was time to serve my country that I was going to be the best, most obedient soldier that I could. To celebrate my decision, the night before my physical I had a couple of beers. Sort of to relax, you know what I mean, and to observe and honor my new life as a respectable American killer and destroyer of villages. Before we kept the world safe from the commies, I figured that I should have a few more beers. Toast the great American generals: Patton, Westmorland, and Eisenhower. Maybe since it was such a serious occasion I should have a couple of serious drinks. This calls for a quart of tequila.
And, to sort of, take the edge off I had some O Zs of Elixir of Terpin Hydrate and Codeine. Might as well get all tore up, smoke a couple of joints. Got the munchies for  chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I should drop some acid, too.
Naw. A man's got to keep some proportion and balance, I thought, so I just ate a handful of magic mushrooms and weighed the idea of Amyl Nitrate. No good, I thought, the Amyies only last for minutes. We need something with long range effects, maybe I should sniff some turpentine. No! No! I don't want to do serious damage, and besides they'll probably smell it, but it wouldn't hurt to drop a handful of dexies. Don't want to sleep through the physical.
So, alone, I partied through the night. Listened to James Brown Live at the Appolo,  drank Ballentines Ale (XXX) and tequila, smoked boo, ate magic mushrooms and chocolate chip cookies, drank Elixir of Terpin Hydrate and Codeine. When the sun came up I went off to my physical.
When I got there and the building was full of the other guys. Everyone was still fully clothed. There was this mix of letter jackets, nylon jackets with the names of siding companies and softball teams written all over them. Some of the guys wore sport coats and some of the guys looked like they just came from their jobs at the warehouse or something. As disparate as the group was, I still didn't fit in. First of all, I was used to arising at the crack of noon, so it was the middle of the night to me. Tell the truth, I'm never at my best when I'm high and half drunk,  and exhausted and it's the middle of the night. I didn't feel like sitting around and talking about Kirkegaard or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or any damn thing except when this jive might be over so I could crash. They were just starting, you dig?
Not only was my attitude poor, but I wasn't just dressed for the occasion. My hair was long even for the sixties, I'd been up all night and was unshaved, I was wearing a pair of stylish jeans with red bandana patched on the knees. The jeans smelled like I'd been wearing them for a month—a month and a half, the cat had pissed on them and then I'd driven over them with a road grater. My torn jean jacket was a couple of weeks cleaner.  And, I wouldn't take my shades off.
They asked us to fill out the usual thirty six pages of forms including the essential information regarding where we first went to grade school, what was our mother's mother's maiden name before it was changed, and how did we think the twins were going to do that year?
Recked as I was, I needed help filling out the forms. I wasn't even sure which foot you were supposed to hold the pencil in. So, a sergeant sat and helped me. He read the questions to me and interpreted them. While the rest of the room filled out their forms, the sergeant and I got through about a third of a page. Something told me that I wasn't doing well.
We went through the lines in our underwear, turned to the right and coughed, and had our blood pressure checked. All through the physical I refused to take my shades off. Can you imagine what my pupils looked like? I offered an intimate oral act to one of the doctors, but he refused. I don't think he thought I was cute.
Then it was time for the Army intelligence test. I'd had two years of college at the time and I was primed to impress them how smart I was. But, maybe I wasn't in the best of form because I got all the questions wrong.
They made me see the psychiatrist who said, "Son, you've got two years of college, and we think you're trying to get out of it. We'd like you to read us this paragraph and tell us what it means." He gave me a copy of Time magazine and asked me to read to him from it. I explained it well as I could. Time magazine is always vague and glitzy and full of PR with heavy notions of progress. The psychiatrist seemed satisfied. "You're trying to get out of it," he said. "We're going to give you a test that's going to determine what you do when you get in the Army in two weeks."
He gave me another test which showed drawings of a screw, and a nail, and an eyelet with a screwdriver. You were supposed to draw a line to the right tool and what it used. I got them all wrong. Maybe my mama didn't raise her boy to be a soldier. Jeez, I felt bad that I wasn't bright enough to be in the army. There's all that male bonding and war stories and going on leave. I figured there'd be no GI benefits or anything like that.
I'll tell you something, there's that line in "Alice's Restaurant" where Arlo is talking about how they got a hint that he wasn't going to be a soldier and burn villages and be a father raper and stuff like that. He says that they all moved away from him on the bench. When those guys saw that I wouldn't take my shades off and that I couldn't fill out the forms and that I wasn't as smart as they were, they all moved away from me. I mean, it's real human, they wanted those recruiting officers to like 'em. 
Some of the guys I knew went into the army and came back with war stories and all that. A lot of 'em probably just felt that it was easier. Some of them came back from the war with a hollow spot behind their eyes, but they did serve their country.
My Zaddie came to America from Russia because they used to draft Jews into the army for twenty-five years. So, I suppose you could say that I come from a long line of draft dodgers. Here I was trying to make up for this disreputable past and they wouldn't even let me in. Sometimes it seems like there's just no justice, ya know what I mean?