Not surprisingly, he is now more determined as he quickly reloads, Again Steely points the rifle at his foot, this time holding the stock with both hands... BANG!
"FUUCCKK! That stings!"
He throws down the rifle. Shocked, Frizzle and I both look at his foot. A stream of blood oozes out of his tennis shoe. "I can't feel my foot!"
Frizzle grabs one leg and I grab the other. We carry our wounded Steely back to the farmhouse.
Steely just recently received his draft notice. His physical is in two weeks. He was cheated in the draft lottery a few months earlier and ended up high on the list. We think that shooting his foot will somehow get him out of the draft or at least postpone it. It turns out he reports a month later than he would have. We are worried, helpless and very sad.
The government tells us the war is winding down. Yet the year before, I go to two friends funerals. Because of the Tet Offensive, 1968 turns out to be the deadliest year of the war, 16,511 war deaths. Steely's protest is to shoot his foot. For me, I choose to banish myself to Canada for the rest of my life. All over America, the war has worn everyone down. The hate of the Vietnam War finally arrives in the nation's heartland. My birth date will be in the next lottery...and I'm not waiting for it to arrive.
My birthplace is on the southern Great Plains, but my spiritual birthplace is Seattle. I saved enough money to get a plane ticket and go to Seattle. My high school sweetheart lives in Everett. My plan is to go there, see her, get laid and go on to Canada. It doesn't quite work out that way. Just turning 19 I am as dumb as a puppy. A week after I arrive there, I take a bus to Blaine, WA. and am turned back from the border. Thus my dream is shattered. Maybe Seattle will absorb me and no one will know I am here.
I am staying with this kinky black and white couple and they are lots of fun. But it can only last so long. One day I receive a letter from my mom.
I open the letter from my mom. It reads,
May 1, 1970
we received this from the draft board the other day
and we think you should tell them where you are. Let
us know what you want to do.
I hope all is going well for you. Will you be trying
to get back into college?
We love you,
MOM & DAD
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
For a few moments, I don't know what to think. I thumb through the stack of papers the local draft board has sent her. I decide to call her and tell her to tell them my address. A few weeks later, the Seattle draft board sends me a notice for me to show up for a draft physical. I figure that if I pass the physical I can always bail to Canada. I come to my senses on that idea. I decide that Steely is in Vietnam and even though I haven't heard from him, I will take my chances, instead of going to jail.
On the bus I realize I am at the point of hallucinating. I enter the induction center completely plowed on Moroccan hashish smoked from a hookah. I figure it can't hurt. Besides what would they know. A Sargent points me into a large room full of all types of young men, mainly freaks like me probably as high as I am. We wait for an eternity. I keep to myself, and as a result of my altered state I start getting paranoid thinking monosyllabic thoughts. An officer in uniform wearing rose colored "granny" glasses walks in stage right.
"Good morning men!" No one as much as takes a breath.
"Before we begin, I want to tell you a few things. First...the Seattle region has not met its draft quota since World War II. "
Very long pause as he pans the room several times left to right and then left again. He looks as though he is stifling a grin.
"...and we don't plan to start meeting that quota anytime soon."
Me and everyone else in the room get electrified and stunned.
You're gonna stick your what in my....???
Everyone gets herded downstairs except for me and a few other. The officer comes up to each of us and tells we checked the wrong box and that we need to change it.
"But it's the truth." I tell him.
"I don't care if Jesus Christ told you to check it, unmark it or you will end up in Vietnam."
That was the end of the discussion for me. I do what I am told, grab all my medical folders that I have been chanting "Om Mani Padme Hum" over and continue downstairs.
"Strip to your shorts." He orders me.
I look around and everyone else is half naked and I strip. We are told to line up against the wall. The Sargent says he will take our medical papers if we have any.
"Every man will see a doctor. If there is any reason whatsoever for you to get released for medical reasons, you will be released after you see the doctor."
Standing there quite confused and at the same time relieved to hear this, I give him my name and he writes it down as he take my folders. "There goes my ticket." I think to myself. I don't trust these bastards but I have no choice.
I am so near-sighted that I may as well be blind without my glasses. So I fail the eye exam. Because I played in a loud band for a number of years, I also fail the hearing exam. They tell us everyone fails the hearing exam.
Then a doctor lines all of us up and tells us to face the wall.
"Drop your shorts, everyone!"
I freak out. They're not gonna make me do that are they? They do.
After an hour or so, we are all dressed and seated on benches waiting to see a doctor, before it's all over. They call my name and I walk into one of the offices where a doctor is seated, wearing his white doctor coat. He tells me to have a seat. I am so nervous I am about to shake out of myself.
The doctor flips through all of my medical folders I had given up at the beginning of this affair. I am sitting there waiting for him to say something, anything. He seems to be enjoying this charade. He's done this thousands of times. He sighs and shakes his head.
"Well...I don't know."
He writes something on a pad, rips it off and hands it to me. I don't even look at it. In my head I start planning my strategy on leaving for Canada to enter illegally. I am sickened, I will be forever banned from coming back to the US. The thought chills me.
"We have determined that you can go now. You won't be drafted because of your eyesight. Give that paper to the Sargent at the front desk on your way out."
God damn! He grins and chuckles at me. I waste no time leaving the induction center.
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
The wonderful Summer turns into Winter and in Seattle it means only one thing; rain. That year there was more rain than previous years. I wasn't use to it and it was depressing. That soggy Winter was the most depressing year of my life. Lots happened, but my concern turned towards my friend Steely. I received a letter from him one day.
I hope you are OK. It is fucking weird over here.
It's like I have been camping out for six months.
Sorry this is short but we are always on the move.
There are some really cool guys over here and we
drop acid all the time while on patrol. It is weird
but, we never know what will happen next or how long
we have. I just need to make it 13 months and then
I come home.
Keep your fingers crossed for me. Please write when you can.
I try to imagine what he is going through, if it was anything like we talked about, so long ago before he shot his foot. I wonder if he is in harm's way and if he would return at all. I couldn't bear the thought of never seeing him again. So I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I would write everyday about what I was doing, thinking and experiencing, until I had a 10 page letter written in tiny handwriting. I ended up writing "books" to him. Then I quit hearing from him.
I can't find anything out about him and I worry. I am in this depressing converted motel that is on the road to Everett, WA. It is owned by an Italian man. He is nice to me and has pity on me and comes by for chats. It is one bedroom and Roomy is, unbeknownst to me, converting himself into a Jesus Freak. It is funny too. He spends hours screwing Cross-eyed Linda while I write Steely my "books".
"Hey Jag! She wants more but I'm worn out!"
"Be there in a second!" I tell him.
Linda tells me to hurry up and get in there. Roomy and I laugh as we pass each other in the doorway. I strip naked and get above Cross-eyed Linda and try to look deep into her soul. I try to find her spirit deep inside her and then enter her and pull her inside my being while she wraps herself around me. In the background, I often hear and look over into the living room and see Roomy on his knees, praying to his plastic Jesus, asking for forgiveness.
"Roomy! Shut the fuck up you fuckin' idiot! Jesus!"
"Me and Cross-eyed can't come when you do that shit!"
He would continue on with his praying. Cross-eyed and I continued with our praying and that moment, I am praying to the house of pussy.
I am jealous. The only chicks we see here are
Vietnamese in Saigon. I don't want to catch a
disease while I am out in the field. So when
days are light and there aren't no fire fights we drop acid
and smoke lots of weed. You wouldn't believe
the weed they have here.
I quit telling him about my ladies.
God says, "Out on Highway 61".
It's Christmas Eve I am lonely. Cross-eyed Linda can't come over. My Italian landlord comes by with a huge plate of spaghetti with real Italian sausage and marinara sauce. I am impressed and grateful. I invite him to sit down. Christmas day he invites me over for lasagna Christmas dinner with his girlfriend. I receive a gift of his generosity.
Christmas here sucked. All I want to do is
come home. If I make it back to the world, I
will be getting married. I really appreciate
the letters you send. I have saved them and
read them over and over.
Years later, we talk about Vietnam. We make a trip to "The Wall" together. It is too sad. All those men... What would the world be like today had they lived.
On Steely's wall after all these years, he finally displays his commendation the Bronze star. I ask him about it, yet he never tells me why he received it.
Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
He was tryin' to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61.
Notes: Lyrics "Highway 61 Revisited" - by Bob Dylan
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