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Posts Tagged ‘the draft’

It took me a long time to learn to like pizza, but I remember exactly when it happened. It was at a little place out by Chic’s Beach with red and white plastic tablecloths and a jukebox off in a corner. They served 3.2 beer by the pitcher, which it was legal to drink if you were eighteen in Virginia in those days, and that’s about all we were, eighteen. Richard may have been nineteen.

I was in my first year of college and he was working for the telephone company as a lineman and living in a trailer in Virginia Beach with a roommate with an extra 28 feet of intestines. This fact caused all sorts of complications for the roommate, none of them worth going into, but it provided us many hours of humorous, sophomoric fun at the roommate’s expense.

 

This was the year following the Tet offensive, when everyone in America woke up one morning to find that the Vietnam War had arrived overnight in their living room. For a long time we had lived with the fiction that our troops over there were what had been called “military advisers,” non- combatants who were there to train and advise our military friends, the South Vietnamese. But after the giant bloodbath of Tet everything changed, the drums began to beat along the Potomac, the draft swung into high gear, and people we knew were being plucked away from our midst in a kind of Rapture in reverse, sent to hell instead of to heaven.

My own father had just returned from a year spent piloting an Army LST supply boat along the waterways of the Mekong Delta. Like everyone else I ever met who was there, he didn’t talk about his experiences. But it was obvious to me that he was shaken by his time “in country.” For a boy who had never seen his father, veteran of two previous wars, troubled by anything, it was a sign of serious disturbances in the continuum. He had aged ten years in the year of his absence.

On the night in question, Richard and I were arguing the pros and cons of Mexico and Canada as places to spend the rest of our lives rather than face the prospect of dying in a far country where even the “friendlies” hated us, when the pizza arrived.

 

What is this?” I asked with deep suspicion, as though General Hersey, quasi-mythical head of the draft board, had placed a microphone on the table in front of us.

It’s a hamburger pizza,” Richard said. “I ordered it on the way to the rest room.”

A hamburger pizza is the most innocuous form a pizza can take. It is probably not even on the menu in most places anymore, now that we have become accustomed to – even dependent on – pizzas to fill our inner voids. I pretended it wasn’t there.

 

The argument was not theoretical, it was urgent, with Richard’s draft notice on the table between us. Would I go with him? Canada or Mexico? When would we go? Tonight?

I had the lovely “2-S” student deferment in my wallet. I was a college boy, our hope for the future. America was only sending the soda jerks and gas pump jockeys, and the inner city head boppers. We were sending the kids who couldn’t afford college, the black kids from poor families, and a lot more often than I would have thought, the noble and patriotic kids from small towns who went because it seemed like the right thing to do. Within another year the lottery changed all that, took away the student deferment, and made us all equally bless or curse the day of the year we were born.

 

But for that night I was safe and Richard was not. Richard remembers that I said no, I would not go to Canada or Mexico. I remember that I said yes, I would go, and that it should be Mexico, the warm southland rather than the cold north country of Canada.

Whichever of us remembers rightly, I know it was that night, filled with a hunger for life, that my hand reached out for the pizza, and I ate it, and it was good.

 

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