Not long after Nixon ascended to the throne in 1969, I began to pay more attention towhat was going on with the war and the draft. LBJ had cancelled graduate schooldeferments in March 1968, so even with my law school acceptance at B.U. later, militaryconscription appeared more likely than law school matriculation.On a beautiful spring day in 1969, I graduated from tiny Bethany College in Bethany,West Virginia. It was May 24 to be exact, and while Led Zeppelin brought down thehouse that night with “Dazed and Confused” at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago andthe Grateful Dead jammed to “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” at Seminole IndianVillage in Florida, my parents drove me back to Philadelphia in their tiny red VW.Thus began the worst summer of my life. I was now classified 1-A (available for unrestricted military service) as opposed to 2-S (deferred because of collegiate study).Every day brought the same throbbing headache, the crippling knot in the stomach, andthe perpetual conundrum:
What in the hell am I going to do?
I’ll admit I let the trauma and the anxiety and the fear get the best of me. I ballooned towell over 190 pounds (I’ve weighed around 160 ever since Vietnam), pissed and moanedall summer long, and turned down a couple decent jobs. I ended up working in a tinyfactory where they made locks for aircraft carriers. I increased my intake of alcohol andmarijuana. I was lonely and miserable.I wasn’t eager to give more than two years of my life away to the Army—or the Navy,Marines, or Air Force—and I didn’t have any pull to help me get into the National Guardor Reserves. That seemed like a major copout anyway.So, I sat and ate and smoked and cursed and waited.September 1969 eventually rolled around. Vietnamization—a term coined by MelvinLaird, a Wisconsinite and Secretary of Defense—was sailing along, but there were stillnearly a half million of my peers in Viet-nam. It was just a matter of time until the draftcaught up with me, so I dropped out of law school and dropped into my pre-induction physical for the draft. It was like a never-ending episode of “The Twilight Zone,” and Ikept hearing Rod Serling’s smoky voice warning me:
This highway leads to the shadowytip of reality: you’re on a through route to the land of the different, the bizarre, theunexplainable
… By the time I came to, I’d passed with flying colors. I was on my way tothe land of the different.Which is exactly where luck, good and bad, and birthdays intervened. To show theAmerican public that Vietnamization was working, Nixon boldly cancelled November and December draft calls, so guys like me could worry about their uncertain futures alittle longer. He then introduced a “more just and equitable means” for conscription—thelottery.In this case, having the winning number was not what you wanted. No, you wanted tolose the lottery so you could keep your ass out of Vietnam.