Friday, May 31, 2013

Honesty Works

1968 generally is not my favorite year.  I still cannot watch anything to do with the Chicago Democratic convention, even though it is 45 years after the fact.  Nothing I believed in was acceptable.  Someone called me in my college dorm and started the conversation with, "Did you hear?  Martin Luther King was shot."  I said, "No," expecting to hear some stupid punchline, which would not have been unlike her.  She liked to make fun of what I believed in.

1968 was the year I graduated from the only college I could attend via parental scholarship.  I could have gone to any school, but my father made it clear he'd pay only if I went to this one particular college.  I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn't be able to work and study, so I spent 4 miserable self-destructively drunk and stoned years in that small christian college for small christians.  When I graduated, I was unable to find work in my chosen field because my college adviser gave me really rotten advice.

I was able to deal with King's assassination because I was studying and was involved in a community theater production.  Although I favored Clean Gene McCarthy, I was destroyed by the news the Robert Kennedy was killed.  It was news I woke up to.  I was jobless, angry and despondent anyway.  Neither of my parents understood why I was so devastated.  They didn't share my political or moral views, so how important could it be?

I did get a job writing commercial and promotional copy at a local radio station.  (If you were a Mary Tyler Moore Show fan, you remember Ted Baxter's bio:  "It all started at a 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California."  In my case, it was in Ephrata, PA.)  The place was run by Republican stalwarts, but some of the staff were a blast to work with.  Then President Johnson sent his greetings from the White House.  I was to be drafted.

When I graduated from college, I decided I didn't want to go on to graduate school.  16 years in a student desk was quite enough, thank you.  In 1968, grad school was still good for a deferment, but I didn't want it.  Although I was anti-war and pro-Civil Rights, I was not religious.  The minister at the family church would not recommend me for conscientious objector status.  The Coast Guard said they weren't interested because once you received your draft notice, you belonged to the Army.  Joy.

The draft center in Lancaster seemed to be a cross between a locker room and what I imagined a new recruit reception center would be like.  We had to strip, but we were allowed to keep our undies and socks on.  Personally, I was OK with that.  I was somewhat afraid that Nature might make me sprout a woody; that didn't happen.

On the long list of medical and psychological questions was "Do you have homosexual tendencies?"  Well, yes.  I wasn't having sex, but I knew what I "tended" toward.  In fact, it wasn't even "tending."  It was yet another way I was an outsider.  I knew I shouldn't lie on the draft form, so I checked the Yes box.  I was taken into a doctor's cubicle and was asked if I understood the question.  Was I (pause for repulsed emphasis) a homosexual?  I told him I was.  He got out his medically-approved flashlight and told me to bend over and spread my ass cheeks.  This is humiliating, I thought.  I also figured he wouldn't take my word for my sexuality.  I didn't like being Greek passive, so I'd have nothing to show for it.  I was sent back to the waiting area.

A few days later I received my draft card, which I still carry in my wallet.  4F.  Unfit for service.  The parents knew I didn't have fallen arches or a bad back.  It pretty much ended my relationship with my father.  He was still in the reserves and was convinced the best years of his life were in combat.  That I would not be drafted would signal to his friends and the rest of the world that I was utterly, totally worthless.  My mother, on the other hand, was tacitly relieved.

I was not asked at the radio station anything about the draft physical.  I simply told the Program Director that I was deferred.  We joked that it was because I was such a good copywriter, that the station would suffer if I were drafted...but I was never made to tell specifically why I was 4F.

I took it as proof that, as my mother tried to teach me, it's best not to tell a lie.  Honesty is the best policy.  That sort of thing.  Later, I'd realize that it's best to tell the truth because it's so much work trying to keep track of what you told to whom.  In this case, however, it made me understand that there may be an advantage to being one of society's outsiders.  Granted, I was white and male with a college degree, but I was also a liberal, an agnostic (at the very least), pro-Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, anti-sending my fellows away to be canon fodder, a professional writer (prove to me writing copy isn't writing), a man interested in music and theater, and now a governmentally-approved homosexual.

1968 generally is not my favorite year.  1968, however, is the year I learned about honesty and I learned a great deal about myself.

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