Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Get On The Bus

Here we are once again at Theme Thursday. This week’s theme is Draft. I have to be honest I have been so busy turning the Amazing Technicolor room into something that doesn’t look like dog barf that I just now found out that it was Draft. Now I sit in my cozy little R.V. feeling a draft from the wet cold night. My story is about a different kind of draft. When you have finished drafting off of my story go on over and read what others have drafted at Theme Thursday.

Gladys ran into Karen’s bedroom and handed over a bowl of M & M’s and a bottle of 7-Up. She grabbed the bottle opener from the pocket of her hip-hugger bell bottom jeans and popped the top from the bottle. She sat down next to her best friend and looked at the copy of Seventeen on the floor. “What do you want to do” she asked. Karen took a handful of M & M’s carefully picking out the green ones and said “I don’t know what you want to do?” Gladys turned the page and began reading an article on the Beatles, “um, how about we go to a movie?” Karen sighed and replied “nothing good is showing.” She got up and put a record on her brand new stereo record player. And it’s one two three what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam… “I wish I could have gone to Woodstock. That would have been so groovy.” Gladys lie in the cool air conditioning of her best friend’s bedroom listening to Country Joe and the Fish wondering what it would have been like. And it’s five, six, seven. Open up them pearly gates. Well there ain’t no time to wonder why. Whoopee we’re all gonna die.

Two thousand miles away in a small California town Kahuna and Biff caught the last wave in. “So did you get yours yet” Biff asked while toweling off. Kahuna reached into his V.W. Van and pulled out the envelope. “Yeah, I haven’t opened it yet, but man, just look at that envelope. You know it’s from the Man.” Biff looked over Kahuna’s shoulder “Dude, you are so totally screwed. That is just gnarly. You wanna get some tacos or something? I’m starving.” Kahuna knocked the sand from his board and slid it into the back of the van. He stood for a moment and watched the sun setting behind the waves and wondered what it will be like.

They pulled into the Shack and walked up to the window. Sitting on the table outside was a little transistor radio the news was just finishing as they gave their order to the blond haired, blue eyed girl behind the counter. Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men, Uncle Sam needs your help again. He's got himself in a terrible jam. Way down yonder in Vietnam. So put down your books and pick up a gun,

we’re gonna have a whole lotta fun. “Man, my old man hates that song. He said that it’s just a bunch of long haired hippies” Biff said between bites. Kahuna snorted and said “yeah, mine is an ex-gyrine. He thinks anybody who isn’t wearing khaki is a fascist.” They sat and ate their tacos in silence both lost in thoughts of the unrest of the day. Both of their father’s had served in the military, but that was a justified war. This was a fiasco, it wasn’t really a war. They wondered where Vietnam was and what it was really like. Mostly they wondered if it had good surf.

Kahuna dropped Biff off in front of his house promising to hit the waves at first light. His van putt-putted up the hill and through the orange and purple dusk. He pulled into the drive of his parent’s house and sat with the envelope in his hand. He turned it over and looked at the official markings. He felt the heaviness of it in his hand. Never before had he ever received a letter of such weight. He took a deep breath and slid his finger down the seam of the envelope “SHIT!” he spat as he eyed the paper cut on his finger. “Damn! Uncle Sam is already getting my blood.”

He unfolded the letter and read “Greetings…” His stomach turned over. His vision blurred. This was it. This was the real deal. This was the infamous letter from Uncle Sam. He read on “you are hereby ordered to appear at…” This was not good. This letter said he had to report to the induction center in two days. TWO DAYS! He took his letter and headed inside to call Biff.

There they stood huddled together in the Savings and Loan parking lot. There were guys he with who he went to school and church. There were a couple of guys he recognized from surfing and of course there was Biff. They stood huddled as if it were cold even though it was August. They were trying to act cool. They were trying to be tough. There was the big black guy with the oversized afro, next to him stood the local dealer and over by himself leaning up against the yellow Volkswagen Beatle was Sam, the hippie dude. They all nodded their guy nods and kicked at the ground. “Hey man I heard if you have a brother and your brother is already over there they can’t make you go” said the scrawny kid wearing black framed glasses. “Yeah, I heard that if you have four eyes and flat feet you get a free ticket out of there” piped up Sam. Biff snorted and said yea well I heard if you are kind of girlie you get sent home, so I wore a pair of my sister’s panties. They even say Thursday on them.” This caused all the guys to chuckle and try to one up the other. “Hey, my sister’s boyfriend’s brother just failed all his test. He said they didn’t want him because he couldn’t even pass the piss test.” This sent out another round of guffaws. They were starting to warm up and loosen up. “I heard they give you the option of joining the military or going to jail if you are a felon. Man I think I’d choose jail” said another.

They heard the bus before they saw it. It arrived in a cloud of exhaust a big grey school bus complete with the hard green seats. The crowd stood and stared as a man in a Smoky Bear hat got out of the bus. “You boys get on in here. All of you. Even you long haired guy next to the bug. Get in here.” The guys looked at one another and began to board the bus. This was it. This was the bus to Vietnam. As soon as Kahuna stepped foot on the bus he noticed it was eerily quiet. The guys who had been laughing and cutting up just a minute earlier wouldn’t even look at him. He made his way to the first empty seat and sat down. Biff squeezed in next to him “Dude, this bus is packed. Where the hell did all these guys come from?” Kahuna looked up and down the aisle and replied “maybe they thought they it was the Bookmobile.” Biff chuckled then stopped short when the boy across the aisle gave him the stink eye. The rest of the 80 mile bus ride was made in complete and utter silence.

Gladys walked into the living room where Walter Cronkite was once again talking about the number of casualties in some place called Duhnang. She stopped and watched as they showed boys on stretchers and smoke and bombs going off all over the place. A reporter was saying something about Charlie. Gladys wondered why everyone was so mad at this guy named Charlie. She went to the kitchen and pulled out a package of Fritos and started looking for the can of French’s bean dip she had begged Nurse Meme to get her. She opened all of the cabinets, slamming each one void of her favorite snack. She stomped into the laundry room “someone ate my bean dip!” Nurse Meme finished putting the creases in her white uniform “well, next time hide it better.” Gladys sat on the back porch sulking and turned on her transistor radio well, come on generals, let's move fast; your big chance has come at last. Got to go out and get those reds —The only good commie is the one who's dead And you know that peace can only be won when we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.

They were lined up in two rows of 50. They were solemn. They were respectful. They were scared. Kahuna leaned over and whispered to Biff “did you really wear your sister’s panties?” They were standing waiting to get their paperwork wondering where they would go next. “Awhight, what I want you to do next is file single file through that door right there” Sargent Carter was yelling and pointing, “you got a number, you will remember that number. Do not forget that number, because that number is now your name. Do you understand me? I can’t hear you!” There were answers of a few scattered yes’s and some yeah’s. “What did you say? Did you say yeah to me? DID YOU? Don’t you eyeball me boy.” Sargent Carter was now standing directly in front of Kahuna. He was spitting in Kahuna’s face as he asked his questions. Kahuna tried not to laugh. This all seemed like a bad episode of Gomer Pyle. “Now you will strip down to your scivvies. You will roll your clothes up and put them on the shelf. You will not take anything with you but your file. Now MOVE IT.”

Kahuna and his cohorts entered the cold empty room and did as they were told. They were then shuffled into another room and made to bend over and grab their ankles and cough. They were hooked up to ear phones and made to recite the letters on the eye chart. They were prodded along like cattle to the slaughterhouse. It was Kahuna’s turn to get blood drawn. He stood next to the medic and squeezed his hand into a fist. He watched as the needle stuck into his arm and watched as the vile filled. He looked up as saw, Ernie, the big black guy from the parking lot. He watched as the big guy saw the first inkling of blood. Then it happened like a giant redwood being felled in the forest, Ernie hit the ground. The medic jumped to try and catch Ernie. It all happened in slow motion, Ernie swooning, medic jumping and throwing files and viles. Ernie hit the ground as did paper, broken viles and medical equipment. That was all it took to lighten the mood. It started out as a titter, then a rustle and ended up a rumble of laughter.

Kahuna took test, he did sit-ups and pull-ups. He answered questions and filled out forms. He was sent to eat lunch in a cafeteria. He was told to line up and followed the line as brown mush and green slop were piled on his tray. He was sent back to the medics and made to twist his knee one way and turn his ankle another. “So how did you blow out your knee?” they asked. “Have you ever had pain while urinating?” another asked. He was given a test to see if he knew how to read and add numbers. Finally long after dark he and the others were loaded back on the battleship gray bus. Finally he no longer had people spitting in his face and yelling in his ear. Finally he was on his way home, he hoped.

The ride back to the parking lot was a quiet one. This time not out of fear or reverence but out of exhaustion. There were faint snores and some mumbling but mostly it was just the sound of the rumbling engine. Kahuna looked around and wondered who on the bus would be the next to go. He wondered whose number would be up next in the Draft. He wondered if it would be him. He got in his van and turned on the radio.

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.

Come on fathers, don't hesitate,

Send 'em off before it's too late.

Be the first one on your block

To have your boy come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Two thousand miles away a girl wondered why we were fighting a war in Vietnam and why there were so many young men dying.


Brian Miller said...

and perhaps that question has yet to be answered...a scary and very real part f our history...

järnebrand said...

"Get on the bus". Very scary, and sad too. Well done.
Peace and love/ Jo.

RLM Cooper said...

“yeah, mine is an ex-gyrine. He thinks anybody who isn’t wearing khaki is a fascist.”

Great line, Gladys. Yet another great post. Kept me entertained, it did.

Kris McCracken said...


PattiKen said...

Wow. I love how you set the time frame in the first paragraph with little things like 7-Up in a bottle that needed a bottle opener and a record player.

This story sounds like you were there, or have seen way too many movies. It transported me back to a time when I was terrified for classmates and loved ones, and dreaded the nightly news.

Really good job.

Tracy said...

I was so engrossed in the story that it wasn't until the end that I realized it was about draft...I was associating draft with cold air!
Good job!