A Draft Dodger & a Big Dog Walk into a Bar
“A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1, 1969, at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This event determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970; that is, for registrants born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950. Reinstitution of the lottery was a change from the “draft the oldest man first” method, which had been the determining method for deciding order of call.
“There were 366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates placed in a large glass container and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range specified in Selective Service law.
“With radio, film, and TV coverage, the capsules were drawn from the container, opened, and the dates inside posted in order. The first capsule – drawn by Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) of the House Armed Services Committee – contained the date September 14, so all men born on September 14 in any year between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number 1. The drawing continued until all days of the year had been paired with sequence numbers.”
— Selective Service System “Official Site” of the Vietnam Lotteries
Sylvester Stallone, that most Rambunctious of faux soldiers was born on July 6, 1946. That date was picked 327th, out of 365. Therefore Sly, one of the more iconic combatants in cinematic history, would not be required by the government to go to war. Brave Donald Trump’s birthday, June 14, 1947, was awarded the number 356. He did not have to fight hard to stay out, but his wealthy dad still managed to get him four college deferments and one for “bone spurs.” He also avoided the draft. My birthday, July 24, 1947, was given the number 023. Insuring that I would indeed surely be drafted into the Army. My graduate deferment at LSU expired, so I quickly and quietly moved in mid-1970 to Austin, Texas, hoping to get into graduate school at the University of Texas, to somehow further my avoidance of the military.
I had been there three months when I ran headfirst into yet another bad Saturday, another of those recurring moments that year, spells when I simply could not stop wondering about the probability of my continued existence. But, as it progressed, the day began improving. I found that, over the past twelve weeks, I had somehow accumulated $22 worth of beer bottle deposits, loose change, and sofa coins. I immediately began planning a bit of weekend soul refreshment . So when Francis X. “Hog” Patriquin called from a gas station in Bastrop, Texas, barely two dozen miles away, I gladly invited him to come visit. I had no car myself, but he and I could go out for a brew or two at the newly-opened Armadillo World Headquarters, my treat, and he could crash at my sparse digs on 49th street that night.
Hog said he was just passing through Austin on his way to the West Coast, intent on some sort of deal involving Louisiana crawfish as currency to be used for unspecified Southern California contraband. I suspected that his fondness for porn films involving complicated lingerie was at the heart of the matter, but withheld judgment and did not press an inquiry. Hog also knew my predicament and, as a good friend, had offered to drive me to Canada. So I would not let the world get in the way of happiness this eve. After all, this was one of the few occasions since the start of my involuntary exile in Texas that my cash flow had allowed me the opportunity to buy anyone a beverage.
The Hog showed up at my shack around 4pm. His pickup was fairly new, and there was a gigantic, sweating metal box with a small motor of some sort in the truck bed that seemed to have a larger purpose. There was a faint fishy smell in the air.
What the hell. “Let’s go downtown and forget this shitty world,” I yelled.
“Exactamundo, my dear James!” yelled Francis X. He was in a fine fettle, and ready to meet the world. “I do believe that we are set on a course of merit. I suggest starting the eve with the consumption of large portions of an economically viable wine. Something to fortify us against enmity. A democratic pursuit. Ingesting the proper amount of grape will provide a soporific against the ridiculous renewal of world upheaval. Wine is, after all, the beverage of philosophers.”
“I predict power drinking,” he added as a coda.
The wine of choice, easily purchased by the quart at a convenience store, was the Gallo Brothers’ Tokay. Other than the routine reign of cheap beer, this was the American heyday of that particular working-class grape, and the logic that flows therefrom. Between us, and utilizing only a very small portion of my “found money,” we purchased two bottles. Hog reclined comfortably in the passenger seat, pouring his wine into a Dixie cup as I drove us south through town. He considered me the “local” and therefore the driver, though I barely knew my way around.
My visitor quickly became inordinately soiled. It was that motivated drinking — aggressively slurping the fluid from his saturated cup — while hanging out the window yelling greetings to what he perceived as “cosmic” cowboys. And girls. The Patriquin corpus, mounded under what was formerly a clean white shirt, soon appeared to be a grisly accident victim, due to the raucous drinker’s continually spilling his large mug of red wine on himself at every swerve.
As the truck passed, the people he accosted would point and grimace at the “bloody” body slipping from side to side in the truck cab. An imminent demise was predicted in each case. “He’s a goner,” they’d say fatalistically, “bleeding way too much,” all the while shaking their heads at yet another fatality in their peaceful community. “Get that man to a hospital!” one observer yelled at a stoplight. “Do they have a Happy Hour?” returned the Hog.
He continued to work at making sure no pain interfered with his afternoon, and soon began to speak of the lack of discerning twentieth-century poetry in Cuba. I felt vindicated with the newly sparked flood of porcine aesthetic criticism. The sophist Gallo Brothers were happily at work again.
As we crossed Town Lake and turned off the wide boulevard into a vast gravel parking lot, the last of the Tokay was already being consumed. The day was being salvaged.
We had come to Armadillo World Headquarters, soon to become the most famous bar in the state, to wash down the fermented tang of California with bubbling pitchers of beer from Shiner, Texas. I climbed into a phone booth to call up an also-insane but well-connected Chicana named Felicia Martinez whom I’d met in a Guadalupe street fast food diner, to see if there was anything else jumping in town that Hog might enjoy.
Felicia was also a most inventive peddler of drugs before there was much of that action even happening. She sold multi-colored 24-hour time-release Contac cold capsules to the University crowd, telling them that it was “Christmas tree” speed. In spite of this inaccuracy in labeling, she had many repeat customers.
When I asked about the moral implications of her bogus merchandise she’d said: “Mierda, chico, dat’s the shits! If they ain’t high, at least they ain’t gettin’ colds.”
On the other end of my call from the Armadillo, Felicia proclaimed: “Nada sucediendo, nothing happening, but you two hombres wait for me at the bar and I’ll see what I can do.” She sounded a bit medicated to me, but in my brief experience that was her natural state.
Felicia’s Armadillo entry privileges had been restored only the week before. She did not think her initial transgression warranted banishment, and in recent days had successfully pled her case to management. Her error was unintentional, she asserted. It seems that, as a practicing religious bruja, she had brought a large pickle jar full of what she described as a sacred asp into a late evening Shiva’s Headband set. As usual, most of the crowd of over a thousand were comfortably seated on the venue’s floor, which had been considerately covered by management with thick carpet scraps. The ever-so-generously anesthetized Felicia, headed stageside and stumbled, of course, only moments after entry. She dropped the jar. Time stopped. The large vessel bounced once and then shattered in a spray of snake and glass, the single black slithering reptile causing a major panic and minor stampede among the already hallucinating patrons.
A stage hand rushed forward and quickly hammered the darkly-patterned snake with a set spike, determining that the dead creature was indeed a small but quite poisonous water moccasin. Felicia said she had bought it from an acquaintance who dealt in socially-significant creatures, and had no idea it was actually dangerous. The bouncer escorted Ms Martinez out the front door with a different directive: “No glass, lady. You should know better.”
But now, newly reprieved, this evening she appeared less than five minutes after my call and sat on the bar stool next to the ever-large Hog, who was perched solidly with one stool under each buttock. I introduced him by his nickname.
“Cerdo, eh?” she asked. “He says he is the Hog. Eres un perro grande, Cerdo. Big Dog, what you do for fun?” The Hog, now smiling, ordered another pitcher of beer. Felicia supplemented the sparkling beverage with two orange tablets.
I decided her banter itself could actually be the Hog’s entertainment for the moment, and I could do a little wandering about in the concert auditorium while waiting for Felicia and my bud to find an even psychic keel.
The Armadillo was in its first months of evolving into the Southwest version of hippie heaven. Clouds of cannabis smoke hovered just above head level every night. This had rapidly became the norm. The illegal smoking at the ‘dillo was tolerated throughout its six active years of existence by Austin police who were afraid that a bust would take in too many of their own officers and town politicians.
I don’t remember the warm-up act very well – The Hub City Movers, I think — because interacting with other audience members was even more exciting, and the warm and welcoming conversations I struck up took my mind off my Federal situation.
But as I returned to the bar about an hour later, musing on the pleasant uneventfulness of the evening, I heard yells and protestations. A cringing hulk staggered down the sidewalk under a barrage of plastic drinking cups.
T’was the Hog. With Felicia in hot pursuit.
He later told me that under the growing liberal influence of California Tokay, Texas beer and unknown pharmaceuticals, he had made some creative but rather ill-timed suggestions involving Felicia, a stick of oleomargarine, a canary and a pomegranate. Her virtue was somehow offended. I rescued my temporarily lust-blinded friend and managed to maneuver him to the parking lot, where the large man promptly passed out in the half-bed of his truck, not bothering to open a door and climb into the infinitely more comfortable cab.
I then led the still-agitated Felicia to a vegetarian restaurant across the street in search of something to eat, figuring Hog as debilitated for the rest of the evening.
We were munching organic grapes, fried plantains and unsweetened oatmeal cookies when the sound of yelling again filled the air. Screams were becoming a matter of course this night, but we ran out into the street anyway, magnetically drawn to excitement. We were not disappointed. Fire was eating the laundry on the corner opposite the parking lot, spewing smoke out the exploded glass of its front door. Alarms were ringing. Shouts were confusing matters. Excitement sobered and stimulated everyone as a crowd grew. Then a giant dark figure lumbered across the street in front of the laundry.
Hog had come to what consciousness was to be afforded him, and had unknowingly decided to be the first of the firemen to arrive on the scene. Presumably bringing forth any starched shirts that might need rescuing. He had a mission. Before I could reach him, the Hog had walked through the smoldering front door of the quickly deteriorating building and disappeared.
A scripted gasp went up from the hundred or so people who’d already crossed over from the Armadillo. There was no doubt about the valiant Hog’s fate. Felicia reached in her purse and produced three black mollies, seconals, which she proceeded to swallow without water.
The shouting had stopped. The sounds of massive, two-story crackling flames and burbling waves of black smoke magnified in the face of loss of life.
But the Hog once again proved larger than that life, re-emerging only a few minutes later, covered in soot. He was carrying a tall, cold sweat-dripping RC Cola. He crossed back over the street as the fire engines were pulling up, walked up to me and took a long pull off his soft drink.
“Coke machine wouldn’t take my quarters,” he said, as if that explained everything, “So I got an RC.”
I was inducted into the US Army three weeks later.
Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour