Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lessons From A Horse

Horseshoeing School, 1971:
War is sometimes a very personal experience and not
always shared on the evening news.

    PTSD hadn’t been invented yet, though the whole class decided that we’d be happy to testify that it really exists whenever they actually got around to identifying war as a causative in anomalous behavior.  I found these two guys oddly reassuring in what seemed like a morbid or perhaps desperate kind of affection.  Certain noises – the backfire of a car, a news helicopter in the distance; those things would suddenly silence them.  Their bodies would tighten at the sound, yet their eyes never sought out the source.  Then laughter, almost hysterical; another swallow from the brown paper bag.  I knew that feeling.  It would come over me when I heard a beer can open, or when the door knob rattled in my darkened bedroom.  The muffled noises that filtered into my private space, delivered overtly from a sad kind of distant privacy. 

      I too, was among the drafted -- in 1969.  Same year I attended our non-graduation party from high school.  Couldn’t really stand one more achievement followed quickly by an elevator ride down the totem pole.  This time it wasn’t just peer digression, but a potentially fatal encounter with most of Indo-China.  On the surface it seemed like simple cowardice – not necessarily a negative reaction to being killed in whatever scenario the imagination could produce, but something else.  An awakening born of a subtle oppression that lived in the ‘50’s, but was being swallowed by the energy of a new decade that seemed to embrace an ideal that recess should never end.  Woodstock put other people’s expectations on notice.  The 1968 Democratic Convention, held in Chicago, was a declaration of a different kind of war for America.  One that would be waged unarmed -- on the battlefields of conscience.  The great orchestra of America would play on, but one by one, the musicians were leaving the building.  I had left myself about 1967, the result of smoking my first joint while listening to my sister’s Frank Zappa album:  “Absolutely Free.”  Can’t quite remember if it was “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” or that arresting symphonic riot known as “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It.”  Probably the latter, given the fact that I was never able to wear brown shoes after that day.  Seemed sacrilegious or something.

      1969 also marked the introduction of “The Great Human Egalitarian Though Slightly Obscene Body Lottery for Eighteen Year-Old Males Born in the USA.”  Winning was actually losing and the grand prize was an execution hosted by a mob of well-armed angry strangers.  Yes, the draft went democratic – or so they said.  Instead of poor white boys and poor boys of color going first, the poor white boys and the poor boys of color would compete for the coveted title of,  “Less Likely to Celebrate Another Birthday.”  I fell for it until I found out that my birthday was drawn in the 38th round.  A recount seemed out of the question.

     I was requested to report for a physical by the Selective Service the same summer that Jimi Hendrix re-wrote the National Anthem.  During the ‘pee in the cup’ ceremony I noticed the fellow next to me was wearing black panties and a bra.  One of his fingers looked vaguely familiar.  I figured he was a shoe-in for some kind of deferment since the Army probably frowned on cross-dressing in combat.  Funny how things work.  He went to ‘Nam’ – I was excused by a cliché:  flat feet.  That only resulted in a 1-Y classification.  Three more slightly scorched draft cards finally earned me the coveted 4-F.  The only question more difficult than one’s own potential cowardice is the question about who’s left standing at the end and why.  But then again, I already knew the terms and consequences of violence.  So I suppose if the military taught me how to kill, then the only remaining question would center on who I might shoot first.
From: "Mares, Foals and Ferraris." 

And yes, shortly thereafter, I bought a horse.  And the horse began the long journey back to humanity.  And yes, we have all been at the crossroads.  The place where our mind must choose war or peace; in all its complicated and multi-layered facets.

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