This is my scary Halloween story.
I was in Pittsburgh the night I sold my soul to the devil. The exact date I do not recall, but I know it was in October 1970, not long before Columbus Day. I’m sure of the time frame because Monday, Oct.12, 1970, was the day of my physical for the U.S. Army.
Students of American history will recognize that in 1970, America was, as folk singer Pete Seeger put it, “waist deep in the big muddy” of Vietnam. We hadn’t yet invented smart bombs or drones; it looked pretty certain that my feet would be wearing one of those pairs of “boots on the ground.”
That’s because the government has revoked my student deferment. I won’t tell you the exact reason the government marked me 1A; I’ll simply point out that when you go to college, it’s a good idea to show up for most classes, even if you can get As without doing so. But in 1970 attending classes interfered with my real goal in life, which was playing in rock bands so I could be Paul McCartney. More than 20 years later, I would tell this to another newspaper columnist who, without missing a beat, said, “But the job was taken.” If only I’d met this guy in 1969.
So it was that I found myself in a Downtown bar, on a break between sets. A friend of a friend was sitting at the bar with a few other friends of friends, and I joined her. Seeing that I was not my usual happy-go-lucky self that night, she asked what the problem might be. “I have my draft physical on Monday,” I told her. “You need to meet Emily,” she said.
She returned with Emily, introduced us, and said, “Tell her what you just told me.”
Emily listened attentively, then shook her long blond hair in the way that women with long blond hair always do in Raymond Chandler detective stories. She said, “I can help.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I’m a white witch,” she said. “Give me a lock of your hair and I’ll cast a spell to keep you from getting drafted.”
In 1970, I had hair enough for several spells, so I agreed. She pulled a pair of scissors from her purse in the way all women with long blond hair pull scissors from purses in Raymond Chandler detective stories. Then she clipped some hair from the back of my head. “On Monday, you might feel something,” she said, “but you won’t be drafted.”
Monday came. I felt nothing. I gave an Army physician my prescriptions for allergy meds. “Not enough to disqualify you,” he deadpanned. I wanted to point out that should I sneeze and alert the VC to my platoon’s presence outside Hanoi, the blood of perhaps a dozen men would be on his hands. But I just moved on, through the urine test, through two hearing tests.
Sometime later I approached a table behind which sat several men in white lab coats. One took the results of my hearing tests and, without looking up, said “You’re disqualified because of your hearing loss.”
Shocked, I said, “What?”
He looked up and – long before Garrett Morris invented “News for the Deaf” on “Saturday Night Live” – repeated the words at the top of his lungs.
I floated away in disbelief, free to begin the series of missteps that would make me the man I am today.
I am not bragging about how I put one over on the Army. But that’s how it happened. Was it because of a pact with the devil or divine intervention? You decide.
Me, I like to think that Emily, rather than being a minion of Satan, was an angel passing through on her way to Paradise, which I believe is within driving distance of Pittsburgh. After all, didn’t St. John of Denver tell us that West Virginia is “almost heaven?”
So now you’ve heard my scary Halloween story, and I guess you’d be well within your rights to say that I’m damned.
But the way my life has turned out, I’d say I’m simply damned lucky.