1969 – Meeting with my Draft Board and Blood on the Walls

Meeting with my Draft Board …:  At some point in the spring of 1969 I received an invitation to a meeting with my draft board.  I’d neglected to notify them of my enrollment at the University of Houston and they were about to reclassify my status from 2-S (a college student exemption) to 1-A (potentially available for military service).  I gathered the paperwork and appeared at the office of the Selective Service in downtown Houston at the appointed time on the appointed day, expecting to deal with some bureaucratic minion so I was probably stoned when the minion ushered me into a large wood paneled meeting room.  Around a large conference table with stacks of files strewn haphazardly over the polished wooden surface sat a small group of elderly very white men, who were drinking coffee, smoking and casually chatting.  The youngest, a gentleman in his sixties, looked at me then opened a file and said, “You must be… ahhhh… Mr. McHattery.”


He invited me to take a seat and introduced me to the other members of my draft board.  Since 1917 the Selective Service System has been the method by which American males between the ages of 18 and 26 are conscripted into two years of military service. The law has been changed over time but the basic design remains intact.  On your eighteenth birthday you’re required to “voluntarily” register with the SSS.  If the Department of Defense finds itself in large scale war and in need of fresh cannon fodder, those young men who are unmarried and without dependent children, not students in college or without a critical job at a defense contractor and who are so unfortunate as to be deemed physically and psychologically “fit,” can be legally conscripted for two years of military service.

Holding a manila envelope containing the required university enrollment paperwork in my hand, I sat down across from this sad collection of snorting and coughing men and nearly cracked up with the mental image of dinosaurs dressed in cowboy hats and bib overalls playing dominoes on the porch of a small town BBQ joint.


I was flashing on a standup routine from a Lenny Bruce album when he riffed about a group of Mafiosi in the front row of a club in Miami.  Despite my herbal induced amusement I managed to keep a relatively straight face and after five minutes of very polite question and answer, the sixty-something spokesman sent me on my way with this bit of advice, “James, ya seem like a smart fella.  Do yerself a favor and stay in school.  This mess will probably be over and done with before ya get yer degree.”

None of the other elderly gentlemen said a word.


… and Blood on the Walls: Shortly after my encounter with the Draft Board, Chuck Fox invited me over to his house to meet his older brother Hank and we gathered in the low lit night club atmosphere of Chuck’s converted garage which was dominated by Chuck’s palette knife portrait of Charlie Parker.  Chuck lived at home with his widowed mother and Hank had just returned from San Diego after a three year stint in the US Navy with a full medical discharge and a disability package because one night he’d walked into an open cargo hatch, fallen thirty feet and broken his back.  This was just fine with Hank because after they patched him up and he’d gone through rehab, he could still get around with a minimum of pain and more importantly he was free to pursue his career as a professional jazz drummer subsidized with a guaranteed income from Uncle Sam.

I’d brought some acid to the party so we sat back, drank some beers, smoked cigarettes and listened to some great tunes on Chuck’s monster 60 watt per channel stereo.  Hank had an incredibly charming and enthusiastic personality, and he was full of tales about California and Hawaii and playing at late night jam sessions with various jazz artists when he toured in various US Navy Bands.  Chuck worshiped his big brother and it was easy to see why.  At some point we got into a discussion about what to me was the mysterious magic of music and Hank set out to explain it to me.  “Music is really nothing more than slicing time,” he said, “It’s all about time.  The notes, the instrumentation, harmony, it’s all just different frequencies.  Even lyric is metered rhyme, and the hook, the hook, whether it’s instrumental or just a phrase in the chorus, the hook is what we all remember.  A great hook just fuckin’ kills!  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first eight notes of Beethoven’s Fifth or Buddy Holly singing “Peggy Sue,” if you come up with a great hook, you’re on your way to some great music.”

We went back and forth for about ten minutes and I still didn’t quite get it when Hank asked Chuck if he had The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” because it had both the orchestration and the kind of great hook that he was talking about.  Chuck dug out the album and dropped the needle on the track which hissed and popped as Hank cranked up the volume and when the 5D broke out into that dippy Jimmy Webb lyric, I thought Hank was losing it.  “Close your eyes and listen,” he said, “And I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”


He then lit a cigarette and began moving the burning tip through the air and in the dimly lit room it appeared like the signal on an oscilloscope before my closed eyes.  Hank carefully showed me exactly what the time signatures were for the music and how each musician playing each instrument was doing their particular variation on the orchestral arrangement.  He did this while we were both blazing on some very good acid and thanks to his patience and ingenuity I finally comprehended the mysterious magic of music.

Then he picked up a polygon plastic calendar from the coffee table and shook it like a Maraca to demonstrate the rhythmic variations of the instruments adding an audio dimension to his music lesson.  It worked beautifully.  Then he told me to open my eyes and handed me the plastic polygon and we went through it together until I could separate and clearly hear each element of the orchestration.  It was so damned cool.

About that time Mrs. Fox called us in for fried chicken, but I’d eaten and having taken acid I had zero appetite even for Texas comfort food.  I begged off and Chuck and Hank went in to eat supper while I stayed in the converted man cave garage and listened to the whole side of the album.  I was ecstatic with my newly discovered understanding of how each track was literally nothing more than very talented people “slicing time.”

Eventually Hank and Chuck returned with a plate of cold water melon and freaked when they saw the walls splattered with my blood.  It seems that in my enthusiasm, I was gripping the plastic polygon too tightly with my hand and without realizing it, I'd cut my fingers and palm wide open on the points and edges.  After the clean up, we sat back, ate cold slices of watermelon and enjoyed the music until well after midnight.  Despite my inadvertent blood letting, it was one of the very best acid trips of my life.


Next up on JMac1949 - Memories, 1969 - Meeting with the Econ Professor, a Trip up to Stillwater to see David & Brenda and Meeting with a Philosophy Professor.

Except for attributed video, photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2013 JKM (an apparently ineffectual boilerplate joke?)

Views: 525

Comment by Tinkerertink69 on February 27, 2013 at 2:11am

Damn draft board dinosaurs!!!!

Comment by Out-on-a-limb on February 27, 2013 at 5:38am

I dodged the draft for nearly 3 years, before giving up my student deferent getting drafted in Dec. 0f 1970.  All in all, this turned out to be the best thing to come along in my 21 years of life up to that point.  I was sent to Germany instead of Nam, falling in love with the people, the place and the country all at once.  I was discharged from the Army in Dec 1972 and returned home.  The desire to return to Germany would not subside and so, in April 1976 I moved back to the town I had been stationed in and have lived here every since.

I enjoyed the story, indeed some of the best "road movies" are experienced through short "trips" in the man cave.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on February 27, 2013 at 6:19am

I frightened my parents when I refused to register in 1969. I regretted that immediately, that they were that frightened for me, they, the lifelong activists...now I know what it is to have a son, of course. They sort of registered me in-absentia.

Comment by Matt Paust on February 27, 2013 at 6:46am

Seems "slice" is the hook in this fascinating piece.   So what is the hook for you in "Up, Up and Away"?  For me it's always been the refrain: Up, up and awaaaaaay
My beautiful, my beautiful ballooooon

Comment by Christopher S. Dunn on February 27, 2013 at 6:46am

Sounds awesome.  The one and only time I dropped acid was amazing.  So I'm with you there.  Music is King, in my view.  As to the draft, I joined the Air Force (though it was 1981, not 1969) and did four years of active duty.  As I was going to be 25 a few months *after* I got out, I got this letter from the Selective Service, telling me -- I had to register for the draft!  What?!?  I just put in my four years of active duty and now I could possibly go to jail if I didn't register?

In the words of Larry Niven, TANJ! (There Ain't No Justice.)

How fucked up was that?

Great portion of a tale, as always JMac.

Comment by James Mark Emmerling on February 27, 2013 at 7:32am

This lesson in music stayed with you , then? I am intrigued by Hank's theory. I wish I understood it better.

It occurs to me that you, JMac, are ''slicing'' time as well, in your series. In 'real time', we read the slices: literary autobiography of a certain collection of events in your eventful life, united by a theme, or, better yet, a juxtaposition of themes. The contrast between your room fulla good old boys and the acid -fuelled musical appreciation from a , uh, war hero!, couldn't be starker.


Each slice of yours has a hook. My favorite hooks are your "hook-ups" with various 60's free lovin chicks, of course!



Comment by koshersalaami on February 27, 2013 at 8:18am

You must have been tripping if you needed a detailed explanation of the time signature for Up Up and Away. It's a straight four like everything else. Now, if you'd been tripping and tried to analyze the time signature of this, from the same period:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xKkSSKmjbk   (theme from Valley of the Dolls)

I'd have seen your point.

But yes, it's all time slices. And, unlike the other James' example of literature, it has to happen in real time.

It's a great pair of stories, though. I registered for the Draft and got a lottery number in the low thirties. It was the first year they didn't draft. And I was going to school.

Comment by Claudia Darling on February 27, 2013 at 8:34am
Interesting how all this went together: the dinosaurs on the draft board, slicing time, blood...I wonder of the ancient creatures of the Jurassic had anything approaching music, or if it was all guttural growls, shrieks, and pulsing blood then.
Comment by alsoknownas on February 27, 2013 at 10:20am


Hank's time slicing metaphor works pretty good as a basic tool for describing how music breaks down. I've never liked explaining it much. As the saying goes, talking about music is like dancing about archteciture. Good piece, but I couldn't put myself throught the tune.

Maybe I'll tell you my draftboard story on the back line. It's kind of rowdy.

Comment by Christopher S. Dunn on February 27, 2013 at 10:46am

I think that it's not so much the meter, but the polyphonic quality of an orchestral set of intertwined melodies, integrated with vocals and the more modern musical ensemble of the typical rhythym, lead and bass guitars with drums and horn section that wsa the real deal there. Life is time slices, but only if we presume to measure our sense of time and timing in some premeditated format, like keeping time, which is really an illusion in the first place.

Just a thought.


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