Thursday, February 21, 2013
It amazes me to see that people from around the world look at this blog. Don't get me wrong, I am very happy that people are interested. But the numbers and locales are amazing. Last month over 700 people took a look, from a wide variety of countries. The way Linda Brenner set this up for me, I am able to see how many post openings take place each month and where the readers are when they look at the blog. In addition to the USA and Canada, this month (February) alone people in the following countries were readers: Russia, United Kingdom, Israel, China, Taiwan, Germany, Ukraine, and France. Poland, Latvia, Brazil, and The Czech Republic have also been well represented. So, it seems to me that there are a lot of people out there who know something about me and what I think. And yet I don't know anything about you, the readers.
Maybe we can change that. For anyone who is interested, here is my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. I'd like to know how you came upon this blog, what you think of it, and a bit about who you are. Since there are several hundred of you out there, let's start off with anyone outside of the United States and Canada. Please drop me an email and tell me about yourself. I'll try and answer. In the meantime, whenever a thought occurs to me I'll continue to add to the blog and hope that all of you out there in this wide world of ours will remain interested.
Thanks for tuning in. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Dear Family and Friends:
Since the Turkey Cook last week with my buddies retelling stories of Viet Nam, and then seeing The Deer Hunter late last night on Turner Classic Movies (I love the first hour of that movie, the before Viet Nam part. It is a great depiction buddies and their girls at one of the friend’s wedding. It’s a very ethnic wedding, Russian music, dancing, lots of drinking. The joys before the tragedies) my mind as gotten stuck on those days in college and Chicago. I graduated from the University of Illinois at exactly the wrong time, in Viet Nam terms, January 1969. 1965 to 1969 were dark years to be in college. Times of student protests, loss of faith in our government, great pressures to make regular advancement toward graduation (you couldn't think of changing majors) so you would not be drafted before finishing. Sure, kids in those days were drawn together in their anti-establishment, anti-war, and generation gap culture. But it was all negative energy. Kids were against a lot, but hardly for anything. We talked peace and love. We tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, I think, because of a fear of what the world (or our world) had become rather than any kind of conviction or idea for the future. Strange days.
The late 60’s were hardly hooked into information sharing like we are today. No computers, no internet, no Google, facebook, etc. You found out what was happening by watching TV, reading the newspapers, and talking to people. A few weeks after I graduated I received that dreaded letter from the government assigning me to a day and time to report downtown for my military physical. I passed it and was told that I’d get my marching orders within six weeks. What to do? The goal was simple; stay out of Viet Nam. If you couldn't avoid being drafted, then find some kind of military service that would keep you out of the jungle. I heard that the Army Air Reserve was still taking people. The headquarters was in Oak Park, Illinois and I showed up to take a physical exam to qualify. Just out of college I was pretty fit. We had to run a mile and do some chin-ups and sit-ups, as I recall. I passed. Gathered in a room, an officer addressed us. He told us that this was the army air corps and as such we would be required make six parachute jumps a year to remain active. I raised my hand and asked, “What if you were injured on a jump and couldn't make all six in a year?” “Then,” he said, “You’d become inactive and subject to be drafted into the regular army.” I picked up my stuff and walked out.
The next day I took my car in for an oil change. I was friendly with the mechanic and he told me that the Navy Air Corps was still accepting people. I called them at the Glenview Naval Air Base and learned that the following Saturday, if I was interested in the limited number of spots open, I would have to come there and take an aptitude test. The position was for a hydraulic equipment mechanic; six weeks of basic training, then mechanic school, then two years on an aircraft carrier and four years in the active reserves. Sounded a lot better to me than Saigon. I went.
Not that I was so bright, but I had just finished four and on half years of college. The others taking the aptitude test were high school kids. Taking tests was what I did. I scored at the top and got the offer of the position.
While all of this was happening, I was trying to get a job with the Chicago Board of Education. Substitute teaching offered a deferment. No being drafted. The Monday after the Navy test, I was called for an interview down on LaSalle Street. They closed just as I was being called in at 5 PM, but I was able to convince the interviewer to stay a few minutes late and do my interview. At 5:15 she offered me a job as a permanent substitute at the Emmet school. That school was an inner-city school on Chicago’s West side. As the interview ended I inquired as to the possibility of a deferment from the draft. “Oh, certainly,” she said. “It comes automatically with the position. We will inform your draft board.” I was saved. Deferred for a year. Later I’ll tell you some tales of the mini war zone known as the Emmet school.
After six months of teaching and a summer at camp in Wisconsin, I found myself studying at a school in Jerusalem, still under that deferment. I was able to extend the deferment for another year as long as I continued to work with children. Camp qualified. But while in my little room (converted from a kitchen, and about the size of a matchbox) in a residence hall of the Hayyim Greenberg Institute, in Talpiyot, Jerusalem, listening to a little hand-held transistor radio to the Voice of America news broadcast, I learned of the draft lottery that was to take place at the end of 1970 or the beginning of ’71. They picked birthdays and, in the order of the picking came the order of the lottery. My birthday came up number 199. That meant that 198 birthdays worth of people would be drafted before me, if I gave up my deferment. Once cleared of the lottery you would be forever exempt from the draft.
When I got home from Jerusalem I went to a draft counselor who assured me that in order to fill their quota, and because this first lottery had a huge number of people in it (everyone turning 18 that year and everyone under thirty-two who had not yet been drafted) they surely would not take over 145 birthdays worth of people. I was advised to give up my deferment on December 31st, 1970 and enter the lottery. I would certainly be free and clear the next week when they started drawing names.
Well folks that is exactly what I did. Juca and I were married on December 27th, 1970. On December 31st I formally gave up my deferment and entered that first lottery. The next week they indeed started taking people with low birthday numbers, but they did not stop at 145. They reached the quota at 194. I was 199. I cleared, just barely. That’s how I avoided going to Viet Nam.
I greatly admire those who served our country. They got a bum rap coming home from that very unpopular war. They were heroes who served in terrible times. I was thankful not to have been one of them.
Monday, February 4, 2013
Dear Family and Friends:
Here’s an interesting story. It seems that a high school senior’s parents took a trip to Dallas for a wedding leaving him alone in their Chicago apartment. He, being a member of the football team and enjoying this new-found freedom, proceeded to invite his teammates over for a grand dinner before watching their beloved Chicago Bears play the dreaded New York Giants in the NFL Championship game. About fourteen seventeen-year-olds gathered in the apartment to cook a turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, etc, share some ill-gotten beer, toast the Bears, the bird, and their girlfriends, and cheer the Bears on to victory.
Funny thing was that the next year, when many of the boys were away at college, in the army or working jobs, they decided to reconvene what they loving called “The Turkey Cook.” With tongues in cheek, the boys recreated the dinner and the toasts (including long lost girlfriends from high school). Lots of laughs and recent memories.
The tradition of the Turkey Cook lived on over the years. Last Saturday marked the fiftieth (that’s 50) gathering of those who refer to themselves as “The faithful.” Right, those seventeen year-old boys are now all sixty-seven years old and the Turkey Cook has been held each year. I had the distinction (actually a couple of distinctions) of being the originator of the event. You see, my parents were the ones who left me alone while they traveled to the wedding in Texas. It was our apartment that I “childproofed” by talking down all the pictures and mirrors to avoid any damage before the boys showed up. It was my football team and my senior year, and it was 1963.
Last Saturday I traipsed up to the Western suburbs of Chicago through a bit of a snow storm to reunite with my teammates. What a hoot. We recalled games, even particular plays in games, proms, parties, old (I do mean old…I’m sure they all are grandmothers now…but they remain seventeen in our minds) girlfriends, coaches, good times and not-so-good times. Several of the Turkey Cookers served in Viet Nam. Their stories sound like a Frances Ford Coppula movie. Several have fought battles with cancer. There have been divorces but there are also many, many grandchildren (we brag, we smile, we share pictures).
Oh yes, the other distinction. Our neighborhood on the West side of Chicago was largely Czech and Italian. Most of the boys were Catholics or Protestants. I was the only Jew in the bunch. I was the only Jew on the team. One might expect stories of rejection, being the outsider; things like that. No way! I was their Jewish buddy. They loved my stories, my friendship, and my difference. I remember several times when the most popular athletes in the school stood up for me at the slightest drop of a Jewish joke of disparaging remark. I never had to say a word. I felt the same last Saturday, fifty years later. Another thing. I think the boys like the fact that their Jewish teammate became a rabbi. Even more special. At the end of the evening they each left me saying “Shalom.” I complimented them on their Hebrew. Smiles all around.
So here’s to the Turkey Cook and a bunch of old friends who love getting together once a year to reminisce, share stories of family, travels, and even talk a little politics. We raise our glasses to our team, to the Bears, and to twelve smiling faces that almost look like they did back in 1963.