Back then, a bunch of us lived together in a house just off-campus. Off-campus at Wayne State in Detroit put us smack dab in the middle of the infamous Cass Corridor. It was a bad-ass college scene. We even had our own ghetto version of the Greek system. Our frat brothers were pimps and junkies, our sorority sisters were prostitutes. The upside – they didn’t care how loud we played our music and, since we were underage, the junkies would buy us beer if we gave them money. The downside – they could be awfully mean when they weren’t high. We weren’t old enough to drink legally in Detroit bars but fortunately for us, Canada was just a short tunnel or bridge away and the drinking age was 19. If we wanted to celebrate something or just get drunk in a public place, we hopped in someone’s car, everyone at Wayne State had an old, beat-up car, and left the country. In forty five minutes, we were guzzling beer in some dive in Windsor.
I didn’t trust the blue rape lights, as we called them, hanging over the telephone boxes around campus. I wanted to be able to protect myself. I purchased my entire wardrobe from Joe’s Army/Navy Surplus Store and wore camouflage and combat boots to class every day. I had a real flak jacket and stuffed alka-seltzer packets into the pockets. If one of the menacing street people came too close, I popped an alka-seltzer. Within seconds I was foaming at the mouth and growling like a rabid, military, mad dog. It drove them away – every time. No need to call the campus cops.
My best friends in the house were Jeff and Laura. Laura, as they say, was a force of nature. Even her clothes seemed alive. Leather and suede fringe, that swayed when she walked, sprouted from every seam and blossomed into colorful beads at the ends. Laura was pretty, with long straight black hair, parted down the middle. She never wore a bra and all the boys wanted her. But Laura was so single-minded I’m not sure any of the boys stood a chance. She was the one who made sure we were right out front at every anti-war march . She was the one who led us down the corridors of State Hall, banging on the lockers, shouting “there’s a war going on”, shutting down Wayne State for the big Moratorium. Even when she was high, she was plotting the next big action, the next big gesture that would convince the government to get the hell out of Viet Nam.
Everyone in the house took herself very seriously, like Laura, everyone except Jeff. Jeff was quiet and funny and I loved being around him. Jeff was also a neat guy and I mean that literally. Back then, all the guys had long straggly hair, but not Jeff. He would look disparagingly at my curly tangled mess of a hairdo and ask, “How can you go out like that? Don’t you know hair is everything?” I was pretty sure he was kidding but maybe not. Jeff was studying philosophy and every time I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he would just say he wanted to grow up. Jeff would graduate in a couple of months and, like most men back then, he dreaded the day. As soon as he got his diploma, he lost his student deferment, the cloak of invisibility that kept the Draft from finding him. The Draft was floating over his head like a Dementor from Harry Potter.
The government had just started up the lottery. It was supposed to make things fair, so everyone had an equal chance of getting screwed. Men of draft age were randomly given a number from 1 to 365 based on their birth dates. For one year, they would be called up for the draft according to that number. So, if someone received a low number, chances were, lacking some ineligibility, he would be drafted. The Unitarian Church, on the corner of Cass and Hancock, was a draft counseling center. The counselors were dishing out advice to the desperate, hungry men lined up at their folding tables like the volunteers dishing out hot meals at St. Patrick’s soup kitchen down the street. But, much like the meals at St. Pat’s, the choices they offered weren’t too appealing – get drafted, enlist, fake being sick or gay, leave the country, never to return. We lost a couple of the guys from the house that year. One lost his deferment, got drafted and went to Nam. The other skipped over to Canada.
So that’s how it was back then – going to class, protesting the war, getting high and being terrified another one of our friends would get snatched up by the long arms of Uncle Sam and sent to that hell hole on the other side of the world to die or, worse yet, get fucked up beyond recognition.
Jeff got his lottery number in the mail. Laura told him to burn it but he opened it anyway. It was 52. 52 out of 365. I said I would get the junkies to buy us some beer. Jeff said he would rather go to Windsor.