Unfit for Service
As I mentioned before, my long saga of attempting to be classified as a Conscientious Objector resulted in an IA-O classification, and this meant that I was still viewed as cannon fodder but would not be required to carry a gun. This was not appealing in the least. To paraphrase Muhammad Ali. “No Viet Cong ever called me ‘Nigger lover.'”
I had one draft physical in Oakland in 1963 while still married to Julia and passed with one exception. When I was 17 I had been hospitalized for a couple of weeks with “Suspected Rheumatic Fever,” and this flagged me for an electrocardiograph test. I was told to come back in a week after the test had been read and to bring my toothbrush. I knew that there was no problem with my heart so I was actually prepared to return and refuse to take the step forward that would send me to Vietnam. Not taking the step would send me to prison, and in my youthful ignorance of the prison system, I didn’t realize that I would be fresh meat for the sodomy train. Luckily during that week, President Kennedy exempted married men. After he was assassinated Johnson rescinded the exemption and another exam loomed in early 1966,
By then I had graduated, started my filmmaking career, met Sandra, and learned a little more about what going to prison would actually be like. My options were two, head for Canada or convince the draft board that they did not want me in their army. I chose the latter and began preparing several months in advance. My first project was to get myself under psychiatric care. Toward this end, I went to the clinic at Mt. Zion Hospital and told the social worker who interviews me that I needed to talk to a shrink because “I have an emotional dependence on marijuana.”
She assumed a stern demeanor and asked, “Are you high on marijuana right now.” I admitted that I was. and she told me to go home and come back tomorrow morning without smoking anything. I agreed. The next morning I smoked a big fat one and went to the appointment. When she asked piously if I had smoked this morning I answered guilefully “No mam, I have not.” I figured that this was an ethical lie, not unlike lying to the S.S. about Jews in the basement. She smiled at how effective her (non-M.I.) intervention had been and made me an appointment to see a psychiatrist.
Dr. Sterling Bunuel was a young, slightly overweight shrink. He read the paperwork from the social worker and then asked, “What’s this about an ‘Emotional dependence on marijuana?'”
“That’s not the real reason I wanted to see you,” I said, “it’s really about these nightmares I’ve been having.
He leaned forward, interested, “Nightmares, what kind of nightmares?”
“About being in the Army,” I replied.
For the next few months, we met weekly and talked about our L.S.D. trips with one another. I was definitely under psychiatric care.
Someone also told me that the Army didn’t like draftees to be too dumb or too smart. I knew I couldn’t fake dumb and resolved to impress them as “too smart.” I knew that the comprehensive I.Q. and everything you know the test was given first thing at eight a.m. There were about 200 of us taking it and most hadn’t even had any coffee. There was a collective groan as the thick test was passed out, and everybody but me started laboriously plodding through it. I dove into it with all synapses firing as my life depended on it, which it did. I finished first and when they gave them back I had the highest score.
On the medical history form, I checked everything they couldn’t prove otherwise: nightmares, insomnia, bedwetting, use of drugs, and homosexual tendencies.
When we had the physical exam and they said to strip to my shorts I dropped my Levi’s and revealed that I wasn’t wearing any underwear. “Put your pants back on!” one of the horrifying homophobic Orcs yelled. A doctor tried to trip me up by saying, “Looks like you have flat feet, right?” “No Sir,” I replied, “Always had high arches.” I was also wearing a necklace with a pink day glow disk with an upside-down crucifix on it.
Finally, I was flagged to be interviewed by their shrink. He read my papers and then asked three question: “What drugs do you use?”
I named everything that you didn’t have to shoot (no track marks) i.e. marijuana, l.s.d., hashish, DMT uppers, downers, etc.
His second question was, “Are you a homosexual?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, man, I go either way.”
Final question, “Is there any reason you shouldn’t be in the Army?”
My reply was, “Well I don’t think I’d be very happy in the army and I don’t think the Army would be happy with me.”
He scribbled on my papers and handed them back to me. Does his note read? “Not suitable for military service. No reexamination believed necessary.”
I asked a Sergeant on the way out what classification that meant, and he snarled, “Means 4-F.”