The four of us meet at Michael’s house to watch Cronkite read the numbers.
“How’re they gonna do it?” Kevin asks.
“What do you care, Mr. Conscientious?” Michael comes into the living room with two Old Milwaukees crisscrossed by the neck.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t care about my friends. You all hear about Donald?”
We had not heard about Donald.
“Well, he’s only 5’4, so you know what that means.”
We protest that we do not know what it means.
“What is means,” Kevin says, “is that they’re going to make a tunnel rat out of him, send him down in the holes.”
Of course we had known what this meant. How could we forget this kind of thing? We had not forgotten, we had only let it be crowded out from what we already knew, the jumble of height and weight requirements plunged into our memories, the days when those of us who were 6’6 longed for an extra inch to at least be considered ineligible, the evenings when the shortest among us practiced crumpling and slouching and realized we could not possibly shrink ourselves to four foot eight.
“I heard they only make the PR guys do that stuff anyway,” says Rick. Rick is 5’6, by far the shortest in the room, so if anybody can be considered a temporary expert on tunnel rats it is Rick. Still, there is a disconnect. We all know the same Puerto Rican and he is almost six feet tall.
Cronkite is still droning on about the order of call, but we can all see the blue plastic capsules right there on the screen, each of them sheathing a birthday we hope doesn’t belong to us.
“How high will they go tonight?” says Kevin.
“The guy who’s safe has all the questions,” sneers Michael, which means, although his future hangs in the balance just like ours, that he doesn’t know either.
“One ninety-five. Anything after that and you’re safe,” someone says quietly.
“I’m telling you, I might just have to off my pinkie finger or something and get that 4-F,” says Rick to no one in particular. “Maybe lop off a toe. But then again,” he says, prostrating his hands to the air, fingers wiggling, “these things are just too pretty. But then again—”
“Should have thought of all that before,” Michael tells him. “Before” is three F’s and a D minus in business administration, all of which conspired to make Rick a 1-A. Only a 1-A had to think about something like cutting off a pinkie. No one speaks the alphanumerical condition. Instead, we allow ourselves thank-god-we’re-not-1-A gulps and swallows. We have all heard that Rick was spotted howling up to the tops of the sugar maples when the classification came down. Michael continues to speak. He and Rick are the tightest out of any of us, so Michael can say things to him that we cannot.
“Besides, I hear the boards are getting hip to that.”
Hearing what the boards are and aren’t hip to is our all-consuming pastime. We trade stories of hustles the way other people speculate currencies: address changes filed and re-filed, various methods of inducing tuberculosis, how many questions to answer right and still look crazy, how many questions to answer wrong to avoid accusations of faking crazy. Information bolts through the streets and alleyways and the price of a bad tip is costly. Still, when something comes our way we share it. We whisper golden information into each other’s ears of friendly draft boards in blurry places like Arcata and Ukiah, of diploma-mill seminaries and their inviolable deferrals granted for study in the ministry. Every new detail is a glowing springboard to leap from, each landing pool a thousand universes of possibility.
A final commercial comes on before the numbers are pulled. It’s a funny one, about how a Dodge Charger will save your life and make you into some sort of Superman. We all have a good laugh. Rick breaks the silence.
“I don’t care how I do it, I’ll go queer if I have to. 1-Y, baby, just as good as a 4-F any day.”
We stop laughing because we all know it isn’t. None of us know anyone who has gone queer with success. Cronkite re-appears on the screen to introduce the Congressman who will draw out the plastic blue capsules with the birthdays wrapped inside them. The Congressman shakes Cronkite’s hand and starts to spin the glass container.