Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy Birthday to my hero

Today is my dad's 85th birthday. He remains my hero. You of course recognize him as the host of the restaurant Nancy Travis entered in ALMOST PERFECT.  He still gets mobbed wherever he goes.  Needless to say, the book I wrote about growing up in the '60s (which you can and SHOULD order here) features him prominently.  Here is an excerpt and a glimpse into why I think he's so special.  

1969

As more and more young men were being drafted and shipped off to Vietnam there was a growing sentiment that on top of everything else, the draft was discriminatory. Low-education, low-income, underprivileged members of society were getting called to duty in far greater numbers than middle-class kids who could hide out in college, afford good draft lawyers, or pay for hookers to entrap senators. So in the interest of “fairness,” the Selective Service System instituted a lottery in 1969. No more 2S college deferments. A random drawing was held and you were assigned a number based on your birthday. If you were one of the first 195 birthdays called, you were drafted. The rest were off the hook.

The first draft was held on December 1st. It was very high tech. Numbers were written on scraps of paper, inserted into capsules, and placed in a shoebox. The shoebox was shaken to mix up the numbers and then someone just reached in and pulled out the capsules. I’m not making this up.

The night of the lottery, I was home in Woodland Hills watching nervously with my family. I figured I had about a 45% chance of beating the rap; those were pretty good odds.

They started calling numbers. You think the results show on Dancing With the Stars is suspenseful? In many cases your life literally depended on how you fared this night.

September 14th was selected first. Those poor bastards. Then April 24th, December 30th, and February 14th.

February 14th? Shit!! THAT’S ME!! Out of 366 numbers, mine was chosen 4th. (My brother Corey, who was too young to be eligible, placed 366th). I was hit by a stun gun. Suddenly Vietnam was no longer just a peripheral issue to be discussed at Gomi’s and protested at coed-populated rallies. It was real. My time to face it.

Dad took me out to the Jolly Roger for a drink (well, several) and did his best to assure me that there were options and we would work something out. At the time I was so self-absorbed in my own plight that it never occurred to me the pain he must’ve been in. The prospects of a son going off to war. But he didn’t have the luxury to feel sorry for himself. He had to put on a good face to console me. When it comes to parents, that lottery I absolutely won.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you. 

20 comments:

a lavine, not a levine! said...

I was a freshman in (a 99% male) college during that first draft lottery. The next morning, at breakfast, it was easy to tell where each guy had placed.

Ralphie said...

I was too old for the lottery thing, having turned 18 in 1965, so I just joined the Air Force, which my dad was already in, to get out of the draft. Worked great!

-Ralphie

Bankron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

And due to your Dad's wise counsel you found the 222nd Public Information Detachment US Army Reserve and coincidentally, one ABC page by the name of Dave Isaacs.

spreng said...

I was a sophomore that year. My lottery number was 196. As I recall, we didn't know how high they would be drafting until later that next year, after they knew how many draftees they would need.

Beth Ciotta said...

What a touching story, Ken. Happy birthday, Mr. Levine!

Breadbaker said...

My number was 295, but the draft and the war were over by then (the last year of the lottery).

Richard Y said...

I was already in the service by the time of the lottery. Being from San Diego - land of the Marines and Navy I wisely chose the Air Force. Where I eventually wound up in Peshawar W. Pakistan. Oh well. As an aside My dad worked at Convair, building war planes and was defered somewhat, as most of them that worked there were. He was eventually drafted - the day the war was declared over. He did not have to report. Happy Birthday Dad Levine

Janet said...

I never expected your blog to bring tears to my eyes, but it did. I haven't really considered what the parents went through. A thoughtful perspective.

I remember the nightmare of watching the lottery and worrying about my male friends. Luckily, student deferments for most of them.

A very happy birthday to your dad. (He's quite handsome.)

Paul Duca said...

I saw a TV show about mathematics and it used that first draft lottery, to demonstrate random number patterns. It said that first one wasn't truly random, since the capsules with the numbers weren't mixed enough in their large container. The next year the capsules were put into a tumbling drum and the plotting of the numbers showed a proper randomness.

YEKIMI said...

Looks like a couple of writers for Whitney have discovered how to post on your blog. But I think the Lanvin Bag one might actually be the monkey from "Animal Practice".

Roger Owen Green said...

On February 2, 1972, my number was #2. Think I got drunk with my friends.
You were a lucky guy, Ken.

Cap'n Bob said...

I joined when I was 18. Viet Nam seemed like a step up from the lousy town where I lived.

VincentS said...

Great story, Ken.

Tom Quigley said...

I had two friends whose birthdays were both on Sept. 14. One of them was female, so she was obviously exempt from the draft, lottery or no. The other one was in a bar watching TV when the lottery picks were announced and heard his birthday called first. He proceeded to get drunk, then called the the local newspaper to ask them if they'd be interested in interviewing someone whose birthday just came up Number 1. They agreed, and when they asked him what he did for a living, he told them he worked for a drapery hanging contractor and delivers drapes.

In a monumental (Freudian?) misprint, and one which probably should have kept him out of the army -- and maybe instead should have gotten him thrown in jail -- the article in the paper stated that my friend told them his current job was that he "delivers rapes."

He went anyway -- and fortunately never had to spend any time in Nam -- or in jail.

Eric J said...

Afraid of the draft, I joined the Army. Spent the next 3 years at Fort Monmouth, on the Jersey Shore, then called the "Country Club of the Army". A friend got sent to Germany driving tanks where he volunteered for (and got) the ski patrol for his last 2 years at a military R&R facility. His brother went to Vietnam.

Johnny Walker said...

A movimg story. Happy belated birthday Mr Levine!

Julie Mills said...

At first glance I thought your father was Leslie Nielsen (a compliment). I bet so many parents felt so scared and helpless at that time.

Mike Rupert said...

Mr. Levine, I just received your email for your Sitcom Room, and, if I may, I'd like to post the comments here that I had intended on posting in regard to your email - as I don't have a credit card, and it wouldn't allow me to post. Thank you for the time, and here are my comments:

Ken, thank you for the email. I've been writing for 13 years nonstop, but I am homeless. The only thing I've ever wanted to do is write comedy. A dream of mine would be to someday be a writer for a sitcom. I have no money...but I figure I'd give it a shot and write on the possibility that you'd get this. I understand if you can't make an exeption...but in your business I'm assuming that everyone drops and rises...and on the way down, I'd be more than willing to show you your way back to the front door :) Thank you again...and I hope to hear back from you.

in all candor, and hope -

Mike Rupert

Mike Rupert said...

my email is mikersocal@hotmail.com