Within five minutes of my arrival at the bus, I was elevated in rank. I was now responsible for the conduct of everyone on the bus, I was told, by a guy in an army outfit with a clipboard after he took roll call. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to accomplish that, but it was clear that he had picked me because I was the smallest, weakest and least likely to keep order on that bus. In other words, he picked me, seated ignorantly in the front of the bus, for his entertainment. I didn’t know anyone on the bus, and most were Hispanic, talking amongst themselves in Spanish of which I couldn’t decipher a word. Well, not exactly true. I did know how to say phrases like, “This street is beautiful,” “Turn to page 3”, “Where’s the bathroom,” and “I want some more beans (or another beer), please,” among a few others. I didn’t hear any of those familiar phrases in the bus on the way to Albuquerque, but I did hear the word for bathroom once. Along the lines that there wasn’t one on this bus.
The trip was uneventful. I know this because I’m sure I would have mental scars from my attempts at maintaining order on the bus, and I don’t seem to have any about that at least. We disembarked on a downtown sidewalk in front of a tall brick building, and were ushered inside, up two flights of stairs, two abreast, to a classroom, where we were told to take a seat. That’s when the fun started. We were told what our day would entail, how long it would take, and how we were getting home. We were each handed a clipboard, told to fill out the information on the top of several forms, then we counted out in tens. Then the first group was told to “stand up, shoulders back, follow me, single file, no talking,” the rest of us were to wait our turn. It wasn’t long before the group I was in was told to stand, throw back the shoulders, and follow in single file with no talking.
The first thing I noticed was the yellow shoe prints on the floor in the hallways with “This Way” printed on every other one, going in one direction, and back the other way on the other side of the hall. There were other directions on the shoe prints, like “Stop”, “Wait” “Go Left”, “Go Right”, I later discovered. It was like a yellow brick road. “Follow the yellow shoe prints.” They were on the floor in a normal stride, so you could actually step from shoe print to shoe print, and we all tried to do that, as we were led down the hallway. The heel and sole cutout must have been made from a size-13 shoe though, because it dwarfed my foot as I went from “This Way” to “This Way”.
The first station we came to was a blood pressure check. Four positions in an 8 X 8 cubicle, each manned by a soldier in a white smock, obviously with no medical experience, putting on the cuff, squeezing the bubble several times, releasing the pressure, making the reading, writing it down on the chart on the clipboard we carried and we were told to follow the footprints to the next station.
The next station was a vision check. We were told to read the middle line of an eye chart. While I was standing there trying to focus on it, I heard two different series of letters coming from the two men on either side of me. So, I just said “L M O 9 D G” without pausing. They checked me off. I either hit it perfectly without seeing them, or they really didn’t care whether I could see or not. After all, I was being tested to see if I was physically fit enough to be a target.
Follow the yellow shoe prints to the next booth and the next. Getting our ears looked at in one, our throats in the next. All in an assembly line system. All done very quickly and no one has failed yet, that I can tell. We follow the shoe prints to a door where we seem to be stacking up. The shoe print says “wait,” so we do. Up to this point we have stripped down to our pants, carrying our shirts and t-shirts with us along the trail. Finally the door opens and we are herded into a large room, a gymnasium actually. There are basketball nets on all four walls. We follow the yellow shoe prints to a circle which runs around the center of the floor. There are now 30 of us. Three groups of ten.
The sergeant yells for us to get out of our pants. Put our clothes in front of us, clipboard on top and face out from the circle. several of us don’t understand the directions and are screamed at until we are all facing out, standing in only our tighty-whities (thank god I listened to my mother and am wearing clean underwear) or our colorful boxer shorts, but we try not to look at each other.
“Face forward,” the sergeant screams, and I mean screams, at the man next to me. My eyes are locked on the wall. He walks around the circle. I know he’s a sergeant because my Dad was one in the Army. He was a staff sergeant, and I’ve seen his stripes. I know this guy is at least a higher rank than a private.
“Drop your shorts around your ankles,” he screams. The room echoes. Then there is only the quiet shuffling sound of men dropping their drawers. I feel the cold air contracting things. “Arms, at your sides,” he screams. Then he walks from man to man around the circle, telling them to turn their head and cough, as a doctor-type follows and writes whatever result they are trying to determine on each man’s clipboard. I found out he wasn’t just following. He was actively involved in poking his fingers half way through your lower abdomen while you were turned and coughing.
“Everybody turn around. One eighty. Do it now! Keep eyes front. Bend over and grab your ankles!” I’m sure that was a sight. You could hear a pin drop after that order was executed. Then footsteps, stop, footsteps, grunt, footsteps, stop. They’re behind me, groping where I would rather not they grope, and then they move on. I assume I’m an acceptable asshole. I don’t move. Footsteps. Stop. Footsteps. Stop.
“GET THIS MAN OUTTA HERE!”
Someone has obviously come up with a unique way of getting out of the draft. We all strain looking up-side-down through our knees to see what’s going on. We must have looked like a flock of ostriches. The only thing I can make out is a naked guy with his drawers at his ankles waddling quickly out of the room dragged by his arm. The double doors open and shut and he is gone.
“Don’t anybody move!” our leader screams. The review continues, and then we are told to turn back around pull up our shorts, and get dressed. We follow the yellow foot prints and amazingly end up walking down the hall we started in and turning into the classroom where we began. We are told to turn in our clipboards and take a seat. The “mental” part of the test is ready to begin.
To Be Continued………