Tuesday, February 2, 2016

1967: History, Cigarettes and Vietnam

The 6:30 news ends with a body count, and the North Vietnamese once again had way more casualties than the U.S. 

Walter Cronkite closes the Nam segment with "There is still no end to the war in sight."
Mr. Cronkite

Out of either boredom or anxiety, I decide to go to my room and study for tomorrow's American History exam. It doesn't interest me, but maybe making a good grade would be fun for a change. So I study for at least a couple of hours, sacrificing "Lost in Space," "Beverly Hillbillies" and most of "Green Acres."

I make a 100 on the exam, my first 100 in high school. Only two other classmates make 100s, both girls.

A day or so later, I'm in that same class talking to the kid in front of me, Tommy Kiser. A really nice guy, he looks sort of Asian, close enough he could've played a Kamikaze pilot in those terrible American WWII movies. He is very neat and likes to wear short-sleeved, plaid, button-down shirts with the sleeve rolled up an inch or so.

He asks me, "Do you smoke cigarettes?" 


"Me neither," he says and gazes out the window. "I want to, though. I would if I knew I wouldn't get cancer."

"I would, too," I say. "But with my luck, I'd get cancer and die."

Our teacher, Mrs. Browning the Younger, finishes taking attendance then goes to the podium to begin class.

Tommy is quiet for a while, still looking out the window. He rat-a-tat-tats the desk with his fingers.

He turns and faces me. "You think we'll wind up in Vietnam?"


"Do you want to go?"


He looks back out the window. "I sort of do, I guess," he says."If I knew I wouldn't get killed, I think I might like it. I'm probably gonna get drafted anyway."

"Same here," I say. "I know I'm gonna get drafted, and with my luck I'll get killed."

He smiles out the window and shakes his head. "Then we might as well smoke," he says and turns back around as Mrs. Browning, behind the podium, looks in our direction and makes one of those fake throat-clearing sounds. 

Me in '67: Cheater, draftee

I'm still mulling over smoking and dying when Mrs. Browning asks me an American-History question, one of those where the question comes first, then she names the student. So I hear this: "Blah Blah BLAH blah, Roy?"

Oh shit.

I let out the kind of sigh dogs make just after lying down. I shake my head and say, "Mmm. I really don't know."

She says, "You don't know. You don't know?" She looks at the rest of the class (I'm sitting by the wall, so I'm now out of her line of sight), but addresses me. "That's interesting, Roy. You made a 100 on your exam, yet you never know the answers to my questions."

Then she looks back at me. "What does that tell us?"

My neck gets hot. My classmates are all suddenly looking directly at me, except Tommy, who looks at Mrs. Burgerstram. I want him to look at me and give the ol' "she's-full-of-shit" eye roll. I don't say anything. I can't.

Walking home, I decide not to study anymore.

And there was still no end to the war in sight.


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