The question was: How are you going to get out of the draft?
In my senior year of college I had a low draft number in the lottery and was nervous about having to go to Vietnam. Morris Simon, father of Rochelle, the curly-haired brunette on whom I had a crush, was considered the wise man of the synagogue, and it was to him that my father suggested I go to for advice. Mr. Simon was the head of the temple’s chevra kadisha, which undertook the community’s funeral arrangements and cemetery maintenance. After I had my say, he made this cheerful little speech.
“There’s really nothing to worry about,” he said. “You have to go to the army. Well, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll be sent to Vietnam or you won’t. If you’re not, what’s there to worry about? But let’s say they send you to Vietnam. One of two things will happen. You’ll get a cushy desk job in Saigon or you’ll go to the front. If you get the desk job, there’s nothing to worry about. But even suppose they volunteer you into the 173rd Airborne Brigade and God forbid they send you to the Mekong Delta as part of Operation Marauder and there are two short artillery rounds and you get wounded and the helicopter comes for you, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll recover or you won’t. If you recover, what’s there to worry about? But even suppose you don’t recover, one of two things will happen. You’ll be buried in hallowed ground like a good Jewish boy or you won’t. If you’re buried in hallowed ground, what’s there to worry about? But even suppose you’re not buried in hallowed ground. Well,” Mr. Simon paused, “well, then, my dear fellow, you’re in one hell of a fix.”
Excerpted from One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir. Copyright © 2019 by David Lehman, published by Cornell University Press.