Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Army Years

I lived for a short period of time in barracks but for most of my two years, I lived right in good old Berkeley.  But to begin this period, I took an early morning bus to Ft Ord. The barracks look pretty modern, but austerity was on the inside.
Ft. Ord - 1966
Although I only lived there about 10 weeks, it is a vivid memory.  In fact the flood of memories is so intense, it is hard to select a few words.

We lived in large rooms with bunk beds stacked quite close.  Part of the training involved obsessive concerns about cleanliness, floor polishing and sweeping.  That is not unexpected, but I was surprised that we were ordered to keep the large windows open all night.  It seemed, I arrived in the midst of a meningitis outbreak.

I left Ft. Ord around Christmas time to go to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for training as a combat medic  In fact, it was a great First Aid Course.  If you ignore their emphasis on sucking chest wounds and the construction of field morgues, it was pretty useful. 

At Ft. Sam, I spent much of my free time trying to get a specialty assignment into mental health.  It was my first big foray into the world of self advocacy in a complex bureaucracy.  Here I got critical life lessons that I have used forever.  Some of the things I learned: "Never act too smart."  "Learn to act confused and helpless as the situation may require." "You can often change your own fate."

Using these ideas , I was pulled out of Combat Medic School and sent to Letterman General Hospital to be a social worker in a psychiatric unit.  From the specter of future combat to two years
working in a safe hospital in San Francisco.

Scenic Avenue - Berkeley, 1966

On the Northside of the Berkeley campus, there was a lovely residential area.  As students, we never went there.  In fact, I think we went 4 years without ever seeing a child. We stayed on the South side in the student zone.  But after graduation and working only a year, Sarah and I were ready to move up.  We were driving around in the hilly area on Northside just near Peets, an unusual coffee place that served espresso.  We spotted a for rent sign high above the street.  We parked our VW bug and knocked on a door and before long we had a new apartment.

The Scenic Apartment
We found a place on the 3rd floor. It had an Italian ornate fireplace with sculpted plaster balustrades around the fireplace.  The front door was all glass with stained glass panels.  We had hardwood floors and we were immediately visited by our neighbor below us to beg us to either get carpets or take off our shoes.

Oh! I must mention the Bay views. Out our windows we had the most amazing views which we enjoyed. The 3 flights of stairs seemed no problem for two young people. Did we complain about the climb? I don't recall.

Unfortunately, I only lived in this wonderful place for about 2 months. My draft notice came and I went.  Sarah stayed and continued to work at the University Extension service while her husband went off to be in the Army.

We had never had more than 2 rooms and for this place we visited the used furniture stores on San Pablo Avenue.  For less than $100 we bought a huge dining room table with 6 chairs.  It was an elaborate dark wood table with extensions to allow for big parties.  We dragged that monster around for many years.

I was working as a Deputy Probation Officer and drove to Oakland each day.  I spent my days interviewing low level offenders and then writing court recommendations.  I used a machine to dictate and then a typist would produce a document for the judge. The report had 3 copies and the typist used carbon paper. Each correction involved fixing 3 copies. Arg!!! Hard to imagine.

Jill,  who did my typing also helped me with my adventures with my Draft Board. I had been seeking a deferment, but got none. As the time approached, I desperately wanted to know what was happening.   Jill and I plotted a strategy.  She would call the draft board pretending to be Sarah and then she would plead that we needed to know because ... some piteous story.
An unwelcome notice from Selective Service
Who knows what we said 50 years ago, but it was said.  The person at the draft board did take pity and told us to get ready that my notice was coming. It did.