The Interview

©1995 by Bill Appledorf

I sent my draft card back to my draft board in 1967 with a note explaining I was not going to be killing anyone for them, so they could scratch me off their list. My draft board responded by classifying me 1-A and telling me to come in for a physical. I hated the people who wanted me to go to war so much I managed to flunk my physical by throwing stuff all over the place and brawling with anyone who spoke to me. They wrote down I was crazy, and they sent me home.

Well, the real reason they sent me home was I had been talking to a psychologist about my emotional problems for a while, and she had provided me with a letter saying I experienced homosexual panic and ideas of reference. That means I was afraid other people thought that I was gay. I was 21 years old and had never experienced sex.

A couple of years after the draft board sent me home, they made me come back in for another physical. This time all I had to do was talk to their psychiatrist. The psychiatrist asked me how I was feeling, and I told him, "Great!" I really did feel great, because I had been living for the last six months with a beautiful woman who loved me. He stamped my file approved, and I said, "Hey! Wait a minute! You can't do that to me! I'm crazy!" The psychiatrist stood up. He was about 7 feet tall. He said, "If you're crazy, you will punch me in the mouth." I said, "If I punch you in the mouth, you'll say I'm crazy, and I'm out?" He said, "No. If you punch me in the mouth, I'll mop up the floor with you." I hated that bastard, but I damn sure wasn't crazy, and I damn sure wasn't going to let him kill me.

A few months later I received my draft notice, dropped out of graduate school, and left L.A. for Canada. I left because I wanted so much to kill the American cops, politicians, and military bastards who were trying to push me around, I was afraid I might actually try it, be killed and accomplish nothing. Instead I figured that ruining my life in protest would inform the world what bastards those bastards were. It never occurred to me that no one gave a damn about me or whether I destroyed my life.

In Canada I married an American girl. She understood our relationship to be that I would work and bring home money and she would cook and give me sex. I thought we were going to stay up all night drinking wine, laughing at the ironies of life and writing rock 'n' roll and poetry. She walked out on me in 1974, and six months later she committed suicide.

I blamed myself that she committed suicide. I believed I had failed as a person. I thought she preferred committing suicide to letting me be there for her when she needed me, because I had done such a lousy job of being there. While she was alive I wouldn't do what she wanted me to do and I wouldn't forgive her for disappointing me. Now that she was dead, I figured it was me that made her kill herself.

When I was a kid, I didn't know anyone who committed suicide. People didn't even die, really, not the ones who meant anything to me. I had no way to understand the suicide of my wife, and I tortured myself with having caused it. Up until then, everything had been everyone else's fault. I could be as harsh to anyone as I wanted. I was never wrong, and I had never had to forgive anyone, least of all myself.

I returned to the USA in 1977, after which for a number of years, whenever I told anyone I had dodged the draft, their response was usually a winking laugh, as though dodging the draft had been a merry little prank. Occasionally I'd get frozen out or emotionally blasted because I inadvertently let it be known that I had dodged the draft to one or another version of that stubble headed patriot who actually believes that war makes sense. One guy in particular thought he had me sized up and arranged to have a little tete a tete about it with me.

I had been taking some computer programming classes at California State University Sacramento in 1982. Since I didn't know what to do with a university education besides get degrees, I had applied to some graduate schools to get a Master's Degree in Computer Science. One of the schools I applied to was Stanford, and one of their requirements was to apply to the Hertz Foundation for financial aid. Stanford would only accept students who had financial aid lined up, so I applied to the Hertz Foundation.

On my financial aid application I mentioned I had been drafted and left UCLA for Canada after I passed my oral and written exams to advance to candidacy for a Ph.D. I was not emphasizing that I had dodged the draft. I was trying to substitute advancing to candidacy for getting a Ph.D.

The president of the Hertz Foundation was the kind of top of the line American I'd seen motor into Quathiaski Cove when I was living with the hippies on Quadra Island in British Columbia. The Americans looked like visitors from outer space, with fancy electronics in their boats and wearing synthetic, expensive clothes. In any case, this guy believed in the War.

He was actually a player in the Cold War and had argued before the Senate, he told me at the interview, in favor of an underwater basing mode for the MX Missile. This means hiding our missiles from the Russians under the continental shelf off the United States. Thinking about that stuff struck me as crazy, particularly since I had been trying so hard to understand my own fear of being dominated and trying to hear why belligerent people feel so bad about themselves. So I guess the feeling of talking to a really screwed up guy was mutual. The only thing is, I saw all his political stuff as superficial. I assumed that underneath it all he was just like me, because, after all, he is.

My interview with him was at UC Davis on the last possible day at the last possible hour of the period set aside for interviews. I didn't understand until after he had talked to me for a while why he had given me this time. When I initially got the schedule for the interview, I figured wear the suit, wear the tie, get the financial aid. I didn't realize I would have to demonstrate any technical ability to get it, and I didn't realize this guy wanted to talk to me about my having resisted the War. The fact is, he was actually planning to crush this political ignoramus pip-squeak coward (me) intellectually, and he had saved this little chore for after the work of interviewing the real candidates for Stanford was behind him.

So I drove over to Davis and wandered around the campus for a while. I had my jacket and tie with me, and a few minutes before the interview I got myself dressed using the window in a fire door as a mirror. The interview consisted of this guy asking me things and telling me things in a booming, authoritative voice that seemed to say, "I am in control of everything, I know everything, and if you say anything I disagree with, I know every fact in the world that makes you wrong." I didn't say a whole lot, although I did get to say "I don't know" a few times when he asked me puzzle questions like how many boat trips it would take to get some guys across a river and how do you figure out which bits are on and off in a bunch of binary numbers. A couple of riddles and it was obvious I don't have much aptitude for computer science.

Then he used his big, loud voice to tell me he understood I had avoided military service, and he asked me how I would feel if I developed a new technology and someone figured out how to use it to make a weapon. I told him I don't think I can control how other people use what I create, and the fact someone might use it in a destructive manner doesn't mean I shouldn't create anything. Then he started talking about Peter the Great, a Russian leader who hated the West so much he had written that the Russians should copy the West's technology and use it against us to destroy us. I listened until he felt like he had told me off enough. Then he used his big, loud, confident voice to ask me if I had any questions for him.

I couldn't think of anything, and I told him "Not really," and I thanked him for telling me about Alexander the Great. "Peter the Great," he corrected me in a big, loud, condescending voice. Then a question did occur to me, much to my surprise. I said, "Actually, I do have one question," and he said, "What is it?" as he stuffed some papers in his brief case, done with me and ready to drive home. I asked, "Have you ever forgiven an enemy?" I was genuinely curious. I wasn't hinting at anything or trying to put him down. His eyes wrenched to the floor and he couldn't lift them up. He tried to lie to me and fake that he was totally in control of the situation. "Yes," he forced himself to answer. I said, "It takes a lot of courage, doesn't it?" and he said "Yes," trying to face me but with his head pushed back and to the side.

It was quiet for what felt like a long time. I didn't know what to do or say while he convinced himself he had tricked me with his lie. After a while he puffed himself up like he was in charge of the situation again, and in his big loud voice, with a bit of annoyance and what might have been a wish to put things straight he said, "Your collar is turned under," and he reached across his desk to flatten it out for me. Jeeze, my sport coat had been on wrong throughout the entire interview, and he was reaching across his desk to flatten it out for me, but he wasn't able to reach me, because I was too far away.

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