“Don’t make me have to come in there.”
Oh, no, as I walked in from doing some outdoor chores, I heard one of the most dreaded threats a Southern child can hear. I rushed in the living room to check on things. I heard C.W. before I saw him. He was what you might call, “wailing.”
“Oh, what will become of me, what can I do?”
A voice from the kitchen said, “Try setting yourself on fire.”
I had reached the living room by then and witnessed a sight I’ll never forget. There was the form of what appeared to be a genuine 1968 version of a Haight-Ashbury resident sitting cross-legged on the floor moaning and rocking to and fro with tears streaming down his face and onto a pale pink robe festooned with peace symbols.
“What the … ,?”
“Oh, Big Dope,” he managed between sobs. “Am I glad to see you. You must help me.”
I was feeling a bit weak so I sat. I said nothing.
“Tell me you’ll help me, man.”
“Help you how?”
“Keep them from drafting me.”
“Keep them from what?”
“Drafting me, man. I’m not cut out for the military, man, not even the navy. You know how I got seasick when you took me fishing that day. And the sight of human blood makes me nauseated.”
“Calm down,” I said. I looked at him with all the sternness I could muster. He sniffed once and looked at me. His mustache and beard were glistening from his tears, and his nose was running. He drew a breath and nodded.
“Now what is this about a draft?”
He started to sound off again, but I wagged a finger at him and shook my head. “Speak.”
“I requested a transfer home,” he said. “They turned me down.”
“Who turned you down?”
“The Falloonian Elders. They quoted Section Eight of the Alien Service Agreement.”
“What I had to sign to be eligible to come live with you.”
“No, I meant what is Section Eight?”
“That’s the one where it says I have to participate on host-country life to the greatest degree possible.” With that, he broke down and wailed, “Now I’m going to get drafted.” His sounds filled the room.
“I’m not going to tell you again,” came from the kitchen.
“Calm down,” I said again. “There hasn’t been a draft in this country since the 1970s.”
“And look at how many years you’ve been at war since then,” he said. “Now this new one is bound to require that they start up the draft again.” Snot dripped from his nose. “What am I going to do?”
“C.W.,” I said, … ,”
“That’s me,” he said, “Tranquility’s Child.”
“Whatever,” I said, “but there is no new war, yet.”
“Haven’t you heard?”
“The political party in power in your country just declared war.”
“Declared war. What shall I do? I’m too young to die.” He stopped and thought, shaking his head. “I’m only half a century old in Earth years.” With this he wailed again, “Oh what am I to do?”
“I’ve heard nothing about a new war.”
“They call it a ‘trading war,” and that means trading bombs and bodies, my people tell me, body counts and all that. They say I’ll be a hero maybe.” He began to wail again. “Help me. Help me.” His voice rose. “Help me. Help me.”
I couldn’t help thinking of that old film, The Fly. I shook it off.
I said, “Do you mean ‘a trade war’ with other countries? That’s not a war of armies. That’s only about the buying and selling of products. It doesn’t lead to invasions and battles. It’s just about products, or a product.”
“A product that one country buys and one country sells?”
“Exactly. Buying and selling. No ‘bombs bursting in air,’ no troop ships, no napalm, no draft, no dead babies. Just everyday products for sale or trade.”
“Does that include rubber and oil?”
I felt as though someone had slapped me in the face with a wet towel. I stared at the floor for a moment.
“I’m too goddam old,” I said. “You’re on your own.”
He screamed, “Oh woe is me, woe is me.”
A voice from the other room screamed back, “I’m gonna make you think ‘woe is me’ if you make another sound.”