Marc Maron

Birthdays and Better Luck

Representative Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drawing the first number in the 1969 draft lottery. (Wikimedia Commons)

Representative Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drawing the first number in the 1969 draft lottery. (Wikimedia Commons)

I turned 30 a few weeks ago.  So far, it doesn't really feel any different than all the years before it.

Yet, on the morning of my birthday, on the way to the office, I listed to the episode of WTF where Marc Maron interviews the legendary comedian Billy Crystal.  Because Maron enjoys talking about the arcs of people's careers, all of the decisions and turning points and difficulties and glories, they covered the years when Crystal determined to become a professional comedian.  One turning point for Crystal was when, in the 1969 draft lottery for the Vietnam War, his number was drawn so late that it as good as guaranteed that he would not have to go overseas to fight.  On December 1, 1969, the first number drawn in the draft lottery was 258, which meant that all men born on September 14 between 1944 and 1950 would be required to report to their local induction centers.   My birthday, the day I listened to that interview, is September 14.

I learned this fact when I was in high school.  My world history teacher had assigned us a book review. We could could choose any book we wanted, as long as it dealt with the history and politics of the Vietnam War.  Being something of a hippie peacenik who was too smart for my own good, I picked a book that was a compilation of oral histories and other first-person accounts from draft dodgers and conscientious objectors.  The book seeks to convey that these people who elected not to serve in Vietnam, often at different kinds of great personal risk, had substantial reasons that we should, perhaps, keep in mind today as we confront more and more complicated wars.  The book came out in 1991, just as the United States came out the Gulf War.  I read it in the spring of 2004, about a year after the United States resumed bombing Iraq.

In that particular moment in time, no one understood exactly what course the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would take, and no one knew exactly how people in the continental United States might be called to serve overseas.  The knowledge that the men who shared my birthday were the first to be drafted chilled me.  While I was in high school, I had a close male friend who shared my birthday.  It was hard to imagine how I'd feel if he had been draft-eligible in 1969.  

So I sat in my car, on a birthday that is something of a milestone, thinking about these historical coincidences and how they can affect people's lives.  For Billy Crystal, the position in which his number was drawn genuinely changed his life for the better; it motivated him to be better and do more.  For me, if I had been born forty years earlier and born male, I would have suffered from the luck of the draw.  If faced with this situation today, what choices would I make?  I don't know the answer to that question, but I hope that my next decade is filled with better luck.