For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Bronxites

The Draft Card and the Jaywalking Ticket

by Myles Schulberg


t was 1967, and my friends, Bob and Allen, both 1949-born, got their draft cardsfrom the Gerard Avenue Selective Service Board. With the war in Vietnam raging, most guys would not look positively upon being a draft registrant. But there were exemptions from the draft, one of which was for being a student. Both Bob and Allen were high school seniors when they were issued their draft cards, and as such received student deferments. The deferments continued after high school, as they were both continuing onto Hunter College in the Bronx. So without concern as to their student deferment ending upon graduation or other departure from college, Bob and Allen took a short-term view and embraced their draft cards. After all, they showed proof of age to buy alcohol (which then was legal at age eighteen) and gained them admittance to places restricted to age eighteen and older. Bob and Allen certainly made use of their draft cards. In fact, if their draft cards had been punched each time Bob and Allen showed them, the cards would have soon been clipped into non-existence. To Bob and Allen, draft cards were their friends.

Two years later, in 1969, Bob and Allen were walking eastward down Fordham Road, north side of the street, following classes for the day at Lehman College (Hunter College having been renamed). They were between the Grand Concourse and Webster Avenue, where Kingsbridge Road met Fordham. They crossed to the south side of Fordham Road to get to one of the many stores that lined the street. At the point of their crossing, the intersection was not parallel between the north and south sides of the street; rather, it was diagonal. Their crossing was not within a marked crosswalk, nor was there a traffic light. But they did begin their crossing from a corner of the block that they had been walking down. For that reason, Bob and Allen didn’t consider their crossing to be jaywalking. When they reached the south side of Fordham Road, a cop descended upon them, coming out of what seemed to be thin air. In a bellowing voice he said, turning to Bob, “Excuse me, but you’ve just jaywalked. Let me see some identification.” It seemed petty to be stopped by a cop for jaywalking, but in those days, street crime wasn’t what it is today, and in many Bronx precincts, New York’s finest, in keeping themselves busy, were attending to such offenses as illegal stickball bats, fireworks, moving and parking violations, and, you guessed it, jaywalking.

Allen fully expected Bob to show some identification, at a minimum his draft card, since it was required of all draft registrants that their draft card be presentable and carried on their person at all times. But instead Bob replied to the cop “I don’t have any identification.” Allen thought for sure that Bob was going to get cited not only for jaywalking, but also for not carrying his draft card, and who knew what penalty the latter transgression would carry, given that it was a Federal violation. As big a shock as was Bob’s reply to the cop was how the cop responded. Instead of pursuing further with Bob, he turned to Allen and said, “Okay, then you show me your identification.” At that point, Allen figured there would be no way both Bob and he could get away with the “don’t have any identification” excuse. Moreover, there was that “Federal” requirement of having to always carry the draft card. So, Allen’s response to the cop was to pull out his driver’s license and present it to him. Allen was figuring that since the cop seemed to be giving Bob a “pass,” he wouldn’t be ticketed by the cop but would instead just be given a warning. Well, Allen figured wrong, because the cop wrote out and presented him with a jaywalking ticket. And in handing Allen the ticket, the cop said to him, “Maybe your friend will share the cost of the fine with you.” With that, off the cop walked.

When the cop was out of sight, Allen said to Bob, “How you got away with not, at a minimum, showing your draft card is beyond me. In any event, will you share the cost of the fine with me?”

Bob shot back, “If you were sucker enough to show the cop your identification, you can pay the fine all yourself. Did it ever dawn on you that perhaps a New York City cop was not familiar with Federal law, or that he took me for being under eighteen? And if he did take me for being under eighteen, since you look younger than me, you too might have gotten away with the don’t have any identification excuse.”

Bad enough that Allen got ticketed, but to add insult to injury, he had to admit, although he had stayed silent, Bob had a point.

Later that day, when Allen got home, he wrote out a check for the fine, which was two dollars. Of course, given his embarrassment, he did not share the incident with his parents. On the ticket, he drew a picture of a clinched fist and wrote in bold lettering, “I’ll get my $2 back after the revolution.” The late sixties were turbulent times. He mailed in the ticket with his check, but then started second-guessing himself whether his drawing and bold-lettered statement would come back to haunt him. However, other than getting the cancelled check back, he never heard another word.

Some guys curse their draft card as a reminder of their having been drafted. While Allen subsequently got a high draft lottery number and escaped the draft after his deferment ended, he not only fell out of love with his draft card, but cursed it as reminder of his getting a jaywalking ticket.

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