That precious identity-maker for every adolescent, the driver’s license, was denied me by a father who saw no useful purpose in a teenager driving a car. That same philosophy also applied to listening to teen radio, going to dances, getting allowances, and anything else a teen could use to forge a normal identity.

In my sophomore year, I was introduced to the magical powers of alcohol by friends from town and school. It converted a shy, embarrassed loser, to the life of the party. Alcohol was an ally to me in another way. When dad was out getting drunk and coming in late, that let me do the same thing without getting caught. B., A., J. and I were “boozin’ buddies” as we like to call ourselves. They drove, of course, and I didn’t, which made me all the more beholdin’ to them. I scrounged beer money from anywhere I could, holding back tips from our Sunday paper delivery job, getting bus fare from mom for school and then hitch-hiking home, doing odd-jobs for the aunts and uncles who lived in the same neighborhood. I was not even averse to stealing from mom or dad once in a while. It provided enough for some pretty wild parties and some very narrow escapes from the law of the land and the law of chance. (Those were the days when the “boys will be boys” approach was used in dealing with DUI.) We lived out the movie American Graffiti every weekend.

After high school, the only college that would admit me was a local small liberal arts junior college. I promptly flunked out. My cousin and I had some hair-brained scheme about driving out to California in his '57 Chevy convertible and starting new lives for ourselves, but that fell through for reasons unknown to me. So I was high and dry without a plan and Uncle Sam was offering time-share vacations in SE Asia at the time. So I enlisted in the Air Force.

After basic training in Texas I tested well for language school and it sure sounded better than cook school, so they sent me to California (I got there after all!) to learn Mandarin Chinese in Monterey so I could be a spy. I managed to squeak through the year-long course even though weekends were spent boozin’ with some new buddies.

Graduation! Ah, yes. Now,... to what exotic place would I be sent? Hong Kong? Taiwan? Tokyo? Not! I got orders for Peshawar, W. Pakistan. I had heard of this place before in The World Book Encyclopedia and in conversations with drunken soldiers. It was considered the second worst place in the world to be stationed. (Thule, Greenland was #1.) I would have preferred Da Nang. (Go here or here or here or here to find more about it.)

One bright spot in this mess was that I had met a girl, Betty (not her real name), while back home on leave after language school. A friend of a friend had introduced us. I fell hard for her. She was beautiful, intelligent, but had this weird idea of a good time being Sunday evening worship at an Assembly of God church. I offered her booze and cigarettes but no, thank you, God was her preference. I never could understand her interest in me in view of her lifestyle. Maybe she was attracted to the “he’s good-bad but he’s not evil” kind of boyfriend that the Shangri-Las were singing about at the time. Well, I had no objections about God. Hey, a date is a date, even if it's in church.

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