A Virtual Reunion of Geezers

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A dozen of us geezers gathered together on Zoom last Sunday. This group of friends and brothers who have known each other, in some cases, for more than six decades. The occasion was the 68th birthday of one member of the group, who set up the call. Man, that guy is getting old!

Just kidding. I’m not far behind him in years, though I’m not rushing it.

As one would expect, there was a lot of reminiscing during the 90 minutes we spent together. Some of us see each other fairly regularly, though obviously not during the pandemic. But a handful of the dozen on the Zoom call haven’t seen each other in decades. There was a lot of catching up to do.

F. noted that he registered for the draft 50 years ago Sunday, when he turned 18. He drew a high enough lottery number to not have to sweat being called up and sent to Vietnam. The same happened to a couple other members of the group. I have great respect for those who served in that war, misbegotten as it was. But none of us dozen miscreants had any desire to get sent into the jungles of Vietnam.

The draft ended in January 1973. Ending conscription had been one of Nixon’s re-election campaign promises. He hoped it would help end anti-war protests since middle-class youths would not have to worry about involuntarily being drafted. Of course, in general it was low-income teenagers, young men of color, and those who couldn’t afford to attend college and get a deferment that ended up going anyway.

I turned 18 the following August and had to register for the draft, though nobody was being drafted. Nearly 48 years later, males (but not females) ages 18-26 are still required to register. Penalties, such as fines and imprisonment, are rarely imposed — the last time was in the mid-1980s — but someone who doesn’t register by age 26 risks being denied college financial aid and other federal benefits.


S. and E. recalled playing on the same Little League team with Gov. Gregg Abbott. S. recalled that Abbott — who was in Boy Scout Troop 201 with me and S. — was a good athlete. He earned the nickname “Monkey” for his antics when he got on base, jumping up and down, waving his arms in an attempt to distract the pitcher.

A number of us first met at T.H.I.S. line, a hotline that a local church allowed us to operate out of an old adjoining house. It likely was a parsonage in earlier times. The acronym stood for “Telephone Help and Information Service.” There was a por

trait of what appeared to be Che Guevara on one blue wall. A handful of teens volunteered to operate the phones and talk to fellow teens who were upset, depressed and, on occasion, apparently suicidal.

Training for volunteers was minimal. In fact, I don’t recall any adults ever being around. We took our job seriously, dealing with teens upset over breakups, parents they viewed as unreasonable (of course), and weightier issues. But T.H.I.S. line was also a hangout for many members of this group — a parent-free zone.


Nearly all of this dirty dozen worked at Shakey’s Pizza in high school at one time or another, though one member — whom we met in college at SFA — worked at a different location. The rest of us worked at the Longview Shakey’s on Cotton Street, helping each other land jobs in a place with high turnover. Shakey’s featured banjo players and sing-a-longs, and a few of us performed there between making pizzas and drawing draft beers.

I recall my first night there. I was 16. Beer had never touched my lips. (That would soon change.) A fellow ordered a draft. I filled the heavy glass mug with ice and began pouring. “What in the he** are you doing? I don’t want ice in my beer!” That would be the first of many mistakes I would make, such as using the restroom after slicing jalapeños without first washing my hands. I never repeated that mistake.

I learned during our Zoom meeting that that there is a recreated Shakey’s Pizza Parlor inside the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City. Sounds like it might make a fun a stop on a future road trip.

It was good to “see” everyone again. The irony is that if there hadn’t been a pandemic, it is unlikely we would have all gathered in person, given distance and other factors.

I hope to see some of these guys in person in coming weeks, some weeks after being fully vaccinated. Looking forward to it.

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