Carl’s phone vibrates in his pocket harder than usual, even for an emergency alert.

Tearing himself away from the display racks for the latest Dark Horse comics, he whips it out. The lock screen displays a Google notification: “New Notification from the Selective Service System.”

A jolt of fear stabs Carl in the gut. He wants to spike the three by six inch piece of plastic and metal into the floor of the comic shop. Instead, he fumbles the phone before catching it and entering his passcode.

With a spastic press of the thumb, he opens it and reads:

Date issued: September 11, 2021
Social Security Number: XXX-XX-XXXX
Phone number (562) 555-5555

Mr. Howard,

I am John Hathcock from the local California Selective Service System office. As you know, during this time of great national need, America calls upon its citizens to serve.

In times of national crisis, your local recruiting office can’t keep up. This is why we are sending you this message.

We ask that you select a time that is best for you to come to our offices in the Federal Building (downtown Los Angeles, CA) for an examination and induction paperwork.

Your country thanks you for your time and we hope to see you at one of the times listed attached to this notification.

Instructions: select a time below, arrive at the address that will be supplied in the confirmation email TWO HOURS before the appointment. Bring your Social Security card and state ID, including any relevant paperwork (high school and/or college transcripts). Wear comfortable clothing and athletic shoes.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: failure to comply with this notice will result in penalties of up to ten years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine including loss of any federal benefits, loans, and consideration for federal employment.

Carl reads through several times just be sure, then he Googles “selective service system notifications” until he is satisfied it is real. Then he picks a date at the end of the week.

He picks up a copy of Dark Horse Presents and goes to the check-out counter.

A fat pony tailed geek rings him up. “That’ll be $5.35, my man.”

Carl wordlessly counts off six ones, twice.

“Say, you don’t look too great.”

“Yeah, um, I got a notification from the Selective Service, so I am just…you know.”

“Tough, dude. Uh, listen, it doesn’t mean you’ll get inducted. Same thing happened to my girlfriend’s brother, he gets the call, goes downtown, and after all is said and done gets a 4F.”

“Really? Why?” Carl asks.

“Orthopedic implant in his left femur. Totally smashed it when he was a kid.”

“I have nothing like that.”

“I heard a lot of people join up with the Air Force or Navy when they get their notifications.”

Carl’s eyes snap to. “I’ll try that. Thanks, man.”

“No problem. Good luck.”


Carl squints as soon as he hits the bright SoCal sun. Carl scans the parking lot before spotting his beat, shit, puke-green 2015 Honda Civic through the heat mirage. He finds the nearest Air Force recruiter and starts the directions.

Driving down the palm tree-lined boulevard, the day takes on a sharper focus, the clouds an iridescent  white against the hard deep blue sky. A Haring-style mural’s vibrant colors make his eyes water. He sees the strip mall with the “Air Force Career Center” placard, pulling in the parks.

“Well, it might beat the shit out of Ubering for the rest of my life,” Carl says to himself.

After crossing the sticky asphalt of the parking lot, he can see it in the window: “AIM HIGH.”

“Bingo,” he mutters under his breath.

He yanks the front door handle.

It doesn’t open.

Another, harder, pull.

A sign reads “CLOSED.”

“The fuck?” Carl checks the time on his phone. “It’s 2:57.”

In the window, the cardboard cutout of a chick in her ABUs with her hair pulled back into a tight bun saluting mocks him.

Carl checks the Google Maps information. “Open until 5:00 pm.”

“No! What the fuck!” he shouts, sweat beading on his forehead as he types in the information for the nearest Navy recruitment center.

Again, he hops in his puke-green shit machine and drives three miles down the boulevard. This time, the scenery seems to zip past in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic adobe clusterfuck shit smears.

Another strip mall, another parking lot. Another converted storefront.

Carl pulls the door open hard enough to surprise the petty officer and prospective recruits in the front office.

The petty officer in his blueberries gives Carl a once over and approaches with a clipboard. “Please print your name with a phone number and email, and we’ll get to you in the order you came. Meanwhile, feel free to browse any of the literature.”

“Okay.” Carl writes down his information, noticing he is the 12th in line.

Minutes pass, turning into an hour.

Carl looks over the pamphlets for submariner, aviation, intel, surface warfare, special operations. He looks over information for reserve versus active duty options, enlisted, direct commission, ROTC, OCS, and on.

The petty officer named Smithson—Carl notices the nametag—returns with more clipboards stacked with paperwork. Smithson lets out a barely audible sigh. “Okay, if you haven’t filled out the preliminary application, raise your hand.” Seven hands shoot up. “Once you are finished, hold on to them and we will get to you in order.”

As Smithson hands Carl the paper, Carl notices how deep-sunk and lined Smithson’s face is.

Carl goes over the application filling it out: biographical information, education and employment history, criminal history, parents’ information, prior service status, preferred service commitment, and on.

Names are called, people leave the waiting area, people leave the office with smiles on their faces like a condemned man getting a last minute pardon.

“So you got the notification too?” a voice next to Carl says.

“What?” Carl asks, noticing the slight-built young Latino man.

“I’m thinking you’re here for the same reason I am. Holmes is avoiding being inducted as a grunt and going to Vietnam or India. I’m Carlos.”

“Funny. I’m Carl.”

“And it’s your 21st birthday too?” Carlos guesses.


“I’m figuring put down I am a native Spanish speaker and enlist as a cryptolinguist in the Navy, and presto! Philippines, here I come,” Carlos says, cocking his thumbs towards himself. “No Vietnam bullshit like what fucked up my great uncle. What’s your angle?”

“I don’t know; aviation looks good,” Carl says.

“You gonna be a flyer?”

“I don’t know. Flight line looks good.”

“You don’t want that shit. Chinese and Russians been taking shots at the carriers,” Carlos says.

“Carlos Alvarez!” Smithson calls.

“That’s me, hermano. Think about it and good luck.” Carlos winks and slaps Carl on the back.

“I will, man, good luck to you too.”


Twenty minutes later, two L.A. County sheriffs come through the front door and scan the waiting area before heading into the back.


The sheriffs drag Carlos out handcuffed between them.

Carlos is still yelling “TWO FUCKING DAYS!” as he is being loaded into a cruiser.

After the commotion dies down, Carl tries pondering the pamphlets and what he can do in the “Global Force for Good.”

“Carl Howard!” Smithson calls.

Carl stands up.

“You got your application?”

“Yes, sir,” Carl says.

“No need to be formal. I’ll take that. Come on back with me.”

Carl is led into a back room with a scale, height measure, and a computer terminal.

“Alright, Carl, please take off your shoes and empty your pockets.”

Smithson takes Carl’s height and weight, then says, “Okay, good, now we’re just going to have you take a quick ASVAB, an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. I’ll check back on you in a half-hour, and while you do the test, I will review your paperwork. Oh, do you have your ID?”

Carl hands over his driver’s license before pocketing his wallet.

“Okay, good luck.”


After he finishes, Carl is still sweating over the math portion; not his best subject. He maintains his composure in front of a new petty officer named Klein.

“So what would you like do in the Navy?”

“Well, I was hoping you could give me some ideas. I guess I wouldn’t mind doing something like cryptolinguistics or aviation mechanics.”

Klein has a sharp intake of breath. “Umm, that’s possible, but first, would you like to enlist active duty or reserve? We have bonuses for those who sign up active duty.”

Carl thinks, Can I leave home? Can I do this?

“Well, I guess I could do active duty, but I would prefer reserve.”

Another sharp intake of breath by Klein.

“Listen, son, it’s been a long day and I can see you haven’t given this much thought. I can see it’s your birthday, so I know you got your Selective Service notification today. So you figure go blue to avoid the green machine. But let me level with you: at your weight, you are a cut below what we are taking, you only have three semesters of community college general studies, and you drive Uber on the weekends so you don’t have any skills we need. Right now, I am enlisting more college graduates who could be in the starting lineup for the Lakers as power plant mechanics, combat systems operators, and cooks than I can shake a stick at. My advice: go out, celebrate your birthday—but not too hard—and show up here tomorrow morning. There is a Marine recruiting station at the other end of the mall. Because the Army will take you, but if you start the process for the Marines, you will have a little more latitude if you volunteer. And even going combat arms with the Marines is a better deal than being an Army grunt. More professional force, better training, better officers. You might even want to try the National Guard. That is my recommendation, alright?”

Carl just nods his head slowly.

“Okay, I’ll hold on to your application. But give serious thought to what I said.” Klein pulls out a business card and a thick pamphlet. “Here is some information for the Marines; look over it tonight. There is the recruiter’s card. Staff Sergeant Gutierrez is a very decent man and he will work with you.”

“Is that it?” Carl asks.

“Yes. Good luck, Carl.”

Carl gets up, “Bye.”



Carl drives his puke-green wonder in a fugue state. He cruises the boulevard in an ever-widening loop until he ends up at the beach.

The world is on mute as the sun sets into the Pacific. A brilliant California sun arcing its way to the Far East, where young men are slogging through rice paddies and manning the line in Assam. On other far away palm-lined beaches, Navy amphibious ships cut through the surf, Marines secure beaches, Army infantry presses inland.

These thoughts haunt Carl with fear, guilt, and ultimately shame.

“I can’t do it. I can’t do it,” he sobs into his hands.


The week passes, Carl doesn’t see Sergeant Gutierrez, doesn’t see the National Guard recruiter. His mother’s tears are constant. He reads the copy of Dark Horse Presents he bought that day over and over again, not processing the pages. He cruises the streets, he cruises the Internet seeing if there is any way he could get a 4-F or even a conscientious objector status.

No dice.

Not even his mild asthma and baby fat would keep him out of boot camp.

One day, his mother makes him a large breakfast and he kisses her goodbye. Her tears come hard and fast.

At MEPS, he waits in a long line with other taciturn young men.

They are told to strip down to their underwear by an Army officer with a stethoscope. The floor is cold against Carl’s feet.

“Those of you who are here for the Selective Service, line up along the far wall. Those of you who’ve volunteered, follow me,” the doctor soldier says.

A tenth of those waiting in line follow the doctor soldier.

An Army sergeant enters the hall. “Those under 200 pounds line up by height to my left. Those over 200 pounds line up by height to my right!” he shouts.

Carl moves to his right and finds his place near the front of the line.

“The under-200, follow me, bring your shit with you,” the sergeant says.

Another hall, more soldiers with stethoscopes. Vitals are checked with rote efficiency; paperwork is passed out, filled out, and taken in.

Carl sees a number and letter he hoped not to: 1-A.

He is dressed now, waiting in another hall outside a series of offices. One by one, each is called in, and ten minutes later, they exit.

Uniformed federal protection services wait at each end of the hall.

“Carl Howard! Room 1020.”

Carl walks into a Spartan room with a small table and two middle-aged men in Army class A’s. Both are similar-looking, hard and stoic: one has a big red “1” on his shoulder, the other an Indian head patch.

The table is piled with paperwork and pamphlets.

Big Red One speaks first. “Hello, Mr. Howard, this is a quick interview to determine your attitude and any objections to the classification of 1-A, fit for unrestricted military service.”

“I have asthma.”

“Yes, we can see. Mild, not on any medications currently. So a very healthy young man. No major psychological or medical issues. No family reliant on you. Not employed in a critical industry. Fit to serve your country.”

Indian Head starts in, “Are you a Hutterite, Mennonite, Orthodox Jew, Seventh Day Adventist, or another religious denomination that prohibits serving in a combat capacity?”

“I have a moral objection to violence.”

“Sorry, that shit won’t fly,” Big Red One says, eyes turning into flint. “Unless you are officially a member of a religion that prohibits violence, you will report down the hall, take your oath of enlistment, or go to prison.”

Carl holds his hands behind his back to control their shaking. “I have a moral objection to being fucked by old shits who could give a fuck less about me.”


Carl starts shouting and grabbing at his hair, “I said you don’t give a shit. Take the illegals, take the trannies, take the queers, take the feminists, take the fucking Hindus, the Boomers, the soccer moms. BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T TAKE ME!”

Indian Head jumps up and says, “You fucking pussy, I lost friends in Iraq. Man the fuck up and do your duty!”

Carl continues, “No chink and no Russki ever called me privileged or a racist. Am I going to get a six-figure bonus, since I’ll be fighting something more than some sand niggers with AKs?”

Carl spits in Indian Head’s face and all hell breaks loose.

Indian Head roars, “You little fucker!” and tosses the table aside.

Carl dives in and dick-punches Indian Head, who lets out an sharp “Eeek!” and crumples on the ground. Big Red One grabs Carl in a bear hug. Carl jerks, ramming the back of his skull into Big Red One’s nose with a satisfying pop.

Big Red One lets go, clutching his face.

Carl kicks him in the balls.


When the protection services get to Room 1020, they find Carl, dick out, spraying urine on Big Red One and Indian Head.

“I guess this fucks my Army career,” he says.