28 August 2010

UCLA PostScript

Johnny once asked me to write, in these memoirs, about 'zany' things.

Trouble is, there are too many of these that I am not going to write about - at least not published on the web - perhaps for shame, perhaps, in some cases, for fear of the consequences...

But before I leave UCLA behind completely, I suppose there were a few things that might be classified by Johnny as 'zany' - like:
  • one beautiful moonlit night we went up onto the roof of our dormitory, the ten-story Dykstra Hall, made enormous paper aeroplanes by taping sheets of newspaper together, and sailed them down to 'frat row.'  It was a heavenly sight, seeing them float down in the clear air.  It was less heavenly when, the next day, we were (identified by whom?  I don't recall) nabbed and made to go clean them all up.
  • the time Mike Raugh climbed up on the outside of the building from the 7th floor (the highest men's floor) to the 8th floor (the lowest women's floor), intending to climb through the window into the foyer by the lifts.  The dorm warden came out, saw him from the car park, and just about had a heart attack.  Mike did, indeed, climb into the women's foyer, and went down the lift - this being the safest way of getting him off the ledge!  Recriminations followed :-)
  • the time we found, by accident, that slapping the incandescent light bulb over the study desk in your room made it turn much brighter!  After helping a few mates brighten their lights, we then worked out why the bulbs burnt out after a quarter of an hour or so - tungsten filaments burn quite well if a little oxygen is let into the bulb.  After that, we managed to 'help' several victims, before the word got around that if I or my friends showed up at your door, lock the door!  It also wasn't very long before the same (suffering) house warden began to wonder why there were so many requests for replacement light bulbs (yes, he caught us, eventually, and threatened to make us pay).
My real farewell to UCLA, however, involved Lowell Wood, mentioned in an earlier post.  Lowell was a senior when I was a freshman.  For some reason, he took a liking to me, introduced me to my first computer programming experience, and when my final exam schedule for the spring semester, 1961, turned out to have all but one of my exams bunched into the first three days - and then nothing for a week and a half - invited me to spend a week-end evening at his parents' house in Simi Valley.

What I remember of that week-end was the mountain lion.

There was, Lowell said, some company's site near his house where rocket engines were tested - and he had found that a test was scheduled for that evening.  How cool would it be to try and see it??!!

Only difficulty, if course, is that they don't exactly invited casual observers.  But Lowell told me that he knew of a back way that we could use.  We could climb up on a cliff overlooking the place and see the test - he had done it before.  Was I game?

OK, I don't need to answer that :-)

Simi Valley is in desert country.  We drove quite a distance, the last bits of it, I think, on a dirt road.  When we got out, it was dusk and getting chilly - I wished I had worn a jacket or something.  The details have grown a little hazy in almost fifty years, but I remember we got to a place where there was a fairly high rock face - and a narrow cleft in the rock.  Up that, and - just as Lowell had said - we are on a ledge overlooking the installation.  Over there, Lowell says, is the frame they anchor the rocket motor to.

We wait ... and wait ... and it gets dark.  Lights come on around the place.  Finally it is clear that, as Lowell surmised, they have postponed the test.  It won't happen tonight.  Oh, well, let's go home.

Back down the cleft, Lowell in front.  Lowell in front, and then Lowell stops.  Johnny (as I was still called then) behind - "what's up?  Why have you stopped?"

Lowell: "there's something down there."

Johnny: "what?"

Lowell (hesitating): "it's a mountain lion."


Back to the ledge.  And - clearly - neither of us is brave enough to go down, in the dark, with a cougar at bottom.

It turns out to be possible to climb down from the ledge - inside the fence rocket place (I think it is the Santa Susan Field Laboratory, with the test being done by Rocketdyne).

Trying to walk out casually, inconspicuously, past the guard gate does not work.  We are taken into an office.  We explain what we are doing there.  A guy comes in with what I suppose is a Geiger counter, runs a wand over the soles of our shoes, and says, "they're clean" - Lowell's response, "what could we have done to get dirty" doesn't draw any response from the guards - perhaps they don't see the joke :-)

Lowell's father is called and he has to come out to identify us.  We are let go, about 10PM.  No consequences, except that Lowell's father is definitely not amused.

That was the closest I have ever got to a mountain lion - and I didn't even get to see it.

I have already been told I am admitted to University of California, Berkeley - roughly, to me at the time, like being told I was eligible to go to Heaven.  I go home, after my last exam, work night shift in the local Stokley-Van Camp (long since swallowed by PepsiCo) fruit salad cannery that summer, and in September, 1961 am off, driven by David Bennum, my high school best friend, to Berkeley.

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