50 years ago, today, I was cutting my morning classes.
Actually, I'd been cutting classes all week. There was something more important going on and I was in charge of a small part of it. It was my job to make sure that my fraternity's float for the homecoming parade was bitchin.
It was homecoming week -- when homecoming meant something to all Bruins.
Homecoming meant the rivalry game -- the only rivalry game -- sc.
Homecoming meant a week of rallies -- real rallies, thousands of students turning out to start the frenzy that would build to an explosion in the Coliseum with the kick off.
Homecoming meant a parade, the night before the game. A real parade with floats, bands, students -- passion and excitement celebrating all things Bruin and denigrating the enemy, sc.
Our float was ambitious. I wasn't sure we would be able to pull it off -- so, on November 22, 1963, I was on campus, with my brothers, trying to hold down the panic of potential failure.
I look back at that concept and wonder.
At each end of the flatbed, we erected goal posts. We created a faux football field 3' above the bed of the trailer.
Between the goal posts, we had a long pipe. On the pipe we had a turkey -- with a tommie trojan head on it.
Under it, flames -- not real flames, but the crude appearance of flames.
The concept, we were roasting the trojan turkey for Thanksgiving.
Back in those days, floats were made of wood, chicken wire and crepe paper. You framed and shaped the elements and then gave them color, definition, and soul by stuffing the crepe paper into the chicken wire gaps. Easy stuff. But, it could not be done without a lot of beer.
So far, so good. We had a football field, and on the rotisserie, a trojan bird.
My biggest concern was whether we would be able to make that rotisserie turn.
None of us were engineers. The plan? Gears on the "spit" connected by bicycle chains to pedals in the space under the faux field. In that space, one of my pledge brothers would pedal to turn the bird.
Flipping the bird. That was my biggest concern.
I remember when I first heard the news. Someone came running up "The President has been shot -- killed." No one believed him -- we thought it was an RF, a very bad RF.
But, the tears in his eyes were too true to doubt. And, then, people started tuning their transistor radios away from music to news.
I remember this all very clearly.
When people of my generation are asked for our most memorable moment -- and where we were -- for most of us it was the moment we learned that our President had been assassinated. For me, I will always know where I was, working on that float on the UCLA campus.
Looking back, I wonder what this world would have been like if our President had lived to serve his entire life. I say "our President" because, we, the young people of this country felt like we had elected him. He was us. He was our hope. Our future. We were excited by the possibilities. Optimistic. Active.
Looking back, I wonder if I would have been a different person had I not experience this as a part of my UCLA community a smart and sheltered place within which to experience it, grieve and learn.
And, today, looking back, I wonder if that float would have worked whether that tommie turkey would have turned. Laughing about that tempers the tears in my eyes when I think about 50 years ago, today.