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UCLA Olympics 1984

In 1984 Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The National Park Service decided to have a presence there and selected ten multi-lingual rangers to staff NPS information centers in the three Olympic Villages. I was thrilled to be chosen and was placed in the UCLA Olympic Village where I was paid to talk with athletes from around the world about national parks, America, apple pie, or about any other subject they wished to discuss. Being a true-blooded Montanan, I was not exactly looking forward to spending two months in Los Angeles, but I was excited to be part of the Olympics. As it turned out, during the entire games the weather was great, traffic was less than normal, people were in a good mood, and I decided I loved the beach! Maybe Los Angeles wasn't so bad after all.

One day in the village I was speaking with a Swiss athlete, Daniel Tschann. I asked him where he was from and he said near Bern. Since I had good friends in the Canton of Bern, I asked if he lived in the city or out in the country. He said he lived near Biel, so I asked if he knew where Tramelan was. He said, "That is actually the town I live in!" My friends, the Gerbers, lived two miles from that town, so I asked if he was by any chance familiar with the little village of Les Mottes (three houses!). He was stunned. Not only did he know Gerbers, but their son-in-law was his best friend! He assured me he would take them my best regards from Los Angeles!

In the Village we had a little Teddy Bear puppet, which looked incredibly lifelike. We named him Uly, short for Ulysses, since U.S. Grant was the president that signed the bill creating Yellowstone as the world's first national park. Particularly in the dim light of evening, Uly took on a personality of his own. We would carry him around and let people pet him. Most people thought he was real and would ask where we got him, or how old he was, etc. Occasionally when someone was petting him (still thinking he was real!), Uly would turn and snap at them, resulting in a few near heart attacks! Then we'd all laugh, and usually the victim would want to wait and see us do the same to someone else. I was the lucky one to inherit Uly after the games were over.

On Tuesday evening, July 10 occurred one of the most memorable events of my sojourn in Los Angeles. I was walking from the village to catch a bus on the corner of Westwood and Le Conte, when right in front of the UCLA Medical Center a man in a white lab coat came running across the street saying, "Sir, Sir, would you please help us with some medical research?" I was a bit confused, but crossed the street with him. He said they were doing some medical research and paying volunteers $10 to help them with their cardio-follicular study. They were trying to prove that men with more body hair have more problems with circulation. I asked him if he was serious and exactly what it was he wanted me to do. He said he would take my blood pressure, and then have me shave my leg, and he'd take my blood pressure again. I said, "Here!?" He said, "Of course, this is LA and nobody will even notice." I replied, "This may be LA, but I'm from Montana and to me it's crazy!" Then he wanted to know where in Montana I was from and was really interested in that. After a bit he said since I was from Bozeman he'd give me $20 - it's a grant and the money isn't that important - they just have to get the volunteers. I said I didn't mean to doubt him, but did he have any ID? He didn't have his card with him, but he showed me his research forms and the results of other volunteers earlier. Then I said I couldn't help him because I was in National Park Service uniform and with their strict standards I would lose my job. He said, "Nobody will even notice and people probably just think you got the outfit at an Army Navy store anyway." (Thanks a lot!!)

By this time he had upped the offer to $30 and $40, and with my financial situation at the moment he was reaching my breaking point in spite of the embarrassment. I had been in LA for several weeks and had not gotten my first paycheck. I asked why he came clear across the street to get me and he said because I was in a public service uniform he thought I would probably be more willing to help and be more public service minded. Finally he said $50 and so I had him explain exactly what he wanted me to do for the money. Then I asked to see the $50, which he gave me and I promptly put in my pocket. He then took my blood pressure and handed me an electric beard trimmer razor to shave my leg between the knee and the ankle. He had a box right there on the sidewalk for me to put my foot on even though I'd asked if I couldn't go around the corner behind a fence. What the heck - it was worth $50. Afterwards he took my blood pressure again, and when I asked the results he said, "Oh no, we did something wrong - you shaved the wrong leg!" I insisted that couldn't make any difference, but he said I was supposed to shave the side the heart is on. "No way! You told me what leg to shave!" He said, "I know, but I got so caught up talking about Bozeman that I didn't think." Then I felt kind of sorry for him because all I could think of was that he had given me $50 for nothing, but I wasn't about to give back the money. I asked if he felt bad and he replied that it was kind of a waste of time, but they could get others to volunteer. I said I was sorry and walked away.

On the street corner another man stopped me and introduced himself as being from Paramount Studios and said they were filming the whole thing for a TV game show called 'Anything for Money'! He said, "And you were great!" They show part of the film to contestants and make them guess if the 'victim' will or won't! I told him there was no way they could put that on TV or I would seriously lose my job, and I explained what I was doing in LA. He said it wouldn't even be on until September anyway. He explained all about what they were doing and since it was about 5:00 pm I was the last one and they started packing up for the day. There were camera crew people all over and I could see the two cameras, which had been hidden inside a van with dark windows. He had me sign a release and asked me if he could give me a check instead of the cash. I said I guessed that would be ok, but then he asked if I would take a check for $20 now and the remainder when and if it was aired. To that I said no, so he gave me a check for $50, which I promptly cashed at a Bank of America. I left a little wealthier and greatly amused!

There were a few minor repercussions while I was still in LA. I kept it pretty much of a secret except for a couple co-workers at the Olympics. We all agreed it would not be good if our NPS supervisors, Mary and Joan, found out! About a week after the incident, Mary invited us all to a pool party. How would I explain one shaved leg? Somehow I managed to hide it, but as the Games drew to a close and the stress level had dropped a few notches, I finally had to tell Mary and the others the story. They howled, but Mary did agree she probably would not have been as amused at the time. As a farewell gift she gave me a can of Nair (hair-removal cream)! I never did find out whether they used that episode on TV!

Kent Kauffman

March 2005


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