My Former UCLA Classmate Is Now A Lieutenant Colonel In The U.S. Army

In the fall of 1988, I believed life could be normal again. I hoped to find a doctor who’d discover what was wrong with me and then I would return to the action full bore.

I took three classes in my first semester at UCLA — second semester Calculus, European Economic History and beginning Japanese.

I met Arnold Strong in my Japanese language lab.

Japan was all the rage in the late ’80s. According to Paul Kennedy‘s 1987 book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, it was poised to become the world’s superpower.

We were only supposed to talk Japanese in our language lab but none of were proficient, so we kept lapsing into Spanish.

There was a bloke there named Klein who was 32 years old. We thought it was weird that he was an undergraduate at age 32. The rest of us were around 20.

Arnold Strong and I had a similar sense of humor. He was an English major while I was an Economics major.

One day in language lab, the teacher held up pictures. We were supposed to add “des” to the end of a name. When the teacher pointed at Arnold Strong, I said “Gorillades.”

For some reason, everybody cracked up and that became his primary name to me.

After eight weeks, my unredeemed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forced me to drop all of my classes but European Economic history. The entire school year, I finished but three classes.

It was frustrating to see everybody else move ahead with their lives while I only went backwards.

Arnold was my age but he was poised to graduate. It never occurred to us to try to stay in touch.

In the late summer of 1999, I got a call from Oregon. The man identified himself as “Gorillades.” He’d just read my profile in Rolling Stone magazine and it made him laugh.

We whooped it up for a few minutes and that was that until I found him on Facebook in August of 2010.

He’s the only person I am in touch with from my lost year at UCLA. I had a girlfriend that year but she’s married now and has a baby. I had Economics professor Russell Roberts for two classes who I admired. He was the first Orthodox Jew I met and he and Dennis Prager started me on my religious journey.

Dr. Roberts went on to publish all the books he was dreaming about in the late ’80s but we’ve had no contact for a decade.

I spent three years at Sierra Community College from 1985-1988, but I have only one Facebook friend from that time and we never talk.

When I feel sick, I get nostalgic and yearn to discover what my friends did with their opportunities life. I think about what might have happened for meif I had not crashed into a wall of chronic illness in February of 1988.

Wednesday afternoon, I talk on the phone with Lieutenant Colonel Arnold Strong.

Jan. 2009. First minutes back in Portland after a year in Afghanistan.

Meeting the future President in Spring of 2008.

Sierra Community College, June 1988, after winning awards for Student of the Year in Communications and Political Science.

On my girlfriend’s bed at Rieber Hall in the Spring of 1989.

At UCLA in August 1989.

Arnold: “I’m the CEO of a small software company called Bright Neighbor.

“The mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a major city in the nation, was one of our early supporters. He bought the first license of Bright Neighbor and deployed it for the city of Portland. It’s a social media application that focuses on community development.”

“I should finish a master’s degree in Strategic Communication at University of Oregon in May. I was there Monday watching the big Ducks game.

“You remember me at UCLA? I never once went to a football game. I just don’t give a damn about it. My wife Margaret told me when I was a young lieutenant, ‘Sweetie, you better learn something about football or your soldiers are going to think you are either gay or a communist.’

“My youngest son is a football player, so I’ve learned because of him. This season I’ve watched every one of the Ducks’ games because they’ve gone undefeated.”

Luke: “I interviewed the author Jesse Katz a few months ago. His mother Vera Katz was mayor in Portland for many years.”

Arnold: “I used to be on a radio show (Vera and the Voters) frequently with her. I was out of work at the time. I used to call in once a week.”

“After 9/11, I made a complaint. I called up and said there are all these ratty American flags flying all over the city. Every public park had these old ratty piece-of-crap flags. The whole ‘These colors don’t run’ idea. We should show greater respect.

“I said that on her radio show. She said she had come over as a Jew from Europe and it meant so much to her to see the American flag and the statue of Liberty. Within a week, every flag in every park in the city of Portland was replaced.”

“Our mayor, Sam Adams, was Vera’s chief of staff.”

Related Interviews: Authors Dexter Filkins, Steve Fainaru

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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