No. 3: Election Night, 1968

Harold opened his eyes and slowly readjusted to the cinderblock-and-linoleum box that was his room. The smudgy November sun was already setting — or was it rising? It was late — or was it early? Hard to tell when you’re an Architect.

Rothman had been toiling all night in the basement of Cleveland Hall, atop The Hill, working on his design project, a new species of lamp, something that Earth had not seen before — or so he had persuaded himself one night at the Green Caterpillar, after sneaking out and taking a few quaffs of Johnny Walker’s blackberry brandy. Said lamp came with an aluminum shade and went up and down with a pulley, or something like that. Harold had been up wrestling with the thing, under the influence and off, until 6 in the morning, trying to make the damn pulley thing work. But the hole he had made in the shade was too small and the contraption kept catching, much to the merriment of his fellow Architects.

Dejected, he had schlepped down The Hill at daybreak (if you could call that grey porridge of a thing slowly pouring over the Valley a day), just as the first bright-eyed squad of Engineer Nazis with their buzz cuts and 1,000-Yard Work-Study-Get-Ahead stares shuffled past, to Make Sure They Got Good Seats for 7 a.m. class.

This Ships-Passing-In-The-Morning thing was okay the first time, undergirding the feeling that You, as an Architect, were different, better, tougher, than those plebes in Arts, not to mention those rubes in Agriculture and those Nazis in Engineering (although you had to admit it, the latter did have their own deranged espirit de corps as well). Yeah, that had been kind of cool.

But now, as he lay there atop the repugnant corrugated brown bed cover he’d been too tired to lift, Harold had his doubts whether he really had what it took to be an Architect, doubts that had been reinforced by the unsympathetic section leader in Mechanical Drawing who kept reprimanding him for making craters instead of points. Maybe the Faye Dunaway poster floating over his head on the fishline hammock, which he’d fashioned by way of avoiding the prohibition against defacing those God-awful cinderblock walls, would have to suffice for Harold Rothman ’73′s contribution to Modern Design.

But he could wrestle with his destiny tomorrow. Something more important was happening today, November 5th, 1968. Today was the day the country was going to decide its destiny — today was Election Day! By this time tomorrow, the United States would either have a President Richard Milhous “Tricky Dick” Nixon or a President Hubert Horatio “Happy Warrior” Humphrey. According to the polls, the former possibility was more likely than the latter. But according to Walter Cronkite, whom Harold gathered to watch with a hundred other Plymouthians every evening in the TV room of Florence Bent Student Center, lately Hubert had been coming up, especially after starting to overcome his slavish loyalty to LBJ and criticizing, however mildly, the President’s war policy.

You never knew; maybe, just maybe, good old Hubert might do it. As a whole, the distinctly left-leaning campus, with its large SDS contingent, had seemed ambivalent about the election. This ambivalence was reflected in the article on the front page of The Plymouth Daily Clarion that Harold, still bleary from his all-nighter, read over his usual breakfast of Bo Burger and Chocolate Moo in the cafeteria of Toilsome Freshman Center, as a hyperventilating Janis Joplin riffed incongruously in the background, “Do you know what makes me feel–like you want to own the world–.YEAH!”

“I’m not sure it really matters,” one student was quoted in the article, headed “Students Questioned on Election” (next to another entitled “Pot Smoker Apprehended”). “I really don’t like Nixon,” the Plymouth sophomore said. “On the other hand, Humphrey seems like Johnson’s stooge.”

You never knew. After all, that what’s democracy is all about, wasn’t it? In any event, Harold was determined not to miss it. After all, this was his first election — at least, the first he was old enough to appreciate, even if he wasn’t yet old enough to vote. And so, as he had done on other historic-feeling days, like when Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy had been shot, Harold shifted into Newsreel mode. He was going to record the event for Posterity! YEAH!

***

There was a palpable buzz in the Harmony Room of the Bent as Harold walked in with the trusty Fujica 35-SE he had gotten for his Bar Mitzvah dangling from his neck, snapping photos left and right. Hundreds of students were milling about as the state-by-state results were projected on a large screen in front of the room. It was sort of hard to tell what was going on, but something was definitely happening. The numbers were close. Humphrey, of course, was ahead in New York. But he was also ahead, barely, in Ohio. Was it possible?

Suddenly, a cheer went up as the national count flashed on the board. Humphrey 22,500,000, it read; Nixon, 21,000,000. Humphrey was ahead! Far out!

Seized with the moment, Harold decided to visit Democratic headquarters downtown. He passed by the recreation room of his dorm; it was 3 a.m, but still, there they were, his fellow freshmen, in their t-shirts and BVDS, dead-eyed, watching Mike Wallace broadcast the results on the dorm’s black and white TV — as if it mattered…

***

Later the morning of November 6th, 1968 Richard Nixon regained a slight lead; by the following afternoon, he had been declared 37th President of the United States.

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