Nixon without Tears

Dead, yes. Buried, yes. Gone to Heaven?

That seemed so long ago, having to push himself at other people. School days in Yorba Linda with them feeling sorry for him about Arthur and Harold; the penny-pinching slogs through Whittier and Duke; getting on-stage for the school debates; kissing ass to no avail at Sullivan & Cromwell and the FBI; back to horrible little Whittier until the OPA took him for his first taste of Washington; the war and those shipboard poker games all night across the Pacific; the early campaigns; the business with the goddamned slush fund A good Christ, it had seemed he'd spent his adult life having to turn himself inside out like a poor man's pocket to every cheapjack son of a bitch he met, and how good it had felt when he won the big one that first time in '68 and could sit in the office with the door closed, Rosemary and the Germans outside like mastiffs, young Buchanan ready to throw himself on a grenade. After that the names and faces got fuzzy, but he knew they were outside and he was inside, and that was the way they all wanted it.

Funny how he'd attracted that sort, since he was not that sort himself. Buchanan, Liddy, what's his name, the Jew who set up the kitchen debate with Khrushchev, Safire maybe, a whole long list of acolytes and adulators, the little people he couldn't stand to be around. If he had been a pharaoh or a Tang emperor, they'd have marched into the ground behind his body.

They saw something even he didn't see, at least until a good way into the game. He looked in the mirror and saw a tough man, fair but tough, ready to give as good as he got and then give a little more, the way he had with Voorhis and Hiss and Douglas, the way he'd learned to give it back to them when he was a kid in the groves and on the playgrounds and Quakers were down there with the Mexicans and the Chinese. But mostly he saw a practical guy, a dayhop work-your-way-through type, not a hail-fellow-well-met or a fraternity boy or a Harvard or a Yalie, although if Harvard or Yale would have thrown more money when he was hungry and broke, he'd have jumped.

But they didn't, so he'd scrabbled through Whittier, sucking the same sad Southern California dust he'd sucked his whole life, until he got the ticket to Duke. By that time he was through wishing he'd gone Ivy and had decided he was a Westerner, a pragmatist, ready to do what he had to do, say what he had to say to get the job, and to get the job done.

Where he saw calluses and common sense, though, the others saw an icon, a statue, someone A something A they could believe in, lean on, cling to. He'd never given in to the clinging part, but gradually he had come to join them in their convictions, until his belief in his own inevitability and their belief in his infallibility (my God, listen to me, he thought; I sound like I'm running for pope!) had taken him as far as he'd ever dreamed, and farther.

It was time to go; he sensed it quite clearly, even though no one was telling him. But where? He looked in the mirror on the back of the door and saw nothing. He decided to let himself float, the way he had seemed to float out of his body there under the sheet, the way his old strategic reserves of anger had seemed to float away, and see where the floating took him.

Where it took him was out into the hallway, then to the elevator. An orderly stood at the door with an empty gurney. In his condition, it seemed silly to be using an elevator A maybe that could be another joke A but the door opened and the orderly pushed his gurney in and he followed. As in his old room, there was no noise, although the gurney obviously was clacking and creaking for lack of repair, and the young Negro (black, er, African American, damn it, he was trying to get with the program but they kept changing the goddamned rules) pushing it was singing. The kid was wearing one of those little headphone-radio arrangements that reminded him of the crystal set he'd had when he was a boy. Before tonight, when he was stuck in the bed with the tubes and the wires and one of those fellows would come in to do something, change the IV bottle or whatever, the chittachittachitta from the drummer's cymbals would be leaking out of the headphones, making him wish he could smash free of the aphasia and his broken body to tell the bastard to turn the fucking rock and roll down so a person who'd had a stroke could die in peace of a swollen brain, but now he could only watch the gurney kid's lips and try to guess what the words were. He had no idea.

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