Nixon without Tears

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

When the elevator doors closed, he experienced a moment of panic about whether, without actual fingers, he could make the buttons work. But the orderly punched "L" and the car moved down, slow and smooth, like an armored limousine. At the lobby he waited for the gurney to turn right, then he set out for the nearest door. It opened onto York Avenue. He headed north, through a crowd of reporters and camera operators that was beginning to disperse, like his perception of his body.

He was walking with his usual gait, but it was not the same as it had been for the last decade. He had no sense of weight or infirmity; he was moving as he had when he was young, before the taxi door in '60, and the phlebitis, before all the scars and all the years. It had been a long time since he had walked anywhere alone, and a longer time since he had walked anywhere in any company with this much energy.

It was a warm night. He couldn't feel anything, but the East 60s were full of people, and he could see the way they were dressed. A breeze caught the black velvet hat of a young girl walking a cocker spaniel just ahead. When she bent to grab the hat, her short plaid skirt shot up, revealing slim thighs converging in black lace drawers.

It's good to be dead, he thought, remembering hard-ons past with the same distant reverie as had neutralized his old angers A until he realized she could be his granddaughter, maybe younger, and the reverie gave way to shame. But the shame, which once would have burned through him like electricity through shorted wiring, to smolder until it was at a point just short of combustion, was as distant, in fact was about the same sensation, as the puerile joy of catching a flash of panties beneath the streetlights. He smiled, and it was not the rictus grin of life, but an easy curve of enjoyment, one he knew from boyhood but had abandoned along the way.

The girl and her dog disappeared into a building. For no reason he could discern, he felt himself pulled toward Grant's Tomb. He'd been there years ago, some ceremony or other, but once he and Pat had moved to Park Ridge he only glimpsed the mausoleum from the far side of the Hudson, or on a news show about its miserable condition. As he walked he felt himself lighten further, the hunch going out of his back like a sigh.

He vaguely knew the route between the hospital and the tomb, but to tell the truth, his New York was a New York of already-made arrangements and drivers and waves from strangers and smiling doormen and eager hosts and hostesses.

He began to zig and zag through neighborhoods near where they had had houses years before. After his brief elation at walking, he noticed he wasn't even doing that any more; it was more like floating, and floating faster and faster at that.

There were other changes. The city had taken on a glow he'd never noticed. For a moment he thought it was the pollen and the spring sunset, but then he realized he was in the New York of the Dead, a Manhattan in which intermingled generations and eras gone by. One second the street was in the modern moment, except that its only inhabitants were those, like him, who had just passed away A drug addicts, matrons, murdered children, they all wore the same startled look as he, and seemed ready to grab at him the way they had when alive. The next moment, it was the 1890s, and the dead were from the last century, pocked and ragged or plump and hemorrhagic. Then it was 1945, and the dead wore khaki and policemen's blues and zoot suits. Then Dutchmen and Indians, then the scores stomped down in the draft riots of 1863, then the cordwood stacks from the influenza epidemic of '18. If he had still had his sense of balance, the array would have dizzied him.

But he was long past needing a sense of balance.
"Passed away" A if the living only knew how accurate that term was! He was passing away before his own dead eyes, slipping into a stream that was carrying him into history and, he hoped, Heaven.

Across town he sped, frictionless in the last shreds of gloaming. He crossed the park, coming out at 72nd Street, and now the tableau was of that musician, the Beatle with the Jap wife and the immigration problems, lying in the entrance to the Dakota, with a fat boy holding a .38 over him muttering, "Mister Lennon? Mister Lennon?" He had his own flashback, to that damned picture with Presley, the most requested item sold by the Archives, of all things to be remembered for, the singer in his ridiculous getup and his eyeliner trying to finagle a federal marshal's badge. But no more time to reflect than that, because the next second he was at Broadway, moving north like a bullet to 83rd, where he noticed the little sign designating it as Edgar Allan Poe Street. He veered left, traveling without sensation to Riverside Drive, and after pausing at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument A to those in peril on the sea, he hummed A he was at Grant's Tomb, wondering what would happen next, whether he was going to be the butt of some cosmic joke. Who's buried at Grant's Tomb? Richard M. Nixon, that's who.

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