Nixon without Tears

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

The young man stared fiercely at him.
"Man, I ain't no fockin Tony Orlando," he said in a New York bray, pointing to an awful hole in his temple. "I'm Freddy Prinze, man. Tony Orlando! I guess all us beaners look the same, huh? I got to stand still for this shit another hundred thousand years."

"Freddy...Freddy Prince?" he said. "Weren't you...Didn't you..."
"Prinze, man. With a Z. Yeah, I was and yes, I did, man. Hottest fockin young comic to come along since Richard fockin Pryor, and what I do but blow my fockin brains out. Now I got nothing goin on but a fockin pingpong tournament with Kurt Cobain, who fockin cheats, man, like it's gonna do him any fockin good. Like anybody down here cares if he wins, the new fockin kid in town."

"I, I'm sorry," he said. "I thought you were someone else. But...but...what was it you were saying about being, 'down here'?"

"Yeah. Meeda, man. What the fock you think happens to a good Hungarican Catholic boy gets loaded on coke and perforates his brainbox?" Prinze said, warming to his routine. "You think even if they put him in a white coffin and his obit runs above the fold in Variety he gets to ride the escalator to Heaven? Shit. An' I thought you was supposed to be smart. My moms voted for you."

"You mean this is...this is..."
"Hell, yes. Man. Get on in there and take a number," Prinze said. "An' hey, don't take any of this shit personal, okay? I'm having a bad eternity, man."

The younger fellow waved him on, and he moved farther into the light, confused by what he was hearing. He'd worked so hard the last twenty years. Writing books. Making speeches. Giving interviews to the proper people. Moving back into the arena, warily but confidently. Making sure Henry and he stayed in touch. Those T-shirts that circulated the last two elections, the first tentative reappraisals by the media about his role as a statesman. Clinton calling on him, maybe a little too eager to please, didn't have the bile you needed to go the real distance, but it was nice to have a president sucking up after all those years in the wilderness. His trips to Russia, even if that rancid wardheeler Yeltsin had snubbed him the last go-round.

It all had been coming together, so much so that he'd been looking forward to the summer of '94 not with the dread he'd felt in '84, when the hacks and buffoons came out from under their paving stones to barf the predictable gouts of swill about driving a stake into the heart of the American people's trust for their leaders and dividing voters from government with a toxic wall of suspicion and practicing the sledgehammer politics of rancor and self-interest, but with the elated sense that he'd outlived his reputation, that he could go to his reward secure in the knowledge that his place in history was assured.

And now this. He took refuge in a growing sense of acceptance that seemed to be pervading his being. When he'd been alive, his motto had been, "Never complain, never explain." Now, in death, he had to keep living up to that creed.

"Dick, Dick Nixon -- is that you?"
The voice was like Prinze's but far more polished, a nasal Eastern honk that had affected him the way fingernails on the blackboard did ever since they'd met at the Waldorf in '52.

"Hello...Nelson," he said. In other circumstances, there would have been the awkward moment of having to negotiate a handshake with someone he did not want to touch, but this was different. The other man, whose face had the squint of a smiling Komodo dragon, approached.

"Hey, Dick! How you doing! Sorry about Pat. She was a fine woman, a fine woman. Say, why don't you join us over here? Roy Cohn and I were playing cribbage, but we can make room."

Rockefeller and his creepy schoolyard familiarity, he acted like every toad on the planet had been his roommate at prep school. Thank God for the afterlife's insubstantiality, or he'd have tried an embrace. A smaller, equally reptilian figure reclined in a corner, lids at halfmast. The figure waved. He waved back, feeling more comfortable with the gesture than he had in years.

"Mr. President."
Rockefeller's shade intervened. "So whaddayasay, how about a few hands, huh? You always were a card player, as I recall."

"Well, yes. I did like a good high-stakes game, Nelson," he said. "But I just got here, and I'm a little at sea. I'd like to get my bearings, then maybe we could sit down. It's been a long time."

"Too long, Dick. Too long. See ya!"
"Say, Nelson. One thing. You mentioned Pat, and that was very nice of you," he said, groping for words as he remembered the awful days after they'd buried her. That was when he knew his end would come sooner rather than later. He just didn't have any company any more, not the way she had been. "I suppose that means you people here follow what goes on in the world..."

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