Nixon without Tears

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

"Oh, sure," Rockefeller said. "We're wired. Too bad you didn't have access to the technology we have back in the old days, Dick. Woulda saved you a lot of trouble."

Fuck you, Rockefeller, he thought, spreading his best campaign grin across his face. "As I was saying, I was looking forward to seeing her, and I was wondering..."

Just past the niche where Cohn sat, a ruckus had arisen. He noticed that although the bright and hazy light conveyed a sense of intimacy, they were in a great hall, bigger than any he'd ever seen, with enormous columns rising out of sight at the edge of his peripheral vision.

"Hey, hey! That's enough out of you two! Break it up!"
The speaker was a bearded man in a blue wool uniform who separated the combatants and held them by the scruffs, shaking them. The one on the right was another dimly recognizable face, the way Prince or Prinze or whoever had been. The other mug he knew as he had known his own father's. But the shock of recognition was not mutual.

"Murray! Murray Chotiner!" he exclaimed. "It's me, it's Dick. Dick Nixon!"
Chotiner opened his mouth in a gibbering fashion, the jaw working like that of a dodderer on a park bench trying to recall his own name, but before he could speak, the bearded man had drawn back his arm and swept the old Republican away.

"Hold on a moment," the bearded man said. "I'd like to introduce myself. Ulysses S. Grant, at your service. This is my command, and I'd like you to know I appreciate what you did upstairs. I doubt that young rascal will be troubling us any time soon."

He nodded, his earlier wave of acceptance deepening, so that he was starting to embrace volumes, to become multitudes.

"I'm Richard Nixon," he said, unable to avoid straining for the wryness that had always escaped him. "We occupied the same position, I believe."

Grant snorted. "If you say so," he said.
"Oh, I was speaking in the historical sense," he replied. "Anyone with half a brain knows our presidencies were very different. Different times, different contexts. But we both were commander in chief."

"Technically speaking, I suppose that is true," Grant said. "But what in the name of Heaven were you thinking when you ordered those goddamned uniforms for the White House guard? Was that some kind of prank? You had everyone here weeping with laughter. My Zouaves never looked that silly, and they looked pretty damned silly, even when they were fileting Lee's boys. By the way, one of my duties is to assign bunks."

He jerked on the collar of the fat young man who'd been tussling with Chotiner. The guy had a demonic gleam around the eyes.

"May I present your bunkmate," the general said in formal tones. "John Belushi, Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon, John Belushi."

All at once he was flooded with awarenesses. This was Hell. He had not succeeded. He would never get to see....

"That is correct," Grant said, reading his mind. "Your wife is upstairs. She received a special commendation for service above and beyond the call of spousal devotion. But she sends her regards."

The Belushi fellow was crouching like a sumo wrestler, getting closer and closer, reaching out with pudgy fingers that twitched like insane forms of deep-sea life.

He realized there were other faces coming at him, one deviant surprise after another, the coruscating cocktail party gantlet of history past, present, and future that he would have to run forever as a permanent alien resident of a republic of liars and cheats and human failures, his own lying and cheating and human failures having borne him along as scum floats atop the currents of a poisoned river.

In the hospital, already growing distant from matters of life, he'd tried to imagine what it might be like if he landed briefly where Mao and Zhou and Hitler and Stalin and Benedict Arnold and Richard Speck and his junior high football coach surely had wound up.

He'd wondered if there'd be an official tour conducted for dignitaries visiting from on high who were interested in learning how the other half lived after. But this was different. This wasn't a familiarization lecture, or a jolt of adrenaline from his past, Argentina and Peru in '58, spittle dripping from his chin, and rocks grazing his earlobes and that hot core of volcanic rage he'd been husbanding so long giving him the strength to challenge those little brown punks. Nor was this the hard road of the middle Sixties, gnashing down every rubber chicken from Kalamazoo to Kilmarnock as he made his bones yet again with the party's minor-league sachems.

No, this was the real war, a permanent state of lifeless aggression in which his hatreds would do him scant good. He was going to have to face the parade for the rest of eternity, like Freddie Prinze facing his pingpong partner, except that Prinze wasn't in his phylum. He was a much bigger dog than poor headholed Freddie, and that meant a longer, wider parade of the criminal, the wicked, the vicious. He'd have to see Lyndon again. Daley. Chambers. McCarthy. Haldeman. Mitchell. Hunt. My God, the realizations bore down on him like blows from a trip hammer.

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