Nixon Memory Lane

This past weekend, we “celebrated” the 40th anniversary of the day Richard Nixon resigned as US president. The iconic image of that event was Nixon smiling and waving the “V-for-victory” sign (some of us knew it as the peace sign) over his head with both hands before ducking into the helicopter to be taken away from Washington for good.

It’s at times like these that I like to read the work of my all-time favorite Nixonologist, who – as Rolling Stone magazine’s representative on the White House press corps – was watching from the Rose Garden as the helicopter flew away.

I felt sorry for him. He hit his head. Right after he did this thing [makes the v-for-victory sign] at the helicopter door, he turned and lashed his head on the top of the rounded door, staggered sideways, and he was so  — in some jurisdictions we might have called it “luded out” — he was tranquilized. There’s a civilized word for it: sedated. He was almost led up the stairs. Yeah, I felt sorry for him. Can you imagine that ride west? Jesus Christ, they flew to Andrews Air Force Base, I guess, on the helicopter, and then they had like a six-hour flight to San Clemente. Whew. That must have been a really dark flight.

From interview by Matthew Hahn in The Atlantic

I didn’t watch the resignation speech on TV but I heard it on the radio. I was working that night, making popcorn and pizza and filling sodas at a drive-in theatre near my home town. I brought my radio to work, which was frowned upon but tolerated for this special occasion. I don’t know if I really remember or if I just want to remember that the first song the DJ played after the speech was “Kings”, from Steely Dan’s album Can’t Buy a Thrill. (“We’ve seen the last of good King Richard…”)

So anyway, this weekend I was passed a link to Nixon’s obit, which I found quite entertaining, but I knew there had to be something that was written on the occasion of the resignation. It took some digging to find a full copy of “Fear and Loathing in Limbo: The Scum Also Rises.” That was too much to read, but I did read the introduction, which is mostly a rant of anger and frustration. After having just submitted a 15,000-word piece on Nixon’s resignation, Thompson was informed that “Ford pardoned the bastard.”

Hunter Thompson and Richard Nixon were more than professional adversaries.. the way Thompson tells it, they were mortal enemies. But given a common interest, mortal enemies can become the best of friends, and for Thompson and Nixon that interest was football. Thompson was the only person on the press corps who could talk football, and Nixon knew it; and he would often seek him out when he wanted to talk football instead of politics. Thompson once wrote, “the only thing Nixon was honest about was football.”

The closest I ever came to Nixon was as a hitchhiker in the early 80’s. Running out of energy late one night on a trip from LA to San Diego, I was stuck in San Clemente and rolled out my sleeping bag in the bushes outside the gate to Nixon’s compound, where I slept soundly until the sprinklers woke me up at 5am.

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