Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Visit to NixonLand, part 3

See also Part 1 and Part 2.

Unbeknownst to me, John had been approached earlier by a pert young Nixonette who asked, with a teehee, if she could have one of those brochures. Once the reporters were through with us in the Watergate room, I expressed a desire to go see the Kennedy-Nixon debates. “Let us go contemplate the memory of John F. Kennedy,” I told Joyner. “Aloud.”

Suddenly we were in the presence of a Liddyesque character of about fifty who exuded an aura of sheer malevolence. “Allright,” he barked, “you boys are coming with me!” John and I fell into lockstep with him as he strode rapidly westward. He had the air of a man who was used to being obeyed. He was tall and gaunt, with baggy, cold, steel-grey eyes and a ring of silver stubble around the back of his skull.

“Why, sir?” I queried, “What’s wrong? Are we being thrown out?”

The skinhead dude waved one of my cubist Nixons at me. “That’s right. You can’t be handing out literature in here.”

“Well, gosh, I wish you had told me earlier. If only I had known...”

“What if,” offered John, “we stopped?”

“It’s too late,” he hissed, “you guys are out of here.”

Since it was clear that we were not being dragged into a back room and beaten with rubber hoses (an option our escort had no doubt written off with reluctance due to the large media presence), I decided to have a bit of sport with the man during our final moments in the library. The three of us were now striding into the large, resonant lobby area.

“Well of course you have EVERY RIGHT to throw us out of here,” I brayed. “After all, its PRIVATE PROPERTY!”

“That’s right!” Joyner chimed in. “And that’s what America is ALL ABOUT! PRIVATE PROPERTY!”

“YES! You bought it! You paid for it! And you can say WHATEVER YOU WANT in here! It’s not as if you were ACCOUNTABLE to the TAXPAYERS for the TRUTHFULNESS of your claims! It’s YOUR PROPERTY!”

Having deposited us at the front door, Mr. Skinhead turned his back on us as we thanked him for a pleasant stay. Pushing open the glass door, I was sucked from the air-conditioned comfort of the Nixon Library into the blast funace that was midmorning Yorba Linda. However, also in marked contrast to the immediate past, we now found ourselves accompanied by a library employee who was not the least bit intimidating.

His name tag identified him as Bill Shinkel, a barrel-shaped, sixtyish gentleman who was slow to grasp the situation. “So, how far do I have to go before I’m back on public property?” I demanded of him.

“Well, out there on Yorba Linda Boulevard, I guess.”

John, meanwhile, was hit with a flash of inspiration. “How about if I go back inside and see if they’ll let us stay if we get rid of the brochures?”

“Um, well, I don’t know,” offered Bill, as he turned to see Joyner disappearing into the edifice. John had spotted Garchik of the Chronicle chatting with library honcho Kevin Cartwright. “Did you know we got thrown out?” he opened.

Ms. Garchik thereupon expressed an interest in the details of our predicament, leading Cartwright to begin backpedaling. Overruling his zealous subordinate, he assured Joyner and Garchik that we would be welcome to resume our perusal of the facility if we refrained from dispensing our `literature.’

In the meantime, I had begun explaining to yet another reporter about my lifelong interest in Nixon, only to be interrupted by an inquiry from Bill. “Why don’t you just go through the normal channels like anyone else and get your book published, instead of handing out leaflets?”

“Well, it has been published, Bill; I published it myself.”

“What’s it called, then?”

The Nixon Saga: A Pathography in Twelve Parts.”

“Well, I never heard of it!” he blustered. “I haven’t seen it on any bestseller lists.”

“And you’re not likely to, either,” I smiled, at which point Joyner reappeared with a report on his successful negotiations. Now Bill became friendly once again, or perhaps he was merely trying to show us the error of our ways, by producing an actual Presidential Ballpoint Pen.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked gravely, expecting us to be impressed. “This is an actual pen used by President Nixon to sign a bill. They don’t hand these out to just anybody, you know.”

Obviously they do, I thought, but responded with enthusiasm, “That’s splendid, Bill. You’ve got to feel good about that.” Turning to Joyner, I shrugged “Come on, let’s get rid of this `literature’ so we can continue enhancing the quality of our experience here.”

Before long, the strength had been drained from my body during the sweltering trek back to our vehicle. Yorba Linda is a municipality remarkably hostile to pedestrian traffic, even by LA standards. John and I searched in vain along the endless strip malls for some sort of establishment at which to grab a bite and a drink. We finally spotted a doughnut shop, and, finding nothing edible, consumed several bottles of orange juice to fortify us for the task ahead.

Displaying our ticket stubs, we reentered Nixonland flashing a pair of toothy grins at the hairless security chief. The beam of concentrated hatred directed our way dissipated any thoughts we might have had regarding further gloating over our victory. “Now, before we were so rudely interrupted,” I turned to John, “I believe we were looking for the Kennedy-Nixon debates.”

I don’t know why we should have been surprised at that point, but the debate exhibit was a hopeless farce. Instead of letting JFK speak for himself, his views were summarized by a narrator, who offered several snide references implying that the only reason Jack was perceived as the winner was his photogenic pretty-boy image. We left in disgust.

John then suggested a look at the “Ask Mr. Nixon” exhibit, something he had checked out earlier. A touch-sensitive interactive video screen displays a computer menu of 400 preselected questions, which Nixon then `answers’ via clips of preexisting interviews. Joyner reported that most of the clips he had seen consisted of familiar Nixonian diatribes against the press, something we found particularly ironic in light of the generally uncritical media hype surrounding the glorious dedication ceremonies of the previous day.

Assuming in advance that I would find no questions regarding the blatant Mob ties of Nixon’s close associates Chotiner, Rebozo or Colson, or on his curious financial relationships with Nazi war criminals Malaxa, Trefil and von Bolschwing, I scanned the menu for other items of interest. Stopping at the category `US Presidents,’ I was given a choice between `before your term’ or `after your term.’ The former category covered FDR through LBJ, and upon pressing `John F. Kennedy,’ I found that the third question offered was, “Where were you when you heard about President Kennedy’s assassination? Touch screen to ask this question.” When I did, I was informed, “President Nixon will answer your question in 8.3 minutes,” so John and I settled into a pair of the plush theater seats.

As we chortled with glee at the huge Nixon’s evasions and obfuscations, I became aware of somebody crouching in the aisle next to me. It was Bill Shinkel. “Hi, howya doing?” he grinned.

“Great, Bill. How’s yourself?”

“Oh, good. So,” obviously checking up on us, “what’s up? I wouldn’t have thought you’d be interested in this part.”

“Oh, on the contrary, Bill, I’m very much interested. You see, I just asked Mr. Nixon what he was doing when he found out about the assassination of President Kennedy, and since he’s given several contradictory accounts of this, and lied to the FBI about it, I just wanted to see which answer he’s gonna give.” Big smile.

“Uh, well, good,” he muttered, somewhat taken aback, and left us in peace. Finally my question appeared above the wallscreen and a narrator’s voice intoned it portentously for me. That tight, familiar little mini-smile flickered across Nixon’s face for an instant as he began, “Well, of course, I was in Dallas that day, you know, at a Pepsi-Cola board meeting,” though of course that’s not what he told the FBI agents investigating the murder. He said then that he had left Dallas “several days earlier,” despite his widely reported press conference there on the afternoon of the 21st. Later he would claim to have hopped a plane to New York the morning of the 22nd, just hours before the shooting started, though some have said he calmly ran that board meeting until 3 that afternoon, with the other board members freaking out over news of the President’s death.

Whichever it was, the FBI kindly allowed Mr. Nixon to correct his `mistaken’ impressions of the moment no American alive that day will ever forget. He finally settled on the version that is immortalized at the “Ask Mr. Nixon” exhibit, to wit: he heard the news during his cab ride from the airport in New York, immediately phoned J.Edgar Hoover, and asked, was it “one of the nuts?” No, Hoover informed him, it was a communist. I watched Nixon’s eyes as he related the incident, and, just as I had while watching his televised speeches as a 12-year-old, found him less than convincing.

It was time, I decided, to share my impressions with Laura, the reporter from the Orange County Register, who we found in the cavernous lobby. She invited us to step outside and settle down on a shady stretch of pavement. Excitedly, I explained the disingenuousness of Nixon’s answer to my question, since the `communist’ Oswald had not even been arrested when the alleged conversation with Hoover took place. Furthermore, I informed her, both Nixon and Hoover had attended a `party’ the night before the assassination at the home of Dallas oil millionaire Clint Murchison, who was clearly tied in to the conspiracy against JFK.

At this point, I saw a number of emotions playing across Laura’s face. These fellows are plainly drug-addled, she decided, but they have obviously done their homework. At the same time, I could see some real curiosity over the mysterious circumstances of President Kennedy’s death, alongside a decision that this was clearly outside of her purview as a reporter. “So,” she chirped, “is there anything you like about Nixon?”

Left momentarily speechless, I allowed Joyner to field that one, and before long, the three of us had wrestled the interview to a finish (our views were not noted for posterity in the next day’s Register). John and I reentered the Library to begin more careful examination of some of the exhibits. As we walked into the Domestic Policy hall, somebody, somewhere had opened a forbidden door, thus setting off a high-pitched, squealing alarm that was to continue for some ten minutes until the Nixonites figured out how to shut it off.

At about this point, John and I decided we had wrung about as much entertainment value out of the Richard M. Nixon Library as we were likely to.  I muttered "let's bail," and we departed to spend the rest of the day at the more entertaining Griffith Observatory. But before we left, I couldn't help signing the Opening Day guest book with the name of "Jack Ruby, Dallas TX." I did so because of reports (possibly apocryphal) indicating that Ruby had worked for Nixon's HUAC committee back in 1947.

When the next guy in line signed the book after me, I heard him utter a low "Ohhhh, boy!" as we waved smilingly one last time at the security staff and emerged into the stifling Orange County heat.

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