By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
God bless you, Richard Nixon.
* * *
Must . . . have . . . fresh . . . air!
Outside a warm wind blows along the route paralleling the reflecting pond. The grounds open up to the grassy areas and gardens surrounding the modest, white house where Richard Nixon was born. I follow a curvy cement path to the humble abode and after a turn, seemingly out of nowhere and with nothing to indicate this is where they are, I find I am standing above two simple black marble burial markers for Pat and Richard Nixon. Her epitaph reads "Even when people can't speak your language, they can tell if you have love in your heart." She was always pleasant enough and certainly didn't seem to deserve her lot in life, so that seems fitting. Moving over to her husband's: "The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker."
Maybe it was the movie and the various other displays on the way to this gravesite—coupled with that pleasingly warm Yorba Linda wind blowing in one ear, dancing around the mushy membrane encased in the skull and then wafting out the other—but that epitaph now seems appropriate, especially right here and right now, for a great man who in every other context until the end of time will be defined by Watergate. For perhaps the first time ever, I feel a positivity toward the guy six feet under my feet, and a tingling feeling that . . . Uhhh . . . what the hell?
Suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. Something ain't quite right. A quick glance to the right and that something is revealed. Someone is standing about 30 yards away from me, staring back in this direction, following my every move. A female security guard with a wire running out of her blazer and up to her earpiece can't even hide what she's doing behind those Polaroids.
And that's when it hits you. Richard Nixon—unjustified paranoid. Why of course! It all makes sense! Right here, right now.
Anyone else want to dick with Dick's security detail? First duck behind the large tree just west of the department store-bought kit home where Nixon was born in 1913. When the guard looks the other way to see where you went, dart over to the house's north wall opposite the guard perch facing the gravesite. Then scamper over to the front door and whip it open just to be told by the schoolmarm-like old-lady-docent to please exit until the next tour.
Finally inside, my mind drifts back to the early Nixon family timeline in the lobby, which included a copy of young Dick's eighth grade "Autobiorgraphy." He began by saying he lived in a big two-story building with a large fireplace. But, looking at it, the fireplace is tiny and the top floor bedroom is more like a converted attic. Was this really considered a big building in those days, or was Nixon already stretching the truth by grade eight—a skill that would serve him well (and unwell) in politics?
Also on display is a presidential helicopter (it's smaller inside than you might imagine), the East Room reproduction looks reproduction-y and this particular month's visiting display, horses and presidents (enough with the Abigail Fillmore jokes already!), is disappointing.
Much has been written about the Watergate display and how incomplete it is. True enough, the degree of incompleteness is so glaring that it practically renders the whole place deceitful. And that's a shame. It's unlikely that enough truthiness could be pumped into this place to satisfy Dick's most vehement critics; but this facility would warrant landmark status if someone would just crank down the cheerleading a few notches and get real. Who knows? Maybe the arrival of the National Archives, which militantly guards the government documents in its care (the FBI busted Clinton crony Sandy Berger for illegally removing documents from the National Archives), will rub off on the RNL&B overlords.
Meanwhile it's the Nixon memorabilia permanently housed in the main library building that impresses me the most. Everything is organized quite expertly, and no matter how you feel about the bastard he was a major player for much of the last century. That he rose to such a position of height from such humble roots is indeed astonishing. And he's all ours, baby.
Walking toward the gift shop (half price on books by Newt Gingrich, Hugh Hewitt and the rest of the right-wing rogue's gallery), the blue-blazered docent who'd been so helpful has a question.
"What did you think of the film?" he asks.
"It was great. This whole place is . . . great."
My fellow Americans, let me make this perfectly clear. It is now time for a shower. 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 993-5075; www.nixonfoundation.org.