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April 28, 1994
He was always alone.
Richard M. Nixon, the senior statesman of our American nation, died last Friday evening. The hospital bulletin, which went out to all the world, noted that the former president left this life with his family “at his bedside.” But as dying is something you have to do all by yourself, Mr. Nixon’s departure was quite in keeping with the way he lived. He was always alone.
Exactly one week, to the hour and moment, before this happened, Richard Nixon sat at table number 2 at La Cirque restaurant in Manhattan. Seated next to him was Bernard F. Curry and Curry’s daughter, Nancy. As Nancy Curry is a most beautiful woman, her entrance into the room did not go unnoticed by the former President of the United States.
It did not occur to them that Richard Nixon would never again sit at La Cirque. But, indeed, he would die in exactly one week, and my colleagues in the public press would rush for their one last chance to kick him around on the occasion of his departure.
As the political commentators recounted Nixon’s life in their usual, professional, and most objective fashion, one must note that the word “despised” spewed from their word processors only slightly more times than “hated” and “reviled.”
You see, I am an “expert” on all this because Nixon and I went to the same dentist. He got drilled and X-rayed just as I did, in the same chair. So, I can get on the radio and tell you all about his place in history. In this endeavor, I am being monitored and closely watched by faithful listeners who have been asking, “Just what will you say about Nixon on the local radio? I mean, given your history and all?”
Well, here it is: I liked the son of a bitch. I think we have lost a great man. (Oh, but you shouldn’t say that word on the radio! But this is Nixon we’re talking about. And he would understand.) I liked Nixon because he was a scrambler who could curse and swear and drink with the best of them and I don’t feel compelled to apologize for feeling the way I do about the flawed, imperfect, awkward, struggling man who was buried yesterday.
The moment I remember best comes from a fall afternoon twenty-six years ago:1968. Nixon, the presidential candidate, was coming up North Avenue in a gaudy, noisy motorcade. As he made his way slowly up the widest boulevard of our city sitting there with that goofy grin and hands waving aloft with the classic Nixon V-sign – he was greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds.
As it approached Mill Road, the motorcade swung to the right and climbed the two short blocks near St. John’s Wilmot Church. My infant son, Matthew, and I were on the corner at this intersection, the crowds and the noise being back on North Avenue – but Nixon was still waving like crazy.
Then, in an instant, the smile came off his face and, realizing he was quite alone, Nixon slid down into the back seat as the motorcade headed up Wilmot to find some more people who would make him President of the United States.
So now he’s gone – and back here in New York, where he lived his last twenty years, we will remember Nixon. For it was here that he rose up from the disgrace of a shattered presidency to become a true world statesman. It was here that he confounded the bastards who hated him. And it was here that he looked at the pretty girls at La Cirque.
But he was always alone.
(from his book, Airwaves.)