Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Lioness has left the Streets

Ann Richards is gone, the great, funny, feisty woman who was Governor of Texas, beaten unexpectedly for re-election by George W. Bush in 1994, thus ending her own political career, and signalling the end of America's being held in esteem. I was with Ann in the earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco, where she'd come for a fund-raiser in her gubernatorial campaign, due to start just after the quake hit. So she huddled with a group of other women in Huntington Park, none of whom knew each other, waiting for the aftershocks. A friend came by and picked us all up and took us back to her house, built on solid ground, as Ann was. We spent the night by a great picture window, the living room lit by the firelight of explosions in the Marina, and each of us told our stories, like it was Chaucer.
Her story was best, because she was so ribald, and honest, and savvy, taking herself not so seriously as she did the future of the country. She had aged in the way that fortunate men do, so she was handsome, senatorial, her white mane leonine, her strong face craggy. At the time it occured to me she might become the first woman president, but of course we all underestimated George. As she was later to say to Harris Wofford, "Don't underestimate his skill as a campaigner."
It is a great loss to the political scene, an even greater loss to the nation, as she was the best of us: frank and forthright, but kind. We will not see her like again. Unless someone gets braver and funnier.
Went last night to yet another political event at UCLA, this one featuring Elizabeth Holtzman, who drafted the original articles of Impeachment for Richard Nixon's unseating, and who wrote an article in The Nation, calling up the same for 'W', whom I might have forgiven the squandering of Ann, had he not turned out such dangerous jerk. The other speaker was John Dean, of Watergate fame, who carefully weighed the offenses Holtzman listed as to whether they were legally impeachable offenses. He has become no less measured, if balder, and struck one again with his quiet intelligence, making one(Me, anyway) wonder how he could have ever allied himself with the people he did. But I have a once close friend who explained to me long ago he was a fiscal conservative, and liked the Republican conservatives better than the Democrats. He stayed my friend for almost my whole adult life until the rent in the country appeared, and we all stood on either side of the Great Divide,unable to speak to the opposition, even those who might once have been good friends.
John Dean lived up above me on Rembert Lane. I have a Friend, David, who once said I was Zelig-- that when these people turn up, I always know them. I had spent the early 70s devoted to the task of bringing Nixon down, in my head, anyway. During that period, my most metaphysical one, I was sure the Founders were all back, reincarnated, rather than simply twirling in their graves, determined to get the country in shape for the Bicentennial. As my looney but darling friend Pattie the psychic had said I was one of the Framers in a previous life, I hoped I was up to the task.
At the time, I was researching in Washington for my novel TheMotherland, staying in the home of my then good Republican friend, making friends with others of them, like Deputy Press Secretary Gerry Warren, who also gave me sanctuary when I went to D.C. Every time I would fly there from LA, something would happen to damage Nixon: Agnew's resignation, the Saturday night massacre, the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. So when I would call my Republican friends and say I was coming, they would respond with "Oh, my God, what's going to happen now?" Staying with the Warrens, every morning the phone would ring with at 4 AM with another revelation from the Washington Post. Naturally I began going as often as I could until I had finished my job, and Nixon was out of office.
All this time we were living on Rembert Lane, a fairly deserted street up off Cherokee Lane, with one vacant piece of land above us, on which building began. In the Spring of '74, on the day The Motherland was published, the house on the hill above finally finished, a moving truck having installed my new neighbors, the doorbell rang. I opened the front door and it was John Dean, asking to use the
phone. If anyone had doubts until then that in some invisible way I was connected, they sort of vanished. I wish I had those powers still. I wonder why it is that every time we have a Dick in the Executive branch, the country goes down the tubes.
I asked Gerry Warren when it was all over why he had let me observe so closely what was going on in the Nixon White House, when he knew I was the Enemy. He said "Because I knew you would be fair."
I try to be, but it gets harder. Still, I went to the event last night with a bossy Democrat I met at the Vidal event, who has a handicapped parking permit although she appeared okay to me. I asked her about it, and she said she has sciatica, and would be in constant pain if it weren't for taking Vicodan every few hours. I have a close friend who was famously addicted to Vicodan, so I asked this overbearing woman if she wasn't worried. "I am not an addictive type," she said to me as she drove me home, "so I don't have to be concerned." At that point she turned left into Barrington, in the wrong lane, and faced opposing headlights obviously driven by someone sane and sober, so they got out of the way.
It is a relief, somehow, to know that all those in denial are not Republicans.