I don’t know why I’m always surprised when told that a certain amount of time has passed. After all, this is what time does. It passes. And yet when I heard that it has been forty years since the resignation of Richard Nixon I was again astonished.
It was the summer between my junior and senior years of college, and I was working as a busboy in Lake Placid, New York. It would prove to be an event-filled summer, four of which will always come to mind. One of the events, the death of Mama Cass Elliot, was sad. Two others—an arrest and the acquisition of a certain type of body lice--would involve me personally, and so be even sadder. The fourth event would prove to be the most historic, and that was the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
We, the younger generation, all despised Nixon, or at least we were supposed to. I never really could generate much of hatred for the man, but generally went along with the notion that his being forced out of office, and into disgrace, was a good thing. It would be another three decades before I would fully understand what it was like to truly abhor a sitting U.S. president.
Still, I knew that Nixon’s quitting, much like the moon landing and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, was a happening of historic proportions, and I wanted to see it. We had been told by the news people of the time that Nixon would address the nation that night, and while nobody could say for sure that he was going to resign, that would certainly be the way to bet.
And then there was my girlfriend Mandy. We had met in Lake Placid at the beginning of the summer and after a somewhat rough beginning (See “body lice” above) we had settled into a rather pleasant Adirondack romance. Mandy was a waitress, and worked in the same dining room as I did.
Just about all of the other waiters, waitresses and busboys had completed their dinner shift responsibilities and had headed back to the dorm, most likely to gather around their portable televisions to gleefully watch Nixon’s farewell performance. Mandy, for some reason, hadn’t yet finished up, and so I found myself getting more and more frustrated with her.
Now, here’s where things get murky. I’m not quite certain why my heading back to the dorm was contingent on Mandy concluding her chores. I can think of only two possibilities: either I couldn’t finish my job until she finished hers, or I was waiting for her so we could walk back to the dorm together. I’d like to believe that I was enough of a gentleman that the latter was the case. I suspect it was. I know one thing for sure: If it had been ten years earlier and the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan that night, Mandy would have been walking that dark, wooded path back to the dorm all by herself.
I couldn’t shake then, and I can’t tonight, the vague suspicion that Mandy was dragging her feet that night, purposely taking much longer at her job than she needed to. But why? Was there some reason she didn’t want me to see Nixon resign? Was she being playful? Spiteful? Was she (gasp!) a secret Nixon-lover?
And now forty years have passed and it looks like I’ll never know the answer. And if she did have a secret strategy to spoil my television viewing pleasure on that historic night, well, she failed. We arrived back at the dorm in plenty of time to adjust the antenna of my tiny black and white TV and watch Richard Milhous Nixon become the only president in history to resign from office. Mandy and I would resign from each other about a year after that.