New York City, summer of 1973. After my third vodka martini on the rocks at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel I head west on Central Park South, toward the subway station at Columbus Circle. At the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton a crowd mills about. In a roped off press section three TV cameras are on tripods, surrounded by assorted sound technicians, still photographers, producers, print journalists, well-combed talking heads.
“What’s going on?” I ask one of the reporters, who is scribbling on his narrow notebook. He turns, and looks at me.
I am in full corporate mode. Short hair, dark blue three-piece suit, polished wingtips, a chrome-trimmed Samsonite attaché case. He frowns in distaste. To him I am another one of these asshole businessmen, or maybe a fucking PR flack, or spin doctor, or advertising account executive, all of whom he loathes.
His dismissive, disapproving look stings me. I want to explain that he’s got me totally wrong. Hey, not too long ago I was a newspaper reporter just like you! My beat was U.S. District Court! I also was the paper’s music/drama critic! I’m not who you think I am!
“Nixon is on his way,” the reporter says, and returns to his scribbling.
The uniformed doorman opens the door of the shiny black limo. Richard M. Nixon, the president of the United States and leader of the free world, emerges. He grins and waves to the applauding, screaming crowd. He’s in a black suit, white shirt, blue silk tie. He’s tanned rich brown. He shakes the doorman’s hand. “Good to see ya,” Nixon says in that familiar voice. Resonant. Confident. “Good to see you too, Mr. President,” the man replies. Nixon walks briskly toward the hotel’s entrance.
A series of thoughts flash rapidly through my brain, one after another. This is a public street, isn’t it? I’m an American citizen and a taxpayer, aren’t I? Am I not therefore entitled to enter this hotel like anyone else?
And then, in the sort of impulse understandable only to lunatics and drunks, I duck under the rope and follow Nixon through the door. I am not more than four feet behind him. I note his impeccable white shirt collar, the wrinkles on his tanned neck, his neatly combed thin black hair, his lint-free black suit jacket, the sharp crease of his trousers, the shine of his black shoes.
I think, as I walk an arm’s length behind the president, if I had a gun, I could shoot this guy dead. Right now. Why haven’t I been stopped? Where is the Secret Service? Are these morons asleep on the job?
As the president and I walk through the lobby, a large number of people on both sides applaud and shout. All their eyes are fixed adoringly, fawningly, on the most powerful man on the face of the earth. Their applause and shouts and stares and idiot grins are a hot wave of energy. Palpable. Nearly overwhelming.
I stop, and the president disappears into the crowd.
“Guess who I ran into on Central Park South half an hour ago,” I said to Barbara when I got home.
“Richard M. Nixon.”
“Sure you did.”
Six O’Clock Action News. NBC. CBS. All of them had exactly the same videotaped coverage. Nixon’s limo pulling up. The president emerging, smiling, waving. His shaking the doorman’s hands. His walking to the front door. And then…
A tall, skinny, grim-looking guy in a three piece suit, carrying an attaché case. Obviously an important member of the president’s entourage.
Barbara stared at the screen in utter astonishment, as I switched the channels from one to another. Same footage. Repeated over and over.
My idiotic decision to duck under the rope might have led to a much different outcome. Rather than the big Narcissistic rush of watching myself on TV that evening I might instead have been tackled, thrown to the ground, handcuffed and hustled into a Secret Service car. They interrogate me for six, seven hours before they finally decide I am not really an assassin, but rather just a totally stupid drunk.
I imagined it, I could see it clearly. At an impromptu news conference the president’s press secretary issues a statement describing exactly what just went down at the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton, and then he answers questions.
Yes, this goofball’s blood alcohol level is WAY up there. He’s an editor for some big corporation’s PR magazine. Olin Corporation, I think. But I suspect he won’t be holding that position tomorrow. Yes, he’s an American citizen. Last name? P as in Paul. A.L.C.E.W.S.K.I. Address? I don’t know, somewhere on the upper West Side. Any more questions?