Track Five: Bad Light

A Rose Mary Stretch of the Imagination, pt. 5

The story of Richard Nixon’s secretary, told as if Built to Spill’s seminal release Keep it like a Secret was a concept album about the Watergate Scandal.

It was 1973, it was summer, and it was hot. Rose Mary Woods was 55, alone in her apartment, and wide awake. Richard had called to say things were far worse than they’d feared. Pat was beside herself, it’s the Checkers speech all over again, she was saying. Richard put his wife on the phone so Rose could reassure her. Rose fumbled for some comforting thought, but she couldn’t find the right words. Then Dick got back on the line to say he was worried that the phones were bugged, and hung up.

This was different. This was not some public image hiccup that a speech, or an appearance could cure; not a trivial squall that an appeal to the American Spirit would clear up. A perfect storm was gathering, Rose could feel it in her chest. She had felt the same thing for days prior to receiving that terrible news during WWII.

With Haldeman out of the picture Rose had full access to the President again, but this almost made things worse. His paranoia was so pronounced, it was hard to overlook. She did her best to keep the wrong people away from Richard, but that was nearly everyone these days.

“No one is remembering any of the good I’ve done for this country,” Richard said over the phone, “What this country needs more than anything right now is one, single newspaper man with a firm background in remembering.”

He was in the office late again. He didn’t ask her to transcribe recordings anymore.

“I’ve been the president for five years! You can’t just explain away what I, or any of my staff, have done to keep this country moving with common sense. This is a complicated machine we’re running here.”

One evening Rose returned to the office. She’d forgotten to send a certificate earlier that afternoon. A boy in Ohio had saved 7 people when their car stalled on the train tracks, and Richard had asked that she let the boy know how interested the president was to learn that he had memorized the train schedules. She had written the note, but forgotten the certificate of outstanding service. Her heals ticked down the marble tile. The West Wing was otherwise eerily quiet.

A secret serviceman waited silently in one of the ornate chairs in the hall—the president was in his office late again. She paused beside the doorway and peered tentatively into the dim room. She saw Dick at his desk, in the dark, reading the instruction manual for the tape player.

He glanced up, not seeming to recognize her. She, however, recognized the look on his face immediately: Hope, extinguished. She hurried back to her car without the certificate, Nixon’s expression haunting her like a ghost from the past.

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