Track Four: Sidewalk

A Rose Mary Stretch of the Imagination, pt. 4

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.

Dick would not back down. The FBI would not back down. The media was working itself into a frenzy. The Senate would not back down. The CIA would not step up. Bob Haldeman had wormed his way into Dick’s inner circle and he would not let Rose in half of the time, and now the Supreme Court was getting involved.

Aides, press secretaries, interns. No one was safe from the press. Every morning one meeting followed another: briefing, debriefing, phrasing, rephrasing.

“Break it up!” Bob circled the office waving his arms shooing everyone out, “Come on, break it up! This has gone on long enough, now. You all know your angles. Get back to work.” John Dean caught Rose’s arm on their way into the hall and rolled his eyes. Rose smiled slightly and kept walking, arm in arm, with the counselor.

“It’s only going to get worse from here,” he said. “I’ve gone over it with him three times. I’m convinced all he’s hearing is ‘lawyer, lawyer lawyer.’”

“John, you’re a dear. I know you care. It’s not that he doesn’t understand what you’re saying. He does, on some level,” Rose patted John’s arm before disengaging her own. She stopped at end of the corridor, “But he’s a fighter.”

“Can’t you talk to him?”

“John, I can’t get the time of day past Bob right now. You know that.”

John sighed. He looked helplessly at the overflowing dossier under his right arm. As he continued down the stairs toward the lobby Rose watched him with a pang of pity. John Dean was young, an idealist and at times hopelessly naive. But he was also surprisingly earnest.

With the chief of staff pushing her out (temporarily), the distance brought with it a certain degree of clarity. The whole administration was in a frenzy, furiously constructing statements and histories, trying to bushwhack their way out of a crisis that showed no signs of thinning. No one could get in front of it. She could see where John was coming from, and she respected his admiration for the president. Even so, Rose knew Nixon would be forced to get rid of Haldeman soon. She just had to ride out the storm until then.

The senators, the FBI, even the courts were all bearable. Every political figure had some line they would not cross: a reelection to posture for; their own personal scandal to keep quiet; a bill that needed an endorsement. Rose simply needed to identify it and she could weather their maneuvering as she always had. It was the media that was the worst. Her name was in the papers more frequently. She didn’t have the same insights into the newspaper men that she did with the politicians. Still, nothing to be done but forge ahead. So Rose stopped returning her mother’s phone calls. And she did her best to ignore the headlines, and especially the sub-headlines where her name was more likely to be found these days.