Track Six: Time Trap

A Rose Mary Stretch of the Imagination, pt. 6

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.

The media coverage had become relentless. Rose worried the Nixon family would collapse at any moment. In public Dick would put on a stern face, or a brave face, or an injured face — whichever the situation called for — but in private he often just stared.

Her own ambitions began to fail her. The whole administration was backed into a corner. Her sense of progress had not merely halted, it had reversed. What made matters worse, she felt helpless to protect the President in any meaningful way. Every meeting was so litigious now, she had no power to intervene. Where once she had been his gatekeeper, now she seemed to be little more than a ticket taker, waving people in to see for themselves: the first Failed American President.

Then one afternoon, Dick asked Rose to stay in his office after (what remained of) his aides had left. He sat back down behind his desk and patted the tape recorder.

“I’ve, eh, retired this old machine…” he joked. He smiled weakly and Rose matched the expression. He motioned for her to sit. She wondered if the permanent creases on his brow were mirrored on her own. No, she didn’t wonder, she knew.

“It’s barely yours,” he said gesturing around the office at the chairs, the paintings, the cabinets. Rose didn’t speak. “You think you own it: the place you call your home. What you call your life, even. But it’s not. One forgets, it’s all on loan—just leased to you temporarily.” He paused, staring at a pad of paper on his desk. Then he offered Rose a drink. She wanted to decline but she had so little left to offer him, she accepted. Dick cleared his throat.

“I wanted to talk to you about this machine actually,” he said glancing at the tape recorder, “As you know, I’ve agreed to hand over the tapes we’ve been making on it. They’ll be checking them against the transcripts you were typing up for us, which they already have. You don’t need to worry about that.” He paused, gazing up at a corner of the ceiling, forming a request. Rose knew the habit.

“They’re, eh, going to find some gaps in a few places. On the tapes, I mean. Our boys already found them. It’s really nothing the committee should care about — although, they seem to care about a whole lot of nothing these days,” he grumbled, bitterly. Rose sat still. Richard continued.

“Anyway, I’m sure they’re going to ask you about it. I just wanted to say, er. To let you know, you know, it’s really not a problem– I mean, if you might have inadvertently knocked the record button while you were answering a call or something like that.”

Rose felt her breath catch, but she held her expression still. She had witnessed Dick have this conversation many times, but never with her. People closer and closer to him in the administration, but never with her. Suddenly she felt like a fool. The ship was going down and the captain had been throwing every deck hand overboard for the past two years. She had been so naive to think that she was safe.

“Well,” said the President after a long pause, “I just, eh, wanted to make sure I let you know you have our complete support. The Nation’s support. It’s just, eh, very important that if they do ask you about it that you eh, that you explain to them it’s a tricky machine.”