Below is the opening chapter from the upcoming novel "Nixon Was A Ladies Man," a dark comedy about Richard Nixon attempting to have an affair at the height of the Watergate Scandal.
The pins thrust into each other, going down on top of themselves and rolling to and fro, their sides caressing along the ground. The ball entered the gutter with a thud and the final pin waned back and forth in the far corner away from the rest. It lulled one slow roll on its heels, drooping to the side before slumping back into place to await a spare ball that might give it a fleeting glance but probably wouldn’t.
Nixon untucked his shirt but thought better of it. He re-situated himself to look more presentable and ran his hand over the fan that blew a steady stream of lukewarm air as he waited for his ball to return. He wondered why he was still wearing his tie and then began hating himself for navel gazing. He really just wanted the goddamn Tang he had asked for twenty minutes ago. He thought about asking the wait staff if it was coming special from the Moon, but again, thought better of it. He needed friends now, at least people that would say that he treated them well. Such things are important in the scope of history. The ball returned and Nixon hit his spare, forcing a smile to climb across his jowls. Why was everything so hard now?
The pins reset for another game. Nixon picked up his ball and raised it to his face. He pushed his shoulders back, creating a tinge of pain in his haunches. It made him relieved there were no windows in the White House Bowling Alley. What the hell was he going to do if he ever wanted to swim in the ocean again? People would laugh.
The pins were waiting. Nixon realized that he had been staring at them in his ready position for at least a minute now. His focus shifted to the bowling ball before his face, looking so large in comparison to his hand and arms. He sat down Indian-style, still holding the ball and enjoying the thought of its mass, blocking out everything. Through this vehicle he would lay the pins.
Nixon startled and the ball lurched from his grasp. It pounded his nose and cascaded down his body before flatly hitting the gutter. Somehow Nixon had ended up on his stomach like an enraged alligator. He grimaced at the waiter in the doorway holding a pitcher of orange liquid that inescapably brought Vietnam to mind.
“Your Tang is ready, sir.”
Kissinger droned on about some problem in Laos. Nixon felt the urge to hit the button beneath his desk and record him so he wouldn’t have to listen, he would just play the tape back at a time when he could concentrate. He was beginning to loathe how often he was using the tape recorder. He felt a need to keep producing more, but the tapes weren’t like the people they recorded. They couldn’t capture someone nervously crossing their legs after he asked them a pointed question or detect a darting glance to the ground when they admitted a detail that the president wouldn't want to hear. Not yet anyway. Sometimes Nixon would listen to the tapes late at night when he couldn’t sleep. He would quietly admire them like a boy looking over prized baseball cards with the biggest and most wanting difference being that baseball cards were something he could share.
Nixon pressed the button and fixed his eyes in Kissinger’s direction, resting his head in hand with his index finger trellising up his face to present a portrait of concern. Kissinger continued his briefing and Nixon’s mind wandered. “Why does the press roast me like a pig everyday but they love this man?” Kissinger was demonstrably everything he believed reporters should despise, yet they practically laid palm fronds at his feet while Nixon lost a national election for sweating on television.
“Why do they like you, Henry?” Nixon asked. The question made Kissinger raise his eyebrows above the hefty frames of his glasses.
“I’m not sure the Pathet Lao like me at all, Mr. President.”
“No. The press. Why do they like you?”
“I... talk to them.” Kissinger said, sounding more like he was asking a question as little beads of perspiration sprouted across his forehead. He wiped himself off with a handkerchief as Nixon leaned in.
“It’s like you can’t stand being away from them. What’s the fascination you’ve got with that crowd? You’re only giving them rope to hang us with when they decide the time is right.” Kissinger thought a moment before he tucked his handkerchief into his breast pocket and turned to face the president.
“The man that keeps looking over his shoulder as he walks misses the boulder that’s right in front of him.”
“Did the Chinese tell you that?”
“It’s in their nature to speak in such a way.”
“This is my point, Henry. They never spoke to me like that when I was there.” Kissinger sensed he was about to step into a tiger trap. He lifted his head and inhaled deeply before responding, looking like a frog swallowing a balloon.
“You’re not a man people love, Mr. President. You’re a man people choose to respect.”
Nixon recoiled back into his chair. His palms left a balmy outline of his hands on the desk as he pushed away.
“Thank you, Henry. Let’s reconvene later.”
“Is there anything else you would like to talk about, sir?” Nixon looked at Kissinger differently. Everyone wanted to talk about the impending doom hanging over his head, but were too polite or frightened to bring it up. All they really wanted from him was peace of mind that they wouldn’t get dragged down into the depths with him. Nixon had known many years ago that the Oval Office would be a lonely place, but he was used to such confinements. What he had never expected was how he had come to wish that he would be proven wrong.
“No, Henry. That will be all. Thank you.”
Nixon slumped further into his chair, not wanting to peel his sweat-covered back away from the leather. He turned off the tape recorder. He’d erase this one.