WHEN HE RE╦MERGES
By Randy Cohen
The New Yorker, May 23, 1988
You've got a terrible cold. Riding home on the bus, you feel a sneeze coming on. As you reach for a Kleenex, you notice that sitting across from you is Richard M. Nixon, the only American President ever to resign from office. Do you still cover your mouth?
At a dinner party you're startled to find him on your right. He says, "Pass the Triscuits, please." What do you do? Remember: the entree will be veal with a wonderful Sauternes sauce. Seated to your left is supermodel Elle MacPherson; Mel Gibson is across from you. They both find you wildly appealing. Stay or go?
He appears on "Sesame Street" to teach kids conflict resolution. He suggests: if you disagree with a playmate get tough; threaten to set him on fire. Would you continue to watch "Live from Lincoln Center" on that same station?
You fall wildly in love and foresee a future of unalloyed bliss. Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, returns to do a single broadcast, exposing your fiancÚ as Richard Nixon. Having undergone successful reconstructive surgery at a secret government installation, he's thoroughly transformed, inside and out. These procedures cost billions of tax dollars that otherwise would have gone to rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure. Do you call the caterers and cancel the wedding?
A contestant on TV's "$25,000 Pyramid," you find yourself paired with the saurian former President. Do I you give him good clues? Perhaps you deliver a stirring denunciation to host Dick Clark and stalk off the set? Suppose all the prize money goes to the Heart Fund. What if the Republican Party's elder statesman took you aside during the first commercial and personally apologized for the Christmas bombing of Hanoi? You're convinced he's really sorry. Dick Clark presents the first category, "Things dropped out of a B-52." What do you say to President Nixon?
SOME DOS AND DON'TS:
Don't script a Nixon vehicle. Can you spot the three dismal high-concept projects in the rest of this paragraph? Remake those classic Jerry Lewis movies with R.N. in the lead; start with "The Nutty Professor Is Not a Crook." Update: "The Man Who Would Be Imperial President," with Nixon/Kissinger for Connery/Caine. "Miracle on 34th Street '88," with Bloomingdale's as Macy's and R.N. as a wiretapping Santa.
Don't lend him a three-cent stamp to augment his twenty-two if he's mailing a letter written under the pen name Senator Muskie's Wife. Don't hire the jowly, unindicted co-conspirator to manage your American League East baseball team if he persists in seeing the other teams in the division merely as Soviet proxies. Do overrule him if you're leading Baltimore 3-2 in the ninth and he threatens to use nuclear weapons to block the route to the Orioles' bullpen.
HEY, KIDS, TRY THESE AT HOME:
Pretend you're the ghost of Roy Cohn. (Ask your mom for an old bedsheet. Talk in a scary voice.) Invite Mr. Nixon for dinner at "21" and dancing at Regine's. Reminisce about the good old days with Joe McCarthy. Sneer at the stupidity of your critics - what a bunch of jerks!
In a singsong voice chant something Presidential as you jump rope. Think of rhymes for Operation Phoenix. Go double Dutch: try rhyming Executive privilege, protective reaction, Greek colonels.
Build a Play-Doh model of Cambodia. Drop cans of peas (ugh!) and beets (yuch!) and Spaghettios (yum!) all over it. Drop a canned ham on Phnom Penh. Pretend your dog is on a Senate oversight committee; deny everything.
Use your crayons to draw a jail with Jimmy Hoffa inside. Now draw one without Jimmy Hoffa inside.
With flour and water and strips of ripped-up newspaper, build a model of President Nixon and of his national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Have your new dolls make sophisticated chitchat about silly things Daniel Ellsberg said on the telephone when he didn't think they were listening. Pretend your Nixon and Kissinger dolls are kneeling in prayer. What do you suppose they're praying for?
ASK NIPPER AND CHIPPER, THE CARTOON MORALIST BEAVERS
Nipper (voice of Cyndi Lauper) says, "Don't be a prig. You don't have to share a guy's politics to share a beer." (Nipper is the worldly one.) "Everybody makes mistakes. I'll bet there's plenty of stuff in your past you're not so proud of. Wait, there's the doorbell. It's Dick! Come into my lodge, pal. And look who he's brought - Attila! He scourged the known world. But hey, let bygones be bygones. Let's not dwell on the past. And look who else is here - enteric parasites! They've laid waste millions. But what could they do? Bacteria got to swim, viruses got to fly. Besides, being nice to R.N. creates a lot of jobs."
Chipper (voice of Danny DeVito) says, "Oh, right - if it happened five minutes ago, it doesn't count." (Chipper is up to here with indignation.) "Hound that evil monster to the grave! And then throw stones at his statue!"
SOME HANDY PHRASES TO CLIP AND CARRY:
For our noble cause, I would accept hors d'oeuvres from the Devil himself.
I'm just here to research this novel I'm writing. A few years from now. I keep a journal. When I remember to write in it.
It's easy to sit on your backside and criticize, but it's darn hard to topple Chile's elected government and dispose of Salvador Allende.
What do you call that jelly stuff? You use it to burn people to bits? It's like Saran Wrap?
WHEN HE REEMERGES
Turn off the lights. Be very quiet. Hope he thinks there's nobody home.
Stand at closed window and mime: We've all got the measles. (Hint: Sounds like "easels;" move your arms like an artist painting at his easel. It also sounds like "weasels;" kill a chicken and drink its blood.)
Say "We're just on our way out. Care to join us? We're going to blow up the neighbors' garage. We don't like their cat."
"I'm sorry; you can't come in. You were bad."
Back to Roger Lippman's Home Page
Back to Classics index