Capital Letters

Nightmare Revisited

Remembering the Day Nixon Resigned 8/08/2014 12:30 PM

I remember exactly where I was on Aug. 8, 1974, when I learned that President Nixon would be resigning. I was living just outside of Washington and had been avidly following the unfolding scandal in the Post and on TV and had been glued to noncommercial TV during the Watergate hearings and, well, you get the point.

 

I was listening to the car radio just outside a rented beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where we had gone on vacation when I was informed that the president would be announcing his resignation.

 

I was in a remote house, in another state, and felt totally unconnected to the immediacy — and that was the key — of the drama playing out back home.

 

It was the same disconnected feeling I now get when I leave my cellphone at home, multiplied by the importance of an unprecedented piece of news.

 

That evening I turned on the big box of a black-and-white TV — at the time TVs were, for most, an obligatory afterthought at the beach — and was met with only that hissing, salt-and-pepper static so familiar to baby boomers.

 

I worked feverishly, grabbing and twisting both rabbit ears (no calls from ASPCA members under 30, please) and was able to raise a ghost of a picture in between waves of static. Eventually, by holding the tips of both ears (the antenna, not mine) and craning my neck, I did get to see a distorted and hissing Nixon, which was maybe not the least appropriate picture of the leader of the suddenly a little freer world.

 

Lots of important and world-altering things happened before TV, but TV made us a witness to that history.

 

I sometimes think those moments of frustrating disconnection from the biggest Washington story in decades is what fueled my love for being awash in Washington news, which can now be sated — almost — with a combination of feeds and online videos and Tweets and TV and print — yes, print, too.

 

I was reminded of all this by a publicist's note about Dick Cavett's Aug. 8 special marking the 40th anniversary of Nixon's announcement and subsequent resignation the following day and other TV shout-outs — or shout downs, as it were. (BTW, for one of the funniest takes on a decidedly unfunny moment, check out Stephen Colbert's "retrospectacular," in which the anchor, make that anchorman, mocks up a 70's broadcast on Watergate complete with a long-sideburned Colbert dragging from two cigarettes at once.

 

I may have been beach-bound when all the Watergate resignation action happened, but I felt somewhat compensated in the cosmic Watergate order a few months back.

 

I had parked my car in an underground garage and was singing away, as is my wont, when a man who had been walking behind me looked at me probingly and asked why I was singing. I began explaining about the acoustics when I realized the man with the probing question and Midwest accent was Bob Woodward. Talking to Bob Woodward in an underground garage in Washington seemed to close the circle, particularly after having seen him and Carl Bernstein at an earlier screening at the Newseum for Robert Redford's cable documentary on Watergate.

 

I must be at least partially over my unhappiness with being at the beach on Aug. 8. I just realized, and I mean just, that today (Aug. 8) at 9 p.m. I will be on my way to the beach (but armed with a cellphone that can stream video).