May, 1974: The chaos in Washington was even worse than the traffic in midtown Manhattan — but different.
President Nixon had agreed to release edited transcripts of his secret Oval Office tapes after Judge John J. Sirica ordered that the tapes be turned over. Things seemed to be heating up and after earlier in May when ex-Vice President Agnew had been disbarred and forbidden to practice law anywhere in the US people started wondering just exactly how corrupt had the whole Nixon administration been.
It was becoming more and more difficult for even Nixon’s diehard faithful Silent Majority to defend him — but nevertheless they persisted!
I was busy with work although it was impossible to ignore the slow dissolving of Nixon’s authoritative power.
Nixon would continue with important presidential duties but it would only be known years later what an emotional toll it took on him. It was appearing that all of the rumors of illicit and crooked deals that had swirled around him since his earliest days in politics had more than a little truth behind them!
Years earlier I had painted a watercolor portrait of The Beatles as a portfolio sample and I was thrilled when my rep was able to sell it as a cover illustration for a book on their career.
I had intended it as a subtle satiric allusion to an earlier romantic period but by this time clothing like this was being appropriated by many urban young people! The satirical allusion was suddenly missing!
I was still out and about and killing time between appointments.
I loved The Stage Deli although The Carnegie Deli was my favorite.
On one occasion I was returning to town from a weekend at the farm on the Delaware River and I had my Persian doppelgänger Tybalt with me in his rattan carrier.
I walked into The Carnegie casually holding (and hiding) Tybalt and the carrier as if it were luggage and was seated at a table. The waiter, one of the typical legendary brusque senior Carnegie servers caricatured by Woody Allen and others, brought me my food and then, making a shooshing gesture, handed me a plate of white turkey saying … “It’s for The Luggage!”
Tybalt had dinner at The Carnegie Deli that night so I had to love The Carnegie!
The following weekend Tybalt and I went to Connecticut to David Columbia’s beautiful house where I met David’s old friends, Tom and Holly. I’d heard a lot about them so it was good to see that all the good stories were true.
Back in the city Gary Van Kirk told me that Bill Rilling’s mother had died and he invited me to go to her funeral on Long Island.
I went to Gary’s apartment where we were picked up by Bill in his beautiful old white Jaguar.
A short time before, we had driven in it to New Hampshire where we were going to set up a tent and camp on Mount Washington. It was late in the previous fall and the trees were at their most spectacular color!
Being a native Southern Californian I’d only seen photographs of New England’s fall colors, but driving through the landscape and seeing it for real was actually hallucinatingly unreal!
We arrived at a spot that we thought was a good one and went about setting up our tent. As it got darker we built a small protected fire and sat around it while “cooking” hot dogs. As it became late we decided it was time to go into the tent for the night.
As soon as we’d settled in we heard a very VERY loud scream — a blood chilling sound like nothing any of us had ever heard! We decided that nevertheless, as crowded and confining as it might be, it might be wiser to somehow sleep in the car!
I was thinking about the unlikelihood of a white Jaguar not being noticed in the isolated woods but another series of screams persuaded us that the risk was worth it. We could always quickly drive away if we had to.
As the years have passed I’ve begun to wonder if we’d heard the screaming of a Yeti/Sasquatch/Bigfoot creature.
Not too long ago I heard a recording of a purported Bigfoot and it brought the whole memory a bit too vividly back to me!
I’ll never know.
So we went to the funeral of Bill’s mother. I drove back with Gary Van Kirk and Rick (whose last name I don’t remember) who was Bill’s oldest friend. I’d never met Bill’s mother, but you don’t have to know the person to feel sad at their funeral.
I took the subway home from Gary’s apartment.
I couldn’t help but think about what Mrs. Rilling would miss: she’d never know how the Watergate situation would end or what would happen to Nixon. And she’d always be locked into the early ’70s and never know what would follow.
A few days later I took a break at Drake’s Drum, the bar cafe near my apartment.
Meanwhile, a mystery was occurring. A young woman disappeared in Oregon and it was later discovered that she was only the first of many to be killed by the notorious Ted Bundy.
The thing that might have been the most surprising and shocking was that Bundy didn’t seem to be the “type.” He was urbanely presentable and not unattractive. He looked like the traditional young college student which made it easier for him to approach and ultimately kill young women.
I don’t know if you could say that the public was becoming more sophisticated about crime what with the revelations of the Nixon administration, but “sophisticated” seems inappropriate.
Cynical? Blasé? Disillusioned? Naive? Hardly!
There really doesn’t seem to be a word that encapsulates the things we’d experienced since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy!
A large percentage of the population, possibly a majority, questioned whether there was “a lone killer “ and a portion of them wondered even if it was Lee Harvey Oswald! Some believed that the assassination of the President was an inside job, a coup d’état by groups within his own government!
There was certainly no question that the whole American outlook and lifestyle changed in a way that was totally different from that of the 1950s, although some refused to acknowledge it! We’d gone through teach-ins, love-ins, drug usage, liberations, realizations of racism, assassinations, wars and so much more — how could all of that not change a culture?
We were becoming emotionally overwhelmed. There was suddenly so much conflicting information that nobody really knew what to think!
And it wouldn’t get any better.
What could someone do?
Don’t ask me!
Life in the city continued with more and different surprising events.
Mary Milton and I would still have our adventures, hit the Upper East Side shops on Saturdays and meet for dinners.
It could have been much worse but it was, in fact, great!
There were still ambitious friends working on careers.
And still it was Manhattan and Manhattanites living their lives, loving, yearning, wondering— but still vibrantly alive!
The vibrantly alive city!