Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wow, This IS Serious.

I never doubted the seriousness or sanctity of marriage, as it is assumed to be. My parents are still married, still through the occasional rocky times, and as far back as I can tell, there has never been a divorce in the Aronsky line. And I've seen marriages in the movies and on television, getting out of them whatever is intended.

But I never really got the full-on "Whoa, this is heavy!" feeling from marriage more than last Sunday at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

We went there because one of my major goals in my life is to visit every presidential library in the nation. We've visited the Reagan Library many times, the first time for the exhibits and Air Force One, the other eight times for the view from the replica of the South Lawn of the White House. We haven't yet gone back to see the new renovations, but no doubt they've jacked up the ticket prices because of them, a lot of haute technology in those halls now.

I loved the Nixon Library because it felt like there was more substance than staging, as it is at the Reagan Library. Everything that is meant to be at the Nixon Library to explain his life and presidency is there. The house in which he was born is there. The helicopter he took off in from the White House lawn at the end of his presidency is there. There is a campaign car from when he ran for the Senate, and correspondence from himself to various figures, the most interesting being a letter to Ray Kroc of McDonalds, complimenting him on the experience he had in going to one. My sister loved the space section, being a space nut, especially the space suit seen at the beginning of the route one takes to get through the museum, right in front of a flat-screen TV showing a video of First Lady Pat Nixon thanking China for the loaning of two panda bears for the Washington Zoo. I loved seeing Nixon's New Jersey office, the desk and cabinet shelves stacked with books. Yesterday, I e-mailed the president of the Nixon Foundation, asking if anyone had ever compiled Nixon's reading list. I want a copy. However, I was disappointed by the emptiness of the Watergate exhibit. Not that they were ignoring that important aspect of Nixon's history (Just try going to the Reagan Library and asking where the Iran-Contra section is), but it felt a little depressed. All of the flat-screen TVs in that section were not on, and I was disappointed because I had hoped to see his resignation speech in full. I liked seeing a bit of the Kennedy/Nixon debate early on in the museum, but I was anticipating that.

The centerpiece of the library appears to be a full replica of the White House East Room, where various concert events and prestigious gatherings were held. It was roped off for a wedding. At first, I thought that whoever decided to have a wedding there was probably into the history of Nixon. But then, who the heck would not want to have a wedding or wedding party in that replica? After all, Tricia Nixon had been married in that vast room at the White House. And from the little I could see, it's astonishing in its detail.

We were at the helicopter, talking to the volunteer docent there, who it turns out had served in the Marines, therefore his justified bias in proclaiming Marine pilots to be the best, better than the Army. I'm not sure of any of that, since I've never served in any branch of the military, but I get the impression that Marine pilots appear to be sharply honed machines, who know not only every aspect of the craft they operate, but every single defense scenario, every single reason to defend what belongs to them and the government. I liked this older gentleman, especially because on a nearby bench, there was a water bottle that belonged to him, as well as a book, "Kennedy & Nixon" by Christopher Matthews (not that one). I told him that in my job, as a part-time substitute campus supervisor, there is some downtime, too, and I love my job for partly the same reason. I recommended to him 31 Days by Barry Werth, about the 31 days after Nixon's resignation, when Ford had to get used to being president very quickly, and all the events within those days. This man was not only articulate in conversation, but also genial. And it didn't feel like an act, as you might find at Disneyland.

During our conversation, the bride and groom of this wedding party came down the sidewalk to the helicopter to take pictures, followed along by two photographers hired for this event. We got out of their way, out of the shot, stood to the side, and continued talking. They left, and took pictures near Nixon's birthplace. I decided it was time to get going, and thanked the docent for his time and talk about books. The bride and groom finished posing for those photos near the house, and we were right behind them. I looked at the groom in the tux, and the bride in this silk white dress, and I thought to myself, looking at the woman from behind, "This really is serious. This is a person, and the man next to her is a person, and they're going to join together in a new life. My god." If ever I find another devoted bibliophile, I'd probably do the same, but wow. This is real. This is serious business.

Later, as I was rooting through the museum store, picking out bookmarks to buy, a United States word seek book, a 1968 campaign book about Spiro Agnew (I know absolutely nothing about him beyond his Greek heritage and his resignation as vice president for tax evasion, and I want to know more), and two bags of the freeze-dried astronaut ice cream for Meridith, Meridith had gone outside, just outside of one of the doors to re-enter the museum, and was watching the procession of the guests to the chairs on the lawn facing the reflecting pool. The ceremony was about to begin. We stayed as the reverend or whoever gave his speech, and as the soon-to-be married couple recited their written vows to each other, and repeated after the high holy authority the well-known words, and I stood there, my hands folded over my bag of souvenirs, and, surprising to me, my head bowed. I looked up, but I was mainly thinking about all of this while looking respectful should anyone from the party see my sister and I from far away. My sister was leaning against one of the columns in front of me, watching, but I was thinking about how this is really something. This is not a life event to treat flippantly. As near as I can tell, this must be the result of true love.

Now, I know there are divorces in this country and there are squabbles in marriages, sometimes dark and nasty ones. And having no experience with marriage, my view could readily be idealistic. But there's something to all this. There is this day, and the couple, and their friends and family, and these vows to be joined together in holy matrimony. That is the ultimate commitment, and something truly beautiful. I hope to find that beauty in my own life, in that connection feeling so natural, that we wonder why it took so long to find.


  1. Unfortunately, it seems, the "til death do us part" is the exception and not the rule these days. It's almost seeming they should replace the word "death" with "divorce". The majority of people I know have either been married more than once or divorced. There are still a few of those "happily ever after" fairytales out there. It seems, a rare few.

  2. I find Nixon to be one of the most interesting modern Presidents, his story is full of contrasts.

    He was the President that actually put men on the moon, ended Vietnam, opened up China and, in my opinion, went a long way towards ending the cold war.

    Compare that with Kennedy, who just talked about moon landings, started Vietnam and almost started WWIII during the Cuban missile crisis.

    And yet, in terms of popularity, there's no comparison; perhaps there's a lesson here that history's judgement turns on how you leave? Or maybe the tone of the Presidency; Kennedy inspired hope, whereas Nixon played on people's fears?

  3. Just Another Girl: I would like to be one of the rare few. In fact, despite the distance between Florida and California, I believe I have found my soulmate, who still lives in Florida, who I knew in 9th grade. I have to treat this situation delicately now and not try to rush it, as I tried in 9th grade. I know I'd be excited to see her every day; I'm already happy whenever there's an e-mail from her in my inbox. She reads Mark Twain, she's a devoted bibliophile, she loves pie, what more could I possibly want? I feel like she's the one. I feel it all over, but most importantly in my heart. However, I want her in my life forever, no matter how it turns out, so I'm going to go slow with this. Right now, I know she's probably focusing on law school in the fall (she wants to be a human rights lawyer, with her major focus on fighting and hopefully ending modern-day slavery), and that's really something, because my maternal great-grandfather was a lawyer, though not of that stripe, and yet I have an interest in the law in the way of study of the Supreme Court. So it's genetic in that way, yet I think that still might be a connection between her and I. I know that I don't want anyone else.

    Dudesworthy: That indeed explains the three books I got today, one a biography of Nixon by Conrad Black, "Six Crises" by Nixon, and a book by David Frost and Bob Zelnick on how the Frost/Nixon interviews transpired. I'm also expecting The Haldeman Diaries, Stephen Ambrose's three-volume biography, and "Go Quietly or Else", Spiro Agnew's attempted explanation of his resignation.

    Maybe it just depends on how much of a cult following you can gain. Kennedy had a big one, and so does Reagan still.

  4. Compare that with Kennedy, who just talked about moon landings, started Vietnam and almost started WWIII during the Cuban missile crisis.

    At the Nixon Library, about the origin of Vietnam, I got the impression that Truman started it, deciding to send fewer number of troops than later on. Eisenhower built it up, and then Kennedy exacerbated it. Or at least that's how I saw it there.

  5. To add to before Just the Girl: I'm reading an e-mail from her on Tuesday (ok, re-re-re-re-re-re-reading), and she talks about the non-tippers she encounters at the restaurant where she works, and has a quote there, writing like them, and it's completely un-self conscious, and probably utterly accurate. She's fearless with words. As Linus once said about a girl that perplexed him, "She fascinates me." However, I'm not perplexed.

  6. Always enjoy hitting "next blog" and seeing what comes up.

    Enjoyed reading this post. Wanted to take a quick moment to drop a comment in here, acknowledging your efforts, before diving into some of the older posts.

    I admit I know little about Nixon (other than what I saw in Frost/Nixon), but I find your goal of visiting all of the Presidential museums to be very intriguing. The only other one I saw listed was the Reagan museum... have you been to others yet? Do they all have one, I wonder? Or just the more recent ones? Is there a Chester Arthur presidential museum, lol? Guess I should go Google it.

    Consider your blog "followed"...

  7. Thanks, David. I've "followed" you as well. I'm not strong stalker material, but I'll do my best. ;)

    I actually have a bookmark listing all the presidential libraries, but I don't feel like getting up to go get it and see, having been out on errands all day. Target does not get any more interesting.

    But looking at the National Archives' website for presidential libraries and museums, it's Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and coming soon: Bush II. I doubt there'd be enough interest for an Arthur museum, but I'm sure that would happen if there was enough interest in say, Millard Fillmore. The other relatively dusty names of presidential history (not dusty to me, but to the majority of Americans, sure, and save for the obvious ones like Washington, Adams and Jefferson) would surely follow.

    I should write a new entry soon, but nothing's inspired me yet. However, I will never let this blog go for a long time without an entry, so I'm sure something will pop up.

  8. And no, I haven't been to the others, but I have the rest of my life to do so, so I'm in no rush. We'll see what financial and personal circumstances bring in the coming years.

  9. Oh, and David, since you like me here, check out my book. Pretty please? ;)

  10. I think the reason there's not libraries for our much older presidents is because of the likely lack of memorabilia. That would not only entail a lot of searching for items from their presidencies that might not exist anymore, but I'm sure it would make admission prices quite expensive just on the basis of those searches alone.

  11. I just found out on "Jeopardy!" that there's an Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, too. That's another one on my list now.

  12. It's not that little one in the Ford theater in DC, is it? They do have some interesting memorabilia there - went a few years ago. Actually, now that I think on it, I don't recall if the display was at the theater itself, or at the house across the street, where he died...

    Anyway, one would think an official Library/Museum for Lincoln would be in Springfield, perhaps...

  13. No, man, it's a big thing on its own, it's in Springfield, and it's official: http://www.alplm.org

  14. Sweet, your book comes in a Kindle version. $10 seems more than doable. I'll buy a copy tonight. I'll even review it on my blog, if you'd like. Then in the 10th Anniversary re-printing, you can put my blurb on the back cover!

    "An engrossing work of unprecedented genius. Life-changing." - Dave the Goof, My Little Corner of the World (Blog)

  15. I'd be honored, David, and especially pleased if you'd stick to that exact quote. ;)

    Just remember to look in the acknowledgements section for which essays I wrote.