The Butterfly Nebula 9 – Gladys in the Era of Watergate

February 22, 2014

Gladys in the Era of Watergate

For a brief period back in 1973 Gladys had spent more time organizing and running our household, taking charge of food shopping, cooking, cleaning, and planning remodeling projects. It was a welcome change. I had no talent or ability for organization except when it came to astronomy with my observation log and detailed drawings, with my star catalogs, magazine clippings and photographs. I reasoned that if I wasn’t going to have a lover or a friend in Gladys, and a wife in name only, then I’d be content to have a mother, someone who could manage my life for me. Don’t misunderstand. The U.S. Navy had taught me to be independent and self-reliant and I had been for years. I didn’t need a mother or a boss, but if Gladys wanted to make domestic tidiness her contribution to the marriage I decided I would not deny her that role. Perhaps her change signaled a more permanent commitment in lieu of not raising children or her not being employed. We no longer had the dog.

This arrangement lasted a few months until the era of domestic tidiness abruptly ended for one simple reason.

Watergate. . . .

The Senate hearings began in the spring and were televised and Gladys soon was spending her days on the couch and glued to the TV set. She resumed taking tranquilizers because she figured she wouldn’t be doing much else while the hearings were on, and the whole Watergate nightmare—from Liddy, Hunt and McCord, on through Colson, Magruder and Dean, and later the big guns, Haldeman and Erlichman, would best be experienced in a narcotic fog anyway, more or less the way Nixon had experienced it. During this period, Gladys would also take a drink in the late afternoon as a segue from the byzantine plots and machinations of the hearing witnesses into the bitter but relatively incoherent depression of the evening with its promise of a few more drinks before unconsciousness. Needless to say, there was no longer a dinner waiting for me, and the rooms returned to their earlier chaos, and dust gathered and swarmed like a fuzzy plague.

But I also had entered upon a period far more troubling and crazy than my wife’s regression from distaff serenity to an unkempt chattering house. We soon entered into a drama of upheavals and tumults, of inflamed, near violent passions that would surpass any rancor, conflict or marital discord I’d previously dealt with.

You see, Gladys loved Nixon . . . and I hated Nixon. . . .

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So I would come home in the evening and face not only having to make my own dinner (which frankly wasn’t all that big a deal), but listen to a diatribe from quaaluded and deluded Gladys about how Watergate was nothing, and how the cover-up as an “impeachable crime” made absolutely no sense whatsoever, and the Democrats were sleazy and despicable in their vendetta to bring down a great president who was not only a brilliant, warm and compassionate leader, but also a master statesman who had opened the door to relations with Communist China of all places, and had withdrawn our troops from Vietnam essentially ending our involvement there, something the contemptible Democrat Johnson had failed to do and had made worse during his time in office. I decided I would not allow Gladys’s misguided politics and warped worldview to stand. I cursed Nixon and his gangsters and Gladys by extension and praised journalists Woodward and Bernstein, and prosecutors Cox and Jaworski, Senator Sam Ervin and Judge John Sirica. So began the evening news arguments with Gladys railing about liberals and Democrats and hippies, and about my being a pot-smoking free-love hippie. But at least we were talking and not battling over the miserable state of our marriage. Gladys and I had discovered a public forum to externalize our enmity toward one another and we seized upon the political schism of the day to vent our spleens without becoming too personal or hurting one another much— we’d already done enough of that. She: Pro-Nixon; Me Anti-Nixon; like “Point-Counterpoint” at the end of 60 Minutes. It was that simple! We had tacitly agreed to disagree about something else for a change. And yet through it all I was sadly aware that our debates and attacks, our slamming of fists and doors and hurtling of cheap unbreakable objects, would eventually come to an end once the politics of the day had changed, and that this brilliant and lovely bloodbath, our strangely comic operatic clash of opinions, masked how woefully different and apart we had grown over the years.

Not long after Nixon resigned, Bob Crane invited all Brainchild employees to his country club for a Labor Day party. The party wasn’t a celebration of Nixon leaving office; Bob Crane was more or less indifferent to politics except where it affected his bottom line. And I’d somehow managed to persuade Gladys to join me for the party, and it would be the first time since the day we were married 11 years earlier that Gladys would be attending an event with my boss and co-workers. I felt somewhat proud that she’d agreed to come with me despite all our disaffection and distance since the end of the 60s. After the period of Watergate and the call for impeachment and Nixon’s resignation the country seemed unmoored and cut adrift and my career looked more important to me than ever— the one and maybe only thing in my life I could still rely on.

Picture a bright blue and green day, no humidity, a fine breeze—the best September weather. White canopies, buffet tables and a few bars were placed across the perfect sprinkler-fed lawn and a stage had been set up beneath the largest canopy. Approximately 200 people in attendance: friends of Bob’s, Rotary Club business associates, some fellow country club members and nearly all Brainchild Scientific employees, about 40-50 of us. Bob made the rounds with his current girlfriend, a smart and stunning red head considerably older than the pistol-toting child Wendy. It was rumored they would be getting married sometime next year and that the party would be the setting for making an announcement. Before the band started playing, Bob had taken the stage and microphone, and following an ear-splitting trill of feedback, welcomed everyone and thanked us all for coming to his party. In that moment I sensed that Bob Crane—tanned, serene, comfortable in his skin—had been reincarnated once more, or at least he wanted to appear that way. I recalled the terrified and desperate Bob who’d begged me to stay on his yacht in Nassau two and a half years earlier. I recalled Wendy with the tape and gauze bandages flapping like pennons in the wind. I recalled her reading aloud from The Art of Loving.

Gladys and I separated not long after the music (covers of soft rock with a little disco thrown in) started. Gladys needed to use the bathroom and I observed her chatting with a couple long-time Brainchild employees that remembered her from our wedding. She seemed to be enjoying herself. I wandered about the grounds and almost immediately struck up a conversation with a pretty woman in her late 20s who clearly intimated she wanted to do more than talk with me, but nervous that Gladys would discover us, and not wanting to spoil the day, I excused myself and a few minutes later noticed the same woman had come to the party with an escort, presumably her husband or a boyfriend.

As things turned out, Gladys demanded to leave an hour and a half after our arrival. She didn’t feel well. Was she sick? How sick? She wanted to leave, that’s all, and I drove her home but threatened to return to the party and have a good time without her. I couldn’t think of another time when I had hated her more than I did that afternoon. I hated her for ruining my day and the entire holiday weekend. She wouldn’t speak to me in the car, and as we drove home sunlight and wind flashed in the maples leaves and I was reminded what a sad time of year it could be, a carryover from childhood and school when summer came to an end, a subtle drop in the temperature and shortening of days. Inspiring and yet oddly depressing.

As soon as we were home I reached for another beer. I’d already drunk two at the party and I was going to drink several more. I didn’t ordinarily drink when we were arguing but I didn’t care and I didn’t care if we fought today and things got out of control . . . and that was when Gladys told me about Bob Crane. Apparently Bob had approached her at the buffet table, and while filling her plate with turkey and ham, lewdly suggested a partner swap with her, his girlfriend, and me. We stood in the kitchen, our favorite place for conflict.

“You’re saying Bob Crane, my boss, propositioned you for a night of swinging with us and his soon-to-be fiance’?”

“Yes, yes,” Gladys said, half hysterical. “He whispered to me, ‘I’d like you to consider it and talk it over with Soren.’”

True or not, I was still mad at her.

“I don’t believe it,” I said. “Bob wouldn’t say that to you.”

My denial was making Gladys angrier.

“Well, he did say it, whether you believe me or not. . . ”

“I really wanted to stay.”

“You could have stayed! Jesus! What is wrong with you? I could have driven home myself and then you could have gotten a ride later with someone from work. Or you can drive back now if the party is so important to you . . .”

“Maybe I will. . .”

“But now I want you to stay here . . . you should have been more assertive about not leaving the party.”

“But it meant a lot to me that you were there—damnit!—and I was not attending another one of these work functions alone. I wanted you to enjoy the party with me, and that just for once—for one fucking time!—we did something together that was fun!”

“Don’t yell at me,” Gladys warned, and she reached for her pint of Southern Comfort and a tumbler decorated with plastic painted daisies.

I sighed. “You know, it wasn’t official but Bob mentioned that at some point during one of the band breaks, he planned on taking the stage again and personally thanking Brainchild employees and maybe bringing a few key ones on stage for a round of applause. I might have been singled out for my contribution.”

“Oh, stop it! You know as well as I do he will never single you out for anything! Don’t pretend. And you never told me about his planned ‘speech.’ I’m not a mind reader.”

We drank and circled around the tacky kitchen table and chairs as if sparring in a boxing ring. I finally sat down.

“And you left because his offer was disgusting and made you angry?” I said, groping for some clarity. “You didn’t look angry.”

“I wasn’t . . . I wasn’t angry,” Gladys said cautiously.

I slammed my beer bottle on the table, though I was slowly coming around to the plausibility of her story.

“But you told me you were sick! Were you made physically ill by what he said to you? Or was it something in the food? Were you upset by him? He was being outrageous! He won’t get away with it. I’m calling him first thing tomorrow. Or I’ll drive to his house . . . yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll confront him face to face.”

“No, don’t!”

“Why not? This is absolutely crazy! You think I should just forget it? A violation like that? Of you? Of us?”

“I know, but please don’t’ call him,” Gladys said. “I wasn’t upset . . . kind of aroused, if you call that being upset.”

She looked far away one moment, and extremely close the next, fading in and out in my field of vision, as if I were seeing her through an alternating wide-angle and telephoto lens.

“The idea of it,” she said, and I noticed her trembling, her eyes turned away but wide, luminous “. . . it was a turn-on frankly . . . it got me excited . . . really excited. . . .”

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