Version 1.3 updated 06/06/09
Copyright ©2009 Paul Niquette All rights reserved.
election of 1972 created an uncertain moment for my friend Al Bongarzone.
On June 17th that year, you will recall, the “Plumbers” (seven members
of CRP, pronounced CREEP, Committee for Reelection of the President) broke
into the DNC Headquarters at the Watergate, and -- hey, the rest is history.
The uncertain moment, Al told me once, occurred four months later.
On the first Tuesday in November 1972, Al drew back the curtain, stepped
into a voting booth, and...
Excuse me, I’m getting ahead of Al's story.
Foremost, readers need to know that Al Bongarzone, a New Englander himself and a lively liberal at an age when nearly all my other friends have become hardcore conservatives, was a strong supporter of the John F. Kennedy election in 1960, defeating Richard M. Nixon. Twelve years later in the campaign of '72, Al might have been characterized without exaggeration as a man who suffered a livid loathing for Richard Nixon. Moreover, Watergate and collateral events (Milk Fund scandal, Spiro Agnew's tribulations, John Mitchell and his squealing wife) had constituted more than passing chagrins for Al. Still, they counted for nothing compared to the uncertain moment that November in the voting booth, when...
Oops, did it again.
Allow me to include background information about Judy, Al’s beloved wife. Seems that when she was a member of The Young Republicans at USC in 1960, her friends included some of the cast of characters in the unfolding Watergate drama. For example, there were Haldemann and Ehrlichemann (“You can always count on Germans,” said Nixon on tape, “to follow orders”). There was Charles Colson (“He would run over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon”) and the hapless Ron Ziegler (do you remember that Presidential shoving incident?). Judy’s college friendships did not particularly matter to Al, but they did play a role in the voting-booth incident, to which I shall return after first noting...
When it became clear in the Fall of ’72 that, despite Watergate, the incumbent was going to beat John McGovern (in a landslide, as it turned out, 49 states to 1), the Nixon Inaugural Committee brazenly sent out presidential invitations to supporters for all the fancy-dress balls. Judy’s youthful friendships -- now political connections at the highest level -- paid off handsomely for Judy, if perhaps not quite so handsomely for Al. Judy went shopping for a gown, and Al bought airline tickets. Oh, but there was this one small problem: Election Day.
“It really would not be appropriate,” Judy mentioned to Al one evening, “for you to show up for Richard Nixon’s Inauguration after having voted against him.” (Over the years when I tell this story, my listeners at about this point glimpse a crisis in the making.) Al nodded his head in agreement, rejoicing for the moment in the Secret Ballot. Over the ensuing weeks the subject returned again and again to their conversations. Al suffered a growing consternation.
The pertinent values were becoming plain enough. Al’s vote would not matter in the election. However, lying to his wife was out of the question. Such a deceptive behavior would haunt the poor guy, and besides, Judy would know. Never mind how. Judy would goddam it know! Thus drenched in hypocrisy, how could Judy bring herself to enjoy the historical experiences? She would be tormented by the awful truth about Al long before the Inaugural ball in January 1973, and her anguish would continue for the rest of her life. For Al, the matter was settled...
Or so he thought.
When the time came, Al strode into the voting booth with his sample ballot in hand. He closed the curtain and reached for the Nixon lever. Suddenly Al felt stabbing pangs in vital organs throughout his body. He closed his eyes and saw Nixon's image glowing behind his own eyelids, with the synthetic Nixon smile barely concealing the stoney stare. Al opened his eyes and saw his own hand trembling. He heard echoes of Nixon's lies about Viet Nam, he blanched anew at the racist character of the Nixon campaign just past. He winced at the fraudulent Nixonian concern for the common man.
Regaining his composure, Al decided to postpone the ultimate decision until after he had cast his votes for each of the down-ballot candidates -- two local judges and three cityhall functionaries -- along with four bond measures and five referenda. Finally, he could delay no longer. Voters were waiting outside the booth. Al Bongarzone reached for the Nixon lever again and…
Decorum has prevented me from ascertaining what finally happened after that uncertain moment. Al is my friend. I never asked him.Outside the voting booth, Al smiled at Judy and kissed her on the cheek. Over the years, with Judy by his side in beatific contentment, Al tells wonderful, occasionally comical stories about the Inaugural Ball and about the White House tours.
Epilog: "Just in case there
is a heaven," wrote my friend about the manuscript, "when the final chapter
is written on the life of Al Bongarzone, I do not want anyone to believe
that I hesitated in voting against Richard Millhouse Nixon, despite any
confliction stories that I may have conjured up many years ago."