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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The day I never met Nixon

I was just reading Fredric Alan Maxwell's frightening account of his brush with the Secret Service (NY Times Magazine: Spooked). Althugh his story is totally different, it reminded me of my own little brush with the Secret Service. Maxwell is the author of Bad Boy Ballmer: The Man Who Rules Microsoft, so he's more likely to get an article published in the New York Times than me. But, I aspire.

Anyway, I've probably told this story a hundred times. But, here it is again.

Nixon was in the middle of his first term and I was a Freshman in high school. I don't remember why, but if I had to guess, I would say he came to Springfield to drum up support for the Illinois Republican Party.

The war in Vietnam was in full throttle. Anyone who wasn't a conservative was a troglodyte according to Spiro Agnew. Journey to the Center of Your Mind by Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes was on the eight-track and Looking Out My Backdoor was on the radio. Surfers and greasers had long before given way to hippies and freaks.

Nixon was supposed to give a speech at noon on the east steps of the Illinois Capitol Building.

My friends, Sue, Rich, Mick, and I arrived a few minutes after noon. Sue and I were freshman at the freaks' high school. Rich and Mick were juniors at the hippies' high school. Rich and Sue were boyfriend and girlfriend. And, Mick and I pretty much went wherever Sue and Rich went.

This was no field trip for us. We went of our own accord. The public high schools were on a split shift back then. Juniors and seniors went to school from 7:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Freshman and sophomores went from 12:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sue and I would have to miss part of our first hour to attend the Nixon event.

I wish I could tell you that I was a socially or politically conscious teenager at the time. But, I really wasn't. The world was too fucked up for me. I was just curious.

It was a warm sunny day and the crowd was massive and buzzing. It seemed that every inch of the lawn was covered with people. The sidewalks were filled and people were spilling out into the street. Having arrived a little late, the four of us were milling about on the outer edge of the crowd trying to get a glimpse of what was going on.

Most everyone in the crowd was dressed in business attire. The four of us were dressed in our school clothes. That meant frayed jeans and painted shirts. Rich had long straight hair, halfway down his back. Rich's shoulder length hair would have been longer than it actually was except for the fact that it was extremely curly and frizzy. The four of us definitely didn't fit in with the business crowd.

The noise level of the crowd was quite high while everyone was waiting for the president. We tried to make our way through the crowd, but it was impossible. There were just too many people, shoulder to shoulder, waiting for a glimpse of their president. So, the four of us just stood there, on the edge of the street.

Suddenly, before we could see it coming, Mick was pushed facedown on the street by a Secret Service agent in a dark suit and sunglasses. His arms were yanked behind his back. In the blink of an eye, the agent had his foot in Mick's back, holding him down. Mick was silent - probably because the air was being pushed out of his lungs by the foot. As Rich moved to intercede on Mick's behalf, his arms were pulled behind his back by another agent in a dark suit and sunglasses. Rich struggled and yelled to be let go. His struggle was futile.

The man with his foot in Mick's back, grabbed a paper bag Mick had been carrying and tossed it to a third man in a dark suit and dark glasses. Sue was yelling. I was agape.

A small crowd had formed a circle around this spectacle.

As the third agent ripped open the now confiscated paper bag, Mick's dirty stinky gym socks and jock strap spilled out onto the agent's shoes. At this point, I just started laughing uncontrollably. I attempted to explain our innocence to the agents between gulps of laughter. I finally got out that we were just high school kids hoping to see our president.

The agent holding the shredded paper bag said, "you kids better get to school now."

I think the whole thing happened in the span of about ten seconds.

The crowd parted, and us four freaks got the hell out of there, our heads held high. We had been confronted by the establishment and we survived. It was like a badge of honor.

Posted by Marie at April 30, 2003 1:17 AM