The parabola of the suitcase as it flew
from the Watergate balcony mimicked
my inner life the year the low voice
on the phone said, FBI, do you know
a Bob Grant? My mother, a Republican
County Supervisor, was at church.
It was a complex era. Did we laugh
too easily? Was I to tell the agent
that Bob was a friend who’d palmed
a credit card for a wild D.C. ride
as Sam Irvin and the good guys were
moving in for the kill? Bob, whose jet south
would pass D.C.-bound Air Force One
that midnight, November 18th, 1973,
just after Nixon claimed he was no crook.
Bob had invited me for the gig, but
I knew better―and I didn’t know better
often. Bob seduced Ralph and Jessie,
both staying the month in Jersey with me
and my publicity-conscious mother,
the same Ralph and Jessie who were on
the verge of dissolution, ever since
I’d been falling for Jessie and she for me,
though of course Ralph was my best friend,
and Jessie and I hated ourselves, hippie
clichés sloughing into a closet or basement.
Even now I try to laugh it off. I told
Agent Kaplaw I’d never heard of Bob
Grant. Boozy Bob, with whom I’d smoked
weed for six years in college while his muddy
Utah speakers alternately shook from
Zeppelin sex riffs and Streisand show tunes,
who we later discovered longed himself
to sleep with Ralph, that Bob had only
minutes earlier answered the suite phone,
hung up, looked at Ralph and Jessie with
the gravity of a guy on bad acid, all
of them wordlessly putting into effect
Escape Plan A, Ralph heading to the car
while Jessie and Bob packed the one suitcase
with the contraband of a good D.C. shopping
blitz, compliments of a Mr. Robert Kitchen,
address at this point unknown, owner
of a missing gold MasterCard. I hung up.
My mother pulled in the drive. The phone
didn’t ring. It continued not to ring.
As Ralph pulled to the curb and Bob and
Jessie descended down the elevator,
exited, then stuffed the goods back
in the split suitcase and jumped into
the Cutlass, also rented courtesy of
Mr. Kitchen, and headed for Dulles,
my mother and I chatted about Mass
and Father Mulroney’s somnambulant
sermon, though she didn’t care to knock
the priest because she still harbored
hope that my rejection of the family faith
was a temporary moral seizure and didn’t
want to sour the wine while I lapsed.
She went upstairs for her afternoon nap.
The phone rang. Agent Kaplaw assured me
he would slap a warrant on my ass
for aiding and abetting and haul me down
to D.C. if I didn’t talk. I gave up Bob,
then hung up. Do we laugh too easily?
My mother’s hero the President
was a traitor—nothing else
she could call it. He’d lost her faith.
And how could she win
her election next year? Car doors slammed
in front of the house. I met Ralph and Jessie
outside. One look at me and they knew
trouble had trailed them. We called Bob
at home in Gainesville. He would
turn himself in, as he’d promised. We
told my mother that rich Bob wasn’t
so rich as he’d made out, that he’d urged
Ralph and Jessie to DC for a weekend
on him, that the weekend was stolen,
that the FBI had traced the billed calls
to her house. So practiced, we lied
to soften the story, but
she had a Republican fit anyway.
Soon enough Ralph left for California,
Jessie and I took a house, taught GED
in Jersey, Bob called the president
of Mastercard and worked off
the three grand. No jail time. It’s still
a complex era, how the comic
can shroud regret. Jessie and I hit the road
for California, then broke up six years later
when she became a Rolfer,
a Gestalt therapist, went in for enema
and past lives therapies⎯
separately, I think. Bob is gay in Florida,
Ralph slept with another friend’s lover,
and now he’s married to her.
I’m married, too, happy and faithful
for two decades. In the adrenaline rush
of time, Ralph and I have remained
best of friends. We try to navigate
all the old stories. When
our families vacation together, suitcases
bloat, rarely fly.
I sometimes think of Nixon, how he failed us all.