Friday, October 24, 2008


I just saw the trailer for the new Ron Howard movie Frost/Nixon, and I think it looks pretty good. Here's a link if you want to see it. This film was originally supposed to come out in June, but I guess the studio thought it would get lost in all the superhero stuff that was out at the time. I can't wait to see it, even though Frank Langella sounds like he's doing a Sean Connery impersonation rather than one of the 37th President of the United States.

Watergate was the first major national event that I was aware of as a kid. Vietnam had already been going on for some time before I was aware of it, and the war was already winding down by the early 70s. But Watergate hit like a thunderclap in the summer of '72 and just kept building over the next two years. I was seven years old when it started and nine years old when Nixon resigned, so I wasn't able to follow all the twists and turns of the drama. All I knew was that something important was happening during my lifetime. My parents could talk about where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed; maybe I would be able to talk about Watergate. In retrospect, I had no real perspective on it at the time. It appeared that the President had done something wrong. In my mind, he should be punished and be done with it. I didn't understand all the chattering over it. Eventually Nixon resigned, and I wondered why it took so long.

A few years later, I tried to watch the Frost/Nixon interviews to finally get the whole story from the horse's mouth, so to speak. I was about 12 at the time and thought I was now mature enough to follow it. But the early interviews were about his time in Congress and as Vice-President, and I lost interest before they ever got around to Watergate.

When I took journalism in high school, I thought it might be a good idea to read All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. I was fascinated at how the book read like a suspense novel with Woodward and Bernstein slowly peeling away the layers of deception and cover-up. It got me excited about a career as an investigative reporter...for about two weeks.

During the 80s, documentaries started popping up about the Watergate Era and I finally started to understand what exactly happened. The release of the tapes also allowed for a clearer sense of "what the President knew and when he knew it." In the 90s, after Nixon passed away, I finally got around to reading Woodward and Bernstein's book The Final Days, and I developed a stronger sense of sympathy for the man and his tragic trajectory through history. I've since read a great deal about Nixon and Watergate. I even suffered through Oliver Stone's cockeyed movie.

When the play Frost/Nixon hit Broadway, I wanted to see it but knew that wasn't really practical, so I did the next best thing and read David Frost's sort of companion book, titled Frost/Nixon: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interview. This is a fascinating account of the verbal sparring that went on between Frost's people and Nixon's people and how much was at stake for both men in regard to the interviews. Frost is quick to point out inaccuracies in the play, which I appreciate. I hate watching a docu-drama and wondering what is real and what is creative license. Most importantly, the book illustrates the internal struggle Nixon fought as he was pressed to reveal more about himself. A part of him wanted to come clean, but the old, reserved, secretive Nixon resisted. His ultimate breakdown on camera is moving and speaks volumes about the man.

I can forgive Richard Nixon, at least where Watergate is concerned, because ultimately he only hurt himself. The election would've been a landslide in his favor anyway, so the break-in was completely unnecessary. He hurt other people, of course, but they were willing servants who would've suffered even worse for their guy. Watergate, to me, is a compelling drama whose reality is palatable, unlike our modern day tragedy of George W. Bush and the Iraq War. President Bush's transgressions created unforgivable pain and suffering for thousands, none of whom are Bush or his family.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Singular Joy for the Lonely Athlete

Tomorrow afternoon (Saturday, October 4th), a section of York Road in Towson, Maryland will be blocked off for a parade featuring local Olympic participants, primarily Michael Phelps. Phelps grew up in the neighborhood where I currently reside, so I guess it makes sense that the locals would want to have a parade in his honor running alongside the streets and schools where he spent his youth. I was momentarily tempted to wander down to the end of my street and take a gander at the proceedings, but I quickly lost interest.

I'm not sure what it is, but I can't get all that worked up about athletes who participate in individual sports. I enjoy watching them compete during the Olympics simply to see the competition, but I have no burning interest in the individuals themselves, even one who once lived so near to where I live now. I've never fallen prey to the cult of personality that surrounds a Bruce Jenner or a Mary Lou Retton or a Michael Phelps. I've flogged my brain about this and the only answer I can come up with is that their achievement has no connection with me whatsoever. These athletes found a sport that they excelled in, pursued that sport passionately, and were able to achieve recognition in that sport. Bully for them! But what does that have to do with me? Why should I be excited because they've achieved fame and fortune? It's not changing my life one wit. I just don't feel the buzz.

On the other hand, I do somehow get wildly excited about football, for example. I live and die with the ups and downs of the Ravens, nervously squirming in my seat during the entire game, cussing them out when they make a bad play, and screaming with joy when they score a touchdown (a truly remarkable event for the Ravens, believe you me!). Two years ago, when we were on a roll that culminated in a 13-3 season, I was chugging that purple Kool-Aid like water and walking on air (that is, until the playoffs). So why can I be so caught up in football and not so much with individual sports? I guess there truly is no "I" in "team."

For some reason, because a group of individuals come together to struggle for a common victory, I feel as those I am also a part of that team. I am the proverbial "12th man." Sure, I'm not out on that field or providing any input into the outcome of the game, but I'm still there. I follow every injury of every player, I choke up at every human interest story the local media can drag out (forget the national media saying anything about the Ravens), and I praise or curse the coaching staff depending on their actions. In my mind, I am a Raven, and I'm sure all fans of all team sports have that same feeling.

With individual sports, it's just that one person out there, doing his or her best with no outside help. I know, I did no more to help the Ravens have a 13-3 season in 2006 than I did to help Michael Phelps win 8 gold medals this summer, but the fact that there are 11 guys on the field, and 41 others on the sidelines, gives me the sense that I am a team mate as well. Watching the lonely runner or swimmer or skier reinforces the sense that the athlete's thrill of victory or agony of defeat is truly a singular experience. Therefore, any parade for such athletes is not a shared experience of joy, but simply a large number of people supplying additional joy for one person. I'm afraid I have so little joy for myself, I can't afford to give it away to those who already have more than enough.