A Nixon Man: A Novel

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9780312244880: A Nixon Man: A Novel

Winner of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Award for best new novel

"My father was a Nixon man. Before that he'd been a Goldwater man. On most nights he could be found roaming the house like a ghost, wearing a tattered robe, reading about Ike. But on November 7, 1972, he wore his suit and tie well past midnight."

Thus begins a charming yet realistic coming-of-age novel as seen hrough the eyes of a young boy in San Francisco in the early 1970s. A Nixon Man is a funny, perceptive look at the life of a family holding on during the turbulent Watergate years. It is a story of eccentric heroes, necessary secrets, and innocent schemes gone awry, all told by a precocious eleven-year-old Jack Costello.

The year is 1972. Richard Nixon has just won his second term in office. Jack is sure the President will be around another four years, he's just not sure his family will last that long. In San Francisco, the epicenter of change for a generation, an unlikely cast of characters converges: Jack's inexplicable parents, the hippies who live next door, a sister who can never grow up, and an ill-tempered pet monkey... A Nixon Man filters them all through the charming, frequently bawdy wit of its narrator.

Inspired by the Watergate hearings on TV, Jack sends away for his very own bugging device through an ad in a comic book and unwittingly sets in motion a tragic chain of events. By taping and cataloging his own family's phone calls, he discovers an adult world at least as confusing as his own, but only when he finds out more than he wants to know does Jack understand what it really means to be a Nixon man.

Watergate, the red mud of Vietnam, the fiery, nationwide orgasm of the Apollo missions, A Nixon Man resurrects an era that was over before anyone understood it through the tender, often hilarious voice of an unexpectedly wise child.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Michael Cahill, a San Francisco native, has been a chef, archaeologist, construction foreman and Arctic Circle deck hand. He now lives in Southern California. A Nixon Man is his first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from A Nixon Man by Michael Cahill. Copyright © 1998. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
Chapter 1. The Monkey

My father was a Nixon man. Before that he'd been a Goldwater man. On most nights he could be found roaming the house like a ghost, wearing a tattered robe, reading about Ike. But on November seventh, 1972, he wore his suit and tie well past midnight.

The fog cradled our house that night, dimming the street lights, making soft halos like flashlights hidden under bed sheets. Traveling silently through the fog was a signal, bounced repeatedly from somewhere back East, arriving at the KCBS relay tower at Fifth and Howard where it was released to the San Francisco Bay Area, and to our yellow house.

"Four more years! Four more years!"

Downstairs, twenty or so men and women ate snacks, sipped cocktails and watched the returns on TV. Not me, though. I was eleven and it was too late for me, so I sat propped up in bed. For as long as I remembered, I was afraid to go to sleep.
"Four more years! Four more years!"

I pictured my father gazing at the TV, where those famous fingers fanned the smoky, floodlit air.

"Four more years," shouted the crowd.

"Four more years!" shouted my father, and I imagined his large hands flapping in the air too, then swooping down and alighting on my mother's freckled shoulders and moving her to dance with him. She was a Nixon woman, though her enthusiasm did not burn a s brightly as his.

"Four more years!"

My father had a rule for watching any sporting event: Always root for the underdog. He didn't care who was playing, really, he'd just ask who was trailing, who had the injured quarterback or the worst record going in. The owner of these credentials inevitably earned his support, and no one had ever earned it more than Richard Nixon, a man who of late had succeeded in making the office of the leader of the free world look like the battered plywood clubhouse of the beloved underdog. Tonight, though, that underdog had won re-election with 60.8 percent of the popular vote and 97 percent of the electoral vote, the largest margin ever.

"Chee chee chee chee!" From the basement came a chattering, carried up to my room by the galvanized furnace register.

"Chee chee!"

They could hear him downstairs, too. "I'll go see what's wrong," said my mother. I could hear her quick steps as she fled the living room.

"Chee chee chee!"

"Would you like to buy a monkey?" I said to the dark.

Downstairs, my father asked a friend, "Say, would you like to buy a monkey?"

His favorite joke. "I'll sell him to you cheap, cage included." A new twist.

"Aw, William, you know you couldn't live without him," said the friend, laughing.

Every wall in our yellow house had the high, four-inch wide decorative moldings characteristic of turn-of-the century construction. Above them the thick white paint was marred by a green haze that ran all the way around every room. Ours was probably the only house in the neighborhood to sport this green detail because it alone sheltered a New World monkey. That green beast always tried to take the higher ground, searching for the heights of the humid jungle from which he had been kidnapped, and the moldings served as both his highway and sanctuary. Their narrowness forced him to lean against the walls, and wherever he passed, he left behind his tropical pigment.

From these perches the monkey watched us come and go, studying the tops of our heads, often without us realizing that his black eyes were on us. Ebony-tipped tail wrapped around his body protectively, he would wait. His eyes glazed over. He blinked slowly. I used to think he was trying to erase the furniture and deep pile carpet, laying over them the contours of his lost hot forest. I imagined sometimes that he was able to transform a room so completely that he was transported back to his homeland.

On more than one occasion he suddenly launched himself onto my head and sank his teeth into my ear, which to him must have looked like a tasty grub out stealing a ray of sun beneath jungle branches. There were also moments when he was not simply a monkey, but undeniably a male monkey. His frustration would throb up poignantly and he'd swing a favorite stuffed animal of mine up and out of my reach, ravish it quickly and efficiently, then toss it earthward in disgust. My mother came home with a different animal every time she and my father had a fight. The one f0that inspired her to buy the monkey must have been a big one.

"Chee chee chee chee!" he cried from the basement. I imagined my mother going to him in her evening dress, armed with grapes and monkey chow.

"I once shook hands with Richard Nixon," said my father to his friend and I winced, wondering how many times we would have to hear this story.

"It was during the Senate campaign," he said.

I knew the story well and used my Walter Cronkite voice to mimic him as I lay there in the dark. "He looked me right in the eyes," I said along with him. "He said, 'Beautiful day' and I agreed that it was." My father paused for a moment, possibly to take a sip of his drink, and I waited for him to catch up. "I could tell right then that he'd be President," we said together.

The phone rang and I heard my father rumble into the kitchen to answer it. I couldn't tell what he was saying and had no idea to whom he spoke. From my bed, his voice sounded deep and cautious, like he was telling a secret, or a lie.

I was eleven, and though I might have lied a little, I only lied to others and wouldn't have known where to begin if I'd wanted to put one over on myself. There was just not that much to me yet. One part of me always knew what the other parts were up to, and in the way that children do, I figured this was the case with those around me, those with whom I shared meals and prayers.

"Four more years! Four more years!"

"Chee chee chee chee!"

Through the furnace register, I heard the softness of my mother singing a lullaby to the monkey. She had stopped singing them to me. Down the hall my sister's radio played "A Horse with No Name," a song that made me mad, and in the kitchen, my father hung up the phone. It was a long time before I heard his footsteps again as he returned to the party.

None of us knew why my father couldn't sleep at night. He tried everything, from hot milk and pills to vigorous exercise after dinner, but it was no use. While he yearned for sleep, I did my best to fight it off. I didn't know why, but sometimes I was scared of what might happen when I closed my eyes. Many nights I propped myself up and listened to the radio, read a comic, anything to avoid sleep. It was clear that the President was going to last another four years, but I wasn't so sure about my family.

I listened to the fog horns, and to the party. I heard a crashing sound outside on the street. Gradually the monkey settled down and his screeches trailed off. The foghorns pushed against my pale cold window and I couldn't help it, I fell asleep as the President began to speak.

# The sound of pans clanging over the Today show woke me. I got dressed and made my way down to the kitchen where my mother held a piece of toast out of the monkey's reach and gave it to me. I got down on all fours and shoved my way in close to the furnace register. The dogs shoved back. They felt entitled to all of the heat since they waited by the cold register all night for the furnace to come on. If I shared my toast with them I didn't feel so bad about being pushy. Their fur and breath were soft in the warm furnace wind, and when my mother turned away to peek into the oven, I held one of their paws to my nose and stole a sniff. Peanut butter. Dog paws smell the sweetest when they're warm.

My favorite of the four dogs was black and white with a tail like the Road Runner. My mother had found him under her station wagon at the Cala food mart. She named him Pie, because that's what she was carrying. He had a bad temper and owed no one his allegiance. Once Pie bit the circuit judge down the street and the judge told my mother that if it happened again, he could legally have the dog put down and the brain autopsied to determine if rabies were present. This she relayed to me.

Confusion arose because she neglected to mention that Pie would be killed before his brain was cut out. The specter of my arrogant sleek dog wandering the house, his skull a pink-scooped empty bowl, bumping into furniture and barking at the wind, haunted me as I lay with him in the heater blast, pressing my ear to his shoulder, listening to his heart. Slowly, I increased the pressure until he emitted a low growl. It sounded like a bear in a cave. It tickled my earlobe. I increased the pressure. Pie turned up the volume, making the monkey nervous. We continued until my mother shouted for us to quit it. She never quite trusted that dog.

Orange juice. The stove door squeaked shut at the top of the hour and the Today Show team analyzed the President's staggering victory. Suddenly the monkey clutched my mother's sweater as his ears pricked up at the rumb

Book Description
Winner of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Award for best new novel

"My father was a Nixon man. Before that he'd been a Goldwater man. On most nights he could be found roaming the house like a ghost, wearing a tattered robe, reading about Ike. But on November 7, 1972, he wore his suit and tie well past midnight."

Thus begins a charming yet realistic coming-of-age novel as seen hrough the eyes of a young boy in San Francisco in the early 1970s. A NIXON MAN is a funny, perceptive look at the life of a family holding on during the turbulent Watergate years. It is a story of eccentric heroes, necessary secrets, and innocent schemes gone awry, all told by a precocious eleven-year-old Jack Costello.

The year is 1972. Richard Nixon has just won his second term in office. Jack is sure the President will be around another four years, he's just not sure his family will last that long. In San Francisco, the epicenter of change for a generation, an unlikely cast of characters converges: Jack's inexplicable parents, the hippies who live next door, a sister who can never grow up, and an ill-tempered pet monkey... A NIXON MAN filters them all through the charming, frequently bawdy wit of its narrator.

Inspired by the Watergate hearings on TV, Jack sends away for his very own bugging device through an ad in a comic book and unwittingly sets in motion a tragic chain of events. By taping and cataloging his own family's phone calls, he discovers an adult world at least as confusing as his own, but only when he finds out more than he wants to know does Jack understand what it really means to be a Nixon man.

Watergate, the red mud of Vietnam, the fiery, nationwide orgasm of the Apollo missions, A NIXON MAN resurrects an era that was over before anyone understood it through the tender, often hilarious voice of an unexpectedly wise child.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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Cahill, Michael
Published by St. Martin's Griffin (1999)
ISBN 10: 0312244886 ISBN 13: 9780312244880
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