By Mr. Fabulous

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By Mr. Fabulous

Editor’s Note: In this issue’s column Mr. Fabulous takes a break from detailing his frivolous encounters with the rich and famous. The following is an excerpt from his exhaustive three year study on the controversial former president.


What got Richard Nixon along so well, and what helped him maintain his stamina through year after year of public life, was his policy of never smoking marijuana more than once a day. It was, as Nixon once related in his memoirs, a policy of prudence. "You will always be chasing that initial high," he was once quoted as saying. "Yet for all the subsequent times in a day when you may reload your pipe, you will never again reach that lofty feeling of elation. No, you will only succeed in compounding your fatigue." There is much truth in what Nixon wrote, and it bears up to historical scrutiny.

Nixon's veteran "pothead" status is unassailable. But more importantly, the logic of his regimen becomes apparent when one studies the 30-odd years in which he held elected office. "I'm not the kind of fellow who wakes up in the morning and reaches for the pipe," Nixon said in a 1982 interview. "I've got too much to do and too little time." It seemed prudent to him, he liked to say, to get through his day, get his work done, and only then, when he was safely ensconced in the privacy of his own home, smoke "a few puffs" from his pipe. It was a routine that any hard-working California boy worth his salt would follow.

Not enough has been made of Nixon's California roots, or of his "West Coast White House" in San Clemente, California that kept him close to the fragrant sensimilla he so cherished in his private life. In a section from his completed memoirs (later deleted at his publisher's insistence), he wrote: "There was no day so dark for me, so unflinchingly forged in the black hell of permanent midnight as August 9, 1974 [the day he resigned the Presidency]. But there could be no mistaking the serenity to be offered when Air Force One would finally touch down in California and I would be home. Ahh, sweet home it would be, and finally a blissful, stoned escape from every prying eye, and every hounding accusitor."

If Nixon's long-term use of marijuana constituted the stress relief he so often claimed, many historians wonder why he was never vocal about his use of the intoxicant. But clearly Nixon's own paranoia, and his almost singular inability to articulate personal truths, precluded any mention of the people and things he held dear to his heart. White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler, nearly 30 years after his former boss' resignation, would offer an unflinchingly accurate assessment: "The American people never understood that candid moments like the 'Checkers' speech were always carefully scripted.

It may seem disappointing now, but President Nixon was just not comfortable with revealing anything more personal than his faith in God or country. Though I do not endorse his consumption of marijuana, I see that he was either embarrassed by it, or simply unable to discuss it in any better terms than he would his marriage or the great affection he had for his two daughters." Given his reputation as one of the most stoic presidents of the Twentieth Century, it was rare indeed to find public displays of Nixon enthusiasm or good cheer. His friends relate that the public Nixon offered a stern demeanor to the day-time world, but come 5 p.m., would embrace the end of a working day with more zeal than many of his closest aides could suspect.

His habit was simply to plow through a day's work with levelheaded determination, the hard work ethic learned on his family's farm, and then celebrate at night with a casual smoke of cannabis. Trusted White House staffers, who witnessed Nixon's evening transformation, would insist that within five minutes of smoking marijuana, the grim-faced President would become "as carefree and relaxed as a schoolboy." As then White House speechwriter Patrick Buchanan recalls, "For all the trouble we attribute to marijuana, I'd have to say that it seemed to do Richard Nixon a world of good." Only once did Nixon's carefully constructed veneer slip away, though in historical terms, it was a slip-up that seems to have been largely ignored.

Elvis and NixonIn 1971, while still in his first term of office, Nixon met with singer Elvis Presley during a brief Oval Office ceremony. The occasion was Nixon's presenting Presley with an honorary U.S. Marshall's badge, something the aging rock 'n roll legend was strangely eager to obtain. The two sat down for a closed-door Oval Office meeting that White House aide Robert Haldeman recalls as "friendly and cordial." Though Nixon was neither a Presley fan nor a great enthusiast for rock 'n roll (which he often termed "one long clanging noise"), he could not resist the chance to study such a popular celebrity up close.

But it was Presley's own, blatant drug use that seems to have disarmed the President. Accounts of the meeting all make uniform mention of Presley consuming prescription tranquilizers within minutes of taking a seat in the Oval Office. Nixon reportedly said nothing as Presley first asked for a glass of water and then, when handed a small tumbler of ice water, proceeded to swallow two Mandrax tablets with a single gulp of water. Nixon continued speaking and then Presley, apparently emboldened by the apathetic reception of his pill-taking, produced a small bag of "grass" from a jacket pocket.

It was a moment that may have caused some discomfort for those present, but Nixon simply glanced at the bag and asked Presley if he had seen evidence of the "growing unrest among young people today." Presley's response has not been preserved in the minutes of the meeting, but it is known that he then proceeded to roll a marijuana cigarette, which he shared with the President. No mention of the incident was made at the time, and it was deemed a "bogus rumor" until Press Secretary Ziegler recently confirmed it during the taping of a PBS documentary interview. But tangible proof of the Oval Office smoking session remains, forever preserved in the black-and-white photograph snapped to commemorate the occasion.

A glassy-eyed Presley is seen accepting a framed certificate from a smiling, exuberant Richard Nixon, one of the few times that the troubled President would be seen so clearly enjoying the trappings of public office.###

All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney