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Jeffrey Weinberg: The Presidential Race

(Politics, elections and stolen road signs.
The government stealing away Toms,
Peters, Pauls . . .
In the late 60’s)

I stood watch over the street corner that night back in 1969. Washington, D.C. was a magnet for the world’s newspapers and television networks once again as the systems of both politics and the people readied themselves for the presidential inauguration of Richard M. Nixon and the celebrations to follow the ceremony. January 1969. No snow like I was used to, being from Lowell, Massachusetts. And as I protected the corner of 16th and H streets, watching for any movement in the shadows this night, my friend Tom has shimmied up the light post and cut down another official Presidential “No Parking” sign—a real beauty with no marks or wear, no rust and nice and clean. He tossed me the wire cutters and jumped down to the sidewalk. “16 should do it,” he grinned, knowing how lucky we were that we didn’t get caught that night. Sixteen beautiful signs to sell to our friends in the dorm at George Washington University. Or maybe trade a sign for a few joints. As the city tried to sleep and the Washington police must have been preoccupied with guarding the bleachers and stands down the street in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—Nixon’s new home—where he would sit with his family and friends tomorrow afternoon watching the parade pass by. Boy, were we ever lucky, is right! Maybe getting caught stealing official Presidential “No Parking” signs would have gotten us at least a few nights in the Washington slammer.

Before the election in November of 1968, everyone in the dorm placed their bets on their favorite candidate to win. I remember there were few votes for Humphrey on our floor in the dorm. A real whimp, the guys would say. He talked funny. And Nixon was such a sleezeball. I remembered his tv debate with JFK that I watched with 12th grade eyes that year back in Lowell, Massachusetts. JFK—the native son. Poor, poor JFK with his head blown open.

TV ads for the presidential race had changed quite a bit since last time Nixon ran for president but this time in 1968, there was our dormitory floor favorite, not because we were going to vote for him but because he was so strange—George Wallace—his running mate was the icing on the cake—weird man Curtis LeMay, in his army uniform, waving his hands at the camera, “Bomb Hanoi!” “Bomb Hanoi!” he cried into the camera. “That’s what I’ll do if you elect me and George Wallace. I’ll bomb the fuck out of Hanoi and love every minute of it.” Well, of course, he didn’t say “fuck” or that he’d love every minute of it but you knew he would and you knew that we could not waste our first opportunity to vote in a presidential election at the age of 18 on assholes that wore uniforms and wanted to use bombs. We were against the war and we hated uniforms. We hated everything that had to do with the government and that’s why the next day we were going to have our own “Counter-Inaugural Ball” down on the Ellipse in a huge tent with Peter, Paul and Mary and anybody else who was against the war. So that night my friend Tom and I didn’t feel so bad stealing government signs. The government was stealing away the country’s young. That’s how we felt back then in 1969.

© 2003 Leconte


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