July 2005

Fortunes of The Real War

By David Feela

“Finishing second in the Olympics gets you silver. Finishing second in politics gets you oblivion.” — Richard M. Nixon

These days there’s not much to be said for the integrity of the American presidency, so when I say I admire something about Richard Nixon, it’s likely I won’t get a lot of respect either. He may have been a liar and a crook, and possibly even cheated on his mother’s income taxes, but recently I’ve been forced to reassess the man and he’s turned out to be slightly better than I thought, at least in my book.

You see, I hunt for used books in thrift stores, books with some resaleable value to book dealers, collectors, and antiquarians. Five years ago I found a copy of Richard M. Nixon’s “The Real War” in a cardboard box on the floor of a Farmington thrift store. I never read it and truthfully, nothing about the book made me want to read it. What interested me was the signature on the title page: Richard Nixon.

At first I doubted, like the war itself, that it could be real. The book was in fine condition, practically untouched, probably unread. I paid a dollar for it and headed back to Cortez with my little piece of history.

At home I compared Nixon’s handwriting with facsimiles on other documents he’d signed and realized the signature was authentic. I thought, Wow, this book must be worth some money! I was elated – not my usual reaction at seeing Richard Nixon’s name in print. But the elation didn’t last long. I took “The Real War” around to several book dealers in Flagstaff and Durango and the best offer I could get was $15 cash or $25 trade. One bookseller even told me he wasn’t interested.

“You must be kidding!” I stammered. “The book has Richard Nixon’s signature in it. Richard Milhous Nixon. The 37th President of this country!”

“Sorry, there’s no interest in Richard Nixon any more,” the dealer replied.

Like Nixon, I resigned myself to a philosophy of wait-and-see. Each time I picked up the book in its cardboard slipcase I imagined I was shaking hands with a former President. The handshake felt stiff and lacked any warmth – exactly how I suspected Nixon’s handshake would have felt – but for me, the book embodied the man.

I stored it in a closet where the light of day rarely entered. Poetic justice for a man who kept us in the dark for so many years, but also darkly tragic for a public figure who spent 27 years in politics, failing and then succeeding, making comeback after comeback, finally achieving the highest office of the land. When Nixon died in 1994 I marveled at my foresight, for I had already laid his book to rest, and I’d almost forgotten I owned it.

Then, with a rustle of newsprint, I heard Deep Throat croak in the media; in my mind, Nixon surfaced again. I pulled the book out, and I swear the silver edges winked at me. I’d met a new dealer in Mancos who dabbled in selling books on eBay – an electronic consortium for public opinion expressed not in words but in dollars and cents. He agreed to list the book, but cautioned me not to expect too much. He advised setting the starting bid at a mere $9 and then waiting the required seven days.

On the second day of the listing the bid rocketed up to $16.99, but interest fizzled; no new bidders for another day. My only consolation was that if the book sold so cheaply, at least the buyer would be forced to pay shipping costs. As is the case with electronic auctions, nothing much happened until the final day – actually, the final hour. Then the bidding got furious: $62.05, $101.25, $121.08, and eventually, in the last minute, $152.51, plus shipping.

I had Nixon to thank. He’d not only signed the book, but he’d managed a comeback from the grave.

David Feela writes from Cortez.