The little white house with the helicopter in the front yard has a line. Americans, bellies uniformly tumescent, their children in training, queue to see where Richard Nixon, the Republican internationalist, was born.
Air quality, foreclosures, envy, roads snaking all over everything, the flood of pavement that brought us here? None of it seems present in this fake White House, this monument to a man disgraced and recovered through tremendous and sustained acts of self-vindication.
I walk inside, past the line to the nostalgia buffet, and back through an army of children worshiping at the shrine of Lego skyscrapers, entering a cubbyhole of commerce. Here the bright piercing light of Richard Nixon’s intellect, the consuming flame of his ambition, now flickers only dimly through book covers of Elmer Gantry-demagogues of our present: Palin, Romney, Beck, Medved, Coulter. My shield against such pap, to great fortune turned in an investment of two dollars so well spent for French philosopher-screed, spoke to me: Never again cede the ground floor of a debate by mentioning such hacks! Philistines are better ignored, like the present President’s neglected portrait in this sarcophagus.
Rolling out of the Nixon Library parking lot, the weather in full relaxed perfection, draped over humanity like some kind of sun dress, I drive past a few tanning salons. A Post Office is closed, but the UPS is open: Republicans like to ship books using the private sector. In spite of my own deliveries of prose-chunks — not so much as read, rebuffed by hexed editors in dead cities! — new life teems here on the southwest coast of the continent of birth.
And as I gun the engine of this fabulous Japanese machine, the road a black blur underneath its wheels, I look south and east and am hammered with a vision of the Ming Tombs. “Old Nixon knew something already about China,” I breathe to myself, “he knew about it as a scrappy 13-year old violinist, already…” Orange County shifts just 3 millimeters and is suddenly revealed as an exact replica of mountain country in northern Hebei, the land around Beijing. Holy men dance in the mountains, seekers think on communes past and future!
There is, of course, that giant exception in such a comparison: the ocean, la mer, 大海, which engulfs and silences all mammal life, the thing lacking in Beijing’s landlocked Mongol immensity. Here we thrum instead to the Japanese way of the sea, we look to the horizon for signs of invented kingdoms, islands conjured by the sun: Asia.
Experimentation and California seem to slip into one another’s hands, deftly, comfortably. Yet there is an orthodoxy which exists in this new frontier: it is the Cross, the Cross mingled with hedge funds, microphones, oratory, sports, and the new Republican Party. Should there be a regenesis of the GOP, it shan’t arise from East or Center — for the angry red center of the country remains pulpy and churning, indubitably red — but from here.
Nanlouguxiang, we hardly knew ye! For now, the intrigues of America — and its troubled and forearm-scarred with syringe-marked southern neighbor — not only suffice, they fill one’s vision, heart and mind.
Yet soon enough, geographies will intermingle; boats thought dimly of in Long Beach shall be righted, scrubbed, made seaworthy for months in the Puget Sound, then, come the clarion call of tomb-sweeping day, push off for old Chongjin, cellos a-sawin’ away as the motors thrust Westward to “the Orient.”