By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA
In 2005 I was asked by the Kennedy Center to read from my book The Boy From Nine Miles: The Early Life Of Bob Marley with my co-author Cedella Marley. We were to meet at The Watergate Hotel in Washington DC and proceed from there.
Our plane was late leaving and early arriving. There we were in the Watergate, which was weird enough, but the elevator insisted on taking us to the top floor where the man pulled the lever and said, “You want to meet the ghost of Richard Nixon? He skulks around on this floor.”
I looked at the elevator man. He was tall, dark and oddly tattooed with a scar that ran down the full right side of his face. He grinned and said at the open door, “I am from Liberia and I know what it means to have bad rulers. That’s how I got this scar you are looking at. Seeing Nixon’s ghost is another thing.” He laughed.
It was four in the morning and the face of Nixon, the very idea of the man, haunted us. And as it turned out our room for the night was directly across the way from the long ago office of Daniel Ellsberg. That haunted us too.
I went to bed thinking about those crazy days in 1973 and the black and white TV given to us by a friend who insisted we should see what was going on in Washington. Prior to then we had no television. We were what was called “Dropouts” – not hippies but flipped-out dippies who dipped in and out of the woodlands of the Berkshires, writing poetry and staying out of the mainstream where the world was so ablaze in political chicanery.
Lying in bed at the Watergate I thought those scary times. The headmistress of the school where I taught poetry had been in Germany during the rise of Hitler and she had once stood only a few feet away from him. Her husband’s life had been threatened by Hermann Goring who had held a luger to his skull.
I thought about those times and the days of the Nixon impeachment and then I remembered when I was five and my father pointed out a neighbor of ours in Maryland. The neighbor was Whittaker Chambers, the former editor of Time. Chambers had been ruined by an ambitious young attorney named Richard Nixon.
I thought about all these things and the elevator man from Liberia who told us that the price of freedom was a facial scar that ran from his forehead to his chin. In Jamaica they called that a “telephone scar” and it was given to people who talked too much.
The following day we, Cedella and I, read from our book about her father and how as a boy little Bob Marley was kidnapped from the tiny St. Ann village, Nine Mile, by his father and taken to Kingston where for one year he disappeared, and his mother could not find him.
At the end of that day I could still hear the applause of the audience that liked our reading. My mind was aflame with names – Bob Marley, the Jamaican revolutionary, Whittaker Chambers, the fallen communist, Hitler, Goring, Ellsberg and Nixon. None of them related except in the history books, all of them dead and buried.
That is when I began feel that the Liberian elevator man was a true hero. Unknown in any history book but still alive. I wrote a poem in his honor and put it in the pocket over my heart.
(Gerald Hausman photo credit: Mariah Fox)