Tuesday, May 30, 2023


Last night I finished watching the HBO limited series White House Plumbers...

...about the Watergate break-in, with Woody Harrelson as E. Howard Hunt and Justin Theroux as G. Gordon Liddy, presenting them both as buffoonish boneheads. Lena Headey is quite sexy as Hunt's ill-fated wife Dorothy, clearly much the smarter half of the marriage.

The Wife mostly lost interest in the show after the first of the five episodes, finding the tone too farcical for the subject matter. But I have a feeling that most of the absurd incidents it shows us are based on fact, or at least on stuff those assholes claimed actually happened.

It is broadly played, but I feel like the best, albeit posthumous, revenge against those traitorous twits is to depict them as stooges, self-impressed, amateurish wannabes. Playing them as steely-eyed villains is probably exactly what they'd get off on.

Anyway, it's mentioned several times in the course of the series that Hunt was a hack novelist on the side; it reminded me that I'd had one of his books on my shelf for years and had never gotten around to it. It was a 1972 hard-boiled noir/horror hybrid called The Coven...

...written under the pseudonym "David St. John" (the names of both his sons) and set in D.C. neighborhoods where I used to live and work. It's full of borderline-parody prose like this:

"From there I drove through a city well-lighted for the most part, but largely deserted, for honest people tended to stay indoors after dark in recent years. Out Rhode Island Avenue to a part of the District tourists seldom saw. Hell's Bottom it had been called in the early days. Murder Bay. Old, rundown, and shabby. Condemned windowless buildings, vandalized by gangs of homeless boys. By day a rude, brawling area where liquor stores cashed more relief checks than the few remaining banks. By night a furtive, shadowy zone whose sounds were the crash of liquor bottles, the bang of overturing trash cans, and strangled cries in dark allies. Where love and heroin were traded over barroom tables and stolen cars screamed around the nearby corner...A sprawling raucous quarter slated for demolition when the City Fathers could get around to it. A dying, decaying area where hope was as rare as a starched white shirt."

So you're saying...not a great neighborhood?

There are also loathing caricatures of hippies, Beltway insiders, political staffers, etc. And the hard-drinking lawyer hero is the perfect projection of the cynical badass that Hunt so clearly wanted to be. As an expression of the mindset out of which the abuses of that administration grew, it's a simultaneously fun and depressing read.

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