The Watergate Celebration We’ve Been Waiting For

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Kaitlyn: Watergate … it caused the events of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, if you think about it.

Also, she went around telling everyone who “Deep Throat” was, but they just assumed she wouldn’t know and therefore didn’t believe her. (It’s no wonder she hated D.C.) Something that really sticks with me about the movie version of All the President’s Men is that The Washington Post didn’t let them film in the real office, but they did have reporters save all their trash for a while and then gave the trash to production so that they could sprinkle it around the set. (Really generous.) And something that sticks with me about the book version of All the President’s Men is that it is very dry and confusing—not well-written at all. You can actually skip it, but you can’t skip Heartburn.

Anyway, the reason I’m talking about this: Our friend Andrew has spent something like a year working on a Watergate-themed episode of his amazing podcast, Aw, Would You Look at the Time. His attention to detail is legendary. He watched dozens of hours of the hearings, as well as every fictionalized version of the scandal that he could find, including the off-Broadway play Trial on the Potomac, which starred a famous Nixon impressionist and posited that the real Nixon was innocent—railroaded! You can’t skip Heartburn and you can’t skip Aw, Would You Look at the Time Episode 12, “The Many Voices of Richard Nixon.”

You already missed the party in celebration of this episode’s release and the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, but we’ll tell you about it.

Lizzie: I had been hearing rumors of this party for months. Anticipation was high! “I wonder if Andrew is going to have his Watergate party this weekend,” we wondered, every weekend. “Andrew has to have his Watergate party soon,” we agreed. We were, of course, very eager to attend and would remind Andrew of this anytime we saw him.

We were eager for a few reasons:

  1. This newsletter, which requires us to schedule our social lives around its needs.

  2. The theme, which promised intrigue, deception, and wiretapping.

  3. Andrew’s reputation for paying meticulous attention to detail, which Kaitlyn has already mentioned. If anyone could pull off a historically accurate and curiosity-filled Watergate party, it was Andrew.

When the invite finally arrived, with promises of “an immersive experience of a 1970s living room,” “a showing of the Watergate hearings,” and “Watergate: The Board Game!” we were ready.

[Read: At a sausage party in New Jersey]

Kaitlyn: The invite also promised the opportunity to “meet an investigative reporter!” When I inquired about this, Andrew said he just assumed that one would show up.

Before the party, I ordered The Watergate Cookbook from 1973 off of eBay and then spent days trying to decide what to make. The recipes really had no thematic relevance to Watergate, and the titles weren’t even puns, for the most part—just regular recipes with the names of various Watergate personalities tacked onto them (e.g., “Krogh’s Savory Cheese Puffs,” “Agnew’s Stuffed Ham Helpers”). I chose “Gurney’s Grapefruit Pie,” which was basically a grapefruit-flavored gel topped with baked meringue. Then I improvised a second pie with a layer of vanilla pudding and a layer of Cool Whip mixed with blue Jell-O.

It was 90 degrees out, and I was worried about the stability of the various complex molecular structures we were carting across town, so I called a car to get us to Andrew’s apartment in Flatbush. Stopped at a red light on Nostrand Avenue, we watched as the car in front of us pulled into the intersection and did two full donuts, creating an enormous cloud of street dirt and exhaust. You don’t see that every day!

Lizzie: I couldn’t figure out what to bring to the party that felt appropriate for the era. It felt disgusting to bring something like deviled eggs or a nut-covered cheese ball onto the subway. Kait texted me photos of recipes from her Watergate cookbook for inspiration. The complete lack of imagery in these recipes made it difficult to figure out what exactly I would end up with if I followed their directions. I’m familiar with the concept of a torte, and I know that ambrosia is basically just sweet stuff in a bowl, but what do Kissinger’s Snow White Capers look like? Actual capers, but white? Cottage cheese? (This will come up later).

I’ll admit, I was worried about making something that would need to be wholesale trashed once no one at the party ate any of it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, as things often don’t, because what I ended up making (pineapple upside-down cake) was horrible. I kept hoping I might drop the cake on my way to Andrew’s apartment, but no such luck.

A picnic table with desserts on it—
"Watergate salad" and other era-appropriate desserts. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Kaitlyn: I love pineapple upside-down cake and was very happy to see Lizzie’s. I don’t know what she thought was wrong with it.

In Andrew’s living room, a selection of the Watergate hearings was playing on one television, while a fictional film about Nixon was playing on another. Andrew offered us the opportunity to record ourselves on a tape recorder resembling the one Nixon had used in the Oval Office, so I pulled up my favorite Nixon quote and whispered it into the mic. When Nathan remarked that it didn’t seem like this recorder was exactly the right model, Andrew said, “Well, just you wait!” and then retrieved the exact right model—a Sony TC-800B—from elsewhere in his apartment. I don’t know why he hadn’t set that one out in the first place and can only imagine he was waiting for someone to critique the anachronism, allowing him to surprise and delight them by erasing it before their eyes. I asked Mariya if there was a Nixon quote she wanted to record, and she was like, “Well, no. Didn’t he say he hated Black people?” (Maybe not in so many words, but yes, basically.)

At this point, I told Andrew that I had brought a small voice recorder to the party in order to tape all of my conversations, but that I would have to reveal it to each guest individually for reasons of journalistic ethics. He said that he was also recording, but as “a social experiment.” After one Heineken, I offered to take everyone on a field trip to the Atlantic office in Washington, D.C., which is located in the Watergate complex, but we didn’t have enough cars.

Lizzie: New York State only requires one-party consent when it comes to recording people, so I think you’re both legally in the clear. Still, knowing that my every word was being recorded by multiple people at this party was a little unsettling. I abstained from the Campari and OJs, drinking only my nonalcoholic leisure soda to keep my wits about me.

The thing is, any person who spends time around me and Kaitlyn at any event documented in this newsletter is being recorded —it’s just usually typed into our Notes app. During this party, I wrote down that someone said, “The world is so vast” and “People don’t read unless they’re interested in the life of the mind.”

I also wrote down, “Kaitlyn doesn’t understand cell division.” That’s not a direct quote—just an observation.

[Read: We finally learn to shuck oysters]

Kaitlyn: Yeah … and I bet Lizzie understands it really well …

You may be noticing an odd, hostile tone to this week’s newsletter. This is for good reason. Like Nixon, I spent much of Saturday’s party in a paranoid state, perceiving persecution and animosity all around me. And like Nixon, I wasn’t entirely wrong. For example, Nathan told everyone about the weird argument we had the night before we moved in together. I had started it by saying that my college cell-biology class was so complicated and difficult to understand that it made me believe in divine creation. Nathan really loves science, so this had been startling and upsetting to him. He’d felt it was dishonest of me to conceal this feeling until mere hours before we were to enter a serious commitment involving paperwork and a lot of money. As he recounted this in the conversation circle, I put my hands up and tried to defend myself. First of all, I know that evolution is real. But, as they tell you in Sunday school, the seven days it took God to create the world, in God time, could have been billions of years. Also, I’d had such a frustrating experience sitting in that library all night trying to memorize the chemical process of caffeine entering the bloodstream—there are like 14 steps!

“Yeah, there are a lot of steps,” Lizzie interrupted. “You have to get out of bed; you have to fill the pot with water.” I protested and shouted “LIZ! LIZ!” at her to get her to stop, but it didn’t work—the joke was rolling. What I should have done was point out that Matt makes her coffee for her every day …

Lizzie: That’s just equal division of labor.

At this point, we moved the party up to the roof, mostly because everyone was sweating, but maybe also because we had been discussing the logic of Disney’s The Santa Clause, which only works if you accept the premise that standing on a roof can be deadly, even if you’re Santa Claus.

If you’ve ever been on a roof in Brooklyn, you can probably imagine Andrew’s: concrete, random cobwebs of wires, a big old table with a single chair eroded by rain, views of the Coney Island Parachute Jump. It was really lovely, but the location shift did mean we effectively traded in Andrew’s carefully designed Watergate setting for the chance at a rooftop breeze. Later, Andrew told me that he thinks the problem with a lot of theme parties is that the hosts rely too much on guests to set the scene, forcing them to wear costumes or speak in British accents or whatever. As the host, he believed that it was his job, and his alone, to make sure the theme landed. I should have known the theme would not be bound by walls!

For a while, I captivated the roof by talking about a strange thing that had happened to me earlier in the day: I found two pecans sitting in the bottom of my iced latte. It didn’t really bother me—the latte tasted fine, and what’s a nut between friends? But still, I wondered: How did the nuts get there? Were they meant for me? A threat? Someone crossing their fingers that I was allergic? Like Kaitlyn before me, I felt the paranoia start to creep in. Here I am, still standing, you fools!

Little did I know, but I was about to have my second pecan experience of the day when Andrew brought the desserts up to roof, including his attempt at a “Watergate salad.” It’s a salad in the way that ambrosia is a salad; plus, it’s green. Pistachio-pudding mix, canned pineapple, marshmallows, Cool Whip, and pecans. I ate it, refusing to look at my upside-down cake. The pecans added a nice crunch.

Kaitlyn: I tried everything! After dessert, Andrew tapped a knife on the side of a wine bottle to get everyone’s attention. He thanked us all for coming and then announced that he had prepared a plate of cottage cheese and pineapple, as well as a glass of milk—re-creating the final meal Nixon ate before he resigned. He was wondering if anyone would like to play Nixon.

Nathan volunteered, to much applause on the roof, and then things got very ceremonial. He sat down in the middle of the lone table. Andrew was like, “Okay, I’ll be right back, I’m gonna grab that meal, and we’re all going to enjoy watching you eat it.” People really did gather around to watch, for some reason.

A man sitting on a dark rooftop, drinking a glass of milk, surrounded by party snacks.
Nathan drinks a glass of milk. (Courtesy of Lizzie Plaugic)

Lizzie: I felt Nathan was very brave, volunteering to be the entertainment. Agreeing to sit on a dark roof and drink milk while people watch you. “It doesn’t taste very good,” he said, eating the cottage cheese and pineapple that Andrew had placed in front of him. I watched Nathan while shoving Spicy Mustard Doritos into my mouth so that I wouldn’t somehow taste Nixon’s creamy last meal through proximity.

Andrew, Kaitlyn, and I had never tried cottage cheese before, so we all agreed to change that. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Andrew went first and managed it okay. Then I took a small bite, pitifully. My pulse quickened, and I turned my back to the crowd. The taste was fine—mild nothingness. But the texture. The small, curdled snot lumps? Cheesy silica-gel balls suspended in thick drool? I squeezed my eyes shut hard and tried to think about anything other than what was happening in my mouth. Palm trees, orange tea, Joe Pera, my pants. I somehow managed to swallow, praying for one more sip to appear in my now-empty leisure-soda bottle. I don’t mean to upset anyone, but the truth is, I’m a gagger. Once, just touching my faux-velvet sunglasses case on a really hot day made me gag. Why do they make it feel like that? Like an old car seat.

Then Kaitlyn ate the cottage cheese, and it was basically the best thing she’d ever tasted. It was time to make ourselves scarce.

Kaitlyn: On the walk home, the three of us debriefed. We talked about how amazing the Spicy Mustard Doritos had been and wondered whether we could order them in bulk for future parties. We also shared our horror at hearing a party guest tell everyone that, although she moved out of her rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn four years ago, she has been illegally subletting the place to various renters this whole time and making many hundreds of dollars a month. My voice recorder had been off during that conversation, or I tell you—we would be placing a call.

On Sunday morning, I woke up early and read about the 100th birthday party that some Nixon “loyalists,” including Henry Kissinger and Pat Buchanan, threw for him after he was dead. Reportedly, Buchanan, in his speech, paraphrased a line from The Great Gatsby, saying, “They were a rotten crowd, sir. You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Who’s … “they”? The American people? Me and Lizzie and all of our friends?

Lizzie: The old jackal pack!