Nixon and a Pigskin Purse

Pigskin coin purse from Mexico c 1949; gift to KLS from Elsie WelchMy original headline read “Stuck in the Sock Drawer,” but I changed it because “Nixon” will score higher with the search engines.

Even that headline was a little misleading, because we’re not going to talk about my exact sock drawer, although there ARE a lot of weird things hiding in there, too.

Many years ago, my grandmother gave me a good wooden  box that was probably supposed to hold jewelry. It’s been a catchall for heirlooms of no real value, something that became apparent when our house was burgled a few years ago.

The crooks made off with some of Wife Lila’s jewelry that was rich in sentimental value, but not worth much in dollars. The mopes didn’t even bother to root through my box.

Maybe they feared the curse of the pigskin purse, a souvenir my grandmother, Elsie Welch, brought back from Mexico (the country, not the county seat of Audrain County, MO, where the annual Miss Missouri pageant is held) when I was about two years old.

I never had much money as a kid, so the poor pig was always pretty skinny. Now, nearly seven decades later, he still hasn’t put on much weight.

Elvis Presley and President Nixon

Richard Nixon presidential cufflinks given to KLS by Ollie AtkinsOllie Atkins, President Richard Nixon’s official photographer, was a speaker at a National Press Photographers Association conference I attended. To be honest, I thought Atkins was a pretty pedestrian photographer kept around for dull grip ‘n’ grin shots of dignitaries. His photos perfectly captured the wooden Richard Nixon.

One of his images, though, according to a 2012 story in The Guardian, is one of the most requested images in the National Archives and Records Administration, more popular even than the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States. It’s the photo of Dick Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands after a secret meeting in the White House.

Presley wrote Nixon a six-page letter requesting a meeting with the president and suggesting he be made a “Federal Agent at Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The events leading up to and after the meeting are detailed in the documentation and photographs included at this link, which include Presley’s handwritten letter, memoranda from Nixon staff and aides, and the thank-you note from Nixon for the gifts (including a Colt 45 pistol and family photos) that Presley brought with him to the Oval Office.

Nixon cufflinks

Richard Nixon presidential cufflinks given to KLS by Ollie AtkinsFrom time to time during the conference, the moderator would draw numbers for door prizes. After Ollie’s presentation, he reached into the box and pulled out mine. Instead of some cool photo equipment, I was presented a pair of presidential cufflinks. That prize was especially ironic because, up until I picked Bill Hopkins to run my campaign for student body president of Central High School, I thought I might get to wear a set of cufflinks like these some day.

They have never been out of the box. When I scanned them tonight, I pulled the lining of the box out to see if anything cool, like the nuclear launch codes or something, was behind them. I am sad to report the bottom of the box was empty.

You can click on the photos to make them larger, but ignore all the white specks: I didn’t bother to dust the plush lining in the box.

Matchless Nixon

Nikon Air Force 1 matches given to KLSOllie must have sweetened the pot by tossing in a box of matches from Air Force One.

I beat the devil

Nikon Air Force 1 matches given to KLSWhile I was looking at the unused book of presidential matches, I thought of Kris Kristofferson’s song, To Beat the Devil, about a down-and-out guitar player. It contains the line, “I ain’t sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing. Then I stole his song.”

Well, I never got to be President, but I ended up with his cufflinks and his matches.

Other encounters with Richard Nixon

Scrawls, Nixon and a Couch

Sam Rawls 4I was rummaging through a box and ran across two cartoons drawn by Scrawls, the Palm Beach Post’s editorial cartoonists in the ’70s.

Sam Rawls is his real name, but we all called him Scrawls. (People who REALLY know him call him Scooter, but I never achieved that level of closeness.)

He left The Post to go to our Big Sister paper in Atlanta, where he stuck around about seven years. I lost track of where he was, and was almost afraid to Google him because I was afraid the trail would lead to an obit.

Fortunately, there’s still some ink left in his pen.

Speaking Southern

Sam Rawls 3Long before Jeff Foxworthy came along with his “You might be a redneck if…” shtick, Post columnist Steve Mitchell wrote a book  How to Speak Southern, illustrated by Sam. It was followed by More How to Speak Southern, followed by a combination of the two marketed as The Complete How to Speak Southern. Click on the links to order a copy from Amazon and make both Sam and me a few pennies.

Sam has always cared about the environment. He’s been drawing cartoons to support the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island. Take a look at some of his artwork skewering developers. I’m sure he is more effective at getting the point across than a whole forest of position papers.

Getting back to the cartoons

Sam Rawls Nixon Cartoons 2When Sam was packing up his office to go to the Big Time, I walked in to seeing him ripping up scads of his old cartoons. “What in the world are you doing?” I cried in a horrified tone.

“They’ve already been published, and I don’t want them floating around where somebody will sell them, so I’m tearing them up.”

I managed to convince him to let me make off with these two Nixons from the Watergate era. One one he wrote a flattering message, “To Ken – The best button-pusher I know;” on the other, a more Scrawlsian “To Ken – if you sell it – make sure you get a good price.”

The story of the couch

Sam Rawls Nixon CartoonsNewspapers were a little less politically correct (and a lot more fun) in the old days. They were inhabited by misfits on their way up and on their way down, and characters were the rule instead of the exception.

The photo department had a small room we called the Wire Room. It was used for storage and housed the Associated Press wirephoto transmitter. At one time, before I was hired, it contained an old black couch with an indeterminate covering. It looked like leather, but it was probably some substance not occurring in nature.

Someone told me that a homeless hooker used to walk Dixie Highway in front of the paper, and the photographers, being tenderhearted, offered her the couch as a place to sleep. Management got wind of their largess and said the couch had to go. [Checking the definition of “largess,” I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word: “Something given to someone without expectation of a return,” but, like I said, that all happened before I got to West Palm Beach…]

The couch was exiled to Sam’s office where it was assumed nothing nefarious would ever go on, said my source.

Couch Version II

Sam Rawls 2When I finally tracked Sam down this evening (he had been dodging torrential rain in Conyers, Georgia, where he lives), I had to ask him what happened to the couch. I thought I remembered management shipping it to him as a joke when he left.

“That was my couch. I bought it. I’ve never heard the hooker story.”

We were both appalled that someone made up that story to pull my leg. On the other hand, we agreed that it was too good a story to cut out. If I outlive Sam, it’ll go back to being the Hooker Couch.

What is your favorite cartoon?

Sam RawlsAs soon as I asked what Sam considered his favorite cartoon, I cringed, knowing how I feel when someone asks about my favorite photo. Sam came back with an answer that I’m liable to steal, “I hope it’s the one on my drawing board the day I die.”

Just for the record, I didn’t shoot any of these photos. They came from a box we called “Party Pix,” a collection of staff photos going back to the early or mid-60s. If you doubt my earlier statement about working with characters, you need to take a walk down memory lane with me and that box.