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Daniel Ellsberg's Psychiatrist

Elizabeth Evans

The following extracts come from the novel DANIEL ELLSBERG’S PSYCHIATRIST by Elizabeth Evans. The novel contains a few scenes and reflections from the present, but, in the main, it is set in 1973, the summer of the televised Watergate hearings. Marooned at a rented Iowa farmhouse meant to be the ideal site for her painting, twenty-one year-old Jane Moore—like her in-laws in California—worries over what her beloved but unreliable husband, Dana Bright, may be up to in the city. As questions continue to arise surrounding Dana’s behavior, Jane finds herself increasingly drawn to the Senate hearings, whose revelations of spying, deceptions and cover-ups seem to echo aspects of her own life, including a growing sense that someone may be watching her.

She was just finishing her morning run when she heard the telephone ring from inside the farmhouse. “Ugh!” she shouted at the sound, “Ugh!” as she cut across the wet lawn toward the porch. It would be her mother-in-law, almost certainly, and maybe her father-in-law, too. Prying, prying. How do you think Dana’s doing, Jane? Did he tell you if he ever followed up with that interview? Questions to which Jane wished she knew the answers but had no desire to explore with Floss and Ed Bright.

And then—she stopped before the porch door—suppose she did not answer the call. Though she could not think of a time when she had not answered a ringing telephone. Because, after all, someone did wait on the other end of the line. Someone had made an effort to call. But as far as the caller knew, Jane still was out on her morning run. Or painting in the shed with the radio playing. She could not be expected always to hear the telephone. She should not be expected always to answer.

Anyway, she needed to do a cool-down, right?

Calf stretches. Hamstrings. Arm-circles, forward, backward, little circles, big ones, now with her hands in fists, now with fingers pointed straight up to the blue-blue morning sky, all the while working to ignore the ringing telephone, staring off at the driveway, its chunks of bright white gravel big as golf balls. Who but the Hoggs—no one believed her when she said the landlords were named Hogg—who but the Hoggs would have installed such gravel? Gravel for the ages! Imagine the giant dump trucks necessary to make the delivery! The ghastly noise as all that gravel tumbled from the trucks! The grinding labor expended in spreading it into a reasonably flat surface! I want this lawn kept slicker than a moles back! So Mr. Hogg had said when she and Dana came to view the farmhouse, and they both nodded without smirking because, despite the man’s look of Caricature of Iowa Farmer (a red-faced giant in ready-to-burst overalls and DeKalb Seed hat), his affect was One Scary Dude.

Between the rings of the telephone: creaks of the farm’s now derelict windmill, twitter of sparrows, cascading notes of a mourning dove. So sweet the moment before each new ring. The possibility that the last ring truly was the final one.

Continuing the arm circles, she made her way to the back of the farmhouse where those rooms kept boarded-up by the Hoggs blunted the sound of the phone. Her vegetable garden—it looked good except for the zucchini plants. A few of the zucchinis’ giant leaves drooped, and a yellow speckling she had noticed a few days before was definitely worse; in spots, the leaves had actually shrunk and turned a crisp orange and brown, looked almost salted.

Had anyone ever let a telephone ring for her for this long? A boyfriend she’d had a fight with? To wait so long for an answer would require real patience. Or fury. Curiosity. Floss and Ed Bright had that kind of curiosity. Almost certainly Floss and Ed. But just suppose that Dana was calling to say that he was sorry, she was right, he had taken money from their checking account, but he could explain.

She hoped he could explain. Would bother to explain.

Unlikely that he would call from work—the bosses frowned on long-distance calls—but suppose it was him. Suppose he worried. Or thought it was suspicious that she did not answer. Even though she never had done anything to make him suspicious. Why should she have to worry? Still, what she would do—as soon as the telephone stopped ringing, she would call him. She would say that she had just come in from running; that, just as she ran into the yard, she had heard the phone ringing, and then it stopped, So Im calling in case it was you. A non-harmful lie, right?

No, not when it was essential that she not lie to him at all. If for no other reason than to demonstrate to herself that, at least theoretically, it would be possible for him not to lie to her. I heard the telephone ring, but I thought it might be your parents, so I didnt answer. Could she say that?

A honk sounded on the road as she stepped out from behind the house. The mailman. Who called, “Hey!” and pantomimed picking up a telephone receiver.

“Oh!” she called, “thanks! I didn’t hear it out back!” and ran for the porch. Let the door bang behind her as she hurried into the kitchen. Not to answer the phone, though. She scowled at the thing on her way to the living room where, immediately, she switched on the television set, cranked up the volume, dropped onto the floor and began a series of sit-ups.

It was good to be back in the company of saggy-faced, charming old Senator Ervin—scowling and huffing away—and politely pugnacious Senator Baker. With his tongue of brown hair lapping high on his forehead, his black glasses like twin TV screens, Senator Baker made her think of a boy from her high school, adored by the teachers, and rumored to be the principal’s source of gossip. What did the President know, and when did he know it? Baker was the committee member now famous for asking the question at the heart of the hearings.

Frowning, Senator Ervin pulled off his smeared glasses. Put them on again, a little crooked. Off, on. His nose was long and droopy, his ears enormous. Your ears grew half an inch in length between the time you were twenty and seventy. Jane had read that dreary news somewhere or other and filed it away and wished she hadn’t.

How could anyone possibly let a telephone ring this long? She never had come remotely close to letting a telephone ring this long!

Today’s witness was one of the President’s two closest advisor, ex-Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman, now fuming at the attempts of the owlish Chief Counsel, Sam Dash, to force Ehrlichman to admit that he had run a secret investigative unit separate from those recognized by the government. Ehrlichman’s wiry eyebrows sprang up and down. He furrowed the well-tanned expanse of forehead that lead to his equally well-tanned bald pate. His posture was Eager to Take on All Comers, but only a fool would have missed seeing that the guy knew he was up shit creek. Seeing this made Jane nervous, the way that seeing any trapped thing did—

There! The telephone’s ringing had stopped! “Hallelujah!” She jumped to her feet and lowered the volume on the television set. “Hal-le-lu-jah!”

The Justice Department, according to Ehrlichman, had learned that The Pentagon Papers had been turned over to the Russian Embassy, and the Justice Department also knew that some of the people involved in the theft of the Papers’ had ties to domestic Communist activities. The President’s own investigative unit had come into being under H. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy because then-Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, had refused a request that Daniel Ellsberg’s father-in-law—a personal friend of Hoover’s—be interviewed about Mr. Ellsberg. This refusal, Ehrlichman said, had led to the fact-gathering project that resulted in the break-in at the offices of Mr. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

Lovely the way that Senator Ervin, listening to Ehrlichman natter on, allowed his mouth to hang open in astonishment, then snapped it shut.

To give herself an excuse for lingering with the hearings a bit longer—long enough to hear Ervin’s own set of questions—Jane began to straighten the heap of record albums that Dana had left on the floor. When Ervin’s time still had not come by the time she finished with the records, she took off the socks that she had worn for her run and, on hands and knees, proceeded to work her way around the room, dusting the baseboards.

You could not say that Chief Counsel Dash was imposing or exciting, but he was smart, tenacious. He leaned forward, very keen, fingers splayed on the table, as he asked Mr. Ehrlichman if, after he knew that Hunt and Liddy had been implicated in the Watergate break-in, he had not worried that it might be revealed that the pair also had broken into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

The White House counsel, John Dean—Jane remembered it well—had testified earlier that he did worry about the possibility, but Ehrlichman said, no, it had not been a concern of his because, in the case of the break in at the psychiatrist’s office, the men were part of an authorized national security investigation and within the powers of the President. How tightly Ehrlichman’s upper lip was bound to the movement of other parts of his face! He seemed aware of this, to work at controlling his mouth, and Jane, watching, found her own mouth making the same tight movements, and when Senator Ervin took over the questioning, she found herself mimicking Ervin’s larger, looser expressions and gestures, too.

Did she identify with everyone too much?

Senator Ervin patted at the air with his old man’s pale and liver-spotted hands. The tension rising in the chambers as he questioned Ehrlichman’s assertion that statute such-and-such had granted the President the power to order entry into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s offices made Jane’s heart beat fast (too much like home!) “Is there a single thing in there,” Ervin asked in his rumbling Carolinian accent, “that says the President can authorize burglaries?”

Ehrlichman’s lawyer cleared his throat. He was reported to be a brilliant guy, but unlike Ervin, his age worked against him. Terribly pale, bald, he looked like a boiled chicken that some joker had dressed up in a business suit for laughs, and when he leaned in to say that the powers of the Constitution allowed the President to protect national security information against foreign intelligence activities, Ervin blinked grandly and said a stern, “The foreign intelligence activities had nothing to do with the opinion of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist about his intellectual or emotional or psychological health.”

“How do you know that, Mr. Chairman?” the lawyer asked.

The senator did not require a moment’s pause before he answered, “Because I can understand the English language. It is my mother tongue.”

Well, that got a laugh. Even Ehrlichman had the good sense to chuckle. Jane herself lay back on the floor, tears in her eyes, half in love with honorable, feisty Ervin—who delighted her even further by allowing himself a small smile as he struck the gavel for order.

It was with some reluctance that she switched off the television and settled down on the screened porch with her sketch pad. Curious, how despite being aware that it was her own long and rather knobby fingers that moved her stick of charcoal across the pad, and her own thighs that pressed against the porch chair’s plastic webbing, her forehead seemed to stretch back into Ehrlichman’s tight, tanned baldness, her upper lip to tighten the way his had. Mulish, she thought, and said, “Hee-haw,” which was supposed to make her laugh, but failed because the thought pressing up inside of Jane/John Ehrlichman was the thought that a person had to want to solve a mystery or a crime in order to solve it. John Ehrlichman did not want to solve anything. He was involved in a cover-up, and something told her that she was, too. Granted that her cover-up seemed more a matter of looking away from facts instead of altering them, still, the idea made her feel not just sad but vaguely corrupt—

And alarmed, too, because—she dropped the sketch pad and stick charcoal (which broke in two) on the porch floor and stood—because suppose the ringing of the telephone had gone on for forty minutes? Not for just the maybe twenty minutes when she had been back at the house and heard it, but also for the entire twenty minutes that she was out on her run?

That would look odd.

In need of immediate distraction, she hurried into the kitchen and pulled her copy of Organic Homestead from the shelf next to the wall-phone and opened it to the back, the entry for Zucchini. “Yes,” she said and exited the house, headed to the garden, “yes, I heard it ringing but didn’t answer. After my run. Because I was doing a cool down.”

According to Organic Homestead, larval borers were almost certainly the reason that the zucchini plants looked sick. Larval borers. The name gave her a shiver. Miss, Im afraid you have larval borers. Hard not to take larval borers personally. According to Organic Homestead, a positive diagnosis would make it necessary for the homesteader to cut open the plants’ stems, remove the grubs. She lifted the drooping leaves on one of the sick plants. Hard to imagine cutting into the stems, which were mere tubes of water and cellulose, so delicate the sun shone right through them. But, at the bases of several she found the predicted wet, rusty-looking cankers.

She started to the house to fetch a paring knife, then—what was it?—an uncanny sense of being watched made the hair rise on the back of her neck.

Her first impulse was to run for the house, but she reined it in. Better not to show that you suspected something, she supposed, and made her survey of the driveway, the corners of the house and shed very casual. Nothing. The windows of the Hoggs’ closed-off rooms held only reflections of the morning’s blue sky. Maybe it had been nothing. Only the week before, thinning lettuce, she had been startled by a loud rustling in the cornfields that grew right up to the lawn. That culprit turned out to be a large, blinking, black and white steer, initially camouflaged by the long leaves of the corn and their shifting shadows. Worried the animal might come into the yard, trample the vegetable garden, Jane had run at it, shouting, shoo, shoo, and despite a chilling moment when its dumb expression suggested the possibility of a charge, it had turned, its whisk of crooked tail flashing, and gone crashing back into the cornfield.

Who would spy on her, anyway? The idea was ridiculous. Probably a result of watching the hearings.

In a series of fuzzy black and white photos, Organic Homestead demonstrated the steps needed to take to eradicate the larva, and, settled in the garden—granted that the knife she had brought out from the kitchen was much larger, her French knife, instead of the paring knife that she earlier had in mind—she did her best to concentrate on the operation, not to think that someone might have been watching her. Not to wonder who let the telephone ring so long. Not to practice excuses for why she had not answered.

Insert your knife into the area of the stem near the canker. Make a vertical slit of approximately three inches. Carefully, carefully separate the delicate sides of the stem. Remove the disgusting reward you find inside: a pale, twisting grub featuring an attentive pair of black dots that she supposed were its eyes.

With the tip of the knife, she flicked the thing onto the grass, cut it into wriggling halves.

It was necessary, after each of these operations, to mound the garden soil up and over that area of the stem where you had made the cut. The book said healthy new roots would grow in the mound, but that remained to be seen, and there were so many stems to cut. She had just begun.

from Chapter 9:


The summer of 1973, in addition to Organic Homestead, Jane read—furtively, in case Dana would tease her—a popular self-help book whose title laid it open to parodies that would continue into the next millennia (Im Okay, Youre Fucked; Im Okay, Youre Dead). Deeper into that same summer, she also read Daniel Ellsberg’s Papers on the War, its own title clearly meant to bring to mind the collection of government documents, The Pentagon Papers, whose publication had brought Ellsberg so much fame. Jane thought Papers on the War was smart, well-written. At the time, she considered Ellsberg almost a friend, and felt his analysis of the war in Vietnam might even shed some light on the confusion of her own life.


Years later, she would be surprised to read that publication of Papers on the War had been seriously delayed because Ellsberg suffered from a debilitating writer’s block. Also from a terrible longing for celebrity. In fact, Jane learned, many acquaintances of Ellsberg believed that he delivered The Pentagon Papers to the press primarily from a frustrated desire for fame.


The Watergate-era would come to look less shocking, of course, when Jane was in her early sixties and the joke of Donald Trump’s run for the presidency morphed into the nightmare reality of Trump as President. Still, like so many who had lived through those earlier, bad old days, she maintained an interest in the scandal, the players, the question of what truly had toppled the Nixon administration. Given that the contents of The Pentagon Papers concerned the years before Nixon ever took office, the consensus was that it made little sense to think their publication played a major role in his downfall, but Jane had been intrigued when she heard, in interview, an elderly, much-chastened John Ehrlichman say that it was Ellsberg’s delivery of the Papers to the press that destroyed Nixon—ironically, Ehrlichman stressed, not because of the Papers’ contents, but because of Nixon’s reaction to the Papers’ publication.


True, two of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon concerned his administration’s conduct vis-à-vis its efforts to retaliate against Ellsberg: however, as


1) In 1968, in response to his lifelong trouble with writer’s block, Ellsberg consulted the psychiatrist Dr. Lewis Fielding; and then,


2) in 1971, Ellsberg delivered to the press what came to be known as The Pentagon Papers, at least in part with the hope that this would bring him that fame he had hoped to win through publication of his own writing; and then,


3) in 1973, the trail of evidence from the break in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex led investigators back to the 1971 burglary of Dr. Fielding’s offices, and, finally,


4) the discovery of written proof that the White House, hoping to “smear” Ellsberg, had authorized the burglary of his psychiatrist’s offices


Jane liked to say—tongue-in-cheek—that the President truly was defeated by the writer’s block of his enemy.

Elizabeth Evans is the author of six works of fiction: As Good As Dead, Rowing in Eden, Carter Clay, and The Blue Hour; and the short story collections Suicide’s Girlfriend and Locomotion. This excerpt is from her novel in progress Daniel Ellsberg's Psychiatrist.

Watergate Blues ::: Howlin’ Wolf

H20gate Blues ::: Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson

The Atomic Telephone ::: The Spirit of Memphis Quartet

Save The Watergate 500 ::: Melvin Van Peebles

Watergate Blues ::: Tom T Hall

Le Telephone Sonne ::: Souzy Kasseya

The Psychiatrist ::: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

The Interstate Is Coming Through My Outhouse (Spiro Agnew) ::: Billy Ed Wheeler