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Eric Massa's Secret

Long before the Eric Massa scandal broke, the congressman carried the lonely burden of another secret that, if revealed, would turn his world upside down. An extraordinary look inside the mind of a man in the crisis of his lifetime.
By Ryan D'Agostino

[Image: 01-congressman-eric-massa-photo-0610-lg.jpg] Elisa Miller/Daily News Pix

A text message appears, lighting up the cell phone in the cupholder of the rental car. Ting, ting. "R u at me house. Someone pounding at the door?"
I am not at his house. I'm pulling into the Rite Aid a few minutes from Eric Massa's house to buy toothpaste, so I type back, "No not yet." The sky over Corning, New York, is still the blood-blue of early evening, but it feels later. There aren't many other cars rolling off Route 17, and the town looks preserved and still. I turn off Denison, up Chemung Street, which gets very steep very quickly. Then ting, ting. "Just come around back. In the driveway."
Five days ago, on the morning of March 5, 2010, Eric Massa called me and told me he had tried to kill himself. Tried twice, in fact. He said it happened while he was driving alone from Washington, D. C., to Corning, a disgraced congressman returning home to his district for good, and two times during the haul, he said, he had to pull over to keep from... well. Almost in the same breath he told me he was planning to announce his resignation later that day, and then he asked if I thought anyone would want to read a story about him. I had met Massa four years ago when I wrote about the financial hardship that running for Congress causes someone who has no wealth. He and I had stayed in touch, and now I am pulling up to his house.
Massa has been talking for days about the reporters storming his home, which explains the pounding at his door. Twenty-four hours earlier, after a brief trip to New York to be interviewed by Glenn Beck for a solid bizarre hour of live television, Massa walked out of the elevator to find a cameraman and a reporter asking him questions. Out on Sixth Avenue, a young producer from the Today show, an old guy from the Daily News waving a tape recorder, and somebody else with a camera trailed him for a whole block, asking about the groping allegations and the cancer and the tickle party and his sudden resignation from the United States House of Representatives. He smiled uncomfortably and held his wife's hand and simply walked on, responding to only the harshest questions, a kid trying to ignore the bullies on the playground. Once they were safely in the hotel lobby, his wife, Beverly, checked text messages. "Well, the first one's positive: 'Great job. We're proud of you.'" It was a boutique hotel trying to be hip--the lights were low and yellow. Massa was staring at a floor-to-ceiling aquarium when he turned to her and said quietly, "I'm sorry." She said, "There's nothing to apologize about. Why are you sorry?"
"For putting you through this."
Get the Inside Story on Massa from Esquire's New Politics Blog >>

[Image: 02-eric-massa-wife-0610-lg-19745038.jpg] Elisa Miller/Daily News Pix

Massa and his wife, Beverly, leaving Glenn Beck's show, heading to Larry King Live, which would be his final media appearance.

A couple hours later, a town car drove them to CNN for a satellite interview with Larry King. The car inched along Fifty-eighth Street, mostly in silence. A few blocks away from the studio, Beverly nudged her husband and said, "Oh, I see a beagle!" Massa turned and lifted his eyebrows wanly, and then said, "When we get near CNN, I'm sure there's going to be press waiting, both coming in and going out."
Nobody was waiting coming in or going out. And the next morning, the fifty-year-old former congressman from upstate New York — who resigned either because his cancer has returned to again threaten his life, or because he has been a profligate and boorish sexual menace to people in his employ, or because he has been destroyed by the most powerful people in the country because he stood in opposition to them, depending on who's telling the story — quietly exited the mediaverse and returned to his house and its enveloping silence, save for the pounding on the door.
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Massa lives in Corning, a tired town in western New York, way out almost to Buffalo, in a big green house high on a hill, in the part of town where the Corning glass company executives live. A decade ago, a Corning executive was what he moved here to be. The plan was to work until retirement, set aside his Navy pension, buy a cottage somewhere, and live out his days with Beverly, reading his books about war and history and seafaring. Do some gardening, maybe. It's not working out that way, but for the time being he has held on to the big green house. Tonight the chipped-stone driveway is wet with melting snow, and the air at the top of the hill high above the town is damp and chalky. Behind the house a single light shines from the separate three-car garage and another burns dimly over the back-porch door. Most of the windows are black. It looks like a house whose owners, away on vacation, left a couple of lights on to create the illusion of activity. I knock a few times on the back door, but no one answers, so from the stoop I call Massa on my cell. Beverly appears after a minute and opens the door, her face drawn with lines of hospitality and desperation, like a woman sitting shivah. She motions for me to come in. The warm, dim kitchen is filled with the vaguely sweet smell of dinner. She is not wearing shoes.
"Eric's in there," she says, expressionless, opening her palm toward the long, darkened dining room, through the French doors in the front hall where the family photos hang — one from every year since the two youngest kids were babies--and into the living room. There Massa sits at the end of the sofa closest to the fire — it's a moody, cinematic fire, crackling and casting shadows--shoulders rolled forward, hands cupping a small glass of red wine, feet angled slightly in, eyebrows raised in either expectation or resignation, like a man in a waiting room. The window shades and pretty lace curtains have been drawn, so it looks like a room on a stage set. A photograph in an oval frame hangs over Massa's head: he and Beverly on their wedding day, 1988.
He looks up, head bobbing a little, and says in a voice that sounds sandy and soft in the big, dark room, "So now I'm a serial groper."
He lets that hang for a moment in the firelight. "They've got guys I served with in the Navy coming out and saying I groped them." He sounds bewildered, and maybe disgusted, and exhausted. "We're talking about twenty years ago."

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[Image: 03-eric-massa-builds-a-fire-0610-lg.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

THE WOODPILE /// The air in Corning, New York, was still raw and cold, and Massa built fires all day long, using old copies of Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, as a starter. "Within five minutes of me announcing I wasn’t going to run, people were throwing ethics allegations at me in public," he said. "Yesterday it was I was groping staffers. Today it will be I had sex with a small dog. Tomorrow, sex with a big cat."

Beverly quietly disappears into some other dark room. Massa stares at the thin-plank wood floor as a log on the fire wheezes and pops. And even though it's March, on the mantel is an elaborate, Dickensian, miniature London decorated for Christmas, complete with figurines of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Massa has bought the pieces — little houses, little trees, little blacksmith shop, little London Stock Exchange — for Beverly over the years. Across the room, above the upright piano hangs a painting of the Libertad, the Argentine square-rigged sailing ship on which Massa once circled the globe. His father, Emiddio, was a Navy man for more than thirty years — Eric served for twenty-four, rising to the rank of commander — and the family spent a chunk of Eric's childhood in Argentina. (Massa sometimes tells people he's Argentine, before adding, "by background.") Baudour, the family's lumbering old yellow lab, lies in the foyer, thumping her tail against the rug. Whump-whump-whump. Massa has slumped back on the couch. Now he's talking about fine-needle biopsies. "... And there's lymph nodes that drain your whole system, collect all the dead cells and bacteria and everything. And lymphoma is when those lymph nodes become cancerous. And — quiet, puppy dog." Whump-whump-whump. "Hush, Baudour."
Beverly appears at the French doors. "She's just wagging her tail," she says. "Did you want to come try to eat some sausage, or not?"
"I'll get it myself. Thanks, sweetheart. I'm just telling him about fine-needle biopsies." Beverly nods, half smiles, and turns away. If there is a dizzying jumble of narratives attending the public demise of Congressman Massa, it is because inside him there are several storytellers. A few days ago, Massa had eviscerated the House leadership and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for conspiring against him because he was standing in the way of health-care reform, the president's signature domestic initiative. Four days before that, he hadn't even mentioned politics in explaining why he had decided not to run for reelection, intimating, though not saying, that the cancer that had almost killed him a decade earlier had returned. "I will now enter the final phase of my life..." he had said then. That same day, when faced with the first reports that he had sexually harassed a male staff member, he dismissed the charge, saying that he was an old sailor and with Eric Massa, "salty language" is what you get.
"So anyway," he says, "they jam a needle the width of pencil lead right around your heart to aspirate — they can't do open-heart surgery, because chemo is the next step and you can't undergo chemo if you have an open wound. So they start hammering this needle into you and, oh, by the way, there's no anesthesia, and it hurt, but you can't move. And they didn't get enough tissue when they aspirated, so they had to go in arthroscopically and attempt a tumor reduction, and I had about a 90 percent chance of dying from that." Massa stops, raises his eyebrows, bobs his head. "So I think about that and go, Well, okay, so now I've got most of the Western world hating my guts, as opposed to that. Where am I?" He puts down the wine. "But see, I could fight cancer. It was an entity, it was a thing. You can't fight what's happening now. I'm punching air. All I can do is take it."
BEHIND THE SCENES: Get the Inside Story on Massa >>

[Image: 10-eric-massa-family-photo-0610-lg.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

THE UNHAPPY FAMILY /// Just over a year earlier, Massa had been given a seat on the House Armed Services Committee without even seeking it. He says he never really felt like he belonged in Washington; he says if he ends up writing a book about his experience, he would call it Not What I Expected.

He walks through the dark dining room into the kitchen to eat the grilled sausage and sweet sautéed onions and frozen vegetable medley that Beverly has left out. She has done this since his first campaign for Congress in 2006, which he lost by three percentage points — left dinner on the stove, covered in foil, for when he came home after a day of driving around in a minivan, talking to voters. He was full of thunder then, and at the house parties and the pizza-parlor rallies and the American Legion Styrofoam-plate dinners, he would bellow. His America was a great unfolding drama, and Eric Massa was the citizen soldier at the center of that drama. And so what if he laid it on a little thick? He was Captain America, you know? He had a flair. And besides, these were consequential times — wars raging, terrorists threatening, economy tanking, little people suffering. Somebody should be bellowing, right?
Tonight, no one bellows. Tonight, he's a disgrace in moccasins, and when he shuffles along the plank floor from one room to another, his feet sound like brushes on a snare. Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. He pours more merlot, checks his voice mail.
"Meredith Verrari or something, from the Today show? Nope. No, thanks. I'm done. I did two interviews and I'm done. I just want to disappear."
He laughs a quick laugh through his nose, three sniffs — he does this, usually to express incredulity. The windows behind him are covered with the pretty lace so no one can see in; a garland of plastic sunflowers is carefully draped over each curtain rod.
"Only two reporters banging on the door tonight."
He cuts into the sausage. Above the table on a shelf, propped up by an "España" snow globe: a snapshot of Eric and Beverly on the Capitol steps, at his swearing-in in January 2009, he thinks. Massa frowns and smooths out the bumps in his wood-bead place mat with his hand like a Zamboni, over and over and over.
"Beverly went down to the drugstore to pick up a prescription earlier, and they wouldn't let her out of the store. I won't be able to leave the house for weeks."
E-mail Your Questions for Wednesday's Chat on The Politics Blog
Massa uses his knife to push the vegetables onto his fork, stares hard at his plate while he chews, head bouncing, forehead crinkled in consternation. Then, as if in a car that just lurched forward, he rocks back in his chair. He breathes in deep through his nose, wipes the corners of his mouth, takes a sip of wine, looks up.
"I never thought I would be the number-one, top-of-the-news-cycle, every-hour-on-the-hour news story in the country. I mean, it's all Massa, all the time. Did you ever think you'd know the guy who replaced Haiti on the nightly news?"
He shakes his head and does the sniff-laugh. The phone rings. He says it's his doctor. Massa and his wife carry the cordless into the living room and shut the door. In the kitchen, his dinner is half eaten. Polish pottery, navy blue with white dots, hangs on every wall, with dozens more pieces displayed on shelves. Plates, bowls, cups, pitchers. They bought some of it in Poland, when Massa was stationed in Belgium, serving as special assistant to General Wesley Clark, then NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. Now you can get the same stuff on QVC, Beverly says, so they've filled out the set.
She is the first to return from the living room, and her eyelids look quilted. She stands in the doorway, one hand on the frame and one on the kitchen counter, and says to me in a voice as flat as a lake, "Is your story going to attack Eric in any way? Because he can't take that." She stays in the kitchen, puttering around: throwing away a paper napkin, putting a glass in the dishwasher, keeping busy. She's apple-cheeked and Norwegian by way of Long Island, and she isn't happy about any of this, not with the kids still in college, but mostly because it just isn't fair what they're doing to Eric. In the greenroom at Fox News, she had said, "When Steny Hoyer started comparing Eric to Mark Foley" — the Florida congressman who was caught sending dirty instant messages to teenage boys working as House pages — "and making the ethics investigation public, that's when I knew. This is not only Eric's name but my children's, my grandchildren's, and my great-grandchildren's."
The kitchen is clean and Beverly has again gone to other rooms, worrying. Upstairs in their bedroom, Massa installed a reinforced steel door when he went to Congress so Beverly would feel safe sleeping in the big green house alone. Massa returns from talking to his doctor, rubbing his forehead, and he sits back down to his plate of sausage. He sits down heavily, like a sack dropping, sending a little breeze across the table. He closes his eyes and smiles and shakes his head. "Well, he's not happy." He lets out a quick, high giggle and pushes vegetables onto the fork, chews fast. His face is red. "If this comes back? What the hell, six months. We go on a cruise."Beverly does not hear this part, but just then she pops in, says she's heading to bed. "I'll be up, sweetheart," he tells her. "I'm just gonna go tuck Ryan in out in the guesthouse."

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[Image: 05-eric-massa-esquire-0610-lg.jpg] Whitney Tressel

THE SECRET MEETING /// "I'm a freshman member of Congress," Massa said in early February at the Esquire offices. "I should be fixing potholes, not having retired generals approaching me, asking me to save the future of American democracy."

One month earlier, Eric Massa had been a very different man.
"Coffee, Congressman?"
"Can somebody get the door?"
He arrived solo. Just another man in a suit walking along Eighth Avenue and disappearing into an office building. Through the revolving doors, up the escalator of the Hearst Tower. He had told no one — no one on his congressional staff or in his family, not his parents, not even his wife — the reason for the meeting at the offices of Esquire magazine. "I'm the only one who knows," he had said on the phone. He couldn't risk anyone else accidentally saying something, and then becoming enmeshed in a crisis that would consume them, just as he would be consumed once he exposed the truth.
The conference-room door closed, the congressman stirred his coffee and then folded his hands on the table before him, paused for a dramatic moment before beginning to speak. "Gentlemen, what we have here is a constitutional crisis," he said. "If what I've been told is true — and I believe it is — General David Petraeus, a commander with soldiers deployed in two theaters of war, has had multiple meetings with Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the United States, to discuss Petraeus's candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency. And in fact, that's more than a constitutional crisis. That's treason."
One month before, in early January, Congressman Massa had called me and sketched out the bare bones of the tale he was now propounding. Four retired generals, he said — "three four-stars and one three-star" — had picked up disturbing reports that Petraeus, the commander of United States Central Command, whose portfolio contains the worst trouble spots on the globe, including Iraq and Afghanistan, had recently met with Cheney — twice — and Cheney was trying to recruit him to run in 2012. Were he to be the nominee, Massa said, Petraeus would be in the unprecedented position of a military man running for president against his own commander in chief.
"We have to see this for what it is," Massa said, his voice pleading. "There is a reason that we have in this country civilian leadership of the military. It is, among other things, to avoid something like this. Because in order to succeed electorally, General Petraeus must fail militarily. You understand? In order to succeed electorally, he must fail in his mission. Were he to run and win — and if he were to run, he would win in a landslide — we would be witness to an American coup d'état. It is the functional equivalent of the political overthrow of the commander in chief."
The congressman punctuated his sentence with a snort of indignation, followed by a short, high laugh. He searched the three other faces in the room for affirmation, any sign at all that we understood the gravity of the situation, because he had to that point been living alone with this unseemly knowledge. For a moment, he was met with silence. The story Massa had just told was staggering, and confusing. And just who was this man sitting before us? His eyes were wide and his voice thundered and a couple of times he seemed just short of hyperventilating. But if this story that four generals — "people whose names you know, very prominent military men" — had brought to him had any basis in fact, and if Petraeus were deliberately undermining his commander in chief, shouldn't somebody be bellowing about it?
UPDATE ON THE POLITICS BLOG: Petraeus, Legal Expert Respond to Claim

[Image: 06-david-petraeus-dick-cheney-0610-lg-43758645.jpg] AFP via Getty Images

THE ACCUSATION /// "If what I've been told [about General Petraeus] is true," Massa said in February, "that's more than a constitutional crisis. That's treason."

"Congressman Massa," an editor said, "there are coups and then there are elections, and however improper and serious this kind of political activity might be, it wouldn't be a coup, right?"
Massa shot him a look. "I know something about the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he said. "And I want you to tell me how this is not a coup. You've got a commander with armies in the field, and he's plotting with Dick Cheney to bring down his commander in chief. How is that not a coup? It's Seven Days in May!"
The congressman was beside himself. And although we did not come to agreement on how best to describe the implications of such high-stakes, high-level skulduggery, he did manage to impress upon the small group in the soundproof conference room of the midtown high-rise that if the general and the vice-president were indeed hatching such a plot, it was a serious matter indeed.
He also managed to impress upon us something else: Congressman Eric Massa was a little bit crazy.
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Of course, if his story were true, and could be verified, would anyone ultimately care about that? After all, if crazy people were disqualified from participation in the significant events of our time, there would be a lot fewer significant events in our time.
He then told us how this task had fallen to him because he knew these generals intimately from his decades as a naval officer and because of his quickly rising prominence as a new member of the House Armed Services Committee. "They said, Eric, this is happening, and you've got to stop it," said the congressman. "And then it became my problem. They've left a steaming pile of dog shit on my desk, and now it belongs to me. And I am now in a position that if I do the right thing, I will likely be destroyed. I know who I'm dealing with here. David Petraeus and I go way back. He's wanted this from the very beginning.
"And mark my words, as a naval officer of twenty-four years who has looked at our current conflicts from every angle, I believe that having David Petraeus as president is precisely the way for the Dick Cheneys of the world to perpetuate these wars for the rest of our lives, and to start new wars. To have endless wars. Endless war is their goal."
The congressman paused, smiled. "Hey, who needs a political career?"

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[Image: 07-eric-massa-kitchen-0610-lg.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

THE DARK HOUSE /// Massa and his wife made their home into a temporary cocoon — shades drawn, lights low — closed off from the world outside, even as the world moved on.

Morning. Corning, New York. He's wearing the same clothes as yesterday: The same flannel shirt, only it's untucked now. Same jeans, but without a belt, so they're hanging low on his hips, like a teenager's. The moccasins. Massa is frying eggs to go with tortillas he's spread with salsa. He stayed in bed until about ten o'clock.
"I woke up one more morning," he says through a sad smile. "I'm on the right side of the grass." The lace kitchen curtains spray sunlight all over the room; over by the stove Massa is lit by under-the-cabinet fluorescents.
The man is frying eggs in yesterday's clothes. It's just breakfast, and all over America right now men are doing some version of this. But a couple of weeks ago at this time he might have been in a committee hearing, having gotten up at five, and hollered "Good morning!" to the Capitol police on his way to the gym where he'd shower before making his way to his desk in the neoclassical Washington building that's tethered to the Capitol by an underground tunnel. Of course, what with the five hours of fundraising calls a day, every day — because the system is broken beyond repair to the point where you're not legislating, you're not helping people, you're sitting in a room on the phone begging for money, and nobody has any idea how corrupt and calculated it all is — Eric Massa would work until midnight most days. But now he can't leave his house, not even to get the mail.
Massa didn't actually tuck me in last night. He just showed me to the apartment above the garage. There's a sitting area with a desk where he says his campaign staff used to work sometimes. There's a kitchenette. There are little glass goblets of potpourri and a big red candle scented with mulberry, which was already lit when we went up. There are closets and crawl spaces strewn with old MASSA FOR CONGRESS signs and buttons. In the bathroom: dozens of tiny shampoos and conditioners and soaps and shower gels from Eric and Beverly's travels.
As he lumbered back to the main house in his moccasins, I turned on Letterman, who was doing four minutes on Massa in the monologue. I looked out at the darkened window where Eric and Beverly lay in bed, unaware that Letterman was going to town on him and the studio audience was going nuts. As Letterman was pretending to tickle people, the whole country was going nuts. The day before — was it just yesterday? — Massa had said that amazing thing to Glenn Beck — did he really say that?

Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my fiftieth birthday. It was 'kill the old guy.' He said it like What's the big deal? And you could've heard an ant breathing in the TV studio after he said it. Massa was convinced that because of the tickle party — this he told me later — Ron Hikel, Massa's legislative director and basically staff old guy, a man in his seventies who was always trying to make sure the congressman and his staff, who were in their twenties and thirties, acted "congressionally," reported to the House ethics committee that Massa had groped the kid at his birthday party. That decision of course led to the bizarre stretch in which Massa said he wasn't going to run for reelection because he might have cancer, or maybe it was because he's the pivotal vote on health care, andI'm telling you they will stop at nothing--
"Thirty, sixty, ninety days, six months, a year," he says, slowly, while he plates the eggs, as if patiently explaining something again. Thirty, sixty, ninety days, six months, a year: It becomes a mantra that he pulls out every time the whole thing gets to be too much. He has said it several times already this morning, carving up the future in his mind into manageable increments, making sure that every night before he goes to bed he wants to wake up the next morning on the right side of the grass.
Thirty, sixty, ninety days, six months, a year.
Get the Inside Story on Massa from Esquire's New Politics Blog >>

[Image: 08-eric-massa-couch-0610-lg-97457646.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

BACK ON THE COUCH /// Even after his resignation, Massa was still receiving House e-mails. Sitting in his living room, reading them on his BlackBerry, he learned of a resolution by House Minority Leader John Boehner to launch an investigation into when the Democratic Congressional leadership knew of Massa's alleged sexual transgressions.

He's sitting on the couch now, by the fire, leaning back, one leg up, checking his e-mail — Massa still gets House e-mails on his BlackBerry — and he opens one regarding a call to vote. He reads aloud, skimming: "Motion to refer the Boehner privilege resolution...Attached please find...Let me see if I can open this.... It may have something to do with Charlie Rangel. Boehner is always trying to...but it might be me, for all I know" — he pauses here. "It is about me.... Yeah...Jesus Christ...Representative Eric Massa resigned from the House.... Newspapers and the media have reported in the days...Committee on Standards...allegations that Mr. Massa sexually harassed...brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer's staff allegations of misconduct...Pelosi's office took no action.... Whereas the possibility that House Democratic leaders may have failed to immediately confront Representative Massa about allegations of sexual harassment may have exposed employees and interns of Representative Massa to continued harassment...."
He looks up and kind of smiles and shakes his head as if to say, Don't you see? It's so obvious what they're doing. This is the Republicans starting in on him, but whatever — this is what happens when an outsider tries to go to Washington, is his point. He stops talking. I hear his voice over the phone on the day last summer when he called me, cocksure and earnest, and suggested without a trace of humor that he should appear on the cover of Esquire — a freshman in Congress, an outsider in Washington, fighting the good fight.
"So now I'm a resolution on the floor of the House," Massa mumbles, still staring at the tiny BlackBerry screen. The air in the living room is stale with coffee and wine and socks; the fire needs wood. The light has grown fuscous and dim, and the room seems to shrink whenever Massa talks in a low voice. "You call your closest friends and nobody answers because they're all afraid to talk to you."
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[Image: 09-eric-massa-phone-call-0610-lg-39400038.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

THE END OF THE LINE /// "It's about aspiring for greatness, beyond what you are. And when you combine that with Caesar, where his closest friend was the guy that killed him, I feel like that's where I'm at," Massa said. "If somebody really believes I was that evil, don't you think they'd say something to me? A friend of mine called me the other day and he goes, 'Eric, there is no Cincinnatus. You can't aspire to that because it doesn't exist, it's a myth. And you're the only guy who didn't get the memo. You actually think that Mr. Smith can go to Washington.'"

Eric Massa loved the Navy. Everything in this house has something to do with his service. His uniform is hanging from the bookshelf. Ships, flags, books, photographs, the Life magazine from 1984 with a story about his ship, the USS New Jersey. The Lion King poster upstairs, from when his kids would visit him onboard the ship and watch that movie over and over again in his quarters while he was on duty. His office was the same way, he says: a set of Navy silver and china from a ship he served on, a print of the Constitution.
"Let me try Doc again."
Doc's a veteran, an old friend, one of the good guys, the guy you want in your corner. Massa is still shaking his head — his head is small for his body, which makes him seem approachable — over the Boehner thing. There is a quick machine-gun knock at the front door — bambambambam. He glances up and rolls his eyes. Reporter. He doesn't even peek out the curtains. The knock comes again, hard, same way. Massa punches up Doc's number on his BlackBerry. Doc's from here, from home. Need to talk to Doc. Massa says he never really felt like he belonged in Washington; he says if he ends up writing a book about his experience, he would call it Not What I Expected. Some mornings, he says, after he had moved out of the townhouse he shared with the guys on his staff and set up house in his office in the Longworth building — at old man Hikel's and chief of staff Joe Racalto's insistence, because living with your staff wasn't "congressional" — Massa would walk from his office to the Capitol rotunda, "which is an incredible, incredible space. It would be around 5:15 in the morning, the sun was just coming up, and I would recite the Gettysburg Address from memory. And the echo" — he whispers that word — "that you get when you stand there is ... is omniscient. And I'd be all charged up." He lets that image hang. "And then I'd go to the gym and have Rahm Emanuel poke his finger at me in the shower."
Anyway: Doc. Doc Schmitz was on Massa's staff here in Corning, as his veterans liaison. Just as with Ron Hikel, Massa describes him as one of his closest personal friends. A rock. Mad as hell over all of this. Massa just wants to talk to him, commiserate with him, find out what the hell he thinks is going on, but Doc's not answering his cell, so Massa calls down to the Corning congressional office on Market Street, his former office. He is now just another constituent in New York's 29th Congressional District.
"All right, I'll hold, if it's okay." There's a pause, and the guy on the other end comes back and says something, and Massa says, all friendly, like everything's normal, "Just put a little piece of paper in front of him that says Eric's on the line and can you, will you take —" and then it hits him. He halts for a second before saying, "because maybe he doesn't want to talk to me. Just say, Will you take the call?"
Massa is holding the phone away from his face a little, so the tinny voice on the other end comes through loud and clear into the static air in the immaculate living room, and the voice says, "Ah, I got the impression he didn't want to talk to you, to be honest with you." After the slightest of pauses, Massa says, "Okay, all right. Well, tell him to give me a call if he can. Thanks."
Nothing moves. You can't see outside. This room is the whole world, and it's hard to breathe.
He stares at the phone.
The sniff-laugh. "He's on ... he's on the other line."
It's obvious that this is not true. And for the first time since this all started — for the first time since I met him in 2006 — Eric Massa has nothing to say. He has raised kids, he's watched men die, he's guarded nuclear warheads at sea, don't you understand, he's been told he has four months to live, he has been elected to the United States Congress, he's had the president's chief of staff stand in front of him in the shower with his dick flapping around as he poked him in the chest....
And now Doc won't talk to him.

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[Image: 04-eric-massa-wesley-clark-0610-lg.jpg] Lynn Brennan
Wesley Clark Campaigning for Eric Massa

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"Hey, who needs a political career?" the congressman said again. "I mean, that'll be the end of that, because when I go public with this, they'll come after me with everything they've got, and I mean everything. But if I'm going to go down in flames, I may as well do something good."
Massa was declared free of cancer in 1999, a cancer his doctors had once described as terminal, and eventually decided to follow his old boss Wesley Clark into politics. In 2006, he almost exhausted his savings and spent his family into debt campaigning for the reliably Republican congressional seat that included the town of Corning, where he lived. And four days after he lost that race by a respectable three percentage points, he decided that he would be running again and that he would not give up until he represented New York 29 in Congress. It was hard to imagine anyone wanting to be in the Congress of the United States more than Eric Massa. So barely a year into his congressional career, it was surprising to hear Massa sound so sanguine — eager, even — about the prospect of self-immolation. Martyrdom. And that, of course, assumed that his information about David Petraeus from his "four generals" was even remotely correct, and that also assumed that Massa's analysis was correct, and that coming forward with such information would destroy him, a piece of thinking that seemed arguable at the very least. Beneath his protestations that he didn't ask for this mission, there was a messianic quality to Massa's presentation. Sometimes you look around and there's just no one else left to do the right thing.
BEHIND THE SCENES: What Do Massa's Allegations Mean?
"So here's what I've done. Earlier this week, I made a call to the Pentagon. I went to the very top — the senior uniformed officers stationed at the Pentagon — and I said, 'I need a meeting.' I was told, 'You can't have one, they're very busy. What's it about?' And I told the official, 'If I have to get up at a committee hearing and go public with this, it will cause the mother of all shitstorms and your life will be hell. So I need a meeting. Now.'
"And so four days ago I went to the Pentagon and sat across from some of the most highly decorated officers in the United States military, and I briefed them on the situation, the gravity of which was lost on no one, and I said, 'Gentlemen, I'm giving you a week to get an answer from General Petraeus. The clock starts now.' "
"Did they take you seriously, Congress-man?"
"Oh, oh yes. You could have heard a pin drop."
Our meeting was over. Massa, exercised by the rigors of moral suasion, leaned back in his chair, suddenly at ease. He took the last gulp of his coffee, cold by now, and looked at me with a mischievous glint in his eye. "What are you, seventeen?" He turned to another editor and pointed at me. "What is he, seventeen?" Turning back to me, he laughed and said, "You better watch yourself around gay bars, my friend. It could get interesting."
We all laughed.

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[Image: 11-eric-massa-at-home-0610-lg.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

THE BACKDOOR /// Massa rarely left the house, fearful of the reporters and photographers he had seen staked out nearby. He ventured into the backyard only once or twice a day, to retrieve firewood or to give Baudour, his old yellow lab, a little exercise.

Doc. Well, that does it. That's the bottom. "Maybe I should write a book about how to die," he said a couple days ago, about his cancer. But he might also have been speaking about this moment. The Doc rejection completes Massa's unraveling. "You are witnessing the total and complete destruction of a man," he says.
Beverly is making pizza dough in the bread maker, but even the prospect of her homemade pizza doesn't do anything to lighten the mood. The house, with its enveloping silence, save for Massa's sad monologue and the distant thud-thud-thud of the bread maker, now seems also to be filling with darkness. The sun is going down, yes, but that's not it. It's as if something, some force, has come to claim Eric Massa, and he will talk and talk in the face of it, and maybe he will talk his way out of it, and maybe he won't. Thirty, sixty, ninety days, six months, a year.
"I'm done," he says. "Finito. I got people on the Right wanting me to run for Senate, I got people on the Left want to burn me in hell, I got people in the White House trying to convince everybody that I'm a gay rapist going after dogs, I got people in the press, I mean, it's" — he makes the sound of an explosion with his mouth — "all Massa all the time on every news channel. I mean, what?"
His incomprehension is genuine and palpable, and in that, Eric Massa is justified and believable. As he prophesied, but for much different reasons, he is now surely being destroyed. Utterly consumed, without pity or proportion. And so the question now etched on his face is the right question, and there is no good answer for it.
As for how he got here, well, the only reasonable explanation is that Massa must know, but he'll only say, "I have no idea." When he's asked about the growing array of claims against him, he says, "The only answer is that there is no answer."
Silence is always unbearable to him, and he keeps talking.
"Ron Hikel once walked in on me and Joe, my chief of staff, who's an openly gay man, and we were quote-unquote embracing. But it was more than a hug because we were in tears. I was crying my eyes out because he had just told me that a young marine from my district, who I knew, who I recruited to go into the Marine Corps, had been killed in Afghanistan, and neither one of us knew how the hell we were gonna talk to the parents. Ron turned right around and walked out and two days later said, 'I'm sure glad there weren't any cameras around to see that.' I didn't even — it didn't click at the time. Why would you care if there are cameras? Because he was a freaking homophobe."
Don't you see? Don't you see what this is about?
BEHIND THE SCENES: How the Massa Exclusive Happened >>

[Image: 12-eric-massa-office-0610-lg-90032963.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

THE REMAINS /// In the shed, Massa keeps parts of his former life from congressman's office in Washington — a print of the USS Constitution, his briefcase, and some pressed shirts, still on their hangers.

That Massa would later be said to have tried to pick up the bartender serving mourners at that young marine's funeral just, well, goes to show that these people — whoever they may be — will stop at nothing. He claims mystification, views it all as a massive betrayal.
That's a lot of betrayal, Eric, involving so many people.
"And the question is, Why?" Massa says. "And there's no answer for that."
And all the jangling counternarratives — they knew that if they got rid of me, they'd pass health care, and they got rid of me, and look what happened — serve as but a flimsy bulwark against what must be an unbearable shame.
It's hard to watch a man dangle over a pit like this.
Finally, Massa and his wife excuse themselves for a scheduled phone call with their lawyers. The pizza dough is rising. The two of them trudge off to the living room, sullen and sad over Doc. Beverly said Eric would text me when they were done. I leave my glass of wine on the kitchen table — a reporter is parked across the street — and walk up to the guesthouse.
Ting, ting. It's Massa, texting: "Pizza's in the oven for you." And then, not a minute later, "Fire is really burning bright."
Back at the house, impossibly, the mood has lifted. Massa and his wife stand in the kitchen, grinning.
"Well, we just had a very interesting conversation, and it was about of all things you," he says. The lawyers, he says, told him that his story could become a book that could very well be turned into a movie, and that the first step in that direction was to have a big magazine story come out. Have the writer tell your story, the lawyers had told Beverly and Eric.
"I mean, imagine if it won an Oscar," Massa says. "I don't know. Who knows?"
And then he and Beverly are bustling around the kitchen, getting dinner, and he tells me three times that she makes great pizza. He says he married her for her chicken. When they were dating, he says, and he had a shore leave one afternoon, she made them a picnic lunch with amazing chicken, and that's when he knew.
ASK THE AUTHOR: E-mail Your Questions to Ryan D'Agostino Now

[Image: 13-eric-massa-reading-emails-0610-lg-26819049.jpg] Ryan D'Agostino

STAYING IN TOUCH /// Massa found some solace in his personal e-mail, receving many notes of support from family, friends, and old Navy buddies. "Keep standing up for what you believe in and keep making the Naval Academy proud brother," read one.

A few weeks later, in the middle of a squall of new reports about Massa's behavior and sexual-harassment lawsuits by at least two of his former staff members, Beverly would call me. She just wanted to read something, she'd say — a short statement written in frustration after being cooped up in purgatory for so long, unable to respond to all the people saying all the rotten things about her husband. "They are absolutely not true," she would say, her voice earnest and even. "Myself, our children, and all of Eric's family and friends stand united behind him. Those who will continue their unfounded attacks may try and ruin the reputation of an honored veteran, a hardworking congressman, but they will never, and I mean never, take away the love of myself, his children, his family, and his friends. And we are all thankful each and every day that we have him in our lives." She will say that writing that made her feel better, and hang up.
We eat the pizza — good crust, lots of chewy mozzarella, really tasty — and drink a $125 bottle of red Massa says a supporter gave him in San Francisco. Then it's back to the living-room couch. We talk till about 10:30. At one point he says, matter-of-factly, that "other things will come out." He tells me about one night when, after he had been drinking with some staff members, he took an Ambien and ended up walking to the Washington Monument at 4:00 in the morning, before texting his guys that he couldn't find his way home.
"That'll come out," he says. He gets quiet, and the fire throws shadows across the room in a macabre dance.
The next morning, Massa makes omelets. It's raining, and his good mood from last night has dissolved. Before I get in the car to leave, the three of us stand in the kitchen, no lights on. He says, "We have one favor to ask," and they both look at me with plaintive faces. "We can't leave the house," he says. "This would be a big help. It's just down the end of the front walk." Massa holds out a set of keys on a ring.
They want me to check the mail.