And here’s the exciting conclusion to the tale of my encounter with genial old glad-hander Ronald Reagan.  I’ve taken heat since then from people who bring up all the crap that got pulled under Ronnie, who felt that I shouldn’t have in any way said anything positive about him.  Which is a point of view that I understand … but then again, what’s that phrase of Hamlet’s? Something about how "If we were all treated as we deserve, there are none of us that would ‘scape flogging." 

Then again, some of us *do* deserve more lashes than the others. Here’s the rest of it:

While I was debating myself in my head – do I spit? Kick him in the nards? Get witheringly sarcastic? – without any real conscious volition on my part, my hand extended and was enveloped in a very warm handshake.  Ronnie pumped my hand up and down and I actually found myself smiling back at this guy.

Obeyauthoritarian A brief aside: if you’ve ever seen the great cult 80s paranoia thriller “They Live,” the central proposition is that the space aliens don’t have to invade.  They’re already here, they’re in charge and their relentless propaganda broadcasts (“Sleep. Sleep. Consume. Conform. Don’t think for yourself.”) have hypnotized the American public.  I had always fancied myself as the anti-hero, the type of guy who would never get suckered in by the hype, who would be out in the hills wearing a strategically ripped shirt, hiding behind trees and firing bursts from an automatic weapon at the zombie-like hordes

But there I was.  Shaking the hand of the guy who I had considered to be Evil Incarnate, succumbing to his essential friendliness.  All the angry words I had ever wanted to say to Reagan – and there were many, believe me – melted away and I felt compelled to respond to his puppy-dog enthusiasm with kindness, rather than wrath.

“Uh, I was just in the neighborhood, you know, working on a story about (name redacted for legal reasons) up the street.  Nothing was happening, I got bored and so I wandered down here to see what’s up.  By the way, you must be getting bored these days too, now that you’ve retired, huh?”

Reagan barked a genuine laugh, and quipped, “A lot of people Reaganears_1would say that I’ve been retired for a long time now.”

I found myself cracking up.  Reagan had a real self-deprecating sense of humor!

“Do you miss it?” I asked, and then realize that that was probably one of the stupidest questions I’ve ever asked.  I tried to quickly cover up by asking, “Er, uh, I mean obviously, yeah, but uh, what do you miss most about it.  You know, being President, and everything.”

I was getting pretty flustered.  He still had that presidential aura around him, that invisible energy field that people in exceptional positions all seem to have.  Also, my adrenaline was still flowing from the near-biker-style ass-stomping I had just narrowly escaped.

Reagan looked thoughtful and rubbed his chin. “Yeah, I do miss it.  Didn’t think I would.”  His eyes got a little unfocused.  “I guess I miss the feeling that I was doing something really big every day.  And the people.  Not the big world leaders, Gorbachev and Thatcher and all them – but just the people.  The ordinary Joes. There are a lot of good people out there, you know?”

I felt an impulse to blurt out something like “Yeah, and you shit all over their dreams with your tax cuts for the rich and trickle-down ripoff voodoo Reaganomics.” But that impulse was smothered by the overriding need to be nice to this genial old man.

Reagan looked down at his shoes.  “And you know, I mostly miss the quiet times.  Late at night, I could get up and look out the window and see all the big buildings, you know, the monuments.  And I would just feel …”  His voice trailed off, as he got lost in memory.  If I were unkind, I would say something about perhaps the Alzheimer’s was already setting in, perhaps use the phrase “doddering old fool.” 

But again, Reagan was just this guy who was talking about something that genuinely touched him some place.  The guy had heart.  Not much in the ‘thinking things through’ department, but then again, the guy we’ve got in the office these days makes Ronnie look like a chess Grand Master who is 27 moves ahead at all times. 

“So you couldn’t sleep at night?” I asked, slyly. Before he could frame a reply, possibly coming up with something about how the Presidency’s responsibilities and worries keep a man up at night, I added, “You know, that’ll happen.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he agreed, sensing that I was going somewhere with this.

“You know, when you sleep all day, you know with a big 12 hour nap … sometimes it’s hard to turn around and get the full eight hours when night rolls around,” I teased.

Reagan roared with laughter.  He actually slapped his knee (an old vaudeville impulse that some long-ago acting teacher had probably worked hard, and vainly, to drill out of him). 

“That’s right! That’s right!” he chortled.  “That’s a good one.  Say, do you want to take my picture?”

I thought about it. For reasons that I am still unclear on, it just didn’t feel right.  Maybe it was that buried impulse that didn’t want to admit that I’d had such a jovial interaction with a guy that I’d hated so passionately for so long.  Or more likely, it was that I had had such a jovial interaction.  It was just a moment shared that felt so human, so connected on a personal level, that I didn’t want to have to put on that professional persona.

Which, if you’ve been waiting, is pretty much the point of this whole anecdote.  Dutch was responsible for the biggest peacetime military buildup in history, wanted to put lasers in space and nukes on railroad cars in the desert and hell, I dunno, jam C-4 plastique up a migratory waterfowl’s ass, the better to infiltrate the Kremlin.

Ronnies_farewell But on a personal level, on the human level that more and more the shrinks are discovering that we make decisions from, Reagan had this amazing capacity to disarm you.

The daffy S.O.B. made it impossible to maintain hatred. 

If that’s a mixed epitaph for the 40th President, well, all I can say is:

“There you go again.”