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A Personal Farewell to Ronald Reagan

by Kirby Krackle Friday, Jul. 16, 2004 at 7:58 PM
kirbykrackle@yahoo.com

Kirby Krackle reports on his experience at the Lying in State of Ronald Wilson Reagan

A Personal Farewell ...
farewell2.jpg, image/jpeg, 486x612

The decision to go to DC had been pretty much spur-of-the-moment. I'd been sitting in a college computer lab in New Brunswick, New Jersey, catching up on the news, when I came across an article detailing the late Ronald Reagan's itinerary for the next few days. His body had just been flown from California to Washington, DC, where it would lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda for thirty-six hours straight, until his funeral on Friday morning. Lines were already forming.

To hell with it, I figured - Reagan only dies once. I purchased a Greyhound ticket. If I left that evening, I could do most of my standing in line while it was still cool out.

Reagan was the first president I could remember. I didn't know or understand much about politics at that age. Reagan was just a smiling old man I'd see on TV, with a twinkle in his eye and an air of mystery and grandeur about him.

When I was in first grade, my school held its own mock election alongside the 1984 presidential race. We weren't told anything about the candidates besides their names, "Reagan" and "Mondale". We all knew that Reagan was already president. I didn't even know what Mondale looked like. Reagan seemed to be doing a good enough job, from my six-year-old vantage point. My family was comfortable, my Weekly Reader was saturated with good news, and most of my knowledge of those evil Russians came from Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. Why not vote for Reagan? He was kind of like a cartoon anyway.

I remember feeling slightly betrayed when I finally learned how Reagan's genial facade had masked a grim reactionary and conservative ideology. He'd cut social programs, bombed the shit out of half a dozen places, and wanted to put weapons in space. He'd done horrible things, and he'd done them all with a chuckle and a wave. My own naiveté fueled this sense of betrayal far more than my beloved President Reagan, who was, after all, just being himself. Welcome to American politics.

Despite this rude awakening, I never could lose that image of Reagan as the smiling elder statesman. It was just kind of grafted on to my later-acquired knowledge of all the terrible things he'd done, and in turn combined with all those other things that help define the eighties. Arms races and CIA-backed coups became inseparable from yuppies and hair metal. Reagan thus personified the eighties and everything that was wrong with them, and he did so with all the pizzazz suiting a Hollywood icon.

The best villains are the ones with charisma, and Reagan had it oozing out of his pores. He became the man I loved to hate, my own cartoon supervillain. His long absence from the spotlight, coinciding with my political awakening, only helped me to further build up the mythology: Reagan, unseen for years, was now little more than a head kept alive on a robotic body, like Captain Pike on the second episode of the original Star Trek. Soon he would be given a super-strong cyborg exoskeleton and proceed to run amok in downtown Los Angeles, smashing cars and terrorizing hippies.

Clinton and the Bushes could never occupy that kind of place in my imagination. They were too real, too human. It's easy to poke holes in all their lies and political missteps, and rail against all the atrocities they've committed against Iraqis, Somalis, Slavs, Afghans, and American working class. It's just never been as fun. Reagan, personification of pure evil though he may have been, would be sorely missed.

The bus ride took about four and a half hours, and I arrived in DC around 1 am, on June 10th. I grabbed a bite to eat at the bus station on arrival, figuring I wouldn't have another substantial meal for some time. I brought a handful of granola bars and raisins to hold me over if I got hungry, and a single bottle of water, which was far less than what I'd need if I ended up waiting in the sun. Temperatures were in the 90s when the lines started forming on Wednesday, and though the cops were said to be distributing bottled water, I didn't want to depend on the goodwill of the Metropolitan Police Department.

I wasn't sure how to get to the Capitol from where I was, so I asked the lady at the Greyhound information booth. She didn't know. I asked how to get to the nearest Metro stop, and she gave me directions. The stop was only a few blocks away, and it turned out she'd been referring to Union Station, which is within sight of the Capitol anyhow. I entered the station briefly to change into a preppie-looking blue polo shirt, enhancing my ability to blend in with the Reagan crowd. After my aesthetic transformation, I began walking towards the massive, brightly illuminated dome, which rose semi-majestically over the trees bordering that side of Union Station. I hadn't walked more than a block for two when I started noticing other people parking on the tree-lined streets crisscrossing the space between the Capitol and the train station. They mainly seemed to be headed in the direction of the Capitol as they exited their cars. A few people were coming from the other direction as well.

It was here that I started chatting it up with the Reaganites I encountered. The first fellow I spoke to was an older, white-haired man, dressed as if he'd just come from the country club. He wouldn't have looked out of place at the clubhouse of my grandparents' gated retirement community, lounging by the pool and shooting dirty looks at other retirees' rambunctious grandkids. He'd driven from Rockville, Maryland, fairly close by, and was impressed that a young man like myself had traveled all the way from New Jersey. Reagan was the first Republican president to really captivate younger Americans, he told me, and he bore responsibility for transforming a generation of would-be Democrats into staunch Republicans.

He shared his frustration with the media coverage of the President's passing. He was a longtime Republican activist, a member of the Heritage Foundation, and it galled him to hear so many "damned liberals, phoning in to C-SPAN just to bad-mouth Reagan, talking about how he never knew what he was doing from one minute to the other and was just a lump of clay molded by his handlers - it was just obnoxious."

He asked me to explain my own, "personal connection to President Reagan". I told him how Reagan was the first president I remembered, the first face that would pop into my mind when I so much as heard the word, "president". I told him how I still thought that Reagan's charisma was light-years beyond anything ever mustered by any of his successors. He concurred, and didn't ask me any more questions.

We walked together for about ten minutes, during which my companion would excitedly ask every passing person how long they'd had to wait in line. "Five hours", was the answer he kept receiving. We neared the end of the line we saw forming at the foot of the long causeway leading to the Capitol steps, where two small white tents were erected. This wasn't the line for the viewing, we realized - people were cued up by the hundreds to sign condolence books. The cops were estimating the wait time for the other line at between four and seven hours. It was 2 AM. The man said he was reconsidering whether or not to attend the viewing, and so he'd just wait in line to sign the condolence books while he pondered his next move. We bid each other farewell, and I plodded onward to the end of the massive line, thousands deep, that started on the other side of the Capitol reflecting pool.

When I arrived there, a large sign flashed, "PROHIBITED ITEMS: CAMERAS, BACKPACKS, FOOD". Naturally, I was carrying the few belongings I'd brought with me in a small backpack. I asked one of the cops what I should do with it.

"Well, whatever you do, don't stash it in the bushes. If anyone finds it, they'll have the bomb squad come down and blow it up. You should head over to Union Station and see if you can find a locker there."

I walked back to Union Station. The lockers were all closed, sealed behind iron bars since midnight. I backtracked to the bus station I'd arrived at an hour before, where there might be more.

I found one unused locker. It was broken. I walked up to the ticket counter. "Do you have a lost & found?” I inquired.

"What did you lose?” asked the attendant.

"This", I said, holding up my backpack. "Can we just pretend I lost this?"

"And you'd come get it the next morning?” she asked.

"Yeah."

"No, sorry - we can't do that."

I went to the snack bar. "Can I have a plastic bag?” I asked.

"Yes, you may."

I transferred my things into the bag - books, food, spare shirt, cell phone charger. I walked back towards the Capitol and stashed the empty backpack in a cluster of bushes I passed along the way. Perhaps the bomb squad would take it out, I thought, but at least I'd cut my losses.

I kept walking towards the end of the line outside the Capitol. I'd lost about an hour. Reaganites headed in the opposite direction were still estimating their own wait time at five hours, so there hadn't been any major shift in my fortunes.

"Where does this line end?” asked a younger Reaganite. In his late twenties, he was tall, thin, and attractive, sporting a pair of designer eyeglasses. Defiant rebel that he was, he wore his blond hair at shoulder length, perfectly combed so that it never touched the collar of his white golf shirt, which was tucked into a pair of crisply laundered khaki shorts, secured by a braided leather belt. A pair of pristine white running shoes completed the outfit, which I was soon to learn was the unofficial Republican summer uniform.

He looked like he belonged in a Tommy Hilfiger ad, the one with all those people formed into a human pyramid, with the blacks and Hispanics on bottom and the smiling Aryan kid on top. The glasses spoiled the image, though. If Tommy were in charge, anyone with less than perfect vision would probably be shipped off to the gulag with all the other üntermenchen. It could have all been for show, however. I recall seeing an article awhile back about how celebrity image consultants had been outfitting their clients with phony eyeglasses to wear at public appearances, hoping to project a more intellectual image for people like Brad Pitt and Anna Nicole Smith. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Off to the gulag with him.

"Just follow me", I said. "I was here an hour ago - the line goes back to the other end of the reflecting pool."

He walked with me the rest of the way to where people were beginning to cue up. We took our places at the end, and he made a brief phone call to his girlfriend to keep her updated. He hung up, then turned to me. "Do you think presidents have much of a say in determining the extent of all this ceremonial stuff when they die?” asked my longhaired rebel friend.

"They do, actually", chirped a young woman standing behind us, looking up from a thick book she'd been reading. "Ron and Nancy planned this all out ten years ago."

"Really?” asked the Longhair.

"Yeah, they have this whole set of prescribed rituals and presidents get to pick and choose which ones they want observed. But this is the first state funeral in more than thirty years."

"That's right. Nixon didn't have one", I chimed in.

"He didn't want one", she replied.

"Was he even entitled to one?” inquired the Longhair. "I mean, Nixon left office under less than, uh... stellar circumstances."

"Yeah, he was still entitled to one, though", she responded. "He just didn't want it."

"That's really interesting", piped up another young woman standing behind me. "I always wondered about that." She seemed a little nervous entering the conversation, as she was clutching her designer handbag.

The conversation soon shifted to small talk. I learned that the would-be presidential funeral planner behind me worked in some sort of high finance job in New York. She'd made a sudden decision to venture down here as well.

"I figured it was important to come here and show my respect", she explained, "so instead of taking the train home from work, I took the Acela to DC. My husband doesn't even know I'm here yet." "Luckily though", she continued, "we all have off tomorrow, since the New York Stock Exchange is closed, or I'd be stuck going to work with no sleep."

I related the story of my spontaneous decision to attend the viewing. "Wow, that's real dedication", replied Designer Handbag. "I only live about a half an hour away, so I figured I'd check it out."

"This guy took a bus from New Jersey", proclaimed the Longhair, pointing to me, "and once he got to the end of the line, he had to run all the way back to the bus station to stash his backpack. Me, I live pretty much on the other side of those trees over there. This is nothing for me. I go running here all the time - but it's usually completely dead. This is the first time I've seen more than two or three people in this park."

"It's really amazing to see the variety of people that showed up here", remarked a man standing in front of me. He was in his mid-forties, wearing off-white Dockers shorts and a polo shirt, with a prim moustache and his thinning hair parted neatly on the side. "It's kind of inspiring to see how Reagan connected with so many Americans", he noted.

I looked around. The diversity of the crowd was amazing. Virtually every kind of Caucasian was represented. Those who shopped at the Gap, and those who preferred Bennetton. Those who parted their hair on the left, and those who parted it on the right. The blond, and the dirty blond. Men in military uniforms. Men in Boy Scout uniforms. Boy Scouts accompanied by their Scoutmasters. It was a full-on blizzard; I hadn't seen a whiter crowd since my ex-girlfriend took me to see John Lee Hooker in Phoenix. I decided to count the black people I saw. There weren't any.

Nearly everyone was attired in khaki shorts - the kind with creases and belt loops, and which were always secured by brown leather belts. These people didn't wear black, I noticed. They were like the inverse of Johnny Cash: 'til things were darker, they’d just stick to pale earth tones. Nearly all the men wore polo shirts, and these were almost always tucked in. Everyone was wearing running shoes - everyone. Interestingly, the men tended to be much more attractive than the women - pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect to find at a liberal gathering. Why is that, anyway? I suppose it's got something to with chromosomal variation in the psychopathology of knowing how attractive you are.

I saw a number of parents pushing strollers, reluctant older children in tow. "Those kids will thank their parents for this one day", opined the longhair. "They're getting to be a part of history."

"Yeah, but for now they're hating this", said Funeral Planner.

I studied the few t-shirts I saw. Some had obviously been purchased for this very occasion: "Stay strong, Nancy - We love you".

"Ronald Reagan - an American Hero".

"Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911-2004 - Forever in our hearts".

The phenomenon was much like seeing fans show up for concerts wearing t-shirts corresponding to whomever it was they'd come to see, perhaps hoping to impress the band members. I wondered if Reagan would have been impressed by this outpouring of scenesterism. Probably.

I decided I should get to know my new Republican friends better. I learned that both the Longhair and Designer Handbag were recent law school graduates - he from Georgetown, and she from William & Mary. She was already establishing herself at a nearby firm, while he was having difficulty landing interviews. Both had competed in at least 3 marathons, as had the Funeral Planner and the fellow with the mustache. He turned out to be the Chairman of the Board of Land O' Lakes Dairies. The Vice Chairman, a slightly older fellow who accompanied his colleague in line, told us that they'd brought the entire Board down to attend Reagan's funeral the next day.

"I'm a longtime Republican activist", said Chairman Cow, "and being here today is much a show of support for the party as it is for Reagan."

“A guy I spoke to earlier said there were a lot of liberals calling into C-SPAN to bad-mouth him”, I said.

“Oh yeah, definitely”, said the Chairman. He went on to deliver a brief rant about Clinton and how Democrats were pretty much in league with the Antichrist. Funeral Planner concurred. To those people, Clinton was somewhat to the left of Marx. Partisan politics are so absurd - everything was the other party’s fault. Nothing about the system itself was remotely problematic.

Suddenly, a group of cops approached us and we were given an order to move back. Someone had left a backpack unattended near the front of the line, and the cops were clearing the area, pending the arrival of the bomb squad. Our section of the line, which zigzagged across the grass in about ten rows several hundred feet in length, was now split in two. People were given the option of moving left or right, but the checkpoint through which people would pass at the end of the section was closed. Only the first two or three rows were cleared. This must be a very small bomb, I thought - or else the line had somehow become stratified, with those farther behind considered to be more expendable. I wondered what Comrade Clinton's analysis would have been.

I glanced at the mounds of empty water bottles lining the labyrinth. Some had been gathered into large garbage bags.

"This is ridiculous", I said. "Who knows what could be in these bottles?"

"Well, I guess they figure you can do a lot more damage with whatever you can fit into a backpack than a water bottle", replied Funeral Planner.

"Heck, imagine what could be in any one of those garbage bags", noted the Chairman.

"But it's probably just somebody who had the same problem with their backpack that I had earlier", I added.

"Yeah, but you'd have to be an absolute idiot to just leave it here", opined Funeral Planner.

"Excuse me, Officer?" A Reaganite approached one of the cops guarding the front of the line. "Is there a problem? That's my backpack over there."

"That's your backpack?!?!?” blurted out Funeral Planner, lunging forward slightly.

The Chairman made a cautioning gesture towards her. "Careful", he said. "That's practically an invitation for mob law".

Meanwhile, the backpack owner was attempting to reason with the cops.

"Stay back", they demanded. "We have a possible explosive device here - do NOT interfere."

"Alright", shrugged the exasperated owner, making his way back towards the rest of the crowd, "do your thing - I'll stay out of it."

We were now just waiting for the bomb squad.

"This is chaos", complained the Longhair.

"I don't know what could make this any worse", said Designer Handbag.

"Protestors, maybe? They were outside the hospital when Nixon died", I piped up.

"I swear to GOD", barked Funeral Planner, "if I see anyone waving a tambourine, I'm going to scream."

The bomb squad showed up a few minutes later. A lone armored figure approach the backpack, and set a small device down beside it, connecting it by cable to a monitor he set up about ten feet away. He examined the monitor for a few minutes, making various adjustments to his equipment, before flashing a thumbs up to the other cops gathered behind him. The crowd applauded.

"Finally", exclaimed someone behind us. "Do you have the time?" he asked, addressing Funeral Planner.

"No, sorry", she said. "My watch is being serviced."

"Man, look at all these people trying to stay awake - if I'd thought of it, I would have brought a case of Starbucks drinks to sell to people on line. I would have made a fortune!” complained the longhair.

"I've been up since 6:30", said Designer Handbag, "but I'm just going to crawl into bed when this is over."

"Yeah, me too", replied the Longhair.

"Well, at least the security arrangements are working", said the Chairman.

"I'll say - it's practically a police state. I've never seen this many cops before", replied the Longhair.

"I was in Israel once", I said, alluding to the free guided tour of Israel proper that had facilitated my recent visit to the West Bank. "This is nothing. If that backpack thing had happened there, they would have cleared like five city blocks. One guy I was with lost his cell phone, so he assumed it got blown up."

"Blown up?" asked the longhair.

"Yeah", I said, "you can't leave anything anywhere - or else the bomb squad shows up and detonates it."

"Wow", he said. "This is nothing."

"Well, I can do without this lunacy", said Funeral Planner.

"But you're due for this much craziness and more when the RNC rolls around", I told her.

"UGHHHH!!! I'm dreading it! They're going to practically shut the city down! And those tambourine people will be everywhere!" was her exasperated reply.

"Well, my colleagues and I will be there", said the Chairman. "It should be pretty good for New York's economy overall. All the people coming in will end up spending lots of money at the restaurants."

"Even the anarchists?" I asked rhetorically.

He shook his head and looked at his feet. "Some people just don't understand how great capitalism is", he lamented.

The line was moving quite swiftly now, as the cops directed the crowd to fill the large gap that was created during the backpack incident. They were letting about thirty people at a time cross the checkpoint to the next section of the line. There seemed to be a preliminary security check taking place as well. I hurriedly ate of one my granola bars, fearing that this might be my last chance to enjoy the food I'd brought before it was confiscated. I chugged the rest of my water as well, and tossed the empty bottle into the pile. I then took the opportunity to run to one of the adjacent port-a-potties, figuring this might be my last chance to piss, and then quickly reclaimed my previous position in the line, just as we were approaching the checkpoint.

"Any backpacks? Cameras?", the cops asked. Funeral Planner produced her digital camera.

"You can check it over there", said one cop, motioning to a white tent that was set up just past the checkpoint.

"You", the cop said, pointing at me. "You can't bring that bag in here. You can carry whatever's in it, but you have to leave the bag."

I pulled my cell phone charger, spare shirt, and textbooks out of the plastic shopping bag, and dropped it in a nearby trashcan.

"Man, that sucks", said the longhair.

"Yeah... I guess they think I might suffocate Reagan with it."

It was probably another twenty minutes before we reached the main security station. The route was lined with stacks and stacks of bottled water in cases.

We entered a small white building situated about halfway up Capitol Hill. It looked as though it had been built as a temporary structure with pre-fab-looking building materials. There were about eight walk-through metal detectors, alongside four x-ray conveyor belts.

My entire entourage - the Chairman, the Vice Chairman, Funeral Planner, Designer Handbag, and the Longhair, were separated and led through separate metal detectors. Although they all completed the process at about the same time and were able to reassemble farther up the line, I lost a good two or three minutes when my steel toe boots forced me to undergo a secondary screening. It was a simple enough process, unlike what happened when I wore the same boots into an Israeli courthouse and had to stand around in an armored blast chamber while they determined whether or not my boots contained explosives.

Regardless of the procedures, sixty to seventy people now separated me from the rest of my group. Once the line cleared the security station, it began zigzagging up the wooden stairs leading to the level directly outside the Capitol. It was a narrow path, and there was no way to jump ahead. Funeral Planner, several flights above me, looked down at me and waved. I nodded and smiled. It looked like I was going to have to find some new friends.

By now, it was six am and fairly bright out. I was surrounded by small families with kids in toe, and it began to feel more like I was waiting for a ride at Disneyland. Underscoring the spectacle were a number of camera crews set up along the pathway at the top of the stairs. When I first noticed the large crane-mounted camera scanning the crowd, I figured it must have been capturing images to crosscheck with a facial recognition database, lest any terrorists or Democrats manage to infiltrate the crowd. However, the camera seemed to be panning around quite a bit, and only focusing on the crowd for a few moments at a time. More likely, this was part of crew producing some sort of official documentary.

Facial recognition technologies had probably already been employed earlier down the line. Just in case, I contorted my face as I passed the camera. The critical data the software needs is around the eyes and the top of the nose, making a pair of sunglasses (which I lacked) an effective countermeasure. I wasn't concerned. I still had the polo shirt, after all. I blended right in.

As we entered the Capitol itself, we were directed up a flight of stairs. To our left were dozens of Capitol employees who were likewise being prodded along a circuitous path by the security team. They seemed annoyed at our presence. I think I recognized a legislator or two, though I'm not sure specifically whom. I didn't vote for them; why the hell should I care?

At about 6:30, my journey reached its climax as I entered the Capitol Rotunda. I had until this point naively held out hope that this would be an open-casket affair. No such luck. A flag-draped casket stood in the center of the room, surrounded by the traditional five-man Honor Guard. A circular arrangement of velvet ropes created a ten or twelve foot perimeter around the casket.

A good spitter might be able to reach the casket, but without precise aim, a loogie could wind up being bifurcated in midair as it met with the polished bayonet of the nearest Honor Guardsman, never reaching the iconic casket.

I recalled my mother's reaction when I told her that I planned to attend the viewing: "Just don't pie him", she said, planting a truly terrible idea. A pie would indeed have been easier to aim, but on this particular occasion, I wasn't really interested in getting bayoneted and bleeding all over the nice marble floor.

"Left or right", ordered a Secret Service man as I approached the circle. "You have to choose a direction. Move."

I scanned the crowd ahead of me. Naturally, most of it had opted for the right. I chose likewise, figuring that doing so might earn me a few extra moments to bask in the glow of Reagan's corpse.

And there he was: the Great Communicator - silent and oblivious, much as he'd been for the past ten years. I had no way of knowing for sure that it was him, of course. But naturally, the idea of the government lying to us was absurd. Hell, it was outright preposterous. I decided to assume it was the genuine article, at least for the sake of the moment.

I was face-to-case with the embodiment of the American eighties, the man who beat communism and air traffic controllers. Twice governor, twice president, always an actor. This was the man who gave us pearls of wisdom like, “it’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas”, and “you can tell a lot about a fellow by his way of eating jelly beans."

"Get up!" I yelled at the President. "We're not finished yet! Put on your cyborg exoskeleton and face me, man to man!"

I watched. I waited. Reagan didn't stir.

Damnit.

I didn't know what to think, how to react. An empty feeling of dire helplessness penetrated to the core of my being. Had the bastard won?

I formed myself into that one-legged battle stance from the Karate Kid. If Reagan leapt out of that box and tried bringing me down with a flying dropkick, I'd be ready for him. I knew all the weak points of his cyborg exoskeleton; after all, I'd designed it myself.

There wasn't really much time for reflection before my section of the crowd made its way around the semi-circle, rejoining the leftists on the other side. Together, we were ushered out of the room. It was only now that I realized how dead silent the room had been - and was that a tear rolling down the cheek of the man in front of me? As we made our way down a staircase leading towards the exit, we were met by two men in expensive suits and unimaginative ties standing in the doorway. One of them handed me a card.

"The Honorable Ronald Wilson Reagan, February 6, 1911 - June 5, 2004, Fortieth President of the United States of America; The Final Tribute from a Grateful Nation: The Lying in State of President Reagan, The Rotunda, United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., June 9, 10, and 11, 2004".

At last, something tangible. My personal moment with President Reagan had been far too short, leaving me emotionally bereft. This would help... somehow.

I exited the building. It was bright out. Birds were chirping. They seemed happy and optimistic. I sat down on the short wall built along the pathway leading to the street. I stayed there for about a half an hour, making notes, observing the crowd, reflecting. I continued my little game of "count the black people". The final count was twenty, out of a conservative estimate of three or four thousand faces I'd seen overall.

Even a few of the white people leaving after me managed to stick out: the kid in the Poison shirt, the swaggering old Texan with the big silver belt buckle, the flamboyantly dignified redhaired gentleman strutting down the walkway in a tux as if he were expecting to be greeted by paparazzi. He had a fairly ordinary-looking middle-aged woman on his arm, wearing an unremarkable cocktail dress. On the other side of her, completing his entourage, was what appeared to be a classic femme fatale in a sultry black evening gown. Weird.

I noticed that the men (I didn't observe any women) who came out wearing military uniforms all seemed to be in either their mid-twenties or over sixty. There wasn't anyone in between. Off-duty cops were constantly flowing back and forth between the street and the building, carrying large duffel bags. I didn't factor the cops into my black people count; it would have thrown things off substantially. Black police showing off for the white G.O.P., to paraphrase Ice Cube.

I noted another distinguishing feature shared by nearly everyone in the crowd: they all wore incredibly clean clothes. Everything looked like it had been freshly laundered and pressed. I bet if you sniffed hard enough, you'd detect fabric softener on every last one of them.

I got up and walked over past the newsmen who were interviewing people on their way out. They weren't interested in me. I walked over to where people were cueing up to sign the condolence books. It was a short line by now. I didn't plan on writing anything; I just wanted to see what everyone else was doing.

"Thanks for being here", said a smiling older man in a suit, extending his hand.

I shook and smiled back, but didn't reply.

He looked a little like Andy Card, Bush's chief of staff. It wasn't him, though - it was hard to guess what his real job was, beyond greeting well-wishers under a white tent all day. A young man in a military uniform was directly after me in line.

"Thank you for your service to our country", said the greeter.

There were perhaps two dozen condolence books arranged on three tables under the tent. I made my way over to one and scanned a few of the entries.

"Dear President Reagan", most of them began, going on to relate things like how much they admired his resolve to invade Grenada and how we could use more Presidents like him. He would be deeply missed, they wrote.

I drew a little "X" at the bottom of the page and walked away. I shot one more glance over my shoulder at the throngs of people still waiting in line to get in. Wow.

I hung out for another hour or so around the Capitol Mall, stopping first to snag a free bottle of water from the Red Cross at the entrance to the line. It felt good to sit, and I did so on a bench outside the National Art Gallery, which was holding an exhibit on the Maya. I noticed a local TV newswoman applying a massive dose of hairspray while preening in a mirror.

I walked back to Union Station where I met up with an anarchist from New Jersey. She was in town visiting her parents, and was pretty desperate for additional human contact. I wasn't sure if Reaganites counted, but I brought her back down to the Capitol. "Damn", she said. "I've got to get a picture of that line".

I told her about the condolence book greeter. "I've actually got a military ID", she said, "because my dad technically works for a uniformed branch of the federal government. I should go get in line so the guy can thank me for my service to our country".

We didn't bother. We walked around the Capitol Mall. There were news vans parked everywhere. NBC alone had at least three vans on the scene - a network van, plus the Philly and DC affiliates. The Fox News van had its own security guard. He was asleep on a bench in front, so I spit on it, right over his head. It may not have been Reagan, but it was something.

We came back around to where the newswoman was still grooming herself and the Red Cross was handing out free bottled water. Around the corner, about ten feet away and within easy sight of the Red Cross table, a vendor had set up a cart and was hawking beverages. Water was . He had a steady stream of customers.

"Wow, Reaganomics in action", said my companion. We took a picture.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around DC before returning to her house, where we watched Reagan’s funeral on TV the next day, then discussed it with her grandmother in a nearby Jewish nursing home. “I didn’t like his daughter’s hair”, said the grandmother. “It really bothered me.”



“You know, if I listened to him [Michael Dukakis] long enough, I would be convinced we're in an economic downturn and people are homeless and going without food and medical attention and that we've got to do something about the unemployed.”

– Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911-2004

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Water Vendors at the Reagan Viewing

by Kirby Krackle Friday, Jul. 16, 2004 at 7:58 PM
kirbykrackle@yahoo.com

Water Vendors at the...
water2.jpg, image/jpeg, 868x714

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Card Handed to the Author

by Kirby Krackle Friday, Jul. 16, 2004 at 7:58 PM
kirbykrackle@yahoo.com

Card Handed to the A...
reagandead-card.jpg, image/jpeg, 391x593

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