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(sup) US, The Dead Have Risen and are Voting Republican: An anarchist Personal Farewell to Ronald Reagan
Fri, 16 Jul 2004 22:30:44 +0200 (CEST)
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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
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
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
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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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 said, “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
"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.
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
"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...
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
"Thanks for being here", said a smiling older man in a suit, extending his
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 $2. He had a steady stream of
"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
– Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1911-2004
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