“Last Summer I Worked at the Reagan Library”

My name was Ronald Reagan. I’m a lighting designer. 33 years old. Manhattan resident. A conservative talk show host and writer almost embraced me to suffocation a few years ago when I told her my name. I’m not the real Reagan, but I guess I was real enough for Peggy Naron.

Two winters ago, I designed and installed new lighting for a dim and dated old little French restaurant, owned by a chef named Monique, around the corner from my apartment on Madison Avenue.

I installed dimmers, down lights, and pinkish translucent directional lights near the entrance. Low wattage lights make the matrons look appealing.

On a bright and frigid January afternoon, a coolly elegant middle-aged woman stopped into the restaurant in the middle of construction. My workers were on ladders, drilling, hammering. I was elegantly dressed in a Brooks Brothers blazer, white oxford shirt and silk tie. I must have looked like the maitre d’.

“Is my friend Monique here?” The lady asked.

“Monique is in the back. Let me get her,” I answered.

The visitor was in her late 40’s, blonde, sexy, wearing a dark gray skirt that outlined a pert behind. A white silk blouse draped over her luscious tits. She had the glazed and happy aura of a Christian evangelist, one who already knew the answers to all the mysteries of life. I realized she was the famous Peggy Naron, a conservative columnist and commentator. She wrote for the Wall Street Journal. She also was a professional hater of the William Jefferson Clintons, among other accomplishments. Her biggest life long love was Ronald Reagan. I wanted her carnally even as I despised her politically.

Just a few days earlier I had seen Peggy on CNN talking about how unmarried mothers didn’t deserve health care benefits because “they had violated the social contract”. She also said, “during the Reagan era it had been established that food stamps were a contributor to obesity.”

Today there were hardly any diners in the restaurant. Back in the kitchen the chefs were busy chopping, sautéing, frying, baking, chopping, washing. I ran back to find Monique instructing a chef, Karen, in the art of slicing.

Monique stood next to her, like a film director instructing an actor how to play a scene. I sensed that they did not want to be disturbed. She was showing Karen how to hold a knife correctly.

“Take the blade and hold the handle like you want to KILL the chicken. You have to stab the bird.” Monique took a sharp blade and pierced the poultry skin. Karen followed.

“Good”, Monique said, “keep the angle.”

“Careful. Don’t look at me”, she cautioned, “You need to watch what you are doing.”
“Monique. You have a customer who needs a table,” I interrupted. Monique looked at me with fierce annoyance.

“Je ne suis pas hereux! Please don’t interrupt my lesson! Can’t you see that I am directing this scene?”

She was born and raised in Scarsdale, but fell into French whenever she wanted to blow up her importance.

She bossed me with Gallic aplomb. “Just go out there, grab a menu and lead her to her seat”, she said.

I ran back into the front of the restaurant. Peggy was sitting on a bench reading LE MONDE. Her legs were crossed and chin pointed toward heaven. She seemed to be inspecting her left hand. Nothing looked amiss. I imagined she had just had her nails buffed.

I grabbed a menu and approached her. “Please follow me”, I said. We walked over to a table near the red curtained window. “May I get you something to drink?” I asked.

“Yes. Do you have Chardonnay?” she asked.

“I’m sure we do,” I answered. I went to the bar, took down a wine glass and filled it. Bending down behind the bar counter, where nobody could see me, I spit into her glass.

Smiling and ever so politely, I brought the contaminated wine to her table. It felt so good when the glass and the white fermented juice touched her polished, glistening lips.

Peggy had once famously written, in her Wall Street news column, that poor people tended to get sicker “because they had poor hygiene.” She had faulted “welfare moms” for their lack of good housekeeping skills and praised conservative moms who stayed at home and knew “how to use bleach, brooms and dustpans.”

Motioning to me, she looked ready to order. I grabbed a pen and paper and pretended to be a server. Peggy ordered salad with Roquefort cheese, walnuts and spinach.
Ten minutes later, the chef completed the salad. He placed it on the counter. I went back to get it. I secretly brought the salad into the bathroom, put it on the sink counter, grabbed some Lysol and sprayed it over the greens. Then I carried the plate back to her table. Digging into the morsels with her fork, she seemed to enjoy the exotically flavored dressing.

I played the part of waiter a little longer. When she finished her meal I asked her if she wanted dessert.

She ordered a chocolate cake with lemon sauce. I won’t describe what I added to the yellow colored topping.

“You were just wonderful young man,” she said as I brought her the check. “How come I haven’t seen you here before?”

“I have to be honest with you,” I said, “I am actually a lighting designer and today we are installing new lights in the restaurant.”

“No kidding. You seem like a natural waiter. What’s your name?”

“I’m Ron Reagan,” I said.

She arched her back and folded her hands on the table, like a little princess in a play. “Well, this is quite an honor Mr. Reagan. I just think you have a simply marvelous name!” Her cheeks were red, either from the wine or intense attraction.

I laughed, but it was a laugh of unease. “Oh, thank you. It’s just a name ma’am.”

“Please. Call me Peggy,” she said. Then she raised her index finger and pedantically pointed it right at my face. “You don’t just have any name. You have the name of a saint. There was only one Ronald Reagan, and he was the greatest president who ever lived. He ended the cold war and brought a new pride to our nation. Don’t EVER take your name for granted.”

I tried to differentiate myself from her icon. “He was a great man, but don’t you think his administration harmed a lot of poor people? The homeless, crack babies and the AIDS crisis. It all started during Reagan.”

She put down a twenty-dollar bill, got up and grabbed her cardigan from the chair. Gingerly buttoning her sweater, she explained how the poor came to be. “Its God’s way to remind us that suffering must be confronted not with handouts but with hardness. Most of these afflictions of the underclass were created by the poor themselves.”

“But you don’t think government has a right and a duty to alleviate suffering?” I asked.

“Success is up to each person,” she explained, “ We have to want it. Look at you for example. You have a beautiful haircut. Worn in the 50’s style of our 40th President. You smile and say please and thank you. You dress elegantly. If everyone behaved as well as you, we wouldn’t even need welfare because everyone would be working!”
It was utterly illogical, but in her crisp delivery she created a plausible solution to ending poverty.

She walked out of the restaurant but I followed closely behind. “I’m a liberal I tell you. I’m a liberal!”

She put her arm up to hail a cab. A yellow car pulled up and she opened the door and got in. I stood over her at the curb. She rolled down the window. “Give me your business card and email address Mr. Reagan. You have tremendous passion and a delightful speaking voice. I’m going to call you and set you on the right track!”

The cabbie and the passenger sped up Madison Avenue as I sat open mouthed on the sidewalk.

A certain Email

One morning, a week later, I opened up my email. There was a message from Peggy.

“Enjoyed meeting you last week at La Marché restaurant. Would you be available tonight? If so, please come around 6pm to my home at 720 Park Avenue.”

I was flattered and flustered. Yet I accepted her invitation, hoping that it might lead to a lighting job, something more sensual or possibly both.

I arrived at the marble and limestone lobby fifteen minutes early. A doorman dialed the rotary telephone and announced me. I walked over to the mahogany paneled elevator with the leather bench. The brass doors closed and lifted me up to the 12th floor penthouse.

Peggy opened the door. She was wearing a navy silk pleated cocktail dress with tan hose and high-heeled shoes. “Nice to see you again Mr. Reagan. Won’t you come in?” I stepped inside a spacious, pre-war apartment hall. Polished limestone floors, brass sconces and a graceful staircase led up to the bedrooms.

We walked into the living room and stepped over to a bar. “Would you like something to drink?” she asked. Red candles glowed on top of the mantle, next to the bookcase, on glass tables. An enormous blue Persian rug with ornate stitching covered the parquet floors. “Do you have any Merlot?” I asked. “Of course. President Reagan loved Merlot!” She poured me a glass of wine.

“The reason I invited you over here,” she explained, “is to ask you to work on the Reagan library in California this summer. The lighting system is terribly out of date and we need to remodel.” We both sank into cushy cushions on a downy sofa with embroidered pillows trimmed in alabaster and gold. Her powdery French perfume matched the aroma of the scented candles. I started to feel queasy.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No. I haven’t eaten all day and…..this wine. It’s gone to my head,” I explained.
“Are you politically opposed to working at the library?” she asked,“ I could make it worth your while.”

“I’m a liberal, but I’m not dumb,” I said.

“I might make a joke out of that line,” she said.

“I’m flattered that you want me Peggy. But how do you know if I’m good?”

“I asked Monique. She adores you.” She got up from the sofa and twirled around the floor flirtatiously.

“Let me refresh your drink Mr. Reagan.”

I felt really bad. I was accepting her hospitality and considering the job offer, as I sat trapped in her salmon colored salon on a down filled sofa. I really couldn’t get up and stand on my own two feet. Indeed I had poisoned her food and drink, because her elite type had poisoned the political waters of America. Still, she was an elegant, well-mannered woman. I wondered if I could ever work in the enemy’s lair, the Reagan Library, just to make a buck.

She came back with a full glass and the March issue of RETAIL LIGHTING.

“Well, how does $50,000 for two weeks work sound? All traveling expenses paid, and room and board included.” She sat down, placed the wine on the table, and opened the magazine. “Just look at the sushi bar lights you designed in Soho! If you could make raw fish look alive, imagine how you could bring life to the exhibits at the Reagan Library!” She brushed my hair with a motherly touch.

“Ron, please say yes. You and I will go to California. It will be a golden moment. Let’s leave everyone in New York behind and have an adventure” For a moment, I thought we were planning an elopement. Then I remembered that this was a job offer. Right?

Slush

Six weeks after my cocktail meeting, I was still out of work and had not given Peggy an answer. It was February, a dreadful month. The city was bleak. Slush and snow flurries, the cheap anti-climatic toys of late Winter, filled the sky. One desolate Sunday evening, I walked with Monique up Broadway from West 73rd Street.

“Peggy is one powerful woman”, Monique said, “she can open doors for you. I would take whatever offer she makes.”

“But I don’t like her god-damned right wing bullshit.” I protested. We stopped to get pretzels from a sidewalk vendor. She poured mustard on the X shaped steamy treat and shoved it into her mouth.

“Who the fuck cares?” she said with a mustard yellow tongue. “ If you can steal money from the Reagans by installing a couple of halogen lights—maybe you’ll actually be performing a liberal good deed.”

The next morning, I was downtown talking to a prospective client, an older, witty Irish Catholic priest.

“I’m sorry Mr. Reagan, we’re going to have to put off construction at St. Theresa’s. You know, our congregation isn’t doing as well this year as last. I can’t afford your services,” said Father Jeff Stryker.

A television was on in his office. He turned away from me and glanced at the TV. He grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. The voice of Peggy Naron filled the room. She was a guest on Larry King.

“So you think Americans can learn how to talk to God by studying the life of the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan?” King asked her.

“Oh, yes Larry! I think one of the reasons Reagan was so happy is that he knew all the answers from his talks with the Lord.” The priest rolled his eyes at her answer.

“Excuse me Mr. Reagan. I’m sorry. I do have one question. Do halogen lights or incandescent best express the post Vatican II style?” he asked.

Decision

I applied for unemployment and starting collecting the
paltry benefits. At home I watched the news with its never ending stories of murder, terror, financial catastrophes, war and impending doom.

New York smelled bad. My apartment, with the windows closed for six months to block out the cold air, began to stink of chicken soup, cigarettes and sewer gas carried through the common vent from other apartments.

I had to escape the darkness, cold, pessimism, joblessness and anomie of the city. I needed warm light and cash, friendly faces and a rest. I was going to accept the Monique’s advice and say yes to the offer. I called Peggy to tell her the good news.

She was delighted with my answer. “Why don’t you come over to my apartment and we’ll celebrate!” I got a guilty erection just hearing her voice.

A Woman Possessed

We were standing on Peggy’s terrace overlooking the Upper East Side. The sun was falling quickly in the West, casting a pinkish glow upon us. “You look so damn handsome,” she said holding a martini. I took a sip of wine and put my arms around her waist.

“What do you think of Monica Lewinsky?” she asked.

“I think she was a nice girl who did a naughty thing.” I answered.
She laughed. She put her drink on the ledge next to mine. My hands were clasped against her spine as she leaned back. I opened my mouth and placed it against hers. “I think you are my daddy,” She said.

“Daddy?” I asked. She nodded her head childishly. “Daddy Reagan.”

“I don’t get it. Are you being funny?”

“Completely darling. Do you think I’m delusional?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I just know you feel good.”

“Ronnie”, she asked, “Did you spit in my wine glass in the restaurant?” I let go of her and stepped back.

“What? What kind of question is that?” I asked with mock honor.

“I saw you spit into my glass. I could see you in the mirror above the bar. It was perfectly marvelous. Like you were giving me a part of you. Bodily fluids. A touch of your genetic material.”

“I think you’re crazy,” I said half jokingly. She picked up her drink and took a ladylike sip. “Oh, I am. I’m simply crazy about you Mr. Reagan. I want to fuck your brains out. I want to make passionate love with you all night and be your girl! When you told me your name in the restaurant I got chills. I almost couldn’t eat. When you spit in my drink, it was like you almost ejaculated right into my….”

Her transformation from schoolteacher into seductress startled me. She threw herself at me and pushed her tongue into my ear. I wanted to take her inside and fuck her right on the tufted ottoman.

“You love me like you loved Nancy,” she said, “Leave her and marry me.”

“Nancy? Who’s Nancy?”
 “She’s your wife silly! She doesn’t love you the way I love you!” She was possessed, like Reagan’s failed assassin John Hinckley imagining his fictional lover Jodie Foster.

I wanted to be rational about it. This was about my work. Wasn’t it? I decided to leave her place before we stripped down into love and insanity.

“I’m going Peggy, I said, “I have to pack my bags and get up early tomorrow.”

“Don’t leave yet. Mr. President, we haven’t even gotten to second base,” She pleaded. I kissed her politely on the forehead and then grabbed my coat.

“Goodbye Peggy. I’ll call you when I get to Simi Valley.”

“Don’t bother,” she yelled, “I’ll be at your hotel in California tomorrow night. I love you.”

Simi Cry

The next day, I woke up early and took a cab to cold and rainy Newark Airport. I hadn’t slept well. I was tired and cranky and just a bit scared of what I had gotten into. I was going to California, hired by a woman who cast me as her Ronald Reagan to work in the library of the real Ronald Reagan.

Five hours later, I landed at sunny LAX. I rented a car and got on the road. Passing through the Santa Susana Pass into the Simi Valley, I entered a humble and undisturbed land of sunlit white clouds, red tiled roofs and regimented housing estates. Just off the freeway exit, on a local street, a carved wood sign read: Welcome to the Simi Valley. Relax and slow down.

At the front desk of the Hispano-Corporate style Reagan Library, a kindly docent, Ethel, seemed to anticipate my arrival.

“Hello,” I said, “I think Peggy is expecting me.”

“I know exactly who you are”, she said, “Your hair is combed up in a pompadour. Just like Peggy described. It’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you”, I said, bewildered and self-consciousness, brushing my hair off my forehead.

“I see you’re wearing a brown pin striped suit. Very handsome. Peggy said you were an exquisite dresser. President Reagan had a suit just like the one you’re wearing. Would you like to see it?” she asked.

“Oh, no thank you. I’m a bit tired. Do you have any water?”

“I’m sorry Mr. Reagan. Let me get you a glass. Please have a seat,” she said.

Ethel left the room. She returned a few minutes later, carrying my glass of water. Three elderly ladies followed her. They gathered in front of me, like they were having an audience with the Pope. “This is Mr. Reagan. He is a special guest of Peggy and will be working on our lighting system. Please give him anything he needs,” Ethel announced to the gathering.

One by one, the little beaming ladies stepped forward to shake my hand and introduced themselves.

Leaning on a cane, was lovely Lillie Lavandula. “Peggy was right. You’re the real thing,” she said with evident delight.

Next came Bertha Oleander. “The Little Brown Church, where Ronnie married Nancy, is still available for weddings,” she said.

“Peggy wanted me to tell you she will be late today. She stopped off at the chapel in Studio City to talk to the Reverend,” Ethel said.

This was getting weirder and weirder. I was barely in California two hours and already was possibly on my way to the altar. I had to find a way to escape Peggy. I also needed to get away from these cloying biddies.

“Excuse me ladies,” I said politely, “I think I’ll walk around the library a bit.”
“By all means sir. We’re here if you need us.”

I smiled and waved at them as I walked toward a room that was a replica of the Oval Office just as Ronald Reagan had left it. A recorded voice trembled with emotion above the empty Presidential desk chair, “Tear down that wall Mr. Gorbachev! Tear down that wall!”

Nancy

In the late afternoon, I went back to my hotel room to unpack my bags and shower. Just as I turned off the water, someone knocked loudly on my door. I put on a terry cloth bathrobe and opened the handle. Peggy was standing there in a wash and wear Chanel suit and holding a leather suitcase. She kissed me on the lips.

“Darling, she said, “I’m sorry to be late. I just found out that we have to get dressed and go back to the library. Mrs. Reagan is visiting tonight. She would like to meet you. Frankly, I can’t stand the bitch. Oh, excuse my crude tone. But Nahn-cee has to have her way on everything.”

I sat my wet body down on the bed. My bathrobe fell open, accidentally exposing my clean and fully erect penis to Peggy’s bulging pupils. She dropped her Mark Cross leather bag, got down on her knees and started sucking me. “Oh Ronnie, oh Ronnie! I couldn’t wait any longer!”

We made love. During our intercourse, she moaned and moaned, “Oh Ronnie, oh Ronnie!” It was exhausting, but we finished, showered, dressed and left to drive back to the library.

As we pulled into the parking lot, Peggy spoke. “I have plans for you tomorrow. You can work on the lighting, and I’ll go shopping. Later in the afternoon, we can meet up at a nearby stable. They have two wonderful Arabian stallions quartered there. You’ll get your saddle and we’ll explore the mountains, just like we did up at the ranch in Santa Barbara.”

“OK darling, whatever you say,” I said.

I got out of the car, and went around to open Peggy’s
door. We followed a group of older suited gentleman and coiffed ladies into the library garden. Waiters carried appetizers and champagne on the terrace. Peggy was polite to all, but she would not release her hand from mine.

We crouched into a corner. Peggy whispered, “There she is. Bitchy little Nancy. See how she walks into the room? Like she is someone important. Still wearing Adolfo! Doesn’t she ever change?”

Mrs. Reagan was small, frail, but still elegant and gracious. Secret Service men fanned out across the crowd. Nancy recognized Peggy and walked over to her. Peggy smiled at her, lips closed and fists clenched.

“Peggy dear,” Nancy intoned, “You look lovely. Is this the lighting man?”
Peggy grimaced. “Yes, this is Ronald Reagan.”

Mrs. Reagan extended her hand. I shook it. “Nice to meet you,” I said stupidly, “ I hope that I can be of great benefit to the library”.

“I’m sure you will be,” Nancy said, “ We have short circuits and power problems. And my Adolfos look awful in the cases. I hope you can illuminate them better. I want to talk to you alone later if you have the time,” she said.

“Sure. Anything you need Mrs. Reagan.”

“Call me Nancy.”

She walked over to another group of distinguished white haired dinosaurs in dinner jackets. Peggy looked at me with anger.

“What did she mean alone?” she asked.

“I guess she wants to speak to me alone,” I answered.

“Why can’t I be there?” she said.

“I really don’t know. But I look forward to talking to her,” I said. Peggy turned her back to me and walked away.

I followed her and tried to grab her left arm, but I accidentally caused her to drop a champagne glass on the gray slate. Her face froze. People turned their heads to look.

“Get away from me,” she yelled, “you lied to me! You still love her!” I was terrified. This nutcase might cause me to lose my $50,000 job. But I had to play along with her lunacy.

“I do. You’re right! I love my Nancy and will always love her!” I screamed.

“Either you leave her, or I’m leaving you!” she said.

Ethel rushed over to us. “My dear Peggy. Are you unwell? Let me take you inside. I think these crazy winds and the heat are upsetting you.”

“Ethel, I’m perfectly able to conduct myself in public. I’ve spent my whole life in the public eye. Mr. Mayer once told me that I was the best behaved actress on the whole lot!”

Ethel looked at me with bewilderment. I tried to smile. Peggy’s eyes opened wide, like Gloria Swanson as she descended the staircase in Sunset Boulevard. “I know exactly who I am. I know just where I’m going. My man and I are going to stay right here.”
 “Well, OK.” Ethel said. “I’ll leave you alone if Mr. Reagan says he can take care of you.”
 “I’m fine Ethel.” I said. Peggy grabbed my arm to steady herself. We walked back to the crowd and went along with our charade.

The well-behaved donors and patrons of the library continued their polite ignorance of our situation. We drank and ate and went back to the hotel around 10pm.

At the hotel I told Peggy we should sleep in separate rooms, because “The President” was restless. She agreed and we said good night.

The Next Morning

The next morning I arrived at the Reagan Library at 8am and was greeted by Mrs. Reagan. Ethel and Mr. Illini Dixon, a white haired decorator friend of the former First Lady. Dixon was there to offer his certain opinions on matters of taste.

We walked through the library, eyeing one display case that had a red Adolfo suit once worn by Nancy in 1983. “This is perfectly dreadful Nancy,” Dixon intoned, “Your suit looks like JC Penneys in this cheap illumination. Ronald make a note of it please.”

I had expected Peggy to be there on my first day at the library, but she was quite absent. “Has anyone seen Ms. Naron?” I asked. Nancy looked at Dixon who rolled his eyes. “She will not be joining us,” he said.

The walk continued. Nancy asked, “What about Ronnie’s favorite football from college? Shouldn’t that be in this case with his other student memorabilia?” Dixon answered, “Dear, people can only take so much football. Your husband had other interests. We need to have one section for just your place settings of White House China. Don’t you agree Mr. Reagan?” He asked.

“Sure,” I answered.

The walking tour lasted another twenty minutes. Then Mrs. Reagan said good-bye to all of us, and said that Mr. Dixon and I would get along fabulously.

“Will you excuse us Ethel?” Dixon asked.

“Certainly,” She said as she left us in a dark hallway.

“Young man, you almost lost your job last night,” He said.

“Why? What did I do?” I asked.

“You embarrassed Mrs. Reagan by not dancing with her.”

“But I was with Peggy,” I said.

“Oh, I know the whole story. You don’t have to tell me a thing,” he said.

“You know? About Peggy? How crazy she is? That she thinks I’m something other than who I am?” I asked.

“Yes. You can trust me,” he said, “I spoke to Peggy and she was telling me such a bunch of bull. How in love with her you were. How you made love in your bathrobe. How big your cock is! She told me everything.”

“I am so relieved. I just want to enjoy my time here in the library. Do my job. I came to California to escape the stress. I’m so happy you understand me,” I said.

“Not only will you enjoy the library,” he said, “ But I want you to spend the weekend with me at my house in Palm Springs. It’s gorgeous. Filled with the most stylish mid-century furniture. Do you like 50’s stuff? I’ve got oodles of it.”

“Yes I love the 50’s,” I answered.
“I sent Peggy back to New York. The bitch. Let her find her own Ronald Reagan at the bottom of a highball glass. She can drink, that lush. Mrs. Reagan thinks she is poison with a capital P.”
He grabbed the back of my arm, digging his fingers into my triceps. “Oh, I see you go to the gym. Very nice. We’ve got a fully equipped spa at my home. You’re going to love it at my home Mr. Reagan.”
Two Weeks Later
I had spent the weekdays designing and supervising the installation of new lighting at the library. Everyone was so sweet to me, so considerate. My hours were quite regular, mostly from 8am-5pm. My only problem was the persistent presence of Mr. Dixon.
He was in the library offering me suggestions. He told me which items Mrs. Reagan wanted to highlight. He carried a phone and constantly called Nancy to tell her how the renovations were progressing. He became a royal pain in the butt. But his most egregious habit was patting me on the shoulder and the butt. Finally, I had had enough of his touchiness.
I was standing on top of the President’s desk in the Oval Office reaching up to the ceiling to adjust a spotlight. Illini grabbed my thigh, ostensibly to keep me balanced, but it was dangerously close to my balls. “Would you take your hand off my leg?” I asked.
He stepped back and leered at me. “My you certainly are testy today! I was just trying to keep you from falling off,” he said.
“Listen, I was hired to do the lighting here. I don’t need an assistant. I certainly appreciate your help, but you’re invading my space!” I screamed.
“No, you take your Manhattan attitude and shove it up your ass! How dare you reject my help and my authority! Who the fuck do you think you are!” he said.
We both stood there, not budging. He huffed and walked out of the Oval Office.

Help
In the last few days at the end of the project, I was rid of both Illini and Peggy. Free of those annoying people, I had begun to learn something about Reagan’s life, and started to appreciate those achievements in his presidency that I had once dismissed.
For example, the library showed how Reagan ended the cold war, and that was swell. He also had fired the air traffic controllers, and put an end to union domination of national politics. I saw how kind he was to old friends like Jimmy Stewart and Claudette Colbert, and I was charmed by his loyalty. He loved horses, and riding, and chopping wood. The confused mind, the psychoanalyzed mind, the liberal fogginess of my own thinking was purified in the conservative clarity of California’s Reagan Library.
It was Nancy who called me ask me out to lunch. She told me to drive down to Los Angeles and meet her at the Bel Air Hotel. She wanted to thank me for my kindness, and I was thrilled to be invited.
But when I spoke to her on the phone, something in her voice frightened me. “We’re going to have lunch and I’ve also invited Peggy Naron and Illini Dixon. They speak so highly of you. They told me that you have some political aspirations that we should discuss. I think you’re going to be a big hit in the new Republican Party and I want to introduce you to all the right people.”
No matter what I did, I couldn’t somehow offend these fans of mine. I remained a shining figment of their imagination in the blinding light of the Golden State.
I politely declined Nancy’s offer and told her to give my best to Illini and Peggy.

The End

“Incidental in Studio City”

It was a clear, sparkling, blue-sky morning in Los Angeles. Ned Le Reve of Studio City went out for a walk.

Ned, his wife Stacey and daughter Kirsten lived on the quaint Cantura Street just south of Ventura Boulevard. Their house was rented, but it felt like home with its double hung windows, black shutters, white washed picket fence and Iceberg roses in the front yard.

Ned, born in Chicago, had moved out to Los Angeles some twenty years earlier to work as a production assistant on the TV pilot “Twenty Lashes” which starred Potter Palmer, an obscure Chicago comedian who was briefly popular in the latter half of 1984. Ned considered himself a real Chicagoan who grew up in Rogers Park, went to Senn High School and the University of Illinois.

Everyone Lives Near the Beverly Center

In the 1980’s, many young Chicagoans and New Yorkers who emigrated to LA moved to that section of Los Angeles near the brown concrete mass of the Beverly Center. The straight, ambitious, cunning, aggressive and creative aspiring sycophants…all of them… were drawn to an area built up largely in the 1930’s and 40’s with Spanish and Art Moderne flats in gardens of green lawns, ficus trees and Birds of Paradise.

Ned found a 1939 vintage two-bedroom apartment on Orlando, just north of Beverly. His roommate was Alan Blockkopf (block-off), a short red haired and wiry nerd from Skokie, Illinois. Alan had been in Ned’s Secrets of Sitcom Writing class at U of I. He was a connection of sorts. He had just secured a job as a runner on The Cosby Show and was full of advice.

Ned soon found out that Alan never shut up with his helpful hints about making it in Hollywood. A typical Alan comment: “What you want to do in Hollywood is send a postcard to any person you meet at a party and thank them for talking to you.” He was full of career, dating, eating, carnal, social, family and financial recommendations.

As Ned reached into the refrigerator to prepare himself a tuna sandwich he felt Alan’s hand on his left shoulder.” I never eat tuna salad the day after I make it,” Alan said. “Oh, Ok,” was Ned’s reply.

“ Your mother called today,” Alan said. He then added, “You should probably tell her to stop calling you more than once a week. You’re 23 now and she’s treating you like a baby.”

Alan had his way in the apartment with the arrangement of: the closets (he had two of three); the bookshelves (he had all of them for his own books); the keys (he had many keys but allowed Ned only one to get into the front door). Alan used electric air freshners in his bathroom. He asked Ned to used shower gel (not soap because it clogs drains). He paid his bills on the first Sunday of every month at 10am and expected Ned to do the same.

Alan imagined himself as a comedy writer, and he was hard at working writing pilot episodes for Mr. Cosby himself, though Mr. Cosby never read any of Alan’s work. Alan adored the sludgy Cosby’s humor and was especially fond of quoting the droll Jello gelatin commercials verbatim.

In 1985, popular music was recorded on “LP’s” (a long playing phonograph record). Ned would throw his LP albums around his bedroom. Tidy Alan stacked his music alphabetically in the dining room bookcase. If Ned wanted to find a favorite album of his own, he would merely get down on the floor and sweep his hands over the record covers. Eventually he would find what he was looking for.

This disorder was too much for Alan. He asked Ned to find a place to store the albums correctly. Ned said, “Like fuck I will.” The next day Alan asked Ned to move out. Ned was unemployed, directionless, single and had no place to live. In a sense, he was on equal ground with every other 23 year old in Los Angeles.

Liza O’Neil of Studio City

“People suck, you know what I mean?” Ned was having a dreadful conversation with another college friend, Liza O’Neil, a Los Angeles native who worked in TV and was fond of such phrases as “you know what I mean” and “people suck…. you know what I mean?”

Liza was 5’10 and had blunt cut brown hair which complimented her big brown eyes and tiny little ears. She was tall and wore baggy men’s oxford shirts and torn jeans. In Ned’s naive assessment of Liza, she was laid back. Unlike girls back in Chicago, Liza never wore make-up and the only tailored clothing she owned was a vintage man’s formal jacket and trousers which she wore to very fancy occasions like Dodger’s games.

Her beauty was compromised by her character. She was self-centered, self-absorbed, a slob who chain smoked and only dated successful fat comedians whom she judged were on their way up in Hollywood. Her leisure time was spent talking on the phone about herself and her failed relationships.

“If you want a place to stay…..” Liza paused after exhaling smoke, “…Then you can stay in my extra bedroom and pay me $200 a month. I live on North Golf Course Drive in Studio City and I have a really nice little gray house that I rent. I’m going to be working on a televised concert in Vancouver this summer. I insist that you move out when I get back in Septmember.”

This was Ned’s second taste of hospitality in LA. You were always welcome as long as you were needed. You were always welcome as long as you were useful. You could be cut out or fired or dropped, simply at a moment’s notice. The one in power reserved all of the rights to dismiss you. It was a tradition dating back to Joan Crawford and her poor, oppressed daughter Christina.

Love in Toluca Lake

One hot Tuesday in May, while Liza worked in Vancouver, Ned was unemployed and bored in Studio City. He had opened up the Hollywood Reporter and sent out his resumes. He had made some calls to his “connections” but found that he had none. He locked up the house and started walking east down Moorpark.

He passed Whitsett, and then Laurel Canyon, Colfax, Tujunga, Vineland, Lankershim, Cahuenga. Two hours later he had entered Toluca Lake, the picturesque and prosperous district– where the institution and sometimes human– Bob Hope lived. In this fairy land, mountains caressed rose covered cottages where little blonde tykes were watched over by benevolent nannies and au pairs and Mom never looked any older than 40 even on her 75th birthday.

It was hot, maybe 99 degrees, so Ned stopped at a gas station and bought a Coca-Cola. He almost didn’t make it to the soda machine. A young woman in a 1986 Taurus came screaching through pump area, her foot on the accelerator. Ned was merely an insect at the end of the woman’s hood ornament. He might have died right there, but he jumped on top of her hood. The woman slammed on her brakes with an expression stunned and sorry. She ran over to Ned on top of her windshield. “Oh, I’m so embarassed. I could have killed you. Let me help you down. ” She was an attractive if innocent looking sandy haired gal with a light blue t-shirt. “It’s so hot,” she said, “that I just wasn’t thinking. The sun got in my eyes.”

“My name is Ned, ” he said. “Stacey, pleased to meet you.”

They exchanged numbers and a few days later they were laughing at a French bakery on Riverside Drive that reminded Ned of the one his mom had back home. Stacey was really funny he found out. She was a Phoenix girl, who moved here to work as a comedy writer, but was supporting herself as a receptionist in a medical office in Toluca Lake.

Crossing Liza O’Neil

Three months after Ned met Stacey, he proposed marriage to her. But he was still staying at Liza’s house. The owner had blown back into town after an exciting summer supplying the refreshments at a crafts services table in Vancouver backstage at U2 Concerts. She had seen wealth and fame and power. She seemed to possess a new philosophical maturation.

“You know what I mean about working in our industry, she opined, as she smoked away on the back porch with Ned, “We work a few months out of the year, and then we are free but we have no money. So it sucks. You know what I mean? I wish I was living in Paris like I did in college. My parents gave me $500 a month. Now they don’t give me anything. You know what I mean? I mean they did buy me that white BMW but so what? I still have to work. You know what I mean?”

Ned broke the news to Liza about Stacey, a girl he really liked and now intended to marry. “That’s really cool. I’m happy for you. We all need someone. You know?” Liza was almost thoughtful. “So when are you moving out Ned?” She asked.

Only Yesterday

Ned had been in Los Angeles for 19 years. He had left Liza’s house at 24, and woke up at 41 with a 40 year-old wife and a 16 year-old daughter. What had he accomplished in the decade and a half since he moved here to work in “TV”? Or was it “FILM”?

One year he was a writer’s assistant on a game show. He hated the hours spent locked up in white walled windowless offices coming up with trivia questions. He quit.

He worked as a researcher on documentaries and checked facts for producers who wrote it into one hour History Channel shows like, “Noah’s Ark: The Mystery Rises” and “Hoover: A Man and a Dam”.

He worked in a producer’s office sorting headshots. He tried acting and ended up in a cult acting class where the teacher, Boris, fell in love with him because his stage presence was so natural and unaffected (and untaught and unpracticed and inexperienced).

Kirsten was a lovely child, and he doted on her. But Stacey had grown into a morose woman who resented Ned’s stagnant career and looked around at other women who enjoyed vacations, cosmetic surgery and weekends in Manhattan. Ned felt that he was lacking in masculine energy, drive or cruelty.

Softball

The only real progress he made was on the softball field. Every Sunday, he met Dick Raymond and other past primers for a men’s only game of softball at the Studio City Park athletic field. Dick was a bearded rebel who grew up in Berkeley in the 1960’s and was forever in search of the meaning of life as experienced between those three bases and home plate. “Ned”, Dick told him one day, “The only thing you need for happiness in this world is a good baseball bat.”

The Good Bat

Ned took Dick’s advice and went out to buy the best bat he could find. At the Sports Store on Ventura Boulevard, he pushed his way past the 11 and 12-year old boys and their dads to lay his hands on a solid man’s bat. A glossy label hung seductively on one of the biggest and best-looking bat models stacked against the wall:

“The Amateur Softball Association of America, headquarters in Oklahoma City, OK certifies that this “Louisville Slugger” model bat meets our standards for ASA Bat Performance.”

Ned immediately made eye contact with one bat. It was the “TPS GENESIS” whose advertising bragged about its aerospace applications and graphite, carbon, and tensile strengths. Lightning bolt graphics in enormous exploding letters promised the ultimate in power hitting for slow pitch softball.

Ned was about to take that item to the cashier. Then he spotted the $159.00 TPS POWER RESPONSE. A glossy brochure attached to the bat explained the enormous technological advances that went into this product:

“The strongest and toughest alloy ever developed for aluminum bats. In aluminum bat construction, the alloy’s “yield strength” is key to bat design, performance and durability. GEN1X, the strongest alloy on the market, is the first aluminum bat alloy to measure over 100 ksi (THE MEASUREMENT OF AN ALLOY’S STRENGTH). The result is the most technologically advanced line of aluminum bats to ever be developed. Years in the development process, Alcoa Research and Development Engineers formulated a breakthrough combination of Aluminum, Zinc, Copper, Zirconium, Magnesium and traces of Titanium to obtain this incredible strength.”

Ned picked up the softball bat. In a dance like configuration of ass out, knees bent he got into a batter’s stance. It felt good, him and the big bat. He carefully swung it and imagined himself as the greatest softball hitter in the world. Like Viagra it put a new virility into Ned. He had to buy it. He ran up to the counter and handed the cashier two hundred dollar bills. This bat might just change his life.

Unnerving

Alan Blockkopf had eventually become the executive producer and creator of “Whoremobile”. The MTB reality show starred a beautiful Playboy bunny who would pick one lucky male winner to ride (and do much more) in her car all night. The winner was selected from three guys who had to eat dead cat meat or drink pig’s blood in order to win a date with her. The supervising producer, just under Blockkopf , was Liza O’Neil. Here were two old friends of Ned who were now in distinguished positions were they could earn accolades and honors.

Ned felt diminished. College friends of Ned’s became neurosurgeons and Congressmen, CEO’s and Engineers, diplomats, designers and producers of “Whoremobile” but where was he? Ned was still poor Ned stuck outside with his hungry nose against the window watching the lucky ones inside.

He was desperate to prove something to himself. He would ask Alan or Liza for a job on “Whoremobile”. He just had to.

Nose Ring Central

“Of course you can come in and talk to us.” Thus, Liza O’Neil invited Ned Le Reve to visit her production offices at MTB in Santa Monica.

MTB (Music Tele-Broadcasting) was housed in a long, low slung brown brick building in a flat and uninteresting section of West Los Angeles.

Ned arrived dressed in his best “I’m still young, cool and hip” style that looked hopelessly out of date to those MTB employees who were not yet born when Ned graduated College. He was wearing a red 50’s style rayon camp shirt with the tails untucked, baggy jeans and leather Steve Madden sneakers. His hair was cut short and frosted blonde in parts to block out the gray. The receptionist was an Asian tattooed young man with nose rings and a laptop on his lap. Ned was buzzed into the offices of “Whoremobile”.

MTB’s architecture in Los Angeles is a circus side-show, a commercially calculating carnival of deception and pretense. Interior design here is fun, crazy and lunatic with an infant’s sense of decorum and the quiet subtlety of a Marine drill sergeant. Acid green walls and unadorned bare bulbs were accentuated by psychedelic carpets and linoleum violently mismatched. The intent: to express how free and cool it is at MTB. The result: it only served to make the Ned feel ill at ease and unsure. Big-framed posters of shirtless and muscular black men grabbing their crotches were advertisements for the best debauchery and merrymaking. This land of MTB: whores and thugs, killers and sluts, singers and salesmen, hell and hucksterism. This is what middle aged, white and nerdy Ned Le Reve saw as he walked down the hall to Liza’s office.

On the 10

It was 5 O’clock and Ned was stuck on the freeway. He was driving his wife’s 1986 Taurus, the one that had almost killed him years ago. He was hot, hungry and tired. He couldn’t stop replaying the ridiculous and sickening interview with Liza O’Neil.

“We like to talk about sex and food. You know what I mean? I mean do you know anything about the new MTB food channel FTV?” Liza said.

“I’ve been working in documentaries,” Ned said.

“We are going to Vegas to do a special with Paris Hilton. You know her?” Liza asked.

“Yes.”

“Well I mean if you want to move to Vegas, I could probably use someone as my assistant there. Do you have a car?” Liza asked.

She had put a tape of the show in the VCR and they had watched it. A tan, 22 year-old blond girl with orange skin peeled off her top and three guys jumped on top of her and the whole scene was blacked out by sensors.

“Why do you bother to show what you can’t show?” Ned asked.

“It’s the idea. They’re jumping on top of her and the audience knows she’s topless and everyone uses their imagination. You-know-what-I-mean?” She said.

“I do. And I think it’s asinine to tease your viewers with explicit sex and not make it explicit!” He answered. He lost his chances right there. Not that he wanted to win the job anyway.

“Well it’s been great seeing you again. I’ll say hi to Alan. He’s so busy. He wanted to come by and say hello but he just doesn’t have time. You-know-what-I-mean?” Liza said goodbye and walked out of the room. MTB had cooked her brain like a TV dinner left too long in the microwave.

North on Laurel Canyon

Ned was crawling up the one lane Laurel Canyon at the height of the rush hour. He looked out his rear view mirror and could see a brown haired young woman in a Lincoln Navigator. She was on the phone, putting on lipstick, driving, and drinking coffee.

His phone rang. It was Dick Raymond, “Hey Ned. I just called to tell you that the game is cancelled tomorrow. I was invited to spend the weekend with my friend Alan and his wife at their beach house in Newport Beach.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” answered Ned.

“Are you all right kid?” Dick asked.

“No. I just had a horrible interview and now I’m stuck in traffic. Nothing out of the ordinary,” answered Ned.

“Interview?” Dick asked.

“Yes. Some fuckin’ idiotic show called “Whoremobile”. I mean can you imagine me on a show like that? It’s like one step above porn.” Ned said.

“But very profitable. My friend Alan is the executive producer of that show. That’s the Alan my wife are going to spend the weekend with in Newport!” he said.

“Hey. I didn’t mean to take a swipe at your friend.” Ned said.

“No. I agree with you. It’s garbage, but I wouldn’t tell him that. Do you know he just bought a nine million dollar house in Brentwood?” Alan said.

“No, I didn’t.” Ned said.

“Well. He’s enjoying every minute of it. The United Jewish Appeal voted him Citizen of the Year. He’s a big guy now. So long. Have a good weekend Ned.” Alan said.

At last Ned reached the top of Mulholland, the mountain summit road that separates Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley. The golden haze of the sun was closing on a day full of ambiguity and yearning.

What he wanted now, more than anything, he thought, was to go to the park and hit a few balls.