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My friend “Calabash” was having a personal meltdown, which I
perversely attributed to rumors that Ronald Reagan’s likeness would be
added to Mount Rushmore. Calabash is, shall we say, of the conservative
persuasion, and I admit there is something of the Cobra and the Mongoose
in our spirited late-night discourse. He owns guns and I abjure them is
just one of our not-inconsequential differences. During perhaps our most
extravagant, er, antipodes of opinion, he accused me of being a
radical agent sent to subvert him, blunt his extremist edge, transduce
him into ideological pablum, and land him in the “muddled middle.”

Though I plead “not guilty” as charged — and I’m not
perhaps predictably Calabash isn’t talking to me now. Too bad. Rants,
and ripostes, are great foreplay. It would have made for blatant sex,
wouldn’t it? But what I want to know is, why can’t we all get along? Ha!
Either it’s the Man-Woman thing, or the Right-wing/Left-wing thing, or
the Cat-Dog thing. Boy do I miss Calabash’s resounding Republican
insights. So I can’t ask him if he thinks Ronald Reagan really IS this
century’s greatest president. Dang!!

Because a Republican congressman from Arizona, Matt Salmon of the
House of Representatives, really DOES believe Ronald Reagan IS this
century’s greatest President. And as such deserves to be the fifth great
stone face on Mount Rushmore, that granite “Shrine of Democracy” in the
Black Hills of South Dakota. Salmon seeks to introduce legislation
bringing Reagan’s face to the national memorial’s quartet of
60-foot-tall presidential phizzes carved from rock. Thankfully, initial
reaction from park officials has been cautious. There may be no more
room on that mountain for nary a zit, and even so, this project would
cost skillions of dollars.

“Wake up! Many, many Americans think Reagan was the greatest
president,” says my artisan-philosopher pal Joey A. of Philadelphia.
“Why great? Well, he’s credited with ending the Cold War.” Oh, I see,
and whipping the Air Traffic Controllers, and looking the other way
about Nancy’s fling with Frank Sinatra. Like that. Not bad for the star
of “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

Apparently, 88-year-old Reagan’s reputation has been getting a major
burnishing by historians lately, the same way in retrospect Richard
Nixon has “become” a Statesman. “Recently I picked up ‘The Common Sense
of an Uncommon Man: The Wit, Wisdom, and Eternal Optimism of Ronald
Reagan,’ thinking it had to be one of those parodies, like quotations
from Chairman Mao,” Joey A. reports in stunned disbelief, “but it was
… totally serious. Reagan’s take on This. Reagan’s take on That!!”

Well, Reagan WAS known as the Great Communicator. In fact, Amazon
Books
currently lists nearly 400 Ronald Reagan
titles, from the mildly reverential to the fawningly worshipful. Here’s
one at random: In “Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an
Extraordinary Leader,” author Dinesh D’Souza, the blurb says, “rates
America’s 40th president as one of its greatest, right below Washington
and Lincoln.”

While eBay, the online auction, has more than 100 Ronald
Reagan collectibles and curiosities. My favorites are a “Ronald Reagan Dog-
Bone,” a “Nixon/Reagan 1962 Spoken LP,” a “color photo of Sonny & Cher &
Ronald Reagan,” a “Ronald Reagan ‘Freedom’s Finest Hour’ Sealed LP,” and a
Ronald Reagan Match Pack.

Coincidentally, I bump into a contrarian Jersey antiques dealer who has
purchased a signed Reagan biography for her boyfriend’s birthday. “I’m not the
Reagan fan. He is,” she confides, “Imagine how much it’ll be worth when he
really dies. I grew faint when I saw the ol’ Gip proposed for Mount Rushmore.
I was hoping they’d do Perot instead. Give them a something to work with,
artistically.”

Time to pay a respectful virtual visit to ***Mount Rushmore,***
a home page headlined
(groan) “The four most famous guys in rock,” where I see this
sentence: “This epic sculpture links the faces of four exalted
American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy
Roosevelt.”
Honestly, I am not sure I ever thought of Ronald Reagan
as either epic or exalted. True, he never projectile-vomited in the lap
of Japan’s Prime Minister, as George Bush did while supposedly under a
voodoo spell. But that is not exactly my personal definition of
exaltation.

Whoa, Matt. Wouldn’t Ronald Reagan’s likeness be just fine in the
scrub pine at the base of that HOLLYWOOD sign, doncha think? That’s what
I’d like to recommend. Let’s install a tribute to Ronald Reagan — a
giant sculpture — in the Hollywood hills, his erstwhile happy hunting
grounds. After all, Reagan WAS about … entertainment. Crikey, wasn’t
it his daughter Patti Davis, the imaginative auteur of that riveting S &
M bondage thriller, who once told me in an interview that yes, her dad
napped on the job? Though now his revisionist biographers are saying
that wasn’t napping at all but some esoteric Zen management technique to
elicit wisdom from his advisors!!

Why can’t we all get along? That’s what I want to know.

I was a Republican as a child for a while, between the ages of 9 and
11, until my nightly “Now I Lay Me” prayer’s God-bless list swelled
roughly to half the size of the welfare rolls of Newark NJ, and I had to
cut people off or I would never be able to get to sleep if I recited all
their names. …

Calabash doesn’t know this about me: I too despise bureaucratic
bloat.

This is the kind of child I was — before I knew Calabash, of
course, who has freed me from this unnecessary burden
— feeling
responsible for helping huge numbers of people, the abstract, distant,
suffering masses, and even some of my personal acquaintances, friends
and relatives for sure. While I myself endured countless childhood
deprivations like having to wear funny-looking high shoes for “flat
feet” that mean kids made fun of — the true “‘cruel shoes.” In my
family, I was the one did my own homework and found my own after-school
jobs, not my princeling brother.

For some reason HIS homework always became a family project. When he
had to memorize John Masefield’s monotonous drone of a poem, “Sea
Fever,” we all did: “I must down to the sea again, to the lonely sea
and sky. And all I ask is a ta ta ta and a ta to steer her by.
” Or
for Halloween, James Whitcomb Riley’s somnambulistic strophe, “When
the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock, and you can
hear the cayuke and gobble of the struttin’ turkey cock. …

And somehow all of us at home learned it before my brother did, from
his constant halting and fumbling re-readings of those incredibly
annoying pieces of poetry while he had one eye on the TV which always
seemed to be playing Woody Woodpecker or Bugs Bunny cartoons. While I
toiled as a supermarket cashier AND a mother’s helper after school as
soon as I turned 16, HE could laze about twirling the dials like a
sheik.

Now, of course, I can’t think of who I might have wanted to save,
unless it was Mrs. Yenesel’s husband. They were the neighbors across the
street, trailer trash without the trailer. He, her sloppy beer-drinking
lout of a husband Eddie, was my secret crush and hero of that sappy
song, “Eddie My Love.” Clearly Eddie Yenesel didn’t deserve such a
spousal albatross around his neck, but I was no Alec Baldwin; I just
didn’t feel quite right wishing for her to die in a car crash or
anything drastic like that.

Once one of the Yenesel boys had bashed my brother on the head with a
hammer while playing in the mounds of clay dirt next door on a
construction site. This was an entirely unprovoked attack. Like
something from the annals of international diplomacy. Naturally my
brother ran sniveling to Daddy. He was younger, smaller, and totally
freaked out. And so my father walked across the street to “talk things
over” with Eddie. “Hey, Eddie,” Daddy called out as he walked up the
Yenesel sidewalk, his hand extended to shake Eddie’s hand.

“Get off my property, you blankety-blank SOB,” Eddie retorted in my
father’s face. My father didn’t flinch. He came right up to Eddie — who
was wearing his usual torn and stained undershirt that barely covered
his beer-belly — and punched him in the nose. Eddie was flattened. My
father, who had boxed in the Navy, returned home and ordered us never to
discuss what had occurred. Then he spanked my brother for being a sissy.

As it turned out, Eddie took my father to court. And court was a
place entirely for grownups, not children, so we relied on Dad to tell
it later like a bad bed-time story. The judge, an interesting fellow,
proclaimed his support for my father’s neighborly impulses, striving to
set things aright, extending his hand in an attempted neighborly
handshake. But the Judge had to fine my father $25, not because he hit
Eddie, but because he did it on Eddie’s property, rather than in the
street. Let’s do it in the road!

The judge wasn’t a real judge, just one of those rinky-dink
horse-and-buggy political appointees so common to the small town I grew
up in. That’s what kind of place it was. We had the same mayor for so
long, 34 years, that every single new public building in town was named
after him, and he wasn’t even dead yet. J. Wussell Roolley. A
Republican. The first Republican I ever observed up close and personal,
like. His law firm should have been called Rylde & Roolley, Esq. Our
school was named after him. So was the bowling alley. The roller rink.
The Laundromat. And even a funeral home, which seemed to be a side
business of his. Legend had it that he still embalmed a body or two,
from time to time, to keep his hand in. In fact, that could have been
his campaign slogan: “Elect J. Wussell: He Knows Where the Bodies Are
Buried.

Politics in our house was as little-discussed as sex. I dimly recall
that my mother was a Democrat and my father was a Republican. Which
probably meant that one of them liked Adlai Stevenson, and the hole in
his shoe, and the other liked Dwight Eisenhower, who played a lot of
golf in his effort to forget being a General. They didn’t argue about
it, though. It’s not like my parents were the Carville and Matalin of
Asbury Park, NJ, or even the Yin and Yang of West Long Branch, where we
subsequently moved. It’s just that my father had elitist tendencies –
he couldn’t stand women drivers, for instance — and my mother was a
woman of the people. Blame her if you’re unhappy with my politics.

For me, back then, being a Republican meant never having to say you
were sorry. Just roll over and shut your eyes, you’re deep in Dreamland,
oblivious to the clamor. I liked that, there and then, more than I want
to admit.

Calabash, wherever you are, this one’s for you.

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