You can visit Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland by dodging the trolley, forgoing Goofy’s autograph, and hanging a hard right. As the curtains draw back, Mr. Lincoln rises painfully, his mechanical legs being bolted to the floor, and begins to speak, his warm baritone emanating from a hole in a desk several feet away. It’s stirring, but also, as the real Mr. Lincoln might say, “Kinda weird.”
I can say the same thing about My Strange Moment with Mr. Reagan.
I was an intern for a movie company located near the top of the building they blew up in Diehard. Or rather a miniature version of it. That is, the building they blew up in the movie was miniature, not the one I was working in. Because, I mean, if the building I was working in had been miniature… Anyway, one day I arrived earlier than usual and found myself standing next to two Men in Black. They glanced at me with annoyed “damn, there’s something on my shoe” looks. Then I spotted the instantly familiar auburn-grey pompadoured head of the man they were guarding.
The elevator dinged and all three stepped inside. I hesitated. The MiBs gestured for me to take another elevator. But Ronald Reagan smiled and said in that famous half-whisper, “It’s OK.” I hesitated just long enough for the portal to begin to close, then hurried in. The brushed aluminum doors bumped my foot, then scooted politely back, allowing me to slip inside. They shushed to a close again and the elevator started it’s glide to the top of one of the tallest buildings in L.A.
I broke the silence with a devilishly clever, “It’s an honor to meet you, sir.” (Bet he’d never had that one before!) More silence. And then, to my astonishment, he began to tell a story.
“Well,” (he really did say that), “when I was a young man just getting started, I landed a job at a radio station in Davenport, Iowa. And they had an elevator that—well, back in those days elevators had two sets of doors, you see: the wooden ones on the elevator itself and those big cast iron scissor doors on the cage around the elevator…” He smiled at the memory.
“Yeah?” I chuckled. Ronald Reagan was telling me an elevator story in an elevator! I was in the elevator and in on the joke! I’d be repeating it for the rest of my life: “Say, here’s a funny story my friend Ronald Reagan told me, you know, Ronald Reagan the President?”
“You never wanted to hesitate like you did just now,” Mr. Reagan explained, “when entering an elevator.”
“Why?” I asked with a chuckle. I’m interacting with the President! Me and the Gipper, the Gipper and me, freakin’ interacting! (I rarely say freakin’, but sometimes I think it.)
“Because those scissor doors…well, one day I’d just stepped into the elevator when this fella leaped in after me.”
“Yeah?” This was gonna be freakin’ great!
“Yep, but then those scissor doors, they closed on his foot and the wooden doors closed on his leg…”
“Well, that elevator starting going up. And you know what?”
“What?” I chortled.
“It ripped his leg off.”
“Well, good-bye,” Mr. Reagan said as the doors to my floor glided open.
The MIBs gestured for me to step out. I obeyed, then turned and said, “Good—” But before I could finish, the doors slammed shut.
“—God.” I finished.
What had just happened?
Had what I thought was a humorous anecdote turned out to be a cautionary tale? Some kind of metaphor? Or was he merely—pardon the pun—pulling my leg? (“It was great, Nance. You should have seen the look on his face!”)
How had real suddenly turned surreal?
How had my great moment with Mr. Reagan become my strange moment with Mr. Reagan? I’ll never know. But it’s a moment I cherish, nevertheless. It was kind of stirring, but also, as Mr. Reagan might have said after the elevator doors closed, “Kinda weird.”
Note: This incident really occurred. It is not intended to make a statement. Neither is it a reference to Mr. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s (he was not reportedly suffering any major symptoms at the time). It was simply a weird, wonderful moment.