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 (you would too if your feet were 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 kind of weird.
Just like my moment with Mr. Reagan.
I was an intern for a movie company located near the top of the skyscraper (or rather a replica of it) that they blew up in Diehard. One day I arrived earlier than usual and found myself standing next to two Men in Black. Between them was an older man sporting an instantly familiar auburn-grey pomp.
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, scooted politely back, allowing me to slip inside, then shushed to a close again, and the elevator started it’s upward glide.
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, Mr. Reagan began telling a story:
“Well,” (he really did say that), “when I was a young man like you 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 buddy Ronald Reagan once told me; you know, Ronald Reagan the President?”
“You never wanted to hesitate when entering an elevator like you did just now,” Mr. Reagan explained.
“Why?” I asked with a chuckle. Me and the Gipper just shooting the breeze!
“Because, well, one day I’d just stepped into the elevator when this fella leaped in after me.”
“Yeah?” I grinned. And what happened then, Ron?
“But then those scissor doors, they closed on his foot and the wooden doors closed on his leg…”
“And, 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 the Gipper merely—pardon the pun—pulling my leg? (“It was great, Nance. You should have seen the look on his face!”)
How had my great moment with Mr. Reagan become my surreal moment with Mr. Reagan? I’ll never know. But it’s a moment I cherish, nevertheless. Like the Mr. Lincoln version, it was stirring…
But also kind of weird.
Note: This incident really occurred. It is not intended to make a political statement. It was simply a weird, wonderful moment.