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One for Gipper

Crank Call


Published June 16, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

Last week, I dreamed I was buying drugs from Nancy Reagan in my Maidenform bra.

Well, all right, I wasn't wearing a bra. But it was Nancy Reagan, and I was buying drugs from her. All kinds of pills, poppers and unlawful paraphernalia. She kept them in a Galanos handbag and doled them out to me, one by one, as we sat downtown drinking shots of whiskey on New Year's Eve; a kind of reverse, anti-First Night, where only drinking and drugging were allowed. Dream-wise, you had to be blotto to be part of this scene -- and to get through the Reagan obsequies last week without throwing yourself under a car.

Mind you, the Widow Reagan looked a lot younger and less haggard in my dream -- a lot less like a pulverized mummy, yanked from her daily luncheon-and-bridge date at the Bel Air Hotel and abruptly forced into mourning -- than she did in the hundred million pictures, profiles, silhouettes, dissolves, "American minutes," lip-bitings, half-swoonings and coffin-kissings I also saw last week, in those multiple hours when, alas, I wasn't asleep. And whenever Nancy, in the dream, handed me another upper, downer or merciful soporific, I found myself stammering, "Oh ... well ... gee ... hmm." Whereupon she, batting those big, fake eyes of hers, whispered to me softly, "Peter, just say... I don't know!"

For you, Mrs. Reagan? Anything! I still have my "Reagan For Shah" button, purchased in 1980 or '81, which I keep in a box on my desk, along with another, less genial little badge that speaks to the tenor of those years: "Don't Do It, Di!" That was an outright plea to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, before she was sold down the river to the ghastliest family this side of Cielito Lindo, or whatever the hell Reagan's California compound is called in the interest of having its own library, graveyard and postage stamps.

The best thing I can say about Ronald Reagan, now that he's dead, is that he was the most relaxed president of our time, and even this euphemistic praise I owe to my father, who thought it might bear mentioning.

I once did a profile of the Reagans' daughter, Patti Davis, for a national magazine. This was in 1993, before Patti quite understood which side her bread was buttered on, when she was still writing books and giving lectures about the horrors of growing up in a home where her father's "sunny" disposition never existed and her mother's answer to any problem was to smack her broadside across the head.

To be specific: "I first remember my mother hitting me when I was eight," Ms. Davis once wrote. "It escalated as I got older and became a weekly, sometimes daily, event." It may be that Nancy -- who has always known which side her bread is buttered on -- couldn't think of another way to deal with a rebellious girl who refused to buy into the myth. But, please, let's drop this horseshit about "American" or "family" or any other "values" these Hollywood Borgias are supposed to represent.

"My mother is so emotionally distant," Patti told me, "that she wouldn't know a [family] rift if she fell into it and cracked her head open." The First Daughter added, in a rueful way, "I've really been tested on forgiveness." She was already making money on the Reagan story, and I don't blame her -- what would you do?

Here, may I take the opportunity to commend Ronald Reagan's first wife, the actress Jane Wyman, who, from the moment this "20th Century Colossus" first walked onto the national stage, has kept her mouth firmly shut. That, my friends, is class, and not the cheap imitation of Jackie Kennedy that Mrs. Reagan tried to pull off last week. If Ms. Wyman ever told what she really knew -- indeed, if any of us did -- your hair would curl to match the lips of Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton and even Barbara Bush at the National Cathedral on Friday.

One of Vermont's more hilarious right-wing nutcases -- I won't name him here, because he gets enough publicity as it is -- has been taunting me by email ever since Reagan died, asking specifically, and with his invariable fixation on the anus, when I'm going to "get that champagne bottle outta [my] ass" and admit how thrilled I am that the second-dumbest president in American history is finally, irrevocably, certifiably dead.

"Your celebration over Reagan's death is over," this fellow remarks. "The week-long funeral is over. I admit it was rather long and a bit overdone, but the man deserved a big send-off and respect from real Americans, which I know you'll never understand because as far as I'm concerned, you and all those of the Leftist stripe aren't real Americans."

This is a typical attitude, I believe, among those hordes of U.S. citizens who have no education and no memory, and who honestly believe that what they see on TV corresponds with actual reality. Most of them couldn't tell you the difference between the Reagan ceremonies and the 18th-birthday celebrations of the Olsen twins. But, while we saw a lot of Reagan's casket last week, we never saw his bones. For all we know, he's still alive, and last week's orgy of phony sentiment was just another way to keep us quiet, while Bush and the boys complete the task the Great Snoozer began.

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