My little girl is going to camp on Monday. Camp! I assume the worst – bus crashes, anacondas, Lyme disease – or worse, Lymon disease, which makes you speak like Geoffrey Holder. Not that I’d mind speaking like Mr. Holder, but she’s not even four, and having that basso laugh come out of her small frame would scare the counselors. I will cross my fingers for the few hours she’s away. It’s not overnight camp, of course. Just an excursion tricked up with that magical word that defines the summers of childhood. And I can use the break; I’ll go to the office, get things done, open my mail, get a jump on the week’s work –

And, come noon, look at the empty chair in the kitchen and feel The Stab. It’ll be a preview of things to come. I’m so used to having lunch with her I can’t imagine that time will end, but it will. I’d home school her, but I know how that would turn out: she’d sit at her computer coloring in the continents on a Jump Start program while I trolled the Usenet for Mac flame wars. No, no. But. I can see why people do it, I really can. Having seen how tweens dress at the mall, I can also see why people join Amish colonies or chain their daughters to pipes in the basement. And then there’s the issue of suitors come to call some day – if the slope-shouldered slackers have the stones to come to the front door instead of beeping from the driveway, that is. I think I will fashion an appendance sported by Ash in the Evil Dead movie – a chainsaw attached to my forearm. It doesn’t even have to be a working chainsaw. Just having a chainsaw attached to your forearm speaks volumes. Come on in, son. Tell me about yourself. Why you lookin’ at Betsy there? You ain’t never seen one? Oh, you’ve never seen one in place of a hand, is it. Well, don’t you look at it. You look right here, in my eyes. Now. Tell me about yourself. Startin’ with your bloodtype.

Great weekend. Hot. A sudden squall to cut the torpor on Saturday night. Friday night I watched “The Man Who Wasn’t There. I blow hot and cold on the Coens, as noted, but I really liked this one. I mean, I really liked it. Not ten-best-all-time like, but for modern noir, it had everything you need – including a chainsmoking protagonist who looked like he was playing in the Bogart Look-Alike Squint-Off. Plus, it had Jon Polito, who was born to be an oily grifter in a 40s B&W crime drama. I was less enthusiastic about James Gandolfini, who I fear will be hitting up Leonard Nimoy in a few years and asking him how he dealt with dat whole typecastin’ ting. He makes a great Tony Soprano, but if he’s not Tony Soprano, it’s not great, because he’s so obviously Tony Soprano.

Saturday: warm again. My wife was out with friends; Gnat and I stayed home and made ice cream cones with our new Black and Decker soft-serve maker (Twenty bucks, Home Depot. I’d gone to buy low-voltage lights to illuminate the backyard, but at one point I had the cart filled with cords, lights, transformers, etc., and I thought: oh, I’ll be damned if I want to do THIS today, so I put it all back. Bought one floodlight and an ice-cream maker.) When she went to bed I sat down and wrote the following.

It’s 1983; I’m working at the Minnesota Daily, in the editorial department. Smart friends, common purpose, and by God a paper to put out! It gets no better when you’re in your 20s.

We didn’t hate Reagan; we viewed him with indulgent contempt, since he was so obviously out of his depth. I mean, please: an actor? As president? (This from a generation that got its politics from “All The President’s Men.” This from a generation that would later embrace Martin Sheen as the ne plus ultra of all things presidential.) He was in a movie with a talking monkey, for heaven’s sake. That was all you really needed to know. “Bedtime for Bonzo,” you’d say with a smirk or a conspicuous rolling of the eyes, and everyone would nod. Idiot. Empty-headed grinning high-haired uberdad. Of course he was popular among the groundlings. It would be laughable if it weren’t so typical - he was just the sort of fool the voters could be trusted to elect.

Reagan was worse than stupid – he was conspicuously indifferent to our futures. It was generally accepted that he either wanted a nuclear war or was too dim to understand the consequences. It went without saying that he didn’t read Schell’s “Fate of the Earth.” It went without saying that he didn’t read anything at all.

Oh, it was a scary time. You have no idea. Reagan sent jets to attack Libya, for example. Something to do with a bombing of a nightclub in Germany – that was bad, sure, but raising the stakes like this was madness. Sheer madness. If they were angry enough to bomb a nightclub, how angry would they be now? We put nuclear missiles in Europe. Nuclear missiles! Sure, they were put there to counter a Soviet deployment, but if the Soviets ever used them we could use our other missiles. Responding to a provocation was so . . . provocative. And then there was the whole Central American situation – Vietnam, all over again. Grenada? Pathetic muscle-flexing just to make us feel good. We’re Number One! USA! USA!
Sometimes it all you could do was just put on “The Wall” on the headphones and take a long hit and find cold hollow solace in the music.

The miserable, depressing, cynical, defeatist music.

Dark times. The world might actually end not with a whimper, but a bang. The scenarios were many, but you got the gist – the Soviets made a move, and Reagan screwed everything up by pushing back. That’s how we saw it happening. He was just that stupid, just that stubborn. He’d blow up the world.

“The people have spoken, the idiots,” I wrote in my journal after he was elected in 1980. I was living in a boarding house a block from the Valli, an English major at the U, a college paper columnist taking all the usual brave stances: Republicans are repressed hypocrites, Playboy insults women, etc. (Interesting side note – my ratio of happy-fun-ball essays and tiresome polarizing screeds was, as now, about 3:1.) But then Reagan got shot. I didn’t like the guy; no, not at all, but he was the president. And hence he was my president. And I was down in the Valli Pub, watching the news. Andrea, a flatfaced barfly who sat in the dark basement all day drinking coffee and smoking Marlboros and watching TV, was hideously pissed that she was missing her soaps. “Why couldn’t they have shot him a few hours later?’ she said. Grunts of amusement from the rest of the slugs.

I wrote a column with her quote as the title. If I remember correctly it was well-received. Because her sentiment was, to use an archaic work, indecent. We were better than that. He was our president, after all.

Those were the days.

1984. We all believe that Mondale will win, because Reagan’s stupidity and inadequacies are manifest to us. We are thrilled when Mondale announces he will raise taxes. Stern medicine, America! But Reagan wins. I repeat: Reagan wins in 1984. Somewhere Orwell is smiling, man. You can smell the karma curdling.

1988. The world has changed; Reagan and Gorbachev The Savior were photographed in a chummy moment in the New York harbor. The world feels less dangerous, for reasons that seem indistinct. The Times runs one last picture of the Gipper walking down an open-aired hallway in the Rose Garden; his head is down, but he looks tall and broad and strong and content. I thought: I’m going to miss him.

Stockholm Syndrome! Stockholm Syndrome!

Vote Dukakis! Now! Fast! Ahhhhh.

1990: Iraq invades Kuwait. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but that’s when I started to turn.

2004, June 5: I am reminded of the thrill I got when I heard the words “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Because you can sum up Reagan’s legacy by polling any random high-schooler and reading that line.

“What wall?” they’d probably ask.

The wall, kid. You know: The Wall. The fortified gash. The thin lethal line that stood between tyranny and freedom. I mean, we lived in a time when there was a literal wall between those concepts, and we still didn’t get it.

What you don’t know when you’re 22 could fill a book. If you write that book when you’re 44, you haven’t learned a thing.


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks