RONALD REAGAN

by Salvatore Pane

 

“I want to make one last movie for future generations,” Ronald Reagan tells Mr. Dingby, his media advisor. “Phone RKO. Get David O. Selznick on the line.”

Dingby removes a hanky from his coat pocket and pats his forehead. “Selznick’s been dead thirty years. RKO even longer.”

From the Oval Office, Reagan looks out onto the long green lawn. Already there are blank spots in his memory.. “What film studios are tops with the kids these days?”

“I don’t think you’re going to like this, but I have something prepared for you, Mr. President.”

Ronald Reagan follows Mr. Dingby into the presidential movie theater. They sit in the front row and Mr. Dingby calls for a secret service man in the projection booth to begin. “Now don’t be nervous,” Dingby whispers. Ronald Reagan can recall saying something similar decades earlier, miles away in his hometown of Tampico, Illinois, to a girl with strawberry hair.

The lights dim. Onscreen something more terrifying than Ronald Reagan can even imagine appears, a man made into machine, a premonition. “I am RoboCop!” it announces. This beast bursts through a brick wall and fires bullet after bullet into a crowd of bystanders. The abomination marches toward a robot armed with gatling guns and rips off its domed head. Inside is a human brain connected to microchips. RoboCop tears the brain loose and chucks it to the ground. He smashes it with his boot. Bystanders cheer. It is not until the screen goes black when it dawns on Ronald Reagan that this monster is the film’s hero.

Ronald Reagan is trembling. He looks back to the projection booth for his father before realizing this is impossible. “What was that?”

RoboCop 2,” Dingby says.This is what the youth want.”

“You’re fired,” Ronald Reagan whispers. “Get out.”

 

II.

 

Ronald Reagan decides he needs a youth advisor while watching Family Ties alone in the dark, his second glass of Macallan empty. He points at Michael J. Fox, his character a staunch Reaganaut, and announces to no one, “This is my youth advisor.”

One week later, Michael J. Fox is flown out to the White House. He walks into the Oval Office wearing a white suit. He pushes his sunglasses over his forehead and says, “Yo.”

“I want to make one last movie for future generations. Phone RKO. Get David O. Selznick on the line.”

Fox sits on the edge of the Oval Office desk. “Nah. Movies are done. I think you’re going to like this. I have something prepared for you, Mr. President.”

Ronald Reagan follows Michael J. Fox into the presidential movie theater. There is a table near the edge of the screen, on which sits a small gray box.  Michael J. Fox plugs in a remote and hands it to Reagan. There are red buttons.

“This is Nintendo.”

The Family Ties star presses power. A pixilated image of a duck in a top hat and monocle buzzes to life on the screen.

“This is Ducktales.”

Ronald Reagan presses a button. Scrooge McDuck appears in a jungle amid heathen snakes. Ronald Reagan presses another button and Scrooge McDuck stabs a snake with his cane. A gem pops out of the carcass.

“This game is about the accumulation of wealth?” Ronald Reagan asks.

“Yes.”

“Can you make one about me?”

“Yes.”

Scrooge McDuck takes a coin from a bee. Ronald Reagan yelps with delight.

 

III.

 

The days are shorter now. No more colors. Michael J. Fox lands on the White House lawn, his young face covered in stubble. Ronald Reagan watches from the Oval Office as Michael J. Fox rushes the window and careens in, glass everywhere. Reagan does not flinch. Michael J. Fox is a disembodied head.

“I want to make one last movie for future generations. Phone RKO. Get David O. Selznick on the line.”

“No, you wanted a video game,” the disembodied ghost head of Michael J. Fox says.

“Oh. Yes.”

“I don’t think you’re going to like this, but I have something prepared for you, Mr. President.”

Ronald Reagan follows the disembodied ghost head of Michael J. Fox into the presidential movie theater. There is a table near the edge of the screen, on which sits a small gray box connected to a remote.

“We finished it. It’s called I am Ronald Reagan: The Game, and all the kids think it’s tops.”

Ronald Reagan takes the remote. He sees a pixilated image of himself and the text I am Ronald Reagan: The Game alongside his winking visage. The game cuts to Pixilated Ronald Reagan speaking to Pixilated Mr. Dingby. A dialogue balloon pops up over Pixilated Ronald Reagan’s head.

“I want to make one last movie for future generations. Phone RKO. Get David O. Selznick on the line.”

Ronald Reagan guides Pixilated Ronald Reagan into the presidential movie theater. He watches the end of RoboCop 2. He scores 1,000,000 points. Pixilated Michael J. Fox appears and Pixilated Ronald Reagan plays Ducktales on a screen within the screen. He scores 1,000,000 points. The Pixilated Disembodied Ghost Head of Michael J. Fox appears and Pixilated Ronald Reagan plays I am Ronald Reagan: The Game on a screen within the screen. The pattern repeats on the smaller screen. Then it repeats again on an even smaller screen. Then again and again. Ronald Reagan cries out, “I did it! I did it!”

And for once he actually remembers something. He remembers the Republic Theater in Tampico, Illinois. He remembers going with his father to see The Adventures of Tarzan where the titular character slays snakes in a jungle. A tribesman loyal to Tarzan is killed by a tiger, and when young Ronald’s father — just two years to live; just two years! — asks if he is scared he says no, even though he is unable to articulate why. He figures it out as they walk home, the flat sprawl of Illinois orange in the fading sun. He takes his father’s hand and tells him he wasn’t sad when the character died because he was an actor. The actor will play more roles and The Adventures of Tarzan will exist forever. He squeezes his father’s hand and says he’ll be an actor, too, because then he will never die. His father pats him on the head. It is 1921 and everything good in the world is still to come.

 

 ***

Salvatore Pane was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His novel, Last Call in the City of Bridges, will be published by Braddock Avenue Books. His chapbook, #KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning, was published by NAP in October. Read the next story, GEORGE H.W. BUSH, here.

* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.

 

 

 

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