All the former President's men - and me

I WAS eating a slice of cheesecake in a restaurant in Los Angeles, reading a newspaper, quite bored, when everybody's head turned round all at the same time. So I looked up. I wondered what had happened. It couldn't have been a movie star walking past, because a movie star just had walked past, and nobody had been bothered at all. I was the only person craning my neck to get a better view of Sean Penn as he walked along, looking at the ground. So maybe this was a huge star. 'Like who?' I thought. Like, say, Jack Nicholson.

It turned out it wasn't such a big movie star. It was a group of men - five of them, all but one in dark suits. The one had on a light suit. They were all quite big men; when two of them moved forward to the table, I saw who it was. It was Ronald Reagan. He was not President any more - he'd been writing his memoirs. He was the one in the light suit. Everybody was still looking at him. He didn't acknowledge this at all; it must have been his typical experience of life.

The men sat down at a table near me. I made up my mind at once: I would meet Ronald Reagan, walk up to the table and shake his hand, have a chat. I would think of one question to ask him. What I really wanted to know was: was he stupid? He didn't look stupid. He kept rolling his eyes and making jokes; his gestures were fast for a man in his eighties.

When would be a good moment? I thought: I'll let him settle down. Maybe I'll just breeze past and say something like: 'Hello, Mr Reagan]' Or stick my hand out and say: 'Nice meeting you, Mr Reagan.' Anyway, I'd made up my mind. His security, I thought, didn't look too good.

And the restaurant. It was the Carnegie Deli in Rodeo Drive - an upmarket burger and sandwich bar, a flash diner. Lunch cost about pounds 7. You could get stuff like pastrami sandwiches with coleslaw; people came in for a piece of cake and a soft drink. This must be where Reagan comes when he wants to feel laddish, unofficial. I looked over at him. He was only a few feet away. I caught his eye, but he feigned ignorance of this fact, staring straight ahead blankly. I tried to catch his eye again. He cannot not have noticed that I was looking at him. I wanted to soften him up a bit, for when I moved in. For when I introduced myself.

He really was talking a lot, and quite fast. He was making people laugh - all these guys were hiccuping and chortling - they were making jokes, too. Reagan's face muscles were being used in a totally unfamiliar way - he was conveying his understanding of what was being said. He was not pretending to be stupid, which he did whenever a television camera was around.

He was eating meat and salad. A burger? I couldn't quite see. But the time was drawing close when I would fulfil my promise to myself. I felt: if I wait any longer, perhaps I won't do it at all. Why wait beyond this point? I still had a little corner of my cheesecake on the plate. I didn't want another slice. I looked over at Reagan. He turned to the man next to him, a balding man, much younger than he.

I stood up. I sat down. I had not, I realised, prepared anything. I thought: Reagan doesn't look stupid. He is not stupid. Somehow, if Reagan had looked stupid, I would have felt better about introducing myself to him. What do you say to somebody you thought for years was thick, but turned out not to be?

I stood up again. There were only a few paces between Reagan's table and mine. I looked at Reagan again. He was saying something in the balding man's ear again. Was Reagan talking about me? Did he think, perhaps, that I was going to assassinate him? Was I going to assassinate him? Sometimes assassins worked like this, keeping their hatred for and desire to kill someone deeply buried, and suddenly letting it all out. What would I do it with? A knife was all I had. Pointless.

I took a pace towards Reagan's table. I would walk past, and lean in towards him. I took another pace. Now I could see what was on his plate: steak and salad. He had been eating it carefully, not fast, talking a lot between mouthfuls. Two more paces to go. I was sweating, unshaven. I looked Reagan right in the eye. This was it. Ronald Reagan's face was pleasant, lined, quite young-looking for his age. When I was a student he was one of the people you had to hate. I could have reached out and touched him on the nose. He looked right through me. I took a pace, slowing down.

Then the man next to Reagan looked up at me with a glare so hostile I changed my mind completely. I would go to the gents, would have been going to the gents all along. I walked past Reagan and into the gents; I splashed cold water on my face. Some of it went on my shirt, staining the light blue. Then I went back to my table.

One more try, I thought. I would approach him from the other side. And try to kill him? Of course not. I had no urge to kill him; seeing him looking so natural, so unstupid, made me like him. The thing that was hateful about him was all that acting, all that pretending to be an idiot. I got up again. The moment I moved, I got a glare from the balding man. It was as if I wasn't allowed to move, by law. I took a pace. Now two or three of the Reagan men were glaring at me. They must have been going for their guns. I walked over to the other side of Reagan's table. The guys were really looking ugly. As I passed Reagan, I moved my hand in a half-hearted way towards him. Just six inches. The physical composition of these men changed totally; they bristled. Reagan had not eaten all of his steak.

So, I chickened out. I went to the gents again. I stood there wondering if they had a gun trained on the door. When I came out, the balding man was looking at me. I walked to my table and finished my cheesecake. I thought: I must promise myself not to go across again. This could all go wrong. So I paid my bill and walked out. I looked back at Reagan as I went through the door. He looked back blankly. He never even smiled at me.-

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor