Ronald Reagan would have been 100 years old this year, but he's dead now and riding ponies up in heaven or something. I was in second grade in 1984, when Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in the biggest election landslide in American history. And for reasons unknown to me now, I appear to have adored the man.
I have no clue why. I remember being viscerally angry any time the president pre-empted The Dukes of Hazzard to yammer on about tearing down walls and cities on a hill and the wondrous properties of Weetabix. He was a TV saboteur, not unlike Jerry Lewis every September. And yet, I still liked Reagan, so much so that I ended up getting in trouble at my school for it.
In second grade, we would practice writing using these huge, cumbersome sheets of paper. Each sheet had a series of solid and dashed lines on the lower half, so you knew exactly where to place the upper curve of your lower-case p's and the bottom curve of your lower-case g's. The top half of the sheet was left blank, so that you could draw shit with crayons and markers and whatever paste you didn't eat. And this was how we wrote our first stories, with the writing on the bottom and the drawing on top, like a little narrated storyboard.
I was already showing some of the sloppy and profane habits that would eventually make me the wildly middling blogger that I am today. I kept one of my journals from the class, and a typical story reads like this:
DC: Part 1 (NOTE: I named the story "DC" because I was big into D.C. Cab at the time, because it had Mr. T in it)
THERE WAS THIS CABBY AND HE WAS RIDING 1 DAY WHEN HE SAW POSON AND THE POSON WAS POSONES AND WHEN HE DRANK IT HE STARTED BARFING AND EVERYONE BARFED WHEN THEY SAW HIM BARF THEY BARFED TWO AND THEN THEY PEED WHEN THEY BARFED
TO BE CONTINUED…
I was big fan of serializing such stories. Thought it added to the drama. What was going to happen next? WOULD THE BARFING EVER CEASE? Anyway, it was just around election time and I often overheard my parents talking about how Reagan was going to beat Mondale quite handily. (My dad was a staunch conservative and my mom a staunch liberal. Cue the MC Skat Kat). Meanwhile, I had just come out of seeing Ghostbusters for the first time, which blew my fucking skull. So I decided, because I was a highly creative little fat kid, to merge the two storylines together. I WAS MAUREEN DOWD BEFORE MAUREEN DOWD WAS MAUREEN DOWD.
The result was a story I wrote in class called "Mondalebusters." I no longer have a copy of this on me, but oh how I wish I did. Because surely it was a terrifying representation of what happens when a young idiot is brainwashed into writing mashed-up stories about political elections. Roger Ailes would have creamed the back of his FUPA at my brazenness. The story revolved around a group of "Mondalebusters," who were basically the Ghostbusters, only they assassinated Democratic presidential candidates. In the story, the Mondalebusters hunt down and kill both Mondale and his evil female sidekick, Geraldine "Ferrari" (who was represented by a red sports car, which I found quite clever). And they succeed … WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.
I don't think my parents would have ever seen a copy of this story, except that our second-grade teacher Mr. Schlimpert (That was his real name. Mr. Schlimpert. Rod Schlimpert. Incredibly nice man.) saw that one of the characters in the story yelled out, "HOLY SHIT!" on page 3. That was a no-no, and so he showed the offending section to my parents, who I think still reserve 15 minutes each day to laugh about the incident. I didn't start speaking as a child until age 3. My mom tells me she and my dad thought I was a slow kid. I'm sure the publishing of the "Mondalebusters" story did little to assuage their fears.
Again, I have no clue why I wrote this story when I was a kid. I was not overtly interested in politics as a child. I remember watching Re-Flex's video for "The Politics of Dancing" and not knowing what the word even meant. So there was no logical reason for me to be some little Reaganite. It was like people who root for the Lakers or the Red Sox … strictly an exercise in frontrunning. The issues didn't matter, because I was too young to grasp them. All I knew was that everyone seemed to like the old guy, and so I did too. Turns out actual politics aren't all that more complicated.
As time went on, I grew up and became somewhat more politically aware, turning sharply liberal as a result of watching by MTV's "Choose or Lose" coverage, which was basically a liberal FOX News for mouth-breathing suburban white kids who thought it was hip to listen to NWA and thought Carolyne Heldman was smoking hot (she was). I allowed the network to brainwash me with their progressive opinions because I had my pants off and was waiting for Sex in the 90's to start immediately afterwards.
I have political opinions now, but frankly I'm not all that confident in them. I feel like my political leanings are more the result of random sociological engineering than they are any kind of inherent values I possess. You see people who are wildly political all the time and it's somewhat absurd because their identities are so wrapped up in their political leanings, as if this was the only possible way they could have turned out. As if they had seen everything and knew everything and this opinion they hold is the only possible conclusion they could ever come to.
But that's not true, of course. We're all influenced one way or the other as we go along, perhaps more than we'd care to admit. Sometimes I'll read something political and I can feel myself being dragged into believing something I'm not remotely experienced enough to have a real opinion on. And yet it's so easy to just GO THERE, to buy into it and say I'm for this and against that. So I look back at writing a political screed in second grade and I think to myself: "Hey, that's kinda funny. But it's also kinda fucked up and lame all at once." I have the self-awareness now to know nothing about my political beliefs then were the product of my own independent thinking. And they probably still aren't. Judging by the shit you see people spew every day, I wouldn't be alone.
Drawing by Jim Cooke