We're in Washington D. C., this week and inadvertently wandered by the Mayflower Hotel. A memory: in July of 1952, I stayed at the Mayflower for a few days with my father's sister, my peripatetic and eccentric Aunt Mollie. It was a rare and unique event. I came from an automobile-less family, and my parents were not in the slightest bit adventurous. The trip to Washington was the sole occasion in my childhood when I was in a city other than New York (and by New York I mean deepest Brooklyn, with an occasional foray to the Bronx Zoo or to the Museum of Natural History). It's hard to convey the full measure of the naivete with which this schoolyard boy approached a new city. I knew that Washington was smaller than New York and therefore assumed that it would consist of a smaller Brooklyn, a smaller Manhattan, etc. I had no conception that different cities had different geographies--let alone different characters. Highlights: the Lincoln Memorial (I was exhilarated), the Jefferson Memorial, a boat ride to Mount Vernon. My strongest memory is of exciting and down-to-earth Harry Truman addressing a crowd from the base of the Washington Monument on the Fourth of July. The result of this voyage into the unknown was the realization that there were other cities, that they were accessible -- in short, that there was a world elsewhere. I'm permanently indebted to my Aunt for allowing me the opportunity to grasp such a big idea. And also that there was such a thing as a restaurant. It might seem incredible, but from birth to college, I didn't enter a restaurant more than a half-a-dozen times at the very most. In our family, there was neither the money nor the inclination toward such extravagance. I still consider it a something of a miracle that a guy like me can walk into a shop, sit down, and that people will generously put food on my plate. All that I have to do in return is fork over some money.
Exactly thirty-five years later, I stayed at the Mayflower a second time when AGP was honored and celebrated. At this Mayflower reprise, it was not Truman but Ronald Reagan whom we encountered. I remember the dyed hair, the unnatural orange skin, the ventriloquist's-dummy delivery of the speech that was handed him, and the undeniable inference that he was already deeply incapacitated by the Alzheimer's that would eventually kill him.