the nice old man in the park

This morning Dinora and I took the twins to Holmby Park, a gorgeous little area nestled amid a suburb of multimillion-dollar homes. “That little old man we saw being lead around yesterday?” Dinora told me. “He was famous.”

“Really? Who was he?”

“I don’t know. I just asked someone — ‘That man. Is he famous?’ A lot of famous people come to this park, but they’re old, so no one recognizes them.” She paused. We had acquired two golf balls, one for each one-year-old, but of course they both wanted the bright pink one. There was squawking and grabbing and hair-pulling. When the situation had been resolved for the moment, Dinora added, “Ronald Reagan came here all the time.”

For some reason this had never occurred to me, although of course it made sense; the Reagans lived in this area, just off the road I drive up and down everyday. They were a discreet and forgettable presence until Ronald’s death invoked a siege of reporters and rubber-gawking tourists (who would literally stop their car in the middle of the road in the middle of a turn made blind by overgrown shrubbery, in order to peer over the yellow tape in the vague direction of the Reagans’ house, trying to See Something), as well as the police and Secret Service who kept them at bay.

“I knew the Filipino man who was taking care of him,” Dinora said. She’s been a nanny, an excellent one, for over twenty years, bringing little kids to Holmby Park. “He was the ex-president, but he was just this nice old man who liked to sit in the park and watch the children. He would have lunch with us. He liked to talk to the children. He didn’t know who he was. It was just a little strange, because there were all these big men in dark clothes — those guys, you know–”

“Secret Service,” I said.

“Yeah, those. They were everywhere. The ex-president,” Dinora mused. There was no awe or sadness in her voice, but a kind of fondness, as if discussing a favorite uncle who had died sometime ago. “He didn’t know who he was.”

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