RONALD REAGAN wants to cut federal spending. But first he wants to increase mine -- by $12,000, if I will stand for it.
In my mail pile the other day were invitations -- elegantly scripted and on cream paper -- to the Inaugural Gala and the Inaugural Ball. At the Gala, Frank Sinatra, tearing himself away from his latest campaign to get a Las Vegas gambling license, will entertain. The invitation informed me I could pay $100 or $150 per ticket or $10,000 for a box of 10. For the ball, I could pay $2,000 for a box.
Although I was not so foul as to think the envelopes from the Presidential Inaugural Committee were just a few more ounces in the daily poundage of junk mail, neither did I think more about them until news stories on these events began appearing. One paper said that "invitations to the exclusive functions are at a premium." A senator -- not one of the millionaires, presumably -- was reported to be selling his at scalpers' prices. Another paper said that only "18,000 very elite, chic and powerful" people will be at the gala, and only then by "strict invitation."
With all this divinity conferred on me, I rushed out to my credit union to get a $12,000 loan. On the way, though, I remembered that I am a practicing Marxist: Groucho Marx, when asked to join a country club, said, "I don't want to belong to any joint that would have someone like me as a member."
Still, to be elite, chic and powerful for only $12,000 is a bargain. It's akin to the feeling of finding a 20-cent coupon for Sara Lee brownies in the food ads. The only low-cost bargain that lets me be elite, chic and powerful is when I pay $5 every April to run in the Boston Marathon. Even then, the feelings of uniqueness vanish at the 18-mile mark on Heartbreak Hill and I begin shouting to myself, "Why am I doing this?"
For the inaugural committee, the question is different: "Why are they doing this?" My choice for president last November was David McReynolds, the Socialist. The sole association I have with Ronald Reagan is a link so thin that only a dieting amoeba could walk on it: I am on the Americans for Democratic Ac tion mailing list and in 1947 Reagan, a hardcore Lefty, was a proud member.
I went to the inaugural headquarters to ask a few questions. Limousines lined the street. A lady in Republican mink looked the other way when I parked my bicycle. At the entrance was a guard packing a Colt .38. So many Reagan admirers were streaming in the door to pay $100, $150 and $12,000 for some right-wing revelry that it was 20 minutes before I could get to an official to see if perhaps my name was on the list by computer goofup.
Yes, it's true, I said, I am a Reagan admirer. I admire him as an actor. I have gotten over his deathbed scene as the Gipper in "Knute Rockne -- All American." I admire his talent for fixing fences at the ranch, though the fence around the White House is all right for now. I admire him for keeping his wife under control and allowing her to have just "a little gun." And when he calls Nancy "mommy, I think he has the perfect appointment for Phyllis Schlafly: let her head up the Husbands Should Call Their Wives Mommy movement.
I get your point, the official said: You admire Reagan the man, but not Reagan the politician.
You're hearing me, I answered, using a little California lingo that the occasion called for.
But how did it happen, I had to ask again, that I'm on the list? I explained that I would be happy to pay $12,000 to hear Frank Sinatra, even though my first choice is Pete Seeger and second choice Joan Baez. But giving this privilege to me means that someone who admires Reagan as a man and a politician may be denied an invitation. I would be miserable at both the gala and the ball thinking of it.
I tried to argue the official into de-inviting me and replacing me with one of the properly faithful. Besides, I said, I've never seen bike racks at either the Capitol Centre or Kennedy Center.
I thought of asking the lady in Republican mink for a ride, but she was still evil-eying me. If only this grande dame had been on the inviting committee, I thought, I could have been left in peace.
I am looking now for Senator Scalper. He can have my tickets free. He has probably made a profit selling his. If he asks what to do with the money I've saved him, I will suggest he buy bike racks at the Kennedy Center. When Reagan is through with Washington, even Republicans will need them.