A Night to Remember

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh holds her son, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr

A lemony full moon rises above the frozen river, and back in the foothills, coyotes whoop in their companionable way: not the mob-noise of a kill tonight, but a moonlit hootenanny, all the skulkers come together to sing barbershop.

They might be so many Washington politicians harmonizing in the silvery light of the president's honeymoon.

Time is elastic; the moon's gravitational pull works on memory, producing distortions and elongations, the slightly demented tugs of the past. Hamlet's father's loose around Elsinore. Doctors say that at the full moon, there is agitation in the psychiatric wards.

Did the full moon have anything to do with the man waving a pistol outside the White House, the one the Secret Service shot in the knee? That was sweet shooting, by the way, only slightly more hurtful than the kind Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, used to do to knock a gun out of the bad guy's hand — immaculate gunplay. Alas, I see that Roy's wife, Dale Evans, has died, having survived into an age of movies that by digital magic turn each screen death into the gaudiest, bloodiest horror.

The news seems agitated. It arrives in surreal and disturbed condition — a notch stranger than its usual agitated banality. The surreal can be hilarious, too, of course. I have before me a headline from the Wednesday Business section of the New York Times: "TRADE FEUD ON BANANAS NOT AS CLEAR AS IT LOOKS." I challenge any of you to improve on that.

Sad news comes in on the full tide. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a lovely writer, the widow of Charles Lindbergh, dies in her house in Vermont. She slips off and away, having lingered some years already in the kingdom adjacent to death, the region of intermittent blankness where Ronald Reagan passes his 90th birthday. She was 94. Uncoaxed, the lives of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Ronald Reagan come flashing before my eyes — a cascade of images, quick-cut and all out of sequence, the celebrity American Century tumbling through the mind. It must be the moon.

There's no reason to pair Ronald Reagan and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, except that they were born four years apart, long ago, in a different America, before the flood, and both came over with us into a new millennium, though they were enveloped in fog as we crossed the line. They make me think of Woodie Guthrie's '30s ballad based on "The Grapes of Wrath": "We buried Grandpa Joad on the Oklahoma Road,/ and Grandma on the California side."

Reagan and Mrs. Lindbergh were the bright side and the dark side of the age of publicity. Mrs. Lindbergh lost her first-born child to the savagery of fame. She hated the jackal press. She felt safe from it only when she was up in the air in a two-seater plane with her husband, cut off from the earth. She thought all celebrity was empty, and cherished her private world.

Reagan was all bright public American presence; some — his enemies, anyway, and sometimes his friends and biographers — suspected that he was, in private, a vacancy. Not a dunce altogether, but an inexplicably ordinary man who became magic only when lights and camera switched on.

But I find that with the full moon comes a feeling of disgust at political nastiness of all kinds — including my own vicious thoughts about the Clintons. I shall, from now on, endeavor to think of them only as the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans of our time.

And tonight I shall put my wallet in the window before I go to sleep. It's said that if you do that at the time of the full moon, it works even better than Greenspan to ward off recession.