Anatomy of a Column
eggy Noonan was enjoying a leisurely Mai Tai (so cool, so refreshing) sitting in the first class cabin of the jumbo liner bound for Tampa, her ample calves stretching out before her as she wiggled her toes now freed from her comfy and well worn brouges.
She looked across the cabin at the various business people, and other notables who could afford to sit in luxury for multi-hour flight to the GOP Convention. A few pundits were sprinkled here and there, and she knew that sooner or later they would talk about politics, “a hazard of the profession,” she said to herself.
In 1980, Noonan recalled, she flew in coach to Detroit, of all places, to watch Ronald Wilson Reagan, the greatest president of the last half of the last century, maybe the greatest president ever, accept the nomination. Later that night so many years ago, she remembered with a sense of pride hearing her one true love perform a speech that she had written, a speech that cemented her destiny and her love for Ronnie. Her little bird-like hands fluttered up to her ever-present pearl necklace, a gift from the great man himself.
“So young,” she smiled, “I was so young then. I couldn’t afford first class passage, and I had not earned by wings yet.” Noonan laughed at her little joke, and took a refreshing sip of her Mai Tai.
In 1984 the flight to the Dallas Convention, Noonan had flown in Air Force 1, and then recalled the general unpleasantness in 1981 with the unionized thugs from the Air Traffic Controllers. “Of course now, no one recalls that, and flying is just as safe if not safer thanks to the TSA,” Noonan noted how as a VIP and Frequent Flier she did not have to go through the long lines and intrusive scanning devices. “First class has its privileges,” she smiled.
“Peggy, I’m so glad to see you,” Mark Halperin said as he extended his hand. He leaned in and in a conspiratorial tone said, sotto voce, “No one invited Dubya or Cheney to attend! Can you believe it? Our last elected Republicans and no one invited them!” He then added, “Heard any good gossip about the convention?”
Noonan whispered back, “The speech Joe Biden is working on, to be given in the heart of downtown, just across from the convention site, will be stirring and stentorian: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Tampa, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Tampon.'”
They both laughed heartily, and Halperin moved on down the aisle. “I wish that were mine,” Noonan thought. “It came in the mail from a Hollywood screenwriter, one of the gifted conservatives who quietly toil there,” she grimaced to herself.
Noonan spotted the flying waiter and smiled her Sphinx-like smile, slow, smug, assured as she signaled him to bring her some more refreshment, and looked out the window only to see a lurid Gremlin sitting comfortably on the wing, feet dangling over the edge. He was distractedly playing with a flap, raising and lowering it.
“No, that was a Twilight Zone episode,” she murmured to herself. She brought her beverage to her lips and rubbed her eyes and looked again. The Gremlin smiled at her and raised an invisible cocktail glass and nodded his head in her direction. “A toast,” she muttered to herself, “the wretched fiend is toasting me.”
George Will, in his impeccable white linen trousers and sporty blue coat with brass buttons, stopped by. “Good to see you Peggy. Are you excited for the convention?”
“The big broadcast networks plan to give the Republicans (and the Democrats) only one hour a night of TV coverage,” Noonan whispered to Will. “They used to give all night, long as it took, and treat the proceedings with respect. What they give now, to the people of a great democracy fighting for its economic life in an uncertain world, is . . . an hour a night? For a national political convention?” She looked up at Will, pleading.
“This is a scandal. Mock them for it,” she ordered Will, who recoiled at the raw tone in her voice. “This isn’t Edward R. Murrow in charge of the news, it’s Gordon Gekko in charge of programming,” she snarled at Will, who was taken aback by the outburst.
“I’m thrilled,” she said her tone returning to normal. Noonan kept starring out the window. Will huffed and accepted the snub reply for what it was and briskly marched to his seat. The Gremlin winked at her and gave her a toothy grin.
“A penny for your thoughts, Nooner!” bellowed Chris Christie as he lumbered, bear-like, towards her.
“I find myself thinking of Alan Shepard,” Noonan muttered at him. “It’s May 5, 1961, in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and everyone’s fussing. This monitor’s blinking and that one’s beeping and Shepard is up there, at the top of a Redstone rocket, in a tiny little capsule called Friendship 7. Mission Control is hemming and hawing: Should we stay or should we go? Finally Shepard says: “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?”
“Hey, I like that, I’m going to add that to my speech this week!, Christie barked at her.” Christie then stood up straight, grabbed his crotch and bellowed “Hey baby, Come on and light this candle!”
Laughing, he stomped down the aisle to his row.
Noonan starred, transfixed as the Flight Attendant brought her refreshment. She downed it in one gulp and asked for another.
“Are you afraid of flying,” he asked considerately? “Would you like me to keep an eye on you to make sure you are all right?
“I’m fine, thanks,” Noonan said as the Gremlin was leering at her and doing some sort of vulgar dance on the wing, swinging implements around, yanking at bits of the wing. “But I would like another,” she pleaded. The attendant left.
“Well, Nooner, looks like they poured you into the plane just fine,” shrieked Nancy Reagan, sitting down next to Peggy. “Hey, remember the time we both joined the Mile-High…” Noonan cut her off.
“I’m working now, Nancy, I need to concentrate,” Noonan declared opening her laptop for the first time during the trip just as the flight attendant put down another cocktail. Nancy looked at him, winked at Noonan, and then smiled her shy puppy-dog smile and asked him if he could help her to return to her seat. Noonan watched them saunter down the aisle until she saw Reagan’s little claw the goose the poor boy.
The Gremlin was now doing something with the wing, something that looked like he was humping it. Noonan knew that if she told anyone that she was seeing Gremlins on the wings that they would have her committed, that was the way it worked in the show, so she kept pretending not to see anything, until the fiend actually tapped on her window and appeared to be mooning her, or at least she could see his butt crack. “This will not do,” she yelled to no one in particular as the plane went quiet.
“Good Lord,” she screamed to the entire cabin, “There’s a Gremlin outside my window and he’s doing something unspeakably vile to the plane!” She paused for breath, “We’re all going to die!”
The flight attendant, freed from the tender embrace of Nancy Reagan, returned to Noonan’s seat and stage whispered, “I’m going to have to cut you off now, you’ve had too many drinks and you are frightening the other passengers.”
“But don’t you see it,” she shrieked, “He’s right outside my window, and he looks like George Bush!”
“Miss, uh, Noonan,” he said looking her up on the manifest as he escorted her off the plane, “We have not left Kennedy yet. That’s one of our maintenance workers.”
Bonus: We have operatives everywhere who caught some of this journey on their cell phone cameras: