Presidential Snapshots

Me & Ford, 1975

I am as old as Dad's Mustang, and my blue parka almost matches the pony car's Acapulco Blue exterior as I stand, a bit unsteadily, on the car's hood. I am in love with the 260-cubic-inch V-8 engine, which Dad lets me pretend to power up in the mornings on West 87th Street when we are waiting for our space to become legal at 11 a.m. The Mustang caused many fights between my parents, usually around the time Dad and I would trudge out, coats over our pajamas, to double-park the car on the legal side. In the photo, you can't see the windshield, where I've placed our street address, apartment number, and phone number in case the car next to the curb needs to get out. Two years later, when Dad leaves, he will take the Mustang with him to South Carolina but not me.

Me & Carter, 1978

I am eight years old, standing outside the stage door of The Manhattan Theater Company on East 73rd Street holding hands with the actress and singer I've just watched in my first musical, "Ain't Misbehavin'." Nell and I are both smiling, and I've just told her that my favorite song in that Fats Waller revue was her "Cash for Your Trash" even though it was actually a different one that began "I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you." I haven't seen Dad in over a year. Nell kisses me before she takes off, and I am half-drunk with her perfume. A few years later I will get into a fight with my best friend after he says that "Gimme A Break" sucks.

Me & Reagan, 1986

A sophomore at Stuyvesant, I've got my arm around the broad shoulders of a plywood cutout of a man with a broad, benign smile, dapper in his navy blue suit. You can't see what I see, the tape on his neck, which the photographer -- who charged me five dollars as my friends looked on laughing -- says is a result of when the Gipper's head was knocked off by a passer-by shortly after the bombing of Libya. I will spend Christmas in South Carolina with another older man, a real one instead of a life-size replica, but I'll get no further with him than with this prop on Times Square, except maybe that we'll share the same opinion of Iran-Contra.

Me & Bush, 1991

Home from Dartmouth for Christmas -- I wasn't going to spend another one in South Carolina -- I'm back on East 73rd Street, in a friend's apartment just down the block from where Nell and I embraced when I was young and innocent. Not so innocent now, this picture results from binge drinking and some drugs I can no longer remember -- as well as the compliant girl I'd met only at this party. Outside, snow is falling, but we're posing on the bed of middle-aged parents spending the holidays in the Caribbean. In that bedroom it might as well be the Caribbean. At the time it seemed really hot, and the wild nakedness is still arousing. If I'm lucky, you won't see this on anyone's website.

Me & Clinton, 1996

My t-shirt says "Hell's Kitchen," that seedy old nickname for the neighborhood where I have a railroad flat with a tub not far from my stove. Unlike the name the real estate developers gave it, Hell's Kitchen has the romantic air of shantytowns, waterfront ruffians, grisly slaughterhouses, drunken brawls in saloons. When I come home late from my job ten blocks north and four blocks east of the stoop I stand in front of, I count the crack dealers and prostitutes as I walk. My mother, only five subway stops away, has not stopped worrying about me and is not mollified when we have dinner at the new white-tablecloth restaurants on Ninth Avenue. She tells my girlfriend about ancient gangs like the Westies and wonders if we ever hear gunfire. "No," says the woman holding the camera. "We just hear the sounds of gentrification."

Me & Bush, 2003

On our rooftop garden in Park Slope, the lilac I'm crouching next to doesn't look like much: just a three-foot shrub with skinny branches that don't reach as far as I'd like. But it's May, and Miss Kim's pale lavender blossoms are out, their spicy fragrance permeating the Brooklyn air. Since the surgery I've been hanging out here a lot, and once again I'm captured, squinting at the sun this time, the pruning shears in my good hand. You've got to prune lilacs immediately after they bloom because once they stop flowering, they start making buds for the next year. The sooner you prune, the less chance you have of cutting off next year's bloom.

About the author:

Richard Grayson lives in Fort Lauderdale, where he is an administrator at a law school. His first book, With Hitler in New York and Other Stories, was published 25 years ago this month. Recently he's appeared on the websites of McSweeney's, Surgery of Modern Warfare, Hobart, and Cautionary Tale.