Like most men, I approach Presidents Day with trepidation.
The romantic red white and blue bunting, all those cute cartoony images of the White House, hearing Kate Smith belting out “God Bless America” everywhere you go.
Women who’ve read The Federalist Papers one too many times swooning over the marching bands. Okay, I can see that – all the shiny brass, the rigid uniforms, the high stepping, the thrumming drums and dreamy tubas. And putting Sousa on any time of year always gets a woman in the mood…
Of course, I’d often take my sweetheart to a Presidents Day brunch. Strawberry, blueberry and whipped cream waffles, a group of high school kids in the corner re-enacting The Crossing of the Delaware to raise funds for a spring trip to Washington, little boys and girls in clip-on ties and dresses earnestly reciting for their mothers the first paragraph of Washington’s Farewell Address.
Who doesn’t remember trying to impress a girl and fumbling over those first lines, “Friends and fellow citizens, the period for the new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant…” Kids are so cute, not really understanding it. But as you grew older, it began to mean more and more. And got you more and more, lol.
Anyway… this year, yesterday I went into “The Oval Office”, that Presidents Day chain that opens seasonal storefronts in malls.
The clerk was a middle aged woman, probably just trying to make a few bucks for a few weeks, dressed up as Martha Washington. She didn’t need the usual extra padding in the front, but I still thought she was perhaps a bit too old to pull it off.
“Hello, there! Looking for something to impress a special first lady?”
Well, yeah. Why else would I be in here?
“So… who’s who this year?”
I was a bit embarrassed, such a personal question.
“This year she’s Lincoln, I’m Washington…” I replied sheepishly.
“Ah! Every girl looks lovely in a stovepipe hat! But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that…! I prefer being Lincoln myself. Despite what they make me wear here.”
I almost asked why she couldn’t be Mary Todd, but that would have just felt too weird.
She led me over to the shelves of stovepipe hats. “You don’t happen to know her size, do you…? Here’s some very nice fitted stovepipes on special.” I figured most guys wouldn’t know their girls’ hat sizes, so I wasn’t surprised they weren’t selling. Of course, when you were just a kid, a brown or black construction paper hat, rolled into a broad tube and scotchtaped, the rim cut out from another piece freehand, was enough. Now they tell you you’re supposed to be concerned with how good the beaver is. Commercialism…
I admitted I didn’t know her hat size, and picked one out with an adjustable snap in the back. The clerk had grabbed a different one off the shelf, but I pulled one off the rack marked “30% off”. She nodded, “yes, in this economy…”
She led me over to the beards. “Is she a brunette?” I nodded: she picked out a dark brown beard, shot through with a few gray strands. I held it up to my face and looked in a mirror. “Very noble, Mr. President!” she chuckled. The ear-stems were plastic but flexible.
“And a tie? Vest? Celluloid collar?”
“No, this will do. We still have those from last year.”
As she took the hat and beard to the register, I lingered over toward the George Washington section, the powdered wigs. I fingered one – it felt like real horsehair. “We do have some very nice ones, like that one. I’m going to give you a card-” At the register she pushed an inkstamp on a store business card. “If your sweetheart comes in here today to get your Washington, with this, The Oval Office will give her a 20% discount. Or art any Oval Office – there’s also one at the Galleria. But this is only good for today.”
She rang me up, I paid. She put the hat and beard in a red, white and blue Oval Office shopping bag, handed me my change and receipt. “And to let you know, no returns or exchanges after Presidents Day. And right here-” she pointed on the footlong receipt “-is the website where you can sign up to become a member of our Millard Fillmore Lucky 13 Club, get discounts and exclusive online specials.”
It seemed like a lot, for a simply holiday that comes round once a year.
She handed me my bag. “Oooo, I’m sure your ‘First Lady’ is going to look so fetching in that beard!” She winked at me.
I muttered a reply, and stepped back out into the mall. The muzak was playing Cagney’s Yankee Doodle Dandy over a dance beat, and across the way in the Victoria’s Secret window hung huge photos of models in frilly red white and blue bunting bras.
I was a sucker for it, though. Caught up in the Presidents Day hype. I hadn’t been anyone’s Washington or Lincoln in years…