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Perfectly wrong timing turns our right

Whether you love or hate a particular U.S. president, everyone would admit that there's not much chance for the average citizen to get to shake his loved-or-hated hand.

So, when somebody stuck his head into my office and announced, "Ronald Reagan is going to be in the building," well, that got my attention. (I happen to have loved the guy.)

It was Nov. 2, 1990, in Orange County, Calif., and a local assemblyman was running for re-election. His campaign was foundering, though, and apparently President Reagan figured he'd try to help stump for a buddy.

I thought, "This is a fiasco I've got to see."

I happened to have a black-and-white publicity photo of President Reagan on hand, so I grabbed it - and a black Sharpie marker - and headed downstairs to the huge enclosed atrium in the front of our office building, where all the campaigning hubbub was going on.

There he was, the ex-president himself, up at the podium. The whole security thing was impressively tight and awesome.

Reagan gave a quick speech, which I don't even recollect. But suddenly he was done and leaving, and, somehow, I found myself in a fast-forming reception line, being scrutinized by Secret Service guys.

And, along came the president, shaking hands, right toward me. He wasn't huge, he was just a guy… but he had authority.

I took the cap off the Sharpie marker in anticipation. He got right to me, smiling that squinty smile of his, shook my hand firmly, and I asked if he'd sign his photo.

He took it from me, and the pen, and began to sign … but with its cap off, the felt-tip pen had dried out; it wasn't writing. He tried several times to scrawl that famous swooping "R" with my dried pen.

I groaned out loud, "Oh, Mr. Reagan, the pen is … it's …"

He crinkled another smile and said to me, in that famous breathy voice, "Whe-ell, let's not panic just yet, OK?" as he reached into his inner coat pocket, pulled out his own trusty inker and signed my photo of him.

And, just like that, he was whisked away by the Men In Dark Blue.

The next morning, I found a newspaper clipping of the event in the Orange County Register. The newspaper photographer had taken the photo right over my left shoulder!

That's a story I'll be able show and tell to my grandkids some day.

- Brad Tallman