I still dream. There is not another way to look at it. I refuse to be strictly an adult. I still believe those words my mother told me several times a week as a precocious child bundled up heading off to school: You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.
My first choice didn’t seem all that feasible: the world’s first benevolent dictator. As soon as you add the word dictator, everyone seems to lose their minds. Even though time and again, we seem to elect by choice a dictatorial body to rule over us that is not answerable to their own legislation. What’s wrong with being a benevolent dictator? So, I decided I would take up the pen.
There were times as I grew up that I earned—many time spectacularly—some summer afternoons being grounded from the outside for some transgression or another. I had a chalkboard I would lay on the floor and upon which I would design elaborate systems of roads for my Hot Wheels and construct buildings with my Lincoln Logs and erect bridges with my Tinker Toys. My parents would see these things and say, “Ah…you want to be a civil engineer?” Nope. Indeed, I wanted to use my imagination and create new things, but I would do it with my stories.
And on other days I found myself restricted to my room as a result of my somewhat rebellious nature. Using that same chalkboard, I would listen to WMAQ on my handheld transistor radio. Because I just knew every child playing out in the neighborhood streets wanted to know what was going on, I would write the weather, the latest Cubs’ results, and the top news stories on that chalkboard. Then after resting it on my windowsill so everyone could see it—my upstairs bedroom faced the street—I would wait and listen for anything of interest I could write up. My parents would see these things and say, “Ah…you want to be a meteorologist or a journalist.” Nope, I want to write—though I did work as a stringer at a daily newspaper for seven years.
On my 17th birthday—after coming out of the hospital from a tonsillectomy—my parents signed the emancipation papers, and I enlisted in the Navy. I became a Hospital Corpsman and finished in the top-five in my class. My parents saw this and said, “Ah…you want to be a doctor or a nurse? Or you want to be a career Navy man like your father.” Nope. These experiences will help my writing.
But for some reason, I could not get the idea of being a leader out of my head. So, I decided to live a double life. Each time I would go into a restaurant where they asked for my name, I would say El Presidente. This bothered—more like severely annoyed—my wife at first. Now she just rolls her eyes even better than a teenager—see, no one wants to grow up.
To my surprise, it stuck. One afternoon while my wife and I were roaming around the Bentonville Film Festival I heard someone ask, “Hey, El Presidente, how are you doing?” This of course caused a bit of a stir with people looking about and milling around to find out who was “The President” and of what.
Another time the spousal unit and I walked into a restaurant but had to wait 20-30 minutes for a table. The young woman behind the podium asked my name. I responded with all the dignity I could muster, my chest puffed out, “El Presidente.” She looked me flat in the eyes and replied, “I am not writing that down.” My wife told her, “He says that everywhere we go.” She insisted that she would not write it down. About that time, a server who we had had many times came out of the kitchen. From across the restaurant, he shouted out, “El Presidente!” The woman shook her head and wrote it down, and the gentleman who knew my name asked for us to be seated in his section.
Recently, we were meeting two other couples and their kids at a restaurant. We arrived first, and I gave them the name that I always give, “El Presidente” and told them we needed a table for eight. They smiled—this was the first time we had been to this restaurant in over five years. After everyone had arrived and our table was ready, we heard, “Mr. President, your table is ready.”
See…it is a great thing to be able to dream. I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up. That day just keeps getting further and further away.