Saturday, August 22, 2009

Five Ways to New Haven (with ghosts)


I caught a 4:45am bus to the Milwaukee airport for my flight to LaGuardia. It was packed with sad, tired, first-shift workers heading to Allen-Bradley. In 1970 my friend Rhonda and I often distributed communist newspapers at the gates of this plant. Comrades working inside told us how happy the workers were to get them, despite the glum blankness with which they were usually accepted. Once, a can of green paint was poured on us from the third floor. Rhonda, enraged, said it was “management, obviously.” Eventually, she moved to Maryland and, so I’ve heard, became a fourth-grade teacher.

Harold & Peter

On the plane I recalled my first flight- to a communist youth camp in Pennsylvania. I was sixteen and had run away. We studied Marxism, sang corny folk songs, and played non-competitive sports. I was shy and said almost nothing, so the idea that I might be a police agent arose. One guy- Harold, from Philadelphia, actually confronted me. “Are you an agent?” he demanded during breakfast. But another guy- Peter, from Boston, said “Leave him alone.” They were all red diaper babies and super-confident. I longed to be one too. Harold and Peter, where are you?

Murray & Esther

In the cab to Grand Central (I am important now, with an expense account), I’m flooded with memories of New York party meetings- like the 1972 convention at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. I stayed with a quiet, older couple in the Bronx. They reminded me of an alternate universe version of my parents. Each night, after an endless subway ride, they quizzed me about what Gus Hall or Henry Winston had to say. They were honored to have a distinguished delegate for a guest. My Allerton Avenue hosts- ghosts! The St George Hotel- a ghost!


The Metro North station names strike primal sitcom chords: New Rochelle- the Petries! Westport- the Ricardos! I remember a 1973 train ride from Berlin to Moscow, and giant Soviet women passing through each car, fussing and tucking and serving hot tea. Rolf, an East German boy I secretly loved, sat beside me, asking so many questions that I later wondered whether he was recruiting me for the Stasi. As he dozed, his head came to rest on my shoulder, and I stayed alert with the electric knowledge of this all the way to Minsk. Rolf- wo bist du denn?


I disembark at New Haven and walk toward Yale. Dizzy with memory, I’m conscious of arriving at a time as much as at a place. I have a sweet job with a prestigious university press, and now I am mature. But I harbor red ghosts. Maybe I am a red ghost. Sometimes they seem more real than real. As I cross the Green and head up Temple street, I’m haunted by lyrics from Kings of Convenience :

Everyday there’s a boy in the mirror
Asking me what are you doing here?
Finding all my previous motives
Growing increasingly unclear.

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