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Authors: David Evanier

Red Love

BOOK: Red Love
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Red Love
A Novel
David Evanier

To Dini, Tom Sgovio, Robert Gladnick,

Cherie and Buddy Smith, Bill Buckley,

and Abraham Foxman

Whether it happened so or not, I do not know. But if you think about it, you can see that it is true.

—B
LACK
E
LK

Gerald Lerner’s Prologue

I

This is a novel about the joys of espionage. I wrote it with fear, sanity, and guile.

Dolly and Solly Rubell were executed for spying for the Russians in 1954.

I began this book about the Rubells ten years ago by placing ads in the
Jewish Daily Forward,
the
Morning Freiheit, Screw,
the
Jerusalem Post,
and the
New York Times.
I wanted to speak to anyone who had spied for the Soviets or who knew anyone else who had. My ad read: IF YOU DID IT, OR KNEW SOMEONE WHO DID… .

Did I expect a line forming around the block in response to this?

I lack common sense.

As I near fifty, I grow more self-aware, less shy.

Obsession! I was obsessed!

I have fucked the Rubells in this book. I have fucked this gentle, peace-loving couple. And I feel very much better.

My involvement with the Old Left began in the mid-1950s, when I started to hang around the Communist Party. I had problems. I felt like I was only a guest here, and I expected to be treated like one. My parents were … problematic. My father claimed he’d given up women to raise me. Did I appreciate this? I thought the Soviet Union could teach my parents a lesson they wouldn’t forget. I was in search of a family, any family. Girls, any girls.

My first girl friend, Rachel, had parents who looked exactly like the Rubells. They were Jewish Communists and they were obsessed with the Rubell case. They sang a song on spring evenings: “We wanna die like the Rubells, with a hard-on and a smile; just can’t wait to walk that long, lonely mile.” They fed me (food they could not afford to share: spicy pasta and chili), gave me a place to go, let me listen to their laughter and hard good times and watch Danny Thomas while holding hands with Rachel. And they let us close Rachel’s bedroom door so I could play the upright piano while Rachel perched tragically upon it in a black tuxedo jacket and bow tie, Judy Garland singing “You Made Me Love You.” And behind that door we smooched until one day we took a blanket up to the roof and made love.

Yes, the Communists were nice to me.

Then I discovered the freaks among them, and this was really great.

Robert Strugin, a redhead with wild, boiling eyes. Took me under his wing, asked me to evaluate his manuscripts. He was about forty-five, a man of delicious extremes. He’d fought for civil rights in the South when it was deadly dangerous.

He was pure, upright, incontrovertible, brilliant, almost overcome by internal fury. He had a furious smile. Khrushchev had just given his speech about Stalin’s dementia. Things were falling apart and people were leaving the Communist Party in droves. But there was Strugin at the Party school, intense, boiling, insanely intelligent, speaking with measured fury to his classes. A pleasure to watch; you never could be sure if he might not murder a questioner. His favorite word was “indubitably.”

Strugin would pause for many minutes to turn his back on the class (droolers, fat boys in shorts, white socks and sneakers, F.B.I. agents, Communist singles) to look out the window. On the blackboard in large letters he had written quotes from Stalin. Slogans from the master like: Ferret Out, Eliminate, Destroy. True blue Strugin. Weaklings might be deserting the master, but not Strugin. He was a rock. He had Scientific Reasons.

And unlike other Party bureaucrats who spoke very, very carefully, afraid they could be expelled any moment for a deviation (at one point looking Negroes in the eye was a deviation, at another not looking was one), Strugin reveled in naming the enemy with words like “scum,” “human animals,” “faggot honeybuns,” “vermin,” “garbage,” and “trash.” Said with gusto and spit. I got a big kick out of this as a kid. There was a revolutionary purity to Strugin. With him you just closed your eyes and got on the roller coaster. If I could be a Commie, I thought, that’s the way to go. And Strugin has kept the faith over the years. Just recently I heard him refer to Social Democrats as “pen prostitutes, lice, vermin, bedbugs.” I love Strugin to this day.

I arrived on the scene at the right moment: the Party had been decimated. There were more F.B.I. agents than real comrades. Strugin felt lonely and abandoned. He had taken to drinking bourbon and miming to Sinatra records. It was a thrill for him to see me, a “representative of the youth.” He threw a blanket around me the first time he saw me, lest I catch cold and die. I appreciated his fervent response. Strugin took me into the inner Party orbit, introduced me to top leadership, read aloud his manuscripts to me and asked for my “dialectical criticism,” and introduced me to his pretty daughter, Passionara. I wanted for nothing, rode around in taxis and treated underlings like shit.

And yet … the Party’s lapdog attitude toward the Soviet Union was impossible to swallow. Were tractors, gray poverty, and slave labor camps that appealing? I wondered. Was it really necessary to use mushy Soviet condoms? To import expensive roses from the Soviet Union? All you got in your airmail package were withered stems. Comrades would pretend the flowers were abloom—”How beautiful!” they would scream, sniffing and pretending ecstasy, throwing their hands up in the air.

The Soviet connection was fascinating. Like being wired to a murder machine. Yet how they loved to deny the thing they loved. Earl Browder denied the Party’s connection to any underground apparatus to the end of his life. His room on the ninth floor of Party headquarters at 35 East 12th Street in Manhattan adjoined that of J. Peters, who helped coordinate the underground of the Party across the United States. They passed each other in the hall every day, but were ships in the night.

“I pledge myself,” said Earl Browder in 1935 to two thousand new Party members taking the oath, “to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the Leninist line of the Party, the only line that ensures the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States.”

And there were frustrations. The granddaughter of the famous Mother Minerva, who had been a Party legend, traveled from a Dakota farmstead to New York to join the revolutionary struggle and fuck her head off. Yet the bitch wouldn’t fuck me. Winona was already thirty but had that youthful look that some Party dreamers kept most of their lives. She was pretty; she exuded sex. Winona permitted me only kisses, but she fucked every F.B.I. agent in sight. True, there were almost no Party members left around her age, and the few Communist males who were didn’t fuck, work, or change their socks—ever. They were eaters, shouters, screamers, slurpers. Healthy revolutionary males in their thirties had to be F.B.I. men.

I tenderly see myself then, boiling with hatred and anxiety. But it wasn’t just revolutionary. I was prematurely bald and I couldn’t walk down the street without my hair turning into string. It drove me crazy. It made me want to kill. (Strugin promised to send me to the Soviet Union soon, where, he said, natural hair grew back “as a matter of course.”) With Communist girls I could explain the hatred away as progressive. I’d say I was burning with hatred of the country, the system, the president: what America was doing to the world, bringing war and devastation and fascism to peace-loving peoples and systems. I said I couldn’t take it one more minute, putting my hand on her knee. I added that I was involved in some kind of secret work—a white lie—and that if I were to suddenly disappear (a fierce look tinged with fatalism, incredible courage), well, that’s what the risks were under fascism. Obviously my love life would be crushed soon and we’d better fuck now.

I still didn’t get laid.

I did very, very well with old ladies, as you will see in this book.

Then, in June 1961, I traveled to “reactionary” Israel and worked on a kibbutz. I saw the tattooed numbers on the arms of the Israelis as they pitched cherries into bags in the golden sunlight. The comrades in New York had said, “What do you want to go there for?”

There are moments, like the sight of those arms in the sun, that slide into our consciousness, taking us unawares when we seem to be sleeping. And we are altered forever.

The thread had snapped.

II

Ah, the Rubell case. The marches, the rallies. On the stage were marionettes of Dolly and Solly Rubell, political prisoners. The left side of the stage was captioned, Political Left: Rosy Dawns, Solidarity, Bread and Roses. The right side of the stage was captioned, Political Right: Fascism, McCarthyism, Heartlessness. The marionette figures of Dolly and Solly, their hearts filled with compassion, moved to the far left of the stage. Their heads were chopped off by a man in a black mask and bounced off the stage into the audience. A woman grabbed the heads, screamed, and raced down the aisle with them and out of the hall.

Music, chorus lines, fainting fits, screaming family members. Money was collected immediately after the most wrenching speech.

Then a leader of the Rubell Committee confided to me (I was thirteen at the time) over lunch that he had just read the trial transcript of the Rubell case for the first time. He asked me—of all people—”What if they are actually guilty?” This was the guy staging these rallies, and he was asking me?

A reporter later told me: “The most persistent mystery about these people is their seeming self-righteousness even though they knew they were guilty. Their public stance had fervor, sincerity, the passionate outrage of a brokenhearted man who was wronged. Their outrage—the position that the charges were all ‘accursed lies.’ The genuine feeling of being put upon even though they knew they did it. That’s the essence of it. It’s beyond politics.” Then he said, “If you can handle that, you will write an outspoken book.”

Look, it’s simple: you take a dirty, rotten, filthy system like ours: the
worst
imaginable system, right? It’s polluting the world, poisoning the flowers, turning innocent children into Zionists, etc., etc., you know the spiel. If a brave, selfless, little couple endeavor to
prick
that big-cocked monster for humanity’s sake, for bread and roses, for children’s laughter, what are
they guilty
of? Hold the image, and move the clock back to the 1940s, when Stalin was the little father, the role model for progressive humanity, the feeder of the hungry, and the gentlest, kindest, most noble human being in the world. What if that little couple is allowed the opportunity to help Stalin achieve his goals?

Guilty?
Fie, fie! A thousand fies!

III

But I needed to hear it from them. Out of their own mouths, if you will. The Rubells were gone, but others were still here.

How do you deal with guile? With guile. And a sweet, soulful, trusting expression.

I interviewed hundreds for this book. I believed everyone as long as I was chatting with them. But a click would register in my head when I was home free. I’d gotten what I wanted. A wonderful feeling. They told me because they felt I was on their side. Was I? No, but I loved them and they knew that.

They were my family.

I called President Reagan to tell him the good news, but I didn’t get through to him. Howie Mowshowitz called me back. He was the president’s representative to the Jews of Borough Park.

“I told the president of your message,” he said. “And the president said, and I quote, ‘God bless you.’”

Then I met one of the Rubells’ prosecutors, Hy Briské, in 1982. He was dressed in an oriental bathrobe at his mansion on Sutton Place. He was escorted by a younger man who remained silent and hovered somewhat behind him.

Hy Briské was dusty; he seemed to have an incapacity for the human experiment. Later I would learn he was being nice to me. I connected him to the Central Park West Jewish boys I knew in the 1950s, kids I met at the Concord in the Catskills at the Ping-Pong tables. I was poor and they were rich. (My father took me there to make me feel I was as good as the next kid. Afterward I would race back to Union Square and resume my other life.) Frequently fatherless, these boys had the run of large apartments with servants and enormous quantities of frozen food (I had never seen it before) because their mothers lay in distant bedrooms with headaches and lovers. They were presidents of the Young Democrats; they didn’t even want the civilized, gorgeous, adorable girls they met at Miss Wishrop’s Dance Class; their bathroom cabinets were filled with astounding creams, colognes, and talcums.

But these were back-room boys, premature old men, lonely. Hy Briské was like that, absolutely. At our first ninety-second meeting, I made the mistake of telling him I wanted to write about him. He didn’t show up for our second appointment. I wrote him. I’m sure my letter was bristling with controlled rage. He replied:

Dear Mr. Lerner:

Your letter arrived today. I want to set you straight. I’m a very busy man. I run a major law firm. I administer some worthy charities (Foundation for the Sicklies, Scumbunnies Anonymous, Prisoners’ Self-Expression League, Jewish Punchers, Dog and Cat Club, etc.) and a score of other patriotic efforts. Plus I am deeply committed to my writing, most of which is of best-seller quality.

I am also at work on a posthumous pastel of Senator McCarthy which will reveal him as the true blue Joe I knew who fought to uproot the scab of Communism before it proved fatal for our country.

Considering all this, why should I take on the projects of others less handsome than myself? Nobody does my work for me.

I have been incredibly good to you, Lerner. My life has been complicated by a recent virus. I’d never been sick a day in my life before.

There’s no doubt I should have told you to fuck off in the first place, but I have tried to find time for you. And you know, I’m still going to, despite your pretentious letter. Contact my colleague, Fifi Dorsay, to set things up.

Sincerely,

Hy Briské

I didn’t answer him. Being a hysterically sensitive fiction writer and not a hard-boiled reporter type, I didn’t think it was a nice letter. The “handsome” line enraged me for several years. Now I think it was, and I regret my silence. I saw him one more time, a year before his death, at a party. No one came near him because of the nature of his illness, although there were many whose ideologies matched his own.

BOOK: Red Love
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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