These are terrible times. For the first time in my life, I am genuinely fearful that America will descend into full on fascism. I watch each daily wrinkle – the comic end to the Arizona farce, for example – and take what hope I can, but as I do my morning walk, pressing as hard as I can to get my heart rate up and thereby to postpone the depredations of Parkinson’s, I wonder whether my life will end not with a whimper but with a bang.
Yesterday I learned of the loss of yet another old friend, Jules Chametsky, who at the age of 92 passed away in Amherst, Massachusetts. When I was young, 92 seemed unimaginably ancient. Now, at 87, it is one election cycle around the corner.
Rather than trying to achieve some elevated wisdom about the dumpster fire we call America, let me honor the memory of Jules by retelling here a story I have told in my autobiography. Those of you who have read my autobiography can move on to other things unless, like me, you enjoy the retelling of old stories.
One day in the late summer of '48, Johnny Brown and I set out from Kew Gardens Hills to attend a Wallace rally at Yankee Stadium. When we got there, it was raining, and we decided that our politics were not serious enough to get us to stand in the rain just to hear political speeches. As we left the stadium, the rain let up, and it occurred to us that right across the river the Dodgers were playing the Giants at the Polo Grounds. Since we were both avid Dodgers fans, we walked across the bridge, paid our way into the cheap seats, sneaked down in the nearly empty ball park to the expensive seats, and, after the rain finally let up, watched Rex Barney pitch a no-hitter. It is the only no-hitter I ever saw, and it is forever associated in my mind with progressive politics.
Well, that is the story, and I have, or think I have, visual memories of each element of it --- the rally at Yankee Stadium, the walk to the Polo grounds, and the no-hitter. As I prepared to write this bit of my memoir, I went on line to check the component parts of the story. Sure enough, I found an account of Rex Barney's no-hitter against the Giants, which mentioned a one hour rain delay and showers in the sixth, eighth, and ninth innings. September 9, 1948. I also found an account of the Wallace rally at Yankee Stadium. It turns out Pete Seegar was on the program, which may in fact have been the real inducement, for me at least. But the rally was held on September 10, 1948, not September 9! So regardless of what I think I remember, I could not have walked with Johnny Brown from the rally to the game. Did I really go to the rally at all? Did I go to the game one night, and the rally the next?
A month or so after writing that paragraph, I was having lunch with a group of friends in Amherst, all of them professors at the University of Massachusetts, where I was teaching. I told the story as a humorous example of the fallibility of memory, but one of the group, a marvelous old left-wing emeritus Professor of English named Jules Chametzky, said “But I have been telling that story for fifty years. I was there.” “What do you mean,” I asked, mystified, “you were there?” “Yes,” he said, “I was one of Vito Marcantonio’s lieutenants. [Marcantonio was a Congressman and a left-wing member of the American Labor Party.] My story is that fifty thousand people showed up for the rally, and when it was rained out, all fifty thousand came back the next night!”
So my memory is correct! The rally and the ball game were the same night, and it did rain on the rally.
Jules was a wonderful man, a scholar, a teacher, the founding editor of The Mass Review, a lifelong radical. He will be missed by many of us around the world.