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Saturday, September 25, 2021


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.


Eric said...

What a life you have lived.
Do you remember seeing Paul Robeson at the rally, as well? There are a number of records showing that he participated in rallies for Wallace, including one at Shibe Park in Philadelphia where Seeger performed and Marcantonio spoke; and there is a flyer advertising the Yankee Stadium rally that you attended that mentions him, as well as this New Yorker piece that I can't read it because it's behind a paywall.

(Incidentally, for those interested in more about Vito Marcantonio, there's a piece on youtube I found a while back while looking for videos of Michael Parenti that tells a bit about Marcantonio's life.)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Alas, I did not attend the rally! I saw the no-hitter that night but did not go back the next night when the rally was actually held. But I did see Pete Seeger perform. That is another story and concerns why I was interviewed by the FBI before being cleared to be a buck private in the Army.

Eric said...

Oops. Rereading the post, I see that you had said there that you missed the political speeches at the rally because it was raining!

Michael said...

I'm very sorry to hear this. Many years ago (almost a decade now) Jules served as the outside examiner on my senior thesis in college. I remember sitting for the oral exam and was quite frightened of how this eminent scholar, one who had worked extensively on one of the central texts of my thesis--Henry Roth's Call it Sleep--would react to my thoughts. I don't remember what exactly he said, but my fears dissipated soon after he started speaking. He was kind and generous in his questions and praise, and as we spoke we soon fell into the familiar pattern of intellectual discussion where the excitement over ideas overtakes everything else. It was a lovely time and I wish I had been a better correspondent in the intervening years. Thank you for your memories, and I know his will be a blessing.

Michael Llenos said...

Shatner is 90 years young, and I apprehend that he's going to space this October. BTW, Noah lived around 950 years on Earth--so really being 100 years old is still being a young man. Some may say it's because of a different orbit of the Earth, or some other non-verified reason, that people started living shorter lives. If someone says to me it's just meant to be, I'll just respond by saying that that doesn't stop me from wishing to live for eternity...