Paul Castellano Hit: Capo Loses Mob Primary

After all the pictures were taken and Paul Castellano’s cigar butt had been re­trieved by the cops and someone had found a piece of his skull the size of a half dollar lying near the entrance of Sparks Steak House; after the bodies of Castel­lano and Thomas Bilotti had been carted away, and the big black Lincoln had been taken to the East 51st Street station house; after all that, two middle-aged men — one black and one white — stood on East 46th Street, staring at the chalked hieroglyphics of murder on the sidewalk before them, retailing “dearies.”

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“My dearie is that the trial took up so much time, dey hadda whack him out,” said the white man, who was in his six­ties. “Nobody was mindin’ the store.”

The black man’s dearie was more up­town. “It had to be the Colombians, man. They tired of these old-time gangsters and they want to take it away from them. So they kill them. It’s simple, man.”

In the days following the murders, such dearies were everywhere. There was, to begin with, the dearie of the Castellano tapes. The government had penetrated Castellano’s home with recording devices, had listened to Big Paul discuss various Mob felonies, and would use the tapes in the prosecution of the five family heads who make up the so-called Commission. So Castellano was knocked off to save the four other bums by making the tapes in­admissible as evidence. Problem: the tapes are still admissible.

But the most popular explanation hinged on the impatience of one John Gotti. This is essentially a generation gap dearie, in which the 45-year-old Gotti, a violent little fat man from Howard Beach, had wearied of the old-world conservatism of the 73-year-old Castellano. What was all this stuff (the young hoods wanted to know), investing in legitimate businesses? Let’s do what we do best: peddle heroin! For several years, Gotti had been restrained by Aniello (Mr. O’Neill) Dellacroce, Castellano’s under­boss, in the Gambino family. But the un­happiness in Mobland was endemic.

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The Gambinos had 250 “made” mem­bers and 550 associates. Since most of these imbeciles can barely read a menu (let alone an annual report), investing in legitimate businesses did them little good, particularly if the investments were in Castellano’s name. The more cautious Castellano became, the less his soldiers had to do; it’s demeaning for a 45-year­old man to steal cars for a living. What hoodlums do best is peddle heroin and kill people.

Castellano had let out the word that he wanted Bilotti to succeed him as head of the family. And Dellacroce had gone along. Then, last month, Dellacroce died in bed. And according to the dearie, Gotti immediately went to a pay phone and called Palermo for outside contractors.

That was, in some ways, business as usual. What was extraordinary in the days immediately following the 46th Street killings was the tepid, impotent reaction among our political leaders. Mayor Koch deplored the killings, of course, and vowed that the gunmen would be caught. But his police commis­sioner was talking as if this were a shake­up at Drexel-Burnham. Neither chose all-out action. There should have been police raids all over town that night, with cops smashing into social clubs, chopping the walls to pieces in search of guns hid­den by the assassins. They should have dragged the wise guys by the hair out of their beds, exposing them before their neighbors, jamming them into police sta­tions for interrogation. Koch could have unleashed the full fury of the law. Noth­ing of the sort happened.

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Mario Cuomo reacted in an even more appalling way. He chose to mark the oc­casion of a rush-hour double homicide by complaining about the use of the word “Mafia.” Not about the killings, but the way they might be perceived. Yes, there are Cubans, Colombians, Jews, Vietnam­ese, Chinese, Irishmen in organized crime. But this branch of organized crime, in this city and this state, is Mafia. It’s a collection of 1500 to 2000 Italian-­American dope peddlers, killers, thieves, and musclemen whose continued exis­tence smears every hard-working Italian-­American in the country. Wise guys don’t work; they live like parasites off other people’s work. And what does Mario Cuomo, the tribune of the working man, have to say? “You’re telling me that the Mafia is an organization, and I’m telling you that’s a lot of baloney!” Cuomo, who will certainly be Mob-baited if he runs for president, should be leading the fight against these skanks. But he doesn’t even admit the Mafia exists; next week he might tell us there’s no Sicily either.

Denying the existence of the Mob is as bad as accepting it as permanent. The drive should he to eliminate the Mob from American life, and that task is not as impossible as books and movies make it seem. Clearly, the cases against these hoodlums brought by Rudolph Giuliani (no matter how poorly prosecuted) have already had some effect. Prosecution ties these aging bums in legal knots; it con­sumes their energies; it makes them cau­tious, diverts them from felony.

But much more could be done. The media could help by taking the romance out of the Mob; these aren’t “men of honor” out of The Godfather. They’re people who spread misery and degrada­tion through heroin; who use physical force to extort what they can’t get with work, intelligence, or talent. In the press discussion of John Gotti, law enforce­ment officials told the story of what hap­pened to a neighbor who accidentally ran over and killed Gotti’s 12-year-old son Frank. A year later, the man disap­peared, and the cops have information that he was chopped up with a chainsaw. These are not people who sit in the gar­den at twilight, reading Marcus Aurelius.

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The cops could also use some muscle in dealing with them, harassing them at ev­ery opportunity, locking them up whenever possible, letting them know that be­ing a hoodlum is a miserable life. The courts should cooperate with warrants, allowing the cops to tear apart their fan­cy homes, their lovely lawns, in search of weapons or drug money. The churches could deny these cretins respectability in the neighborhoods where they live. So­-called “straight” businessmen — particularly bankers — must learn that if they do business with hoodlums, they’re going to do heavy time. None of this can happen if elected leaders treat the Mob as an amus­ing fiction, or an unbreakable component of this society. There must be a recogni­tion that these bums are the enemy, that they’ve made this a more dangerous and degraded city by their operations. Their perceived ability to “get away with it” adds to the city’s generalized cynicism.

On the morning after Castellano and Bilotti were ambushed, I went down to federal court in Foley Square, where doz­ens of these bums — including Castel­lano — have been on trial for weeks. There was a platoon of them in the fifth-floor coffee shop, whispering, smirking, gig­gling. Not one of them had a newspaper, but they’d certainly heard the news. They did not offer any dearies. ■


Dump the Trump

Great cities find their forms through compact. New York entrusts its destiny to deals. Donald Trump will direct the future of 77 acres of our most vital terri­tory not because he’s in any way earned the privilege but because he’s paid for it. This is the urbanism of the shooting gal­lery: put your money down and take your shot.

I refer to the young masterbuilder’s re­cently announced plans to build a “Tele­vision City” on the old Penn Central rail yards stretching from 59th to 72nd Street along the Hudson. In case you missed the hype, Trump intends to put up the fo­llowing: one 150-story (“world’s tallest”) building, six 76-story buildings, one 65- story building, and one 15-story building. These are to be filled with condos and offices and would sit on a titanic “podi­um” that would contain the eponymous TV production facilities as well as de­partment stores, shops, parking, and oth­er mall-style amenities, all topped by 40 acres of what the press release describes as “parks.” The architect for this scheme is Helmut Jahn of Chicago, a designer of particularly primitive sensibilities whose shallow insights and unfettered esprit de glitz must have struck Trump as especially congenial. I can almost hear the conversation between them. “Helmut, I like your style,” says Trump. “And Donald, l like your style,” says, Jahn.

The scheme is so stupid, my initial re­action is to think it’s a phony, a stalking horse for some marginally less barbaric proposal Trump is willing to trade down to. Even in shrunken form, though, we haven’t been treated to a towers-in-the­-park proposal for quite some time. There’s a reason for this. The architectural profession has — over the past 20 or so years — woken up and smelled the ur­ban bacon, come to the realization that most of what we prize in our climax metropoli, like Manhattan, comes from formal strategies in which the urban ground is favored over the architectural figure. This privileging is the compact of  character that makes such cities singular. Over time, certain means have emerged as central to the particularity of these great cities. In Manhattan, for example, the skyscraper, the brownstone row, the hard-lined, even-topped avenue, are among the keys to our urban specific.

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One of the great powers of cities conceived in terms of convention is that they can be forgiving of mediocre architecture. Helmut Jahn’s several midtown skyscrapers (now going up) will be absorbed in that forest, a few more trees (however twisted) among the multitude. The West Side project, however, is apparently unaffected by so much as a whiff of the genius loci. Looking at the boneheaded proposal, one wonders whether the architect even visited the site. Indeed, there’s evidence that he did not. The rank of glyphs bespeaks lakeside Chicago, and the centerpiece of the scheme, the 150-story erection, Trump’s third go at the “world’s tallest building,” looks to be the same world’s tallest building proposed earlier this season for the Columbus Circle site. Was ever a man more preoccupied with getting it up in public?

If one were actually to approach the Penn yards site in terms of its particulars, one sees first an edge, the meeting of land and water, the moment at which the island asserts itself. Manhattan offers plenty of precedents for this. Our charac­teristic edges include the hard ones (Cen­tral Park West or Fifth Avenue along the park), the soft ones (Riverside Park, which depends on the wall of the drive for its special reading), and the fingered ones (the vanishing system of piers, their economic rationale fading but their physical possibilities very much alive). After a million years of struggle over Westway, these issues should not be strange to even a vaguely conscious designer.

There’s also the instructive recent case of Battery Park City. Naturally, condi­tions down there are somewhat special: this is newly created land not yet entirely of the main. Two strategies are being used to invent the connection. First, there’s the World Financial Center gambit, a complex centered on a fresh-carved harbor, an attenuation of the shoreline. This idea of making a big civic space directly at waterside is A-OK. It recalls the first schemes proposed for Battery Park City, now abandoned, which were filled with ’60s-style megastructural grandeur and marvelously monumental waterfront spaces. The residential zones under construction in Battery Park City take a different tack, largely in reaction to this earlier vision. The big shtick here (propagated in an atmosphere of endless self-congratulation) is laying out the landfill in “traditional” streets and blocks, culminating in a waterfront promenade. In addition, a set of architectural codes have been imposed on the site, intended to establish a homoge­neously Po-Mo decorative strategy for all new construction.

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The Battery Park City “idea” is an attempt to ape a “natural” process of city extension, to describe and replicate an indigenous way of building. Ironically, this residential gridding and platting has no real history nearby. The choice to build according to some idealized vision of a New York City residential neighbor­hood (whatever the conservative appeal of the defense via precedent) is — at this specific place — really just whimsical. In terms of the economics of parcelization, it does have its vulgar logic, facilitating the handing out of pieces to the usual developers. But the real visionary genius of New York lies in the tension between precedent and innovation. There’s no better example than the area of lower Manhattan that Battery Park City ad­joins, where 20th century skyscrapers rise from the medieval-style street pattern laid out by the Dutch.

Alas, the visionaries of the Reagan Era are all Edward Tellers and Donald Trumps, arrogant apostles of the indefensible. Television City is exactly that, an urban vision apt for the TV era. Like television, Television City is all about unnatural juxtaposition. Just as the TV system validates any adjacency, not blinking an eye at those segues from commercials to carnage, the cut from the starving Ethiopian baby to Morris the Finicky Cat, so too, Television City simply inserts itself in prime time. There’s no point in building the world’s tallest building or a row of 76-story apartments, beyond the logic of anything goes if it sells.

Trump owns a couple of casinos in Atlantic City, one of them called “Trump’s Castle ” which advertises on TV continuously. In the ad, a little Henry the Eighth arrives in a coach as a chanteuse belts “You’re the King of the Castle” (king at least until you’ve lost all your money to Don). A message flashes on the screen: FREE INDOOR PARKING. This is impor­tant. Atlantic City is a fine example of the way people like Trump see cities, hostile places to be secured by means of strategic enclaves filled with glittery fun. Television City is likely to have the long­est expanse of indoor parking in Manhattan and its first full-blown suburban shopping mall, safely tucked into the po­dium to protect it from the rest of town. Atop this (at an elevation of 85 feet) will be the “public” space. It would take an oxymoron to embrace this notion. I’ve no doubt that this park will (like the pathet­ic little upstairs amenity in the Trump Tower, supposedly public) never be any­thing of the kind, just an inaccessible, shadow-darkened nowhere.

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At least one distinguished architect turned this commission down. And, al­though the man adamantly refused to go on record about any part of the circum­stances, it’s reported that he was loath to undertake a job so predicated on haste. As far as great cities are concerned, haste makes wasteland. Whatever your specific stylistic predilections, it’s clear that cities thrive on a certain density of elaboration. The Trump scheme may have fewer ar­chitectural ideas per unit volume than any project since Robert Moses’s most malnourished housing schemes. It’s the kind of work that would get a D- at a second-rate school of architecture. The only reason for the passing grade would be that the student had at least finished the presentation.

I can imagine the final review. Some­body would ask what the idea behind the scheme was. Since making a fortune is an answer that is disallowed before gradua­tion, the kid would be forced to come up with an explanation of a more architectural or social character. The first effort would be to pin up various spurious dia­grams of circulation, covered with red magic marker arrows pointing to the river snd the city, phony signifiers of accessi­bility. “You mean that to get to the river you’d have to walk several hundred feet down that ridiculous spiral ramp?” some­one would ask. “I put it all on a podium so you could look out over the highway,” might be the next gambit. The ass-back­wardness of this approach could be enter­tained. The kid would then revert to some stock palaver about composition. “I put the big building in the middle and balanced it by putting three 76-story buildings at either end of the site.” The klaxon of asininity would sound and our student would scramble once again. “It’s got the tallest building in the world!” he’d finally blurt out. And then the jury would go on to the next project.

Unfortunately, we cannot go on to the next project.

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Man of the Century 
“I wanted to be an architect. I was an architect. I consider myself as a sort of witness.” So aphorized Oscar Nitzchke during an interview a few years ago. Born in 1900, Nitzchk — recently the subject of a lovingly organized show at Cooper Union — was certainly present at the scenes of many of mod arch’s most mem­orable creations. He’s a man who clearly loved — and still loves — being there: help­ing Van Doesberg and Arp on the Cafe L’Aubette; at the Salle Pleyel for Duke Ellington’s Paris debut; sitting with Pi­casso and Joyce during their first meet­ing at the Cafe de Flore; hanging out at the Cedar Thvern with Pollock, de Koo­ning, Kline, and Gorky; schmoozing at Black Mountain with Cage, Cunningham, and Bucky Fuller; holidays with the Braques; a stint in Le Corbusier’s office; work on the U.N. project; student in Au­guste Ferret’s Atelier du Palais de Bois along with Nelson, Goldfinger, Lubetkin. How could 85 years of such ubiquitous­ness have left Nitzchke so little known today?

Certainly, as teacher, collaborator, and colleague Nitzchke has many friends and admirers. The depth of this respect is corroborated by the fact that Nitzchke’s small renown is the result of efforts by the sons of two of his associates. The Cooper show, for instance, was the work of Gus Dudley, whose father, George, was Nitzchke’s student at Yale. But the influ­ence of personality and comradeship is an anxious and ephemeral one, always begging the question of works. And for Nitzchke, there’s a complication. The project that is the prime guarantor of his architectural reputation — the 1934 Mai­son de la Publicité — is unbuilt, commis­sioned by a man whose enthusiasm for Nitzchke’s preliminary designs was soon mitigated by his taking a mysterious powder. Bad history’s intervention also aborted the 1937 Palais de la Decouverte, a vast and forward-looking science muse­um, victim of the war. Nitzchke’s corpus, while exquisite, is more drawn than built.

Placing Nitzchke demands some sort of attention to categories. He doesn’t slot into the visionary niche with those delineators of the not-quite-possible-Sant’ Elia or Chernikov, say. Nor is he one of those great solidifiers of paradigm, source of coherence for some currency of frag­ments: there’s no Maison de Verre here. Nitzchke’s an exemplar rather than an avatar, a man with modernism in his veins, in love with a vision of the life of his times. And becauae his cognizance was sharp, his work has always been to the point, not derivative but original, continuous with a founding generation.

Nitzchke’s gifts as a a draftsperson were considerable. The Cooper Union show held many fine drawings, appealing for their combination of discipline and informality, for a relaxed technique that never confuaes itself with primary archi­tectural ideas. Their pleasures, though, are tinged with the retrospective sadness of latency, the work filled with the possi­bility of construction. It’s a testament to Nitzchke that the enthusiasm that suf­fuses these drawings never dissipates into irony, empty technique, or the easily current. The summary artifact is the Maison de la Publicite, a paper masterpiece that might have become one of modern archi­tecture’s monuments. The building was designed for a site on the Champs Elysee and meant to house both offices for an array of ad persons and a variety of spaces addressed to the public. In its program­matic complexity, the Maison was an ideologically deformed version of a “so­cial condenser,” the modernist beau ideal of an architectural pressure cooker meant to form the new socialist citizen. While the truth the Maison was meant to prop­agate wasn’t exactly Pravda’s, its mecans were familiar, sibling in spirit with the Vesnins’ 1923 tower for the abovemen­tioned daily. Both were transparently graphic, literally communicative, kinetic and mutable as the “news.”

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The Maison fronts the Champs with an ever-changing facade of “information,” projected in luminous electric signage. Nitzchke’s vision concentrates a phenom­enon that was transforming European cities: the enlightenment of neon times. This was the heyday of the movie palace which, with an array of vast illuminated facades, helped re-form urban nightlife. But Nitzcbke’s signage is not simply ve­neered, it’s consistent and continuous with a fully configured overall vision. At street level, the building presents an ex­hibition area meant for a changing show of products, a space anchored by four squarely composed cylindrical columns that broaden to dramatic mushroom cap­itals. Up a level is a cafe, overlooking. Down a level, an egg-shaped newsreel theater, cranked winningly into a corner of the volume. The upper-story offices are organized into two buildings, flanking a central cafe court and linked along one side of it by an undulating circulation spine of glass block. It’s beautifully done and beautifully drawn, so strong and so assured as to, at least partially, dissipate the sad question of “what if.”

Oscar Nitzchke’s triumph is not merely one of talent but one of keeping the faith. In project after project be sustains mod­ernism’s enthusiasm for its version of the new. In 1929, Nitzchke and two collabo­rators won a competition for the design of a “Maison Metallique.” It’s a swell solution to the confrontation of architec­ture with new, industrially produced ma­terials, one of modernism’s favorite inter­sections. The project is thoroughly realized and unsentimental, a machine for living. Reconfronting the question of the metal building in the late 1940s, while working on the design of the Alcoa Tower in Pittsburgh for the office of Wally Harrison (bis long-time employer), Nitchke’s enthusiasm for the problem is undiminished. While my feelings about the final project are mixed (intervention of committee design?), there’s no mistak­ing the vigor of Nitzchke’s investigation. Later projects reveal the same drive: a church in Tunganyika echoing Ron­champ, a cathedral in San Salvador un­der the Perret sway, neither built, yet still tributes to modern architecture’s possibility. And this does seem like Nitzchke’s legacy, this enthusiasm for prospect, this optimism for architecture.

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One Show, Too Quickly
The current show at Rick Kaufman’s Art et Industrie is very good. The best piece is a table by Richard Snyder called Moto. Sitting atop four cylindrical black steel legs is a hollow truncated cone of colored spun aluminum which widens to support a square glass top. Moto is pri­marily engaged with issues of support, both its own and that of the objects it’s ultimately meant to bear. The location of the point of instability is always central to the art of furniture: each work describes an equilibrium.

The theme of statics runs through the show. Forrest Myers’s Manifold armchair of patinated half-inch steel plate is a complete solution to the hoary origami issue of the jointless chair, an ideal prob­lem delimited by self-imposed technical constraints: take this plate, cut and bend, make … a chair. James Hong also con­tributes a structural tour de force with his coffee table Iggy. A circular glass plate is supported by a series of accor­dion-folded pieces of parachute fabric, stiffened with clear resin, tenuous and improbable. Howard Meister’s suite of spindly hand-wrought black-painted steel pieces are like frail sketches come to life. They’re minimalist in means but lib­erated from mainstream Minimalism’s ponderous addiction to geometry.

Accents Graves
As you may know, I haven’t euctly been reticent in concealing my hostility toward the proposed expansion of the Whitney Museum. Now there’s a good opportunity for you to judge for yourself. At the Max Protetch Gallery a group of Michael Graves’s recent projects are on display, the Whitney scheme among them. Graves always makes a compelling graphic case for his work, and the proj­ects in this show are no exception. What­ever one thinks of the work itself, the volume, consistency, and conviction are striking.

A Piece of Good News
It’s always nice to have the winds tak­en out of your journalistic sails by the arrival of an event you were just prepar­ing to argue for. On November 19, the City Council passed an extremely impor­tant piece of environmental legislation, requiring strict regulation of the way in which buildings are demolished in order to prevent the poisoning of both workers and the public by asbestos. It should be an object of great pride that New York has become a national leader in this cru­cial issue. Although uae of asbestos by the construction industry bas been widely curbed, vast quantities of the stuff re­main in many buildings, ready for release into the air during fires, demolitions, and other decompositions. If well-enforced, the new legislation will offer crucial pro­tection to many of those moet directly at risk from this terrible pathogen. ■

BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives show-old-images Uncategorized

Emma Goldman Is Alive and Well and Making Trouble on the Lower East Side

Emma said it in 1910/Now we’re gonna say it again!
—Protest marchers on Fifth Avenue, 1970

A certain kind of career is well known among American intellectuals. An eager young person joins the Socialist Something-­or-other movement and spends several fer­vent years in its ranks. He develops literary and analytic skills. And after a while the Socialist Something-or-others begin to dis­appoint him. They aren’t prospering the way he expected. They need to shape up. He tells them how. But they won’t hear of it.

The young comrade therefore undergoes a crisis. Why, he asks himself, can’t the Something-or-other movement do better? Why is the Party a failure and why is social­ism not proving popular in America?

Different answers come to mind. Maybe socialism doesn’t deserve to be popular. In that case the young militant becomes a con­servative. Maybe socialism is all right but the Party’s version is extreme, rigid, or mis­guided. The militant becomes some sort of liberal or social democrat. Maybe what the Party believed as literal truth should be reinterpreted figuratively. The militant be­comes a sophisticated radical.

In any case, the young person makes some amazing discoveries, namely three. (A) He discovers his interests have broad­ened. In his days in the Party he wrote and talked about economics and the doctrines of Marxism or anarchism. But in pondering why socialism hasn’t prospered, he finds he requires answers from literature and drama and every possible field. He is no longer a militant, he is an intellectual. (B) He is a very smart intellectual. He may have gone to a seedy public college or to no college at all, and in formal terms his education may be none too great. But in fact his education turns out to be superb. The Trotsky alcove at City College and the dingy office at Union Square stand revealed as schools of the first rank. And these places have put their stamp on him. The pitch of his voice is a little higher than what you find among intellectuals who lack the left-wing back­ground. His tone is a little more urgent. He has the knack for debate, perhaps in excess. He is a little tougher, a little shrewder, than other intellectuals. (C) He discovers, won­der of wonders, that people listen to him. In the old days he addressed no one but his own comrades, who never paid much atten­tion, anyway. Now he gets up to talk and notices that the auditorium, if not exactly full, isn’t empty either. Quite a few people seem to take an interest in why the Some­thing-or-others have failed, or at any rate take an interest in the broader topics this inquiry has led him to explore. In the old days the young militant had the distinct impression of standing on the remote side­lines of American life; but by a miraculous development, he now finds himself as close to the center as intellectuals get to be in America.

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How many times this story has been told! Among writers who came up in the 1930s you find it, in whole or in part, in autobio­graphical accounts by William Phillips, William Barrett, Sidney Hook, Lionel Abel, Richard Wright, Daniel Bell, and Dwight Macdonald. Among the young writers of the 1940s, you see it in memoirs by Irving Howe and Irving Kristol. Last year the radical historians’ organization published a volume of interviews called Visions of History in which the same story is told over and over by scholars who came up in the 1950s, such as the late Herbert Gutman, and in the 1960s. Soon enough we will, I am positive, be hearing the same story from student rad­icals of the 1970s. For some reason the story has never much been told on stage or in the movies, though traces can be found. One very striking version exists in fiction, Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey, though otherwise it hasn’t been too prominent there, either. Still, Norman Mailer’s Trotskyist novel, The Barbary Shore, touches on some of the themes. Bits and pieces of the story turn up in Mary McCarthy’s early fiction and in early writings by Saul Bellow, where Trotskyism or Commu­nism is always lurking in the background. James T. Farrell evoked the story. Clancy Sigal’s novel, Going Away, follows the clas­sic plot: young militant despairs of the left and goes off to become a writer. And from the sundry autobiographies and fictions a generalization can be drawn. Intellectual classes must always come from somewhere; they are not self-generating. The some­where might be life at Versailles, or training in the ministry, or work on the daily press; and in the case of modern American intel­lectuals, a prominent somewhere turns out to be apprenticeship in the socialist ranks, then one or another kind of breaking away.

What can explain this very curious phe­nomenon? Socialism has not, after all, played a central role in a great many areas of American life. Thus far its failure has been real, and it’s not often that movements produce, in the dismal course of failing, dy­namic intellectual cultures. Yet this does occur sometimes. The collapse of a movement can under certain circumstances send up dust and rubble that are altogether stim­ulating to writers and thinkers who happen to be in the way. American literature offers a 19th-century example. New England Puri­tanism went into a decline after the Ameri­can Revolution. As an intellectual system and as a social system, Puritanism no longer seemed to work. Young intellectual-minded people who grew up in the Puritan environment were shocked. They retained the in­tense Puritan emotions, the sense of pain and suffering that derived from settler days in New England, plus the keen desire to create a perfect society. The young people retained these feelings because that was their tradition, and because their own par­ents underwent those experiences. They also retained the old Puritan tone of voice. But the dogmas had stopped making sense, and the young people had to ask why. Why, and what should come next? And by some mysterious process, these questions, posed in the tone that only Boston intellectuals could achieve, produced a main current of the 19th century. You see it in Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and many lesser writers, refugees all from the collapse of the Christian church.

Surely something similar accounts for the New York intellectuals of the present cen­tury. Over the course of many years, the socialist church more or less fell apart. The young intellectual-minded militants were shocked. The intellectuals retained certain of the feelings expressed by the old socialist cause. Those feelings were a sense of suffer­ing and pain deriving from immigrant days, the feelings of people who fell victim to the horrors of the industrial revolution — com­bined with a keen desire to make a perfect society for industrial times. The modern intellectuals retained these feelings because that was the tradition they learned from socialism, and because they themselves in some cases, or their parents or grandpar­ents, were the oppressed and exploited workers. They also retained the old socialist tone of voice, the instinct for moral urgency, the conviction that ideas are a form of pow­er. But the dogmas had collapsed, and like the Boston intellectuals contemplating the failure of old-fashioned Christianity, the New York intellectuals had to ask why. Why, and what should come next? And by that same mysterious process, these ques­tions, posed in the inflection commanded only by writers with a background in social­ism, have produced, well, something less than the Boston renaissance, but surely a main impulse of modern culture — the urge to experiment with the new, the tendency to emphasize social interpretations and to scorn the narrowness of academic life, the habit of debating with a little more passion than American intellectuals are used to summoning up, the orientation toward Eu­rope, the tendencies, in short, that we think of in connection with New York.

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Emma Goldman makes an odd example of a New York intellectual. She is certainly remote in time. Her own generation is the one that came up in the 1890s. Her best­-known book, the autobiography Living My Life, which Knopf brought out in 1931, suc­ceeds chiefly when it recounts events that took place at the turn of the century. What influence she once had dissipated after 1919, when she was deported. Nearly every­thing about her, in short, reflects an era considerably earlier than that of modern intellectual life. Nevertheless that autobiog­raphy, read with a proper eye, has one very noticeable quality. Buried within it is pre­cisely the story I’ve just described — the sto­ry of a radical militant who leaves behind her first revolutionary enthusiasm and blos­soms into an arts critic or philosopher, finds herself championing everything modern and innovative, finds that she is no longer on the despised sidelines of American life but instead in its vanguard. It is the classic story of a New York intellectual. Only it is that story in an exceptionally early and primitive version.

Naturally some of the sophistication, not to say campus tranquility, of later variants cannot be seen in Emma Goldman’s long-­ago version. She converted to revolutionary socialism in sympathetic indignation over the 1887 Haymarket hangings in Chicago, and the doctrine she embraced, though it contained several virtues, was less than a shrewd theoretical system. There was a good deal of talk about proletarians rising up to massacre the capitalist bloodsuckers. Gory social vengeance was the characteris­tic note. The doctrine was, in fact, a furious sort of raw left-wing fundamentalism. The commitment she made likewise differed from that known by certain more fortunate later generations. One went to anarchist meetings in the years after the Haymarket affair as if going to the gallows. There was an unmistakable cult of martyrdom. The Martyrs of Chicago had died in a mood very close to exhilaration, and the young people of Goldman’s age who followed them into the revolutionary ranks half-expected, half-­hoped, to come to a similarly glorious and grisly end, perhaps a death like that of Louis Lingg, who blew himself up rather than let the government put a rope around his neck. Louis Lingg, Goldman tells us, was the special hero of her little circle of comrades.

His fate, as it turned out, was something she always managed to avoid, but not for fear of running a risk. Five years after the Chicago hangings, she and her companion Alexander Berkman were building bombs in a tenement on East 5th Street, New York City, and conspiring to avenge the wronged steelworkers of Homestead, Pa., by assassi­nating their odious employer, Henry Clay Frick. Berkman, for reasons of economy, ended up all alone in the attack on Frick, and afterward he did have to endure suffer­ing on a martyr’s scale. He was imprisoned from 1892 until 1906, spent years at a time in solitary confinement, at one point was locked in a straitjacket for two days in a pitch-black room. During most of his term he was denied the right to receive visitors. Goldman got off scot-free, somehow. But even with the best of luck, an anarchist commitment meant a great deal of punishment. A year after Berkman’s assassination attempt, at the depth of a depression, social democrats and anarchists led an unem­ployed movement and Goldman, the 24-year-old firebrand, was invited to speak at Union Square. She commended the anar­chist tactic of direct action; she may have advised direct assaults on the homes of the wealthy; and in the anti-labor, none-too­-libertarian atmosphere of the time, she found herself serving 10 months on Black­well’s (Welfare) Island, the New York City jail. That was the minimum a prominent revolutionary could expect. And thus it went through all of her younger years. The anarchists in Europe had adopted a policy of tyrannicide — during the 1880s and ’90s revolutionaries assassinated the president of France, the archduke’s wife in Austria, the king of Italy (liquidated by a New Jer­sey comrade named Gaetano Bresci), the prime minister of Spain, and many lesser figures — and each time one of these individ­ualist deeds of insurrection took place Goldman was likely to find herself under suspicion, handcuffed to some unsympa­thetic uniformed agent of the upper classes.

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Then came 1901 and President William McKinley was assassinated by a young man on the outskirts of the movement named Leon Czolgosz, who regrettably professed to be a follower of Emma Goldman. This time she spent two weeks in the Chicago jail, where she was alternately treated well (Mc­Kinley was Republican, and Chicago was Democratic!) and subjected to beatings. One of her front teeth was knocked out. The shadow of the Haymarket gallows was definitely creeping up on her then. One of her guards had stood watch over the Mar­tyrs themselves 14 years before. Her friends were convinced a new Haymarket was in the making, and that Comrade Emma would hang, and Comrade Emma’s friends would hang, too. They advised caution. But Emma herself, being in the Martyr mold, the mold of Berkman and the old Russian revolutionaries, was nothing fazed. From her cell in the Chicago jail she insisted on defending Czolgosz, not because she be­lieved that shooting presidents did any good, but on a principle of solidarity. It was because of her admiration for rebels, her respect for the out-of-control emotions of people who cannot tolerate an unjust social order even for one moment more; and it was because Berkman was in prison and she thought Czolgosz was another Berkman. Neither fear nor any other sort of personal consideration could have much effect on someone with a commitment like that. Fa­naticism is not an inappropriate word.

Yet the autobiography shows that she nearly broke in 1901. It was due to the political situation. The Haymarket Martyrs went to death 14 years earlier convinced that a popular revolutionary labor movement was cheering them on and that a mili­tant finale would hasten the day of retribu­tion. But no one could sustain such beliefs in 1901. Goldman discovered that she was the only well-known person in America to say a good word for the assassin of William McKinley. Her own comrades were keeping quiet, or worse, heaping abuse on the poor imprisoned avenger. They were changing, these comrades. Even on the Lower East Side, where anarchism enjoyed a certain popular acceptance, a mob attacked the offices of the Jewish revolutionary paper, the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, and the previously courageous stalwarts, from behind their overturned desks and chairs, pretty much found that accustomed ways of thinking, the belief in individual deeds and justice by tyrannicide, the willingness to suffer and die in the expectation of barricades tomor­row and a new world the day after — in short, the primitive flags of the Haymarket revolution — were hard to wave with the old enthusiasm. She was still waving them. But she was the only one. Then she got out of jail and things were so bad she couldn’t rent an apartment or find a job. She was obliged to print up calling cards labeled “E.G. Smith,” nurse. (Nursing was what she learned during the year on Blackwell’s Island.) With her self-professed follower in the electric chair and Berkman in a Penn­sylvania penitentiary and herself on a blacklist one name long, she entered the new, crucial phase of her long career. It was the moment of crisis, the moment of real­ization that the movement had failed and revolution was not about to descend on America. It was, in its antique, exaggerated way, the crisis that so many milder, less operatic militants of the left have under­gone at a certain point in their careers, the crisis, that is, of the left-wing intellectual.

What to do? In 1901 the possibilities were as follows. One could pretend nothing had happened. That was no response. One could try to cover up the difficulties with rhetori­cal maneuvers. Anarchists had been trying that for some years. Reading through Pitts­burgh newspapers for the period of Berk­man’s attentat, I came across a story of three comrades who arrived at Homestead to rally the striking steelworkers to anar­chist action and addressed them with all sorts of appeals to Washington, Jefferson, Tom Paine, and other “noble revolution­ists” of 1776, as if revolutionary socialism were nothing but George Washington brought up to date. That didn’t work; that never works. The three anarchists were run out of town. Alternatively, one might drop out. Goldman’s most important lover of that period, Ed Brady, who served 10 years in Austrian prisons for his anarchist propaganda, quietly dropped out and went into business. Goldman considered it, too. She was despondent after Czolgosz’s execution; she felt contempt for her cowardly com­rades; she wanted nothing more to do with them. That was her urge, anyway. There was also the possibility of defecting to other movements. A good many anarchists were becoming electoral socialists, like Abraham Cahan, the novelist and editor. According to Living My Life, still others were drifting toward William Jennings Bryan, the Demo­crat. Yet how could an Emma Goldman do such things? She had shouted too many illegal slogans from wagon tops in Union Square to give it up now, and in any case could neither convert nor drop out without betraying Berkman in his cell at Pittsburgh and the Martyrs in their Waldheim graves. Whatever Goldman did had to be in the name of revolutionary anarchism, had to feel like anarchism, had to be a plausible continuation of what the Martyrs set out to do, had to wage the revolution.

The revolution, though, can mean differ­ent things. The Haymarket image of a working-class insurrection, the battle-to­-death with the capitalist class, the creation overnight of new socialist institutions — that was the fundamentalist idea. But there’s no reason revolution can’t also be gradual, even unto 300 years. C.L.R. James has ob­served that the democratic revolution in England began in the 1640s and wasn’t completed until women got the vote in the 20th century. That is the social democratic idea. Then again, even 300 years may not express revolution’s possibilities. There is a third idea, not usually acknowledged by those who hold it, according to which revo­lution will take place neither at once nor over the course of an epoch. This third kind of revolution isn’t historical at all. It is a feeling of expectation, a sense that inequal­ity and injustice are false and intolerable, and that truer, greater, more human princi­ples exist. These truer principles we intu­itively assign to the future. We say, “The revolution is coming.” But we’re careful not to assign a date. Our phrase is a metaphor. “In common speech we refer all things to time,” Emerson wrote. “And so we say that the Judgement is distant or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a day of cer­tain political, moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when we mean that in the nature of things one of the facts we contemplate is external and fugitive, and the other permanent and connate with the soul.” Injustice and tyranny may be facts of the present moment; but justice and liberty are principles for all moments. That’s what we mean when we say the revolution is com­ing. Naturally the revolution in this third or metaphoric version looks a little different than revolution in its other meanings. Some people can’t see it at all. The feeling of anticipation, the notion that what exists to­day is too horrible to last forever, that a tremendous new potential exists, that the potential is burrowing steadily underground, advancing always, retreating never — this feeling is not something that everyone experiences. Yet it is an actual emotion not just a figure of speech. Revolutionaries feel it and other people don’t. The other people must accept its existence on faith.

The anarchists of the 19th century always stood for revolution in its primitive or fundamentalist sense. But once they had dispatched sundry heads of state without sparking the expected insurrection, there was reason to think anew. That was Peter Kropotkin’s role. Socialists of all varieties accepted the progressive idea of history according to which society advances from primitive to the present to future perfection, and it was this view that justified revolution in either its gradual or overnight forms. But in the 1890s Kropotkin proposed something more anthropological. History in his theory reveals a struggle between what he called mutual aid as a factor in society, and the principle of hierarchical authority. In some eras, the happy ones, mutual aid has dominated; in other eras, authority. The goal of anarchist revolution was a society of perfect mutual aid, which he called anarchist communism; but it was an implication of his theory (which be hesitated to draw out) that such a society could never fully exist. Mutual aid or anarchist communism could someday flower, possibly even soon; but authority would never entirely go away and would require constant opposition. In this respect the revolution as final stage of history would never come about but the revolution considered as endless struggle for more mutual aid and less au­thority — this revolution exists always. Rev­olution is evolution; evolution never ends. Anarchists might use a lot of rhetoric about the impending upheaval; he himself was prone to inspired passages about the chariot of humanity advancing into the future; but the actual goal should be the creation of ever-increasing spheres of liberty and mu­tual aid in the present, not the future.

Where might these spheres be estab­lished? Among the European anarchists, events presented an unexpected answer. The world center of the anarchist move­ment in the 1880s and ’90s was Paris, and revolutionary tenor and tyrannicide in Par­is didn’t greatly bestir the oppressed and exploited classes. Instead, it was the radical artists and intellectuals who felt excited. The problem that tyrannicide presented to the workers’ movement — that it failed to advance the movement’s future goals — was no problem to artists and intellectuals, to the bohemians. Their goal was in the present­. They wanted to criticize bourgeois life, which is to say, “dynamite” the bourgeoisie, and bold and grisly attentats presented a kind of model. Anarchist heroes and bandits ­threw bombs, and avant-garde artists and writers rushed to join the anarchist ranks — much to the horror of old-timers like Kropotkin who never intended such a re­sult. Some of these old-timers broke away to build the trade unions, and the movement that remained consequently veered in a bohemian direction. The movement’s language, the talk of proletarian revolution, remained the same, but the meanings began to shift. All kinds of ideas about individual rebellion, about the need to shake up mid­dle class sensibilities, about the sanctity of the individual and the importance of artis­tic creation, ideas about realizing human capacity in the here and now instead of in some abstract revolutionary future — these ideas, which had never played much of a role in the anarchist workers’ movement, now gathered under the anarchist flag. It was the triumph of the revolutionary meta­phor. Nietzsche was the new prophet, Sym­bolism the new literary form. There were slogans like “Long live anarchy! Long live free verse!”

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That was Paris, but it’s plain in Living My Life that something similar was hap­pening in New York City, in a slightly dif­ferent and more provincial way. When Goldman first arrived on the Lower East Side in 1889, the environment she encoun­tered was dominated by old-fashioned revo­lutionaries, the kind of radical fundamentalists who were hanged at Chicago. These men were by no means negligible as intellectual or cultural types. Johann Most, her first mentor, who fulminated so ferociously for dynamite and assassination, was a frustrated actor whose deformed jaw had pre­vented him from attempting a career on the stage, yet who still got up to perform now and then. He loved Schiller and the Romantic writers and was happy to lend her books during the time of their affair. He took her to the opera. He was not narrow. The same could be said of a man like Robert Reitzel of Detroit, who was influential in the move­ment nationally through his weekly news­paper, Der Arme Teufel. Reitzel published some of the only reports in America of the artistic avant-garde in Europe. When he got up in public, he was likely to deliver the old anarchist ferocity with a cultured touch. He addressed the funeral for the Chicago Mar­tyrs in Waldheim Cemetery and quoted Herwegh: “We have loved long enough/Now we are going to hate!” Yet no one could call these men rounded intellectuals. They were, rather, conspirators and revolu­tionists of the old European type, men who might have consorted with Blanqui or Bakunin in 1848. They were consumed with revolutionary wrath and with plotting con­spiracies and with accusing one another of being police spies. That was the fundamen­talist environment. Nor was the immigrant world they inhabited rich with cultural in­stitutions. There were the choral societies and the revolutionary press, and there were the anarchist bars and cafés. Goldman de­scribes some of these hangouts in Living My Life, Sach’s cafe on Suffolk Street and Justus Schwab’s saloon on 1st Street. They sound lively, Schwab’s especially. American intellectuals like Ambrose Bierce and James Huneker went to Schwab’s to meet the immigrant radicals. Six hundred books were stacked behind the bar. But that didn’t make for a very profound cultural environment. The old-fashioned fundamen­talist revolution didn’t require a profound cultural environment. It required social bit­terness and determined militants, and these it had.


What you see in Living My Life, though, is the growth of something more like the bohemian environment that took up anar­chism in Paris. Goldman’s generation of militants, the people who were in their twenties in the decade after Haymarket, were sincere about the revolution, but their interests showed a new dimension. Her em­phasis on attending opera and theater indi­cates what this was. She got up a sort of commune with three or four other young comrades, moving from apartment to apart­ment for a couple of years, everyone falling in and out of love with one another, and among this group was Berkman’s cousin Modest Stein, called “Fedya” in Living My Life — an anarchist, but rather more of an artist. Already she was arguing with Berkman over the place of art and beauty in the revolution, which Berkman, as a man tem­peramentally of the older rock-ribbed gen­eration, thought was no place at all. She describes going with other young people to Netter’s grocery on the East Side, where they would sit around in the back room discussing serious issues over tea and snacks with the learned grocer and his family. Netter’s grocery was the kind of place where she got to know young men like Da­vid Edelstad — an anarchist, but a poet, too (in Yiddish). She began a romance with Max Baginski, who went to Chicago to take the job once held by August Spies, one of the Martyrs, as editor of the anarchist daily, the Arbeiter-Zeitung, and what she empha­sizes is that Baginski personally knew the great German playwright Gerhart Haupt­mann. She lists the writers that she and Baginski discussed: Strindberg, Wedekind, Nietzsche, and so forth. In fact, with almost every one of the lovers she had in those early years, she pauses to list the books they read together, which is nice to see. It’s always enjoyable to watch the unfolding of an intellect, the eager way someone young gob­bles down an education. The enthusiasm captures what it means to follow that non­vocation, “intellectual.”

We watch, too, the growth not just of Goldman herself but of a large community, the community we see over her shoulder, the crowd at her lectures. This community, the readers of the radical literary press, the audience at productions of Chekhov in Rus­sian or the German playwrights in German, the crowd before whom Goldman played her part, was the new intellectual class of the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, with outposts in Chicago and other places. It’s hard to look at this crowd without feeling a certain fondness. The downtown intelligentsia of 75 years ago had several qual­ities that have largely disappeared today, not to our benefit. The fact that tendencies like bohemian anarchism had emerged from the labor movement meant that the artists and intellectuals remained tied in some way to the unions and the working class. Anar­chism and social democracy — in their newly loosened, more metaphoric forms — pro­vided something of a coherent view of the world. They gave a purpose to artistic and intellectual work, which was to serve the cause of the people, and they rooted that work in the neighborhoods where the peo­ple live. You see the results in the work of anarchist artists like George Bellows and Robert Henri (who were followers of Gold­man) and electoral socialists like John Sloan (who admired her, but disagreed). Historic innovators in the world of art these men were not; but they were dedicated to capturing the life of the city, and at this they succeeded. They caught the New York spirit, indeed they were the only artists ever to do that, so that when one thinks of the authentic New York hurly-burly, of the life of the stoops and the vistas that appear from second-floor windows and tenement roofs, it is these artists who come to mind. That intellectual class may not have been the most brilliant in New York history, but it was surely the most local, the most close­ly tied to the lives of ordinary people, the most expressive of the city — no matter how many languages it spoke. Living My Life is a classic example. Goldman tells us she lived now on 3rd Street, now in a Bowery flophouse, now on East 13th Street, now she ran a facial massage parlor on Union Square. Those are addresses of the intelli­gentsia and of the working class both. Now she toiled in a factory, now she hung out with a visiting Russian theater troupe in the Bronx. She wasn’t escaping from the work­ing class, she was living the peculiar kind of working-class life that was also the life of the intellectual.

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The anarchists were never a very large party on the East Side, but they did play an important role in helping to build that envi­ronment. Their characteristic “deed” was, after all, the lecture, and once the Czolgosz debacle was behind them those lectures ex­panded into a handful of notable institu­tions. In 1910 Goldman herself helped orga­nize something called, after a martyred Spanish anarchist, the Ferrer Center on St. Mark’s Place (later 12th Street, still later East Harlem), which until it was suppressed by the government served as a meeting ground for teachers like Will Durant and Robert Henri and students like Moses and Raphael Soyer. Artists and writers rubbed shoulders there with union organizers and the ordinary working people who came by to take a class or attend a talk. Trotsky, during his exile in New York, studied art at the Ferrer Center. Similarly, she started a “revolutionary literary magazine,” the monthly Mother Earth, which for most of its history was published on 13th Street. Mother Earth was a stolid journal, digest-­size, with magnificent political cartoons by the great Robert Minor and other anarchist artists, though with political articles by Goldman and Berkman and other comrades that were often wooden, sometimes looney in the old bomb-throwing style. One issue was dedicated to the memory of Leon Czol­gosz. Still, Mother Earth had influence: it published items on European literature and theater, it championed the cause of artistic realism and the legacy of Walt Whitman (still considered innovative and daring in 1906, when the journal began) and it was able now and then to set an appropriately riotous tone. The founder famously waltzed in a nun’s habit at the magazine’s “Red Revel” anniversary ball in 1915. Such was the spirit. It’s worth mentioning that this Lower East Side monthly constituted the first journal of its type — the journal of radi­cal culture and radical politics — to appear in New York. What was arising was Man­hattan’s downtown left-wing arts communi­ty. In those years she was also conducting free speech campaigns coast to coast, and these too ought to be regarded as part of her cultural work, a free speech committee being a sort of muscle wing or enforcer unit for cultural radicalism. (The free speech campaigns laid a groundwork for the American Civil Liberties Union, “that most vital organization in America,” whose founder was happy to acknowledge Gold­man’s inspiration.)

Her shift from anarchist fundamentalism to the new-style bohemian radicalism came without any shift in rhetoric, which is how it always is when the revolution turns to metaphor. And this same supercharged rhetoric, vivid though it could be, did not necessarily generate great sensitivity to her new artistic themes. During the period of her largest success, 1908–1917, she fastened on drama criticism and lectured around the country on European playwrights; but you can barely read these lectures today with­out squirming in your chair at all those dynamite bombs besprinkling the page. She praised the arts as “a greater menace to our social fabric” than “the wildest harangue of the soapbox orator.” Ibsen she described as a “dynamiter of all social shams and hypoc­risies.” Drama as a whole she defended as a kind of revolutionary tactic. “In countries where political oppression affects all class­es, the best intellectual elements have made common cause with the people, have become their teachers, comrades, and spokesmen. But in America political pressure has so far affected only the ‘common’ people. It is they who are thrown into prison; they who are persecuted and mobbed, tarred and deported. Therefore another medium is needed to arouse the intellectuals of this country, to make them realize their relation to the people, to the social unrest permeating the atmosphere” — this medium being excellent plays imported from Europe. The normal language of drama criticism this was not.

What the radical rhetoric did, of course, was fend off the old-style purists among her comrades. To their philistine claim that art is no help in revolutions, she was replying in semi-philistine fashion that art is, too, a help. She never did get beyond this debate, never managed to loosen up the oratorical style, either (except when she wrote about herself). Great claims therefore cannot be made for her critical achievement. Even her interpretation of the political and social val­ues in plays tended to be what you’d expect from essays called, in their collected form, The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. She saw what she wanted to see. Yet testimony is strong that those interpre­tations played a very large role in populariz­ing Ibsen and Strindberg and helping estab­lish the “little theater” revolt against Broadway. “No one did more,” said Van Wyck Brooks. One can cite remarks by Eu­gene O’Neill, Rebecca West, Kenneth Rex­roth. Henry Miller described meeting Emma Goldman as “the most important encounter of my life” because of how she “opened up the whole world of European culture.” And it was the revolutionary approach, in spite of everything, that made these successes possible. For Goldman’s revolution, in turning metaphoric, had tak­en on a new list of enemies entirely suited to the stage, no longer just capitalists, po­licemen, and politicians, but also busybod­ies, puritans, preachy monogamists, cen­sors, and defenders of civic virtue. Let one of these walk into the room and the anar­chist drama critic would swell up “like a toad” about to burst. (We know this physi­ognomical detail from a fellow convict dur­ing one of Goldman’s spells in jail, who happened to watch when an evangelist came to address the inmates.) If that was her idea of the revolution’s enemies, then she was not at all out of tune with the advanced European theater, even if the sound of bombs going off begins to wear on the ear. In Ghosts, Ibsen spent an entire play swelling up like a toad at the local minister, who is the seat of all hypocrisy, nastiness, and oppression unto the second generation. Goldman loved Ghosts. “Verily a more revolutionary condemnation has never been uttered in dramatic form before or since.” Boom! Brieux, in Damaged Goods, showed how sexual prudishness leads to calamities of venereal disease. Brieux was a “revolutionary.” Boom again! Those booms were in the right spirit: that was the main thing. The plays were meant to be subversive, and no one attending an Emma Goldman lecture was going to forget that.

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The “social significance” that she pointed to mostly concerned the difficulties faced by women and the horrors that derive from sexual repression, and about these topics it is reasonable to ask how feminist was her point of view. Alix Kates Shulman, who has been championing Emma Goldman for many years, argues that it was entirely (and on this question Margaret Forster, in her history of feminism’s precursors, funda­mentally agrees). Goldman saw, as the earli­er anarchist theoreticians did not, that women suffered as women, not just as pro­letarians, that what must be swept away are not only the economic and political rela­tions of class society but the web of atti­tudes and relations obtaining between men and women. Therefore she stood up and defended the reasonableness of women sometimes abandoning their husbands, as in Ibsen, or of women having children with­out being married, as in Brieux. She de­fended the idea of women playing many different roles, living without families or pursuing careers, and many ideas of that variety, for which today we have a clear and undisputed name. So Shulman is right. Yet Goldman herself did not like that name, and it’s important to see why. Feminism for her was a word to describe the kind of wom­an reformer who was too much in the old American Protestant vein. The people she considered feminists looked to institutional reforms, like giving women the vote, which Goldman thought would do no good at all. And they were too keen for morality. The American feminists, in her eyes, wanted more morality, loftier morals, a stronger way for society to condemn the wayward and the wicked. But Goldman watched all those European plays and knew that as soon as talk goes to lofty morals, duties and obligations are about to descend on women. She wasn’t a feminist; she was a radical.

Her ideal was Dr. Stockman in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Stockman is the man who blows the whistle on the town health spa, having discovered pollution in the wa­ter, and then discovers his scientific analy­sis has been censored from the newspaper, and no auditorium in town will let him speak, and rocks are coming through his window. That was easy to identify with: Goldman had been in Stockman’s position from coast to coast. She was the national Dr. Stockman. But what she liked especial­ly was Stockman’s individualist ethic, his contempt for the stupid conformist masses, his assurance that “the strongest man is he who stands alone.” Dr. Stockman doesn’t want to improve the town morals or make the general tone loftier. He’s not a moral guardian, he’s a hardcore individualist, he wants to take his own position and let the world do as it may. That was Goldman’s viewpoint, too. From the perspective of feminist solidarity, this kind of strong-indi­vidual stuff was a trifle problematic. To tell people to go do like Dr. Stockman can be a pretty heartless thing. Stockmanism has many virtues, but sympathy for the weak is not among them. There was nothing in Goldman’s individualism that couldn’t lead to sudden lapses of sympathy. And in fact she was, on the issue of women’s solidarity, an undependable ally. She liked Strindberg, for instance. Strindberg wrote all those plays in which poor bedeviled men get trampled by hateful harridans, and even James Huneker, who quaffed beers at Schwab’s and wasn’t averse to a bit of anar­cho-individualism himself, called him a mi­sogynist. Goldman would have none of that. She responded to the wild note in Strind­berg, the bitterness against the upper class, the sympathy for outcasts, the hatred for hypocrisy. She saw him ripping down veils of deception, and if ripping veils left women looking bad for once, that was for the best. Strindberg wrote a play called Comrades satirizing an emancipated woman who de­mands alimony, and Goldman stood with Strindberg. Why should a woman who has no children require alimony? Why shouldn’t a woman be equal with a man, therefore have to suffer and labor just as men do? A hard line, which she was happy to make too hard, on occasion. But the hard line was what Goldman had in mind when she said, in her most famous passage, that “true emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in courts. It begins in woman’s soul.” Institutional equality or support for women wasn’t her goal, nor even collective action against society’s oppression of wom­en, not that she was against these things; she looked instead for personal strength, self-reliance. Woman “must realize that her freedom will reach as far as her power to achieve her freedom reaches.” The power of individuals: that is what Ibsen and Strind­berg showed on stage. “The strongest man is he who stands alone.”


There was a lot of this Dr. Stockman stuff — superman, blond beast, it was all the same — at the turn of the century. Rough-­tough individualism was a useful corrective to the sickly sentimentality of the age. Sometimes the individualism was right-­wing, sometimes left-wing. Among the writ­ers of her generation, Jack London, the So­cialist, was making it right-wing and left-wing both. Goldman’s inspiration was to apply the individualist idea not only to women but to matters of love. That was her stroke of genius. The passage about true emancipation beginning in woman’s soul continues like this: “The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved.” Why she intro­duced this issue, why she went so far be­yond even the bohemian anarchists on this particular point, isn’t hard to see. In certain respects she didn’t suffer very much as a woman and encountered no more obstacles in her career as lecturer and agitator than men with similar views encountered (though she did often feel she had to resist the objections of various men in her life). But for “the right to love and be loved” she had always had to struggle. The reason she left Russia for America in the first place was to escape her despotic father’s schemes to marry her off. Then she married a man of her own choice, discovered the choice was bad, and needed to get out of it, for which she lacked courage. That was 1887 and the example of the Chicago Martyrs gave her courage. She left the husband and was os­tracized by “the entire Jewish community of Rochester,” New York. But off she went to the arms and comradeship of such as Berkman the terrorist and Most, the mad dog propagandist. The Dr. Stockman question, then, the revolt of the individual against the tyrannical community, intruded into her life from the start, and it took the form of struggling for the right to love as she chose.

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The principle she enunciated, the anar­chist doctrine of Free Love, was of course a kind of libertarian rationalism. “Every love relation should by its very nature remain an absolutely private affair.” No church, no state, no entire Jewish community of Roch­ester. That meant if a woman wanted vari­ety in love, variety was her right; indeed variety, a bit of flitting about, seemed a good idea. She populated Living My Life with quite a few lovers, some of them more serious than others, to show what she had in mind. There was “Fedya,” Johann Most, “Dan,” Hippolyte Havel, Baginski, Ed Bra­dy, not to mention Berkman, with whom she maintained an always tender and close lifelong relation that was sometimes amo­rous, sometimes amicable. And she de­scribed going rather easily from one or an­other of these men to the next. Baginski, who ran off to Europe with another woman at the wrong moment, was the only one to make her suffer. More often it was the men who took it hard. Most, Brady, and Havel were all heartbroken by her: they wanted homes, children, a faithful life’s companion. What she wanted was her career as lecturer and revolutionary, and resented anyone who proposed something different. She was generally the strong one in these relations, the indomitable, the free spirit. That was the idea. Everyone was supposed to be strong and indomitable.

On the other hand, Free Love was more than a rationalist doctrine, it was a celebration of high passion. This notion came natu­rally from all those Romantic plays and novels she read. Or possibly she merely reflected her geographical base, for after she left Rochester she ultimately arrived on the Manhattan square mile bounded by East 14th and East Broadway, and this neigh­borhood has always been a seat of emotion­al abandon, a thumping heart to the rest of the country’s phlegmatic body. The history of the Lower East Side is, after all, a story of successive youth movements, the young generation of anarchists in the 1890s and early 1900s, Young Communists of the 1930s, beatniks of the ’50s, hippies of the ’60s, punks and neo-anarchists of the ’70s and ’80s; and each of these movements has in its own way, whether impressively or not, elevated high emotion to a principle. Some­thing like that certainly emerges in the first hundred pages of Living My Life. Those early chapters are practically an ode to emotional excess, abandon, outrage, inflam­mation of the heart. And in accordance with that romantic sensibility, Free Love was supposed to enable something a bit warmer, a bit more passionate than anything associ­ated with stability or convention. This her early loves demonstrated — in moderation.

Then in 1908, when she was 38, she took up with Ben Reitman, who was a kind of low-life gynecologist, hobo activist, friend of prostitutes and pimps, lost soul. “The fan­tastic Ben R,” went Margaret Anderson’s famous remark, “wasn’t so bad if you could hastily drop all your ideas as to how human beings should look and act.” Anarchists were a bit quicker than others at dropping their ideas, but even among the comrades Reitman proved a trying case. His under­world connections brought him uncomfort­ably close to the police; on one of her first evenings out with him, Goldman sat aghast at the table as he jumped up to greet warm­ly the very Chicago cop who had arrested Louis Lingg in 1886. He was oddly devoted to his mother, whom he preferred to live with, and he was relentlessly promiscuous, sometimes secretly, sometimes openly, and was always showing up with someone new. On the other hand, it’s not hard to see, almost 80 years later, what the man’s at­tractions were, apart from his good looks and exotic appeal, which were not negligi­ble. The promiscuity expressed a profound need both for sex and for mothering, a de­sire to lose himself in love, to drown in it, and the fact that this desire was, at least in his younger years, so insistent, only made it keener. Women who met Reitman must have felt repulsed or attracted, but in either case impressed, and in a matter of minutes. Goldman was attracted. Reitman made her feel more powerfully desired than anyone had made her feel before. She wasn’t averse to mothering him; she loved it. And he opened doors to places she had never quite been. Odd as it seems for someone with her experiences, she felt herself to be the pris­oner of refinement, she had the scholar’s fear of missing out on raw life — even her. And in Reitman she found a barbarian (“You are the savage, the primitive man of the cave”), which pleasantly fit the bill. As for her appeal to him, this too is pretty clear. The cave man wanted civilization, and in Goldman he stumbled on one of the only champions of high culture in America who managed also to identify with his own world of outcasts. She was his match emo­tionally, too, for if the rushing about from lover to lover expressed a desire on his part to be wanted with more than ordinary power, to be desired endlessly, then Goldman had a lot to offer. Her energy was no small thing. To be taken up by her meant to receive letters day after day, outpourings of love, endearments, heart-wringings, complaints, naggings, emotional explosions, confessions of need. Other men might have been appalled by the directness and sensuality, might have felt themselves under siege, but to someone like Reitman it must have seemed his heart’s desire. At last! he must have exclaimed, and she must have exclaimed, when they first met, and the walls of their Chicago hotel must have trembled assent, for there was bound to be no end of intensity in the coming together of people as formidably equipped as these remarkable characters.

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Reitman’s wanderings did raise certain difficulties. Goldman, the “arch-varietist,” had no objection on principle, needless to say, though she did worry that Reitman was exploiting the women he met and perhaps was even seducing them with the glamour he drew from being the lover of Emma Goldman, which wasn’t thrilling to contemplate. But this time she wanted more from her man than she wanted from earlier loves, she wanted to feel she was satisfying him completely. Her own interest in variety by and large disappeared; the thought of other men suddenly repulsed her. And she was always abruptly discovering that he could never respond in the same way. This was not a happy situation. “I am mad, absolute­ly mad and miserable.” Candace Falk, in her biography of Goldman, prints so many letters in this vein that you wish poor Emma would go champion some cause to take her mind off her problems — and of course she did accumulate causes and was continually organizing solidarity commit­tees for the Mexican Revolution or cam­paigns to free IWW boys from Texas jails. But the Mexican Revolution was only so much help. From Reitman’s perspective, too, there were plentiful fields of unhappi­ness. He was not a cowardly man, he was willing to risk life and limb going around the country as Goldman’s manager year after year, spreading the news about Henrik Ibsen and birth control and getting at­tacked by mobs and tyrants. On behalf of birth control he went to jail twice and served more than six months. On behalf of Ibsen he was tortured and tarred and feath­ered by vigilantes in San Diego, and the letters IWW were seared into his buttocks. Yet in the anarchist crowd into which he had fallen, Alexander Berkman set the standard for bravery, and Reitman, who was not above beating an indecorous retreat now and then, came out second best. Com­parisons to Berkman were unfair, as Gold­man herself recognized in one passage of Living My Life, though not in other pas­sages. Berkman was “a revolutionist first and human afterwards.” He was without fear, therefore it was nothing for him to be brave. Nevertheless that was the standard, and Reitman looked like a mouse. Intellec­tually, he stood at mouse-level as well in the bookish anarchist world. So there was hu­miliation for him, too, in his long affair. And these powerful things, her insecurity, his humiliation, her unsatisfied desires, his frustrated rage, took on, between passages of serene delirium, an almost sensual antag­onism, a “voluptuousness,” in Alice Wexler’s word. Their letters show the two of them luxuriating in mutual pleasures, and something very close to luxuriating in their individual pains. The resulting insta­bility, the inequalities now tipping one way, now the other, only tied them closer togeth­er. Love requires sacrifice, Goldman thought, and they were both sacrificing like mad.

It was inescapable in any such affair that what was rationalist in Free Love would run up against what was passionate. As one of the biographers points out, Emma Goldman the rationalist was roaming the country delivering a lecture called “Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure,” in which the causes were linked to the institution of private property and the possible cure was linked to varietism and the triumph of anarchy, and all the while the woman behind the podium was dying of jealousy while her faithless manager stalked members of the audience. A bad scene. Eventually she was throwing chairs at him. The lecturer herself saw it all too clearly. “How is it possible that one so decided, so energetic, so independent, as I, one who has defied a World and fought so many battles, should have wound herself around a human being without whom life seems absolutely desolate. How has such a process taken place? I cannot find an an­swer. I only know it is so, that my being is so closely glued to yours, I feel as if all interest, all energy, all desire had gone with you and left me numb and paralyzed.…” So she had to make a choice about Free Love, had to decide between high passion and level sensibleness, and during the 10 years when her lectures were proving suc­cessful, she stuck to her heart’s yearning and quietly let a few shafts of irony fall across her public doctrine. The biographers, Falk and Wexler, both express disappointment at this decision. They think the life failed to live up to the dogma. They find their Goldman a little neurotic and self­-destructive. Reading these writers, one can appreciate what Goldman had in mind in complaining about the over-moral feminists of her own time.

In any case, matters of love emphasize again what a rock of integrity this woman was. The Chicago Martyrs set a standard of absolute courage and independence, and this standard became a norm in American anarchism, became in fact that movement’s greatest accomplishment. Berkman merely followed in that path, and some years later Sacco and Vanzetti did the same. Goldman spent her years in America always expecting that someday she too would be called on to die for the cause or to suffer in some other monumental way, and beyond her lost tooth, some beatings by the police, the three years she spent in jail (her imprison­ment in 1893 was repeated for a longer term in 1918–9 for the crime of opposing the World War I draft) and the numberless arrests for speaking out on birth control or Ibsen or something, plus the federal sup­pression of her magazine and ultimately her cruel deportation — beyond this continual wretched treatment, nothing worse ever happened, miraculously enough. But the iron adherence to principle was the same, and that was as true of her life in love as her life in politics. She was many things, but she was certainly dauntless. When love had ended with Brady or some other man, she left him; and when it began with even some­one as preposterous and embarrassing as the hobo doctor, she was not afraid to join him. Appearances meant little to her, even appearances within the anarchist move­ment, where Reitman was always in bad odor. In her older years it was more difficult, she was living in exile, and she suffered what she called the hardships of an emanci­pated woman, which become severer with age. The loneliness and instability that she acknowledged were a risk of Free Love afflicted her then (though it’s true she always had Berkman in his role as comrade-for-life). But even then her romantic heart still managed an occasional insurrection. In Ger­many in the 1920s, she struck up an affair with a Swedish man — her “Swedish sunbeam” — more than 20 years younger than herself. The next decade, during the time she was living in Montreal, it was with an anarchist delicatessen man from Albany, New York. She was in her sixties, a “grandmotherly person with a blue twinkling eye,” or alternatively “a battleship going into action” (two contemporary descriptions), yet once again she was besieging the new light of her life with sexy billet doux and one can only imagine what in person. Later still she found a blind young man from Chicago who, full of enthusiasm for her, traveled to Canada and raised her to “sublime heights.” “Imagine, last Thursday, the 27th of June, I was sixty-six years of age. Never did I feel my years so much. Never before was it borne in on me how utterly incongruous is my mad infatuation for you, a man thirty years younger than I.…” She complained to Berkman about her own per­sonality: “I wish I could at least make my peace with the world, as behooves an old lady. I get disgusted with myself for the fire that is consuming me at my age. But what will you do? No one can get out of his skin.” In the end she was not, of course, failing to live up to the dogma. “Anarchism,” she wrote to a European comrade, “must be lived now in our relations to each other, not in the future,” and on that basis the battleship steamed steadily forward.

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More to the point, her labor as writer was also steaming forward, for all those experi­ences always managed to express them­selves in words. How do you become a prophet, Allen Ginsberg was asked. “Tell your secrets,” he said. Goldman devoted two volumes of memoirs plus sundry other writings and something approaching a quarter-million letters (not all of which survive) to telling her secrets. In a sense even the drabbest of her lectures and essays told a secret, for everything she did was intended to mythologize its author, and the myth revealed a secret about people’s capacity for experience. That was her success. Ginsberg isn’t wrong. In the early years, when she lectured solely on the proletarian revolution, she never reached more than a small number of sympathizers. But when she be­gan presenting herself as the woman who has lived, as the real-life Nora or female Dr. Stockman, the woman who has fled the so­cial conformities for a free-fall through the anarchist air — then she was someone people wanted to see. That person was no longer on the despised immigrant sidelines. That per­son had stumbled into a series of debates that still seem recognizably current. It’s not too much to say that in her half-cranky, not always deft manner, she had become the first stalwart of the radical left to make the move into modern intellectual life.


Emma Goldman’s final distinction was to last so long in the revolutionary movement, 53 years altogether, that she went through the crisis of the socialist intellectual not once but several times. About the last of these crises, which occupied the final four years of her life, very little has been known. This crisis had to do with the Spanish Civil War. She was 67 when the war broke out, living in France, burdened by Berkman’s suicide a few weeks earlier, and reluctant to get involved. But the comrades insisted and two months later she was in Barcelona, wel­comed by the anarchist groups as their “spiritual mother.” She addressed 16,000 people at a Barcelona anarchist youth rally (characteristically, she quoted Ibsen), toured areas where social revolution had begun, then took up duties, in answer to her Spanish comrades’ instructions, as solidari­ty organizer in London. She returned to Spain for two additional extended visits in the next couple of years and she wrote at length about it. But these writings never received much play. Her condemnations of the Soviet Union — she was already talking about Communism and Fascism in the same breath — had damaged her standing among the duller and more authoritarian liberals and radicals in the United States, and liberal magazines like The New Republic and The Nation, where her writings nor­mally ought to have appeared, were no long­er open to her. The energy to write another book was more than she could summon. Her Spanish commentary took the form, then, of lectures, personal letters, and articles for obscure British and American anarchist magazines whose public influence was zero. Only today have these writings been collect­ed, under the title Vision on Fire, in an edition laboriously edited by David Porter, and even this book is a product of a not­-very-powerful movement press.

The importance of Goldman’s Spanish commentary ought, however, to be immedi­ately apparent. Many well-known English ­language writers reported on Spanish events, but none of these writers was especially sympathetic to the anarchists. George Orwell, who didn’t hate the anarchists, be­longed to a splinter party of Marxists and wrote about Spain more or less from that party’s perspective. Even John Dos Passos, who was a bit anarchisant, wrote affection­ately about anarchists in his Spanish novel yet in practice sympathized mostly with a moderate non-revolutionary breakaway fac­tion of the Spanish “libertarians.” Heming­way went to Spain and was positively terrified of the anarchists. He called them “dirty, foul, undisciplined, kind, loving, sil­ly and ignorant, but always dangerous be­cause they were armed” (For Whom the Bell Tolls). Their personal habits revolted him. And of course that was not Emma Goldman’s view. The more armed and dan­gerous were the men in red and black, the more she liked them. She went to live among them, during her time in Spain, at the expropriated ITT building in Barcelona which served as anarchist headquarters, and she earned their respect by refusing to flee to bomb shelters when German and Italian planes were bombing the city. She was no old lady, one might say; she was Hemingway. And since the anarchists were, in fact, the largest single political group in Spain, the dominant force in several re­gions, and the group chiefly responsible for holding off the Fascist uprising at the start of the war, her writings are singularly im­portant. Fragmented and occasional as they are, they constitute the one book we have that was written in English by a well-known observer whose principal sympathies were with the mainstream of the Spanish resistance, not with a splinter party or secondary force.

She went around to the anarchist collectives and the experiments in workers’ self-management, the Syndicate of Public Amusement, the Socialized Milk industry, the anarcho-syndicalist chicken farms and rabbit breeders, and the textile factories that were organized on principles of libertarian self-management. She didn’t describe at great length these constructive achievements of the anarchist revolution — the experiments in democratizing industry, in collectivizing the land in a libertarian manner, in establishing a nonstate variety of grassroots socialism, el communismo libertario — mostly because she didn’t know Spanish (she had to get by with French) and because she was touring in any case with Augustin Souchy, the German anarcho-syndicalist, who was taking this duty on himself. But what she did describe conforms generally to accounts provided by other witnesses. Needless to say, she was thrilled. “There was never a more proletarian revolution than the Spanish one,” she wrote, no doubt correctly. “Yes, my dear, I feel it was worth all I have given to the Anarchist movement to see with my own eyes its first buddings. It is my grandest hour.” But the enthusiasm didn’t extend to every particular. The ecstatic tone that writers fell into in regard to the Spanish revolution, the tone you see in Orwell’s de­scriptions of Barcelona, crops up in Gold­man’s reports only in fleeting passages and often then leads to a raised eyebrow, a bit of skepticism, a holding back. “Yesterday I visited the largest, most important champag­ne vineyards and industry in this country­. It was founded in the 16th century and continued by a long line of the same family until the Revolution. It is the most modern and perfectly organized plant I have seen there. And would you believe it, the entire personnel including the manager are members of the CNT [the anarchist labor federation]. The plant is now collectivized and run by the workers themselves. The manag­er, a comrade who fell on my neck when he learned my name, was quite surprised when I asked him whether the workers will have a chance to drink the champagne. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘What is the Revolution for if not to give the workers what they never en­joyed?’ ” — to which she added, “Well, let’s hope this will really be so.” She was espe­cially critical of women’s status in the anarchist areas. She thought the women needed to speak a little louder. “It is true of women, as it is of the workers. Those who would be free must themselves strike the first blow.” She lectured the anarchist men and sent furious letters to her old comrade Max Nettlau explaining that no, all Spanish women don’t want broods of babies.

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The chief point of skepticism concerned the political policies of the anarchist leaders toward the Communists. What Orwell re­ported about the Communists — the rise of the tiny Communist party through shrewd use of Soviet aid, which was the only significant source of arms, the start of Communist assassinations and executions, the jailing of anarchists and other revolutionary anti­-Fascists, finally the Communist assaults on the farmworkers’ collectives and self-man­aged factories, which is to say the outbreak of civil war within the civil war — Goldman reported, too. What was different in her account was that, as an “influential” in the anarchist ranks, she partook in the debate over how to respond. There was, alas, no way to respond. It would have been possible for the anarchists to establish a dictatorship in anti-Fascist Spain and to suppress the Communists altogether, but this they were against on principle (though it is striking to see that the possibility was discussed). Be­sides, where would they get arms if they alienated the Soviet Union? They were stuck, these anarchists. They were stuck in the very situation that in later years would recur several times in the Spanish-speaking world, the situation of indigenous revolu­tionaries fighting a Catholic feudal reaction that is tacitly backed by the Western de­mocracies, and in which their own allies are tied to the Soviet Union whether they like it or not. The Spanish anarchists agreed to appease the Communists. They accepted a limit on the anarchist revolution, recog­nized Communist areas of power, agreed not to publish unfavorable truths about the Soviet Union. They went further yet and joined the United Front with the Commu­nists, which meant taking their place as members of what they had sworn to destroy, the centralized state. They were given four ministries in the Spanish Republic. And all this Goldman went along with. More: she herself accepted a position from the United Front government. She became an official representative to England of the Catalan government. A state official at the age of 68! But she wasn’t happy about these concessions. Certain of the anarcho-syndicalist leaders seemed actually to like the Communists, even to like Stalin, and this naiveté revolted her. She had little expectation that allying with the Soviets would do any good. But she did not go public with her reservations and she corresponded with an­archists around the world telling them not to go public either. Solidarity with the Spanish libertarians was her priority, and the Spanish libertarians felt they had no alternative. So she exercised “discipline”­ — her word — an anarchist discipline, self-imposed. Then, of course, it turned out that appeasing the Communists was no good anyway. The jailing of labor militants and the executions and murders began in ear­nest; her own building, the expropriated ITT headquarters in Barcelona, was as­saulted by Communist troops, though not while she was there (it was this attack that Orwell described). She toured a Communist prison and saw non-Communist revolution­aries from all over Europe locked up there, men who had fought fascism in their own countries and then continued after defeat to fight it in Spain only to fall into the hands of their supposed allies. Some of the in­mates turned out to be Communists them­selves, at any rate members of the Commu­nist-led International Brigades, jailed on charges of Trotskyism and other preposter­ous offenses. It was an appalling scene. And finally she unmuzzled herself.

The Communists, she wrote to John Dew­ey, “have done so much harm to the labor and revolutionary movement in the world that it may well take a hundred years to undo.” To another correspondent, she blamed Marxism itself: “The introduction of Marxist theories into the world has done no less harm, indeed I would say more, than the introduction of Christianity — at any rate in Spain it has helped to assassinate the Spanish revolution and the anti-fascist struggle.” She swore undying hostility. “The rest of my years will be devoted to the exposure of the scourge that has been im­posed on the world by Soviet Russia.” But by then the war was lost. The revolutionar­ies were getting massacred in Spain by Franco, and those who escaped were locked in concentration camps by the French, and within the concentration camps the Com­munists were continuing their persecutions, incredibly enough. And there was nothing to be done. Her influence over liberals was long over, and now the one place on earth where anarchism had prospered was elimi­nated, too. She had reached the ultimate point in the crisis of the left-wing intellectual, the point of total political isolation. Henceforth anything she said spoke only for herself. She came up with a lecture called “Stalin: Judas of Spain” and delivered it to Canadian audiences. But she could hardly pretend to be a leader of a political move­ment anymore.

A younger person under those circum­stances might have done some rethinking. Reading her Spanish commentaries, you can almost see what that rethinking could have been. It is what Orwell came up with. So much of Goldman’s commentary resem­bles Orwell’s that you can’t help supplying some of his conclusions and observations. She did read his book and approved of it heartily, and you keep expecting to find her own version of his analysis of totalitarian­ism, with its unavoidable corollary, which is that worse things exist on earth than bourgeois democracy. There was, in fact, a breeze blowing toward democratic liberalism among some of the older anarchist thinkers in the 1930s. The German anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker was going soft on democracy. Certain comrades in America were finding friendly things to say about liberalism. These people were becoming, in the contemptuous phrase of the harder-line comrades, “almost social-democratic.” And Goldman was definitely wafting in that particular breeze. She was one of the “social democratic anarchists.” You see it in some of her surprisingly sympathetic references to Franklin Roosevelt (who for his part returned the interest to the extent of reading Living My Life, not that he ever lifted a finger to rescind her deportation).

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But more than a breeze this never came to be. Social democratic anarchism died aborning. In one passage of her Spanish writings she would acknowledge that the democracies were infinitely to be preferred to the totalitarian states, but in another passage she would write that democracy was totalitarianism in disguise. She was against the Communists, but sometimes she would indulge just as much hostility to the parliamentary Socialists. She opposed the fascist above all, to be sure. But did she oppose them in the only way that commanded rea­sonable degrees of might, once the anarchist alternative was defeated — which is to say, was she willing to go far enough beyond anarchist tradition to endorse the Allied war effort? She pointed out that the democ­racies were, from a colonial point of view, themselves vile dictatorships. (That was a good point.) Sometimes she thought about pacifism. She was leaning in that direction.

The debate over World War II — should anarchists come to the defense of the anti­fascist governments? — was the last she en­gaged in. She conducted it in circumstances that were anything but happy. She was in Canada because Western Europe was fall­ing to the Nazis and because she loathed every aspect of British life and wouldn’t dream of staying there; but mostly because Canada was close to what she still consid­ered home, the United States. She used to get a comrade to drive her to the border so she could look across. Meanwhile the anar­chist circles were growing pathetically small. My Yiddish translator and old friend Ahrne Thorne, the last editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme many years later, tells me he used to come around in those days to cheer the venerable comrade up. He himself supported the war, anarchism notwithstanding. He took an exceptionally dim view of the Germans; he felt that as a Jew the issues were entirely clear. But by then Emma had reverted to tradition all the way. An imperialist war was an imperialist war. She recalled that Kropotkin let the cause down in World War I by deciding the Ger­mans were especially evil and the Allies ought to be supported. “Look, you are now assuming the same attitude as Kropotkin,” she said. “But look at the Germans today!” said Thorne. “Maybe Kropotkin was right.” But no. That was not going to be Goldman’s line. The woman who came alive by reading about the martyrdom of Haymarket, who had thrown herself into the most forward trenches of the class war and then was first in America to follow the path from revolu­tionary militant to free-lance intellectual, the woman who had transformed so much of the old proletarian revolutionary bitter­ness into a passion for European theater and free speech and modem ideas, who her­self embodied American labor’s role in gen­erating modern intellectual life and went on to raise some questions that have not exact­ly disappeared from contemporary debate — this woman was not going to do anything else. And as if to mark the completion of her work, the anarchist comrades in Canada and the United States arranged, after she died, for her body to be brought across the border — then the American authorities would let her in — and buried her at Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago, a few feet from where the Martyrs themselves, her inspiration, were buried.

I have only one story about Emma’s death to add to what has already been pub­lished. It is a story that Thorne tells. He remembers when he first learned, in Toron­to, that she had suffered a stroke. He ran to her apartment — it was upstairs from the home of some Dutch comrades — and found several other anarchists already gathering. They were mostly Italians. The Italian an­archists in Toronto loved Emma because she had led a quiet campaign to save them from deportation back to Mussolini. The comrades stood around in front of her door, and the narrowness of the corridor formed them into a sort of honor guard. Then Emma was carried out on a stretcher, para­lyzed on her right side. She stared at the honor guard through her thick eyeglasses, and as she passed, she pulled her skirt down to cover her knee. This detail somehow stuck in Thorne’s mind. A few days later he figured out why.

The tug on her skirt reminded him of a story he read by Y.L. Peretz 20 years earli­er, during his childhood in Lodz, Poland. In this story, “The Three Gifts,” a beautiful Jewish girl is caught wandering outside the ghetto, where Jews are not allowed to go. It is a Christian holy day and for a Jew to wander about on such a day is a heinous crime. Worse, her beauty has attracted the attention of a noble knight and thereby sul­lied his religious purity. Guards bring the girl before a magistrate, who condemns her to a gruesome death. Her long hair will be tied to a horse’s tail and she will be dragged through the streets until the blood from her corpse has washed away her sin.

The magistrate allows her, however, one wish. She asks for pins. Pins? No one can imagine what she has in mind. Still, the wish is granted, the pins are brought, and she fastens the hem of her dress to her feet, sticking the pins right into the flesh. Then her hair is tied to the horse’s tail and the horse begins to trot. The doomed girl gets miserably dragged through the streets. Yet as this happens her skirt remains immovably fastened. The girl will die but her mod­esty will never be violated. The crowd will gape but never will anyone see anything that should not be seen. It is a story about defiance. ■


Into Africa

Where the Heat Comes From

Africa is one of the centerpieces of fantasy in our time. Its ambiguity and variety have always challenged the imagination, partly through dark and brutal acts, partly through a vitality that interweaves the subtle and the sizzling. Though Africa’s cooperation fueled the Atlantic slave trade, though its conquest stands as a repulsive record of colonial misjudgments and excesses, and though its periodic coups are usually the work of blue­-ribbon brutes, the continent’s people constitute a startling and inspiring catalogue of languages, customs, and physical types.

When I was there two summers ago, traveling in quick stopovers from Dakar to Monrovia to Lagos and then spanning the continent to Nairobi, where I remained for two weeks, it was easy to see that if you want to know where the heat comes from, Africa will set you straight. If you have a passion for the scorching rendition of the human story by drums and percussively elastic dancing, Africa will run rhythmic rings through your nose and teach you new stanzas of the poetry of the pelvis. Not that there isn’t abysmal poverty reminiscent of Belzoni, Mississippi, in Shauri Moyo, which means “You Are Hot,” not that there isn’t a gloom as wide as the waist of an elephant standing on its hind legs. But you see and feel a will in­tent on reducing the hold of ignorance, filth, and imprecision, intent on fusing African poetry and Western fact into a fresh interpretation of mod­ern life.

So Africa is moving through the mist of its — and our — misunderstand­ings. If history is benevolent, the wounds suffered from within and with­out, from the worst of colonial history and contemporary African corrup­tion, greed, and gangster politics, will all someday become no more than the ritual scars of an initiation into world status. We see only the fore­head of Africa now, but it is levitating through the steam of its own heat.

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On the plane I sat with a couple of Nigerians, one a tall, maple-syrup­-brown student studying in Chicago, the other reddish beige, stocky, and recently graduated into the world of computer software. The student was comical, his accent and look that of a young trend-addicted Texan — a leather tie around the collar of a red shirt, that shirt covered by a black suit, his nappy hair oiled and a small suitcase of Jheri curl solution to keep those kinks under control once home and to provide friends and family entry to the circle of black American style. Both were aware of the Buhari takeover, which felled a democracy, albeit a corrupt one, and wondered whether or not the new (and since deposed) leader’s submis­sion to Islam would make much difference. It was concluded that tribal roots were deeper and thicker than religion or politics. “In our country, it is not who you know but who you are related to that makes the differ­ence between being in the jail or out on the street, begging for your money or getting the very good job. That is how we are. But this Buhari guy, he might try to be honest. That is very dangerous in Africa, how­ever.”

The software African, an Ibo who as a child had been a terrified wit­ness to the Biafran war of 1967-70, sat in front of me. As soon as he mentioned the war, I remembered the photograph of an Ibo mother gone mad, her huge breasts black and flaccid, her embraced baby starved dead, her hand filled with a rotted chicken she swung to taunt the hungry. He spoke softly because the other Nigerian was a Hausa, a member of the once largely ignorant tribe that the educated lbos meant to free them­selves from when they seceded. But all of that was past and he became disgruntled about other business as the flight progressed. “Look at this plane. It is filthy. I wonder if this plane is so dirty because it is going to Africa.” He wrote a note to the stewardess on a napkin: I hate you Pan Am. You have no respect for the African. You think all we deserve is dirt. But since he wanted a second helping of food — “I am really hungry, miss” — he chose not to hand it over. I joked with him that I would give her the napkin and they would never let him fly Pan Am again. Except on the wing. Of course, when he was asked why his people weren’t interested in planes, one African witch doctor answered, “We fly in our minds.”

When the plane landed in Dakar and I was on the land of Africa for the first time, I didn’t experence any special excitement because the greens and the low trees and the milky brown earth reminded me of the arid parts of the American Southwest. But on the low hills that surrounded the airport like a badly tattered sombrero brim, five or six long, nilotic bodies were moving in a percussive gait akin to dancing, their robes shift­ing position in the dry air as if measuring the wind. As we lay over, I left the plane and walked across the field, passing first a shed in which auto­mobiles were being repaired, then a guard near the wire gate that opened to the dirt road running parallel to the landing strip. There were lots of Peugeots and Africans whose small body types counterpointed those so tall they seemed to balance the sky and the clouds on their shoulders. The wind was a hot glove, thick with invisible fur covering your every movement. But as more clouds gathered, the air cooled and the light changed, transforming the milling Senegalese in the distance into shadows in robes. I had now become accustomed once again to the African smell I’d first encountered 20 years before in college, that scent reminiscent of grease and condiments that sometimes becomes a smooth stench. And there was also the somber pride that inhabits the eyes of many and that appeared by the end of the trip to be the most universal aspect of African people, cutting across the whirlpool of religions, languages, and historical enmities.

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Senegal was the land of Ousmane Sembene, that muckraking Marxist and sardonic weaver of celluloid tragedies; and the land of Leopold Senghor, whose 1930s poetry of negritude had saluted Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” as a salve for the lonely African blues in Paris, but whose regime, for all his stanzas’ pandering to the Baudelairean appetite for ersatz savagery, had been largely a flight from the bush to the Louvre. Here, according to the films of Sembene, the African was tied to the ground more by tribal custom, Islam, and corruption than by the oft­criticized attraction to French elegance. After all, it was the work of European scholars and explorers that informed provincial tribes which knew little of each other that there were not only more varieties of culture than they could imagine but that there was, in fact, an African continent. Yes, for all the huffing and puffing, for all the black kingdoms that de­cayed mysteriously back into pre-history, Africa is largely a European idea, the result of bigger maps and the will to knowledge as well as the desire to exploit labor and raw materials. A huge woman I saw hobbling under her blubber, a babushka spun around her head and her body cov­ered with a print dress of smoldering color, gave me a feeling of the easeful warmth I forever associate with the American South, while the passing men who seemed formed of flesh and stilts had an effortless grace that presaged the African basketball I would see in Kenya. As the plane rose from the airstrip and headed for Liberia, an odd melancholy melted down through my skin as I sensed the long, hard march Africans would have to make. A steaming road of asphalt caked with blood lay before so many of them, just as the monstrous records of dictatorships lay imme­diately behind them. The mood was perfect for a sky ride to the next domain.

Monrovia was very different from Dakar. Its greenness was sweet to the eye and its air a smooth and warm rejoinder to the droning noise of the airstrip. In the airport, the shine boys were on it, after dollars, their almond eyes and high cheekbones capable of instant pathos or entranc­ing smiles. There was warm beer for sale, and the customary picture of the president in every shop revealed a nearly comical severity much like that of Sapphire’s photograph in the old Amos and Andy television show. Except that there was little comic to it when you thought of the blood let to destroy one order and push Dr. Samuel K. Doe up to the top. The army men who walked about with the vicious arrogance of pit bulls left no question as to how power was maintained in this country. What we have read of the Reign of Terror is almost always a few seconds away in Africa, the distance only as far as the gathering of enough guns to wrest control.

In 1980, Doe had brought off a coup, storming the palace with fewer than twenty men, who gouged out the eye of the former president and disemboweled him, after which their leader called for public executions. The doomed were wounded as many times as possible before a shell bit off the top of a head or plowed fatally into a body. Perhaps that was the cost of a tradition in which the 60 local tribes had been living for over 130 years under the condescending weight of a regime begun by freed American slaves. Thinking of themselves as black pioneers, they took the land with America’s military backing and formed the first African re­public in 1847. Those colonizing Negroes saw their African cousins — ­”brothers” and “sisters” has always been an absurdly maudlin exaggera­tion — as no more than savage labor sources. Some think they emulated the antebellum ways of the whites they knew in America, yet in a way they were really no more than an intrusive “tribe” anticipating a monstrous aspect of Africa’s political future. And they would probably have reacted in much the same way had they been put in command of droves of illiterate black Americans, given the fact that some ruthless ex-slaves had chattels themselves when they could afford them.

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In the airport I met a black American businessman getting a shoeshine who had been working deals in Africa since 1976. He immediately pointed out what he considered the differences between the aggressive Monro­vian shine boys and young U.S. Negroes. “If they had half the hustle these kids have got, we could get this goddamn welfare and all that crap up off our backs. Work is the only solution to our trouble.” He had become well acquainted with West Africa and laughed at the local newspaper. “I buy these things to cop a giggle. They’re ridiculous. ‘Today the president looked out the window. Today the president put his pants on. Today the president wiped his ass with his left hand. Today the president blinked twice before sunrise.’ They’re all on that level. News is an unknown commodity in Africa. But one thing is sure: there are big bucks to be made over here. Big bucks. So far, the fattest deal I’ve done was 20 mil­lion, but that’s not the top. It’s our time over here — those who got their stuff together and can handle the funny ways you got to deal with these Africans. You can offend your way out of a million dollars in five minutes. No telling what the man with money looks like. He can be a dirty, nasty, greasy-looking sonofabitch. He can be in a robe or a suit with raggedy sandals and his hair hasn’t been washed in only the crystal ball knows how long. But this guy can be sitting on some money, buddy. You’ve got to be cool. You can’t look down on anybody. It’s always a mystery. And the most interesting thing about it is that they prefer dealing with us, not white folks. Same thing with the Japanese. They choose spooks, too. It’s our time. But it ain’t going to be about the niggers in that joke back in the ’60s about going back to Africa. You know the one where the boat hits the shore and all these greasy motherfuckers get off in robes and plastic beads and want to know, ‘Hey, do the welfare checks come on the first and the 15th or the 10th and the 25th?’ That won’t do it.”

As we came down in Lagos, where the greens were even more various than in Monrovia, the pilot announced that the use of camera equipment was forbidden. I was pushed back down into gloom, wondering what Nigeria’s new regime preferred to keep off the photographic record. I bid farewell to the businessman and listened to a missionary explain how conversion worked and what he had learned through dealing with the spiritual concerns of Africans. “The Western version of the Joseph story is that wherever Joseph went, he never forgot God. The African version is that wherever Joseph went, he never forgot his family. So when asked what salvation means in African terms, you always got the answer that a man who goes home to his village and follows his father’s orders will be a safe and happy man. The point for a missionary is that God the Father can be explained in those terms. That the Father of everyone is, finally, spiritual, and that doing his moral bidding will make one safe and happy.” Much later, in Nairobi, I met a superbly dressed Irish lawyer, his hair silver, his gin tonic atilt, and the lines of intelligence and wit section­ing off his face, who soberly told me something I would never have im­agined:
In the next century, this continent will be the center of Christianity. When the pope came here three years ago, we had the biggest crowd ever seen in Kenya. Kenyatta never drew crowds like that. In the West, we think Christianity is old hat. For the African, it is the good news. It is a release from the grip of superstition. Everything takes time to seep through, and our first legacy — our worst — was ravenous materialism. Now, very slowly, mind you, we are seeing the arrival of Western high-mindedness. It is very humbling and has that pecu­liar intensity you come to expect of Africans. At their best, they seem as though they could make stones come alive through the Power and the sincerity of their emotion.

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article


We landed in Nairobi at half past midnight and the array of Africans was as provocative as that of any people I have ever seen: Africa, like a long and legged serpent, writhes over the chessboard of time, at once primeval and contemporary. There were Africans splendidly dressed in tweed jackets, silk shirts, and magnificently woven trousers who carried them­selves as though they were to the rest of the world what the sun is to our solar system. Then there were others in brilliant robes and glistening Italian shoes; Africans in cowboy hats who had gold teeth, tribal scarifi­cation, and remarkably mismatched attire; Africans in deeply wrinkled $400 suits and terribly scuffed shoes, their hair as filthy as unshaken dust mops; Africans in berets and military dress, in smocks with official airport buttons. I appreciated most the arrogance and the enthusiasm, those eyes exuding temperaments as aloof as the ears of a giraffe but given the grace of bristling affection.

Everything fit together, I have long thought of this century as poly-rhythmic, an era at one with the transmogrified African sensibilities of jazz, perhaps the most sophisticated performing art in Western history. But ours is also a century of speed. In that respect, the speed with which Africans moved from prehistory to software and the telex has provided a shattering but impressive compression of European history: the move from the world of magic to that of speculation, deduction, and scientific experiment. Sophisticated technology bespeaks an accurate understanding of natural law far beyond the explanation in metaphor of animist super­stitution. The agony of the long fight to separate church and state hap­pened more quickly and with a brutality that did not allow African convention to suppress science or new political ideas. The moment Afri­cans were colonized, their church was separated from the government, and the imposition of borders agreed upon by Europeans in Berlin in 1884 created pluralistic nations that tribalism in contemporary Africa has yet to truly accept. Though they were colonized, their conquest also meant access. Just as the white man changed Africa and Africa changed him, the adventure of the African in Europe’s and America’s libraries and laboratories means a safari into the intellect and technology that will, eventually, lead to a mutual transformation, a fresh combination, yet another bittersweet conjoining rife with uplift and destruction. It is one of the signal ironies of our time that the totally selfish or geopolitical concerns of empire also made for a redefinition in the wake of rebellion and decolonization which expanded our conception of human talent and dignity.

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The drive from the airport was comfortable and the pleasantly heated Kenyan air came in the open windows after passing through fields of tall grass. It was early in the morning and I checked in at the New Stanley Hotel, located at the intersection of Kenyatta and Kimathi avenues, names that acknowledged the combination of eloquence and bushlord bloodshed that coaxed and hacked the way to independence: Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya and Dedan Kimathi had been the last butch­ering desperado of what the British call Mau Mau. In a few hours, I was looking out from my seventh-floor balcony as Nairobi came to, with night some dark capsule that dissolved into the morning light. Cars and old buses filled with workers began roaring and rattling down Kenyatta Avenue and the people of the city — walking swiftly, ever so swiftly — appeared from every direction and in every size, shape, skin tone, and imaginable sort of dress. There was a wood smell in the air and a chill that leaned subtly inside the wind and I could see the rectangles and cyl­inders of modern architecture surrounding the golden peaks of a mosque from which the muezzin chanted his guttural calls to prayer. Five times a day, above the percussion of jackhammers, car horns, and whistles, the caustic melancholy of Islam flared, taking control of an unplanned orches­tration of human and mechanized sound.

It was time to hit the streets. I put on my black knit shirt, my olive British khakis, my slender leather Italian dress suspenders, my silk and wool Irish motoring cap, my beige Henri de Vignon high-topped shoes. That sartorial combination was in keeping with the cosmopolitan qualities of my bloodline — African and Asian from Madagascar, Irish from Atlanta, Choctaw from Mississippi, and some tribe I will probably recognize on another trip, perhaps to West Africa.

The pulsation out in the streets had its own uplift and I found myself wandering around, looking this way and that, not focusing on anything, only seeking the feeling of the city. It was a city all right and the popu­lace ranged from the very rich to the terribly impoverished. The beggars came crawling forward, eyes crowded with the harsh lessons of penury. One man, his legs bone-thin and twisted around each other, pulled him­self down the street with a long pole he used in rowing strokes; it struck me as I looked at all the people who had been reduced to cripples by po­lio that what we consider abstraction in African sculpture might just as often be realistic. Then there were others with slashes in their cheeks or their ear lobes stretched to brown loops that dangled against their collars. Those who shined shoes were setting up their businesses, as were people who sold elephant-hair bracelets, batiks, carved statues, and the ma­chetes called pangas. As I walked it was obvious that they knew I wasn’t an African. Some assumed more than that.

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When I neared what I later heard was a dangerous part of town, I passed three young African men sitting on the ground, barefoot, ragged, and filthy. Soon one had passed me and was walking in front while the other two were behind, close enough to smell. I knew what that was. I suddenly put my back to a wall and they turned to face me. I let them know that I would defend myself. There was a brief exchange and they moved on. Had they been armed, things might have been different.

That was my first brush with street crime, and I was to have a second that was almost identical on a Sunday morning walk, though it didn’t get as close to attack. In front of the New Stanley, I spoke with a man I’ll call Boniface, who dealt marijuana, cocaine, and provided walking tours and sex with a chocolate topping for German women especially. A cosmopoli­tan man who had traveled as a sailor and was quite wily, Boniface told me about Nairobi crime.

These people, they come in from the bush every day. Every day. They think there is work here and there is none and they do not want to become beggars. They are too proud. They would rather rob. But you were lucky. You were near River Road. There you can hire a man to kill someone you want dead for 50 shillings. They kill him. They come back and you don’t have the money, they kill you. You see that white woman over there, the one crossing the street? That man right behind her, he can see she is too busy enjoying to know she is in danger. When she turns a corner, he will rob her. He will snatch her purse. If he cannot get her purse, he will take one of the bags she is carrying. He will get something and she will be disap­pointed in Africans. But Europeans they are scared in their heart of the black because if the child is bad, they say, “Go to sleep or I call the Negro.” This happened to me in a small village in Germany. I was working the lift. This German girl see me when the door open: AHHHH! And she go down. We had to pick her up. All her life she was told as a threat: “If you are bad I will get the Negro.” If that woman across the street whose money is doomed to be stolen is from Germany, she might feel she is punished for coming to Africa!

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Since then, wandering robbers known as the “five-minute gangs” have been breaking into homes in the suburbs, taking what they can and get­ting away before the police arrive in the conventional six minutes. Even so, like any modern city, Nairobi doesn’t feel dangerous and isn’t, except for those who don’t know where the limits are or who are “too busy en­joying” to feel the presence of a predator.

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article


By the time I got back to the hotel on that first morning, breakfast was be­ing served and the waiters in green coats, white shirts, black ties, and black pants moved quickly. The New Stanley’s restaurant and the Thorn Bush, the hotel’s enclosed sidewalk patio where drinks and food were served, became my meeting places. When I wasn’t there, I was taking long rides in a cab I hired daily, listening to the driver disparage other tribes or explain how the tea and coffee plantations worked when we traveled far out of the city into the Aberdare. Or I was at the Jockey Club, a remarkable race track, sitting up in the boxes with the Anglo­-Africans who owned horses, betting the way they suggested and winning almost every time out. Or I was on foot, walking here and there, striking up conversations with eyery kind of African I could talk with, most friendly, some con men playing on what they expected would be a black American sentimentality about “the motherland.” I could hang out with the rich black son of a coffee business owner, an athlete who had played rugby in Scotland and wondered why Africans who went to America came back so big. Or I might be dancing at the New Florida or the Sky­light Room or partying with the teams of the NBA, the Nairobi Basketball Association. In all, it didn’t take me long to know that I was an American, which was no news, or that the kind of American I was had a special sig­nificance to Africans, at least the Africans of Kenya. As one young man told me in the Nairobi market:

We keep wanting you to come back, to help us build our country. The American black man is the only black man in the world who is his own man. You send an African to France, he comes back a French African; to England he comes back a British African. He will not come back the way you American black people are. You are the only ones who have learned all of the white man’s knowledge and have put it out your own way. In his heart, the African knows this. In our country, this is what we need. We need to be Africans in a modem way. Now we are half old-fashioned and half European, or all of one. When we see you on the television and in the movies, on the cassettes of the basketball games and such things, we see a truly modem black man. That is our struggle and we hope you will come back to Africa and help us build this new thing completely.

I heard that many times and from many different levels of society, al­ways said with an earnestness that made a bigger joke of the ersatz Afri­cans of America who confused identity with pretentious name changing, costumes, and rituals that turned ethnicity into a hysterically nostalgic so­cial club. But ethnic nationalist black Americans had no comer on imbe­cility. One conversation that was as illuminating as it was terrifying re­minded me how unreasonable defense of African tradition could sustain barbarism. At breakfast one morning, I talked with a couple on vacation who lived in the Sudan, where Numeiri had recently sought support from the Muslim majority and allowed them to slaughter thousands of Chris­tians in the south. Numeiri had refused to let the press into the areas where the murders were taking place, but those who lived in the country knew the facts and the rough figures. (Numeiri recently fell to a group of military men whose epaulets are large enough to suggest — if my epaulet theory is correct — that they will be as repressive and vicious as he was.) They also went on to talk about how tribal customs called for a clitoridec­tomy following the birth of each child. “They continue to cut away until nothing is left but an opening.” I wondered how the ersatz Africans of Brooklyn would justify that. Who knows? After all, when the issue of female circumcision was raised at an international women’s conference held in Europe a few years ago, the delegation from Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) stormed out in protest, castigating the European feminists for im­posing their standards on a Third World culture. Well, there’s nothing like uncompromising ethnic self-regard at high tide.

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It was the end of June and the drought was on. The Railway Club golf course, where Africans in floppy hats and plaid pants strolled in front of their caddies, was filled with green trees, but a long hay-colored stretch showed the effects of the devastating wait for rain. The Kenyatta Mauso­leum, across from the Hotel International Nairobi, next to the Nairobi City Council, across from the Kenyatta International Conference Center, was parched. The grass was yellow or replaced in patches by brown or red earth, the bushes interrupted by the stone and steel gate were faded and sagging toward what looked like death from thirst, but through that gate, in a black cap with a shining badge on it, rifle at rest, in a red jacket that stopped halfway above the knees with five brass buttons lining down to a white belt, the legs covered by dark trousers either-sided with a red stripe and glistening boots, was a single African soldier as impressive as any soldier I’ve ever seen, standing guard out in front of the monument that contained the old man’s remains. On each side of the guard were 10 flagpoles from which the red, black, green, and white national colors flew, their emblem crossed spears behind a shield. Across the street, the green pavilion next to the conference center had long stretches of earth turned red by relentless sun, only three of the spotlights intended to light the path leading to the old man’s statue over an empty fountain were left in­tact — the other 40-odd metal poles, victims of the intended coup in Au­gust of 1982, stood like dead and slightly bent gray stalks. The pavilion itself was falling apart and the octagonal and square motif of its pave­ment gave way to rebellious patches of uncovered stone, combining the structured and the anarchic as perfectly as anything in Kenya. The steps were loose and some of the stone was missing. But the bronze of the old man stared into the desiccation with a stoicism that bespoke his endur­ance and eloquence on the long trek to independence. That African voice is still legendary and the name “the old man” calls forth the culture.

In Africa, it takes a long time to really become a man. A man is one who knows. When you have become a man, your respect is very big. The years give you the gift of power. Each hour, each day a man lives turns him stronger in knowledge. So the African has, as the European says, reverence. Our old people are respected because their spirits take on the strength that the body loses to time. When the old man spoke, he could make the air around your ears very hot. He could raise bubbles in your blood. Kenyatta was force, an African voice. That is why be put on the symbol of the country a shield, two lions holding spears, and a cock with a hatchet in the center of the shield. This is not the British lion; this is the African lion. There are no lions in England; the lions are in the British mind. They took from us that symbol and Kenyatta took it back just as he took our land back. The cock is the power. It is all African and it is all very simple. It is also very strong and very patient. In Africa you must learn to wait and to remain powerful. That is the test of the world and all old men who are not mad or foolish know how it is done. Kenyatta knew. He was the old man. Yes.

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Jomo Kenyatta was a Kikuyu born around 1892. His was a life that em­bodied the transition of the African from the world of magic and supersti­tion to the complexity of modern life, which he could learn about only through contact with the Western world. Were it not for surgery, Kenyatta would have been dead early on, the victim of a spinal disease corrected at a mission when he was ten. It was there that Kenyatta became fascinated by papers that the missionaries referred to as objects that said things or gave orders. Once, when everyone had left after a proclamation had been read, Kenyatta returned and spoke to the paper. The paper did not an­swer. He raised his voice. The paper remained silent. Kenyatta decided that he had to get to the bottom of that magic, and once he did, he so in­tensified the power of his oral tradition that he developed into a spokesman for nascent tribal nationalism and anti-colonial feeling. The hand­some and charismatic African traveled to Europe, flirted with communism, increased his skills as an orator, and returned in 1946 to Kenya, where he quickly came to symbolize the desire for independence and an end to the inferior status of the African in his own land. When the so-called Mau Mau Emergency took off in 1952, Kenyatta was arrested and accused of leading the guerrilla forces which were slaughtering Africans, whites, and livestock. The Kikuyu rebels were defeated in 1956. As David Lamb wrote in his excellent The Africans, the death toll following the rebellion “stood at 11,500 Mau Mau guerrillas and African civilians, 2000 African troops fighting for the British, 58 members of the British security forces and 37 British settlers.” Nonviolent agitation continued, and, finally, Kenya became independent a few years after Kenyatta was released from prison in 1959, then exiled. In 1960, he was elected president of the new Kenya African National Union. He became prime minister of the independent nation on December 12, 1963. Those who wished him to follow the largely unsuccessful path of African socialism were disappointed. Kenyatta turned his back on the Marxist models and made sure that Kenya maintained its status as a capitalist, multiracial society, albeit one dominated by his own tribe. His decision to downplay race in favor of pluralism and incentive made him a hero to Africans and Europeans. Though the investigation was dropped when Kenyatta’s daughter was discovered at the center of an ivory-smuggling ring, though Tom Mboya and a few other political en­emies were assassinated, though there were some politically motivated ar­rests, the corruption and bloodletting were so comparatively modest that the old man is still revered. Since the nature of African independence has reduced almost everything to good or bad kings, Kenyans are largely philosophical about Kenyatta and see him as an essentially fair and in­telligent ruler whose occasional ruthlessness never overshadowed what he gave to his country. Perhaps his greatest achievement was cooling the tribal animosities to such a degree that there was no national outbreak of violence when the old man died in August of 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, a member of the small Tugen tribe. Since the at­tempted coup of 1982, however, Moi has been replacing the Kikuyu in the armed services with the Tugen, which makes Kenyans nervous across ethnic lines.

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In the backwaters of our minds hovers the nightmare of the bestial Afri­can, human blood dripping from his panga. This is what many think of when they hear the term Mau Mau, a name accepted by the British but still denied by the fighters who had to reach for a primordial savagery to express their outrage in face of colonial repression. They committed the murders of rebellion in the most unspeakable ways, sometimes drinking human blood, eating human flesh, mutilating livestock, burning. It all ended with the demon run of Dedan Kimathi, the last desperado. A clerk who would be king, who seemed to have gone mad in the middle of his journey, whose fury against colonial domination created an appetite for blood among his followers, Kimathi had called himself Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief, Knight Commander of the African Empire, Prime Minister of the Southern Hemisphere. None of those names protected him in court, and none of the magical powers he claimed for himself traveled beyond the Aberdare forest where he fell, wounded in a leopard-skin coat. His photograph after capture shows long woolly snakes of hair matted beneath his head as he lies supine, the British handcuffs looking like metal bones or talismans, the light cast from his eyes that of a man nearly over­come by contempt for his captors. Kimathi was hanged and the revolt crushed.

Pages upon pages have been written, reports made, accusations leveled and denied, the breakthrough coming when a British soldier, an Anglo­-African who had been reared near the Kikuyu, began interrogating the captured rebel General China, making his way through the labyrinthine meanings of a protean tongue. By achieving linguistic entry into the Ki­kuyu world, the British were able to isolate the rebels, and an end came to four years of terror, manic whiskey-guzzling, and gauche flamboyance of the sort exhibited when white ladies wore pistols with their evening gowns. Most important was the fact that the British were able to enlist ex-rebels to help them track and fight the continued resistance, a device as important as General Crook’s recruiting Indians to fight with the Amer­ican cavalry in the wars of the Plains and the Southwest. As Fred Majdalany wrote in State of Emergency: “The whittling down of the increas­ingly disrupted gangs was from now on left more and more to Special Forces, whose use of ex-terrorists had reached the point where they were now regularly tracking down and killing their former leaders.”

I had read about it, I had heard about it, I was told stories by the left­over British from the days when Africans felt smothered under the heavy red robe of empire. The central clash was with those who had fought for British control when far outnumbered— 30,000 settlers to a million and a half Kikuyu — and had long been admonished by dignitaries back in England to give up the ship and let the Africans sail or flounder; and there were those baptized in the inevitably bloody dream of change, who took oaths in the bush and came away remade, the steel of pangas in their hearts, pangas that eventually made their way into human flesh. They would fight. Yes, they would fight. One of them told me about it. A cab driver.

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My regular cabbie was Juma, a Kikuyu whose love for White Cap beer kept him from showing up on my final Sunday in Nairobi, when I went to the track for the last time. Irritated, I hired another driver and he took me out on the road to the Jockey Club, passing the African women who carried loads on their heads, the trees, the occasional spavined dog, the homes that were large and the buses that were raggedy, making a left turn into the track, where the backdrop became green and the Indians ran much of the gambling, where the owners had a clubhouse and talked excitedly about their horses, where tar-black Africans in British khaki sat under poles and a tarpaulin roof tooting marches, where the members of various tribes would entertain with exciting dances and drumming be­tween the races. The African, European, Asian, and Arab crowd, filling the stands and the field, betting, cheering, and drinking with friends, fam­ily, and children, had an entrancing epic variety, ranging from those in robes and tribal beads to Saudi Arabian silk suits and diamonds, from the palest skin tones possible to the deepest ebony, from the squat and homely to the breathtakingly tall and handsome. Then there were the jockeys, jet­-dark Africans and rosy-faced Irishmen armed with crops and educated knees. They came out of the stables seated on little saddles, the brims of their caps in the air, the straps beneath their chins, their silks brilliant in the afternoon sun, all moving on the backs of the bays, the chestnuts, and the grays, the creatures’ musculature pulsive insignias of breeding.

They are coming out on the track now, some bucking and rearing, cantering to the gate. The sky is a particularly African blue, gray, and white; the vegetative geometry of the green shaping, the horizon beyond the track has its own textures; and invisible patterns are cut across it all by big and little African birds that redefine the meaning of their hues in the light.

When it is all over and the sun is going down, my driver is waiting for me. He takes me to see a friend who lives near the Jockey Club, where I chat for an hour, and we head back for the New Stanley. When we are stopped by African policemen who have spread a long white piece of wood run through with spikes across the road, my driver is delighted in­stead of annoyed, and suddenly intuition pushes me to ask him if he knows anything about the Mau Mau. He is silent, leaning forward against the wheel, then back, slouching. He asks me why I want to know. I tell him I am a writer and I have heard what the white people have to say but I have found no one who was on the other side who could tell me what the Africans really thought and really did. He smiles and tells me he is very happy that I am a writer, that I can put my words on paper. There was no Mau Mau. He has never told anyone this before but be will tell me. He says he likes me. He bas watched me every day when I rode with Juma. I remind him of a black American who came back to Africa and dedicated his life to educating Africans. Because of this and this only, he will tell me. His voice has a melancholy so thick the words seem to sink in the air after they are uttered.

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I am a poor man but somehow I am happy for what I see. Africans can go to the New Stanley, Norfolk. It used to be European here, the Asian there, the African back down. You could own nothing. If you are there you must only service. You must only whisper. I saw this, My father was a cooker. If you want food — no. Water — no. Coffee — ­no. A European could write D.C. — district commissioner — that you are wrong. No word from you, no fair trial. But in 1945 the African learned from the war — if you cut a European, he bleed; if you shoot him, he die. This was new! The old people did not go to learn this. The European could not be killed. If you strike him, you die. Ahl Old was wrong. This was very important.

We needed unit, unit: our people, our land. We Kikuyu took the oath. I have been shot in the leg one time, two times. Two bullets in me right here and behind the ear. But all people are not equal. Some they do not have heart. Courage is to them the poison you spit out. They were royalist. We make it if you loyal to the British here, you die. You die! It was necessary because the British is very clever. He had command us, but he did not know us. How we live, how we move, Kikuyu knew. If he tell, he must die! In the bush in one month you become like animal. Smell, hear, quick, strong. You cannot eat for seven whole days. You can go for six months, for a full year with­out a wash, and now, even after 30 days, the animals let you pass. Ha! You see, you see?

The British thought the Kikuyu had lost to remember the forest, that we could not lie still as the trees and wait to kill them. We did not have the good guns of them. Ours had been made by ourselves and had only the one bullet. When you shoot, barrel is hot. You must wait to cool. Our orders were to use the rifles we had made ourselves only to defend. Only defend, you understand. To kill, we use only the long silent knife. If you use a bullet not to defend, you die. The knife because the European hates the sharp edge. He would rather be shot. He hates to burn covered with petrol. You kill him this way it is an African way. The knife, the flame make his heart stampede. It stampede.

I was scout. Young boy. Go here. Go there. No one knows what it is I am doing. We cut him here. We disappear. We smile to talk to him. We say we know nothing when he ask. Soon, when he looks at us and he does not know, he sees his own grave, his own family, his horses all floating in a grave of warm blood, all covered with petrol and he smells the flesh of British burning.

But the most we kill are not British — the loyal Royalist African. Why do we kill him most? I want you to understand this. He did not know that the African is a human being. He did not that the British is not God. He did not that he was more important than the British was to England. If he believe British is God, the European go home and rule with the royalist right here for him. Do you understand? The British will not have to be here. If an African must cut another Afri­can to death so that more will know the European is not God, it must be so. From that blood come the tree of respect. You must — only for emergency — fear the Kikuyu more than British.

We all must die, but what must we die for? If we must die to prove we are human beings, if we must kill to prove so, if we must love to know so, it is these things to do that are done. My heart has happi­ness somehow, even though I am a poor man. I hope you understand this because I did not get an indication — to read, to speak, to write. My eyes, my ears, my skin, what all I remember: This is my indication.

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Given the history of postcolonial Africa, all Kenyans are concerned about the ever-present possibility of a coup, something they learned about when the air force attempted to take command of the country in the August dog days of 1982. The insurrection was put down quickly by the army, when the radio was recovered and broadcasts announcing a new regime were ended and the violent animosities of the African poor were beaten down. Those animosities sweep color, culture, and even class before them. As the wife of a coffee grower said to me, “They were going to get the Wa­hindi — the Indians; the Wabenzi — the rich Africans who drive Mercedes; and the Wazungu — us, the white people. They got a bit of the first two, but they never really got around to the Wazungu.”

The hatred of the Indians is the enduring contempt for the go-between, the person who has risen with absolute determination and mercantile wiles but relates to those below in the condescending terms established by the rulers of the society. Three young men who worked in the market selling chess sets, carved statues, and printed cloth that women wrapped around them as dresses told me over beer in my hotel room that the Indi­ans printed fake batiks which they sold for almost nothing or gave away as bonuses so as to corner the market. That was but one of the tricks In­dians used to push Africans out of the business world, wanting everything for themselves. But they also admitted that the Indians were often more industrious than the Africans and that they were willing to sacrifice in or­der to build income.

The Indian will be your friend only if he is fooling you!l He is no good. One of the independence we do not have is economic. But we are different from the Wahindi. He will pile his money up and up and up. I cannot do this. I must go to the disco and drink beer and I must have a new pair of “levees.” If I do not do this, I will have much sadness. I will feel like I am a dirt road and life is rolling over. But when I buy new clothes and dance and drink, then I am more.

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A German businesswoman in her eighties told me that the Indians wor­shiped a god given over to currency, a ruthless mythological bitch whose vision of life was that anything done to gain money was all right. But she was equally aware of the notorious African inclination to corruption: “In the African mind, there is no stigma to corruption. It’s just being smart.” So a bribe in the hand is far more important than skill or talent in too many instances. Though Kenya claims a more honest governmental and social structure than almost any other African country, both black and white complain of the bribery in everything from licensing to acquiring land. Where things are not decided on the basis of tribal or familial al­legiance, money commands favors. A Kikuyu businessman’s son told me:

These men in government can be no good! When it was proposed that we might get a loan to build an underground so that people could travel better, when they could not discover the way to steal most of the money, they would not accept the loan and said that Nairobi was too small a city to have an underground!

This kind of hanky panky has led to a bitterness that found its limited release during the attempted coup and said a great deal about the changes in the country since independence. Twenty-five years ago, the whites might have been the most hated, then the Indians, then the Africans loyal to empire. But time and bribes and tribes had changed that pecking order, which was dwarfed by the fire and terror that resulted when the air force tried to throttle the Moi regime.

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Before the army, the people did not know what is coup. But the army teach them. At first, there is running and shouting. The people were happy in the streets, then they see. They see what is coup. Is when you can do nothing but watch and hope nothing happen to you or happen to your family. This is what took place on those few days. The people were happy to destroy business of Wahindi because they have been treated so bad by them. But the army took whatever they want. This was the pay they give themselves. Many Indian homes were broken into and they took sex with the Indian girls and the Indian wives. They feel this is their only chance because in certain places the Indian will threaten to kill an Indian woman if she is seen with an African. What the army did to them is not in the newspapers. So many disgraced their fathers had to marry them, or their brothers or their cousins. This is not talked about. But the Wahindi, they do not learn ever. Money is all they understand. Money will not stop the soldier who kicks in the door. He will take the money and then still do what he came for — to kill you, to rape you, to wound you. Wa­hindi do not understand that the African is a human being. This the British knows, this the Wahindi will never understand. A panga is hanging over his head and he pretends it is a feather.

One Sunday morning I took a long walk, traveling up Harry Thuku Road, and passed a fenced-in area where soldiers were living. It was the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Voice of Kenya, the radio sta­tion that had been taken by the air force. At the gate in berets and fa­tigues were the two surliest black men I have ever seen. Viciousness seemed to seep from their pores and the only answer they had to any ques­tion was a sullen, “We are all right.” They weren’t impressed in the least by a writer from America and it was clear that their job was to kill any­one who tried to come into that station without the appropriate papers. Beyond the guardhouse at the gate, as I moved on, was a lot filled with broken-down cars and trucks. I looked for bullet holes in them and saw none. All I could think of was how terrible it must have been when men like those at the gate were allowed to do what they wished. The idea of a country taken over by cool black killers was as nightmarish as anything I could ever imagine. But then, anything could happen in Africa.

Harry Thuku Road became Hotel Boulevard and I heard “Polly Wolly Doodle” in what sounded like Swahili floating from a restaurant. Eventu­ally, after walking up a bill and passing eucalyptus trees and a large ho­tel, I began descending and the Aga Khan Nursery School came into view, next to a playground filled with Asian children joyously playing soccer in white uniforms and expensive tennis shoes. Against the fence of the playground was a shack made of slats, flattened rectangular three­gallon cans, and cardboard. It was a store and inside it old African men sat at a table eating maize with powdered milk. Every so often a Mer­cedes filled with giggling Indians passed. Directly across from the play­ground there was a sunken field of pineapple trees, corrugated shacks, ragged, shoeless people, stacked burlap sacks, and a child collecting coal, but near the end of the street, seated at a table in a torn and filthy dress, her feet wide from never having worn shoes, sat a young girl of about 10. She was playing a card game by herself, alternately excited or laughing, her big eyes, long neck, and long arms predictions of a great beauty. In the way she turned her head, stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth, and sighed the accompaniment to what was possibly a dream, this girl suddenly became an index of the indomitable. I knew that as Jong as Kenya could produce children like her, it would have a chance to handle whatever burdens history and circumstance placed upon its shoulders. Or, as it was once written. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” ❖

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article

Stanley Crouch reports from Africa in a 1985 Village Voice article


Bernie Goetz: The Black Community at Gunpoint

“I, The Jury”

The Bernhard Goetz affair is but part of a remarkable confluence of events, all of which illustrate the rage, indifference, corruption, arro­gance, and hysteria surrounding crime in this city and this nation. This clairvoyant shootist has been called the father of a new rainbow coalition, since his support initially dissolved racial lines. Legislators report that a multibillion-dollar crime bill expiring on its knees in Washington was snatched to its feet by the elevation of Goetz to heroic status. One televi­sion interviewer was assigned to learn what he had for breakfast, and though we have yet to find out his shoe size or whether be wears any bawdy tattoos, we do have the word of the impeccably public-minded Myra Friedman that she heard Goetz say at a community meeting: “The only way we’re going to clean up this street is to get rid of the spics and niggers.”

When it first got out that a blond man in glasses had shot four black teenagers on the subway, Goetz received broad sympathy in the Negro community, even though there was still heat in the air over the Bumpurs shooting. Many agreed with Roy Innis, who had lost one son to street vio­lence and had seen another wounded: The man was right in defending himself. Perhaps this would teach some of those kids a lesson; maybe it would discourage those emboldened by the vulnerability of the subway rider and the lack of support most victims fear if attacked. Race was one thing, crime another. It was no longer second nature for black people to take the side of the impoverished colored teenager who created so many of their own problems: “The thing is you start hating these young people out here today. They don’t have any respect for anybody. They curse around anybody, play those goddamn boxes loud as they can, write that dumb graffiti all over everything — their own building, a subway car, what­ever. They don’t care. Then they knock people in the head, too.”

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This Harlemite was clearly describing teenagers like two from Bedford-­Stuyvesant I overheard as they sat behind me on a bus and discussed the world in which they live, a world so savage it seemed a universe of tall tales. They were traveling upstate to a correctional camp where they were supposed to study and get away from bad influences. They spoke some­times at the tops of their voices, cursing and giggling as they reminded each other of the violent deeds they had brought off as a team or independently: robberies, rapes, beatings, shootings. Both young men detailed how street-crime fads had changed over the years. “Yo, you remember when it was them sheepskin coats, then it was boxes, then it was running shoes, gold chains, and now these sunglass frames?” When I later asked them if they thought there was any racial connection, one said, “Hell no. Jealousy, man. You see a motherfucker with something you ain’t got and you get mad. You start thinking, ‘Now, why he got it? How come I can’t have it?’ So you get your tool and you stick it in his face. He gives it up. It can happen to you, too. At school, I was in the hall with my sheepskin, you know? So the next thing I know is this nigger got his tool in my face and I’m trying to look and see if he has bullets in the chambers or if he’s bluffing but the light was in my eyes. It wasn’t cocked so the chamber has to move for the bullet to get under the hammer. If it was empty on both sides, he was bullshitting, but I couldn’t see. So I let him have it, but like a fool he didn’t search me, just took my coat. Then I pulled my tool on him but I cocked it. You ever seen,” he laughed, “the way a motherfucker will stop when he hears that sound? He thought I was go­ing to kill him. All I wanted was my coat back. Plus I had another gun. His.”

Young men like that create understandable reactions. Linda, married with two small children, lives on Edgecombe Avenue in a building once famous for its celebrities. There are still show-business legends behind the multilocked doors but for all the wonderful living spaces no contem­porary stars have joined them; today, 160th Street is perilous. As he re­turned home one evening, Linda’s husband, a carpenter and painter, found himself staring into the barrel of a pistol held by a burglar who promised to blow his head off if he spoke or moved. This did not make Linda, who comes from an affluent Philadelphia family, feel any safer. So her routine became even more careful.

When she prepares to leave home for work in the morning, Linda opens the door slowly and looks both ways, making sure there is no one she doesn’t know in the hall. At the elevator, she stands so that she can see the entire inside of the car. If there is an unfamiliar man in the elevator, Linda says she’s going up if he’s going down, down if he’s going up. In­side the car, she is ever prepared to leap out and start screaming if some­one tries to trap her. On the way to the subway, she walks close to the curb so she can jump into the street and start shouting for help if neces­sary. At the train station, Linda doesn’t stand near the tracks for fear of being pushed and always looks for an escape route or space to struggle in. Once on the train, she makes sure that she is situated near a door, since it is so easy to get rolled or intimidated in between, where the only exit would be a window.

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But the feeling of being cut off from a vandalized environment, unsafe in crowds, and ignored by public institutions funded to protect society was replaced with something different the first few days after Goetz shot his way into the news. “When I first heard about the shooting,” Linda says, “I was glad. I thought it served them right. I was actually happy for a few days, and the mood in the subway cars was a kind of camaraderie I had never felt before. Everybody seemed closer. It was like we all had won one. Nobody said anything, but you could feel it. It didn’t have any­thing at all to do with race. Everybody was in agreement: Goetz had done something for all of us.”

Goetz seemed to focus the perhaps unprecedented public anger, cyni­cism, and sense of victimization that results from what Dr. Willard Gaylin, author of The Rage Within, calls “the vulgarization and destruction of the public space.” In 1940, says Gaylin, a citizen of New York had only a one-in-ten chance of witnessing a serious crime; 30 years later he or she had a one-in-ten chance of not seeing one.

As further details came to light, Goetz seemed both more and less than what he was touted as. Blue-collar Caucasians saluted him on talk shows, white intellectuals analyzed his expression of urban frustration, the Guard­ian Angels praised him. But soon the literal writing on the walls con­veyed meanings that seemed to belie those first few days of subway close­ness. “Goetz was wrong” is answered on the bathroom wall of a Sheridan Square coffee shop by “Why don’t you baboons go back to the South Bronx where you belong!” Voice writer Carol Cooper noticed pickpocket warnings on the subway with a note written next to the illustration of the thief’s fingers — “The hand should be black.” A Voice messenger was stopped on Central Park West by police one night and told to leave the neighborhood because he looked like a mugger. They didn’t go into de­tail about what they meant, but he guessed.

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Clearly, there was more to Goetz’s support than tabloid attention, more than admiration for a person who had stood up to danger. The Hawkins family in Los Angeles had been much more heroic, holding off gangs that attacked its home with pistols and Molotov cocktails in 1982. Quite re­cently, an elderly man in Chicago shot and killed an attacker bent on rob­bing him. He spent one night in jail and was released. When asked if he would so defend himself again if necessary, the old fellow said he would and was forgotten. There was even the grandmother from the South who scared off a pack of muggers when she pulled her pistol in the Port Au­thority Building a couple of years ago. Her story made the papers for a day or two, but soon she went on to line bird cages and cat boxes with the rest of the briefly famous. But Bernhard Goetz hasn’t been briefly famous, because, unlike those others, he is white. Goetz seems to have become the Gerry Cooney of urban America, the white hope on whose shoulders rest the burdens of contemporary Caucasian uneasiness.

That mood entails a selective process focused on class and color. Obvi­ously the white people who helped make The Cosby Show the most popular television program, who bought so many Michael Jackson records, who were thrilled by the performances of black athletes at last year’s Olympics, and so on, aren’t troubled by Negroes per se. Their nemesis is the violent criminal who is too often construed as emblematic of the black underclass. I would suggest that their anger isn’t so different from that of anyone humiliated by a person inferior in every way other than his ruth­less willingness to intimidate or assault. So the white person in the city feels like an easy kill for an impoverished, illiterate brute with his hat turned sideways, his mouth full of vulgar epithets, his running shoes can­vas-and-rubber cushions for quick getaways. Then Bernhard Goetz steps forward, looking for all the world like a piece of meat ready for the predator’s platter. But not Bernhard! The wimp who would save the world, Goetz is transformed with a few bullets into Clark Kent, the mild­-mannered bachelor ready to shoot a mugger before he makes a single bound.

Given the new information about Goetz, most recently revelations of how callously Goetz fired twice at one of his victims, his smallest swallow of judicial castor oil should have been four counts of attempted man­slaughter as well as the illegal weapons charge. But his case converges with the indictment of Sullivan for the Bumpurs shooting, the indictment of six transit cops in the Michael Stewart case, and allegations that medi­cal examiner Elliot Gross falsified autopsies in favor of the police. Individ­ual and bureaucratic immorality intensify the crisis of public morale — the emotional dues of anxiety, disgust, and uncertainty that go with the streets, the dilapidated subways, and the quick claw of robbery. Already as im­patient as anyone else with courts that seem to favor criminals, black peo­ple feel even deeper ambivalence toward those in public service when thousands of police gather in the Bronx to support Sullivan and one sign reads: “If Goetz is a hero, Sullivan is a saint.”

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Videotape notwithstanding, the Goetz grand jury was not so different from others, according to Queens district attorney John Santucci. On Feb­ruary 3, he told ABC’s Milton Lewis that in many cases a store owner had shot a robber with an unregistered gun and the grand jury refused to in­dict even for illegal possession of a firearm. Though the grand jury was consistent, I doubt that if a black man, say, bus driver Willie Turks, had shot those white guys who had attacked and killed him then skedaddled home, the Queens police would have left a polite note under Turk’s door requesting that he come in for questioning as the Manhattan division did in the Goetz case. This double standard erodes whatever confidence black people might have in the police. But the confidence of the entire city should have been shaken when Philip Caruso, president of the Patrol­men’s Benevolent Association, explained to Gabe Pressman on NBC on February 10 that he thought citizens shouldn’t be allowed to decide cases involving purported infractions by officers in the line of duty because lay­men are incapable of evaluating subtle points of law. This becomes even more disturbing when the police make statements implying that the word of Sullivan and a few of his co-workers should take precedence over the findings of an autopsy. The fact that Michael Baden, who was drummed out of the coroner’s office and replaced by Gross, is the man who faced down the Rockefeller regime’s explanation of the hostage killings at At­tica, makes the importance of the Gross case even clearer. Caruso’s belief that people who decide so many other complex cases should stay out of police affairs is as close to the call for a police state as anyone could imag­ine a contemporary official making. And though I feel the term “police state,” like “fascism,” has been beaten past pulp to liquification since the ’60s, it is difficult to find a better explanation for Caruso’s vision.

Ironically, the metaphor of victimization is now so well circulated that it is used to explain everybody’s predicament: the teenagers wounded by Goetz were victims of poverty and barren social services; Goetz was the pawn of frustration in face of threat, flagrant dope dealing, and the jus­tice system’s revolving door; Bumpurs was victimized by police callous­ness or racism; Sullivan suffered as fall guy for the failures of the society and District Attorney Mario Merola’s antipathy toward the police; while he was apparently defacing public property, Michael Stewart became a casualty of color prejudice; the six transit cops were wrongly charged be­cause of the hysteria whipped up by the media; and our poor boy down among the corpses, Elliot Gross, is the target of professional enemies. Such a sweeping sense of victimization implies that the idea of individual responsibility has fallen by the wayside and no one, purported mugger or clairvoyant shootist, policeman or casualty, coroner or grand juror, is truly accountable for his or her actions. Human beings are no more than silly putty pulled and shaped by forces beyond their control. That might be meat for a Marxist or behaviorist analysis in which human beings are piano keys that go out of pitch when the weather is inclement and need only a master tuner to get them in order, but such explanations are the antithesis of civilization, brought into battle by so many different parties in these cases because they have worked so well for criminals — prompting even police to use them!

Such developments could intensify the cynicism tantamount to fatalism that neither this city nor this nation can afford. The only way solu­tions can be reached is for people to stop acting as though America is a monarchy — this is a democracy, and the responsibility for bird-dogging elected officials is theirs. This is especially important in terms of the black community. As playwright Charles Fuller says, “We have to take back the streets. Us. Black people. We have to involve ourselves in the workings of society and play our role in what is not only good for us but good for the general society. There is no truly segregated reality in America. All we have is different styles. Crime is the same for all of us. Fear is the same to all of us. Education and safety are equally important to all of us. We can­not abrogate our role as participants in American life.”

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Nor can black people ignore the truth. Less than 1 percent of the peo­ple in the most dire economic conditions deface public property, commit violent crimes, or frighten residents from the streets of their own commu­nities after dark. Those who do are by and large black teenagers and the children of teenage mothers. As Dorothy I. Height, president of the Na­tional Council of Negro Women, points out in the March 1985 Ebony: “We find that in 1950 only about 18 percent of all black infants were born out of wedlock, and only about 36 percent of all black infants born to teenage mothers were born to unmarried women. In 1981, 65 percent of all births to black women were out of wedlock. Among black women un­der 20 the proportion was over 86 percent. The fastest growing black fam­ily formation today is that headed by teenaged mothers.” From these households come many of the violent criminals who lord over the night. As one resident of 152nd Street reports, “You see these kids throw a cat on the tracks and watch it get run over. They have no compassion because they’ve never felt any. It has never happened to them — the feeling of love, I’m talking about. All they know is life on an animal level. They’re only conscious of their needs; they lack the capacity for self-conscious aware­ness of right and wrong. Right is what you can get away with; wrong is the mistake that keeps you from getting away. That’s all they know. They’re beasts. Savages. Capital punishment, hard, hard labor, and long sentences in the penitentiary are the only things that will straighten them out.”

You hear the word savages quite often, though it never comes trip­pingly off the tongue. It is usually uttered with a combination of pity and bitterness, knowledge of how dangerous things become when teenaged mothers discover that parenthood is at least a 20-year sentence and be­come abusive. In too many cases the male children deflect that abuse onto the society itself. One man I know threatened to take his daughter to court and fight for the custody of her son if she didn’t stop letting his but­tocks become raw because the cost of changing the boy’s Pampers would cut into her nickel bags. She had married too early, gotten tired of moth­erhood, and treated her son with a malicious indifference. “She has no sense of sacrifice,” he says. “She thinks that if she doesn’t come first some­thing is wrong. I told her she was a barbarian, and when I heard her try to read, I was convinced of it. Illiterate, selfish, and incapable of compre­hending any kind of subtle ideas. Her mother was ignorant, my mistake was getting her pregnant and letting her raise the girl on welfare. But I’m not going to let my grandson be destroyed like his mother was.”

According to Ulysses S. Kilgore III of the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center, 40 percent of the mothers of these girls with teenage preg­nancies don’t know the most fertile time of the month themselves. “These children are surrounded by ignorance and the only thing that is going to change the situation is rolling up our sleeves and putting aside the text­book rhetoric for a while — a long, long while,” he says. Kilgore under­stands that black people themselves must act to solve this problem; what he terms “textbook rhetoric” is no more than the defeatist sneering at des­tiny rather than wrestling with it. That the cases under discussion rise from the subway to an eviction, descend from the grand jury to the morgue, accentuate the need for accountability from law enforcement agencies and call into question the quality of urban life and the necessary support systems that define it, suggests that Fuller’s observation about the need for Negro participation in the workings of American life is abso­lutely on the mark. It is only through participation that the social morale of both the black community and the nation at large can be raised. “It all has to come from us,” says Kilgore. “If we make the thrust, roll up our sleeves and work at fighting the things that hamper the progress of black people, others will follow. But now, I think we have to make the first move and the second and however many more are necessary to get some­ thing going.”

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Getting something going is obviously a big job that calls for a new vi­sion of social action from Negroes, not as outsiders but as voters, taxpay­ers, and sober thinkers. All civilized societies know that unless what is largely the sexual energy of adolescent men is channeled, anarchic behavior is almost automatic. Unless people get education sufficient to compete in the world, they will either become criminals or welfare leeches draining off funds that could be used to better life rather than sustain dead-end poverty. Unless there is a reciprocal respect between citizens and law enforcement agencies, an adversary relationship develops that creates mutual contempt and paranoia. Unless young women learn that this is the best time in history for them to take on careers and explore their talents, they will continue to give birth to children with dubious futures. The history of Negro Americans, for all its heartbreak and tragedy, is also one of extraordinary accomplishment in face of ruthless resistance. If all the shootings and the controversies serve to alert both Negroes and the society at large to a grander struggle, none of the shock and despair will have been in vain. ❖

1985 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch on Bernie Goetz

1985 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch on Bernie Goetz

1985 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch on Bernie Goetz

1985 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch on Bernie Goetz


Stanley Friedman’s Banana Republic

The Bronx as One Man’s Land

They are businessmen who demand that others call them “political leaders.” To them la Colonia of El Bronx is a busi­ness and allegiance to the business is more important than loyalty to any par­ty. They are mostly Democrats but they do business with Republicans. A few of them are Republicans but do business with Democrats. They are lawyers; they own pieces of construction firms; they control cable television companies; they are consultants. These are the business­men who control the colony of the Bronx.

The jefe of the colonialists, the man who makes most of the decisions affect­ing the Bronx from his Manhattan pent­house office, is Stanley Friedman, Demo­cratic county leader. He makes these decisions, which affect thousands of Lat­ins and Blacks, while making big profits for his own business ventures. This is possible because of Friedman’s control and influence over the Democratic Coun­ty Committee, the office of borough pres­ident, local planning boards, and “eco­nomic development” community agen­cies. He exploits them all.

Friedman’s friends and fellow colonial­ists include his famous law partner, right-­wing Republican Roy Cohn. His other associates, some of whom have been de­scribed by Norman Adler, political action director of District Council 37, as “the dobermans in Animal Farm,” include Paul Victor, law chairman for the Bronx Democratic County Committee, and two members of the Democratic County Committee of the Bronx, Murray Lewin­ter and Stanley Schlein.

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Along with these individuals there are State Senator John Calandra represent­ing the Republican Party, and last and perhaps least, the Bronx borough presi­dent, Stanley Simon. Excluding Calan­dra, these white males control the Bronx Democratic County Committee — its funds, appointments, nominations, and all its activities — despite the fact that the Bronx is over 70 per cent Black and Latino.

Unlike his predecessor Patrick Cun­ningham, who refused to understand that to maintain his power he had to “adjust” to changing times, Friedman does include some minority representation in his group. Friedman has found some natives who are most willing to support him in return for relatively small rewards.

Crazy Joe Gallo, famous underworld figure, who was known for his attempts to include Blacks and Latinos in “la Fami­lia,” understood that to keep his opera­tion strong in poor communitites, he had to change his strategy to fit new realities. Friedman has recognized the same changes in the Bronx and that they called for a similar strategy in his organization. He found individuals like South Bronx boss Ramon Velez and State Senator Jo­seph Galiber to legitimize his power in the Black and Latino communities of the Bronx. Velez and Galiber basically act as overseers to make sure that Blacks and Latins who challenge the power relation­ships in the “banana republic” do not obtain any power. For Friedman’s purposes, Velez and Galiber serve to create the illusion that power is shared in the Bronx.

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Recently, Friedman has also supported minority candidates such as Larry Sea­brook, who defeated incumbent Vincent Marchiselli this fall in the 82nd Assembly District. This kind of support is only giv­en, however, when the incumbent is anti­-Friedman and anti-machine, as Marchi­selli has always been, and when the challenger indicates a willingness and commitment to work with “County” and cooperate with Friedman.

As in a colony, the Bronx’s leadership positions are all held by outsiders (who are also white males), including the office of Democratic county leader, the borough presidency, the office of the district attorney, the Surrogate, and the majority of seats on the Democratic County Exec­utive Committee. El Jefe keeps it this way by running a well-organized, tight-knit group, exercising control over the office of borough president, controlling judgeships and maintaining an intimate relationship with Mayor Koch, who has provided the Democratic county leader with numerous city jobs. Through the use of patronage Friedman has developed a loyal group of followers and hundreds of others who are hoping to get something from the Democratic boss.

Friedman’s control over the office of Bronx borough president began with his early contributions to the first borough presidency campaign of Stanley Simon in 1979. Friedman, his law partners, and some of his clients made substantial loans to Bronx borough president Simon during this campaign. A 1979 Voice arti­cle detailed these loans and showed how Simon’s campaign was almost completely dependent for its initial financing on the Friedman/Cohn law firm, Saxe, Bacon and Bolan. In return, Friedman has been rewarded with patronage on the staff of the borough president, in the planning boards, and in agencies like the Bronx Development Corporation.

Friedman has used this patronage to find jobs for district leaders and other “community activists” who are key play­ers in minority communities. It is be­cause of this patronage that Friedman has been able to guarantee that the dis­trict leaders who elect the county leader continue to choose him. Although 11 out of 20 of the district leaders are minor­ities, Friedman was just recently reelect­ed by 19 of the 20.

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Friedman has also exercised his influ­ence in the borough president’s office to gather friendly votes at the Board of Es­timate. Friedman was influential in pro­viding support for Koch in 1981 and has been able to sway most minority politi­cians in the Bronx to his side. This, in turn, has helped Friedman get favorable votes for his “projects” on the Board of Estimate.

Referring to this control Friedman has over Simon, former Bronx borough presi­dent Herman Badillo stated, “Bronx bor­ough president Stanley Simon has al­lowed his office to be used, controlled, and dominated by the county leader. Si­mon has turned his powers over to Fried­man.” When asked to respond to this accusation and other charges in the arti­cle, Bronx borough president Simon as well as Democratic county leader Fried­man refused to comment.

Israel Ruiz, state senator and district leader in the South Bronx and often the sole dissenting voice in county meetings, has described Friedman as “a county leader who uses his position solely to fur­ther his business interests. Friedman forces anyone doing business in the Bronx, whether it be building highways, housing construction or developing mar­kets, to do business with his law firm or one of his ‘favored’ law firms.”

Describing the loyal support that mi­nority district leaders have lavished on Friedman, Norman Adler stated, “Stan­ley Friedman is like a corpse being car­ried around by vampires. He is like a dead man who is being propped up.”

Saxe, Bacon and Bolan’s Bronx clients include: the New York Bus Express Ser­vice Company, that allows the white mid­dle class of the Bronx to avoid mingling with the poorer nonwhite residents of the South Bronx; the New York Yankees; and the Metropolitan Taxi Board. Ac­cording to State Senator Ruiz, the firm recently acquired as a client the architec­tural design company of Daniel Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall, a group con­tracted to do a feasibility study for the new Bronx prison.

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Ruiz has documented a whole history of shady dealings involving Mann, John­son and Mendenhall. According to this documentation, the firm was convicted and fined by a Massachusetts state court for paying bribes for contracts. The firm has also had construction and design problems in Baltimore, New Orleans, and Niagara. Despite this track record the State Office of General Services awarded this firm a design contract for the pro­posed Metro North Prison.

Talking Turkey, a new progressive newspaper in the city, recently revealed that Friedman is the largest stockholder in a company which was awarded the contract to produce and maintain a new system called Summons Issuance Device of New York, hand-held computers to be used by parking enforcement agents to find out if a ticketed car belongs to a scofflaw. This contract, unanimously granted by the Board of Estimate to a brand new company with no significant resources, netted Stanley Friedman, as largest stockholder, a capital gain of $1.3 million dollars. Among those companies rejected by the Board of Estimate were Motorola Corporation and a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglass Corporation.

In the most recent edition of Talking Turkey Friedman denies that his compa­ny received any special treatment from the Board of Estimate.

Friedman’s law firm itself is an excel­lent example of how colonialistas of the major political parties unite around prof­it. Saxe, Bacon and Bolan includes, in addition to Roy Cohn, Tom Bolan, a leading force in the Conservative Party. Both Cohn and Bolan have done legal work for the Catholic Archdiocese and have ties to conservative Archbishop John J. O’Connor. This same type of col­lusion between Democrats and Republi­cans is reflected in la colonia’s politics.

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South Bronx powerbroker Ramon Ve­lez supported Ronald Reagan in his re­election bid. Not only did Velez’s com­munity programs like Bronx Venture receive federal money before this en­dorsement, but so did an economic devel­opment agency called Bronx Develop­ment Corporation, an organization directly controlled by Bronx boss Stanley Friedman and Borough President Stan­ley Simon.

Last month State Senator Galiber, a strong Friedman ally who at all times makes himself available to help divide Blacks and Latinos and reelect whites, was indicted with Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan, a Reagan appointee. Joseph Galiber, until last week the ranking mi­nority member of the State Senate’s Eth­ics Committee, was indicted for grand larceny in the second degree and falsify­ing business records in the first degree. He has also been linked to William Mas­selli, a well-known mobster; they were co-­owners of JoPel Contracting and Truck­ing, a firm which frequently did business with Donovan’s company, Schiavone Construction Company.

Politicians like Congressman Robert Garcia who cooperate with Friedman and local Bronx Republicans are often given the Republican line while leading conser­vative Republicans like John Calandra go unchallenged by Friedman’s County Committee. Calandra remains unchal­lenged by the Bronx Democrats although Democratic members in the state senate have identified him as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the state senate. It was Calandra who helped give Koch the GOP line in the 1981 mayoralty race, and who is already lobbying for the Republicans to give Koch the line in 1985. In return for his support, Calandra, the leading Republican in the Bronx, wins such rewards as the $1 million he received in the April 1984 supplementary budget for programs in his area. While Calandra obtained his million, in com­parison, areas like the South Bronx got crumbs.

Stanley Simon, Roy Cohn, John Calandra, Ramon Velez, Freddy Ferrer, Rafel Castaneira Colon, Joseph Galiber, Stanley Schlein

The Bronx colonialistas not only do business with “opposing” political par­ties, but have provided legal representa­tion to underworld figures who feed from the same field.

Friedman’s law partner, Roy Cohn, has represented reputed mobsters like Vin­cent DiNapoli, one of the most powerful builders in the Bronx. DiNapoli was con­victed in 1982 for extortion and labor racketeering. Before sentencing DiNapoli received letters of support both from As­semblyman Jose Rivera and from State Senator Calandra, who described DiNa­poli as “an individual who has always responded to community needs.”

Friedman’s ally State Senator Joseph Galiber not only was joint owner of Jo­Pel Trucking with underworld figure William Masselli, who is now serving sev­en years in prison on federal hijacking charges, but has also politically support­ed Louis Moscatiello, widely reputed to be the “son” of Vincent DiNapoli. It was DiNapoli who began Plasterers Local 530, the union of which Moscatiello be­came president.

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Moscatiello, whose mob ties have been detailed in previous Voice articles, is now on the payroll of State Senator John Ca­landra. It was Moscatiello who inspired the recent civil court judge candidacy of Richard Gugliotta, the candidate Stanley Friedman tried to ram down the throats of Bronx voters. Gugliotta’s background includes once having been a serious scoff­law, a tax dodger, and a man whose clos­est allies have been people like Louis Moscatiello.

Friedman pulled out all the stops to try to get Gugliotta elected. Although Gugli­otta lost the primary, Friedman attempt­ed to get him placed on the ballot through the nomination of the Democrat­ic County Committee. Most of the dis­trict leaders went along with Friedman, and if Vincent Marchiselli hadn’t filed a successsful lawsuit, Gugliotta would have been on the Democratic line.

Other members of the Democratic County Executive Committee have done business with reputed mobsters. In 1982 the Voice revealed that Paul Victor, law chairman of the Bronx Democratic Coun­ty Committee and parliamentarian of the Executive Committee, represented Sonny Guippone on major narcotics selling charges. Guippone was known to federal authorities as a drug dealer responsible for moving millions of dollars of heroin throughout the Bronx, especially the South Bronx. He was convicted for nar­cotics trafficking and sentenced to 30 years.

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Friedman and his friends have been very successful in creating a total monop­oly of political power in the Bronx. Un­like Brooklyn and Manhattan where there are real battles between regulars, reformers, and Black and Brown political movements, the Bronx, even now, has no organized antimachine group. Reformers in the Bronx are few, unorganized, and in recent years most willing to make deals with Boss Friedman.

The big loser is the Bronx Democratic Party. “Since Friedman and his cohorts are only interested in doing business, we have a weak party with little connection to the concerns and problems of the Bronx,” explained State Senator Ruiz in  a recent interview.

The Democratic Party in the Bronx is not concerned with registering new voters who could create a challenge to the status quo. As long as there are few voters and low voter turnouts, the candidates the Bronx Party supports — who offer the voters so little — can continue to be re-­elected, thus perpetuating the power held by Friedman and his associates.

Generally, politicians who have been opponents of the machine, like Al Vann, Major Owens, Basil Patterson, and Her­man Badillo, have tended to be more pro­gressive and more responsive to their communities.

Politicians like Joseph Galiber, Rafael Castaneira Colon, Hector Diaz, or Enoch Williams, all sponsored by the machine, have tended to be weaklings with very little interest in empowering their com­munities. It is therefore very important how a minority politician comes to pow­er — whether through the efforts of orga­nized community people or simply as the machine’s choice.

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The one-party rule in El Bronx will be doing business as usual in the 1985 elec­tion for Bronx borough president and for City Council. In return for the machine supporting Latino incumbents, it is ex­pected that councilmen Rafael Casta­neira Colon and Freddy Ferrer, along with Ramon Velez and Joseph Galiber, will support the reelection of Stanley Si­mon for borough president and Ed Koch for mayor. The 1985 election in the Bronx may in fact be a referendum on one-party rule in the Bronx.

Most recently in the Bronx there have been some independent stirrings in the Black and Latino community. Surely the campaign of Jesse Jackson, pitted against the machine and Latino politicians who supported Mondale, began to produce the elements needed for an emergency rescue mission.

The 1985 opposition to Friedman will come from the activists of the Jackson campaign, from the reformers who were successful in electing Alexander Delle Cese to civil court judge and from unex­pected sources like Assemblyman Jose Serrano, who recently broke away from Koch, Friedman, and Simon, and an­nounced his support for Herman Badillo along with his own candidacy for Bronx borough president.

Signs of what is coming were seen in this past election year; independent forces began opposing the incumbents who are loyal to Friedman. In the North Bronx, young Black activist David Brush initiated a campaign to capture the 82nd Assembly District. Although knocked off the ballot (with a little help from Fried­man) he certainly intends to run again. In this same area, Black activist Alice Tor­riente will be running against Friedman ally Councilman Jerry Crispino.

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In the Fordham Road/Kingsbridge area of the Bronx, a number of progres­sive Blacks and Latinos supported the candidacy of Reuben Franco against As­semblyman George Friedman. Although Franco was defeated with room to spare, these Blacks and Latinos are now devel­oping their own independent political club. It is expected that this club will identify a serious challenger to run against Councilman Freddie Ferrer.

In the South Bronx, Soundview, and Parchester areas of the Bronx, a group of Black and Latino community organizers have developed the Bronx Rainbow Club. This group is emphasizing the importance of Black and Latino unity in de­feating Friedman’s machine and is plan­ning to run progressive candidates this year. It appears that Roberto Marrero, longtime tenant activist, will be their candidate against Councilman Rafael Castaneira-Colon.

There are many other independent ef­forts now being planned in the Bronx. Some of these emerging movements are guided by new progressive ideas while others simply seek to replace Friedman or one of his friends in order to seize power and use it in the Friedman/South Bronx tradition.

It is important to note that Black and Latino independents, reformers, and pro­gressives have yet to develop a long-range strategy for the seizure of power in the Bronx. Too many have been co-opted by the immediate crumbs. Both short and long-range strategies are needed. As long as these kinds of plans are neglected, Friedman’s power will indeed be secure.

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Herman Badillo has suggested that the prime strategy of all reformers, indepen­dents and progressives in 1985 should be to replace Bronx borough president Stan­ley Simon. “We cannot have a borough president who allows his position, his staff, and his vote on the Board of Esti­mate to be used by party powerbrokers that are only interested in enriching their legal practices,” says Badillo. Simon re­fused to comment.

“We must get rid of Stanley Simon,” said Badillo, “and instead elect a borough president who will be independent.” Oth­ers have agreed with Badillo that if Friedman loses control of the office of Bronx borough president he will lose con­trol of significant patronage, of the vote at the Board of Estimate, and access to information for business dealings.

If Serrano can unite with a Black/ Puerto Rican/Labor/Liberal citywide ef­fort to support Herman Badillo, and then link up with serious challengers like Tor­riente and Marrero, the Friedman ma­chine may indeed face its first serious challenge.

Friedman’s colonial machine is clearly prepared for such challenges. If a Puerto Rican runs for Bronx borough president the machine will find a Black like Joe Galiber, in hopes that he will divide the vote. If a Black runs, South Bronx caudi­llo Ramon Velez will certainly help them find a Puerto Rican to divide the vote. They will use all the power they have with the Board of Elections to make sure that any challenger is knocked off the ballot. They will call in Paul Victor, Stanley Schlein, and Murray Lewinter to represent incumbents and to pose legal challenges to the independent candi­dates. Friedman appoints the commis­sioner on the Board of Elections from the Bronx, so you can expect the board will cooperate with the machine.

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If a reformer is able to survive the chal­lenges from the Friedman forces, he or she will then face an election day in which all the poll watchers and personnel at the polling sites are part of the Fried­man machine. Irregularities will flourish. In a very recent race for district leader where a young Puerto Rican named Jose Rivera (unrelated to the assemblyman) ran against the incumbent in the 78th A.D., numerous illegal practices were cited in a lawsuit challenging the results.

Attorneys for Rivera, provided by State Senator Israel Ruiz, found that many inspectors were not members of ei­ther party, in clear violation of the law; in many of the election districts there were no inspectors at all; Republicans were al­lowed to vote in a Democratic primary, and unregistered voters were allowed to vote.

The Friedman colonialistas will do ev­erything and anything to remain in pow­er. They are businessmen first, second, and always, but they prefer to be called “political leaders.” Every day they obtain new Bronx clients and begin new con­struction companies, housing manage­ment corporations, consultant groups, and other types of enterprises. They do business with Republicans, reputed mob­sters, and “cooperative” Blacks and La­tinos. They successfully run a one-party state, ready to take on those who seek the independence of the Bronx.

But natives are beginning to stir. One small group after another is forming and the word is being spread: “Stanley Simon must go, and then, Stanley Friedman.” As the independent movement begins to develop, as they begin to unite, as re­formers begin to realize they must work with independent Blacks and Latinos, Stanley Friedman will go the way of all colonialistas, and independencia will soon arrive in the Bronx … ■


Requiem for a City: Mexico’s Impending Earthquake

For days, the sirens never stopped. The ambulances came screaming down the Paseo de la Reforma, the sound preceded by cars packed with young men waving red flags, honking horns, demanding passage. The ambulances went by in a rush. And then more came from the other direction, cutting across town on Insurgentes, grinding gears at the intersection. In the ambulances you could see doctors, nurses, tubes, bottles, a dusty face with an open mouth and urgent eyes. And then they were gone, heading for one of the hospitals in the great injured city of Mexico.

“Somos los chingados,” a man named Victor Presa said to me, standing in the crowd in the Plaza of the Three Cultures in the district called Tlatelolco. We are the fucked. Presa, 41, a tinsmith, didn’t know if his wife and three children were alive or dead. He lived with them in the 13-story Nuevo Leon building of the Nonoalco-Tlatelolco housing complex (one of 96 buildings erected in the ’60s to make up the largest public housing development in the country). When the terremoto hit at 7:19 on the morning of September 19, Victor Presa was coming home with friends. “We were up all of the night. Yes. I don’t have work, you understand? Still, no excuse. I was out, yes, we were drinking, yes … ”

The residents of Nuevo Leon had been complaining for eight months to the project’s officials about the dampness of the concrete, seepage of water, unrepaired fractures, the feeling of instability. The housing bureaucrats ignored them. And at 7:19 a.m., when Victor Presa was still almost a mile from home and thick with pulque, the building seemed to rise up, swayed left, then right, then left again, and all 13 stories went over, reeling down, slab upon slab, concrete powdering upon impact, pipes and drains crumpling, steel rods twisting like chicken wire. Within the gigantic mass, smashed among beds and stoves, sinks and bathtubs, among couches and cribs, bookcases and tables and lamps, ground into fibrous pulp with the morning’s freshly purchased bread, boxes of breakfast cereal, pots of coffee, platters of eggs, bacon, tortillas, there were more than a thousand men, women, and children.

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“Somos los chingados,” said Victor Presa, sore-eyed, his hands bloody, voice cracked, smoking a cigarette, staring at the ruins, as a small army of firemen, soldiers, and residents clawed at the rubble. A woman kept calling for a lost child: Ro-baiiiiiiir-to, Ro­baaaaaiiiii-irrrr-to. The scene seemed almost unreal; surely some director would now yell “cut” and everyone would relax, the calls to the dead and dying would cease, the special effects men would examine their masterpiece. But this was real all right, and Victor Presa stared at the building, summoning whatever strength he had left to join the others who had been smashed by what was being called El Gran Chingon. The Big Fucker.

“This was all we needed,” said an exhausted, hawk-nosed 24-year-old doctor named Raul Tirado. “Things were bad enough. Now this, the catastrofe. Pobre Mexico … poor Mexico.”

Before the catastrophe was the Crisis, always discussed here with a capital C, a combination of factors that were at once political, economic, social. The $6 billion foreign debt. The incredible $30 million a day that leaves Mexico just to pay the vigorish to the banks, never denting the debt itself. The accelerating slide of the peso (for years, 12.5 pesos were pegged to the dollar; last week you could get 405). The collapse of the price of petroleum. All these were intertwined with a wide-ranging cynicism; a loss of faith in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that has ruled Mexico without interruption since 1929; contempt for the obesity of the state, where almost four million Mexicans are employed by federal, state, and local governments out of a total work force of about 20 million; despair at the monstrous growth of Mexico City and its transformation into a smog-choked, soul-killing crime-ridden purgatory; fatalism about the daily, hourly arrival of more and more and more children; and above and below everything, touching every level of the national life, persisting in the face of exposure in the press and President Miguel de la Madrid’s oratory about “moral renovation”: the rotting stench of corruption.

“There will be a Mexico when this is finished,” said Dr. Tirado. “But if they only clean up the physical mess, then we are doomed.”

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So the cranes will soon arrive to remove the top four floors of Continental Hotel on the corner of Reforma and Insurgentes, but neither the building nor Mexico will be easily healed. In 1957, when an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale rolled through the city, killing 51 people, the Continental was a year old, a proud new member of the Hilton chain, with a blue-green mosaic mural rising from street level to the roof. That quake split the mural and fractured the building, but repairs were made and business went on. There were only 3.5 million people in Mexico City that year, and the city brimmed with optimism. But Hilton’s name was long ago removed from the building, and the mural torn away, and when I walked around the corner to Calle Roma to look at the aging weather-stained edifice from the rear, the top floors seemed to have been mashed by some gigantic fist. Business there will not go on. Not after El Gran Chingon. Across the street from the Continental there’s a statue of Cuauhtehmoc, the valiant Aztec prince who fought Cortez after Montezuma had failed; Cuauhtehmoc survived 1957 and survived September 19. But his pollution-blackened face now seemed sadder than ever.

“There’ll be nothing there next year,” said a 31-year-old insurance executive named Maria Delgado, staring at the Continental. “Who would build there again? Who would grant insurance? Who would build in many other parts of the city?”

Walking the city in the days after the quake, much of the damage did seem permanent. On the corner of Hamburgo and Dinamarca, a gallery called the Central Cultural de Jose Guadalupe Posada had been compacted from five floors into two; the art work had been removed, the building cordoned off behind a string of sad dusty pennants, but it didn’t matter now: there was nothing left to steal. Across the street, rescue workers combed the rubble of an apartment building: cops, soldiers, doctors in Red Cross vests, university students, men with flat brown Indian faces, all lifting broken concrete, smashed furniture, calling for sounds of life, hearing nothing. Such groups would soon be familiar all over the ruined parts of the city, and they helped compile the statistics of disaster: nearly 5000 dead, another 150,000 hurt, an estimated 2000 trapped in the rubble, dead or alive. Some bureaucrats, afraid of permanently losing tourist business, rushed to minimize the effects of El Gran Chingon; Mexico is a large city, they said (it sprawls over 890 square miles); only 0.1 per cent of its buildings were destroyed. And that was true.

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But you couldn’t minimize what happened to the people who’d been directly affected. On Calle Liverpool, a blue moving van from Romero’s Mudanzas was parked in front of Shakey’s Pizza y Polio, loading furniture from a damaged apartment house; in middle-­class areas, moving vans were part of the scenery, like salvage boats after a shipwreck. A few doors down, the tan cement skin had peeled off the facade of another apartment house, revealing cheap porous concrete blocks underneath. On Calle Landres, two buildings to the right of the Benjamin Franklin Llbrary tilted to the side like drunks in a doonvay; cops warned pedestrians not to smoke because there was gas in the air. At the corner of Landres and Berlin, tinted windows had been blown out of a building, its walls sagged, the street was piled with broken glass and rubble; but in one window you could see the back of a spice rack, its jars neat, orderly, domestic, suggesting life in a place where nobody would ever live again.

The contrasts from one block to another, one building to the next, seemed baffling. Why did this house survive and that one collapse? Of the more than 450 colonial-era buildings listed with the Mexican equivalent of the landmarks commission, not one had been destroyed. But more than 100 new government-owned buildings had fallen, including three major hospitals and many ministries; hundreds of others (including many schools) were mortally wounded. Fate bad never seemed more capricious. But every Mexican I spoke to offered the same basic explanation and it had nothing to do with God, faith, subsoil erosion, fault lines, the Cocos Plate, or the superiority of the 19th century to the 20th. Their answer was simple: corruption.

“Today, more than ever, it has been shown that corruption is a very bad builder,” said the Committee of 100, a group formed last March to combat the environmental disasters of Mexico (its members include writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Octavio Paz, artists Rufino Tamayo and Jose Luis Cuevas). “It is no casual thing that the historic center of the city, made to last, has survived the two tremors …”

Senator Antonio Martinez Baez, a professor emeritus of the National Autonomous University, said that corruption was widespread in the building industry, particularly in the 1970s, when Mexico was booming with oil money. Martinez Baez said the corruption involved more than government bureaucrats, who looked the other way when shoddy materials were used; it included contractors, engineers, building owners and their intermediaries, usually hustling lawyers.

“They should not be allowed to clear these areas until a thorough examination has taken place,” said an engineer named Rafael Avellanor. “Concrete, steel, everything must be tested, measured against the original specifications. And then the guilty should be jailed for murder.”

Corruption is, of course, one of the oldest, saddest Mexican stories; didn’t Montezuma first offer Cortez a bribe to go away? But corruption doesn’t explain everything. If the earthquake toppled many modern buildings, if it seemed a horrible act of architectural criticism to enrubble the Stalinoid fortresses of the permanent bureaucracy, well, El Gran Chingon also rolled into Tepito.

And while the camera crews faithfully assembled each day at the Children’s Hospital, at the Medical Center, at the Juarez housing project, where dramas of rescue and redemption were played out with touching regularity; while cameras for three hours followed Nancy Reagan in her yellow jacket and professionally concerned mask; while journalists sought out Placido Domingo, bearded and dusty in the ruins of Tlatelolco, working alongside ordinary citizens, searching for four of his lost relatives “until the last stone is lifted”; while cameras at the airport recorded the arrival of volunteers and aid from 43 countries; while all of that was happening, almost nobody went to Tepito.

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There seems always to have been a Tepito in Mexico City; it’s perhaps the city’s oldest slum, maker of thieves and prizefighters and entertainers. For most of this century, the Tepito poor have crowded into tiny dollar-a-month, one-room flats in vecindades (apartment houses assembled around damp central courtyards, described in detail by Oscar Lewis in The Children of Sanchez). They built houses for themselves too, of scraps of wood, homemade brick, parts of cars, discarded advertising signs. Boys from Tepito became toreros and football players; they went to the great gym called Baños de Jordan and fought their way onto page one of Esto or Ovaciones, the city’s daily sports papers; at least one, Raton Macias, became a champion of the world. Some became musicians and worked in Plaza Garibaldi, not far away, singing, playing horn or guitar for lovers, tourists, and each other in the Tenampa Club or the Guadalajara del Noche; some became cops; a few went on to become lawyers, doctors, teachers; many ended up a dozen blocks away in the notorious Black Palace of Lecumberri, the city’s major prison, until it was torn down a few years ago.

The women of Tepito had harder lives. They married young, bore children young, suffered young, died young. Most were faithful to the code of machismo, imposed upon them by the men; those who violated the code often ended up in the pages of Alarma, a weekly crime journal that specializes in the mutilated bodies of the dead. Too many became prostitutes, working in the three famous callejones, or alleys behind the Merced marketplace, alleys so narrow that men stood with their backs against the rough walls while the women sat on stools and performed for a dollar. They started there when young, las putas de Tepito, and many ended up back in the callejones when old. Along the way, perhaps, there were stops in the houses and cribs of Calle de Esperanza (now lost to reform), or if they were pretty enough, smart enough, tough enough, they’d move up to the dance halls on San Juan de Letran, or the more expensive whore houses beyond the Zona Rosa, where the politicians and generals arrived each night with their sleazy cuadrillas. They might hook up with a married man and be installed in a casa chica. Some went off to the border towns. But they were always men and women “de Tepito,” a phrase said with the tough pride of someone from Red Hook or the Lower East Side.

And now, a few days after the earthquake, Tepito was gone. In the cerrada of Gonzales Ortega, all of the houses were destroyed. Vecindades were in rubble along Brasil Street, on Rayon, Jesus Carranza, Tenochtitlan, Fray Bernadina de Las Casas, Florida, and Las Cardidad, all the way to the Avenida del Trabajo. This had always been a barrio whose true god was noise. A mixture of blasting radios, shouts, laughter, rumors, deals, quarrels, jokes, screaming children, imploring mothers, furious husbands. You could hear young men playing trumpet in the afternoons. You could hear lovers careening into melodrama, while dealers hawked contraband radios, hot jewelry, used clothes, drugs.

Now Tepito was silent except for one lone radio somewhere, playing a tinny mariachi tune. A drunk of uncertain age, grizzled and dirty, sat on a pile of broken brick, talking intensely to himself. A tinsmith poked at the ruins of his shop, a small boy beside him looking grave. An old man who had run a small antique record store trembled as he looked at his smashed collection. “I have great treasures here. Jorge Negrete. Carlos Gardel. Lara. Infante. Treasures. Of the old style. Ahora … ”

Ahora. Now. Now the men, women, children, and dogs of Tepito had moved by the thousands to the open spaces around the Avenida del Trabajo. They had improvised tents. They’d formed teams to search for water. Old women had set up charcoal mounds to boil water and cook. Together, they consoled each other, fed each other, cursed at politicians, cops, fate, God. They passed along news: the Bahia movie house was wrecked (“Ay, chico, where will we go now to get fleas?”) and on San Juan de Letran all six stories above the Super Leche cafeteria had collapsed, killing many people having breakfast (“Cuatey the coffee killed more …”) and more than one hundred government buildings had been wrecked, including the Superior Court, with all the city’s criminal records (“There is a God …”). They joked, as most jokesters do, because they are serious men.

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“We want to go home,” said a white-haired wood finisher named Jesus Torres. “But we have nowhere to go … ”

He was standing with a crowd of men among the tents. Someone said that the government estimated the homeless at 35,000. Torres said, “That means there must be one hundred thousand on the street.”

A young man named Eloy Mercado arrived with a copy of Esto. A story in one of the back pages said that Kid Azteca was among the missing. When I first came to Mexico in 1956, to go to school on the GI Bill, Kid Azteca had been fighting since the 1920s. He had been the Mexican welterweight champion for 17 years, an elegant boxer, good puncher, and in his forties he kept having one six­-round fight a year to extend his record as the longest-lasting Mexican fighter in history. Now he and his two sisters were missing in Tepito, perhaps dead. Jesus Torres shook his head: “He’s not dead.” An old man leaned in, his face dusty, teeth stained with tobacco, smelling like vinegar. “You know how to find Kid A’tec’? Go in the street and start to count to 10. Then he’ll get up …” He and Torres laughed, two men as old as the lost Kid Azteca who had managed to remain true to their origins. Somos de Tepito, hombre

So to experience Mexico after the earthquake, you had to go to Tepito too. You had to go to the corner of Orizaba and Coahuila, where seven bodies were spread across the sidewalk, packed in plastic bags of ice, waiting for hours for ambulances too busy with the living. You had to smell the sweet corrupt odor that began to drift from collapsed buildings. You had to hear the sirens: always the sirens.

You could also see Mexico after the earthquake in the baseball park of the Social Security administration, where more bodies lay under blue plastic tents, waiting for identification. In other times, a team called the Red Devils played here. Now a somber line of men and women waited patiently for admission, searching for their dead, while bureaucrats in the third base dugout compiled their mournful lists. The corpses were photographed and fingerprinted and those that were not identified were wrapped in plastic bags and taken away.

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Some were taken to the Cemetery of San Lorenzo Tezanco, and this too was Mexico in the autumn of 1985. Those who bad lost their names along with their lives were given numbers: Cuerpo 127, Cuerpo 128. About 20 gravediggers chopped at the weed-tangled earth. More people came to look at the bodies, and many brought flowers. The unidentified were buried in a common grave. Presiding over this rude democracy was a white-haired, white-bearded priest named Ignacio Ortega Aguilar, who gave the blessings and offered the prayers. On the fifth day after the earthquake be told a reporter: “With this tragedy God bas placed all of us in the same condition. In only a few minutes, while the earth shook, God permitted us to understand who he is and who we are. Today we know that we are owners of nothing.”

And to know Mexico after the earthquake, you had to listen to the sound of rage. There was rage in Colonia Roma, because some cops were demanding a 500 peso mordida to allow residents past barriers with cars or moving vans; rage at unconfirmed stories of cops who had looted wrecked apartments or pried wedding bands off the fingers of the dead; rage at flower sellers who tripled their prices outside cemeteries; rage at tienda owners who doubled and tripled the price of food, and at men who sold water among the almost two million who had none at all; rage at the makers of coffins, who jacked up their prices (some donated free coffins, too). In Colonia Roma I saw a man who had rescued hundreds of books from the ruins of his apartment sitting among them on the sidewalk.

“The rest has no value,” he said, his voice trembling, angry. “Only these. These I love.” He touched the books, some of them in expensive leather bindings. “But when my brother-in-law came to help me take them away, the police said he would have to pay 1000 pesos. I insisted no! I asked for a supervisor. Nothing! So I will stay here. I hope it doesn’t rain. But I’m prepared to die here before paying them anything.”

One morning I walked to Calle Versalles, where I’d lived in a friend’s apartment with my wife and daughters one winter in the ‘6os. The street was blocked at both ends by rifle-toting soldiers, while rescue workers chopped at the ruins of the old Hotel Versalles. Mattresses jutted from the rubble at odd angles. Men used plastic buckets to pass along the broken brick, plaster, concrete to waiting trucks. The house where we had lived was intact, with a lone broken window on the third floor. But the Versalles, across the street, was gone, along with the building beside it and another one at the corner. I showed a New York press card to a soldier who shrugged and passed me through the lines. The smell was then richer, loamier, the sweet sickening smell of putrefaction,

Suddenly everything stopped. Workers, soldiers, firemen called for silence. A body had been found. A middle-aged woman. Her jaw was hanging loose, hair and face bone-white from broken plaster, tongue swollen, eyes like stone. Her pale blue nightgown had fallen open. A man in a yellow hardhat reached down and covered her naked breasts. Mexico.

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Nothing had prepared me for Avenida Juarez. In the old days, this was one of the city’s great streets, a busy hustling thoroughfare. Turning into it from the Reforma, the Hotel Regis was on the left, along with a movie house, a pharmacy, the huge Salinas y Rocha department store. On the right was the Del Prado hotel, with one of Diego Rivera’s finest murals inside. Past the Del Prado was a mixture of shops, both elegant and tacky, silver stalls, handicraft shops, book stores, restaurants. In the distance, there was the great green space of the Alameda park, with its baroque red shoeshine stands, and the Palacio of the Bellas Artes beyond. In the 1950s, I went out with a woman named Lourdes who worked on this street, and for years afterwards I thought that one form of heaven would consist of the Avenida Juarez on a Saturday afternoon, with a new book or a newspaper in hand and a shine on my shoes and a nap in the grass of the Alameda park.

On this day, the old avenue was a shambles. It was as if some brutal general, bored with the tedium of a firefight, had called in an airstrike. The Salinas y Rocha store was now a giant shell, blackened by fire. Across the street, the Del Prado was closed (a Mexican reporter told me the Rivera mural was intact) and so were all the shops and restaurants. Three huge buildings leaned at a precarious angle. The street was packed with soldiers, sailors, doctors, nurses, reporters, and all attention was on the Regis.

The old hotel lay in a huge jagged mound; all 367 rooms had been destroyed. And I thought about the novel of Mexico City written by Carlos Fuentes in the 1950s, called (in English) Where the Air Is Clear. This was another city when he wrote his book, but Fuentes had premonitions of its ferocious future. One of his major characters was a revolutionary gone bad, an industrialist named Federico Robles.

But not he, he moued straight toward what he saw coming: business. 
the spot which will remain the center of style and wealth
in the capital: the ‘Don Quixote’ cabaret of the Hotel Regis …  

They were still at the Hotel Regis when I was there in the ’50s, the models for Federico Robles eating with Fuentes’s other great character, Artemio Cruz, laughing and drinking with all the other “robolutionaries” who came to power with President Miguel Aleman in ’46. They sat in booths or at small dark tables, heavy-lidded men dressed in silk suits and English shoes, graduated at last from tequila and mezcal and pulque to good Scotch whiskey, while their chauffeurs parked outside and the blond girls waited in the casas chicas on Rio Tiber. They were the men who made the present horror: the choked decaying capital, the failing banks, the greedy cement companies, the porous hotels. They invented Acapulco (with Aleman their leader), added Zihuatenejo, Cancun, Ixtapa, providing oil and shelter for the pampered bodies of the north. They were men who were all appetite. They ate the forests, they swallowed the rivers, they sucked up water from beneath the surface of the city and the regurgitated cement. In the end, under presidents Echeverria and Lopez Portillo, they ate Mexico.

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But even in the ’50s, when they still could be seen at the Hotel Regis, there were some who sensed what was coming. In Fuentes’s novel, a journalist named Ixca Cienfuegos says:

“There’s nothing indispensable in Mexico, Rodrigo. Sooner or later, a secret, anonymous force inundates it and transforms it all. It’s a force that’s older than all memory, as reduced and concentrated as a grain of powder; it’s the origin. All the rest is a masquerade …”

In a way, that secret anonymous force arrived at 7:19 on the morning of September 19, fierce and primeval. And now the Regis, along with so much else, was destroyed. Most of the men from the Don Quixote bar are gone too, dead and buried, the profits of old crimes passed on to their children; they stand now only as examples to the hard new hustlers of Mexico. There will never be statues of these men on the Paseo de la Reforma, but there are monuments to them all over the city: mounds of broken concrete and plaster, common graves in Tezonco.

And while many of the dead remained unburied in the week after the earthquakes, jammed among the slabs of the fallen buildings, everyone talked about the future. Mexico will never be the same again: the phrase was repeated over and over again in the newspapers. There were calls from the left and right for investigation of the corruption that led to the faulty construction of so many new buildings; there were demands that Mexico decentralize the government, sending many ministries to other cities; there were suggestions that the ruined sites be converted into parks, to allow some green open spaces for Mexico City to cleanse its lungs. Some insisted that Mexico would have to postpone its payments on foreign debt until after reconstruction.

And there were a few published reminders of another eartliquake, far to the south, that had led to the eventual overthrow of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. That 1972 earthquake killed thousands too. And when the generosity of the world sent money, supplies, medicine, clothes to Managua, Somoza and his gang stole it. The great fear of some Mexicans is that the same massive robbery will happen here, that the endemic, systemic corruption will absorb most, if not all, of the money that should be spent on the people of Tepito and Colonia Roma, on the survivors of Tlatelolco and the Juarez housing project and all the other ruined places of the city. If that happens, Mexico will not require agents of the Evil Empire to provoke the long-feared all-consuming revolution. ♦


Mike Tyson: Dr. K.O.

All fighters come from mean streets and lower depths. Champions such as Sonny Liston, Archie Moore, Jake LaMotta, Dwight Braxton, and Macho Camacho have sur­vived prison detours. Mike Tyson, who could be the next great fighter, comes from the mean streets of Bed-Stuy and is a survivor of a penal institution for incor­rigible boys. When Tyson was 13 years old he moved directly from an upstate reformatory — where he’d spent two years — into the communal home of Cus D’Amato — boxing’s supreme teacher, psychologist, moralist, saver of souls, and father-substitute. D’Amato died last month at 77, and Mike Tyson, at 19, is his unfinished masterpiece.

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At this point, only boxing buffs know Mike Tyson’s name. He’s had only 13 professional fights — all awesome knock­out demolitions, nine in the first round — but he hasn’t appeared yet on network television. On March 23, 1985, he started his professional career fighting for $500. Since then he has fought in Albany, Houston, and Atlantic City. He does not have the kind of six-figure, multifight television contract that the 1984 Olympic champions received at the birth of their pro careers. He has been booked, and then bumped, from four cable-TV fights. This Friday night he makes his 10-round debut on his native ground, at the Felt Forum, against Sam Scaff for $5000.

Tyson started in boxing’s outside lane because he did not have the marketing advantage of an Olympic gold medal. He did not have the headstart glitz of past Olympic boxing champions like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier, Michael and Leon Spinks, Floyd Patter­son, or George Foreman — or even of Ty­rell Biggs and Henry Tillman, the Olym­pic super-heavyweight and heavyweight gold medalists of the 1984 games in Los Angeles. All Tyson has is the power, speed, and character that might consti­tute ring genius.

The politics of amateur boxing cheated Tyson out of his rightful place on Ameri­ca’s 1984 Olympic boxing team. Cus D’Amato was advised, in a friendly way, not to even enter Tyson in the super-heavy­weight trials because that berth was reserved for Tyrell Biggs. And Tyson was robbed of two decisions in elimination fights with Tillman for the right to be the heavyweight on the Olympic squad. In one of those three-round fights Tyson scored a clean knockdown, and in the other he nearly chased Tillman out of the ring. But he lost split decisions each time.

Afterward, Tyson smashed the second­ place trophy against the wall of his dressing room.

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Tyson was not even a New York City Golden Gloves champion, like current pro contenders Carl “The Truth” Wil­liams, Eddie Gregg, and Mitch Green. Tyson had only 25 amateur fights. He never entered the Gloves during the years he was a secret being sculpted by Cus D’Amato in a gym above the police sta­tion in rural Catskill, New York, 100 miles from the deprivations and temptations of Bed-Stuy.

During those decisive years, when Ty­son was between 13 and 19, Cus D’Amato taught him everything he knew about boxing, for which Tyson had an instinc­tive aptitude, and about life — which is so much harder to learn, and for which Ty­son had only the primitive preparation of the streets and jail.

Inside the ring, Tyson quickly mas­tered the signature D’Amato moves of elusive aggression that made Floyd Pat­terson and Jose Torres (both former pu­pils of D’Amato) champions: bending at the knees to maintain balance and posi­tion; holding your gloves high, next to the cheekbones; keeping your chin down; get­ting under and inside the opponent’s jab; punching straight, short, and fast from the shoulder; and stepping to the side and throwing a left hook to the liver. (“The punch nobody can take,” Tyson says.)

During the long country walks, com­munal meals, and quiet evenings of watching grainy black and white films of the boxing masters of the past, D’Amato imparted to Tyson his special blend of psychology and philosophy. The key to it is what D’Amato called the “cultivation of character.” To Cus, “character” was a mystical combination of will, courage, self-denial, self-respect, and intensity. Cus told all his fighters, “The hero and the coward both feel exactly the same fear, only the hero confronts his fear and converts it into fire.”

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Cus also said that fighters of good skill and great character will often beat an opponent of superior skill but less character.

Cus also conveyed to Tyson his idea of the goal of the trainer-fighter relation­ship: for the fighter to eventually become completely independent of the trainer, and for the trainer to make himself obso­lete. This was one reason why D’Amato himself never worked in Tyson’s corner; he wanted to nurture in Tyson the confi­dence of self-sufficiency during a fight, so he would not feel dependent on an external adviser.

Five years ago my friend José Torres told me that D’Amato had found a trou­bled 14-year-old “kid from Brooklyn who is going to become the heavyweight champion of the world.” D’Amato had discovered Jose in the squalor of Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1957 when Jose was still an amateur, and guided him not just to a world championship but to a successful second act as a writer and state commis­sioner after his boxing career was over. Along the way Cus never had a written contract with José. Cus never took a dime from all the money José earned during his career, because Cus felt he was making enough money to live on from Floyd Patterson’s purses. When José was broke and on the way up, Cus paid for his wed­ding. When Cus died, he left no material assets or estate; he hadn’t had a bank account for 15 years. Jim Jacobs, Cus’s best friend, paid all of his expenses.

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So one morning in 1980, José and I went to the gym above the police station in Catskill, and we saw the future. Tyson was then 14 years old, 200 pounds, and about five-six. Outside the ring he seemed withdrawn and sullen. Inside the ring he was a manchild prodigy puncher. Toward Cus he displayed the beginnings of trust and affection.

On the day Cus died last month, Tyson cried and was inconsolable. The next day José Torres drove him to the train that would take him back to Catskill and spoke to Tyson fighter-to-fighter, brother-to-brother, since Cus had been a father to both of them.

“Who is going to teach me now?” Tyson asked. ”I was learning every day with Cus.”

Torres answered: “Cus had enough time. You know everything already. You now know everything Cus could teach you. Cus gave you inspiration. All you need now is experience, confidence, and desire.”

That same night I happened to read my daughter the end of E. B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” the chapter where the brave old spider dies, consoled by the ­knowledge that her eggs are rescued and about to be hatched.

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The history of boxing is the history of immigrant succession in America. Fighters don’t come from prep schools or seminaries. The best way to understand this dangerous, corrupt, and disorganized sport is through the eyes of Charles Darwin.

When the Irish were the urban under­class after the famine of 1848, the great champions were John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, and Torry McGovern. The generation of Jewish immigrants fleeing the pogroms of Russia and Europe produced, during the ’20s and ’30s, Benjamin Leiner, known as Benny Leonard, and Beryl David Rosofsky, known as Barney Ross.

In the ’30s and ’40s, blacks found box­ing as an exit from the slum, and started to dominate the sport. Out of the jobless Detroit ghetto, at the bottom of the Depression, stormed Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. From Los Angeles came the first triple champion, Henry Armstrong.

In the ’60s and ’70s, great fighters emerged out of Latin America’s third world poverty: Roberto Duran from Pan­ama, Wilfredo Gomez from Puerto Rico, Carlos Monzon from Argentina, Alexis Arguello from Nicaragua, Jose Napoles from Cuba, Ruben Oliyares and Salvador Sanchez from Mexico.

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And so Mike Tyson was born in Brook­lyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant in July 1966 into an environment of riots, heroin, crime, disintegrating family structure, and collapsing public schools. He was born on Franklin Avenue, between De­Kalb and Willoughby, not far from where another fighter of the future, Mark Bre­land — the 1984 Olympic welterweight gold medal winner — was growing up. When Tyson was about nine, he moved to Brownsville, which is even more impover­ished than Bed-Stuy.

It is probably a miracle that Mike Ty­son did not die in a shootout with police, or end up doing 25 years in Attica. By the time he was 10 or 11 years old he was a remorseless predator, disconnected from society, doing muggings, stick-ups, and holding the gun during armed robberies, “because I was a juvenile.” Once he was knifed in the face by someone he had beaten in a fair fight.

Tyson attended the same public school I did — P.S. 54, at the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Hart Street. He was a good student at the beginning, but by fifth grade he had become a chronic truant. “I knew who my father was, but he never lived with us,” Tyson says. Abnormally strong for his age, he was able to knock kids five years older unconscious in street fights. They would jab and jive like Ali, and Tyson would rush in and land his punch of natural power.

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“I started hanging out with a bad crowd,” he recalls now. “After I was about 10, I lived on the street. We robbed stores, gas stations, everything. I got ar­rested lots of times. I can’t count how many. They put me in a lot of different places that I escaped from. I just walked out in the middle of the night because they had no fences. I was in Spofford House in the Bronx for about eight months. Then I got convicted of assault and they sentenced me to 18 months in Tryon, a school for bad boys. But the held me overtime. I did two years because I knocked out a few guards and some residents. I was hyper in Tryon, and I couldn’t escape. I felt cooped up and frustrated with all my energy, so I had a lot of fights. But please, don’t think I was a murderer or anything like that. I wasn’t that bad.”

The confidentiality provisions of the state’s social services law prohibited the administration and counselors at the Tryon School in Johnstown, New York, from talking for quotation about Tyson. But off-the-record they are all proud of the kid they remember as originally the most difficult of 35 residents who lived in medium-security Elmwood Cottage. In April 1984, the state’s youth services commissioner, Leonard Dunston, presented Tyson with a plaque for accom­plishment after being a resident in a state juvenile facility.

When Tyson first arrived at Tryon he was “violent, depressed, and mute,” ac­cording to one of his counselors. After a couple months he discovered boxing with gloves instead of fists. One of the guards at Tryon was Bobby Stewart, a former pro boxer who knew about D’Amato’s boxing club in nearby Catskill. Stewart arranged a meeting during which he sparred with Tyson in front of Cus. Even­tually, Tyson was paroled into Cus D’Amato’s custody. He moved in with Cus; Cus’s companion of 45 years, Ca­mille Ewald; Kevin Rooney, Cus’s loyal fighter from Staten Island, who would become Tyson’s friend and trainer; and the other young boxers who were part of the extended D’Amato family.

Things did not go smoothly at first. Cus enrolled Tyson in the local public school, but Tyson knocked out a few classmates, and Cus had to arrange for a private tutor to visit the house.

For the next six years D’Amato and Tyson worked and talked together every day. Tyson not only learned how to box from Cus, he learned the rules of civilized society. He also learned Cus’s code of honor: loyalty, perfectionism, courage. And no contact with — and no compro­mise with — the corrupters and connivers of boxing.

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By being such a gifted pupil, Tyson, in return, gave Cus the treasure of looking forward to the future. He made Cus feel young again. Cus felt like it was 1962 again, and José Torres was undefeated, and Paul Pender, the middleweight champion, was ducking his fighter. With Tyson’s father absent, and his mother (now deceased) living in Brooklyn, Cus became Tyson’s legal guardian.

Some fighters can be obnoxious bullies outside the ring. But every fighter Cus ever trained was a considerate gentleman. And under Cus’s tutelage, Tyson, too, began to feel free to display playfulness and even tenderness. He returned to an old hobby he’d had in Brooklyn — collecting pigeons. Tyson now spends hours training and playing with his collection of 100 pigeons. The birds give him peace, and are his second favorite form of recreation.

His favorite relaxation — also a solitary pursuit — is studying old boxing movies on a big screen in his bedroom. His co-managers, Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton, own the world’s largest collection of boxing films and tapes — about 26,000. Their company, Big Fights Inc., is a $20 million corporation that sells the rights to show these films. So Tyson has access to his own vast film archive of past champions. He has become an authentic historian and scholar of the sweet science.

When I asked Tyson about the cham­pions of the past he most admired and identified with, I got answers that were surprising and revealing. I had anticipat­ed his identification with pure punchers like Liston and Foreman, but he dis­missed them as “just ponderous guys without too much brains.”

His favorite fighter, he said, was Rocky Marciano. “He broke their will,” Tyson said with reverence. “He was constantly coming in. But he swayed low, so the punches hit him on the shoulder. He didn’t get hit as much as people think he did. And we have in common fighting guys with longer reach.”

The second champion Tyson men­tioned was Tony Canzoneri, the clever-­aggressive, five-four, two-time light­weight champion during the 1930s. “Canzoneri had incredible guts and de­sire,” Tyson said. “And he was so smart.”

“And I love Henry Armstrong,” Tyson volunteered. “You know, Cus thought he was the best boxer who ever lived.”

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Six days after Tyson was a pallbearer at Cus D’Amato’s funeral, he was sched­uled to fight Eddie Richardson in Hous­ton, Texas, for $2500. Jim Jacobs, Tyson ‘s co-manager with Bill Cayton, contemplated calling the fight off when he saw how “traumatized” Tyson had been by the death of D’Amato. But Ty­son wanted to go through with the fight; whatever grief and loss he felt, he would not let it interfere with Cus’s radical plan of fighting every 10 days to acquire experience and confidence. When boxing writ­ers in Houston asked him if he was emotionally prepared to fight so soon after Cus’s burial, Tyson told them: “I have certain objectives, and I’m going to fulfill them.” Jim Jacobs never saw him so ”res­olute and determined.”

Cus had been telling the boxing com­munity for years that Tyson was going to be “the youngest heavyweight champion in history,” and Tyson wants to make Cus a prophet. Under Cus’s direction, Floyd Patterson became champion at 21 years and nine months, and Tyson, not yet 20, has set his mind to break that record, even though it places him under the pressure of an artificial timetable.

At this infant stage of Tyson’s career, there are naturally unanswered questions about what hidden weaknesses might lurk beneath his growing aura of invinci­bility. Other fighters have looked like un­beatable monsters, only to have tiny flaws exposed and broken open under pressure from great rivals in big fights. Muhammad Ali unmasked George Fore­man’s lack of stamina and mechanistic inability to adjust his tactics and style. Larry Holmes revealed Gerry Cooney’s lack of confidence in his own endurance, and his demoralization when someone took his best shot and was still standing. Sugar Ray Leonard found weakness in Thomas Hearns’s chin, and ignorance of how to clinch when dazed.

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So in Texas, the herd of boxing writers seized upon Tyson’s height and reach as the potential flaw in this jewel. Tyson, at five-eleven and a half, is short when com­pared to Foreman, Ali, or Holmes. Since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight title in 1908, only two heavyweight champions have been under six feet — Rocky Mar­ciano and Joe Frazier. And Tyson’s reach is not nearly as long as future rivals like Pinklon Thomas, Tyrell Biggs, Tim Witherspoon, Greg Page, Carl Williams, Gerry Cooney, or Michael Spinks. And his opponent in Houston was Eddie Richardson, who is six feet six inches tall, with a reach advantage of about nine inches.

“Are you too short to be a heavy­weight?” the skeptical writers kept ask­ing Tyson before the fight.

“None of my past opponents say that,” was Tyson’s standard reply.

Richardson was an adequate journey­man fighter — he had 12 wins and two losses going into the bout, with eight knockouts. Tyson had won all his 11 fights by knockouts.

The fight in Houston lasted 77 sec­onds. The first punch Tyson threw — a freight-train overhand right — knocked Richardson down. He got up, but Tyson, advancing in crouch, hit him with a left hook so fast that Richardson never saw it coming. Richardson seemed to be lifted off the canvas by the force of the blow, and fell backwards like a sawed-down tree. He was counted out.

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In the dressing room, before the local writers could formulate their questions, a pumped-up Tyson asked: “Do you still think I’m too short?” When an interview­er asked Tyson what lessons he had learned from D’Amato, he answered: “To face your problems.”

Several viewings of the tape of this fight, and the tape of Tyson’s one-round knockout in September of the six foot four Donnie Long, suggest the simple es­sence of Tyson’s distinction. He punches harder than anybody else. It was this raw natural power that Cus D’Amato saw when Tyson was 13 years old and still in a prison for adolescents. D’Amato merely concentrated and refined this power by teaching Tyson to punch in a shorter arc, improve his timing and hand speed, and develop a left hook that is just as power­ful as his right. D’Amato discovered Ty­son, but he didn’t invent him.

Tyson’s victims all say afterward that they have never been hit so hard. Donnie Long, who had never been knocked out before, said Tyson’s punch “felt like a blackjack.” Sterling Benjamin, who suc­cumbed in 54 seconds, said it felt “like a sledgehammer hit me.” He was put down by a left hook to the liver — Tyson’s punch “nobody can take.”

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John Condon is the head of Madison Square Garden’s boxing department. He has been around fighters for 30 years. He told me: “I have never seen anybody punch like Tyson. Not Marciano, not Lis­ton. Nobody. He would knock out Gerry Cooney today in one round. His trouble will be no one is going to want to fight him.”

Nobody can give a professional fighter this magnitude of punching authority. It comes from nature’s chemistry of lever­age, upper-body strength, timing, and quickness of hand that prevents the op­ponent from preparing his nervous sys­tem for the impact. Professionals get knocked out by the punch they don’t see coming.

One-punch destroyers have come in all shapes and physiques. A surprising num­ber of legendary hitters have been tall and thin: Ray Robinson, Sandy Saddler, Bob Foster, Thomas Hearns, Carlos Zarate, and Alexis Arguello. An equal num­ber have been compact, strong, and stocky: Stanley Ketchel, Joe Frazier, Ar­chie Moore, Sonny Liston, Wilfredo Go­mez, and Rocky Marciano.

Whatever the secret formula is, Tyson was born with it. But a punch by itself is no guarantee of success or greatness. It must exist in combination with other qualities  “character,” defense, and in­telligence. And there must not be that small vulnerability that some future foe will find and exploit in a contest the whole world is watching.

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Perhaps the most common unseen vul­nerability in young prospects is the in­ability to take a punch. This quality can­not be taught, and it cannot be known until it is tested in an actual fight. Cus thought the ability to take a punch was a reflection of character and will. Other trainers believe the ability to relax in the ring and the thickness of the neck as a shock absorber are also factors in avoid­ing being knocked out. This capacity to survive the other man’s best blow was one of the dimensions that made Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Harry Greb, Henry Armstrong, Carmen Basilio, Sandy Saddler, and Sug­ar Ray Leonard boxing immortals. Tyson told me: ”I know I can take a great punch, but I don’t want to have to prove it.”

Tyson’s extraordinary 19-and-a-half-­inch neck is a good indication he can probably take a great punch. But he was once tested in this regard, in his toughest amateur fight.

This involuntary experiment occurred in the heavyweight finals of the Empire State Games in April of 1984, just before the Olympic trials. Tyson, then not yet 18, was fighting Winston Bent, the reign­ing New York City Golden Gloves champion.

During an exchange in the second round, Bent jolted Tyson with a right hand to the temple. Tyson punched back with fury. He did not go down. He did not retreat. And in the next round he knocked Bent out. It was an example of what Cus D’ Amato meant when he talked about “character” in a fighter.

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On November 22 — nine days after his knockout in Texas — Tyson was in the ring again. The· location was Albany, and his opponent was Conroy Nelson, six foot five inches, and with a professional re­cord of 19 wins and five losses. He had a 10-inch reach advantage.

The venue was a music tent, sold out with 3000 people plus 400 standees on a cold, rainy night. They’d all come to see Tyson, who has become a hero in the Albany-Troy-Schnectady area. (The tele­vision networks are now considering showing Tyson for the first time in February, and staging the fight in the Albany area so there will be an enthusiastic live crowd rather than the usual indifferent gamblers and tourists who attend the fights staged in the Atlantic City and Nevada casino hotels.)

The second Tyson departed his trailer dressing room — wearing no socks and no robe; as is his tradition — the crowd start­ed screaming. And Tyson, who learned from Cus there is an entertainment and personality aspect to boxing, smiled and interacted with his fans.

At the opening bell Tyson sprang to the attack, immediately imposing his will and energy level on his opponent. Nelson retreated and covered his head with his gloves. Tyson stepped to the side and went to the body with supersonic hooks to the liver and kidney.

George Foreman at 26 did not have enough poise, flexibility, or intelligence to do this with Muhammad Ali in Zaire. Foreman kept trying to punch through Ali’s parrying gloves, and hit him in his bobbing and twisting head, instead of his stationary body. Foreman kept missing, got frustrated and exhausted, and Ali knocked him out. But Tyson, at 19, had the wisdom and patience to feast on Nelson’s exposed ribs until his hands came down, his breath came in gasps, and his legs lost their spring.

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Twenty seconds into the second round Tyson hit Nelson with one short, perfect­ly timed left hook that smashed the bridge of Nelson’s nose into pieces. Nel­son went down, managed to get to one knee at the count of nine, and then with his fearful eyes and tentative body lan­guage, signaled the referee that he didn’t wish to continue.

As soon as the bout was over a 10-year-­old kid named Tony, who trained with Cus, jumped into the ring, and held up a homemade sign that said: GOODEN IS DR. K — BUT TYSON IS DR. KO.

Afterward, in the trailer, with a trace of irritation, Tyson answered unusually silly questions from some of the local press. One scribe asked about a local politician who wanted to shut down Cus’s Catskill gym because it was “dirty.” Tyson and Kevin Rooney said they never heard of the crazy idea.

Another reporter asked Tyson if he ex­pected to win all his fights by knockouts. “That’s not possible,” Tyson the Histori­an replied. “Joe Louis didn’t knock out every opponent. Schmeling didn’t either. Nobody can.”

After the local press left, I followed José Torres behind a curtain, where he embraced Tyson. Tyson whispered, “Cus would have been proud.”

The following morning, Tyson told Ca­mille: “It was just like Cus was there. Everything he taught me came back to me.”

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Boxing is now in a phase of transition. The Age of Muhammad Ali is over. Mar­vin Hagler is so magnificent he has run out of relevant competition. Boxing is at such a low ebb that Gerry Cooney, who has never beaten a legitimate contender under 35 years old, is being considered for a heavyweight title fight when his only credential is his white skin.

But about to dance on stage is the next generation of Mark Breland, Pernell Whitaker, and Mike Tyson. If boxing is going to be cleansed of its monopolistic manipulations and counterfeit crowns, it will occur when these three rising stars with honest managers become free and independent champions, liberated from phony rating organizations and option contracts to promoters.

So watch Mike Tyson, Cus’s kid from Brooklyn, this Friday night at the Felt Forum. He has overcome every adversity to redeem a wayward life and become a role model to a lost generation of the ghetto.

But while watching him, remember he is just 19. Inside his man’s body are teen­age emotions and inexperience. He has been a professional boxer less than nine months. He has never gone more than four rounds outside the gym. He has nev­er gone 10 rounds, much less the champi­onship 15.

There will be more tests to find hidden flaws in Tyson. We haven’t seen what will happen the first time some freak just shrugs off his punch. We don’t know how Tyson will handle the money and celebri­ty that are about to crash into his order­ly, ritualized life.

The Tyson we will see Friday night is not yet Muhammad Ali, or Joe Frazier, or Rocky Marciano. But at 19 he is more advanced than they were at 19. And 12 or 15 months from now, Mike Tyson could become the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Just as Cus D’Amato and his extended family knew years ago.


How To Cure the Police Crime Plague

We are experiencing a police crime wave. More than 40 New York City police officers have been arrested so far this year for crimes including criminally neg­ligent homicide, manslaughter, assault, sodomy, and robbery. During 1984, 81 police officers were arrested. During the past two months, two sergeants — the backbone of the department’s command structure — have been accused: one of stun-gun torture, and another of being a hit-and-run killer.

During 1984, 6698 complaints of bru­tality or verbal abuse were filed with the civilian review board — an increase of 2000 over the previous year. Peer pres­sure for cover-ups — communicated by superior officers — has created a “blue wall of silence” to shield lawbreaking by law enforcers. Clearly, the mayor’s busi­ness-as-usual election-year study com­mittee of power brokers is an insufficient response to this civic crisis of confidence.

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The purpose of this article is to outline five specific, systemic, attainable reme­dies to the epidemic of police abuse. But first I want to make some general obser­vations to try to keep matters in perspec­tive and prepare the reader to better un­derstand where the writer is coming from:

Crime is just as serious a problem in this city as police brutality. New York’s population is not being adequately pro­tected and does not feel safe. This is es­pecially true in black and Latin commu­nities, where the crime rate is the highest. According to the New York Times poll published last Thursday, 36 per cent of blacks named crime as the “most impor­tant city problem” while only 12 per cent mentioned jobs and 9 per cent said housing.

We need more police, more jail cells, faster trials, and tougher sentences for violent recidivists. We need to appreciate what a difficult job being a cop is. We tell them to be aggressive, but not too aggres­sive. The police department can’t be ex­pected to rectify all the failures of soci­ety’s other institutions — the economy, the schools, the courts, the drug-enforce­ment agencies.

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The police are only human. We pay them to do a dirty job that most of us can’t do. Police work under extraordinary stress inside a subculture of violence. Most of them do it honorably. I am respectful, even as I criticize and urge reforms.

One reform that this article will not suggest is the appointment of a special prosecutor for police brutality. This is a pointless, simplistic demand that is being promoted by loony media militants like Reverend Al Sharpton and lawyer Clay­ton Jones.

Mario Merola, Elizabeth Holtzman, and John Santucci have done nothing to justify superseding them in police cases. Their integrity and independence have been exemplary. That is why the PBA has attacked these D.A.s — and demanded a special prosecutor in the Eleanor Bumpurs case.

As an unreconstructed, Jeffersonian democrat, I believe in accountability to the electorate. It is better to have an elected prosecutor making these sensitive decisions than an appointed prosecutor who is only responsible to the politician who selected him or her.

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A special prosecutor would quickly become an institutional prosecutor, little different from the five D.A.s. The existing networks of relationships and pressures would merely shift to the new, unelected personality. Moreover, the first time a special prosecutor made a decision that Sharpton or Jones disagreed with, the demand would go up to supersede the special prosecutor with an extraspecial prosecutor.

Police brutality is perceived as a racial issue by both blacks and whites. And there is a significant racial component to it. But the deeper, more universal issue is abuse of authority: guns and nightsticks in the hands of unstable persons, official irresponsibility that victimizes all kinds of people.

In 1984, almost as many whites as blacks filed grievances with the civilian complaint review board. Last year, 38 per cent of all the complaints against police were brought by blacks, 37 per cent by whites, 20 per cent by Hispanics, and 5 per cent by Asians and others. In 1982, 30 people were killed by police deadly force in New York City — and 20 of them were Hispanic. Last month a black police offi­cer, Mervin Yearwood, was indicted for killing Paul Fava, 20, who was white, on a Bronx subway platform. Yearwood says Fava jumped the turnstile. A mostly white group called Citizens Against Police Injustice has been active on Staten Island for the last five years. Two of its leading members are a retired city police detective and a Transit Authority police sergeant. They cite 10 cases in which citi­zens were beaten up or unjustifiably killed by police guns.

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Dr. Hyman Chernow — white, well-off, and elderly — was crossing Park Avenue when he was run over and killed by police sergeant Frederick Sherman, who was allegedly drinking on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. And two of the cops arrested off-duty for assault this year — officers Paul Witchel and Russell Bjune — allegedly beat up women. Bjune was indicted for assaulting a woman entering a Brook­lyn abortion clinic that he was picketing.

This week Sergeant Rudolph Hays pleaded insanity at the start of his trial in Queens in the shooting and killing of Sharon Walker after a traffic accident last December.

Police violence and misconduct poten­tially affects everyone, and it ought to be perceived that way. There seem to be more nuts entering the NYPD than there are leaving the Reagan administration.

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These are my five specific proposals to restore the honor of the New York Police Department:

1. Require all new police officers to live within New York City. This would reduce the “occupying army mentality” of many suburban cops, lead to more off-duty arrests, pre­vent some crime, and help the city’s economy.

Most of the police officers arrested this year live outside of New York City. All five of the cops accused of the stun gun torture in the 106th Precinct live on Long Island. Lieutenant Steven Cheswick lives in Wantagh. Sergeant Richard Pike lives in Selden. Loren MacCarey lives in Com­mack. Michael Aranda lives in Freeport. Jeffrey Gilbert lives in Elmont. Police Officer Joseph Vecchio, who was indicted for manslaughter in Brooklyn, lives in Lynbrook. Officer Alexander Forbes, who was indicted for criminally negligent ho­micide in Manhattan, lives in Orange County.

A police department commanding offi­cer with 20 years on the force told me: “Living in the suburbs breeds an attitude of fear, paranoia, and disrespect for the population. It creates a feeling of not be­longing, of feeling like an alien.”

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The police should not feel separate from the population. They should not live separately. If all New York cops used the parks, paid taxes, voted, and sent their children to schools in this city, their outlook would be different. Cops should not fear or loathe the population that employs them.

Many of the public statements made by Phil Caruso, the head of the New York PBA, have been inflammatory and unconstructive. Caruso lives in Sayville, in Suffolk County. The entire executive committee of the PBA is white, and al­most all of them live outside the city.

There was once a residency law for all city employees — the old Lyons Law — but it was repealed during the 1950s as the municipal workforce started moving to the suburbs. The time has come again to require city residency for all future police officers.

Prospective residency laws enacted by other major cities, like Chicago, have been upheld by the courts and have worked out well.

Eventually, police officers should be assigned to precincts near their homes, and should patrol their own neighbor­hoods. Both of these recommendations were made by the prophetic Conyers Committee after it conducted police bru­tality hearings in New York two summers ago.

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2. The training and screening of police recruits should be radically changed. The training program should be patterned after the state police: 26 weeks in a barracks boot-camp setting where psycho­logical weaknesses can’t be hidden and new values can be instilled.

The New York Police Department has been suffering from an erosion of disci­pline and competency over the years, starting perhaps with the notoriously poorly prepared police academy class of 1969, which was rushed through the academy because of fear of riots. Most new recruits have no military experience, and for a high proportion of cops, this is their first job. Because of the hiring freeze during the fiscal crisis, 50 per cent of the force now has less than five years’ experience. Last year, 58 per cent of citi­zen complaints were made against officers with less than three years on the job.

Almost every cop I talked to for this article told me off-the-record that the department has a severe and growing drug problem among these younger officers. The combination of tension and tedium on the job, access to drugs confiscated from arrested dealers, and the prolifera­tion of drugs in the working-class culture has increased the abuse of Quaaludes, co­caine, and marijuana by police officers. This makes them more irritable, para­noid, and sometimes out of control. Dur­ing 1984, seven police officers were ar­rested on drug charges — five for possession, two for sales.

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The statistical evidence of the general breakdown of discipline in the depart­ment is strong. Last year, about 100 cops reported they lost their guns; 20 years ago this was unheard of. Last year, about 360 squad cars were cracked up in acci­dents — 60 more than the previous year. At a public forum last November, Com­missioner Benjamin Ward commented offhandedly: “These young patrolmen to­day seem to have a penchant for wreck­ing cars.” Ward later explained that many new cops have never driven a car before joining the department.

The idea for a boot-camp environment police training was suggested to me by Thomas Reppetto, the well-respected president of the civic watchdog Citizens Crime Commission. Reppetto is a former commander of detectives in the Chicago Police Department and author of The Blue Parade, a history of the police in America.

Says Reppetto: “Police recruits can hide a drinking problem, or a drug prob­lem, or a violent temper, or a bad racial attitude in the police academy during an eight-hour day. But they could not hide such weaknesses under the stress of a 26-week barracks training-and-testing situa­tion. This would screen out a lot of bad apples that the psychological test seems to miss …

“The training for the New York City Police Department should be as high-lev­el and as tough as the FBI or the state police. New recruits have to get their val­ues straight. Right now a lot of young cops are influenced by TV and the mov­ies. The message they get from Starsky and Hutch and Dirty Harry is not to play by the rules. A lot of voices are telling cops it’s okay to get the bad guy any way they can. We need completely different training methods to create the peer pres­sure to act the right way.”

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3. Recruitment of blacks and Lat­ins should be made a higher priori­ty. Their numbers must be in­creased in positions of authority in the police department.

New York City today is half black and Latin. But only 10 per cent of the police force is black and 8 per cent is Latin. Of 232 captains, only one was black as of October 1984. Of the 2700 recruits who graduated from the academy during 1983, 1880 were white, 252 were Hispan­ic, 198 were black, and 22 were Asian.

The perception of every white police officer I spoke to is that affirmative ac­tion has lowered the standards of the de­partment. And to a limited degree this is true, although I would argue that bend­ing the old rules is an acceptable price to pay to create a department that reflects this city’s wonderfully diverse population.

Height requirements have been low­ered to accommodate minority and fe­male applicants, and under recent rule changes an applicant with a minor crimi­nal record can become a police officer.

But Tom Reppetto argues: “Affirma­tive action for minorities should be con­tinued. It is not a factor in the break­down of discipline.”

The goal of an integrated police force is both prudent and ethical. You cannot have an 80 per cent white police depart­ment when 70 per cent of the crime vic­tims are nonwhite.

One useful idea, proposed by Basil Pat­erson, is that the city invite the Guard­ians — the fraternal society of black cops — to play an upfront role in recruiting, with an emphasis on high school graduates who are likely to pass the sergeant’s exam.

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4. Implement the idea of a Police Corps. Under this plan, young men and women of all racial and ethnic groups would be offered college scholarships in exchange for serv­ing three years as police officers after graduation.

The Police Corps is the brainchild of Adam Walinsky, a former speechwriter for Robert Kennedy and a former chair­man of the State Investigation Commis­sion. Walinsky says:

“This proposal would give us more po­lice at an attainable cost. It would bring idealism and intelligence to police work. It would recruit the most qualified mi­norities. It would make citizens feel like we are really doing something to fight crime, instead of giving up and saying crime is insoluble …

“We would offer young people a free, four-year college education, just like the army and the marines do. And these young people would give us a couple of summers’ worth of training. After that, they would give us three years of service in the NYPD at an entry-level rate of pay that we could afford. Our goal is 20,000 Police Corps cops in New York City.

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“As the economics work out, we could support a kid to the tune of $8000 or $9000 a year for four years of college and pay him or her a reasonable salary and benefits — say about $20,000 a year the three years of police service. And at the end of the whole program — the whole seven years — it costs less than half of what it costs for the average year of po­lice service under the current labor contract.”

The concept behind this is affirmative action while upgrading standards. We are now creating a two-class police depart­ment. Blacks are not being promoted to captain, and not enough are passing the sergeant’s test. Under the Police Corps, blacks and Hispanics could go to college, become cops, and then pass the ser­geant’s exam if they choose to remain on the force after the three years.

This bold and creative innovation has been endorsed by Bronx D.A. Mario Mer­ola, former deputy mayor Basil Paterson, U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, conser­vative columnist William F. Buckley, the Daily News, and The New York Times. The PBA is opposed in private, but pub­licly will not attack it. Meanwhile, most politicians try to ignore the Police Corps idea and stick to their comfortable, boil­erplate rhetoric about crime.

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5. Create a civilian complaint review board as a truly independent institution outside the police de­partment. This can be accomplished by an act of the City Council or state legislature, or administratively by the mayor.

The present complaint board was im­proved and given more staff in 1983. But citizen complaints still must he filed in the intimidating atmosphere of a police station, and investigations by the board are still under the command of a deputy chief of the NYPD.

The present review board received 4676 complaints in 1983 and 6698 last year. There are two or more unproven complaints on file against 300 police offi­cers. The PBA has won a court injunction preventing these multiple allegations from being used for evaluation or disci­plinary purposes by superior officers.

When Congressman John Conyers held his police hearings in New York in 1983, Mayor Koch complained that the hearings would “embolden criminals.” But judging from the increased number of cit­izen complaints, capped by the recent revelations of torture in the 106th Pre­cinct, what occurred was that the mayor’s hysterical overreaction to the Conyers hearings emboldened brutal cops to feel that they had a license from City Hall.

Now, more than ever, an independent civilian review board is needed. Police Commissioner Ward said this year: “I can live with an outside board.”

The resistance comes from the mayor and the PBA. ■

1985_village Voice article by Jack Newfield on Police Misconduct

1985_village Voice article by Jack Newfield on Police Misconduct


Up the Stairs with Cus D’Amato

In those days, you had to pass a small candy stand to get to the door of the Gramercy Gym on East 14th Street. The door was heavy, with painted zinc nailed across its face and a misspelled sign saying “Gramacy Gym,” and when you opened the door, you saw a long badly lit stairway, climbing into darkness. There was another door on the landing, and a lot of tough New York kids would reach that landing and find themselves unable to open the second door. They’d go back down the stairs, try to look cool as they bought a soda at the candy stand, then hurry home. Many others opened the second door. And when they did, they entered the tough, hard, disciplined school of a man named Cus D’Amato.

“First thing I want to know about a kid,” Cus said to me once, on some lost night in the ’50s, “is whether he can open that door. Then when he walks in, I look at him, try to see what he’s seeing. Most of them stand at the door. They see guys skipping rope, shadowboxing, hitting the bags. Most of all, they see guys in the ring. Fighting. And then they have to decide. Do they want this, or not? If they want it, they stay, they ask someone what they should do. Most of them are shy, for some reason. Almost all fighters. They whisper. You tell them to come back, and you’ll see what can be done. They have to spend at least one night dealing with fear. If they come back the second time, then maybe you have a fighter.”

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I wasn’t a fighter, but I came up those stairs almost every day in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and in some important ways I learned as much from Cus D’Amato as the fighters did. I was living then on 9th Street and Second Avenue, working nights at the Post, and I’d wake up around three in the afternoon and walk to 14th Street and hang out with the fighters. My friend José Torres was then the hottest young middleweight in the city and one of Cus D’Amato’s fighters. He had lost by one point to Laszlo Papp in the finals of the ’56 Olympics in Melbourne, and when he came to New York from Puerto Rico he placed his career in the hands of Cus.

“I didn’t know anything about New York,” he said. “I didn’t know very much about boxing. Most of all, I didn’t know anything about life. So I learned about everything then from Cus.”

Cus, who died last week at 77 after a long struggle with pneumonia, was one of the best teachers I ever met. He was a tough, intelligent man who was almost Victorian in his beliefs in work and self-denial and fierce concentration. For years he’d lived alone in the office of the gym, accompanied only by a huge boxer dog named Champ; there were books on the shelves (he loved the Civil War and essays on strategy and tactics and almost never read novels, although he admired W. C. Heinz’s The Professional) and a gun somewhere and a small black-and-­white TV set and a pay phone on the wall. After Floyd Patterson became champion in 1956, Cus took an apartment over a coffee shop on 53rd Street and Broadway and bought some elegantly tailored clothes and a homburg; but, talking to him, I always sensed that his idea of paradise was that room and the cot in the office of the Gramercy Gym.

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“You can’t want too many things,” he said to me one wintry evening, after the fighters had gone, the speed bags were stilled, and we stood at the large gym windows while snow fell into 14th Street. “The beginning of corruption is wanting things. You want a car or a fancy house or a piano, and the next thing you know, you’re doing things you didn’t want to do, just to get the things. I guess maybe that’s why I never got married. It wasn’t that I didn’t like women. They’re nice. It’s nice. It’s that women want things, and if I want the woman, then I have to want the things she wants. Hey, I don’t want a new refrigerator, or a big TV set, or a new couch … ”

Cus wanted his fighters to be champions, to have money and glory; but he truly didn’t seem to want much for himself. Once a bum made his way to the Gramercy from the White Rose bar across the street; Cus gave him a dollar; the next day, five bums showed up, and the day after that, almost 40. The fighters laughed, as Cus dispensed singles; and then Cus said, “That’s it, that’s all! You want to come back here, bring trunks!” He was a sucker for old fighters. Once when Cus had the shorts (he had to declare bankruptcy in 1971) Ezzard Charles came around to see him; the great light-heavyweight and former heavyweight champion was a broken man, confined to a wheelchair; he needed a thousand, and Cus borrowed the money, gave it to the old champion, and never heard from Charles again. When Patterson won the championship by knocking out Archie Moore on November 30, 1956, Cus used his share of the purse to make Floyd an elaborate $35,000 jewel-encrusted crown; a few years later, Patterson wouldn’t even talk to Cus. Cus once quoted Gene Fowler to me: “Money is something to throw off the back of trains.”

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He loved style in fighters and in writers, too. His favorite sports writers were Jimmy Cannon, Dick Young, and Dan Parker, all of whom took shots at him in print from time to time (“I don’t mind, they gotta job to do and I’m not perfect”), but he also said that the sports writer who moved him most consistently was the elegant Frank Graham of the Journal-American. Later, when Torres became friends with Norman Mailer, Cus started to read his work, as if inspecting it for signs of moral decay. “The guy is really good, isn’t he? He’s like a Robinson, he can box, he can punch … ”

He cherished great fighters — Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sandy Saddler, Willie Pep, Tommy Loughran — but sometimes, late at night, sitting over coffee, he’d talk about the fighter that didn’t exist: the perfect fighter, the masterpiece. “The ideal fighter has heart, skill, movement, intelligence, creativity. You can have everything, but if you can’t make it up while you’re in there, you can’t be great. A lot of guys have the mechanics and no heart; lots of guys have heart, no mechanics; the thing that puts it together, it’s mysterious, it’s like making a work of art, you bring everything to it, you make it up when you’re doing it.”

Toward the end, he thought perhaps that he had the perfect heayweight at last in young Michael Tyson, who has now knocked out all nine of his professional opponents, six in the first round. “He’s strong, he’s brave, he’s in condition, and most of all, he’s got that other thing, the mysterious thing,” Cus said, the last time I saw him. “I have no doubt he’ll be a champion. But more than that, he might be a great fighter.”

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There were a lot of good fighters at the Gramercy in the late ‘5os: Joe Shaw, a fierce-punching 140-pounder; light-heavyweight Jim Boyd, who’d won the gold medal in Melbourne; two more light-heavyweights, named Sylvester Banks and Paul Wright; a wonderful southpaw featherweight named Floyd Smith; and some fine amateurs ranging from bantamweight Georgie Colon to light-heavyweight Simon Ramos. But as Cus became more involved managing Patterson and Torres, the day-to-day training was left to Joe Fariello (now educating Mark Breland). Cus was away at camp with Patterson; he was up at Stillman’s with Torres, to find experienced professionals for sparring partners. And during the same period, Cus was waging his wars with the International Boxing Club and Madison Square Garden. Some people thought he grew increasingly paranoid.

“If this goes down instead of up,” he said to me one day as we stepped into an elevator in a midtown office building, “we’re in trouble.”

He laughed, but Cus meant it, too. The Mob was all over boxing when Cus brought his first good fighters out of the Gramercy Gym. The hoodlums cut into fighters, arranged tank jobs, fixed judges. Frankie Carbo was called the underworld’s commissioner of boxing, a vicious punk who lived off other men’s sweat and controlled a number of managers. Carbo was friendly, sort of, with Jim Norris, a rich bum with a hoodlum complex who ran the IBC out of the old Garden on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street. There’s no room here to relate the details of Cus D’Amato’s sustained contest with Norris, Carbo, and the Garden. Certainly he was on the moral high ground, but the terrible thing was that his personal crusade also hurt his fighters.

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We’ll never know how good Patterson and Torres might have become if they’d been fighting more often, battling those fighters who were controlled by the IBC and the Garden. Certainly Torres would have made more money. I remember one main event he had to take in Boston, when he was still a hot fighter in New York. The total purse came to $28.35. Joe Fariello said, “Joe, you take the $20, I’ll take the $8, and we’ll send the 35 cents to Cus.” Patterson did get rich, and Torres did become champion years later than he should have, and in the wrong division (he was one of the greatest middleweights I ever saw, but had to settle for the light-heavyweight championship in 1965). But the competitive fire of Shaw withered from lack of action; the others drifted away.

“It breaks my heart sometimes, thinking about those kids not fighting,” he said to me once. “But I don’t see any other way.”

That was the problem. From 1959 on, Cus never worked a corner for any of his fighters; he didn’t even hold a manager’s license, as a result of the botched promotion of the 1959 Patterson-Johansson fight, when it appeared (but was never proved) that Cus helped bring Fat Tony Salerno in as a money man. The fighters did their best, and for some fights Cus would come to camp, work with them, talk strategy and tactics. But Patterson broke with him, and Torres was forced to go with another manager (Cain Young) to get his chance at a title. Around the time Torres retired, Cus moved upstate, far from the gyms of the city. “I like it up there,” he said once. “I like the clear skies, the lake, where I go fishing. It’s beautiful. Beautiful.” Did he miss the gym on 14th Street? “Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes … ”

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The last time I saw him was almost exactly a year ago, on the 57th floor of the World Trade Center. We were there to watch Torres be sworn in as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, the first professional fighter and the first Puerto Rican ever to hold the job. “I’m so proud of José, I can’t explain it,” Cus said. We talked about Tyson and other things. And then I asked him if he’d ever gone back to the Gramercy Gym since he sold it in the ’70s. “No,” he said, and looked up at Jose, who was standing with Mario Cuomo at the front of the room. “No, I don’t like to look back.”

And so I did the looking back, sitting in the packed, brightly lit conference room, remembering Cus talking to me when I was 20 about the uses of fear, the meaning of courage, the need to concentrate energy and purpose in all things, and how I’d tried and failed so often to follow his lessons. I’d modeled a character on Cus in one of my novels, and he’d liked the book but objected when he saw the TV movie; on the screen, John Cassavetes stood on a ring apron talking to a fighter and smoking a cigarette. “What manager would do that? What kind of example would he be showing to a kid?” I remembered that conversation, and after José was sworn in, I turned to Cus and said, “Listen, Cus, I want to thank you for everything.” He squinted suspiciously at me. “What do you mean?” he said, and I said, “For letting me climb the stairs.”

He nodded, turned away, and said, “You goddamned writers.”

I’m sorry I never got to explain. ❖