Tag Archive for 'revolution'

DRAFTED/Part Three

Part 2


It’s 1962 and the center is crumbling.

In Centralia, Pa. a garbage dump built over an old coal mine catches fire. The slow burning anthracite under the landfill is ignited and smolders unabated. The town is slowly consumed. The people endure heat, pollution and disease without protest.

In Union Square the Committee to Defend the Cuban Revolution preaches armed struggle against the US. The speakers are young and neat in dress shirts and pressed khakis–some even wear clip-on ties. They look over the heads of the crowd and speak through bullhorns in alien twangs–southern, mid-western.

“Resist the US Imperialist war against Social Democracy…”

An old man, trembling on a cane, warns: “Don’t sign their petition. It’s an FBI trick to get your names.”

A fat kid in overalls jumps off the platform and screams in his face. “All power to Fidel and Che and the brothers and sisters of the Revolution.”

The old man flinches but holds his ground. “Ask them who paid for the leaflets and the fancy loudspeakers.”

Across the park members of the Nation of Islam are handing out copies of their newspaper, “Muhammad Speaks.” Heads shaven, standing at attention in suits and bow ties, they surround their speaker like a Secret Service detail.

“Democracy and integration are the tools of the white oppressor,” he says. He advocates separation of the races and the establishment of black Muslim republics in the former Confederate states.

He is challenged by Mr. McManus, an elderly black Communist, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, who sells his mimeographed autobiography–”Brother Under Arms”–from a shopping cart.

“Segregation in any guise is just a ploy to fragment the working class and thwart the Revolution,” Mr. McManus says.

“Your revolution will never happen, my brother,” the speaker replies.

Mr. McManus’s voice cracks in frustration. “You don’t have the political, economic or military power…”

“Allah will liberate our people,” the speaker interrupts in implacable tones. “Your movement will be a footnote to history…”

Behind the speaker I see Andrew, a kid I’ve known since Brooklyn Technical High School. Just a week before we had split a reefer and gone to the Jazz Gallery to hear Gil Evans. I wave. He stares through me without recognition.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy has announced a campaign to crack down on Organized Crime. He has proposed legislation to make gambling a federal offense.

“It’s a message to the Syndicate,” explains Sal, the bartender at the Park Circle Lanes, across the street from the Brooklyn Riverside Memorial Chapel. “He don’t want them to think they own the White House just because old man Kennedy was partners with the bootleggers.”

Sal has a mountain of prematurely white hair, each ridge carefully tended, over thick black eyebrows and black eyes. He’ll make you a drink, take a number, book a bet, lend you money–anything you want. On Ladies League Night you can’t get near the bar. Housewives on their night out drink Seven and Sevens and Whiskey Sours . “Hey Sal, how come you never bring your wife around?” one of them flirts.

“Why take a ham sandwich to a banquet?” Sal says and they screech with laughter.

Sal’s “gummare” Diane sits at the end of the bar. “Her husband’s upstate on a business trip,” Sal confides with a wink. “An eight year business trip.”

Diane’s got a blonde beehive, wingtip glasses, boobs jutting like cow catchers, capri pants and mules– a style that has tormented me since puberty. She smokes Kools, leaving lipstick smears on the cork tips. She has a way of sucking on the cigarette that drives me to demonic masturbation.

I run back to the chapel looking for a free bathroom and am confronted by an old man in a prayer shawl.

“It’s a shandeh (shame) what’s going on here,” he says.

It’s Mr. Wolfe, a “watcher,” hired by Orthodox Jews to sit all night before the funeral and recite Psalms for the deceased.

“I found a policeman on the sofa,” he says. “Shoes off, gun on a chair, sleeping in the same room as the departed. I asked him to leave and he said the person was dead, he wouldn’t care if Hitler was in there…”

“The cops don’t understand,” I say.

Hashem (God) looks at the sin, not the reason,” Mr. Wolfe says. He digs his nail into my wrist and whispers harshly. “I’m coming here twenty-five years. Police came in and slept. They even brought women. But they never did it in a room with a soul whose fate has not been decided. They had respect for the dead…”

I play the numbers with Sal, a dime a play. With a 500 to 1 pay off I can make fifty bucks if I hit, minus the two-fifty vig. One night Sal slips a five into my hand.

“I’m givin’ you a refund ’cause you’re such a good customer,” he says. “But you gotta do me a favor, okay.” He points down the bar to a swarthy, morose lady staring into a cup of coffee.

“That’s Terry, Diane’s sister-in-law. She brings her in to make everything look kosher. But tonight her car’s in the shop. Could you drive her home.”

In the garage police cars are blocking the station wagons, but they’ve left the keys so I move them out of the way.

Terry is waiting outside the bowling alley. She presses against the door, sitting as far away from me as she can.

“I live on E.19th. and Ave. R,” she says.

She’s silent for a while. She looks out of the window, but I get the feeling she’s watching me.

“Workin’ your way through college?”


“Medical school?”

That would be too big a lie. “Dental,” I say.

“My girlfriend Camille married a dentist. Artie Levinson. He’s a good provider. Gave her a mink for her birthday…The family was against it but now they love him. He fixes everybody’s teeth for free…”

It’s a dark street.

“You can pull into the driveway,” Terry says.

There’s a light on in her house.

“My daughter must be home,” Terry says. “She’s starting at St. Francis next year.”

Oh great, I think, she’s going to introduce me to her swarthy, morose daughter. Instead she reaches out and puts her hand in my lap.

“Can you keep a secret?” she asks.

She slides over next to me and unbuttons her bowling shirt. No bra. I almost lose it.

“How old are you?”


“Nineteen,” she says and repeats “nineteen, nineteen,” as if it’s a magic mantra.

I’m usually done before the zipper is down. This time I grit my teeth and think about baseball. But I don’t make it past the first inning.

A few nights later I go into the bowling alley and am greeted by Sal.

“Hey kid, how’s the Revolution?”

I panic. How does he know about my secret political life?


“Yeah you know, 1776? Terry says you’re a regular Minute Man…” He laughs. “Now you know. Broads talk, too.” He slides me a triple shot of J&B. “Next time have a few of these. It’ll make you last longer.”

A few hours later I’m puking between cars on the D train to Manhattan. I see a piece of pepperoni from a slice of pizza I’d had a few days before.

At nine the next morning I go downtown to Selective Service headquarters on Whitehall Street. It’s across from Bowling Green where Rip Van Winkle took his twenty year nap There must be a couple of hundred kids. A guy in a khaki uniform is at the door.

“Down the hall…”

We enter a large room with picnic tables. An older guy in a white shirt with a lot of ribbons repeats:

“Take a form and a sharp pencil, find a seat and and fill it out…Take a form and a sharp pencil, find a seat and and fill it out.”

In the front of the room a man with a khaki shirt with red Sergeant stripes and blue pants with a stripe down the middle says in a loud, ringing voice:

“This ain’t the prom, gentlemen. Don’t look for a dancing partners. Just find a place to sit and fill out the form. Answer all the questions. Print clearly and legibly. Make sure you check in the boxes. The quicker you do this, the quicker you get out of here.”

A big, shaggy kid gets up and lumbers toward the door.

“Where you goin’, sir?” the Sergeant asks.

“Lookin’ for the bat’room.”

“Sit down and finish the form.”

The big kid keeps walking. “If I sit down I’ll piss in my pants.”

“If you piss in your pants make sure you save enough for your urine specimen or you’ll have to take the physical all over again.”

The kid sits down.





NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Ca, March 5…At the age of 102, blacklisted screenwriter Art Ostrovsky says he is witnessing something he never thought he would live to see–the overthrow of Capitalism. 

His rheumy eyes brighten, his crabbed fingers tremble around a glass of vodka. “I waited 80 years for the Revolution to come to America,” he says. “Now I can feel it in the wind…”

In this rundown garden apartment complex off Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood, Ostrovsky is a puzzle to his neighbors, mostly new arrivals from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. They call him “el viejito” in humorous reference to a popular brand of Tequila and know him as the skeletal old man teetering on his walker in a daily promenade around the courtyard, with a stoic West Indian home care worker in attendance. They occasionally look in on him in the cluttered apartment where along with floating dust devils, spider webs and the resident mouse scurrying in the crawl space he has lived for sixty-two years, among fading photos of the authors, politicians, actors and directors he knew in the “Movement.” 

Ostrovsky is convinced that the economic crisis and the new administration of President Obama provide an opportunity to change the world. He urges his neighbors to participate in “bourgeois” politics. “Marx said that capital is reckless to the health and length of life of the laborer unless under compulsion from society,” he says. “I warn them not to let the bosses pit them against each other the way the studios did to us.”  He fishes a bent Marlboro out of a crumpled box…”The old ones smile behind their hands, but the young ones hear me. They will carry the torch.”

Ostrovsky may be the last surviving founder of the Screenwriter’s Guild. No one knows…

“In the movie business sentiment is reserved for the successful,” he says. “Lawson, Cole and Ornitz were the stars because they wrote the major features. I was just a laborer in the vineyards. I licked the envelopes and ran the mimeograph…”

Blacklisted in 1953 for his refusal to testify about his Communist affiliations he has stayed faithful to the Marxist view of history. 

“Marx predicted that the capitalists would be the agents of their own destruction,” he says with a triumphant gleam. “Now the financiers are pleading for the nationalization of the banks and major industries as the only way to save their personal wealth. The parasite is begging the host to keep it alive.” 

Born in Harlem in New York City in 1907, Ostrovsky was raised in an orthodox Communist family. His father was a founder of the Fur and Leather Worker’s Union. His mother was a leader of a historic 1909 strike against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, which won union representation for seamstresses. 

“When I was nine years old a little boy named Serge was brought home to play with me,” Ostrovsky says. “He was very serious and said his father was going to make a big revolution in Russia and chase out the Czar. I laughed at him, but my mother pulled my ear until I cried and said his father was Trotsky, a great man.. 

“That serious little boy became an engineer and returned to help rebuild Russia,” Ostrovsky says. “He was arrested and shot during Stalin’s purges of the ’30′s.”

On September 16, 1920, a horse cart loaded with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron slugs exploded across from the J.P. Morgan headquarters on Wall St., killing 30.   

In the crackdown on Communists and Anarchists that followed Ostrovsky’s parents were deported to Russia and he was sent to live with an aunt in Coney Island.

“My parents became political commissars in charge of collecting grain from collective farms,” Ostrovsky says. “During the Great Famine of the 1933, they were killed by a mob of starving Ukrainians.”

Ostrovsky grew up to become a loyal member of the Communist Party. 

“We believed in the words of Nicola Sacco that every human life is connected to every other life through threads that you cannot see,” he said. “We fought for the rights of the workers against the bosses and their gangster goons,” he said. “For the martyrs who were framed by the corrupt judicial servants of the exploiters.”

In 1931, Ostrovsky rode the rails to Scottsboro, Alabama to support the defense of a group of black teenagers who were accused of gang raping two white women.

“When everyone else abandoned them the Communist party came to their defense,” Ostrovsky says. 

During the 1932 presidential campaign he traveled to Los Angeles with the Communist candidate William Z. Foster. They were arrested on charges of “criminal syndicalism.”

“I tell the young people that Obama is not the first black man to run in a presidential election,” he says. “In 1932, the Communist Party nominated James W. Ford for as Foster’s running mate. The Party came in fourth with 102,000 votes that year.”

When they were released, Ostrovsky was instructed by cultural Commissar V.J. Jerome to stay in Hollywood. “Movies were seen as a tremendous vehicle for propaganda,” he says. ” A comrade got me a job writing comedy shorts for Vitagraph. My job was to try to portray the class struggle, the nobility of the workers and the essential shallowness of the bourgeoisie.”

Ostrovsky remembers the short unit as the purest expression of collective unity. 

“Writers, actors, directors, technicians all worked together in solidarity,” he says. “We were the proletarians of the studio system and were united against a common enemy–the bosses.”

His proudest achievement was a short in which a young Glenda Farrell, playing a shopgirl, is promised a promotion by her lecherous boss, Guy Kibbee, but fights him off and returns to her poor but honest carpenter boyfriend, Dick Foran.  

“We were positive that the Depression would raise the collective consciousness of the working class and lead to world revolution,” Ostrovsky says. “But FDR and his band of left meliorists kept the people in check.”

The Party viewed the Spanish Civil War  as a proxy battle between the Soviet Union and the Fascist powers.. Ostrovsky was working on a serial in which the hero had to capture a dangerous secret weapon. The Cultural Commissar instructed him to make all his villains Germans or Italians.  But Warner Brothers wanted to sell movies abroad and was loath to offend such good customers. 

“We compromised and made our villains American neo-fascist plutocrats,” Ostrovsky says. “My bad guys were modeled on Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. Our subliminal message reached millions of kids in Saturday matinees…”

During the war he worked in an Army Air Corps film unit commanded by Lieutenant Ronald Reagan. “We made morale boosting films for the troops,” he says. “I managed to slip in some pro-Soviet messages…Ronnie never caught on.”

After the war Ostrovsky says “the bourgeois democracies were confronted by the sudden emergence of the Revolution, spreading from Eastern Europe and Asia toward the  West.” 

“The reaction set in,” Osotrovsky says. “Communists were demonized. At the same time a suffocating blanket of prosperous conformity settled over the land.” 

Ostrovsky refused to testify against his comrades and was blacklisted. “The famous writers, the Hollywood Ten, all worked under pseudonyms,” he says. “But the B-writers were finished.”

In the late ’50′s he was given a few pseudonymous scripts on the TV series Robin Hood. “I enjoyed writing stories about a defender of the oppressed. But the series didn’t last.” 

After that, Ostrovsky never worked again. His fourth wife supported him with her earnings as an official of the Los Angeles teacher’s union. Now he lives on her small pension and Social Security. He admits he despaired of ever seeing the Revolution. “In the ’60′s they stifled collective action with drugs and false philosophies of self-realization,” he says. “For the last twenty years they deadened the oppressed with easy credit. Now it’s over.” He turns with grim satisfaction  to the photos of Paul Robeson, Jules Dassin, Dalton Trumbo, Zero Mostel and The Weavers. “Our time has come..”

After a restorative gulp of vodka Ostrovsky grips his walker and pushes open his screen door. In the courtyard some kids are kicking around a soccer ball. Closing his eyes and harking back to a time when he addressed public meetings Ostrovsky calls to them with sudden strength.

“You must grab the moment,” he shouts. “Capital has exhausted the consumer market it created. In a last gasp it commodified itself. It created a world wide market in which capital was the only product. But now the house of cards has collapsed. Capital is like an animal, gnawing at its limbs to extricate itself from a trap that it set for others…

“Obama’s humane democracy will change the economic relations between people. It will open the door for a socialism of equality and eventually for a classless society….”

Steadying himself with one hand, Ostrovsky raises his fist.

“I believe in the ultimate victory of the Fourth International,” he cries

The kids stop their game and applaud.

“Bravo Art,” they shout. “Ole…”