Want to hear something weird about the Left? It’s chock-full of human nature. For example: Some communist, in the dead of winter, stole my girlfriend’s coat.
I take you back a few months. A cold December. My girlfriend and I are invited to a “holiday party,” as the Americans say. Note how the festive noun “party” is modified by the cautious adjective “holiday” so as not to exclude broad-minded Muslims, Jews, atheists, Wiccans, Buddhists, godless Trotskyites, pantheistic vegetarians, anarcho-syndicalists, or Darwinian psychics. Also note how these seasonal events tend to happen around Christmas, birthday of the zeitgeist-pummeling Baby Jesus, who, everyone knows, loved a good party. This particular revel is given by Monthly Review, a vital and venerable journal of ecumenical Marxism, run by a few stoic smart people, some of whom I am slightly afraid of.
Year after year, not quite having made the strides in self-esteem I would have liked, I am again deeply flattered to receive a mass-mailed postcard invitation to another Monthly Review holiday party. Laura, my girlfriend, having bombed the Capitol Building in 1983 with a group of comrades in protest of America’s invasion of Grenada, and having survived over 14 years in prison for it, flatters less easily. This invitation is, for her, merely another in a relentlessly bulging cornucopia of radical event offers. “But I’ll go, if you want me to,” she always says.
Naturally, Laura has a meeting before the Monthly Review party. So I arrive first at the MR office around 6:00 p.m. and begin solo mingling. I spot an eminent Leftist historian across the room. His seething scholastic glare stops me cold, and it is instantly understood that, until I have caught up in my reading, I shall not approach.
I say hello, instead, to a vegan I’ve met briefly, a woman who quickly proves so annoying that I sidle over to the food table and begin eating shrimp, to repulse her. It works, and my luck improves, as I’m introduced to a lawyer who works on environmental issues. We get into a conversation about the siege on Gaza with a dancer, who’s been there. Gradually, I realize the party is working: isolated most of the year, I’m back with my peeps. A fragile mélange of the irksome, wistful, tempestuous, and brave, we are united by a desire to make this world less toxic; by our need for equality and justice.
At last, Laura draws nigh. Stepping into an elevator that takes her to the office, she is greeted and shown to a side room, where she’s invited to lay her coat with others on a battered wooden desk, across which thousands of orders for Sanforized shirtwaists might once have passed — this, after all, being the Garment District.
About Laura’s coat. Although she’s often described herself as a “revolutionary anti-imperialist,” Laura bought this coat at Lord & Taylor’s — a clue that, in order to succeed outside federal custody, radicals should probably bend a little. In prison, Laura was often cold, and made to wear clothes too big for her. After getting out, she spent several winters in borrowed or cheap, thin coats, until one year she decided it was OK to have a good, warm one. Mind you, Laura didn’t get above herself: she waited for a sale — $280 marked down to $100 — and got this wonderful, brownish-grey long coat, reversible, just her small size, that softly told her, every winter’s day, life was actually working out.
Meanwhile, the party is growing steadily — a dietician, a Web designer, activists, students have added themselves to the mix, and the room is now pinko-packed. I introduce Laura to the eco-attorney; we find we know people in common: Coffee sometime? Sure! We co-mingle, then drift apart, I to talk to a guy whose work with immigrants is heartfelt and astounding; Laura to old friends from the Weather Underground. Everyone agrees the shrimp is really good this year. The vegan appears to have left early.
After about an hour, I catch Laura’s eye from across the room. Drawing my index finger across my throat and extending my tongue and eyeballs in secret, “couple’s” code no one else understands, I suggest it’s time to go. Laura nods, and we enter the “coatroom.” Laura puts her hand on something that feels right, but which she quickly discovers . . . is not. It’s an unsubtle, deep black coat, too big, too quilted: her coat is not there. Someone — some woman who owns this off-brand, overstuffed thing — mistook Laura’s amazing coat for hers.
Mistakes happen. It’s dark and 28 degrees outside, but we wait 45 minutes until the party ends, to make sure it’s OK for Laura to wear this coat home. She does. Well, maybe tomorrow somebody will call the MR office and say they got the wrong coat. Or next week? Next month? No one calls.
End of story. Compared to, say, Gaza, it’s vastly forgettable. Because the loss of a coat shouldn’t matter that much, we quickly reboot our macro-focus on Social Justice. We agree we would gladly give up all we own, if this would ensure that nobody’s cold this winter; that people who make coats are paid decently; that Palestinians are treated as human beings.
Still, it’s hard: Laura was just getting comfortable, learning to fetishize commodities. Once, she did things that sent her to prison because she wanted the U.S. not to invade sovereign countries. She still cares passionately about Revolution, but there’s a hurt here that politics can’t brush away. There’s also the knowledge that somewhere, there walks someone purporting to believe in equality and justice — whose coat is not her own.
No vegans were harmed in the writing of this column.
Susie Day lives in New York City where she writes a humor column for feminist and gay publications. She has also written on U.S. political prisoners and labor issues and thinks her girlfriend, Laura Whitehorn, is hot stuff. Can’t get enough of Susie? Read other pieces by Susie Day in MRZine: Susie Day, “Fugitive Offers Reward for Rumsfeld’s Capture” (22 July 2005); “Street Life of a Mad Activist” (28 July 2005); “Waiting for Karl Rove” (9 August 2005); “A Child’s Primer of Intelligent Design” (24 August 2005); “The Flood This Time” (19 September 2005); “Things That Rise Up in the Night: A Howl-oween Treat” (18 October 2005); “President Salutes Anonymous Red-Baiter” (14 November 2005); “Conspicuous Consumption of a Mad Activist” (11 December 2005); “2006: The Year in Horrorscopes” (9 January 2006); “Visiting Herman” (7 February 2006); “Savior Self” (6 March 2006); “Pinko Plague Panics President” (4 April 2006); “Seymour Hersh and the American Brain” (2 May 2006); “Identity, Class, and Bite Me, David Horowitz” (30 May 2006); “Bugging Hillary” (19 June 2006); “Back in the USSA” (24 July 2006); “News from the Back of the Front” (21 August 2006); “Barbie at the Barricades” (20 September 2006); “How to Stay Out of Gitmo” (18 October 2006); “Ted Haggard and the Church of the Down-Low” (13 November 2006); “Police Gun Down Another Rich White Man” (11 December 2006); “Consuming Karl” (6 February 2007); “Anna Nicole Smith Bombs Iran” (6 March 2007); “Peter Pace Porks a Peck of Pinko Perverts” (2 April 2007); “Jesus Christ Weds Pat Robertson” (30 April 2007); “U.S. Troops Out of . . . ME” (30 May 2007); “Killer Lesbians Mauled by Killer Court, Media Wolf Pack” (27 June 2006); “Apartheid Americana” (23 July 2007); “Peace Movement Overthrows Government, Cheney Dies” (20 August 2007); “Honey, I Shrank the Military (Or, Who Put the ‘Pet’ in ‘Petraeus’?)” (21 September 2007); “Poppin’ Fresh Declares Martial Law” (13 November 2007); “Miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue: Santa Confirmed as FBI Head” (10 December 2007); “Croakin’ on Hudson” (7 January 2008); “Our Blob in the White House” (4 February 2008); “The Revolution Will Not Be Workshopped” (3 March 2008); “Ask Ms. Liberty: Advice for the War-Torn” (1 April 2008); “Gone with the ‘W'” (27 May 2008); “Sex sans the City (A Post-Marxist Preview)” (23 June 2008); “Jesse Helms and the Theater of the Depraved” (27 July 2008); “Pre-Election Attack of the Pro-Life Killer Fetus!” (15 September 2008); “The Mad Activist’s Declaration of Codependence” (13 October 2008); “Obama Picks Bill Ayers as Secretary of Defense!” (10 November 2008); “Proposition 1984” (8 December 2008); and “Unconditional Luv 4 Sale” (5 January 2009).