The Boarder’s Son Saves Trotsky

Watercolor sketch I did on a trip to Mexico Jim and I took in 1991. I painted and he wrote a history book.

Watercolor sketch I did on a trip to Mexico Jim and I took in 1990. I painted and he wrote a history book.

 

Here’s the second of three Boarder stories chopped out of my novel. She’s talking to my young narrator, Brooklyn.

 

“Did I ever show to you a picture of my boychik?” the Boarder asked. “He’s a regular Elvis, kayne horeh. Here, I have it right here.”

 

She whipped out a picture album with a mahogany cover carved with the words, “Eternal Memories,” and flung it open on the table to a crumbling, yellowed newspaper clipping with a caption in Spanish. “Nu? Here he is.”

 

“This one?” I pointed. “The man with the high forehead and little round eyeglasses?”

 

“Noooo, of course not,” she said, waving her hand. “That? That’s the famous communist, Leon Trotsky. A regular trouble-maker. Every Monday and Thursday with a revolution. And chutzpa? You don’t know from it.”

 

“Is it this one, this big guy?”

 

“Noooo,” she said again, smacking her forehead. “That’s the famous Diego Rivera, a meshuga artist. The class struggle this, the class struggle that, but when he paints a picture, you can’t miss it. He even painted one in New York, a mural in Rockefeller Center. Don’t even ask, with Lenin smack in front. Only in America.”

 

“Well, then,” I said, “the only one left is this lady with the big eyebrow.”

 

Frida Kahlo's Self Portrait

Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace.

 

“Her? Hau boy. You know who she is? Okay, okay already, I’ll tell you. That’s Frida Kahlo. Also a famous artist. Arty-shmarty, native-shmative, there’s nothing wrong with her a tweezers wouldn’t fix. Anyway, I know her tata, an Ashkenazi Jew like us. In the wholesale pickled hot tamale business he’s in. I knew him on the Lower East Side. America, it wasn’t good enough for him. Mexico he needed. Also with the big eyebrow. The daughter, Frida? She’s a Mexican Indian like I’m a Mexican Indian. But can she paint a picture!”

 

“So where’s your son? There’s no one left.”

 

“My boychik? He’s right here.” She tapped the clipping.

 

“You mean this grey blur? That’s a person? You sure?”

 

“Sure I’m sure. You think a mama wouldn’t recognize her own flesh and blood, who she worked and slaved over, and broke out of jail? That’s him, behind Diego. Look at those sheyneh green eyes. Later he saved Troksky’s life.”

 

“He saved Troksky’s life?”

 

“Brookileh.” She pinched my cheek. “You think I’m the only one who ever farpotshket with fate? Predetermined time-line? Hau boy! An accident waiting to happen.

 

“Anyway, everyone knows how the, feh!, Stalinists attacked Trotsky, with his wife and grandson. In the middle of the night they came, must have been twenty or thirty of them, dressed up like police. They schmoozed their way in, tied up the guards, and shot two or three hundred bullets into the Trotskys’ bedroom. Then, just to make sure, they threw in a few bombs. Nobody could have survived.

 

“Afterward they patted each other on the backs, congratulating themselves on an assassination well-done, all the Trotskys nice and dead, Stalin nice and happy.

 

“What nobody knows, is what happened earlier. That night, my boychik… he’s so charming. Charming like me.” She grinned and batted her eyelashes. “Earlier that night, my boychik is checking around the courtyard of the Trotskys’ famous walled House in Mexico, and who does he see, but Molech ha-movess.”

 

“The Angel of Death!” I cried. “He can see him too?”

 

“Of course. It runs in the family. ‘Buenos noches,’ my boychik says, turning on the charm like a fire-hose. Who could resist?

 

“‘I know you from somewhere, don’t I?’ the molech asks. He puts on his eyeglasses and squints. But before he knew what hit him, my boychik’s taking him for a drink in some nightclub with swinging doors and dancing ladies.

 

“They slug back for themselves a few mescals with worms, and then the Molech says, ‘I don’t know why, but when I look at you the name Malky Levine comes to mind. I think it’s your eyes. That odd moldy-green color. Malky Levine, Malky Levine, Malky Levine. Who could that be?’

 

“‘Who could that be!’ my boychik yells. ‘That’s my mama! I know why you know me. You must have heard about the jail break.’

 

“‘No,’ says the molech. ‘Never heard of it.’ So my boychik he tells him the whole story and that’s that. So how’s about some five-card stud?”

 

“Not now!” I cried. “You’re in the middle of a story.”

 

“What?”

“Molech ha-movess. What did he say when your son finished the story about the jail break?”

 

“What did he say? Ay-yay-yay. He looks at his watch, then all of a sudden he screams, ‘SNAIL SLIME! Look what time it is! I was supposed to take the Trotskys an hour ago.’ Then he grabs his head and moans. ‘My fourth big mistake! I’ll be demoted to cockroaches. Or worse yet scorpions. Did you know scorpions don’t age? They never die!’”

 

“What happened to the Trotskys?” I asked.

 

The Trotsky's bedroom with bullet holes

The Trotsky’s bedroom with bullet holes. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

The Trotsky's compound

The Trotsky’s compound. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

Trotsky's grave.

Trotsky’s grave. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

“The molech, still in the girlie club, says. ‘Who’s next?’ He gives a look in his ledger. ‘Gotta run.’ He heads for the door. ‘It’s rush hour in New Jersey and after that some epidemic in India.’

 

“So my boychik, he heads back to the Trotsky’s House. From outside he hears a boychik saying, ‘No I have more, a hundred at least,’ then a lady’s voice, ‘Beats mine, only fifty-five.’

 

“He opens the front gate and gives a look. All the doors and windows are blown out, and the pet bunnies got loose and are hopping around. The guards and guests are sitting in the garden. It’s a regular garden party, and the gansa Trotsky family are walking back and forth on the patio counting bullet holes in the walls. They didn’t even have scratch on them, kayne horeh.” She winked at me. “They say they saved themselves by jumping under their beds.”

 

 

A recreation by Diego Rivera of Man at the Crossroads, his mural that was almost in Rockefeller Center. Amazingly, it included Lenin leading the oppressed masses. Even more amazingly it was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller. Not so amazingly, he suddenly remembered who he was and had it torn down before it was finished.

A recreation by Diego Rivera of Man at the Crossroads, his mural that was almost in Rockefeller Center. Amazingly, it included Lenin leading the oppressed masses. Even more amazingly it was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller. Not so amazingly, he suddenly remembered who he was and had it torn down before it was finished.

 

The story of how the Trotsky’s saved themselves is pretty true. Google it. For the jailbreak story please see the previous blog post.

 

Below is a rendition of the Internationale. I’m not a communist myself, but has there ever been a more rousing anthem? It’s almost enough to make you want to run out and join the Russian revolution.

 

Posted in: Blog & Stories

4 comments

  1. Jim Blythe says:

    The revolution eventually failed in Russia. Lenin and Trotsky agreed with Marx that a socialist revolution could only succeed in establishing socialism in an advanced capitalist country, which Russia certainly was not, and the situation was made worse by the invasion of troops from 21 nations to destroy the revolution. Trotsky’s hope (which came close to happening) was that their example would help to bring about the revolution in some of those countries, who would then help them. Stalin perverted their ideas and said that the revolution had created socialism (ignoring both the theory and the fact that socialism must be democratic and free to be real socialism).

    In 1990, I was finishing my book, Ideal Government and the Mixed Constitution in the Middle Ages, which Princeton will soon be rereleasing as a print-on-demand book.

    Here is the original French version of the Internationale, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZ731aR_SBY (lyrics below following the translation of some verses). The third person pictured with Marx and Engels is Rosa Luxemburg, one of my heroes, who died leading the German Spartacist Party in an uprising against the German government in 1919. She insisted on the necessary democracy of the revolutionary party and was one of the great theorists of marxism.

    English version:

    Arise ye workers from your slumbers
    Arise ye prisoners of want
    For reason in revolt now thunders
    And at last ends the age of cant.
    Away with all your superstitions
    Servile masses arise, arise
    We’ll change henceforth the old tradition
    And spurn the dust to win the prize.

    Refrain:
    So comrades, come rally
    And the last fight let us face
    The Internationale unites the human race.

    No more deluded by reaction
    On tyrants only we’ll make war
    The soldiers too will take strike action
    They’ll break ranks and fight no more
    And if those cannibals keep trying
    To sacrifice us to their pride
    They soon shall hear the bullets flying
    We’ll shoot the generals on our own side.

    No saviour from on high delivers
    No faith have we in prince or peer
    Our own right hand the chains must shiver
    Chains of hatred, greed and fear
    E’er the thieves will out with their booty
    And give to all a happier lot.
    Each at the forge must do their duty
    And we’ll strike while the iron is hot.

    Original French lyrics:

    Debout! les damnés de la terre
    Debout! les forçats de la faim
    La raison tonne en son cratère,
    C’est l’éruption de la fin.
    Du passé faisons table rase
    Foule esclave, debout! debout!
    Le monde va changer de base
    Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout!

    Refrain
    C’est la lutte finale
    Groupons-nous et demain
    L’Internationale
    Sera le genre humain.

    Il n’est pas de sauveurs suprêmes:
    Ni dieu, ni césar, ni tribun,
    Producteurs, sauvons-nous nous-mêmes!
    Décrétons le salut commun!
    Pour que le voleur rende gorge,
    Pour tirer l’esprit du cachot
    Soufflons nous-mêmes notre forge,
    Battons le fer quand il est chaud!

    L’etat opprime et la loi triche,
    L’impôt saigne le malheureux,
    Nul devoir ne s’impose au riche,
    Le droit du pauvre est un mot creux.
    C’est assez languir en tutelle,
    L’égalité veut d’autres lois;
    «Pas de droits sans devoirs», dit-elle,
    «Egaux, pas de devoirs sans droits!»

    Hideux dans leur apothéose,
    Les rois de la mine et du rail
    Ont-ils jamais fait autre chose
    Que dévaliser le travail?
    Dans les coffres-forts de la bande
    Ce qu’il a créé s’est fondu.
    En décrétant qu’on le lui rende
    Le peuple ne veut que son dû.

    Les rois nous saoulaient de fumées.
    Paix entre nous, guerre aux tyrans!
    Appliquons la grève aux armées,
    Crosse en l’air et rompons les rangs!
    S’ils s’obstinent, ces cannibales,
    A faire de nous des héros,
    Ils sauront bientôt que nos balles
    Sont pour nos propres généraux.

    Ouvriers, paysans, nous sommes
    Le grand parti des travailleurs;
    La terre n’appartient qu’aux hommes,
    L’oisif ira loger ailleurs.
    Combien de nos chairs se repaissent!
    Mais si les corbeaux, les vautours,
    Un de ces matins disparaissent,
    Le soleil brillera toujours!

  2. I like the story “The Border’s Son Saves Trotsky” very much. It shows a mother’s love even if a little inflated, which is how most of us Jewish mothers feel about their children. In my house we pronounce it “kenna hora”. We are from Ashkenazi roots. Maybe your heroine was Sphardic.

  3. Marilyn Jones says:

    Did you say people didn’t like the border stories? I love them. I must have forgotten to make a comment, but I read this and enjoyed everything about it.

  4. Jane Ryder says:

    What Marilyn said! I LOVE the boarder stories. Please keep them coming!

    Thanks to Jim for the history, too. I’ve been watching “Peaky Blinders” on Netflix, which has a strong sub-plot about communists at the BSA (the show is set in Birmingham, England, in the years following the end of WWI). Interesting stuff.

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