I was a teenage communist.

[Artist’s rendering.]

I was a teenage communist. And, frankly, I was the real fucking deal.

I was not a poser. Not one of those corduroy-wearing tossers who talked about world peace to get into indie-rock girls’ pants. I was militant. I had read Marx for Beginners. Twice. I would walk alone through my London suburb, thinking deeply about socialist currency systems. I would not hang out at the shopping center. That was collaborating with consumerist false consciousness. I would not talk to girls. They smelled too good and were scary.

I was radicalized by a 42 year-old named Carol in Edinburgh during 1998. I was 17 and acting in a play at the Festival. Obligatory throwback picture:

[^Me in 1998. I’m acting so hard.]

Carol was a leathery, tea-stained Australian who shared my opposition to capitalism and fun. Also, as a gay woman, she was guaranteed to have total contempt for my male sexual urges, which felt very reassuring at the time. Carol invited me to join Workers’ Fight, part of the Trotskyite Internationalist Communist Union. They still have a website, which I presume is maintained on a communal, non-hierarchical, democratic basis. Because it’s complete shit.

We got talking. She was earnest and passionate. I said how alienated I felt at school. She empathized, “but at the end of the day,” she said, “who wants to be popular, when you can be RIGHT?” I was skeptical about Carol, but I loved being right. After that, I started to care a great deal about “The Party”. Bear in mind, I had still never been to a party.

Back in London, I began selling copies of the Workers’ Fight bi-monthly magazine — Class Struggle  — on the street during weekends. The articles were dense, earnest, and tinged with resentment. And the headlines were pure 1920’s propaganda. For a donation of just one British pound, you could read such gems as:

The Scottish Socialist Party — from an electoralist scratch to the danger of reformist gangrene

The crisis of post-Soviet agriculture is aggravated by “reforms” and Western “food relief”

You could tell when Class Struggle hated an idea, because they put “quotation marks” around it. “Quotation marks” was code for rolling their eyes and jerking their wrist back and forth. Class Struggle also spent just as much time (if not more) attacking other groups on the Left than they did denouncing capitalists. They particularly loathed the Scottish Socialist Party, who are so tiny, they received just 875 total votes in Scotland’s last election, out of 2.9 million cast.

Class Struggle was never intentionally funny. But sometimes laughs crept in. I enjoyed the classified ads, which said things like:

Housemate wanted. Pref. non-smoker. No Maoists.

My magazine-selling went on for a few months, until a few friends and I applied for an obscure local government travel grant to visit anywhere in Latin America. Somehow, we got the cash, and decided to visit Cuba (of course). Carol was thrilled. She should not have been.

Nothing will strip you of Communist beliefs quicker than visiting a Communist country. I always enjoyed lecturing people that Cuba “had the best health care system in the world, with more doctors per capita than any other nation”. And that was true. In the Cuban city of Trinidad, I saw a boy with a gleaming white cast on his recently fractured arm. Great! Sure, the rest of him was covered in literal rags, and he was stick thin from the socialist paradise’s chronic food shortages. And he lived in a corrugated shack. But his healthcare was super duper! The next day, we offered a taxi driver $20 U.S. to take us to another city. He said it was strictly illegal. We offered double. He reluctantly agreed. Halfway through the trip, he was pulled over by an aggressively humorless state policeman, and fined what he said was three months’ wages for “unauthorized entrepreneurial activity.” We all thought he was going to cry. It was devastating.

And the final nail in my Communist coffin? I saw Fidel Castro speak.

July 26th is a Cuban public holiday, honoring the movement that swept Castro into power. We heard he was going to be speaking at an outdoor event in Cienfuegos. We took the train. He was an hour late, but we saw his helicopter touch down near the town square, where thousands had gathered to hear El Comandante. Then it began pouring with rain. He didn’t come out. Another hour went by. When the rain stopped, he emerged. We were all drenched to the bone, but he looked immaculate in army fatigues. This was not the behavior of a class warrior or an anti-imperialist freedom fighter. It was the behavior of an entitled jerk. (Oh, and thanks to the internet, you can read his speech that day. Don’t, though. It’s very dull.)

We listened politely for a few minutes, but we barely understood a word. Our Spanish was bad, and we were right at the back of a huge crowd of diehard party loyalists, about 500 yards from a 72 year-old Fidel, amplified only by crappy, 1950s loudspeakers. We were bored. We were 18. One by one, we slunk away to explore the town.

We were gone maybe two hours, and on our way back to the train station, we had to pass by the same town square. And Fidel was STILL TALKING. The crowd was distraught with boredom and probably contracting pneumonia from their wet clothes. Castro did not care. He was just another entitled bully who loved the sound of his own voice and the feeling of telling other people how to live.

My communism was already gravely wounded. But Castro killed it.

I never spoke to Carol again.

The Indian grocery store and the service dog

The title of this post sounds like a terrible Neil Young song. But I digress. My new obsession is a huge Indian grocery store in Jackson Heights, Patel Brothers. The place is huge and has every kind of mutant vegetable known to man. Everything has a weird name and as soon as you see it you want it: it’s like the IKEA of fruit. Yesterday I swang in for some Asafoetida powder and mung beans. I mention this detail to confirm that I KNOW I am a giant douchebag, but don’t care.

http://www.culinate.com/hunk/166556

On my way out, I saw a great fight between the Indian security guard and two New York weirdos. The couple were in their mid-50s, and dressed head-to-toe in fur coats, sequined jeans and sequined sweaters. Amid the quiet Bangladeshi housewives, they stood out like an airhorn. The lady was a classic “party girl left out in the rain”. The fundamentals of beauty were still in her face, but rusted over with three decades of cigarettes and drugs and vodka. The dude looked like Andy Warhol’s cousin: bowl-cut wig, yellow-tinted aviator glasses, and the permanently pursed lips of plastic surgery patients from the 1980s.  In their shopping cart was a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag with a small Yorkshire Terrier inside. The security guard kept yelling “no dogs”. The woman yelled back in the thickest Queens accent you’ve ever heard: “It’s a service doooaaawg. You hiyaaaave to let me in. It’s the looooooooowah.” Andy Warhol’s cousin said nothing with his mouth, and everything with his eyes.

The guard wouldn’t hear it. So the lady pulled some sort of official card from her purse to justify the dog. I imagine it said, “yeah, I know this person is nuts, but I’m a busy doctor and I had bunch of patients waiting and she insisted she needs a dog at all times or she’ll fall apart. So can you just look the other way?”. To be clear: this woman was not blind or visibly disabled in any way. She just feels better having a Yorkshire Terrier around. You know who else that applies to? Fucking EVERYONE. Have you ever played with a Yorkshire Terrier? They’re a delight.

There is an epidemic of this kind of thing in the country today. People prescribe themselves service dogs all the time. What was her problem? I don’t know. Probably something vague like anxiety or agoraphobia, and this Yorkshire Terrier fixes it. I feel any problem a Yorkshire Terrier can fix may, well… not actually be a problem. But I didn’t. The argument was heating up. The security guard kept refusing, and the lady responded with her trump card: “do you want me to call the government?” Now, I support a social safety net. But if someone from “the government” is sitting by a phone at 5pm on a Sunday, waiting for calls from aging disco queens and their grocery store-embargoed terriers… I think that’s bureaucracy we can trim.

But this grocery store serves immigrants of all levels of legality, so “government” was the magic word. One mention of that, and it was all over. The guard relented instantly. The disco queens were in and looking for lentils. As they walked away, the Indian guard and a store manager began a very serious conversation in (I’m guessing) Urdu, with sprinklings of English. It sounded something like “urdu urdu urdu service dog urdu urdu urdu Americans with Disabilities Act urdu urdu urdu more trouble than it’s fucking worth urdu urdu urdu”.

After hating these weirdos for a good two minutes, I began to feel embarrassed. It’s a dog, for Pete’s sake. What’s the problem with having him in the store? It can’t be a hygiene issue. They let children in, and they are oozing sacks of disease who touch everything. Plus, everything in the store is from India, home to the world’s finest diarrhea. If you’re not washing everything you buy there, your issue isn’t dogs. It’s that you’re dumber than a dog.

This is an odd country. In New York, I saw an argument about whether taking a dog in a grocery store was unsafe. In Arkansas, I could shop for fruit with a loaded Magnum .44 in my hand. I feel that’s a greater health hazard. I should probably get more worked up about that, not the honesty and vulnerability of people with the courage to say “I’m sick and this dog is my medicine”.