DINNER WITH RUTH HAGY AND AL BROD
On 10 July 1972, the summer was sweltering in New York. The heat was oppressive and terrible.
Ruth had called in the morning. Could I come to dinner at their place that evening? Al was fixing something special to eat. The meal would be a cold one, soothing in the hot climate.
So after spending the day working at the ASPR,
I went to their apartment on Park Avenue South.
This was a small apartment, quite unlike the tremendously roomy and elegant spreads in which little me was being lionized elsewhere. There was a tiny entry, a tiny kitchen (and I mean tiny), an equally tiny eating alcove. The living room was not all that large.
Every square inch of wall space was hung with photos from Ruth Hagy's career as a famous international correspondent in both war and peace.
Al had prepared cold chicken in aspic. He was very
proud of his cleverness regarding the aspic. It was made of Campbell's tomato
soup and gelatin, and there was a nice salad and some bread, and iced coffee
afterward. I put some Tabasco Sauce on the chicken-in-aspic, and Ruth then
began to reveal the purpose of the evening.
As I've already mentioned earlier, both the Brods
were exceedingly well connected in Washington, D.C., although they didn't
talk much about this to others.
They had just returned from some function there having to do with President Richard M. Nixon.
Ruth said: "There's some behind the scenes talk going on down there -- and it involves YOU."
I stared blankly at her.
"We were asked, unofficially of course, for our opinions of you."
I thought they were joking, so I replied: "Well,
Al, I trust you didn't tell them I'm a chicken shit who dresses up in your
old Army gear."
Al said quite seriously, and Al is really SERIOUS, "Don't be surprised if you are asked back to Stanford."
"Will you please explain this to me? Who is interested?"
Ruth started to reply. "Powerful people . . .", but Al shushed her.
"Can't say more," Al said. "Don't tell anyone of this, but we thought you'd like to know."
While Ruth and I were having coffee, Al busied
himself doing the dishes in the TINY kitchen. I moved round the living room
looking at the photos: of Ruth with Churchill, of Ruth with Mohandas Ghandi,
of Ruth with Franklin Roosevelt, Ruth with Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth with
Eisenhower, Ruth with Nixon, of Ruth with EVERYONE.
"You must have been very powerful and influential,"
Ruth was silent for a moment. "I did stories people liked of themselves, and one led to another. I loved people, and all those people had something admirable about them. I told that story. But it was all just a game, you know. One needs to play the game."
She seemed to emphasize "play the game"
-- not obviously, but in the tone of voice.
Al came into the living room drying his hands on
a remarkably tattered towel. "You want a brandy?" Yes, indeed
Their air conditioner wasn't working very well.
We sat silently, they permitted my cigars. They watched my face as I got the implications of their power connections together with what they had said earlier. They were not joking.
Even though I was sweating, I shuddered.
I was afraid.
I suddenly knew what the covert purpose of the
aspic dinner was. Some one had asked them to feel me out -- without putting
any direct questions -- well, not TOO direct anyway.
Ah, yes, this is how sensitive business is done -- Lord knows that I'd seen this kind of thing in the U.N., and elsewhere. Decisions are made without putting anything into print, sometimes not even into words. What the public then sees is just the formalizing of a lifted finger, an arched eyebrow.
Out of nowhere, my entire life flashed through
in a split second, like when one is dying. And then the flashing pictures
came to a still stop of me sitting on the subway steps and having a vision
of our species potential -- that same potential that would never open up
Something in me -- not ME, but something in me
-- said: "Well, one WOULD be chicken shit not to play the game."
With that, Al stood up and said they were going
to bed because the air conditioner in the bedroom worked.
I didn't take the subway home. I walked -- more or less like a zombie. I felt completely empty.