In Claremont Park

Harold Goldstein

Claremont Park in our section of the Bronx was a small park--maybe eight or nine square blocks--and hilly. It was good for sleigh-riding in the winter, and in the summer the people living in apartment houses all aroiund used to come to the park for fresh air.

It was also a center for political education. On summer evenings a small crowd, mostly of men, would stand around in one part of the park talking politics. The political interests of the Bronx in the late twenties and early thirties--or, at least, those of the men who congregated in Claremont Park-- were not Democratic and Republican, but rather Socialist, Communist, and anarchist, in all their multiple colors and varieties. As a young Socialist, I went there to get my doctorate in political rhetoric. That was where we learned about the history of our movement, the quarrels among the social democrats of Europe in the early part of the century, the recent (at that time) revolution in Russia when the Bolsheviks supressed not only the Czarists but also their former comrades, the equivalent of what in America were called Socialists.

In these often bitter and heated discussions one man stood out: he was Goldman, the unofficial chief spokesman for the Communists. He was a middle-aged man, thin, whose glasses would glint in the light of the street lamps as he directed his vituperative eloquence at the enemies of the Soviet State. Were the many nationalities that made up that vast country being oppressed, as his opponents charged? No, the Soviet government encouraged them to let their own cultures flower as long as they remained loyal. "They sing their own songs, they dance their own dances" he intoned, musically, so no one in Claremont Park could hear the groans of the gulag victims. If anyone objected to his rosy picture Goldman could take him apart, piece by piece and drop his shredded remains into the trash baskets.

There was only one man who could stand up to him, a Socialist named Saltzman. He was middle-aged, like Goldman, tall, handsome, and genial, and a veteran of the 1905 revolution in Russia and of world social democratic politics. With his own first-hand knowledge of the political battles, he could silence his opponent, and with his humor he could neatly skewer him. When we Socialists saw Saltzman ambling down the park pathway we would rejoice: our end of the argument would be held up; and the crowd would grow thicker as they anticipated a good fight.

I went away to school in Illinois for over two years, and lost touch with the political academy of Claremont Park. I did hear through my socialist friends that Saltzman died (I later learned it was from a heart attack on the street while he was going from one meeting to another) and there was a big funeral where Norman Thomas himself spoke.

My own life went on. I returned to New York after finishing my education. One day, while visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York, standing in front of Salvador Dali's unforgettable painting of clocks as limp as wet pancakes with ants crawling over them, I met my friend, Meyer Saltzman, who introduced me to his sister, Sara. She was nice-looking--well, to be honest, she was enchanting--and when she smiled a dimple appeared on her cheek, quite small, but big enough for a grown man to fall into it and never be able to climb out. Some time later a group of friends went out to Pelham Bay for a boating excursion, and as we stood on the dock trying to divide up into several boatloads, I (who had never learned to come out and say what I really, really wanted) was astonished to hear myself blurting out, "I want to be in the boat with Sara." It was a 47-year boat ride.

The 47 years began when I got my shirt sopping wet doing some maneuver in the boat, and luckily Sara had brought along an overshirt, which I could borrow to get home in. I brought it back to her the next day, and we went for a walk in the park. What park? Claremont Park. It was summer, and we passed the group hotly engaged in political discussion, and found a bench to sit on. We talked. One thing led to another, and I kissed her. She was not only unbearably lovely, but it was not fifty yards from where her father had rejoiced my heart by taking that Communist, Goldman, apart. What a heritage to leave to your children!