Radio Free Maine: Today Augusta, Tomorrow the World
In the spring of 1994, I went to the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York where I encountered a large red-faced man with white hair. He had the look and manner of Santa Claus, minus the beard, and he was standing behind a table from which he was selling audio and video cassettes of lectures by Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and other prominent anarchists, socialists, communists and even some vaguely progressive Democrats. He was also selling photocopies of an interview I had done with Noam for Rolling Stone.
“Hey,” I said, “that’s my interview with Noam Chomsky!”
“Cool,” said the large, red-faced man. “Would you mind if I crash on your couch tonight? I came all the way from Maine and I don’t have a place to stay.”
Thus began one of the most hallowed traditions on the American Left. Every spring the large, red-faced man, whose name is Roger Leisner, bums a ride with somebody in Maine, fills the car with boxes of tapes and CDs and DVDs to sell at the Left Forum, as the Socialist Scholars Conference is now called, and takes up residence on my couch, where he eats strawberry ice cream and cashews. This past spring, he came down with his girlfriend, and I put them in my bedroom while I slept on the couch.
I like Roger a lot. He’s one of the few people on the left who is naturally enthusiastic about almost everything, whereas everybody else on the left is naturally depressed about almost everything. Certainly, I’m depressed, and Roger reminds me what it’s like to be wildly excited about, oh say, the next big pot festival in the backwoods of Maine, or posing embarrassing questions to politicians at public forums. And he’s part of an actual, genuine tradition on the left of making a living in odd ways.
I once knew a cadre of Maoists on the West Coast who paid the rent by giving away free samples of Marlboros at sporting events and county fairs. That was a suitably odd way to make a living, and the hours were flexible. But it seemed counterproductive for their ultimate goal. How do you establish the dictatorship of the proletariat when the proletariat is coughing up balls of malignant lung tissue?