Getting Che



E 92nd St & Madison Ave, New York, NY 10128

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

My brother was thirteen years older than me. We had different values, he having grown up in a repectable working class slum and me, from age seven to seventeen, in a fancy suburb west of Boston. I took a lot of things for granted. But he had bought the American Dream, maybe because our mother was an Armenian immigrant fleeing a genocide and she had to believe in something; maybe she passed it on to him; or maybe it was easier to believe in things when he was young.

Even though we were not close, when my brother slipped a disc and wound up in traction, I felt sorry for him. He was flat on his back, one leg in the air, with a tricky system of pulleys to hoist his body parts up and down with – housebound in his apartment on 92nd St. between Madison and Fifth, right across from the park, almost. To help out I became his grocery slave. When I volunteered my services I didn’t know how picky my brother was about his grocery shopping – brands, quantities, container sizes. His pickiness led to a spat over a canned ham. He called me at my mother-in-law’s place on Park Avenue and 89th Street to complain about my buying the wrong ham, and one thing led to another, and I finally told him to fuck his ham and hung up on him.

Of course I felt guilty, and he was upset. So after apologies all around and when he was more mobile, as a gesture of reconciliation, he invited me over to his place to meet a friend. The friend was already half in the wrapper when I got there. One of my brother’s pals from Harvard, he looked like a young George Plimpton – rangy and tall – handsome in a boney boyish way. He wore a pink oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up, grey trousers and loafers, nicely broken in with the dull sheen of good saddle bags.

He spoke as if with a mouth full of marbles and he thought himself quite the rake. ” How did an ugly son of a bitch like you get a beautiful sister like this?” he asked, waving his drink around.

My brother, dressed identically as his friend, gave one of those muggy smiles, chin stuck out and lips curled in like he was hiding false teeth. We were in the livingroom, which my brother had decorated with fuss and care. The ceiling was high with complex moldings, the walls had panels set in great impressive rectangles, all painted a pale sort of Federalist green. There was a huge working fireplace too, with birch logs and burnished andirons, winged chairs, and patrician doo- dads – crystal decanters, a cut-glass chandelier and such.

My brother’s three cats – a Siamese, an Abyssinian, and an Alley–wove around our legs. It turned out the friend was a world-traveler with a way of showing up in countries just as they flared into revolution. He had been in the Dominican Republic right before the marines landed in 1963, and he just happened to be in Havana, he said, in 1959, on the day Fidel Castro and his band of guerrillas marched through the streets in victory. He had also spent time in Southeast Asia. “Just revolution hopping,” I said flashing one of those pink-gummed Jackie Kennedy grins.

The two men giggled. They were entranced by the CIA, their current passion the pursuit of Che Guevara. My brother recounted the agency’s efforts to recruit the best and brightest over at Harvard while he was a student there. ” I’d like to get Che,” he said.

The friend nodded, and it seemed that they were paying a compliment to Che. He was a worthy opponent, a trophy of sorts. The conversation turned to Bolivia, Che’s whereabouts in the mountains, what it was like to hunt communist guerrillas in such terrain, what kind of support Che had from the locals (not much), the competence of the Bolivian military. He didn’t have a chance, they said, and the CIA was closing in.

So what was the fun in “getting” a man who didn’t have a chance? I thought. Where was the sport?

The following Spring my brother got stranded at the Cannes Film Festival because of the General Strike in France, led by Danny the Red ( Cohn-Bendit.) The airports shut down and the French, according to their special delight, manned the barricades. The New York Times said that everyone in France was reading The Mass Psychology of Fascism, by Wilhelm Reich, because it was Danny the Red’s favorite book.

Closer to home the Columbia Strike polarized the city and woke up my feral instincts. I loped across the Columbia campus pausing to watch Mark Rudd wave his arms around on the sundial ( an egomaniac, I thought.) I spent a night at Fayerweather Hall. I fled my marriage and my mother-in-law on Park Avenue. Things fell apart.

I also house-sat for my brother while he was in France (he didn’t trust me with the cats so he boarded them out.) One day , while rifling through my brother’s mail, I came across a Life magazine, all about Che. They got him after all and, to prove it, there was a many-page spread featuring death photos complete with bullet holes and bruises. Even dead Che looked better than any live political person I ever saw on TV or in the newspaper.

But it wasn’t the way he looked that got me. It was something about my brother and his friend and the way they had said “get him.” Like getting Che meant they had a part of him for themselves; a wildness, some crazy love or bristly stuff you can’t catch hold of – like electricity making a cat’s fur sparkle. Later when my brother came back from France he took his cats and moved to Europe permanently. Over the years he became a liberal – the influence of his children perhaps. I never saw his friend again. As for me, the jury is still out.

Rate Story
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

§ Leave a Reply

Other Stories You May Like

Nearby Upper East Side Stories

Working His Way Up


Brian drops out of college to become a millionaire stock broker, but fills in as a doorman in the meantime.

Fear and Loathing at the Armani Exhibit


“Look Nancy, I see a size 6 over here!”

My Place in Women’s Tennis History


The author encounters a trailblazing tennis luminary while working at the Vertical Club.

Cross Streets


I was running late for a new faculty meeting at NYU.“411 Lafayette,” I said, jumping into a cab. The driver [...]

Straggling at the Guggenheim


Hanging out with two museum guides after hours at the Guggenheim