What are you doing here?

I am face to face with Joseph Stalin in Lodz in 1950. I was then a freshman at the State University of Lodz, a Stalinist school in Stalinist Poland. It was early morning and I was late for an obligatory meeting of a student union. On my way to the auditorium, I ran into a Stalinist Party hack. He was waiting, camera in hand, to photograph me as a saboteur of “Be on Time: Socialism Won’t Wait!” (the latest Party slogan) and publish it in the pages of the local Party Organ. As if that wasn’t bad enough, take another look at Comrade Kosinski! I’m wearing a prewar student hat—what you might call a reactionary “white flag.” It’s just as well that you can’t see my tie, which should be red; in the picture it’s yellow. As yellow as only an American yellow-polka-dot-bikini tie can be.

Now imagine being portrayed in the Party Organ as a bad case of “the American Imperialist yellow fever.” In the totalitarian state, one picture with the wrong hat and the wrong tie can finish a man for life! Therefore, before he could take that picture, quickly I buttoned up my Polish-made top coat, I tied my Soviet-made scarf over my tie and I moved next to the poster of Generalissimo —the man who never wore a hat or a tie. There, posing patiently, I gave Stalin the eye.

What’s the occasion for this gathering! Where are you?

Waiting for the dinner in my apartment, October 29, 1973- Carlos Fuentes and Arthur Miller have just usurped a place be-hind my desk —a sacrilege. No wonder I am talking to Philip Roth, who is on the right side of the desk.

What did you talk about?

I don’t remember and the picture won’t say. Besides, I find that when left with each other and to each other—without non-writers to distract them from each other — most writers are reluctant to talk shop. That’s not profound enough. Instead, they prefer to talk about something quite profound —some-thing they do (or could) write about—or something quite silly, something they could never commit to paper. Only Truman Capote could do both, and he’s missing from the picture.