Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"How Teddy Kennedy followed me to Leningrad"

(I shook the man's hand three times maybe in forty six years, this is the closest thing I have to an anecdote about our late Senior Senator)

Once upon a time in 1983, I went on a student tour of the olde Soviet Union, I had a great time, the Hermitage alone in Leningrad would have been a bargain at twice the price. Every night from one end of the USSR to the other my fellow students and I gathered in the US dollar loving Intourist Hotel bar, where we drank razor sharp vodka and shamelessly well undergraduates.
On our last night in Leningrad a cadre of tall blonde college students from the USA crept into the bar, they ordered fruit juice they insinuated themselves into our group as they spoke "american".
Sure enough they were undergrads from Wheaton College, the "other" Wheaton College, the Bible School and well known manufacturer of Protestant Ministers and their wives.
Turns out their student tour was a sort of pilgrimage combined with some old fashioned bible smuggling; "witnessing" they called it. "Well if they wanna witness the business side of a KGB lock-up who am I to judge" thought I, an expansive US Patriot to the last.
They were a convivial if uptight bunch and turned a blind eye to our lavish consumption of vodka, one interesting sidelight, each male student was assigned to "chaperone" a female student, everywhere it seemed they moved in robotic blonde pairs.
That alone counted as one of the strangest sights I saw in the Land of the Bolsheviks and I personally saw Lenin's waxen "corpse" deep under Red Square.
Fruit juice loosened this bunch's tongues after a while, they started chiding me none too gently about being from Massachusetts" the awful stomping ground of that terrible man Teddy Kennedy.
I went to a private Catholic College in New Hampshire so I was used to this sort of genial abuse from auslanders, Finally thought that sweet Russian lemonade made one of them bold and he asked in astonishment "I don't get it? WHY do you keep voting for that guy he is a monster!"
I smiled and said "Cause he knows how to handle people like you!"
Yeah that was the vodka talking to be sure I recognize the tone.
And y know in the Hotel Leningrad by the Neva River, under the very rigging of the cruiser Aurora, I finally came of age as a Boston Irishman...Because I fired off that rejoinder with such a fine hibernian smile and wink that my target merely laughed a trifle uneasily and moved on to discussing the glories of the Winter Palace.
And my friends is how Edward Moore Kennedy caught up with me in the Soviet Union.

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