by David Harris
My great-uncle passed away recently. For most people in the United States, and when I say most people I mean most people like me, affluent white people, our relations with the extended family are limited at best. And it’s especially hard to start a dialogue with a relative who turned his back on the United States and defected to Russia in the 30’s.
Uncle Lement, a play on “lament,” an old family story which I’ll get into at another time, had it all: servants, mansions in Tuxedo Park and East Hampton, before Puff Daddy, George Plimpton and Martha Stewart fucked it up. His father was a self-made man having founded Texaco Oil and Harris, Upham, at the time a well-known brokerage house. Lement, educated at Harvard during the depression, actually had the guts to call our society “lame” and leave. It was a very expensive decision.
So as I grew up in idyllic Greenwich, Connecticut, living off the extras that Lement never bothered to collect, with my own set of servants, if you call a Colombian maid a set. Every time I mouthed off about the injustices of society (that in truth I couldn’t have cared less about) and how life (with me being the chief beneficiary) wasn’t fair, I would be reminded of “Crazy ol’ Lement the Commie” by my father and told to shut up. When I decided to canvass for Gary Hart, post Donna Rice thank you very much, my father would roll his eyes and call me an ignorant bastard. And when I committed the ultimate sin, voting Democrat, he would shake his head and say Lement called and he was waiting for me to come join the revolution.
Fate intervened with the Communist Bloc collapse back in ‘89 followed by the attempted coup in ‘91. With the dream gone, Uncle Lement decided to come home. He settled two towns north of us but invitations were not forthcoming. There would be no détente among the Harris elders. Thanks to a journalism class and my inherent laziness I decided to visit and interview Uncle Lement. I knew his story already and therefore wouldn’t have to do a lick of research. At the same time I would try to bring the families closer together. It was win-win in my eyes.
As it turned out the interview was a bit of a bring-down for a closet pot-smoking, trust-fund revolutionary like myself. He hadn’t defected so to speak but rather “moved.” He retained his U.S. citizenship, always handy in case the whole great experiment didn’t work out, which of course it didn’t. He wasn’t cut out of the will and in fact his father supported him as he worked for the Russian Agricultural Board. (My Great-Grandfather had amassed his fortune originally through grain transportation so I’m assuming he had a few connections throughout the world in the farming industry and got Lement the job.)
The coup de grâce occurred near the end when he asked if I wanted a copy of his autobiography. I replied in the affirmative and was handed a copy of My Tale of Two Worlds. There was an uncomfortable pause after he handed me the book. “Uh, that will be $8.95. If you don’t mind.” I handed over the cash and walked out of his house disillusioned.
Not long after, through family connections, I accepted a position with Morgan Stanley. I worked as an analyst for several years until I was arrested for insider trading. I now teach high school
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