From about age eight or nine until I was old enough to drive, many Saturdays would find me in downtown Tyler at one of the three movie theaters. Mother would drop me off, sometimes alone and sometimes with a friend, but with absolutely no fear that I would be abducted.
I’d buy one of those huge dill pickles, see the movie, use the pay phone (when such things still existed) to call Mother when I was ready to be picked up, and wait at the water fountain on the square for her arrive.
It was in this setting that I first saw two of my favorite movies at the Arcadia theater. One was Gone with the Wind, with its racist undertones that went right over the head of a child living in the segregated South. The other was Giant, which dealt with the problem of racism (and sexism, too, for that matter) in Texas. I really didn’t get that part either; I was too busy watching Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.
There was another movie I saw around that time, and it scarred me for life. Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz. If you haven’t seen it—and there is really no reason you should—it’s about Russian spies, the Cold War, the CIA and I don’t know what all else. I didn’t understand any of it, and I decided then and there I’d have no further truck with anything smacking of Russian espionage and all that complexity.
It’s not just that I remember “duck and cover” exercises as a child during the Cold War, and thinking how pointless it was to hide under an open desk in a classroom with glass walls. (Why did my elementary school and my high school have glass walls? How dumb was that in an area prone to tornadoes?) And it’s not that I eschew all things Russian. I like stroganoff—well enough.
I’ve read two different biographies of Catherine the Great. (Of course, she wasn’t really Russian.) And I love the movie Nicholas and Alexandra. (She wasn’t really Russian, either.) I can do Anna Karenina, but not War and Peace. And Doctor Zhivago the movie, but not the book. Certainly not The Brothers Karamozov. And John le Carre? Tom Clancy? Ian Fleming? Nyet, nyet, nyet.
For such a long time now, it has seemed that I could just avoid this Russian issue. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the Berlin wall had fallen, and the Cold War was over. I need not worry again about breaking out in hives over my phobia about Russian espionage.
But, no. Here we are on the precipice of the greatest political scandal in American history, and it’s about Russians! Lots of them! And I just can’t seem to keep it all straight. (Keeping it straight? Oh, never mind.) It’s a blur of oligarchs and operatives, all of whom seem to “have direct ties to the Kremlin.” And for once, I’m glad that Rachel Maddow does explain things by making the same point three different times for her audience of non-Rhodes scholars.
So when it all goes fuzzy, I’ll just return to that simplistic way of looking at these kinds of complex stories. The Americans are the good guys, and the Russians are the bad guys. And the Americans who work with the Russians are the worst guys of a bad lot.
If you think of it that way, maybe it’s really not that complicated after all.