On September 19, 1959, then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was touring the US, arrived in Los Angeles. Upon arrival at LAX, his motorcade took him to visit some studio in Hollywood. He was also hoping to visit Disneyland, but was enraged to learn that they wouldn’t allow him to go.
On that day, I was 14 years old and living in the Mar Vista section of West LA just blocks from the 405 Freeway. A friend and I decided we wanted to catch a glimpse of Khrushchev. The 405 had been completely closed down for security reasons, but your intrepid reporter and friend easily got around that. We camped out under a freeway overpass next to a storm drain off Palms Avenue from where we could observe the now-empty freeway up close. (Good thing we weren’t assassins. We could have started World War III.)
Anyway, the motorcade soon passed. It seemed every car was a limo with a fat bald guy in the back. One way or another we had seen Khrushchev.
Switch reels to last Saturday, when I was playing the skunk at the garden party at UC Irvine, which was hosting a three-day conference (along with USC) on Freedom of Expression (mostly from a predictably liberal point of view).
One of the guest panelists was Nina Khrushcheva, professor at the New School in New York and a great-granddaughter of Nikita. The topic under discussion at that moment was Freedom of Expression in Repressive Societies, and she was discussing Russia. Her position was that while Vladimir Putin was certainly a bad guy and had probably been responsible for killing some of his enemies, he was not nearly the monster he was being portrayed as in the US. She also maintained that there was more freedom of expression in Russia than a recent survey had claimed. At one point, she told a humorous story of when she stood in Red Square with a poster that read, “Putin is a Dick”. A confused policeman arrived and asked her what a dick was before ordering her in an exasperated fashion to get lost.
During the coffee break outside, Khrushcheva was pouring herself a cup of coffee, and I thought she might like to hear the story of when I saw her great-grandfather in LA as a child. I went over and introduced myself and began to tell the story as she looked for the cream. She hardly gave me a glance, just continued to fix her coffee while politely smiling and saying, “Yes. Yes”. When I finished, she said, “Yes, that’s very funny. Thank you” She then walked away.
“Get lost, Dick.”
Oh well. Maybe it had something to do with how, during Q & A, I had just reproached one of her co-panelists, a UCLA professor who was complaining about the “repression” of pro-Palestinian students at UCLA. At any rate, maybe someday I can tell this story to her great-granddaughter.
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