To the Editor:
Samuel S. Cohen’s account of his “Recreational Enterprise on the Bowery” (November 1952) with his select clientele of pickpockets, pimps, and petty-larceny grafters, was delightful reading for its piquant mixture of innocence and realism. He tells of his experiences at the Othello Pool Hall with an air of wonder, as if surprised that these things actually happened to him.
But I don’t doubt for a moment that they did. All things are possible when one is very young, and there was a time upon which I too look back with surprised wonder to think that I was actually the bearer of the proud title of “Organizer” for the Bowery Unemployment Council.
This was of course during the depression, about the time of Roosevelt’s election, when the unemployed were just beginning to band together to improve their situation. The Bowery group was an off-shoot of the South Street Waterfront Unemployment Council. Its mainstays were a young Liverpool Irishman named Luke, whose citizenship papers were in such a bad state of disorder because of desertion and illegal entry that he wasn’t eligible for the seamen’s organization, and me, who had been to sea so infrequently that there was some doubt about my maritime status.
The Communists and their sympathizers at that time were resolute and active in the unemployed battle. They lent us a beat-up mimeograph and distributed leaflets far and wide on the Bowery, to the bewilderment of many of the baffled habitués who were past thinking of any social step except how to secure their next drink or smoke.
We also made speeches and once staged a successful sitdown strike in a relief agency, but became disillusioned when our silent partners, the Commies, let us gradually know that we were expected to link up our activities with a program for world revolution. . . .
Mr. Cohen’s reminiscent article reminded me of all this, a result very far from its original purpose, I am sure.