Memories of a 1948 Immigrant

I remember the Horn and Hardart cafeteria
Near Union Square in New York City.
Where this 13-year-old immigrant boy,
Off the boat less than five months,
Clutching his English-German dictionary,
Was invited to sit with four old men and
Listen to them argue Lenin vs Trotsky,
Truman’s victory and Dewey’s loss.
They sipped and nibbled on cakes,
And when they refilled, the boy
Was provided milk and a piece of pie.
They were, three Jews and one
Catholic, not highly educated, were
Not professionals, financiers or
Business executives but working men
Who had learned the value of both
Sweat and brow and who shared a
Passion for ideas and their history,
For lively argument and cogent reason.
They had created for themselves, and
Guests like me, a critical culture of
Their own, without the guidance of
Professors, experts or pundits.
They had become working class
Public intellectuals, sharp of mind
And generous in spirit, They embodied
The motto of the German film classic
“Metropolis: “The mediator between the
Head and the hands must be the heart.”
Like the place they met, they’ve vanished.
I think about them often these days.

George Salamon arrived in NY on July 28, 1948, and in the years since taught German at five East Coat colleges, served as business reporter and editor of a defense magazine and in corporate public affairs. Now retired, he lives and writes in St. Louis, MO. Read other articles by George.