LIFE seems very, very possible in Ira Lowe's apartment - a glass of wine on a hand-scrolled brass tray, a couple of bicycles parked on the sleeping porch, an old-Washington atmosphere of long afternoons. Plus the lawyer himself, graceful Ira Lowe - truly High Bohemian in his gray beard and open-necked shirts, sumptuous and leonine, a bit of a brooder, perhaps, ambling through his Georgetown apartment, pointing out the sights.
"That's Georgia O'Keeffe," he says, of a photograph of the artist with himself. "That's Wayne Morse. That's a clipping from the Havana Post when I observed the trials after Castro took over," and so on across a wall of souvenirs - Orlando Letelier and Earl Warren, The Boston Herald Traveller, the Excelsior of Mexico. And then we get to his art collection and start all over with the Kenneth Noland and the Adolph Gottlieb and the David Smith . . .
"I'm one of the last of the general practitioners," Lowe likes to say.He'll even boast of beating a client's speeding rap by tearing into a minuscule loophole in Washington's traffic code.At the same time he has represented and/or befriended John Ehrlichman, Joan Baez, Amiri Baraka (ne LeRoi Jones), John Steinbeck IV, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and platoon of artists including David Smith, William de Looper, Noland and Gottlieb. He holds graceful parties full of interesting Washingtonians, who are not to be confused, as they are in Washington, with powerful Washingtonians. There's Ted Fields, the dentist, and Barbara Raskin, the writer, and Norman Tamarkin, the psychiatrist . . . And fundraisers for Eugene McCarthy and Tom Hayden (with Jane Fonda) . . .
So why isn't this man famous, getting quoted, misquoted, gossiped about, seen on talk shows? Especially in an era in which everybody else seems to be? But you ask Ira Lowe about himself and he denies everything, or qualifies it, or dismisses it as irrelevant or misleading, which is to say he is a lawyer.
There's a brief lapse at the beginning when Ira lets a few biographical details slip: "I still have the Boston accent because I came to Washington when I was 10. It's amazing how it hangs on. My father came down in 1934 to work with Clarence Darrow, who was head of some appellate board at the Agriculture Department," Okay, so far so good.
He got his law degree from George Washington University, after four years in the Navy and stints at Dartmouth and Georgetown. "I started practicing in 1949, right here in this office, this apartment, the same desk. I bought it used for $5. No, $25 it must have been."
What one wants to know, however, is how Ira Lowe manages to hang around famous people, be invited to Cuba, Chile, Denmark and Israel to observe trials, while being so low-profile himself, so "discreet," as one friend says.
"Did Castro himself ask you down to Cuba?"
"Not Castro himself. His press man in Washington."
"How'd you know Castro's press man?"
"When I was in college, I used to go to a lot of embassy parties."
And one wonders how he got invited.
"It just happened. I was in law school, going to embassy parties. For one thing the food was . . . Now, wait a second. If I ask you to leave something out will you leave it out?"
The ground rules are explained. Eyes narrow-lines gather between brows, and in a moment or two Lowe is wondering very gravely whether he should do this interview at all.
"What I'm concerned about is that emphasis on something trivial might distract from what's important . . ." And so on, in a mini-exegesis of a trial lawyer's mind, the tactics and gambits. Finally, we lapse back to something important, a pet project of Lowe's right now, called Creative Alternatives to Prison, formed and funded by Ira Lowe, but with good will and names offered in support by Joan Baez, Marlon Brando, Jean Vanden Heuvel and Isabel Letelier, among others.
Arguing for those alternatives, Lowe suggests that Father Carcich, of the Pallotine fathers scandal, "got a very good punishment. There he was, a churchman living in opulence, and now he has to spend every day ministering to prisoners."
This point is debatable, as some Marylanders proved by stammering their astonishment when they learned Carnich would not be imprisoned, himself, for mishandling more than $2 million. Lowe makes a few sallies, the decides to dismiss it all trivial: "I'm not concerned with the few white collar ones - they'll get off anyway."
The phone rings. While something gets settled, the bookcase is studied: a book called Gardens Are for Eating , a stack of bumper stickers reading JOBS NOT JAILS, a photograph of proto-anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman, a copy of Daumier's painting Le Defenseur, the lawyer pleading with tears on his cheeks while his female client sits demurely by.
It is suggested that a lot of his clients are to the left of the political spectrum.
"I don't classify myself in any way," Lowe says.
"You don't seem to like to talk about yourself."
"I'm reserved - but I enjoy people," Lowe says.
"A friend of yours says that there's an essential loneliness about you."
"I have lots of people around me."
"An essential loneliness , not a superficial loneliness. Is this true?"
Lowe makes that lawyer's wince that means not yes, not no, and then he's on his feet, hesitant for the first time: "Do your want to walk . . . show you the . . . I need some . . . getting stuffy in here . . ."
We look at the clippings, the art. Tension eases down like curtains in a windy room when you shut the door. "I got Adolph Gottlieb to donate 75 of these prints to the Corcoran . . . a client built this couch for me . . . that's my father as a boy in Russia . . ." The boy, in boots and embroidered vest, reclines luxuriously, holding up playing cards, intensely bohemian. "He was in a play, there, of course."
It seems a simple enough question, obvious to the point of banality: "Where does your own bohemian streak come from?" The answer is blur of shrugs, disavowals. Has he ever been married? The answer is yes, but so briefly . . .
"Wine!" Ira says. "I didn't offer you any wine!"
He hurries into a kitchenette, shedding apologies like winter clothes. He uncorks something white and cold. "We should have had this earlier , he says with ferocious concern. "Then I would have really told you somethings." There is always the slight chance he will be believed, of course, and so, just for the record, Ira Lowe lifts his glass in the late of afternoon sunlight and says: "Not really."