IT HAD TO HAPPEN. This past week, the assistant secretary of agriculture, John B. Crowell, suggested that the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club are infiltrated by socialists and communists.
I instantly had '50s visions of a reappearance of the Mouseketeers or even the House UnAmerican Birdseed Committee. I saw the ghost of purges past floating over the Senate Caucus Room -- "Are you now or have you ever been the owner of a butterfly net?" Would Sen. Joseph McCarthy come back to ask the question, "Isn't it true that in the 1930s you once recited Joyce Kilmer's 'Trees' at a school assembly?"
I'm grateful to the assistant secretary for sounding the alarm. There must be 10 times as many birdfeeders in this country than there were before J. Edgar Hoover died. In the '50s, the commies were only under the bed and in the State Department. Today, they're in the pet shop.
Panic has already struck my neighborhood. The guy down the street has a bird feeder and the FBI has been to his house twice. One of the agents dressed as an Arab sheik offered him $50,000 for a shipment of sunflower seeds. By the time my neighbor got rid of all his copies of the Whole Earth catalogue his wife's appointment at the beauty shop had been mysteriously lost, she was thrown out of the bridge club, and his kids had been roughed up at school. Even though the family tried to win back the approval of the neighborhood by kicking at cats, shooting at pigeons and displaying a picture of James Watt in their front window, they were still referred to as "those Audubon Pinkos."
Who was John James Audubon and what about his society? In the movie "Reds" of course, he is played by Warren Beatty, who uses the name John Reed to avoid a lot of legal entanglements. Reed (Audubon), a poetic free-thinker living in Oregon, runs afoul of the Portland establishment when he suggests that the war brewing in Europe is sure to result in a lot of dead sparrows in Flanders Field. Ostrasized, he flees to the more sympathetic Greenwich Village accompanied by his girl friend Louise Hartz-Mountain. They later had a child, living today, whom we'll call Cleveland Amory.
While in the Village, John and Louise fall in with the counter-culture iconoclasts of post-World War I Bohemia -- all of whom espoused the ideologies of leftist, nature-loving thinking.
There was Georgie Jessel who wore a self-designed uniform adorned with a live American eagle on each shoulder, not only as a testimony to his active ornithology, but also to remove any doubt that he was a full colonel. Georgie would regale the crowd in the cafe on MacDougle Street, where they gathered, by singing "When The Red Red Robin Goes Bob-bob-Bobbin Along" as the twin eagles did a little buck-and-wing on Georgie's epaulets.
Then there was the author, Henry Miller, who's parrot was the talk of all New York, having been taught by his owner to recite the most lurid passages in "Ulysses" as well as all 14 choruses of "I Use To Work In Chicago." One night while Henry Miller was on a lecture tour, police broke into his flat and arrested the bird on an obscenities charge. The parrot died in prison years later, but sort of lives today stuffed and mounted on Norman Mailer's mantel.
The most exotic of John and Louise's birdbrained friends was Count Alexei-Sergei Warblofsky, whose tales of a new order being shaped in far-off Russia stirred the feelings of dissatisfaction growing within them, and increased the temptation to shed the boredom of the Village crowd. "In Russia, all creatures are breathing the exhilarating air of the Revolution," Alexei told them. To John and Louise, this included the birds and the animals.
The facts are sketchy as to what happened to the Audubons after they traveled to Russia. They were caught in the middle of the bloodshed, chaos and turmoil which goes with any revolution. Stories filtered back to Greenwich Village that John had become ill and finally succumbing to Ural Mountain Spotted Fever, and was buried in the Kremlin Wall. Louise's whereabouts weren't known until the '20s when she was discovered singing in a sleazy nightclub in Montmartre. Her most requested number was "Quand Le Rouge Rouge Robine Passer Houblon Houblon Houblon Le Long."
The memory of John and Louise and their love for the birds was perpetuated when their friends founded the Audubon Society dedicated to the special protection of the red-headed woodpecker, the red-winged blackbird, the pink-necked fruit dove, the scarlet ibis, the ruby-throated hummingbird, the rose-hearted grosbeak, the robin-red breast, and of course, the cardinal -- these obviously being the reds which have now come to the attention of Assistant Secretary John B. Crowell.
Whether this will trigger a new round of red-baiting, I don't know, but it worries me. I'm especially concerned about the birds -- all the birds. Even Harry Byrd and Robert Byrd and Lady Bird. The situation only adds to the anxiety in Washington which is higher at this time than in recent memory. Even my little parakeet, Sasha (whose name we'll have to change), told me the other day that he doesn't want me to remove the cover on his cage until at least 1984.