“Deep Throat,” by Pearl Abraham

Browse By

Nonfiction by Pearl Abraham excerpted from our Summer 2016 issue.

*

1.

In 1974, the year Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, my father, a man with rabbinic aspirations, was deep in his own pickle, indicted for conspiracy and fraud in the federal summer school lunch program.

Nixon was brought down by Deep Throat, the pseudonym given the informant who passed information to Washington Post journalists about his administration’s involvement in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal. My father got off somehow.

With him in court for one of his hearings, I suffered his ashen face, then his palpable relief when the case was deferred or dismissed, I’m not now sure which. I also don’t know whether his case made headlines the way rabbinic and priestly scandals do these days, “Five NJ Rabbis Arrested for Fraud and Conspiracy” a recent one.

2.

The Washington Post’s Deep Throat was nicknamed for an American pornographic film released in 1972, starring Linda Lovelace. A triple-X rated film, it earned mainstream attention and gave rise to a trend the New York Times critic Richard Blumenthal named “porno chic.” New Yorker editors were said to have slipped out for long lunches to see it.

3.

Released, my father was buoyant, his long stride stretched longer down court corridors, and I had to skip to keep up. He was lighthearted, he was free; his face, always seriously Semitic, meaning not exactly designed for lightness, lit up, and it was this that convinced me of his innocence, though I knew that there was no school, only the pretense of one, that even in our Hasidic neighborhood of jumbo-sized families, the lunches delivered were way more than the neighborhood kids available to eat them, that stacks of these sandwiches filled every refrigerator in every household on our block, and still another delivery was scheduled to arrive the next day, offering more of the same, a dollop of egg or tuna salad between two slices of dry white bread.

I was paid two dollars an hour to gather the neighborhood children just before noon, sing some songs with them, then distribute the lunches. When federal inspectors were scheduled to arrive, I had to work harder: Get the children into the dank synagogue basement earlier and keep them there longer, entertain them with song and story until the inspectors left. The kids largely cooperated, falling for some form of the us-and-them mentality of close-knit communities, but there was at least one parent who was onto the scam, who stopped by to retrieve her child while the inspectors watched and made notes on their clipboards.

4.

Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist, referred to his source as MF. In meetings, Woodward called him My Friend. Thirty years after the 1972 investigation, Mark Felt, a former associate director at the FBI, came out as Deep Throat. That was in 2005; he was in his 90s.

5.

In our neighborhood of home cooking and baking, in a community accustomed to weekly deliveries of old-fashioned two-pound loaves of rye fresh from Mrs. Frank’s on Main, the white bread was a wonder at first, then a stale bore. We soon learned to eat the quarter-sized soggy middle of every sandwich and chuck the rest, thus making our way through more sandwiches. In other words, I must have known my father was guilty as charged, and yet, some ancient sense of injury, some knowledge of Jewish persecution, of the long history of such persecutions, filled me and I was persuaded of his innocence — he must not have known the rules, must have been conned by his cohorts, the people who were making these federally funded lunches, delivering more sandwiches than there were children to eat them, inflating numbers so as to increase reimbursements. I convinced myself of my father’s righteousness — he was a good man, a gentle man, a man who didn’t lie, a scholar who adhered to laws way more complex than this most basic of the ten commandments, thou shalt not steal, the initials engraved on every human palm, his, mine, the lamed and the taf.

To continue reading “Deep Throat,” purchase MQR 55:3 for $7, or consider a one-year subscription for $25.

 

Image: Fenton, John. “Hasidic Dance II.” Etching and aquatint. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Washington, D.C.

%d bloggers like this: