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The Man Who Came to Dinner

Jim McNeill

When I started at In These Times as an intern in 1989, I wasn’t far removed from my Republican childhood in upstate New York. What little I knew of the left I’d learned in a Marxist Thought class in college. My grade, a D-minus, was well deserved. 

I was not a natural fit for a magazine edited by James Weinstein. Yet Jimmy welcomed me into ITT’s editorial offices. And when I began to go broke as an unpaid intern, he and Beth Maschinot let me live in their basement for free. It was a temporary arrangement that lasted seven years. Before long, I was a squatter at their kitchen table as well. 

Raised on a diet of TV dinners and Potato Buds, I initially felt as out of place at Jimmy’s table as I had at his magazine. For Jimmy was a wonderful cook. Fortunately, his cooking – like his politics – was totally unpretentious. Soon, I was addicted to his ceviche, and I ate it and many other dishes in quantities that were simply scandalous. 

Jimmy proved as generous with his time as he did with his food. Plate in hand, I’d follow him into his study, where he’d pull a book from the shelves; not to score a scholarly point, but to help a kid whose politics were rooted in the rocky soil of the 80s understand how rich the legacy of the American left really was – to help me see that the socialist mayors of Milwaukee and a hundred other U.S. towns had forged a politics as fully American as Ronald Reagan’s, and far more serious about the ideals of liberty and justice. 

This June, when I visited Jimmy for the last time, I was once again invited to raid the family refrigerator. As in the old days, I speedily devoured a bunch of Jimmy’s favorite dishes. I cannot say that I took the time to savor the meals. 

I sometimes fear that Jimmy’s fine food was wasted on me. The lessons I learned at his table, however, will sustain me the rest of my life. 

Jim McNeill, a former managing editor of In These Times and former editor of The Racine Labor, works for unions and writes in Washington, D.C.
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