Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Irish Knit Sweaters and Ice Cream - A Day in the Life

    A laid-back story about a day in the life, focusing on Noam's Irish Knit sweaters, since it is St. Paddy's Day...   

    On March 6, 2010, I woke feeling sick, but there was no way I would miss work. Noam had agreed, through his agent Anthony Arnove at South End Press, to take part in an afternoon event sponsored by MIT’s Technology and Culture Forum, and the MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies. The event, “Democracy’s Endgame” would be moderated by “Democracy Now!” producer Amy Goodman, beginning with a talk by actor, writer, novelist, and revolutionary Arundhati Roy. Noam would give a brief response, and a conversational Q&A between the two would follow. Alternative Radio’s David Barsamian and a few others would be meeting at our office beforehand, and I was planning to lay out some pre-event appetizers. I'd been looking forward to this!

I lay back down on my bed, dizzy and lethargic, hoping fifteen more minutes of rest would do the trick. Laura took a look at me. It was her day off, and she offered to drive me to get the snacks and spend the day with me at MIT to help out. Her offer gave me the energy to shower and dress. We stopped at trader Joe’s to pick up fruit, crackers, cheeses, and drinks, and at MIT I forged ahead with my usual workload while Laura cut cheeses and gathered trays, napkins, small plates, and knives for later. Noam was just beginning an interview with David Barsamian, and after introductions all around, Noam asked, “Who were the two people taping our conversation?” David told him they were from “The DISH Network,” and Noam nodded. He liked to keep track of the media groups interviewing him.

When the interview had ended, Glenn brought in our mail, and I saw a package I had been waiting for, from Dublin. “Noam, your surprise has come!” I called out. The DISH people were still packing up, and turned to see what was happening. Noam walked toward me and stood next to Laura, trying, I think, to figure out if she was in on the scheme, but she wore her best therapist’s poker face.

But first, let me explain. Noam had worn sort of a uniform for the past fifteen years: an Irish knit sweater worn over a light blue shirt, with jeans and black velcroed sneakers. By now he was down to two sweaters, one a medium blue and one a green-blue. I had patched the latter at the elbows, and darned it at the wrists. Clipping and unclipping hundreds of mikes had bitten a gaping mouth-sized hole out of the sweater’s rounded neckline. The blue sweater was now too small in the belly. He blamed it on the (healthy) lunches I brought him, but I blamed it on his laundering skills. We both knew the weight gain was from eating out more since his wife Carol passed away in 2008.

Noam looked down at the mix of browns and beiges poking out from underneath a large padded envelope I was using to conceal the gifts. “What’s this?” he asked, eyebrows raised, and a little smile spread across his face.

“It’s your surprise!” I was pleased with myself for how this gift had transpired, but mostly I was excited that Noam might be wearing a new sweater to today’s event. I removed the envelope to reveal a neat stack of lightweight sweaters, presenting them with a flourish. First, a deep cocoa with subtle striping at the neck, then a medium brown with a slight diamond design in the middle. The bottom sweater was a handsome shade of beige unlike any sweater found at a shopping mall. They were all the right size – large, so would fit him perfectly.

“Where did they come from?” he asked.

“Do you want the long story, or the short?”

“The short story.” No surprise there.

“Sam Epstein asked me what he could present to you after your upcoming Michigan lecture, and I jokingly suggested a new Irish knit sweater. He loved the idea, so I emailed your friend Maria in Dublin and asked the name of the store where she had bought your two original sweaters. She wrote back immediately. “Oh, Bev, I have a very expensive sweater left over from Noam’s trip here.  He said it was too joyful for him to wear! I can take it back and exchange it for a couple of somber ones.” When she got there, she found that the store was going out of business, and she was able to exchange the one for three sweaters! And here they are.”

“Can you take the tags off of this one,” he asked, handing me the cocoa brown sweater. The green-blue patched sweater seemed to gain in shabbiness as it left his body, and he slipped the brown one over his blue shirt. “And keep the old one, I can still wear it.” With Laura acting as stylist, it slid on like butter. He put his hands in his pockets and smiled, happy for three new sweaters after zero minutes of shopping. He looked great.

“Should I put these in mothballs,” he asked. “Avi doesn’t believe in mothballs, but Carol always put our sweaters in mothballs over the summer.” So I would be the mothball deal breaker? No problem – this would be an easy task.

“I don’t think mothballs are necessary, Noam. They’ll be fine folded up in a bedroom drawer. And anyway,” I said, clearing my throat. “Uhm, do you remember what happened last year when you started to wear your sweaters into the office after taking them out of mothballs?” He did not, surprisingly.

I had started this, and I had to come clean. “The suite smelled like mothballs for the entire winter. We opened windows on warmer days to air out the place.” He had forgotten, no doubt because his mind was always on more urgent world issues.

My phone rang. It was actor Woody Harrelson’s assistant. “Hi. Mr. Harrelson will be sending over five pints of ice cream for Noam, David, staff, and friends to share with Arundhati Roy this afternoon.” This seemed so arbitrary to me, but maybe ‘Woody’ admired Arundhati or Noam? Or David, Anthony, Amy, or all of the above? I was too busy to find out, and asked her to thank Mr. Harrelson for us. I was glad Laura was there, and sent her off to the nearby kitchen to find bowls, spoons, and ice for the drinks. I had the next week’s schedules to finalize, more than fifty new emails in my “Noam” inbox, and two people from a local union were sitting outside waiting to meet with Noam. I asked Glenn to deal with the emails, and I could tie up loose ends on the Michigan/Madison schedule on Monday. Laura and I had appetizers to cut and arrange.

Anthony, Amy, and Arundhati arrived. Anthony had picked up the ice cream, and the atmosphere of our suite turned festive as Laura and I brought out the trays. Noam stood out in his new cocoa brown Irish knit sweater, and received compliments through the afternoon. I took his beat-up Irish knit sweater home and fell into bed, having powered through the day without focusing on how I felt. But first, I hung the sweater in my closet, where's it's been ever since, a reminder of those fun and magical days with Noam, and everyone in our world.


  1. what a lovely story, i cannot believe you are the darner of noam's cuffs. lol reminds me of all my adventures at harvard. We were so very lucky to have worked in these grand halls of academia. a Million Little Stories. <3

  2. I feel all wrapped up in Irish knit sweater warmth reading this wonderful story about your remarkable days with Noam.

  3. You bring us right into the moment and your feeling with every story. Keep posting, your little Sis-tuh needs them!

  4. Hey Bev, that’s a lovely story. It offers an abusing, personal side to the office behind Noam’s brilliant books and lectures, interviews and debates.

    Your sweaters and ice cream story prompted me to think of a video story that makes personal and amusing that which is mostly professional and serious. This peek into an upcoming film by Peter Jackson about the late Beatles from unseen archival footage. Sneak peek:

    Kelly Gerling

    1. Typo: NOT “ abusing and personal” BUT “ *amusing* and personal”