That Time Kasparov Thought I Was a KGB Assassin

We’re at the OB/GYN’s inside the Woolworth Building. The boss doc has delivered for celebrities galore throughout the years. Best Doctor lists, Gwyneth and Whoopi family candids grace the walls.

We got in through the backdoor, family connection. Dr. Moritz’s aunt in Casablanca bakes like no tomorrow. My mom-in-law’s a frequent customer and hence the introduction.

A clever twist of fate. I worked here – this exact same space – a very long 8 years ago. My first and only corner office, for a summer, with a Hudson view. Scott Sherman & (I, his) Associates, personal injury attorneys. He cast me in a primetime Russian TV spot (Russians enjoy Freedom of Lawsuit).

Therein, succeeding miseries are shown (car accident, trauma at home, trauma at nursing home). Bizarre, uplifting music leads me into frame, assuring viewers in a dubbed-in voice that we will do our damndest to defend their interests. Random cab drivers and grandparents recognize me in the street for months.

All that was five lifetimes ago, it seems. Scott Sherman’s long moved on from here – priced out by condos and Cornell, no doubt.

The office is brand new and spotless. The doctor walks in, joking with my wife in French. A former journo, he is jovial and warm. Before we mention babies, he throws in that he’s just met Kasparov. Although the man’s a genius, over dinner, he is hard to stop, the doctor says. Too much chess strategy for Russian politics, too little ruthlessness.

Garry and I have never met, but have a long and storied history. Back in the innocence of law school, I signed up to fact check for New Yorker for a week. The reason was Keith Gessen’s article about the murder trial of the alleged killers of Anna Politkovskaya. Kasparov had his say as opposition leader and I called him to confirm his quote.

Mind you, it’s no small thing to call your childhood hero (nerd alert, we share a birthday) and then talk to him about the geopolitics of Mother Russia, which you left when you were 9. It was a nervous, fascinating 15 minutes on the phone. Very polite and friendly. Thank you and good day.

A year and something later, I am at a crowded Fairway, getting groceries. I run headlong into a grayer version of… my dashing hero. In Russian, I intone, “Are you… Garry Kasparov?” What happens next is shocking to the core. Confused and scared, he pedals backward, muttering. Next thing I know, he basically runs off and out of sight. Is it the beard? The tired, red eyes? I’m sure I showered this morning.

No, that’s just it… He must have thought I was a KGB assassin! Yikes. What a disaster, goodness. Disarmed, I totally forgot the New York rule: do NOT disturb celebrities in nature.

It’s not the first time, sadly. Outside a movie theater once, I couldn’t help but argue with a feisty Michael Moore. Julianne Moore made small talk with me briefly, holding a white cockatoo. I ran right into Mario Batali with his trademark ponytail and shorts and Crocs outside my law school several years ago. Soon, he’d be sued to pieces by my family lawyer.

And yet, Kasparov keeps on popping up, as always unannounced. Sooner or later, we will meet again, I feel. I’m just a Brooklyn hipster now, a startup guy, not threatening at all (except when posing as a scary Russian in the local ghetto). I will have trimmed my beard, I hope, and introduce myself in English when it happens.

We wrap up with the visit now. The OJ and fresh-baked croissants I’ve smuggled in have made the glucose test impossible today. I’m only following a pregnant woman’s orders.

Doctor Moritz bids us goodbye, until next time. We walk out and I think – how odd that both my hero and myself are both new parents at this stage. I always pictured Garry as the young and virile Jewish underdog to Karpov, brilliant, erudite and showing the authorities the finger for the lot of us. He’s done his part and then some, but the odds are stacked against the premise now. 2016, we are just Russian emigres in town who share an OB/GYN. Life is a circle full of irony – you either laugh or die.

So Garry, baby, call me. Let’s do dinner, BFF.

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