In the fall of 1986 biochemist Arnold Lockshin suddenly disappeared from his brick ranch house in Houston. Two days later, he turned up in Moscow. A very left-wing Jewish scientist, Lockshin was frustrated with the prospect of bringing about social change in his own country. His solution was to flee—with his wife and three children—to the Soviet Union. At the time, he insisted that he had been forced to leave the United States because he and his family were being harassed by the FBI for his past association with the Communist party. I couldn’t help wondering, however, if the scientist was a sincere social reformer or merely someone on the lunatic fringe.
Almost six years later I found myself visiting Moscow and more curious than ever about Lockshin. The Iron Curtain had fallen since he left. I wanted to know what his life was like and whether he had ever regretted his decision to defect. I especially wanted to know how he felt about living in the postrevolutionary ruins of his ideals.
A few minutes after settling into my hotel room in Moscow, I began searching for a telephone book to find a number for Lockshin, only to learn that my room had no telephone book. I could live without a Gideon Bible. I could live without a morning wake-up call and good strong coffee. I could even live with Moscow’s musty, faintly green tap water. But a hotel room without a telephone book is isolated and solitary, cut off from civilization.
Just when I was on the verge of despair, the telephone rang. The person calling was Elena Morozova, an English-speaking Russian woman who had befriended me, and she was calling to ask if I needed anything. “A telephone book,” I answered immediately. She just laughed. That a city of 10 million people had no readily available telephone books seemed inconceivable to me, but Elena insisted that it was true. I had two options: to go to one of the little information kiosks around Moscow that are manned by operators who have access to stacks of phone directories or to know someone in a high place who could get the number through channels.
The first option sounded logical, but it turned out to be difficult. I went to an octagonal kiosk near Red Square and waited for about two hours in a long line made up primarily of Americans who were as confused as I was. When I finally got to the front of the line, I told the attendant that I wanted the telephone number of the All-Union Cancer Research Center of the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences, where Lockshin works as a cancer researcher. The attendant asked what section of Moscow the center was located in. I told him. Then he asked me for Lockshin’s first, middle, and last name. His middle name? I had no idea. The attendant idly thumbed through several volumes, then told me in a flat voice that he couldn’t help. I paid him a couple of kopecks and left, pondering the greatness of the American experiment: a telephone book in every home, business, and hotel room.
The first option hadn’t worked, so I turned to Elena to see if she could help with option number two. Through friends in a government ministry, she located the elusive telephone number and triumphantly dialed it. But just when I thought the ordeal was over, I was met with yet another obstacle: Lockshin’s hostile English-speaking secretary.
“She speaks better English than I do,” said Elena, grimly handing me the telephone. “I think you better deal with her.” The voice on the other end of the telephone roared like a thunderstorm. “Dr. Lockshin will not speak to you,” it boomed.