To subscribe to Afterall journal, starting with this issue, please click here.Alternatively, if you wish to purchase this article individually, you may do so via JSTOR. Please follow the instructions on this page.
On the night of 30 October 1953, Max and Annette Finestone hosted a small dinner party. Their guests, Vivian Glassman and Ernest Pataki, arrived at the Finestone's apartment on 106 Bedford Street in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City at 7:35 pm, and stayed until 2:40 am, 31 October. It was a casual affair. Annette offered her guests drinks, bringing them scotch on the rocks. Bebop jazz played on the radio.
Several drinks later, well into the night, Annette told a funny story about a woman by the name of Betty Saunders and a man called Josh. The punchline was that Josh continually knocks over a wastepaper basket, leading Annette to jokingly refer to him as 'queer'. Though the story was not particularly amusing, the atmosphere was jovial, and good-natured laughter ensued.
All things considered, this was a relatively uneventful dinner party. No arguments, no accusations, not even a broken dish. But unbeknownst to Max, Annette, Vivian and Ernest, they were being monitored by a 'reliable informant' for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Throughout the evening, agent NY-964-S dutifully recorded as much of the foursome's conversation as he (or she) could make out over the sound of the radio, including insights such as 'I have had a camera no bigger than my stocking'. As far as eavesdropping goes, the night was something of a wash, except for one loaded, offhand comment: 'But they have started on our organisation.' Because of these seven words, according to official documents later procured from the FBI, 'an attempt was made to obtain a verbatim transcript'.
And so the transcript, along with Annette's corny joke and her obviously well-founded paranoia,