A month after novelist Zoe Heller’s The Believers sketched a family of sniping New York socialists, Said Sayrafiezadeh is coming out with the real thing. When Skateboards Will Be Free is the 40-year-old playwright’s unsparing memoir of growing up in the shadow of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party — an Iranian-born father who abandoned him and Mom in the name of permanent revolution (and for another woman), and an American-Jewish mother who gave decades of her life and happiness to the party before finally breaking ties. Sayrafiezadeh, who hasn’t heard from his father since first telling all in Granta, spoke with Vulture about his father fixation, his battle with kleptomania, and his well-earned political apathy.
Do you think your life might have turned out differently if your parents hadn’t become Trotskyites?
I think it would have been the same. They were just two young, incomplete people who didn’t know what they were doing, had their own demons, and then were being inflamed by a political philosophy that says family is not important, home is not important, the only thing that matters in this world is the worker’s revolution.
You father held on to your brother and sister, whom you barely saw growing up, and you and your mother lived in self-imposed poverty. Did you ever ask your mother how that came about?
I remember once asking her — maybe I was 21 — I finally said something like, "Why did you throw my sister out of the house?" And she just started sobbing uncontrollably. Her message to me was: Don’t ask me these questions.
Why do you think your mother is happy about the book, while your father has cut off all contact with you? Neither of them comes off very well.
It really comes down to being in the Socialist Workers Party. I think my father would be fine if I criticized him, but to belittle the politics, I think that really gets him where he lives. It was a real act of courage for my mom to finally leave [the party] after all those years.
And what are your politics like?
It’s very difficult for me to look at politics with clear eyes. I’ll read a story in the paper and the first thing that pops into my head is, what would my dad say about that? Then I try to break out of that and think, "What would Said say about that," and then it gets complicated.
So what do you say now when people start ranting about capitalism’s dying days?
People have been fucking saying that my whole life. I like my life, and I don’t really want to change. I don’t need society to be dismantled. I don’t want to feel guilty about the things I have. I have a 32-inch high-def flat-screen TV. I fucking love that thing, man.
I assume you paid for it. You would steal things even as an adult — partly because your mother told you any crime against capitalism was a good crime. Have you put that habit behind you?
[Ten years ago] I would take things from work, office supplies, and my therapist used to say, "That’s not a good idea." And I would ignore him. Then I told my dad once that I took binder clips and he said, "Don’t do that, that belongs to the business." And I never stole after that. I just needed my dad to tell me how to behave. That’s what I missed as a child. That’s why you need parents. That’s why I needed a father.