I had been told by people before leaving for Moscow to watch myself — that because I had written in opposition to the U.S. boycott of the Olympic Games in a national magazine the Russian press would be around to see me, television cameras and all, and that whatever I said would be twisted to their purposes. Furthermore, because I have supported Amnesty International and have close friends who work actively for it, I would surely be followed, my luggage searched, and my hotel room bugged. This last, I was told by insiders, would be something of an advantage in that if I wanted my laundry back I should face all four walls of my room and to each in turn shout my discontent and "No starch, please." The best way to nudge the laundry room is to get the KGB involved.
A sense of this affects everyone who comes to the Soviet Union — a pervading feeling that one is playing a real-life role in a spy drama. So paranoid does the average tourist become, and so substantial is the American ego, that it comes not only as a surprise, but something of a disappointment, when nothing happens. One of my friends with the track-and-field group, with which I am traveling, told me that he felt a tap on the shoulder yesterday getting off a bus. He turned to see a policeman and his heart sank abruptly into his shoes. "This is it," he thought. The policeman bowed slightly and handed my friend a piece of paper that had dropped from his pocket. My friend was enormously relieved, of course, but afterward he told me there had been just the slightest twinge of disappointment that the official had not said, in excellent English, "Mr. Lane, will you come with us, please."
Plimpton's story first appeared in the October 1980 issue of Harper's.