22 May 2007


The June issue of In These Times has a short interview with legendary historian (and Chicagoan) Studs Terkel on the occasion of his 95th birthday.

Let me ask you something. You’re an old radio guy: Don Imus?

Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly. Don Imus is just one of them. He happens to be stupid. They all are! That’s one of the things I have in the book—the lack of yesterday, of memory. The big thing that bothers me is the lack of history. Gore Vidal used the phrase, “United States of Amnesia.” I call it the United States of Alzheimer’s. We forget what happened yesterday.

Take this story. You know I walk to the bus. Bus number 146. They know me in the neighborhood. They know I’m a writer. They know me as the old guy who’s garrulous. I talk to myself. [Laughs.]

So one day there’s this one couple, they ignore me completely. So my ego is hurt. And I say, “The bus is late.” And I say, to make conversation, “Labor Day’s coming up.” And the man just turns and looks at me—Brooks Brothers, under his arm, the latest Wall Street Journal. And she’s a beauty. Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s. She’s got Vanity Fair in her hand. And he turns, looks at me, and says, “We despise unions.” And then he turns away.

And I said, “You what?” And the bus hasn’t come yet. “Do you know that in 1886, ‘87, four guys got hanged? How many hours a day do you work?”

He says, “Eight,” reflexively. I said, “How come you don’t work 18 hours a day? Four guys got hanged for you. Did you know that?”

They think I’m crazy. They’re scared. (Laughs.)

Now I’ve got him pinned against the mailbox. He can’t get away. “So how many weeks do you work?” No bus yet.

So finally they get onto the bus, and she looks out the window, and he says, “Is that guy nuts?” And that was the last I saw of them. This is Uptown—the haves and have-nots. I’ll bet they live in a condominium. Maybe the 15th floor.

Terkel has done a very clever thing here, although I can't promise a complete endorsement of it, it is tasty nonetheless. In America today we are anti-union and pro-military, because we are beholden to the fanciful idea of the messianic soldier who "died for our freedom." They did not, one assumes, die for an eight-hour workday and child labor laws. That was left for someone else to accomplish. But then, such things are not a part of the definition of "freedom" for our jingoist, militaristic ruling class who propagate that narrative.