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Saturday, September 13, 2003


“You can’t eat for eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours a day-all you can do for eight hours a day is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.”

William Faulkner


Studs Terkel (1912): quoting Faulkner in –WORKING- "People talking about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do” Terkel’s epic recount of US working ethic in the 70s based on tape recorded interviews with ordinary men and women- A tapestry of voices and personalities combined in a masterful publication of oral history.

In his introduction to the book Terkel writes:

“During my three years of prospecting, I may have, on more occasions than I had imagined, struck gold. I was constantly astonished by the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people. No matter how bewildering the times, no matter how dissembling the official language, those we call ordinary are aware of a sense of personal worth-or more often a lack of it-in the work they do.”

Reflectively he continues:

“In my own case, while putting together this book, I found myself possessed by the mistique of work. During a time out, I saw the film Last Tango in Paris. Though Freud said “lieben und arbeiten” are the two moving impulses of man, it was the latter that, at the moment, consumed me. Thus I saw on the screen a study not of redemption nor of self-discovery nor whatever perceptive critics may have seen. During that preoccupied moment I saw a study of an actor at w o r k .”


Personally, I worked my ass off during the last week, therefore got no chance to sit down and update this log. Today some of the problems that I faced were resolved finally. I reacquainted with “Working”, the book which I bought in Washington in 1976, a year prior to a tough period in my life when I was jobless, and was working hard to secure a job.

WORKING is a gripping anthology. Even to date it stirs one to see that the voices that Terkel gathered in the 70s are still vibrant and alive, Each of his interviews contains insights, resolve, wit and humor, that are a vital and enduring testimony to the emphatic rapport generated by the resolute and dapper small guy with the mike.


Mike Lefevre 37 -Steel worker

“Blow up computers. Really. Blow up computers. I’ll be goddamned if a computer is gonna eat before I do! I want milk for my kids and beer for me.”

Terry Pickens 14 –Paperboy

“I don’t see where people get all of this bull about the kid who’s gonna be President and being a newsboy made a President out of him. It taught him how to handle his money and his bull. You know what it did? It taught him how to hate the people on his route. And the printers. And the dogs.”

Carl Murray Bates 57 –Stonemason

“I think a laborer feels that he’s a low man. Not so much that he works with his hands, it’s that he’s at the bottom of the scale. He always wants to get up to a skilled trade. Of course he’d make more money. The main thing is the common laborer-even the word c o m m o n laborer-just sounds so common, he’s at the bottom. Many that works with his hands takes pride in his work.”

Roberta Acuna 34 –Farmworker

“When people have melons or cucumber or carrots or lettuce, they don’t know how they got on their table and the consequences to the people who picked it. If I had enough money, I would take busloads of people out to the fields and the labor camps. Then they’d know how that fine salad got on their table.”

Sharon Atkins 24 –Receptionist

“I’ll be home and the telephone will ring and I get nervous. It reminds me of the telephone at work. It becomes like Pavlov’s bell. It made the dogs salivate. It makes me nervous. The machine invades on me all day. I’d go home and it’s still there. It may have been a boon to business but it did a lot to wreck conversation.”

Jill Torrance 26 -Model

“ Male models are the worst. They’re always talking about that lucky streak. They’re usually ex-beach boys or ex-policemen or ex-waiters. They think they’re going to get rich fast. Money and sex are the big things in their life. They talk about these things constantly. Money more than sex, but sex a lot. Dirty jokes and the fast buck. You see this handsome frame and you find it empty.”

Eric Hoellen 43 –Janitor

“I had a call one night about eleven o’clock. She said, “My pussy’s caught in the door.” (laughs.) So I jumped up out of bed and said to my wife, “Someone’s crazy or drunk or somebody’s pulling a trick one me.” I get my clothes all on and I’m ready to go out the door and my phone rings. She says, “Never mind, I got my pussy loose.” She’s talking about her damn cat.”

Vince Maher 39 –Policeman

“I never studied psychology, but I apply it every day of my life. You can go into an atmosphere of doctors and lawyers and educators and get a point across verbally. They understand. You can also work on the South or the West Side, where you can talk your fool head off and get nothing. They don’t understand this nicety-type guy. So you walk with a big stick. Like the adage of a mule: he’s a very intelligent animal, but in order to get his attention you have to hit him on the head with a stick. Same thing applies on the street.”

Roberta Victor –Prostitute

“That was really hard work. The Mexicans would play Macho. American tricks will come as quickly as they can. Mexicans will hold back and make me work for my money. I swear to God they wre doing multiplication tables in their heads to keep from having an orgasm. I would use every trick I knew to get them to finish. It was crazy.”

Nick Lindsay 44 –Carpenter/Poet

“If you see a carpenter that’s alive to his work, you’ll notice that about the way he hits a nail. He’s not going (imitates machine-gun rat-tat-tat-tat)-trying to get the nail down and out of the way so he can hurry up and get another one. Although he may be working fast, each lick is like a seperate person that he’s hitting with his hammer. It’s like as though there’s a seperate friend of his that one moment. And when he gets out of it, there comes another one. Unique, all by itself. Pow!”


Excerpts from: -WORKING- by Studs Terkel 1972/1974 -Pantheon Books


posted by Walter at 9/13/2003