Matt Nippert - PhD (spin), Wellington

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Random chunks from the bottom of the barrel

Been reading. One of the perks of being in the media is browning noses with publishers, and I've been fortunate enough to land a hard-to-find copy by a book by one old (92 years old and counting) geezer; Studs Terkel. If his name alone ain't cool enough for you, this intro and interview in The Onion AV Club might persuade you to look him up sometime:

Chicago fixture Louis "Studs" Terkel has worked as an activist, a civil servant, a labor organizer, an ad writer, a television actor, and a radio DJ, among many other occupations. But since the 1960s, he's been particularly well-known as a world-class interviewer, a writer and radio personality who draws celebrities and, far more often, average citizens into sharing their oral histories and revealing the complex commonalities and differences that define human existence.
A superb oral historian, his books from Working (which I made first year management students read to understand what work is really like), to Hard Times (stories from those who survived, suffered and even prospered in the Great Depression) and the Pulitzer-winning The Good War (the Second World War told by actual participants), describe wide social trends and movements through the experiences of those who lived through them.

But, as always, the joy is in the detail, the little stories that help flesh out wider themes seem to be worth a book to themselves. It's probably a reason why his interviewee monologues are often used by actors as audition pieces. Will the Circle be Unbroken, the title I'm presently devouring, tackles the subject of death and dying (suggested to Terkel by Gore Vidal). He talks to hospice workers, AIDs and cancer sufferers, ministers and cops. This, a gem from Tom Gates, a retired New York firefighter, formerly a policeman:

I hate guns. I wasn't a good cop because I used to walk around with no bullets in the chamber. I used to have them in my pocket and kid around saying if somebody starts in, I'll just throw the bullets real hard. [Laughs]

A few times I pulled my gun on guys. One time I went on the roof of this project and there's this big black guy, about six-seven, on top of the stairs. He had his back to me. I said, "Hey, fella, turn around." He said, "Yeah, wait a minute, man." I said, "Turn around and put your hands against the wall." He said, "Yeah, yeah, wait a minute."

It dawned on me he had a gun caught in his belt and was tryin' to take it out. I said, "Holy shit..." So I took my gun out and said, "You fucker, I'm gonna shoot." He threw his hands up against the wall.

He had his dick out and was tryin' to zip up his fly, and there was a girl standing in the corner, which I couldn't see. So here was a guy gettin' a hand job and maybe a lot of guys would have killed him.

I said, "Holy shit, I coulda killed ya." He started shaking, and the gun in my hand was shaking like a bastard. I said - I musta been cryin' - I said, "Just get the hell outta here..."

That's when I decided to quit the force and become a fireman.
Speaking of fire, I was reminded when talking to Greg Proops for the Listener (interview is off-line, sorry), that it often accompanies smoke. Before this segue, truly scraped from the bottom of the barrel, puts you off I'll throw in some lines from the headliner of the Comedy Festival that didn't make it into print. This, on California's anti-smoking laws:

You can't smoke in a bar in Los Angeles, which is fairly ironic, considering how difficult it is to breathe outside the bar in Los Angeles. You don't want the door of a bar to fling open and let all that bad air go outside. It's a gradual noxification of our civil rights. I understand that it's bad in certain places - like a cancer ward. In a bar it seems to me you've got a lot on your plate. You're getting drunk on poison, and trying to have sex with someone you don't know. It's probably not the chiefest of your health concerns.
And this, on the 9-11 commission :

This has been a PR disaster for the Bush Administration. I find it humorous their whole presidency is based on how great their response has been to an event they may have been able to prevent. It's like saying, "Remember when I drove the care into the lake? I was the first person to say we should pull the car out of the lake, right afterwards!" It's not winning me over.
And for my next post: behind the scenes of investigative journalism, how you too can negotiate your way through and to interesting statistics. Such as: did you know 44% of all prisoners are Maori, while they constitute only 15% of the population? It makes you think.

UPDATE: The Onion has a decent interview with Rickey Gervais of The Office. And the Herald site finally put up my prison story.