In Talking to Myself, Terkel recounts some of the formative and entertaining incidents from his own life. In most of his oral history interviews, he stays in the background and lets the subject take center stage. Here, without restraint, he brings forth his own unique flair for storytelling, interweaving stories of his youth, the resident characters at the Grand-Wells Hotel, and stories of Chicagoans with those of interesting people he meets while traveling. As in his other books, he is often presenting other peoples stories, but in Talking to Myself, they are perceived more directly through the eyes of the observer, Terkel himself.
"I once met Melvin Purvis. Was it 1933? He had written me a letter, on FBI stationery, inviting me to see him. It was an interview concerning a job. You see, I was unhappy at law school. My one ambition at the time, was to get a civil service job. That's what I really wanted. Something steady. Something not too exciting or exacting. So that I might, without too much on my mind, see movies and plays and weekend baseball games and attend concerts. I felt I had the makings of a good spectator. I had a year or so before, taken a civil service examination. I assume I scored okay. Otherwise, Mr. Purvis would not have invited me. The job: fingerprint classifier for the FBI. Melvin Purvis was friendly enough.I remember his neatness, his diminutive size, and his soft Southern accent. It was a year of so before he would achieve renown as the FBI man who did in John Dillinger."
"I first became a gangster in 1934. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Bugs Moran or Al Capone, or Hymie Weiss or Murray the Camel or the Genna Brothers or Jake Guzik or that most ill-starred of horticulturists, Dion O'Bannion. No, my experience as a paid killer, safe cracker, and extortionist was, alas, ersatz. I was a soap opera villain. My life of crime began in 'Ma Perkins' [radio program]. My first such appearance, indeed my debut as a gangster, was in the person of Butch Malone. He was as brutish a knave as ever terrified a Terre Haute housewife; especially the one who washed her things in Oxydol, courtesy of Procter & Gamble. For six weeks, off and on, I gave Ma and loved ones an awful time. As Butch, I wound up, if I remember right, in Sing Sing. A life sentence. What was even worse, I was written out of the script."
"It is at such a time and circumstance that I became aware of my own arrogance. For a stupid moment, I had thought I discovered Mahalia Jackson. We are seated in her Prairie Avenue flat, oh, shall we say about twenty-five years ago?. Her hands are clasped on the kitchen table. They are delicate, graceful hands. Not dainty, not soft. The calluses are eloquently there. She had scrubbed floors of other people's parlors. She had laundered other people's finery. She had nursed other people's children. A bitter reflection some years later: 'I nursed little Jimmy like he was my own. Do you think he was in that mob that threw rocks at Dr. King?'"
"In recalling Chicago '68, it is these moments that most immediately come to mind. A fusing of the mindlessness to the Theatre of the Absurd. For [writer] James Cameron, it shall always be a unique experience. Only a few weeks before, he had observed the Paris riots. There, too: the police versus the young. The French police, he believes, are more calculatedly cruel; there is more style to their sadism; they are more personal. 'Here, it was mindless and thus more shocking.' and perhaps, as consequences appear to indicate, more numbing to the young."
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Terkel comments and presents Talking To Myself - Part 1