Not long ago, I was fortunate to interview Studs Terkel. I left the interview with many lasting impressions of this literary giant whose footprints have marked most of the writing world of the twentieth century and the early part of the twentieth-first. The time and recollections that he shared with me would have been branded into my mind forever. However, while we talked and as I was trying to stay up with his "free association style," I was struck by the many similarities that we shared.
Our political views are quite alike. From Clarence Darrow nearly a century ago to the present day, we saw the issues in a similar way. In addition, we shared an interest in the common person with a sometime naïve belief that given the facts most people will choose wisely and act justly.
It wasn't long into the interview that I also noted another interesting parallel. Both of us love to tell stories and in the process, get off on a tangent without knowing where we were originally heading. There I was interviewing Studs, trying to listen to what he was saying and at the same time thinking ahead to my next question (I didn't want to look dumb and unprepared) while occasionally being asked by him where he was going in his story.
Studs and I share a creative bent that is interesting, if not a little quirky. Added to our eccentricity is a very laidback conversation style. The interview often sounded like two old friends catching up with the events in each other's life, especially humorous ones. I guess that explains our mutual interest in recording human-interest stories.
Having seen two of Studs' offices during the marathon four and a half hour interview, I quickly discovered another striking similarity-some would see our office space as disheveled and disorganized. However, I write off my lack of neatness to creativity. Much of that creative process is done with felt-tip pens. My wife nags me about my "markers" as she calls them. I have red, blue, and black ones and tell her that these writing instruments are pens not markers. Well, you can imagine my joy and her chagrin, when at dinner, Studs offers to sign my copy of his newest book. Studs reaches into his jacket and whips out a black pen-a felt-tip pen. It turned out that it had gone dry. I proudly produced an identical one from my pocket. My wife hasn't mentioned my "markers" since.
One of Studs' trademarks is his red sweater over a red and white checked dress shirt and red socks. He refers to his daily outfit as his uniform. Seldom is he seen without a dark suit accessorized with the red. He explains that he likes his uniform-it makes deciding what he is going to wear a lot easier in the morning. I too like the uniform notion. My uniforms are generally blue and beige. In fact, I often will wear a shirt and trousers one day and not hang them up at night. When I get up in the morning, I just pop into them much to the ridicule of my wife. Since the interview, she has again been stifled-just like the pen issue.
Finally, the other obvious parallel is our love of cigars. Now, I smoke one once or twice a year, and Studs smokes them several times a day. Nevertheless, we agree that there isn't anything better than a good cigar.
You can understand why an aspiring writer would take great comfort in seeing the plentiful parallels between a giant like Studs Terkel and myself. Perhaps, there is hope that some day I will make it big and be awarded a Pulitzer Prize like Studs. The question is why I don't have one already, after all; I'm just like him. I have pondered this dilemma late at night since the interview. Perhaps, I should smoke more cigars and wear read socks.
My wife just came into my office and read this article off the computer. She didn't seem amused at the comments about uniforms and pens. As she left the room, she said something barely audible about another similarity that I share with Studs. I asked her what she had muttered. She pointed to my favorite writing sweatshirt that I was wearing, which she views as threadbare. "You and Studs need to update your old wardrobes."
I retorted, "What do you mean? This is my favorite sweatshirt, and I do my best writing in it. And besides, it is from the University of Chicago. Studs went there; see another parallel!" (The parallel is that I wear his alma mater's sweatshirt-not that I graduated from the U. of C.) After that distraction, I went back to my writing convinced even more than before that there is a Pulitzer in my future.