Pat Watters discusses his book "Angry Middle-Aged Man"
BROADCAST: Jan. 13, 1977 | DURATION: 00:57:19
Discussing the book "Angry middle-aged man" with Pat Watters.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Quite obviously the South is in the news these days, but there is a Southern journalist I know who is one of the most observant around and about. His name is Pat Watters, and for a number of years he worked for "The Atlanta Journal", Atlanta is his base, and I met him back in 1965 during the end of the Selma-Montgomery march at the home of mutual friends and Pat Watters, someone I'd known of for a long time, and he's written a good number of books, by the way, dealing with the civil rights movement and his own observation of it as well as his own participation. "The South and the Nation" is one, "Down to Now: Reflections on the Southern Civil Rights Movement" another, and "Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Arrival of Negroes in Southern Politics" with a colleague, Reese Cleghorn. But, as well as editing a book about the FBI, and I'm thinking about Pat's new book which is far, far more personal. It's called "The Angry Middle-Aged Man". Pat is my contemporary, middle-aged, and angry in his own way. And the subtitle, "The Crisis of America's Last Minority", and Viking, Grossman Viking are the publishers, and it's quite a book because Pat Watters is quite a journalist, and so, in a moment, conversation with Pat Watters and "The Angry Middle-Aged Man" after this message.
Pat Watters "Glenda and I were sitting in the middle room having a drink before lunch, taking a breather from Saturday chores, watching the NCAA quarterfinals on the TV, saying how relaxing it was to see the patternings of the players, the swift, skilled action, the beauty of their upthrust arms shooting, when the phone rang. I jumped to get it and heard the old-lady voice, excitement, almost glee in it, the voice of doom, one I knew I had been expecting for years. "Pat, you better come. Your mother's fallen. We're at the Big Star supermarket at Aynsley mall."
Studs Terkel And that's how your book begins, so, and you also set the whole scene, don't you? Pat Watters, journalist, and something happened. Aside from the accident to your mother, who's I imagine 70s, late 60s?
Pat Watters Late
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Pat Watters Over that same, well, during that weekend I was also apprehensive about my job, because we had been informed that the organization where I worked, that a certain number of people would have to be laid off the following week. And I, as people do, sort of rationalized and figured how I wouldn't be one of those laid off, but as it turned out I was one of them, so I spent a period of time where the kind of calamity that happens at my stage in life, my mother in the hospital and having to deal with all the bureaucracies and horrors of hospitals. And at the same time in the unnatural kind of crisis of being without work at the age of 48. And I
Studs Terkel And so it's only two years ago it was. You're 48, here you have Glenda home at this house, and in addition to the fact that your job is in jeopardy, it turns out you lose it, I want to ask you about the place you work which is interesting, 'cause I know you because of that place, but also your mother, who is elderly, has an accident, falls down and breaks her hip in a supermarket. So several things come into play at that very moment, in the life of someone we would describe as a youngish, middle-aged man.
Pat Watters Youngish, middle aged, and one of the things the book subsequently involves interviews with other people, middle-aged, and one of the things that you notice is that troubles do come in bunches. You're at a stage in life where your kids are struggling with their own growing up and their own problems, where your parents getting old and ill health, where your own health is something of a worry to you, and all of this you can kind of cope with, but to have these kind of things laid on top of the thing of being without a job, it's really, frankly
Studs Terkel Now, you had been a very established and known journalist in Atlanta, "Journal", and then you decided, because you were involved with the civil rights movement, too, or were you one of these premature integrationists, Pat Watters. You joined the Southern Regional Council, and that's the job that you lost. Now, what is Southern Regional Council?
Pat Watters Well, it's the oldest civil rights organization in the South, it started in the late '40s, and from the beginning was an interracial integrationist organization. We were sort of the middle men in the movement of the '60s, we were the channel for money into the more militant organizations, we mainly were an information organization, and that's really why I went into that work. The civil rights thing was the biggest story going on in the South at that time, and--
Pat Watters Yeah, yeah, early '60s. I felt my newspaper wasn't covering it the way they ought to cover it, so I moved to this organization which was covering the story the way it ought to be done, and so, in a way, my motivation then was professional, but I also had, you know--
Pat Watters Yeah, and I think this is a tremendous commentary, because it highlights a whole lot of the things that we were trying to say in the book, that here's an organization devoted to human rights, and yet because of the economic forces let loose in the country, really, it treated a number of us employees in a very inhumane way. The economic forces to wit, being the stock market. The stock market went way down in 1975, and that in turn affected the foundations, and the foundations were the source of our income, so those foundations said, you know, cut back, and this very humane organization had no choice but to--
Pat Watters Into
Studs Terkel This, to me ,is almost at the core of everything. The web we're in. This book of yours is quite a book, I asked you how you, why you wrote it, and it deals with your contemporaries, other men you know. Mostly Southern whites, but there's a Southern Black, too. But most of these guys, middle-aged men, mostly middle class, middle-aged men. But before we come to that, this particular point, the Southern Regional Council, very enlightened, working--in fact, there's a guy named Jim Woods who quit his own business to become part of this, he got clobbered by this group, not clobbered, lopped off by the group, too, the very nature of our society depending upon this outside money, foundation granted, made your employer, or your superior at this place behave like any other employer would.
Pat Watters Sure. Yeah, exactly. And I couldn't get angry with him. You know, there's no human element in it. I was, you know, he was just as wretched as I was, he'd look worse each time I saw him, you know, terrible thing for this man to have to go through putting out, you know, not just colleagues but good friends of his, and this recurred again and again in the interviews, men who had been through similar situations, and they couldn't pinpoint any human enemy or any human villain in this situation. And this is the thing we were, you know, so upset about, so frustrated, is you're up against inhuman forces and the men kept saying, "Bigness. Bigness. Bigness is what's wrong. We need to get back to smallness." And, you know, given our sick society today, I don't really see how we going to get back to smallness in the way they are talking about, but I do think we can get, we've got to somehow restore the human element into all this
Studs Terkel Well, let's, we'll come to this. Let's stick with you and the men you met through, because then you were in the line waiting for unemployment compensation. Before that, as suddenly this feeling you have, I guess, is one of fear, is it not? When suddenly you realize income is cut off.
Pat Watters Oh, panic. You're panicked, you know, you're scared of death. I've been working 30 years and I'd had a paycheck coming in, you know, every week for 30 years, and all of a sudden that was snatched out from under me. Even more frightening, not even more but certainly as frightening as these other things we've come to consider necessary to our existence, my credit cards, they were overnight gone, my hospitalization and my retirement plan. I got a, you know, a small case settlement that takes, that eradicated my hope for, you know, some sort of security in my old age. And, you know, this is just very--it pulls the rug out from under you, all the things you thought were necessary to your life.
Studs Terkel And then, as is often the case with a middle-aged man such as yourself, there is still maybe a parent, parents or parent in your case, mother, elderly woman, living by herself, rather feisty, independent, but suddenly she falls and breaks her hip in a supermarket.
Pat Watters Right.
Pat Watters Well, yeah, this was more of, how to put it, emotional kind of crisis, a feeling of terrible dependency on her part, and that was, I could certainly understand, I felt my duty as a son, you know, to be attendant to her and, you know, help her emotionally and psychologically. At the same time, I was going through a tremendous crisis in my own life, and I felt, you know, I'm sure with some self-pity, that my God, how much can a man stand, how many ways can you be pulled at once? And--
Pat Watters Sure, waiting in horrible rooms, you know, that seemed to be designed to be ugly, and ugly furniture, and the symbol of the whole thing for me at the hospital was they had an arrangement for getting a parking ticket out of a machine. Of course, you don't get it from a person, a human being, you get it out of a little old machine stuck there, and they had the machine perched right at the peak of a hill so that you had to do all this with your feet, holding the brake, reaching out the window, getting the ticket, doing the thing of starting your car on a hill, when they could have had it on a level, you know, this kind of inane nuisance added to all the other part
Studs Terkel See, now you're hitting these little irritations, the little irritants, that are not little, these little, if I may put it another way, little humiliations, humiliations, that why did, here you're thinking about your mother, your job, and you gotta park at the peak of the hill, I don't drive a car, but I can gather you're talking about braking and doing it, at this most uncomfortable spot. Why? And meantime, all this added discomfort, you're for no reason, and we see this each day, of course.
Pat Watters Sure. Sure. And people, you know, worrying about folks in a whole lot worse condition than my mother was in, people who were dying in that hospital, and their loved ones come and added to, you know, the horror of that, this little machine on the top of the hill. It really, really hit me.
Studs Terkel And also later on in the book you talk of the, something we talk about, the noise. The music that is unwanted. It could be Muzak in the elevator. It could be the plane that lands or before it goes, everywhere this noise and the music somebody imposes on you, in a restaurant sometimes, or wherever it is, you don't even ask for it, but it's there. And when you question it, there's an antagonistic response.
Pat Watters But not just in Muzak, but in people's homes. I've sat in homes and had a stereo blaring so loud that you could not carry on a conversation in the room. And one of the few, well, not one of the few, but one of the very first things I said is, "I'm not going to endure that kind of situation anymore." So I say to folks, you know, "Either let's listen to the music or let's talk, but you can't do both at once."
Studs Terkel So we're talking about, your book is called "The Angry Middle-Aged Man", it's also middle age we're talking about, too, aren't we? And now we come to that aspect. Well, aside, we're naturally, we're also talking about the rage that is building, and you're quite a, Pat, I knew you as sort of easygoing guy, but from your book I can gather this, inchoate, that is not so inchoate, rather articulated in your book, rage that is underneath there, perhaps even the filling of the form. Perhaps you can read this one part that I think is made for out-loud reading, as you're sitting. I think you're sitting here, in this darkened room, I guess you got up at the house, is that it, that you couldn't sleep that night. You're worried about your mother and your job. Fortunately your wife, Glenda, is taking an examination as a real estate salesperson.
Pat Watters Right.
Pat Watters "Waking up in the middle of the night worrying, you know, and this is a common thing with folks in this situation. So sitting here in the darkened living room at two-thirty in the morning, unable to sleep, smoking, looking at the familiar shapes of the furniture, the fireplace, forcing the will to deal with each level of anxiety, to face down with facts, bad enough in themselves, each stab of unreasoning terror. Sitting here, 48 years old and jobless, mother in the hospital with a broken hip maybe facing blindness, sitting here after 30 years of working hard and nothing to show for it, blessed only with the love of a good woman. Sitting here thinking about going 12, sitting here thinking about giving 12 years of loyalty to an organization only to find that those in charge of it had not the first sense of loyalty toward me, and yet an organization supposed to be devoted to human relations. Sitting here thinking how through 30 years this country has taken so much of the joy and creative pleasure from the basics of my existence. Idiocies and atrocities I was suddenly so aware of. Sitting here 48 and jobless, thinking back over 30 years of harassed existence, of being abstracted and programmed and almost robbed of any identity at all. Sitting here with that empty ache of defeat and disappointment in my gut, knowing that I had done my best, done everything I was supposed to do. And for what? The worst of it was knowing that if I had not lost my job, if Mother had not broken her hip, if all that trouble had not so suddenly come upon me, what I had before wasn't worth a damn anyway. Sitting here dreading to go back to bed, to sleep, because to wake would be to plunge into the anxiety all over again, the opposite from waking out of a nightmare into pleasant reality. Sitting here in reality had become a nightmare. I'd been numb, really, since the meeting with George, a surprise catastrophe of being laid off on top of the hellish week"--
Pat Watters Right. Yeah. Yeah. "The surprise catastrophe of being laid off on top of the hellish weekend with Mother, too much for my feelings to cope with. Now feeling rushed back into me, filled me, almost too much to control. Not self-pity. Some fear, yes, but mainly anger. I was angry, angry as hell."
Pat Watters Sure. The thing of people of all ages and long, long lines waiting to report their defeat for the week that they hadn't gotten a job, and I talked with a woman, Mrs. [Koefer?] at one of the employment offices about middle-aged men particularly coming into this place, and she told of their irritation with the forms and their testiness about having to comply with this rule and that rule, and she's very understandingly, this was a Black woman and she very understandingly said, "Of course they are angry," said "It's not the kind of anger that young people have. It's a different deeper, smoldering kind of anger."
Studs Terkel The--by the way, she and you are talking about sort of middle-class middle-aged, of white men primarily, though we'll come to the Black guy in a moment. Want to show, 'cause basically this is your book, it's the, we think of the, of Black people and Spanish- speaking, poor whites and very old people, you know, old people, you know, senior citizens, the euphemism called, and the fury at being put down and, you're talking about a group hardly talked about, a guy who was, a businessman, a salesman, or in your case, journalist, executive, and suddenly he's out.
Pat Watters And the kind of feeling about that that has come over me more and more, really, since the book came out more than when I was writing it, but when these kind of people are in a state almost of rebellion, in effect of rebellion, of saying, you know, this just is not going to do, this, it's how to put it, it's like the atmosphere leading to the French Revolution, the atmosphere leading to the American Revolution. This is broad discontent across the entire specter of a society. The book's entitled "The Last Minority" but that's a paradox, because we're not a minority, neither numerically or in the, you know, metaphorical sense of weak, or deprived and all that. And I say somewhere in the book, you know, if it's happening to us, think what worse is going to happen to other people?
Studs Terkel You know, as far as minority, you add up the angry middle-aged middle-class white men to the angry young middle-aged Black, Spanish speaking, to the angry young middle-aged poor whites, mountain people, added to the angry older people called senior citizens, you got a majority.
Studs Terkel And of course the women. And, so, there we come to, you see, the part to me is also, and your book, of course, too, this is quite moving [to me?], with the people you've met, the men you've spoken to, men and this is specifically the middle-aged man. You make that quite clear because we think of the privileged person is the middle-aged middle-class white man, and you're talking about that very group.
Pat Watters Sure.
Pat Watters Yeah. Yeah. And what this says, some of the reaction to the book, some of the, you know, some of the reviews have said, "Well, what, is he against the system? Is he saying the system isn't working?" Really, this kind of astonished thing going, and another part of it is, "Well, what did he expect?" And to me, both of these things are very, very naïve reactions to what I think is a book that lays out that this system is not working, and it's also, in a sense I think, a warning that there are more and more people who are aware of this and who have--they don't have any solutions, and Lord knows they don't have any dogma, any ideology, which I think is a wonderful thing, really, but they know something is terribly fundamentally wrong with this country, and they want to do something about it.
Studs Terkel And, of course, there's a big question here and that's a question because you talked to a number of people, some of whom have an idea, some of whom don't. One guy's a member of the Klan. One of these, and you're also thinking, which way can it go? And also how George Wallace, to use someone who had, of lesser note, a demagogue who used non-issues to call upon the very irritants and irritation without hitting the key issues that disturb you, of course.
Studs Terkel The demagogue, of course, this is what we're talking about. You see, you were talking about this, you and I, I remember the letter, an op-ed column of "The New York Times" by, and you quote him, [Edward B. Furey?], I remember this man, this letter, I was thrown by it. He lived somewhere In Westchester, or Scarsdale, he was an upper-middle-class executive and he got laid off, and he couldn't get a job in that letter, and you quote part of it here: "But to be 52 years old and jobless, to be frightened, frightened to the marrow of your bones, your days start with it, end with it, it is pervasive, it is numbing. It is to realize the simple stunning fact that you are this middle-aged guy without"--this is Edward [Furey?] writing--"Without meaningful representation in this society. Finally it's to lie sleepless in bed waiting for the dawn of a new day and realize that something terribly wrong in America."
Studs Terkel And, so, the basis of your book, then, was to find these men who were in your spot, and you of course being a writer, a journalist, and that becomes your book, to find someone whom you knew from school days, or someone who you had met through Mrs. [Koefer?], this woman.
Pat Watters And, Studs, too, not just men who were going through this particular crisis, which I think is the most revealing of all the crisis of joblessness, that brings it all into focus and you see, you know, that you're in a terrible predicament, but what you had before wasn't any good anyhow, but also to talk with men who by all outward appearances ought to be fulfilled and happy and on top of the world and to discover that they, too, have felt exactly the same things, they felt this discontent, this feeling of, feeling of being cheated, that you've done what you were supposed to do, and here I've got these two cars and this big fine house, and I'm not happy. You know, this is what they told me.
Studs Terkel Yeah, those guys, too, yeah. Seemingly making it, and yet not. But coming back to the question of jobs, because, of course we're talking now, as you and I are talking this very moment, there's a funny headline in the papers, it's watching a local paper but it's national, it says "Unemployment has gone down to seven point five percent." Now what does that mean? Seven point five percent of a population of more than 200 million is what?
Studs Terkel That's an awful lot of millions, isn't it? And a great many of those, aside from the young Blacks, but obviously are middle-aged white men. It's interesting, isn't it? Who are worried stiff. What happens next? That's it, knocked off. And you describe these scenes. But in the meantime there's an act going on, and I remember this, you indicate this, and I remember seeing an item about Orange County, which is Ronald Reagan country, in which a middle-aged guy goes through a ritual. He's ashamed. He's not working. Every day he gets dressed up, and he goes, he drives as though he's going to work and he goes to the park bench and reads the want ads, tie it all, his neighbors don't know he's unemployed, and he's terrified. And you have the scene. Meanwhile, this is Pat Watters book, "For the first of these two months of steady income, was when they go--forced by go often as I could to go to the office, go through the motions of punctuality and attendance I'd been going through in one way or another since I started first grade 41 years ago." The ritual, isn't it?
Pat Watters Oh, sure. Yeah. And so the stigma of shame, you know, added to the terror of being out of work. And several of the men talked about it, of how they just didn't want their neighbors to see them at home during the daytime. Never had been home during the daytime. So much of my realization about that was the middle-aged man. Men particularly, more so than women, have been, well, we were conditioned to consider the job and working as totally the center of our existence. It was our very meaning, you know, what you do and the fact that you do it, that's really your identity, that's your personality. That's about there is to you. And that's one of the things I realized that was bad about the way I'd been living before, that there is more to me than just, you know, reporter, writer. There's a whole lot, you know, more of a person here, and I began to discover parts of my personality that I didn't know anything about. I began to know the joy, really, of being in a home. Not--I didn't feel shame, because, of course, I was working in the home, if I had not been working in the home, I'm sure
Pat Watters I was blessed that way. And she was working out of the home, too, so that we shared the home in a far more intimate way than we ever had before. The home to me used to be a, just a terrible burden. It was the thing I had worked all day to be able to sleep in at night, to pay the notes on the thing, and then when something went, the water heater busted in the basement, there was just something to distract me from my work. You know, having to worry over that durn thing down in the basement spewing out water.
Studs Terkel We should point out that that water is now doing very well. Okay. As a freelance man and he's find his own way and you happen to be in a much more fortunate situation than many of your contemporaries.
Pat Watters Absolutely.
Studs Terkel But we come back to the question of this sense of shame many feel--oh, this woman at the unemployment center, this Black woman, Mrs. [Koefer?], said she got you a number of guys and the guys who never called you back because you felt they were ashamed.
Studs Terkel Now I got to ask you a question. You and I have a mutual friend, Virginia Durr, and that's how I first met you, in Montgomery at her house during the last days of the Selma-Montgomery march. Virginia in "Hard Times", this thing I worked here on, of the great American Depression in the '30s, says "A terrible sense of shame pervaded as they blamed themselves." People, "Why'd I buy that second radio set, or that secondhand car?" And the preacher was saying, "Sin. You sinned," and indeed how horrible it was. Now, today is there that sense of blaming self, or is there more of a hitting out and questioning the very society?
Pat Watters I think definitely more of, fact is, I put the question to a number of the man that I interviewed, I said, "Then I've kind of had this feeling that you've been told all your life that if you lose your job, then it's somehow your fault." And I kind of felt that, although I knew rationally that it wasn't my fault. So I'd asked these men about it, and not one of them shared that feeling. They said, "No, well, you know, I may have made mistakes in the past, but what has happened to me is just wrong, you know, and it doesn't have anything to do with the way I performed." One guy said that, the air-conditioning salesman, and he had been at it for 25 years or so, had worked for only two companies during his career, got laid off because the building trades had all gone to pot in '75. And he struggled along for two or three months and find him a new job, better job than he had before, he's just delighted, you know, floating on air, and he worked for them a month and then got laid off again. And he said, "What in the world?" And they said, "Well, what happened was that we miscalculated the budget, and the computer has sent down a message that we've got to lay off one man, and you're the last person we hired, so you're the first person to go."
Pat Watters Right.
Studs Terkel And now we come to the middle-aged white guy, and now we come to a key theme. I want to ask you about the men you met and talked to in this book, but also another point after we hear this message. We'll resume with Pat Waters and his book "The Angry Middle-Aged Man", published by Grossman Viking. Now resuming the conversation with Pat Watters, by this book, "The Angry Middle-Aged Man", has the subtitle "The Crisis of America's Last Minority", and Grossman Viking the publishers. And for those who may have tuned in late, Pat is someone I've known for a good number of years, ever since 1965, anyway, as a very, very perceptive and outspoken Southern journalist, and I always thought, "Pat Watters, my God, he's celebrated and known," and when I read this book I was stunned because Pat was worried about a job, and that's the thing that hit me, so last night, by the way, Pat, we're having this conversation on this particular day, last night I spoke before a group of personnel people, and a woman says to me, good-natured, well, she says, you know, "Anybody who wants a job can get a job. Oh, we're looking, anybody you tell wants," I says, "Are you kidding?" She says, "Anybody who wants a job," and she's talking primarily, of course, of young Blacks and Spanish-speaking. Now, you have this in the book. Arthur Burns, [Arthur?] said, "Who wants a job can get a job," and one of the guys' response to it, one of the middle-aged men.
Pat Watters He said it was cruel, said how could that S.O.B say a thing like that, as I recall the quote, yeah. And the sad fact is that you can't, in many instances, you can't really get the kind of job that you're equipped for, that your experience and your training and your wisdom that you gathered, you know, in 20 to 30 years in a particular occupation. You can't get it, and the reason you can't get it doesn't really have all to do with the unemployment rates, Studs. This is the thing that really scares me. I think there's a way of thinking in this country that says human beings become obsolete. And really, 35, 35 is the cutoff point. This is when men encounter difficulty getting a new job if they've been laid off or the more and more that think "I want my change," you know, realizing "This isn't really what I want to do, I want to get another job." Well, if you're 35 and over, it's tough. It's hard to do. And what is said to me was that here is a society that is throwing away this valuable human resource. And there is wisdom, there is, there are tricks to the trade that you learn that you can't be taught in school, that you can pick up the first year on the job, and you're taking an organism that's really at the height of his powers and saying, you know, onto the rubbish heap, and what they're doing at the same time, and I think this ought to be a warning to young folks, is they're taking, they're trading us, trading these middle-aged guys in on a new model, and it's a low-cost, high-energy model, and they'll use, you know, you young folks, they'll use you up in the same way and then throw you out for yet another younger model. And there's something basically wrong with this, they're saying then that not just the effect on the human beings, but it's bound to have an effect on the whole thing the way, the health of the country, the economic and social and mental
Studs Terkel Who
Studs Terkel You find this guy behind the desk as you're in the civil rights organization, but then we talk about the profit-making organizations, the others, the more commercial organizations, the man behind the desk. But who is he, he represents who? Remember that line in "Grapes of Wrath", we're talking about Depression of the '30s, Steinbeck's classic "Grapes of Wrath" when Muley Graves is being evicted from his farm, and this guy with the car says, "You've got to get out." Well, he's "Well, I'm going to go to Tulsa. I'm going to shoot that guy." He's, he's got nothing to do with it, he's going crazy. Who you going to--"Well, that guy in New York." "Who in New York? Who do I shoot?" He's well, it's not the guy in New York. He's a guy elsewhere." And then we start up on conglomerates, don't we? And so here we go to the impersonal aspects, don't we?
Pat Watters Impersonal forces, yeah, right. And like I say, I don't, I surely don't know the answer to it. But I think the answer lies somewhere in people being aware of how fundamentally wrong things are, and like with, you know, my fellow Georgian that is going to be president of the country, and I feel a great deal of confidence in him from having seen him operate as governor of Georgia. But I think he and the people around him and the people in the Congress need to be aware of the feeling in this country that things are out of control and that human beings don't matter.
Studs Terkel Well, we're talking now to the, you and the men you meet. There's a guy named Harold Chapman, and he's the one who said, "I want to work." Who's Harold Chapman? I assume you changed names around here, too.
Pat Watters Well, I ran into him at the nursing home. His mother--or his mother-in-law was in the room next to my mother's, and recuperating from a stroke, and we had gone to high school together, and I had not seen him since we were in high school, which was a good number of years before, and we recognized each other and greeted each other and then he started in immediately. He was a contractor and he said, "I've got one little job left to do, and then nothing." And he said, "It's not just me, but it's my crew. Skilled craftsmen. Who've already, many are losing their homes, no work to be done, and all they want to do is work. That's the only living thing that they want to do, is earn their living. And when a country, you know, can't let men who want to work, work, something's wrong. Plain wrong. Same way with the laborer, the guy who'd been on the assembly line, and that was the best job he'd ever had because he'd always done hard labor before that. And all he wanted to do was more hard labor and he couldn't get that. Now, this was in a very depressed, you know, little area of the country, but that's a frightening thing.
Pat Watters Yeah. Oh, yeah. And for the middle-aged guy, even the thing of digging ditches we talked about this among one another, I couldn't go out and dig ditches, you know, I'm not physically able to. Sales jobs abound in the want ads, but as the salesman told me, these are jobs with no draw, straight commission, and you probably won't make as much as you can get for unemployment compensation.
Studs Terkel Now, Jim Bukin, he can't, something trouble, physically, he can work, but he can't get insured. And so the company worries about that. They use that. He's "I don't mind it." They use that, and it's okay, we can't. Isn't that it? In this case.
Pat Watters Sure.
Studs Terkel Well, you know there's something else here. You said it's never really showing outwardly. We hear of it, you are the first one, Pat, that's why this book, I think, is so powerful. It is a simply written book, may as I point out that Pat Watters is an excellent journalist and writer. "The Angry Middle-Aged Man, A Crisis of America's Last Minority", and coming back to the man Jim Bukin also, he's quiet and it's this quiet that is so deceptive and euphemism, he says, "I'm annoyed." The euphemisms, "I'm annoyed" when he's furious, there's annoyed, as, and I'm thinking of a guy I know who was fired from one of the big advertising, one the biggest in the country. He had worked there 30 years, one of these big soft drink accounts. And he's, I sat having coffee with the guy, and he's "Well, that's the team work. A new team came in." And he is quiet, I says, "Aren't you mad?" He says, "No." And a bit, he's "You know, if he punched me in the nose I'd have known it better. I'd have appreciated it more." It was more brutish than a punch in the nose, you see. And he's furious, although he--and this is what, it's this deception. You're talking about something underneath. Aren't you?
Pat Watters Well, I think it's a mark of how profound the anger is, it's not the kind of just flying off the handle thing that you might find. But also, Studs, I think too, it's part of the character and the trait of my generation, is this one of our highest ideals is to hold on to balance, is to not, you know, go off the deep end and I think maybe that's, I admire that very much, because in the book I did go off the deep end. I just said, "By God, I'm going to say this because I'm mad." And as I say, some of the response to the book is a sort of, you know, tut, tut. How dare you be angry when this is a country where everybody's supposed to be happy and content and getting along fine, and I think a lot of us need to just sort of maybe let that thing of balance go for a while and say we are angry and we want something done. Want something done about machines that break down all the time, the same kind of obsolescence that you trade a man for a new one. Why can't we have cars that you fix up and drive for 10 years?
Studs Terkel You're also talking about shoddy work, by the way, Frank, your friend Frank, about shoddy work, and now we come to something interesting. About the assembly line, didn't care what they do as the car passed inspection, and all the deterioration of appliances. And now we come to the scapegoat, the person working at it, and at least my observations from the works I've done in different books is that the employer, the big guy, says "Turn out the stuff."
Pat Watters Yeah.
Studs Terkel And so if a man works slowly and carefully and well, he's an enemy of gross national product. The guy who works fast and sloppy but quickly, he's a friend of gross, so the easy scapegoat is the television repairman or the auto mechanic, but he's not the guy, he's been taught. You know, you've got to be taught, as Rodgers and Hammerstein said.
Pat Watters It did have when I was doing the, you know, research on the book. But there's a, you know, as a result of Carter's thing there's a big tourist trade down there now, and from what I can gather, things are booming which I'm glad to see for that--
Studs Terkel "But as" writes, "[unintelligible] Americus I was on an old two-lane U.S. highway getting back to the accursed expressway when I stopped at a filling station. There, drinking a Coke, I looked about me at the gashed landscape, common to such roads all across the country, garish signs, graceless little galvanized steel or cement block buildings, Brazier Burger, Dairy Queen, K-O Gas regular, five three point nine cents, Hasty House, across the way a fenced-in grassless storage area by a railroad track, huge gravel piles, litter everywhere. My anger was indiscriminate. This ugly sight made me almost as angry as the tales I heard from Jim and Horace," those two guys you talked to, middle-aged men, "Thoughts I had had about how abstracted we all were." Now you're talking about the abstractedness, how we become abstracted, things rather than flesh and blood.
Pat Watters Sure, and I think the women were aware of this before, certainly before I was, and certainly before men were. But you start, you're a good little boy, you're a good scout, game player, get into what we were, G.I. Joes, man in the gray flannel suit organization man, good husband, good father, good son, dutiful son, you're abstracted out of your identity, and the most of it, the abstraction of being the provider, and this is what really tears you up, is to lose a job and the thought of not just your own economic survival, but all the people who depend on you. So often, as in my case and so often with the men I talked to, there have been divorces, you've got former wives, you've got children, you've got a present wife, some of us, some of them, I don't have that problem, but some have parents that are dependent on them, the American male is really a providing machine, you know, he's the guy who goes out and pays the bills, and part of the thing of, "What are we going to do about it?" I started out having been in the civil rights thing, really with the halfway notion of saying let's organize, you know, let's get an organization. But the men I talked to said, "No way. You know, we don't have time for that. We're the ones who do the work and pay the bills, and let the women organize. Let the young people organize." And Black men really were the ones who were making the money so that families could participate in the movement. And beyond that a kind of wisdom of seeing that's part of what's wrong with the country anyhow, everybody is split off into these little groups--
Studs Terkel By the way, since you are a veteran or as a journalist, Southern journalist of the civil rights movement from the earliest of an establishment paper, then quit to do elsewhere, there was a populist dream of newly-franchised Blacks and poor whites and that seems to be by the boards for the moment, or is it?
Pat Watters I don't know, Studs, whether. It's such a tough thing to answer. I think if somebody were to really go in and do some organizing it could be done. I think there's far more recognition on both sides of the color line of the common problems and the common causes of the problems. On the other hand, some of them, some of the guys I talked to, poor white, would say, "I don't like this business about the school integration, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'm just one little fellow," so that really increases that sense
Pat Watters Thirty-five.
Pat Watters Yeah.
Pat Watters And that seems to me a clear and present danger just as during the Depression, just as has happened in Germany, I don't discount that kind of thing. When I think about the discontent being as wide, as spread as wide over all spectrums of the society.
Pat Watters It calls for statesmanship, it calls for leadership beyond just getting full employment or something near full employment, and there again I am encouraged about Jimmy Carter because he gave us in Georgia the kind of moral spiritual leadership that we needed on the race issue. You know, he got up and said, "You know, this thing is over. Segregation is all over with. Let's forget about it. Let's go on to the problems that are really bothering us," and I would love to see that man pull this country together that way, as well as, you know, in terms of programs and pragmatism.
Studs Terkel Well, you and I had lunch, of course we're talking about his appointment of Griffin Bell, and you were saying maybe it's not quite that bleak as seems, but we'll wait. Coming back to the subject of the demagogue. And Wallace, though may be out, but perhaps a new come along, and our friend Ed, Wallace issues, and this is the thing you point out here in your book, 184, "Wallace's issues were not all the ones men and I talked about." You see?
Studs Terkel The unhidden issues. The unhidden issues, and this to me is one of the keys why your book's important and why poll takers don't know what the hell they're talking about or doing. You want your kid bused or you for or against abortion. That's not what people talk about--and the hidden issues. The need for national health insurance. Subsidies for private retirement plans to eliminate old age discrimination in employment. For better unemployment compensation. For full employment. For federal works program geared to our times. The issues that are bread on the table, let alone butter, but bread on the table, a roof overhead.
Pat Watters Sure.
Studs Terkel And leave that wolf at the door. And again, the non-issues are the ones throughout, and here by the way, I want to say, you're one of the good journalists in all the, with the media, so-called, God help us, liberal media called by some. It's funny as hell, that phrase, it's meaningless, have absolutely done nothing. And, so, you know, a two-bit, a penny ante demagogue like Wallace for so long held the scene.
Pat Watters Incredible.
Studs Terkel Yeah. So you see this. And, so, in Ed you sense that Ed is a good man, this guy who had joined the Klan, is basically as I knew a young John Birch member as though he had a thing ritualistic as though, as like a football team guy. The ritual, this guy was outside, hits the wrong target, you know, just lashes out at the one below rather than the one who's stepping on him.
Studs Terkel And I got to ask you a big one now, because we're looking at the, as you see the dark side, isn't there a difference today in, and I'm talking about you now, and what you did. Has it had no effect? Talking about you and millions for the young Blacks and women and peace protesters, war protesters, and what's happened, in '76 in contrast to way back before? You and the man named John Summville, you know, wants to move to Canada. But he's not going--by the way, he is going to go to Canada. He's not going to escape, as you imply in the book he thinks he will. Canada's got its own projects. I don't know if you know Toronto or not. But Toronto--anyway. But didn't you or he say, now wait a minute? There has been change, some different consciousness in many ways.
Pat Watters He has as I recall, he was saying that, his word, he had been a political cartoonist and it was, it completely change his career. And he said the reason he did it was because he realized that his work as a trying to influence public opinion just didn't mean anything, didn't do any good, and that things were no different now than they were when he was drawing his cartoons. And I said, "Well, you know that's really not true. Things have improved in race relations," and well, we were talking about race relations, so you know certainly they had in the South, and his reply to that, and it's one I still think about, he said, "The reason they've improved is not because I drew good cartoons or you wrote good columns or you did good news reporting, it's because the people who do the most yelling, the people who exert in effect the most pressure and force are the ones who get results." And you know--
Pat Watters Sure.
Studs Terkel Because we're really talking about, aren't we, there is no one way, there are several. Each one does the best he can according to his, her lights and abilities, basically. Coming back to the people, the others you've talked to, the various ones, your contemporaries. There's Buddy Stone, guys you met of your reunion class in high school in Atlanta and what's happened to them.
Pat Watters Yeah. And there again the reunion was a fascinating thing. I had been to the 35th reunion five years before, and everybody was well-dressed, happy-looking, sort of at ease with themselves. And then here five years later, the same bunch of guys, still well-dressed, still prosperous-looking, but in their demeanor and in the things that they said about their work, showing themselves to be worried, frustrated and angry. A whole class of--
Studs Terkel This book is Pat Watters' book, "The Angry Middle-Aged Man". We haven't had a chance to talk about Charles Welter, the former congressman from Georgia we know, and a Black man George Harris who worked with you in the Southern Regional Council. You spoke about accepting abstractions.
Pat Watters And his, a big part of his was having fought his way out of the Black, I guess you'd call lower class, up to the Black middle class, and then saying with great feeling and disappointment that middle-classness is a terrible abstraction, that the whole thing of dedicating your life to having the house, having the furniture, having the car, and all that. That that didn't, really, what he had fought for, that isn't what he wanted.
Studs Terkel And you talk about a guy seemingly genial, Joe Kelly, and the tavern owner, you know, Manuel Maloof, that it comes his oasis. Finally, perhaps, as we near the end of this hour and I'm thinking about how computers work. You spoke of the Bill Mauldin cartoons of Willie and Joe, the World War II G.I.s, and here they were bucking the stupidities of military hierarchies in life, as Willie and Joe today some 35 years later, isn't it?
Pat Watters I think where it leaves us more than anything else is just, for me, the hope is in the resiliency and the strength of these guys that I've talked to, and the many, many more like them across the country. Some good has got to come
Studs Terkel One last question, perhaps, it's just a, it's a Pollyanna-esque leading question, too, is there a chance of some way of a coalition of all those who are pushed about and around? "The Angry Middle-Aged Man" the title of Pat's book. That's you and your colleagues, "The Crisis of America's Last Minority", but minority is a deceptive word because the pushed around is quite obviously the young Black, the woman, the poor white, the older person. And you add it up and it's quite a majority, if you ask, including, of course, this little written-about or talked about angry middle-aged man.
Pat Watters Sure. There again, my hope is not, you know, for more pressure groups and all that. But the thing that the men themselves talk about, that all are somehow getting together and their phrase was "to work for the common good." It's an old-fashioned idea, but it used to work, and I hope we get back
Studs Terkel In any event, beginning, for this insight, and something, is Pat Watters' book, "The Angry Middle-Aged Man", Grossman Viking are the publishers, and it's available. Pat, thank you very much.