Studs Terkel chats and jokes with Nelson Algren. Algren had recently moved from Chicago to New Jersey, and this move was the subject of most of the conversation, told mainly through deadpan jokes.
0:00Copy video clip URL Room audio is loud and hard to understand. Algren expresses his discomfort with “the media” (ie the video camera).
1:06Copy video clip URL Audio is much better. Studs starts the interview by rhapsodizing about Algren’s writing talent. “See, the thing about Nelson to me is that he’s a lyric writer. And his prose, his prose is really poetry. When he writes about those who may be clown figures, it’s a reflection of ourselves in every way, whether it be some fella Willy or somebody behind the billboards. The question comes up about Nelson leaving Chicago–he’s moved to Paterson. The question is, you described Paterson as a ‘boom town.'” Algren: “Yeah, well, it is. It’s booming in welfare–you know it’s almost 60% now on welfare. It’s past, oh it’s way past Newark and Trenton. It’s almost–it’s the second welfare city in New Jersey, which is a very big state. Jersey City’s first. But that is, oh, I don’t know, a full 60% welfare. Paterson is coming very close now, it’s coming on 53% and it looks it, too. Downtown Paterson is really something you shouldn’t see after midnight. [laughs] No, it’s a lovely little city and I mean, it’s just my kind of town, that’s all. I just like it.” This prompts laughter from all parties. “The reason I call Paterson a boom town is Jersey City has always been a welfare city. But Paterson is coming from behind because it used to be affluent. It was a very affluent textile city. And now the silk factories and the silk machinery is gone and they’re wholly dependent on welfare.”
3:21Copy video clip URL Studs: “How would you compare Paterson to Chicago, a city with which you’ve been associated all your life?” Algren: “Paterson is what Chicago would be if it wasn’t for Mayor Daley. I mean, Daley is the only thing that keeps this thing from descending into the condition of Paterson.” Studs: “Daley does? [Mockingly] He makes the city work?” Algren: “[Laughs] Well, he brings the insurance people here, and the banks, and the money people. All or most of them come from Paterson. Except one or two come from Jersey City.” [Prompting a big laugh fest.] “No, they’ve got too much here now. And the people who can’t afford to come to Chicago who aren’t in insurance or anything, or in banking, are left behind in Paterson. They just make it by mugging.” [Lots more laughter.] He describes the crime level in Paterson, claiming a person can’t walk around without being in danger, then explains how he ended up in Paterson. “In Newark, I couldn’t get a room, so I took a bus to Paterson. Then I was sorry I didn’t stay in Newark, when I saw the rooms in Paterson. It’s a town that makes Gary, Indiana look extremely affluent.”
5:30Copy video clip URL Studs steps in and inquires about Algren’s level of involvement with his new city. “You’re now a Patersonian, is that what you are?” “Well, I’m a New Jerseyan, yeah. It’s not bad.” Studs: “People will ask you, ‘What do you plan to do, Nelson Algren, in Paterson?'” “Well, I plan to belong to the community, to work with the boy scouts and the junior Chamber of Commerce and to help put it back on its feet. I mean it needed me, I could see. Paterson needed me, so…” Studs: “Do you think you might run for office or take part in public life?” Algren: “Oh I’m sure they’ll ask me to run. I mean, they like me, they like me in Paterson [unable to keep up without laughing].” Algren then discusses the high rents in Paterson, saying that “as a town goes down, the rents go up. I don’t know why. When a town is absolutely flat on its ass, and everybody’s on welfare, the rents go sky high.”
7:07Copy video clip URL Studs: “Chicago will miss you. The question is, ‘Will you miss Chicago?'” Without delay: “No, no, I’ve never missed Chicago. And I don’t think Chicago’s going to miss me.” Algren says that the public libraries here don’t even stock his books, though they do in Paris and Tokyo. Tom Weinberg asks, “Won’t Studs miss you?” “Well, I don’t know, Studs can get by. Oh course he’ll miss me, but after all, Studs survived the Chicago Fire, you know, he can survive this too.” Anda Korsts to Studs: “Will you miss him?” Studs: “Of course I’ll miss him, quite a few people in Chicago will miss Nelson, quite obviously.” Algren chimes in jokingly: “Maggie Daley, Irving Kupcinet… I’ve formed some very firm friendships here.” Tom: “When are you coming back?” “Oh, well, I’m never coming back permanently. I may stop in, you know, to see Studs or Mike Royko or Steve Deutch or somebody. But I’m not going to come back permanently.” He then launches into an extended deadpan joke after being asked again why he is moving away. “Well, I love New Jersey. And I love San Francisco, and New Jersey is on the way.” “How will you get from New Jersey to San Francisco?” “Well, it’s very close. I’m near the port of New York now, and so I can get a ship out to any of the North African ports or Barcelona, Marseilles, I’ll go down the Mediterranean. And I’ll stop in one of the Greek ports. And then you go down the Persian Gulf and around–I’ve been to India, so I won’t stop there–but you go around India and you go right to the port of Yokohama. I won’t go to Korea because that’s out of the way. I don’t want to go out of the way. And then we go down to the Philippines and then from Manila or Quezon you can get a ship, in two weeks you can get a ship to San Diego. If you don’t stop in Hawaii–I don’t want to waste any time in Hawaii–it’s only two weeks on a freight ship, and then from San Diego, you’re only 45 minutes from San Francisco… I don’t see why people think it’s out of the way… I mean, if I went there directly I’d have to go through Denver.”
11:32Copy video clip URL Studs explains to Algren that they can watch back the footage that was just shot right away, in the camera’s viewfinder. Video technology was in its infancy at this stage, and Algren had never heard of it. Algren: “Oh good. No, I thought it was just a picture. I thought you were going to sell me one of these, twenty five cents. You know, instant polaroid. I thought this was a polaroid deal.” Studs: “This is very revolutionary. It really is. This is called videotape. It’s day, night. It makes the other thing medieval, ancient history. This absolutely changes everything.”