WORKING, by Studs Terkel (BOOK SEVEN – Part 1 – The Sporting Life, Concluded)

Willie O’Ree!

We started this year with Studs Terkel and we’re ending it with him!

…I’m not sure how to feel about it.

As much as I love the book I know the constant chapter reviews don’t get the views the other posts (like the terrific ones by Winter) do. On the other hand, I’d feel cheap giving a basic overview of a book that is excellent.

Working is a book that I feel needs to be digested piece by piece and section by section and not just as an overall experience. That said, there’d be nothing wrong with an overview approach. It’s just my feeling that this book deserves a lot more attention than that.

Especially as an anti-work site that has had my belief posted on multiple occasions that folks who actually like their jobs are out there and are not necessarily wrong to feel that way. I resist the Marxist temptation to claim these workers are indoctrinated and instead point out that their standards are poor or that they are actually right but everyone should feel that way!

That doesn’t mean I think people don’t often get their beliefs from capitalist systems or the state-sponsored schools that aid the capitalist system. But I also want to give people more credit than framing them as class traitors, indoctrinated by the capitalist class.

And I think that’s (one reason!) why Working is so striking. It really makes this picture a lot more complicated. Sure, many of the people in Working hate their job or at the very least have huge misgivings. But some of them like it more than they dislike it, heck a few lucky folks like their job!

That’s not a mindset I see as particularly understandable, but that does not mean I should dismiss their experiences wholesale. I think there’s something to learn from them so we can all appreciate more why we don’t like our jobs and reject capitalism and the state (or at least I do).

Yeah, 2018 sucked. I won’t lie about it. After a long and grueling year (tide pods controversy and Black Panther were both this year!) it still feels like we have so much more to go under a fascist regime.

I don’t know where the planet is going as far as global warming (probably nowhere good) and I’ve still got so much to do personally as a human being for all of my fuck ups.

My hope is that with the growing of the anti-work subreddit (we recently hit 9K subscribers/idlers!) that we can see more flourishing of anti-work and anarchist ideology. I hope these kids who are growing up can see how fucked up this all is and can find some way to tear it down and build something beautiful and better. Something anarchic.

A lot of my political ideology is built on hope, I won’t deny that. We’ve lost many good people in the struggle and many more are still to come. But I hope you, dear reader, will join me in resisting however you can.

I resist by writing, moderating the anti-work subreddit, and trying to be a kinder person. Both to my partner as well as myself and my family and friends. I’m still the same dry, sarcastic and somewhat optimistically cynical/realistic person, but hopefully better than I was before.

I also don’t deny that my resistance is largely based on corporations. Reddit, the internet itself, and even my personal life is largely incorporated. I don’t know how to successfully break out of that paradigm and “truly” resist in some “pure” way and I don’t think it’s there anyways.

What I do think is there, I’ll find for myself, and I hope you will too.

Wishing y’all a happy and anti-fascist 2019!

Eric Nesterenko (Hockey Player)

If Nesterenko had been an easier interviewee, I wouldn’t have had to split the last post. Basically, yeah, I’m upset at this guy for being too goddamn interesting. What the heck, man?

That’s how I got started, when I was four or five. We never had any gear. I used to wrap Life magazines around my legs. We didn’t have organized hockey like they have now. All games were pickup, a never-ending game.

Maybe there would be three kids to a team, then there would be fifteen, and the game would go on. Nobody would keep score. It was pure kind of play. The play you see here, outside the stadium, outside at the edge of the ghetto. I see ’em in the school yards. … Pure play.

p. 381

I love this staunch divide between “pure play” and “organized”. The divide isn’t perfect, since the “pure play” is organized in a way too. But Nesterenko’s point is a more subtle one. It’s not just that it’s organized but that the organization comes before the play.

The play is therefore subordinate to the rules, regulations, stipulations, referees, the players fights, the crowds disposition, the sponsor’s whims, the managers whims, the bottom line, etc. It’s become a lot less about the mere act of playing and it much more of a thing to be bought and sold.

Nesterenko even says later that he and the other kids “organized everything” (ibid) but doesn’t say that was a bad thing. He preferred playing for “the joy of it” (ibid). Nesterenko has a much better insight into the way play and sports should be handled by parents towards kids than Douglas:

I see parents at kids’ sporting events. It’s all highly organized. It’s very formal. They have referees and so on. The parents are spectators. the kids are playing for their parents. the old man rewards him [sic] for playing well and doesn’t reward him [sic] for not doing so well. (Laughs.)

The father puts too much pressure on the kid. A boy [sic] then is soft material. If you want a kid to do something, it’s got to be fun.

Ibid

Again, the references here make it clear that while Nesterenko still loves the sport in some ways, it has changed for the worse. At least in some ways it has, when parents don’t allow kids to have fun on their own terms.

Instead, children must be competing with each other at all times and there must always be rules, adjudication, angry and overbearing parents, prices and seats to take care of. I’m not saying hockey as a spectator sport is inherently bad, but there are drawbacks to the way it is done now.

I agree with Nesterenko that if you want a child to do something to has to be actually fun but especially fun for them. Now, I think this is what Nesterenko means here but it’s worth emphasizing.

It shouldn’t be something that is only fun for parent because then we’re back to the argument we saw from Douglas in her interview.

I also really love how he says a boy is “soft material” because we could use more soft (read: not fragile) masculinity. Masculinity that appreciates the softness as well as the potential toughness that boys can choose to embrace.

There’s an irony that on[c]e [you] get paid for playing, that play should bring in money. When you sell play, that makes it hard for pure, recreational play, for play as an art to exist.

It’s corrupted, it’s made harder, perhaps it’s brutalized, but it’s still there. … You learn to survive in a very tough world. It has its own rewards.

p. 382

Again, Nesterenko puts this division between his idealized play that he experienced as a child and the more modern conceptions he saw in the 70s.

And it’s not like this type of brutalized play has stopped, let alone slowed down since Nesterenko’s interview in the early 70s. If anything, it’s gotten much worse to the point of fighting, angry parents and the commodification of play not only becoming mainstream but unflinchingly accepted.

I don’t think putting tickets, prices, food, etc. is immoral, nor do I think getting together with some friends and having some relaxed rules is either. But again,there are drawbacks, as Nesterenko has pointed out, to formalizing your play to this extent; it can become stale and brutal.

Nesterenko calls it a “…kind of stage” (ibid) but it can be an exciting one where he and his team can use their bodies to express themselves. In this way, there’s a bit more artistry that is possible in bigger crowds.

The part where Nesterenko spoke of violence in hockey struck me:

If you get hurt, the other players switch off. Nobody’s sympathetic. When you get hurt they don’t look at you, even players on your own team. the curtain comes down—’cause it could have been me. One is afraid of being hurt himself. You don’t want to think much about it.

Ibid

I know I’ve been taking a lot from one page but it’s such a goldmine of interesting ideas. That’s what I meant earlier when I “complained” that Nesterenko was too interesting of an interviewee to condense.

What I find interesting in the above quote is that while Nesterenko decries this behavior and attitude calling it “a defense mechanism … it’s brutalizing” (ibid) he also understands it.

He relates a story of a teammate he knew fairly well getting hit and needing stitches, he had the same response. He closed himself off to the pain of this other teammate and said, “Better him than me!”

More about play from Nesterenko:

I became disillusioned with the game not being the pure thing it was earlier in my life. I began to see the exploitation of the players by the owners. You realize owners don’t care much for you.

You’re a piece of property.

They try to get as much out of you as they can.

p. 283

Despite this, Nesterenko also notes a deep bond with his teammates and says that the job wouldn’t be worth it just for the money. Nesterenko calls it “a way of life” (ibid), especially in being able to move his body freely.

Winning is secondary for Nesterenko, he’d much rather feel free like he did when he was a kid. But this goal of his proves illusory in the business of hockey. He admits that when older players leave the sport it’s often not just the body but the spirit for playing as well.

People just get fed up with hockey because it becomes “…just another shitty job” (ibid) instead of this pure and freeing sensation that comes from an ability to move around with your body.

One of Nesterenko’s best quotes from the interview has got to be this passage:

You’ve got a day to kill and the game’s in back of your mind. It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to read a good book. I’ll read an easy book or go to a movie to kill time. I didn’t mind killing time when I was younger, but I resent killing time now. (Laughs.)

I don’t want to kill time. I want to do something with my time.

Ibid (emboldened emphasis mine)

In all honesty, this is perhaps one of the best quotes of the entire book. I actually re-read this quote the first time I saw it just to make sure I read it right and was fully taking it in. It’s such a good inversion of the popular trope of “killing time” and one that I had never seen before.

And, sorry to say, but I never expected a hockey player to be dishing out some serious philosophical chops like this. Obviously it’s not a complicated sentence or feeling but it’s (again) a nuanced and well thought out one!

But what does it mean to do something with your time? Well, by writing this post I feel as though I am truly enjoying the time I am using. I’m not half-heartedly listening to Let’s Plays in the background simply so I can have less videos on my Watch Later list on YouTube, I’m actively engaged.

Nesterenko also has a great philosophy on his future and jobs:

What I’d like to do is find an alter-life and play a little more. I don’t have another vocation. I have a feeling unless I find one, my life might be a big anti-climax. I could get a job, but I don’t want a job. I never had a job in the sense that I had to earn a living just for the sake of earning a living.

I may have to do that, but I sure hope I don’t.

p. 384

In looking up Nesterenko I surprisingly found out he’s actually still alive!

He’s 85 and…was a bit of a racist prick…oh:

O’Ree wasn’t so well received at other NHL venues. At New York City’s venerable Madison Square Garden, for instance, fans showered him with racial insults before he even stepped onto the ice.

In Chicago, he was targeted for abuse for bruising Blackhawks forward Eric “Elbows” Nesterenko. After calling O’Ree the n-word, Nesterenko took the butt-end of his stick and rammed it into O’Ree’s unsuspecting face. A broken nose and two missing front teeth later, O’Ree had had enough. He took his stick and smashed Nesterenko over the head with it.

O’Ree’s teammates came rushing to his aid as both teams’ benches emptied. What followed was a classic hockey donnybrook that ended with O’Ree being sent to the Bruins locker room for medical treatment.


Willie O’Ree’s little-known journey to break the NHL’s color barrier http://theconversation.com/willie-orees-little-known-journey-to-break-the-nhls-color-barrier-90219

Welp.

How’s that for anti-climatic?

And how’s this?

George Allen (Football Coach)

We move on from a racist prick to a straight up prick.

I guess one of them is obviously worse, but who cares? Allen is everything Nesterenko would hate, but hey Nesterenko is a violent racist prick. So I’m going to stop referencing him in a positive way now.

First off, Allen manages a team called the Washington Redskins without any apparent issue, so that’s the first thing. Terkel describes Allen as an intense man whose sole drive seems to be to win.

So basically, a boring person with a sour attitude.

Don’t believe me? Check it out:

You have to put a priority on everything you do each day. If you don’t, you won’t finish it. If you enjoy your job, it isn’t work. It’s fun.

p. 387

Give people a break! We’re human beings and we need time to breathe, relax and actually enjoy our lives. We need to have quiet moments of contemplation every now and then and we need to give ourselves a break.

Some days just suck and there’s not much you can do about it. You won’t get everything done you wanted and that’s just going to happen. Instead of relegating “fun” (as I presume Allen is) to something of a distraction towards a serious life that is (somehow) well lived, embrace fun!

Putting priorities is good in the short-run, but in the long-run Allen’s advice is a great way to burn yourself our and hate yourself and your career.

Everything we do is based on winning. I don’t care how hard you work or how well organized you are, if you don’t win, what good is it? It’s down the drain. You can have a tremendous game plan, but if you lose the game, what good was the plan?

p. 388

See what I mean? This is a man who cannot appreciate the mistakes of those around him. Instead of seeing failure as a learning opportunity and something to grow from (admittedly a difficult lesson to learn!) Allen teaches himself (and presumably those under him) winning is all.

If you don’t win then what did your efforts matter? The fans you entertained, the money you made to feed yourself and perhaps a family or those in need? The sweat you poured out presumably playing a sport you love? All of that is dogshit compared to the adrenaline and adoration from winning. I’m not saying winning is unimportant but it isn’t this important.

A “tremendous game plan” that has you lose is obviously not as tremendous as you thought, first of all. But second, that just means you can learn to do better and improve it for the future. It means you can treat this failure as a way to improve your way of looking at game plans.

Sports can teach us a lot about accepting failure and learning to lean in to our failures instead of running away. But some people take the Allen approach (seen above) and barrel through their failures.

They take little to no time to actually appreciate what went wrong (or if they do it’s with this sour attitude, noted above) and how to do better. That’s because it’s not about doing better, it’s only about winning.

What a shitty worldview. At least Allen says there’s nothing wrong with crying because when you put a lot into something, it should rightfully take a lot out of you. That’s probably the only good thing in this interview.

Nobody is indispensable. If he can’t play, we let him know that he’s not going to be with us. “Do you want to play somewhere else?”

We try to improve and replace some of the parts every year.

Ibi

Again, the improvement comes at the cost of a bad attitude about his players. They’re just “parts” to be replaced every year and not actual people that he needs to care about. Fuck that.

The only time you relax is when you win. If you lose, you don’t relax until you win. That’s the way I am. It’s a state of tension almost continuously.

Ibid

It’s notable that by the end of Allen’s stint on this racist team name that I’m not saying more than once, his own philosophy was being questioned. It had given his team more wins then they had gotten in a while but it didn’t actually take them anywhere in the end.

Besides a ’72 Super Bowl chance (which didn’t work out), the team never got past the playoffs again under Allen’s coaching. By most accounts, whenever Allen was given money and authority, he exceeded it by a lot.

I was going to also note that the above quote is a quote from a man whose likely to die of stress, heart problems and develop ulcers, but, well…

He did not curse, smoke, or drink, instead habitually consuming milk (some suspected that this beverage of choice arose from ulcers they suspected the always-high strung coach to suffer from).

NFL Films, Wikipedia entry on George Allen

And:

Allen’s son George denied that the Gatorade shower caused the death, attributing it to an existing heart arrythmia.

He stated that seeing Gatorade showers on television was a reminder that his father “went out a winner”.[18]

Ibid

So who cares if someone dies? As long as they die a winner, right?

But want to see the grossest thing in this interview? It’s in “Allen’s Ten Commandments” 

Leisure time is that five or six hours when you sleep at night. “Nobody should work all the time. Everybody should have some leisure … You can combine two good things at once, sleep and leisure.”

p. 389

Y’all, in 2019 we are burning shit like this down.

Have a good rest of the year, y’all!

See you in 2019!


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