Studs Terkel hosting the FBI

From Studs Terkel’s 2007 Touch And Go: A Memoir pages 147 – 149:

The occasional FBI visits to my house were not always pleasant.  With a sense of some shame, I say this.  My wife, usually the most gracious of hostesses, was for some reason, inhospitable.  There were at least two occasions I recall whem she peremptorily showed them to the door.  She always let in small boys who sold magazine subscriptions for the benefit of the nation’s halt, lame, and blind; as well as to make points that would enable them to attend Harvard.  But to the FBI, she manifested — how can I say it — contempt.  I was, of course, terribly embarrassed.

I myself was hospitable at all times.  I seated them.  I offered them choices of Scotch or Bourbon.  I had triple shots in mind.  Invariably, they refused.  Once, I suggested vodka, making it quite clear it was domestic.  I thought I was quite amusing.  At no time did our visitors laugh.  Nor did my wife.  I felt bad.  I did so want to make them feel at home.  I never succeeded.

They had questions in mind.  They frequently consulted small notebooks.  They hardly had the chance to ask any of their questions.  I wasn’t that I was rude.  On the contrary; I simply felt what I had to tell them was far more interesting than what they had to ask them.

I read Thoreau to them; his sermon on John Brown.  Passages out of Walden.  Paine.  I told them these are times that try men’s souls.  And so on.  We hold these truths, I even tried on them.  Nothing doing.  Their attention wandered.  They were like small restless boys in the classroom, wiggling in their seats.  At times, I showed them where the bathroom was and asked if they wanted any reading material.  No, they didn’t.  I have done some of my most exploratory reading there, I told them.  No response.

After several such visits, with a notable lack of response on their part, my patience, I must admit did wear thin.  On one occasion, a visitor took out his notebook and studied it.  Our son, five years old at the time, peered over his shoulder.  The guest abruptly shut the book.  The boy was startled.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“He was peaking in my book.”

“He’s five year old.”

“This is government information.”

“Is it pornographic?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Isn’t it fit for a child to see?”

“This is serious.”

“Does it have dirty words or dirty pictures?”


“Does it?  Come on, be a sport, let me see.  I won’t show it to the kid.”

With the determined step of an FBI man, he stalked toward the door.  He had trouble with the lock.  I opened it.  “One for the road?”  I was determinedly hospitable.  He walked out without so much as a thank you.  His colleague followed suit, step by step.

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