Transcript

12:

Animals
Transcript

Originally aired 01.31.1996

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/12

Prologue.

Different Voices

From PRI, Public Radio International. From PRI, Public Radio International. From PRI, Public Radio International. Public Radio. Public Radio International.

Ira Glass

So when I heard that a woman named Samantha Martin had trained raccoons to play basketball, and hires them out for parties and corporate events, I pictured raccoons. You know, in three-on-three or four-on-four games, in little Chicago Bulls uniforms. You know, Raccoon Scottie Pippen passes to Raccoon Dennis Rodman. Raccoon Michael Jordan, you know, takes it in for a layup or dunks it. The team is a little raccoon Orlando Magic or Los Angeles Lakers. I could see it all. But that is not what it was like. No, no, no. That was naive.

Samantha Martin

Ricky. Come here, Ricky. Ricky, Ricky. Snacks, hmm? There you go. Shoo. Shoo. Ricky, shoo. Come on, Ricky. Ricky, come here.

Ira Glass

Samantha Martin chases after one of her two basketball-playing raccoons, holding a bag of blue and pink cotton candy. She alternates, actually, between taking a fingerful of cotton candy for herself and giving one to the raccoon.

Samantha Martin

Yummy. Sugar. Sugar, Ricky. Come here. You don't want the snacks? Ricky, Ricky, Ricky.

Ira Glass

Samantha is actually a skilled and successful trainer, but the animals are not cooperating this day, probably because Samantha went away for the holidays and they're still feeling neglected. Samantha puts a grapefruit-sized ball in the raccoon's hand and then pushes the raccoon's hand toward a Fisher-Price basketball net that rises perhaps a foot and a half off the floor.

Samantha Martin

Oh, she missed. Shoot again. Shoot. Good girl.

Ira Glass

The fact is, there are things that raccoons like to do, are born to do. And playing basketball is not one of them.

Samantha Martin

Oh, I know. It's frustrating. You have to have a lot of patience. Especially when I was first training them to play basketball, do you know how long it took me? It took me a month to get them to play basketball. Every day I had to come down here and play with ball, net, ball, net, treat. And you just see, going through their mind-- OK, if they touched the ball and then they touched the net, they'd get a treat. They'd be like ball, net, treat, treat. And then, I started getting them to hold the ball, and then I got them to push the ball into the net.

And finally that day came where they picked up the ball off the ground and popped it in the net. And I was so thrilled. I was like, oh, they got it. He got excited. He was like, [PANTING SOUNDS] and he was picking up the ball and putting it in the net, picking up the ball and putting it in the net, over and over again. He got so excited.

Ira Glass

Taming animals means basically teaching them to conform to the human world, teaching them human expectations. And with many of the animals that Samantha raises, it's possible to make them more human while they're little. But then once they reach a certain age, their real animal nature kicks in. A baby cougar she was raising started stalking her friends, biting at their throats. The raccoons also go for the throat.

Samantha Martin

You know, if he's out of his cage, he'll run up. He'll look at you, and he'll recognize me as, like, Mom from years ago. He'll be like, Mom, and he'll race up to me, jump up, climb up to my shoulder, and then realize, wait, I'm wild, I don't like you anymore. And he'll bite my neck.

You see it inside. Their eyes go from crazy to tame, crazy to tame, crazy, crazy, tame, tame. It's almost like they're saying, no, Mom, love you-- must bite, must bite, must-- no, no, nice, nice, Mom, nice, oh, yes, we love Mom-- bite, must bite, must bite-- no, no. They just fight it. You just see this battle going on in their heads. They're like, [SOUNDS OF STRUGGLING].

Ira Glass

What do we want from animals? To run her business, Samantha has had to figure this out, and at parties, at corporate events, in commercials and films, Samantha has her raccoons pick pockets and play basketball. She has rats that bowl, rats that answer toy telephones?

Ira Glass

Do people want to see animals do animal things?

Samantha Martin

No, they don't. They want to see animals acting like people.

Ira Glass

Most of us, the only animals we ever see are animals who act like humans-- cats and dogs. We watch movies and TV shows and commercials that are filled with animals that fetch beers from the refrigerator and solve crimes. And we forget the sheer animalness of animals. We don't see it. Maybe we don't want to see it. Well, this brings us to the topic of today's program. From WBEZ, of course, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, The Animalness of Animals. Our show today in three acts.

Act One, Staging the Food Chain in a New York Apartment.

Act Two, Animal Court. That's an original radio play by David Sedaris.

Act Three, The Moment Humans Stopped Being Animals. That's a story by Scott Carrier. Stay with us.

Act One. Food Chain In A New York Apartment.

Ira Glass

Act One. You know, usually when we see pictures of animals, they're fluffy and cute or they are noble and dignified. Well, compare that to this set of photos by Catherine Chalmers. In this first picture, we have a caterpillar eating a tomato, a brightly-colored close up of that. In the second picture, a praying mantis eats the caterpillar. And in the third picture, a tarantula eats the praying mantis. Catherine Chalmers takes these pictures in her own apartment in New York City, where she also raises the animals that she feeds to each other. Paul Tough stopped by for a visit.

Paul Tough

Growing up, Catherine Chalmers wasn't really an animal person. She always had a pet or two, nothing unusual. Then a few years ago, she was working on these sculptures where she would take dead insects and glue them onto plants and flowers. She needed a lot of dead flies, more than she could buy anywhere, and so she decided to start raising live flies in a glass cage in the corner of her apartment. She would just let them breed and wait for them to die. But then one day, she picked up a camera and looked at the flies through a close-up lens.

Catherine Chalmers

And the world changed. Because instead of just seeing patterns of swarming flies, I saw leg hairs and genitals and mouths and I saw them. And I saw their lives, how they would greet each other, and what they would do. And I could see them being born. I could see them having sex. I could see them eating. I could see them flying. I could see them hanging out. And it was great. It was fascinating. So I'd sit there for hours until they went to the bathroom on the glass enough that I couldn't see anymore. And that's when I kind of got hooked into animals past a certain point of return.

Paul Tough

She realized that there were two basic moments of life that she couldn't see in the flies' cage. She couldn't see them eating and she couldn't see them die. So she came up with this project that she called The Food Chain. She decided to raise a few different animals-- caterpillars, praying mantises, frogs, spiders-- and take pictures of each animal eating the one that came beneath it in the natural food chain.

Catherine Chalmers

When I first thought of this project, when it first dawned on me, what I was kind of fishing around for, it kind of made my stomach hurt. The idea of raising animals to be eaten, to photograph them specifically to be eaten, was repugnant and made me kind of sick. But the more I thought of it, the more interesting I thought it was.

Paul Tough

And so Catherine began to fill her loft with animals. There isn't much furniture, but every surface has got terrariums and cages on it. Frogs and mealworms and a snake on one table. Goldfish in the kitchen to feed the frogs. Crickets which chirp constantly. A tarantula and two cages full of mice. On a spare corner of the table where the frogs and the snake live, she's got a lightbox set up, and we sit down there to take a look at some of her pictures.

Catherine Chalmers

So this is basically The Food Chain.

Paul Tough

The photos don't look like normal nature photography. They look more like fashion shots. The animals are brightly lit and sharply focused, pictured against a clear white background.

Catherine Chalmers

It starts with caterpillars that eat tomatoes. The praying mantises eat the caterpillars. And my original idea was for the tarantula to eat the praying mantises. But spiders are really undependable predators.

Paul Tough

If there were two emotions competing in Catherine Chalmers, her fascination with the food chain and her disgust with what she was doing, it becomes clear to me, as she shows me her work, that in the end, her fascination won out. She lays out a sequence of shots that begin with the praying mantis about to attack a caterpillar.

Catherine Chalmers

That's the part that's really great, is she springs on it, and she wraps her arms around it. And she just starts biting into it. And the thing's live and it's still kicking. And with the caterpillars, since all they do is eat, basically their body is just one long digestive system. And so whatever they are eating, as soon as she bites into it, it just spills out. So if they're eating leaves when she bites into it-- and this totally surprised me when it first happened. It comes out green, or it comes out bright red, the color of the tomatoes, or it comes out bright yellow, if you're feeding them yellow tomatoes. So I did different sequences of caterpillar with different color guts coming out.

And it was just beautiful. I mean, I didn't know that an animal eating something live could be so attractive. It was like spilling a tube of paint out on a white piece of canvas. It just blobs out. It's gruesome, if you think about it in terms of your brother or your sister, but in terms of the fact that it is an insect and we seem less attached to the insect world than, certainly, the human world, it was very beautiful.

Paul Tough

You'd think it would be easy to take pictures of predators eating their prey. That's what they do, after all. But it turns out to be more complicated than just putting a couple of animals together and snapping away. There are considerations of timing and staging. When she tried to have frogs eat the praying mantises, the problem was the frogs were simply too fast. Photo One would show a hungry frog and a praying mantis, and Photo Two would just show a well-fed frog.

Then there was the tarantula problem. Tarantulas can go for months without eating and days without moving. She put the spider and the praying mantis up on her set, and the tarantula would just stare at the praying mantis, completely still, one leg in the air, for hours. Finally in one session at three in the morning, after staring through her camera all night, Catherine got what she wanted. She slides the photos onto the lightbox.

Catherine Chalmers

You see the shot where the two of them are looking at each other. And then basically the spider pounced on it and flipped it over. And the praying mantis is upside-down, still looking straight at you and perfectly alive, looking at you, as the spider is munching on the middle part of its body. And then you see his head, and his antennas are waving around, and then slowly the head gets drawn more and more into the jaws. And it's still alive. And then the spider basically mushes it up into a ball and extracts the juices out of it.

And it took maybe, I can't remember, maybe three or four hours for it to eat the whole thing. And for at least half of that time, the praying mantis was perfectly alive. And it was hard, because you'd spent so long raising this thing. It was really hard to see it being eaten alive like that and having it take so long.

Paul Tough

At this point in The Food Chain, her pictures were becoming more and more vivid, but so was the suffering that she was watching through her lens.

Catherine Chalmers

I got attached to the praying mantises. Yeah, seeing the praying mantises die was definitely much harder than seeing the caterpillars dying. Unlike most insects, they have a head that moves, like ours does, on a neck. And so they turn and they look at you. And they've got these big eyes sticking out. And they have some of the characteristics of the things which usually win human sympathy, which is big eyes and kind of an expression. And their mouth is red on the inside. So when they would eat something, it looked like they had red lipstick on. It was much easier to get attached to them.

Paul Tough

One of the things that the Food Chain photos have made Catherine think about is how we humans choose which animals we love and which ones we hate, the distinction we make, basically, between pets and pests. She says most of us are attracted to animals that are like us, that are mammals, that have round faces and big eyes like human infants. And she's not immune to that instinct. Her favorite animal is her dog, Leo. But she also finds herself drawn to the animals that we are supposed to fear, and the moments in their lives that we usually turn away from.

At the lightbox, she puts down four new photos from a different project, a series of shots of two praying mantises having sex.

Catherine Chalmers

So that's the female. That's the male. She's a lot bigger. Then they mated. They look like a nice happy couple. He has green eyes. She has brown.

Paul Tough

So he's on top of her.

Catherine Chalmers

He's on top of her. And it's just like a classic doggy-style sex position. And they stay that way for hours. Hours and hours and hours. I mean, I'll take a few pictures, come back in 20 minutes, take a few more pictures, come back in 20 minutes.

Paul Tough

Isn't that kind of rare for animals? I thought animals were sort of-- do it quick.

Catherine Chalmers

So did I, especially insects. I don't know. I think it's somewhat rare. I was surprised. I mean I've waited four hours and finally just went to bed and woke up in the morning, and the male is nowhere to be found.

But then one time, instead of him getting completely off of her, she caught him and wrapped her arms around him, like she was holding him around the neck, like walking arm in arm. And she just started eating him. I couldn't believe it. I've mated them two years in a row now and hadn't had them do that.

Paul Tough

The photos aren't exactly grisly. There's no blood, not really even any color, but they're still pretty disturbing.

Catherine Chalmers

Here, you see he's still kind of halfway on, and she reached around and grabbed him by the neck and bit his face off. See, he has no head there.

Paul Tough

What's that?

Catherine Chalmers

Oh, that's one of his arms. There was kind of a fight. It's like the tip somewhere. And she's eating straight down his abdomen. See, he's already past his waist. Whatever. She finished when she got there. She even ate some of the wings, munched on some of those.

Paul Tough

And when does he die?

Catherine Chalmers

When does he die?

Paul Tough

Do you think he's dead there?

Catherine Chalmers

Well, insects, it's like their bodies are more democratic. They don't have a central nervous system the same way we do. You bite their head off, and the whole theory is that their body keeps functioning. So she can bite his head off when they're in this position, having sex, and he continues to have sex with her and continues to give her sperm, or whatever they call it in bug stuff. And there were some scientists who measured the inside of her cavity. And when she bit his head off, she got more sperm. So his head actually acted as an inhibitor, and when that's gone, then she gets the rest. So in the cases where the female bit the head off, she actually got more sperm. I suppose theoretically, therefore, more of her eggs are fertilized.

Paul Tough

What do you mean, his head acts as an inhibitor?

Catherine Chalmers

Well, he's very cautious around her. And his caution seems to originate in his head. So at this point, he's definitely still alive, when she's only eaten his face off.

Paul Tough

At the center of Catherine's studio, there are two glass cages where her mice live. There are about 20 mice in each cage, of all ages. Some have just been born, still nursing from their mothers, some pregnant, some have been around for a few generations. It's the nicest part of the studio. The mice are all very clean and healthy and cute, and the cage even smells good. These mice are the centerpiece of Catherine's current project. She photographs them being born, and then photographs them being eaten by various predators.

Today she's going to take pictures of a two-day-old mouse, which is called a pinkie because it's too young to have fur. It just has pink skin. Its eyes are still closed, and it can barely move. Her 10-inch, pencil-thin snake, Pumpkin, hasn't eaten in almost a week. Today, Pumpkin's going to eat a pinkie.

She puts the pinkie and the snake up on what she calls her set. This is where she takes all her pictures. It's chest-high, about three feet by three feet, with a white Formica surface that curves up at the back to form a seamless background. There are only two strobe lights, plus a third light underneath the surface to make sure the animals stay warm.

Paul Tough

Do you have to keep the snake away from the pinkie when you first put it down?

Catherine Chalmers

No. It takes a while to figure out that it's there.

Paul Tough

Now, the pinkie started moving. Do you think--

Catherine Chalmers

No. I don't think the pinkie understands there's a snake there.

Paul Tough

The snake's moving slowly, putting its head up right next to the pinkie and flicking out its tongue as if it wants to lick it.

Catherine Chalmers

She's checking it out, smelling it, sniffing it, making sure it's OK, I guess.

Paul Tough

It's very friendly.

Catherine Chalmers

I don't know if I'd call it friendly.

Paul Tough

I mean it just looks that way, the two of them together.

Catherine Chalmers

The two of them hanging out together. Yeah. Their faces are about the same size. Well, no, the mouse's face is bigger. You see what I mean? There's no terror in the mouse.

Paul Tough

But the mouse doesn't look that happy.

Catherine Chalmers

Well, hard to tell what makes something that small unhappy.

Paul Tough

stood there for 15 minutes watching as the snake tried to decide what to do. The pinkie didn't move much, just sort of quivered, raising its head every once in a while. Then, finally, the snake made its move.

Catherine Chalmers

Hmm. Very strange.

Paul Tough

What was strange was the way the snake attacked. Pumpkin is a constrictor, which means that usually when it goes for its prey, it quickly wraps its body around it and squeezes it to death.

Catherine Chalmers

It hasn't happened like this before.

Paul Tough

This time it bit the pinkie and held it in its fangs, alive, for a couple of minutes before it finally constricted it.

Paul Tough

Does the pinkie always struggle like that?

Catherine Chalmers

No, and it has never squealed before.

Paul Tough

What's the difference, do you think?

Catherine Chalmers

The pinkie was bigger, older.

Paul Tough

Is it still alive now?

Catherine Chalmers

If you look at the tail, you can usually tell. When the tail starts to droop down. Although it's getting so much blood pushed through there that that could keep it up.

Paul Tough

I know you can be charged for being cruel to a dog. Can you be charged for being cruel to a mouse?

Catherine Chalmers

No, I don't think so. Now, maybe if I took one of my mice, went out into the middle of Broadway, and started ripping it apart where everybody could see-- I don't know. And probably a legal person wouldn't know, because it never comes up.

Paul Tough

Catherine says that we've developed a hierarchy of death. Some animals we're prohibited from killing. Some we're encouraged to kill. And most of them we just don't care about. I asked her whether doing the Food Chain project changed the way she saw animals. And she said that it hadn't changed the way she saw them, it made her see them for the first time. Before she started photographing animals, she was like most people. She never really thought about them at all.

Paul Tough

And do you ever feel like you're taking sides when you set up a photograph like this?

Catherine Chalmers

Yeah, your sides change. Yeah. I mean, at one point, you feel really bad about the pinkie, and at one point, you're really happy your snake ate and therefore it's healthy and it's going to live. So in something like this, your sides always change. And when you put the pinkie up there, before you put the snake up there, you feel really bad. You think, oh, well, this little thing doesn't know it's about to be eaten. And with the Food Chain project, that was one of the points. You take the side of the underdog, and then the underdog becomes a predator, and then you have to change sides again, and then you change sides again. And it's arbitrary and relative anyways. So you just kind of get all confused, really.

Paul Tough

It's getting to the point with the mouse project where those feelings are starting to have real repercussions. Right now, Pumpkin can't eat anything bigger than a pinkie, but she's growing. Eventually she'll be three feet or more. Before long, she'll be eating full-grown mice, the ones that Catherine feeds and holds and plays with every day.

Catherine Chalmers

It's one thing, I was telling you this before, to feed something to something where the pinkie has no senses yet. It can't see. It can smell, but it can't see. But it's another when you pick up a full-grown mouse who is aware of what's going on when it sees a snake. And I don't know what I'm going to do when she starts eating full-grown mice. Right now, it's still something within the realm of something I can do. I don't know. Is there a line at which it starts being hard to do? Yeah, probably.

Paul Tough

Catherine talks about her apartment being like an oasis in the middle of Soho. She loves coming home from the cars and concrete of Manhattan into a place that's filled with life. But in another way, it's Manhattan, it's our world, that's the oasis in the middle of a planet that's full of nature. All around us, things are eating and having sex and dying and suffering, and we don't notice or even think about it.

Paul Tough

Do you think the pinkie's still alive?

Catherine Chalmers

No. It's getting kind of blue.

Paul Tough

So did you feel weird at all when he was squealing at the end? Did that make you feel strange at all?

Catherine Chalmers

Well, you never really like something to suffer. And it definitely was not very happy. But the pinkie was going to die anyways.

Paul Tough

I guess there's a difference if it's being fed, if there's a purpose to it, if it's part of the chain.

Catherine Chalmers

Well, it's no different to the snake. The snake doesn't really seem to care if the mouse squeals or not. Is it any different to the mouse? Yeah, maybe a little bit, but it's dying anyways. It dies a little faster, or it dies a little slower possibly. So I cared more. The snake didn't care. Who knows if the mouse did. So who matters? Whose opinion do I go by here? Why should I go mine?

Paul Tough

At the end of our photoshoot, Catherine carefully picks up the snake and carries it back to its cage. There's a bulge about a third of the way down the snake's body where the pinkie is being digested. Before I leave, Catherine pours us a glass of wine, and we sit on the floor for a little while playing with a couple of her full-grown mice, letting them run over our hands and up our arms. They're tiny and warm, and through their fur, we can feel their little hearts beating.

[MUSIC -- "INSECT COLLECTOR" BY SHONEN KNIFE]

Ira Glass

Paul Tough. Catherine Chalmers' pictures are in a book called Food Chain: Encounters Between Mates, Predators, and Prey.

Coming up, animal radio theater by David Sedaris, and animal research from Scott Carrier. That's all in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. More Animals Eating Other Animals.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a topic, and tackle that topic with documentaries, short fiction, radio monologues, found tape, anything we can think of. Today's topic, animals and the animalness of animals. We've arrived at Act Two of our program, which is basically more animals eating other animals.

But first a little story. A little girl is given a new sweater, an ugly new sweater which she hates. She takes the sweater, puts it on the floor, takes a nap, and when she wakes up, her sweater's been chewed to shreds. She, of course, could not be happier, but her mother's very upset, cries a little. The girl blames the dog, a little spaniel named Kathleen.

Kathleen

I demand a fair hearing. I won't take the blame.

Ira Glass

Kathleen the spaniel then stood to proclaim.

Kathleen

I didn't do nothing. I'm just not the sort. I'll see you in hell first, or animal court.

Ira Glass

David Sedaris has written a play for our program. This play is an original radio play entirely in rhymed couplets. In this play, the animals do lots of things that humans do. For example, they talk. And they hold court out in the forest. But in this play, also, every now and then-- unlike most fairy tales, unlike most movies about animals or stories about animals-- these animals reassert their animalness.

Our play begins as Kathleen the spaniel heads out into the forest and our narrator, the little girl who owns her, follows behind.

Narrator

I waited till late and crept out. It was dark. I was deep in the forest when I heard a bark. It was Kathleen, my spaniel, kneeling before an old dog, a judge. And this elder, he wore a dark floor-length robe. I think it was silk. He paused then and lapped from a bowl of skim milk.

Judge

This court is in session. Oh, Jesus, I oughtta lay off the scraps when they serve enchiladas.

Narrator

He patted his chest with potato-sized paws, then pounded his gavel and laid down the law.

Judge

There'll be no witness-leading, no swearing or shedding, no tampering, catcalls, or evidence-shredding. I call on the state now to start prosecution. Defense will then counter to prove absolution.

Narrator

The clearing was silent. A cat took the floor, a smooth-talking tongue with a high pompadour.

Cat

Your Honor, destruction's no small misdemeanor. The accused here is vicious. We should quarantine her. Now I plan to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Kathleen the spaniel engaged in a bout of senseless destruction. She's got no remorse, a fact that I'm hoping to prove in due course. I call to the stand now one eyewitness worm. She was there on the scene. Her memory's firm.

Narrator

It seemed like a lifetime. The worm took forever to inch to the stand and begin her endeavor.

Worm

Yes, I'm a worm, true. I live in the soil. Only in rain do I earthwards unfoil. On this day in question, we had a fierce shower, so using my well-known abdominal power, I lifted myself from the earth's muddy ground. I crawled and I climbed and eventually found myself on a window ledge, me, just a worm, a fact I would like to now briefly confirm. My eyesight is faultless. I know what I've seen. The defendant herself, the spaniel Kathleen, engaged in destruction against this thing's sweater. She used it as a sort of an appetite-whetter. She gnawed at the fabric and tugged at the collar, and knowing no way I could stop her or stall her, I stood a mute witness. I watched in disgust. I think it's appalling. I find it unjust. That dog's no puppy. She should have known better than to lie on a mattress digesting a sweater. If you want my opinion, I think you oughtta put her away. She's a heinous marauder.

Narrator

The worm had concluded. She'd finished her say and reached for a thimble of cold consomme.

Cat

Your witness.

Narrator

The cat said. I watched as a wren hopped to the floor where the cat once had been.

Wren

Your Honor, it's clear that this worm is deceptive. I'm wondering now if she might be receptive to proving her eyesight is all that she claims. I'd like her to read from this short list of names.

Narrator

The bird took a book written in Lebanese, and carried it out past the pond to the trees.

Wren

Can you read this name here? It's first on the list.

Worm

That's too far away.

Narrator

The angry worm hissed.

Worm

I can't read that far, not even in day. You might as well post it in Rome or Pompeii.

Wren

So your sight--

Narrator

Said the bird, keen on proving a point.

Wren

Is something you boast upon when you anoint this court with your presence, the all-seeing worm. Your sight is on par with an old pachyderm. You're small and deceitful. You crawled to no ledge. You witnessed no crime like the one you allege.

Worm

Stop talking to me in your harsh legalese. I know what I saw. I can't read Lebanese. Still, though, I saw it. I've seen lots of things. I've noticed you, pooch and take off on your wings. I know all about you. My word is my honor.

Narrator

She looked at the bird then, a certified goner. The wren whispered softly, as if to confirm, and then she lunged forward, beheading the worm.

Cat

Objection.

Narrator

The cat yelled.

Cat

She's eating my witness.

Narrator

The bird, in a grand show of physical fitness, finished the worm and returned to her perch, the lowest-hung branch of a young silver birch.

The cat called a witness, a chubby black cricket I'd seen once or twice in my room eat a ticket to movies or plays. This thing, it ate paper. It's body was small, just the size of a caper.

Cricket

I'm a cricket, I am, and to hell with your court,

Narrator

Said the cricket, her vocal cords fierce in retort.

Cricket

I have no use for your system. It's false and oppressive. The lawyer's behavior is passive-aggressive. You're saying you want me to be more specific? I'll tell you I find your whole species horrific. We live day to day, us and grasshoppers too. You bark and you chirp, you low or you mew, then head to your nest for a night's hibernation, while we're out there fighting for true liberation. You rise from your beds and meet in this clearing to practice your justice. It's all profiteering. Your system's disgusting. It's rotten and stinky, and if you think I'll raise my right hand or my pinkie in honor to you, then you are quite mistaken.

I saw something, true, but no statement I'm making. I won't say a word till you promise protection.

Wren

Contempt,

Narrator

Cried the bird. The cat yelled,

Cat

Objection.

Cricket

This justice you claim, it's all based on species. I'd rather kneel down on the ground and eat feces than kowtow to you and your justice-achieving. I'm no friend of yours. Do you hear me? I'm leaving.

Narrator

The court was in chaos. The cricket hopped off. She flew through the air just like Baryshnikov. The bird then, she followed it into the thicket and returned having eaten that hot-tempered cricket. There was no objection, no cry of foul play. The judge and the lawyers gave a silent OK.

Judge

Next witness,

Narrator

The judge barked.

Judge

Allow me to mention we're holding this court with the sole good intention of seeking the truth, of meriting justice. It helps when you call up a witness who will trust us.

Wren

Your honor,

Narrator

The bird said.

Wren

I now call a squirrel, a trustworthy witness, a very nice girl. Hard-working and thrifty, she lives in that elm. I'm hoping my colleague will not overwhelm or badger my witness. She's timid and shy.

Narrator

The judge took an aspirin and shouted out,

Judge

Why don't you bring on this witness. Enough of your chatter. Let's hope that this squirrel can finish the matter. I'm tired and hungry, so please let's proceed.

Narrator

The cat took a watch from his pocket.

Cat

Indeed, you're stalling this court with your warbling and rambling. I'm thinking, Your Honor, defense is just gambling. She's playing for time. It's a transparent tactic. Some call it clever. I call it didactic.

Wren

Your Honor, forgive me. I call your attention to my leading witness, that squirrel I mentioned.

Narrator

There was no need to prompt her, no need to coerce. The squirrel entered talking. She set down her purse. And, crossing her legs, lady-like, at the shin, the squirrel eyewitness began to weigh in.

Squirrel

I saw it. I did, the whole thing, and it reeks. I was sitting there calmly, with nuts in my cheeks. I gather them daily. These nuts are my diet. An acorn, a pecan-- you name it, I'll try it. Sometimes I'll hide them. I'll dig them a grave for some later time when we have a cold wave. It ain't easy digging through thick ice and snow.

Cat

Objection,

Narrator

The cat cried.

Cat

I think we all know that winter is frosty. It's chilly and tough. In terms of her hardship, we've all heard enough.

Judge

Get on with your story. Enough of your woes.

Squirrel

Yes, sir,

Narrator

Said the squirrel.

Squirrel

Well, the rest of it goes, I was searching for food then was out on my rounds. My sister remarked that I'd gained a few pounds in my hips and my shoulders. She thought it looked smashing. I respect her opinion, and so I was dashing to something I saw. It resembled a kernel of corn, so I thought, but it seems the infernal nugget in question turned out to be gum. It was chewed in a wad just the size of crumb. I was out of my mind, man, I wanted a snack.

Cat

Objection, Your Honor, she's getting off-track,

Narrator

The cat lawyer cried.

Cat

Let's get on with the crime.

Wren

Your Honor,

Narrator

The bird said.

Wren

My witness needs time to set up her scene of emotional stress. She's said to have suffered from mental duress.

Squirrel

So, anyway, right, if my memory serves, I was searching the ground for some type of hors d'oeuvres when I heard in the distance the sound of a voice. It sounded quite angry, so I made the choice. I peeked through the window and sat on my haunches, and then I became, for a brief while, unconscious. It happens sometimes. I have these brief spells. I can't say for certain, but something compels my brain to relax, causing me to black out. You know, I was hit in the head with a large brussel sprout last summer. I think it was early July. I think that's the reason. I'm not certain why.

Cat

I'm sorry,

Narrator

The cat said.

Cat

Your mind is so frail. I'm wondering, though, if your story entails the facts of this case. Is there any connection between the accused and your brain imperfection?

Squirrel

Technically, yes,

Narrator

The squirrel said, beaming.

Squirrel

My body was there, but my mind was dreaming. I was there at the scene. That I know for a fact. I was hoping by speaking I might extract some detail, something I maybe could mention to justify all of this lavish attention. I find it exciting, dramatic, suspense. It all suits me perfect, because in a sense, I enjoy public speaking. I love center stage.

Narrator

The bird then approached, feathers standing in rage.

Wren

You said you had seen things, that you were compliant and had information concerning my client.

Squirrel

I might have, you know, but I can't say for certain. I know what I told you, but now I'm reverting. Is this microphone on? Hello? Do you mind if I sing? [SINGS]

Narrator

The bird slapped the stand with the tip of her wing and spat in discuss.

Wren

Your witness,

Narrator

She said. The cat flexed his paws, and then used them to shred that squirrel to ribbons. He tore her to bits. And ate everything but her eyes and armpits. And then he pounced forward and firmly procured between his firm jaws that lawyering bird.

Wren

Objection, Your Honor. I feel I'm being eaten. I don't like the way my colleague is treatin' the legal profession, especially me. I'm soon to become a full-fledged amputee.

Narrator

That was all that I heard. The rest was too muffled. I watched for a while as the two of them scuffled. The cat took the bird right down to the beak. The judge rose, then asking if now he might speak.

Judge

To the cat in my chambers, a brief legal chat.

Narrator

The judge then walked off, and I watched as the cat foolishly followed that judge past a stump to a field of tires once used as a dump. I heard the cat hiss then, and then [INAUDIBLE]. I can't say for certain who struck the first blow, but I can say who won. I know that the judge stepped out of his chambers unable to budge. He belched and he sagged, both lips heavy with fur, and looked out at the courtroom where others once were.

Judge

I find you not guilty,

Narrator

He said to my spaniel.

Judge

But if I every hear so much as a granule of trouble from you, then I'll put you away.

Kathleen

Thank you, Your Honor.

Narrator

I heard Kathleen say.

Judge

Go on, now. Get out of here. Hurry along. Get back to your home, back to where you belong.

Narrator

I waited for Kathleen beside a small creek. She passed me, despondent, refusing to speak. And me, I returned to my comfortable bed, thinking of how, by some fluke, I'd been led to animal court, that harsh hostile scene, that by chance thought to spare my companion, Kathleen.

Ira Glass

The Pinetree Gang. Amy Sedaris, David Rakoff, Toby Warey, Stacy Goldstein, Jackie Hoffman, Nora Ladonny, Sarah Tire, and Richard Zaragoza. Story by David Sedaris.

[MUSIC -- "ROCKY RACCOON" BY LENA HORNE]

Act Three. The Moment Humans Stopped Being Animals.

Ira Glass

Act Three, The Moment When Humans Stopped Being Animals. If you ask anthropologists the moment that humans divide off from the animal kingdom, it's the moment that our ape-like ancestors started walking upright on two legs. For people who don't believe that God created the earth in six days, that moment is our origin. That's our Book of Genesis. That is the mythic point where we began. But nobody knows why these pre-humans started walking around on two legs instead of loping around on all fours the way that most animals do. There are different theories but no consensus among scientists.

Well, 10 years ago, Scott Carrier decided to do some research on his own, and he made this radio report.

Man

Oh, there they go.

Scott Carrier

What?

Man

There they go. Do you see them crossing over there?

Scott Carrier

No.

Man

Over to the right, quite a ways away in fact. Way out there.

Scott Carrier

A couple of years ago, my brother and I went to Wyoming to run down an antelope.

Scott Carrier

I only see three over there.

Man

Well, there were about eight down there.

Scott Carrier

Yeah.

It was August and our plan was to chase one animal until it overheated and collapsed.

Man

It just took off on running.

Scott Carrier

OK.

Man

Do you want to follow it?

Scott Carrier

Yeah.

Man

[INAUDIBLE].

Scott Carrier

We had good reasons for what we were doing. One was that it seemed entirely possible. Another had to do with an argument concerning human evolution. It's a scientific argument, so it takes a few minutes to explain.

Remember the scene in 2001, where an ape-man realizes he can use a bone as a weapon and murders another ape-man? Then he throws the bone in the air and it becomes a space station orbiting the earth. The theory behind this scene is that we separated from the apes when we stood upright and freed our hands to make and use tools, especially weapon-type tools for hunting and killing other animals. It's called the hunting hypothesis, and there's nothing wrong with it except that we don't have any physical evidence to support it. We just haven't found any tools or weapons that are that old.

Well, some of the work that my brother does as a biologist made him interested in another theory of human evolution. You might call it the running hypothesis. He believed that he and I were probably good enough runners to be able to run down big game without using any weapons at all. And he thought that if we could do it, then maybe our early ancestors could have done it too.

Shortly before we went to Wyoming, I went to see Owen Lovejoy. He teaches anthropology at Kent State University. We talked about the running hypothesis, and he thought it was pretty funny.

Owen Lovejoy

I mean, think about it for a minute. I mean, what game are they going to run down? Things like wildebeest or something?

Scott Carrier

Uh-huh. Zebra.

Owen Lovejoy

And they're just going to start off running after this thing without any advanced weaponry of any kind. They've got no spears, no bow and arrow, and they just start running after a wildebeest.

Scott Carrier

Yeah. Well, I think that's the idea, that they--

Owen Lovejoy

Uh-huh. The weak link in that whole behavior that you're describing is the inability of the animal to run any faster because it's so damn slow. And it's so damn slow because it's a clumsy biped. Is that an animal adapted to hunting? Slow, awkward, little, no olfaction, no protective vision. If it were an effective quadruped, it could do everything that you're describing in half the time. I mean, imagine a bunch of Paiute Indians that could run as rapidly and as successful as a German Shepherd dog. They'd catch the thing in three minutes and devour it.

Scott Carrier

Well, I just happen to have a German Shepherd, and I take him with me when I go running.

Scott Carrier

Let's go.

And Lovejoy's right. He's a better runner than I am. In fact, most of the time, he'd rather have me take my bicycle. So there's no question about me being slower. But as far as being clumsy, Lovejoy calls bipedalism clumsy because of reasons that have to do with biomechanics. Running bipedally takes twice as much energy as running quadrupedally That is, when my dog and I run, he uses half the energy that I do. So Lovejoy and many other anthropologists think it's crazy to assume that the survival strategy of the early hominids involved running after quadrupeds. They've just got us beat, both in terms of speed and efficiency.

But the thing is, if my dog and I go running in the summer in the middle of the day, when temperatures hit 85 to 100 or more degrees, it's a whole different ballgame. He'll come with me and run for a while, but then he walks and lags behind. And sometimes he just goes home. So if I'm an awkward and clumsy biped, why can I outrun my dog?

Well, it's because he overheats. The main way that he and most other quadrupeds cool themselves when they run is by breathing. The air coming in and going out of their mouth evaporates water off their tongues. We do this too, but we do it all over our body by sweating, and then we get a nice flow of air directly over our skin, because we don't have a fur coat. So we can't run as fast as a quadruped, but we can run farther, especially in high heat. And when you remember that we're using twice the energy, this seems like a very strange biological paradox. And it was this paradox, combined with the argument about not being able to hunt without tools, that made my brother and I decide that it was time to try to run down an antelope.

Antilocapra americana, the pronghorn, the second-fastest land mammal on the planet. We thought that if we could keep one running for two hours on a hot day, we'd have it beat.

Scott Carrier

What happened?

Man

They didn't give me a chance. I was able to follow them for about 30 minutes, but the problem was I wasn't sure if I was following the same ones I started following. Because I started out following four-- a buck, two does, and a younger one. And after about 10 minutes, they ran into a group of about five more antelope, went over a hill. And then on the other side of the hill, they broke into two groups again. And so I think I ended up following the same four, but I couldn't be sure. And I followed them for another 15 minutes, and then they ran into a much larger group, ran for a ways. And I followed that larger group for a while, and then that group broke into at least two more groups.

And at that point I just sort of gave up and quit following them, because I didn't know which individuals I was chasing. And then I got confused on the roads. Where's the road we were on? Down here? OK, what happened was I came out on this road, way over there somewhere. And I got lost. I didn't know, really, where I was. I was walking along that road for about 15 minutes. I felt like that was the wrong direction. So we started over there. They ran a circle there. I don't remember crossing this road, but I must have, originally, early on.

Scott Carrier

This one?

Man

They ran in a circle. They came back. Well, strike one.

Scott Carrier

So what do you think we should do?

Man

I think we should go look for some more.

Scott Carrier

Not keep doing these?

Man

Well, I don't know where they are.

Scott Carrier

It could have been the Serengeti-- orange and green and purple plains, a hot sun, thin high clouds, blue mountains on the horizon.

Man

They just zoomed. And they weren't stopping.

Scott Carrier

It could have been the Serengeti, but we were no primitive hunters. We quickly realized we knew nothing about the animal we were chasing or the land we were running on. We ran after several herds that first day without much success. That night, sleeping out, I remember feeling very high in terms of elevation, like being dizzy. There weren't any clouds in the sky, and it just seemed like too much open space. Satellites in orbit, the moon in orbit, and antelope in the bushes, chewing their cuds and laughing amongst themselves.

The next morning, we ate a breakfast of chocolate chip cookies and orange juice, and walked around waiting for the air to heat up.

Scott Carrier

What is it?

Man

It's a white-tailed jackrabbit.

Scott Carrier

We found dead animals, bare bones, an abandoned house.

Scott Carrier

You think someone used to live here?

We saw dust devils, horned toads, an eagle. We found a small lake, some badlands, and a rattlesnake.

Scott Carrier

Wow.

It never did get very hot that day, but in the afternoon, we had a good long chase after a female and two males. They ran in circles around an area of about 10 square miles. There were two hills and a long smooth valley in between, and the chase went up and around and back and forth between these hills, the antelope running short periods of time but covering long distances and then stopping and waiting for us to catch up. The two males ran behind the female, as if they were trying to protect her, and sometimes they'd all go in different directions, but we stayed behind the female and the males would eventually rejoin her.

One thing we'd learned the day before was that we could run much less distance than the antelopes by staying well inside their circle, and we were also starting to communicate with each other over long distances. For instance, if my brother was on top of one of the hills, and he could see where the antelope were going, he'd point, and I wouldn't have to run to the top of the hill. So we were running after these three and feeling pretty good about not letting them ditch us, and a couple times, we even got within 50 yards of them. And I'd look into their eyes, trying to see some sign of fear or fatigue, but all I kept seeing were very quiet animals that seemed to know exactly who we were, what we were proposing, and didn't seem to be in the least bit worried.

Anyway, we ran after these three for about an hour, and then they found a large herd, or the herd found them. And they ran up and over a hill, and by the time we got to the top of the hill, the herd had split into three groups of about three or four antelopes each. And each of the groups seemed to have at least one female that looked exactly like the one we'd started chasing-- the magic shell game trick again. We weren't really all that physically tired, mainly mentally beaten, and we went home.

I haven't gone back to Wyoming for the purpose of chasing antelope, but I drive through there sometimes on my way somewhere else. And one time last spring I was going east, and there was a train along the highway also going east at about the same speed. And suddenly there were three antelope running alongside the engine, chasing it. It was incredible. It was even more incredible to see the three of them simultaneously speed up, pull out in front of the engine, and fly across the tracks.

I pulled over and waited for the train to go by, and there they were. Three young males, looking back at me with those same black eyes and hardly breathing at all.

Ira Glass

In the years since he first recorded that story, Scott has put it into a collection of his stories, a book called, simply, Running After Antelope.

[MUSIC -- "I WAN'NA BE LIKE YOU" BY LOUIS PRIMA]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, the great Louis Prima, from The Jungle Book soundtrack. Our program was produced today by Peter Clowney and me, with Alix Spiegel and Nancy Updike. Contributing editors for this show, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Margy Rockland. Original music for the opening story in today's program by Jeff Muller and Jason Noble. Other musical help from Mr. John Connors and the Mysterious Rumpety Rattles. And you know, you can download today's program and our archives at audible.com/thisamericanlife.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. [FUNDING CREDITS] WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia, who treats his employees this way.

Samantha Martin

Must bite, must bite, must-- no, no, nice, nice-- bite, must bite, must bite.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.