Transcript

157:

Secret Life of Daytime
Transcript

Originally aired 04.14.2000

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/157

Prologue.

Ira Glass

One, two. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. And I'm standing at the corner of Diversey and Broadway in Chicago. As I record this, it's just a few minutes after 3 o'clock on a weekday afternoon here in Chicago. And the people are everywhere, even though it's still the middle of the workday.

In the bread shop just off the corner, I stuck my head in, and there are people at the tables. Some of them are just sitting there reading books. I saw two guys speaking Spanish walk in and find their friend, who greeted them in Spanish. And they headed out.

A guy in a goatee and a knit cap just walked by wearing a pair of professional grade stereo headphones around his neck, talking to his buddy. In the last 10 minutes, I've seen three different people, all men, wearing professional grade stereo headphones just on the street. I didn't even know this was a trend.

Ira Glass

How you doing?

A guy in a suit's staring at me. In the hours when most of us are at work or at school, there is a whole life going on out here, outside, an alternate world. I would say it's a world with its own rules, but its rules are actually a lot like the rules of Saturday, except taking place during the week and different people taking part. This is the secret world of daytime. Guy just ran the red light. Can't get his plates.

Well, back in the studio now. Today, we take a little tour of the secret life of daytime with five separate stories. Act One, Why Aren't You at Work?, in which one intrepid reporter has a little chat with some of those people who are on the street at 3:00. Act Two, In a World Full of Soybeans, the Men Turn to Love, the surprising story of how people kill time at one Lincoln, Nebraska, grain elevator. Act Three, The Geography of Childhood, a tale of the secret places that children go during the day in one town in Vermont. Act Four, Invisible Man. A postman explains how it is that he can be so much a part of the scenery that people commit crimes in front of him. Crimes on quiet, daytime streets, as if he is not there. Act Five, $82.50 a Day, writer Mona Simpson reads from her forthcoming novel about the daytime life of Filipino nannies during the hours in which they run the lovely homes of certain Los Angeles neighborhoods. Stay with us.

Act One. Why Aren't You At Work?

Ira Glass

Act One, Why Aren't You at Work?

Let's begin with a few simple answers to a few simple questions. All those people you see in the middle of the day when you run out to a doctor's appointment-- you see them in coffee shops and bookstores in most cities and suburbs-- who are they? Why are they not at work? Investigative reporter George Gurley tackled these tough questions on a scenic little island that we like to call Manhattan.

George Gurley

Hello, America. I did what we all are tempted to do. On four afternoons, I approached these people and ask them why they weren't at work and what exactly were they doing.

Man 1

We haven't seen each other in about a week and a half. So we thought, let's get a bite to eat, and it's a beautiful day out, so we'll come to the park.

George Gurley

Are you retired, are you still working?

Man 2

I'm semi-retired. I'm old enough to collect social security. But I still work a few days a week. Of course, next question is, what kind of work do you do? Don't tell my cat. I'm a furrier.

George Gurley

Do you think that you've had a productive day today?

Man 3

I got showered.

George Gurley

What are you doing right now? Why aren't you at work?

Woman 1

I'm here on a business trip.

George Gurley

Oh, OK. There we go.

Woman 1

So I sort of am at work.

George Gurley

So you're working. Right.

As it turns out, a lot of these people actually have jobs, the kind of jobs where they set their own hours or work nights or weekends. They're actors, sculptors, bartenders. I met one guy who takes care of primates and other mammals at the Bronx Zoo, who has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. Released from his cage, he spends those afternoons drinking screwdrivers, guilt-free.

Daytime hours are different if you're not working. They're about going with the flow, one thing leading to another. Alana Canty, a 50-year-old English tutor from New Jersey, was in Central Park purely by coincidence.

Alana Canty

I was an extra on a TV show, which I got because-- I suffer from depression, and I don't actively pursue stuff like that. But I have a friend staying at my house. And he signed up with an agency. And they called last night, and I took the call. And I said, "Do you need any women?" He said, "Sure." OK.

So I had to show up at 8 o'clock at the boathouse. And it was a taping of a scene from the program Once and Again, I think. And basically, we got $41 for standing in a crowd. So here I am having a lovely day in New York, all because my friend went to an extra agency.

Jonathan Bradley

It's been-- The most productive I've done today is put my check in the bank.

George Gurley

This is Jonathan Bradley, a bearded 25-year-old. I met him at the Angelica, a theater in SoHo that shows mostly independent films. It was around 3 o'clock, and a dozen or so people were waiting for their film to be announced or just hanging out. Inside the theater cafe, Jonathan was reading Village Voice after seeing his movie, killing some time before his customer service gig at a website. I asked him if there was anything else he could have achieved today.

Jonathan Bradley

The only thing I could have done today was maybe, if I was home, I could've made some phone calls for our meditation group. I'm in a Buddhist group, and we're looking for a space. So if I was at home this morning, I could've made some phone calls on that.

George Gurley

What would Buddha say about your day so far?

Jonathan Bradley

That's a difficult question to answer because Buddhism is rarely a thing that is dogmatic like that, that says, you should perform this way. But I think just "use the time wisely" might be a good general statement.

George Gurley

Across the cafe was Randy Maggiore, a long-haired 34-year-old actor. He just picked up some head shots and now is spending some free time visiting a friend. But he didn't feel like he was wasting time. For an actor, apparently, simply being awake to the world counts as work.

Randy Maggiore

It's sort of like my errands are, for me, part of my education because being out on the street and walking around and seeing new things and seeing people, I try to be as observant as I possibly can in regard to what I see. As an actor, it's like I constantly study character in people. So every day, right outside my door is an experience, I think, something to learn.

Howard Moneth

Loafing? That's so colloquial. Loafing.

George Gurley

This is Howard Moneth. He told me he does a little day trading, inherited some money. He was sitting on a bench and drinking a latte outside a Mott Street art gallery he helps run. Wearing a floppy blue hat and shades, he'd been catching rays there for 45 minutes and looked high on life, nearly beatific.

Howard Moneth

Loafing. I would say that a lot of my life is loafing, and with spurts of activity in between, sort of trying to make up for loafing. I am loafing. Loafing is me.

George Gurley

What do you think of the 9-to-5ers, people you see going into the subway at 8:30 and all that stuff?

Howard Moneth

When I was a kid, I had summer jobs where I worked 9:00 to 5:00. And I wore a suit and a tie. My uncle ran Simon & Schuster, the publishing house. And I went down there. And I took the subway to Rockefeller Center. And I did this and that. And I go, this is the way to go. And then something happened. Something happened along the way. And I think I went a little bit off that path, and I never got back on it. And once you get away from it, once you get away from being able to get up and go to work at 9:00 to 5:00, I think it would take a catastrophic lifestyle change or a major lifestyle change-- that's a bus pulling up in front of us-- to get me back into 9:00 to 5:00.

George Gurley

Do you feel sorry for those people at all?

Howard Moneth

No, I admire them. I look at them, and in some ways, they make me feel inadequate, that they have somehow stuck nose to the grindstone. And I don't decry that as being something that I would never do. These people are heroes.

George Gurley

While people like Howard are basking peacefully in the sun, the heroes are inside at their desks. They're looking at the clock, tired of the stress, the forced social interaction, the meetings, the constant threat of having to think, and say things to and smile at the same old coworkers, some of whom have become intolerable, talking on the phone loudly, laughing without justification, making slurping noises during their lunch.

So the heroes do what any reasonable person would do. They stop working while they're at work, click around, check their stocks, shuffle to the office kitchen. Howard, at least, admits he's taking it easy. And he's outside, where the daytime hours have their own poetry, like the hours of 2:00 to 4:00.

Howard Moneth

Between 2:00 and 4:00 is a very interesting time because the feeling of it, the day changes almost the most from 2:00 to 4:00. And--

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

George Gurley

--the feeling?

Howard Moneth

Well, the shadows get longer. People start to get a little more energized. I think this is a-- the evening crowd, the night people, start to sort of stir at around 2:00 to 4:00. And there's a little more energy.

George Gurley

But playing hooky from the 9 to 5 world isn't all lyrical musings about the changing of the light. None of us is going to feel sorry for any of these people. But there is a special kind of anxiety that's particular to skipping the normal work week. It can take a little while to get used to the idea that the regular world just goes on about its business without you. This is my friend Doug Elliott, who made some money as a lawyer and now doesn't work a 9 to 5 job.

Doug Elliott

Walking around outside-- because New York is such a business-oriented city-- when people are walking around on the streets during the day, there's this sense of energy and going from this place to that place. And they're heading there, and they have direction. And I'm outside. I don't have any place I have to be. And I'm not part of that group.

George Gurley

Doug spends his days on no particular schedule, negotiating business deals, writing short stories that so far haven't been published, and puttering around.

Doug Elliott

Because I don't have a typical 9 to 5 job, the reality is that I'm never free. I'm never not working. I don't have that sense of closure to the day, ever, ever, ever. I always feel like there's something more I could be doing, there's something more I-- I walk into the bathroom, and I'll take work in with me.

George Gurley

Doug and I headed outside, wandered through Union Square Park, the Heartland Brewery, Barnes and Noble, and ended up at the Old Town Bar. A few solitary drinkers were there. Doug ordered vodka. I got whiskey.

Now it was almost 5:00 on Friday, the end of the traditional work week. That stillness and dreamy quality of daytime was being replaced by Manhattan noise and energy as little groups of 9 to 5ers filed into the Old Town. We watch them. They've clearly come straight from the office, excited that at last the drinking begins. At last, they've earned the right to recreation so circumscribed that its duration is even included in its name-- Happy Hour.

Ira Glass

George Gurley is a reporter for the New York Observer, for whom he first investigated the secret life of daytime loafers.

[MUSIC - "NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT" BY BILLIE HOLIDAY]

Act Two. In A World Full Of Soybeans, The Men Turn To Love.

Ira Glass

Act Two, In a World Full of Soybeans, the Men Turn to Love. Let us now head to a grain elevator on the outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska, rising 150 feet above cornfields and railroad tracks, holding over a million bushels of corn, soybeans, wheat, and milo. Meghan Daum explains how the daylight hours are spent there.

Meghan Daum

Grain elevators are, in many ways, the skyscrapers of rural America. They're the structures in the far corner of the paintings, the towers that pierce an otherwise uninterrupted sky. There are five men who work in one particular grain elevator in Lincoln. And they spend their days at one end or the other of two extremes. During harvest time, they've been known to work more than 48 hours straight. But in the winter and early spring, when crops lie dormant under layers of frost, and just a few farm trucks pull in over the course of the day, the workers at this grain elevator have something else on their minds.

Actress 1

We have so much to teach each other. And I have so much to give to you and so much to share with you.

Grain Worker 1

Yeah, we are working yet. But every now and then, if a truck comes in during a commercial, it's kind of nice. It's when they come in right in the middle of the heated up things is when it gets kind of bad.

Actress 1

I can't wait to give birth to you. And I can't wait to just kiss your face, hold you in my arms.

Grain Worker 1

How much you want to bet she has a miscarriage?

Noel

That could well be.

Meghan Daum

Every day at 11:00 AM, these men stop what they're doing, get out their sandwiches or heat up some Chinese food, and gather together in front of the small television set in the office to watch the soap opera The Young and the Restless. They've been watching it for years. This is no casual viewing. It's an obsession.

Actress 2

I have a question for you, a very important question to me. Son, I need to understand why a boy your age, with everything going for you, feels the need to obliterate himself with alcohol.

Grain Worker 1

Because you did.

Noel

Mom's a notorious alcoholic.

Meghan Daum

Oh, really?

Noel

Yeah. She lost another son to alcohol some years ago.

Meghan Daum

The five men who work in this elevator seem, for the most part, just like the kind of guys you'd expect to load grain off of trucks and onto trains by the ton. Most are thick and burly. They have calloused hands, wear heavy work boots, and are often completely covered in dust. But their knowledge of The Young and the Restless is encyclopedic. They talk about it the way guys talk about sports. They do a lot of yelling at the screen. They argue about who's stalking the young, saucy Victoria Newman. They have lengthy discussions about a business tycoon's missing sperm sample and where it will end up. Noel, the supervisor, patiently explains to me how it is that Mackenzie, an orphan, ended up in Genoa City, the fictional setting of the show.

Noel

Her father was a missionary in India and was presumed dead in a raid on a village. And he didn't even know he had this daughter, I don't think. He'd had it by a woman in town. And I don't know who she was, where she's gone.

Rick

She's in St. Louis right now because Jill went to St. Louis looking for the mother to find out if Mac is Brock's daughter.

Meghan Daum

That's Rick. He's 39 and has been doing grain elevator work for 10 years. He's married, has a six-year-old son and a job on the side as an exterminator.

Rick

If I'm at home by myself and my wife and my kids are gone, I'll sit there, and I'll pop a beer about 11 o'clock and sit there and watch soaps.

Meghan Daum

When he was a kid in the early '70s, he watched The Young and the Restless with his mom and his sisters. And these days, he's responsible for telling his wife what's going on in the show. He's even been known to read Soap Opera Digest while standing in line at the supermarket.

So what do a bunch of relatively macho guys see in a show that's supposedly targeted at women? I can tell you that when the men at the grain elevator watch, they keep a running commentary during the love scenes, but sit in rapt attention when the characters talk business. And maybe the show was designed with this in mind. For every mushy relationship story, there are bank buyouts and shady business deals involving Jack Abbott's company, Jabot, and Jack's nemesis, Victor Newman.

Rick

That's really the best part of the show, Victor trying to get back Jabot and buying all the banks and all that. We watch another one. It's Bold and Beautiful. And everybody's crying on that show at least once a day. It's more mushy. It was pretty good for about a year. And then all of a sudden, it just died off. But we still watch it, though.

Meghan Daum

For these guys, the fascination with The Young and the Restless has a lot to do with one character, the enigmatic, inscrutable Victor Newman. When Victor's on screen, the men are silent. With his ambiguous, foreign sounding accent, the dignified gray around his temples, and the trademark leather sport coat that suggests he's far too important to wear an ordinary business suit, Victor is power incarnate. You can't describe him without sounding like a soap opera. Women want him. Men idolize him.

Rick

The way he talks, and he's got that whisper, and when he raises his voice-- When he raises his voice, that means he's pretty upset about something. And whatever Victor wants, Victor gets, because he's got all the money that you can think of. He's buying all the banks so he can get back at Jack.

And he told Jack, when he wanted to get company back-- he walked into his office where Jack was sitting in the chair acting like a big hot-shot. He put his hands in his pockets, and he leaned back. And he whispered, and he whispered. And then he gradually walked over to the fireplace. He grabbed this picture off the fireplace, turned around, and slapped it on top of some kind of trophy, and screamed and says, "I'm going to crush you. Just remember that." And then he put his hands on this collar, tucked in, shrugged his shoulders, and he walked out like a gentleman. An then Jack, I'm telling you, he was scared to death.

Meghan Daum

Victor is a force that seems to spin like a tornado across the fields that surround the elevator. Around here, soaps are watched as closely as the weather.

Rick

We work in a farming area. And a lot of the farmers I talk to, they'll come in with their grain. Or if they're out in the field, they always take their lunch. And I would say, probably 90% of the farmers and their wives come in, have their lunch, and watch the soaps. We'll sit here and talk on the phone even about that. But they're taking that lunch break, and they're watching the show.

Meghan Daum

During the slow months, the TV will stay on after The Young and the Restless. And if the men aren't doing anything else, they'll come into the office and watch other soaps. But in a month or so, late spring will warm up the fields. And things will get busier and busier until harvest time, when the work will be nonstop. As Noel dumps 250 bushels of soybeans into the truck pit, a load from one of just a few trucks that came in today, you can only imagine what it's like to get 100 or more of these trucks every day, and then spend the night loading them into trains a mile long.

Noel

These are great beans. This year, almost all the crops in Nebraska were real good quality.

Meghan Daum

These guys might miss some episodes come fall. By then, the stalker might have been caught. The father of Ashley's baby might be revealed. And Victor's sperm sample might have been put to use.

But part of the beauty of soaps is that they move so slowly, that you can miss months, even years, and still be able to catch up in a few days. Soaps are nothing if not daily reminders of the virtues of patience. Just as the farming community waits for the seasons to change, waits for the corn to grow, waits for the price of grain to rise enough so that they might turn a profit, they wait for something to actually happen on The Young and the Restless. We hear enough these days about how fast the world is moving. Maybe it's good to know that there's still a place in America where stalkers are at large and sperm samples are up for grabs, but where time moves slowly.

Ira Glass

Meghan Daum in Lincoln. Coming up, neither rain nor sleet nor snow-- if you know what I mean. Delivering the mail on the West side of Chicago, where the only people in the streets during the day are drug dealers-- do people even use the word snow for drugs anymore? We don't even bother to answer that question. In a minute, from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. The Geography Of Childhood.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week in our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Our program today, The Secret Life of Daytime, stories of all the things that are happening in the world unnoticed in broad daylight, things that many of us miss because we are stuck at our jobs.

We've arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three, The Geography of Childhood. In the early 1970s, a geographer named Roger Hart did a study of exactly where it is that children go during the daytime. For two years, he followed 86 children, all the children in a small town in Vermont, during the hours when parents were away at work. In this rural setting, nearly every child, nearly every one, had a secret hiding place somewhere, a spot that adults usually did not know about. One little boy made a clearing in his parents' crop fields. Some sisters had a spot in an opening in the woods, a kind of playhouse with rocks from the river, that were set up as a pretend telephone and a pretend TV.

Roger Hart

The extraordinary quantity of these places in those days-- that is, in a town where children were free to do what they wanted-- sometimes, I would walk through a field of very tall grass, and then, find in the middle of the field a couple of shelves, beautifully decorated with lots of little objects on it, but no walls. And this was their special place.

Two children who I was just chatting with one day-- and I think they were four and five years old-- and they said, "Oh, yes, we'd love to show you our fern house." Well, I'd never seen a fern house before, so I followed them. And they had this little place that was a bower, really, of evergreen trees. And beneath it was fern that they would pick and then turn into beds and pillows. There were imaginary windows which they shared in their agreement the location of, but which could not be seen. And it was a very, very beautiful space.

Ira Glass

It sounds so romantic.

Roger Hart

Yeah. The fact was, I happened to choose a small town then because I wanted something that was manageable for me to look at. Later on, I came and did research in New York City. And certainly, in this city, there's been lots of places that are also very special, built, created by children as part of their desire, commonly with one or two close friends, to create a special place that's removed from the adult world-- often on the rooftop, sometimes in the cellar, sometimes beneath a stoop.

Ira Glass

Why do you think it is that it was so common for children to have a secret place?

Roger Hart

They're engaging and developing a sense of self as something separate from others. That is a psychological struggle that takes a lifetime, from a very early age, when children, for example, turn a chair upside down and go inside it, and say, "This is my place." They're engaging in that kind of developing a sense of self.

Ira Glass

Did you make actual maps?

Roger Hart

Oh, yes. I've got one map of just three houses, which show all the places they transformed in one year. And there was, I think, seven children there. And there's probably 14 locations that are either little houses or racing tracks, or villages or cities, or airports that they built.

Ira Glass

In a small town like you were studying, was daytime, in particular, the province of children? The town kind of belonged to the kids?

Roger Hart

Yes, I think that used to be true even in cities. The greatest users of the outdoor space were children and, ironically, the elderly. They're the people who have to find close to home an interesting environment for themselves.

So the world has changed enormously for children. Children now spend much more of their time in either programmed activities or supervised activities, under surveillance, you might say. Children are not outside. You don't see kids in the street in most neighborhoods. You don't hear them at night or in the early evening like you used to.

Ira Glass

Well, I know with kids who live here in the city of Chicago, parents are careful about their kids, simply won't let them out. And the worse the neighborhood, the more strictly the kids are controlled. And so their daytime space, literally, is just in the living room in front of the television.

Roger Hart

Yeah. Even in the daytime, also, rural America children don't have the freedom they used to. There's fears everywhere.

Ira Glass

Geographer Roger Hart. He published his findings in a book called Children's Experience of Place, now out of print. You can see a few of his maps on the geography of childhood on the This American Life website, www.thislife.org.

Act Four. Invisible Man.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Invisible Man. It's not just children and the elderly who are left in quiet, residential neighborhoods when the working people have vacated to go to work. Other people pass through. They see things. This American Life producer Alex Bumberg spent a few hours with a Chicago postman to find out what exactly it is that he sees.

Alex Blumberg

When a botanist walks through a neighborhood, he might classify the houses he sees by what kind of trees are growing in the yard. That one has an old maple growing next to it, this one an oak. It only makes sense, then, that when a mailman walks through a neighborhood, he has his own system.

Henry

On this route here, you'll find that there are many different mailboxes. Just about every mail receptacle there is, you'll find on this route here. You have your mailboxes, you have your mail slots, you have a wall of mailboxes. There are many different sizes. You'll see the different forms as we make these deliveries.

I'm Henry. I'm the mailman on the far west side here. And we're on a street now, one of the blocks that I deliver. And so far, it looks like a vacant street. The only thing that's moving now is a car. Maybe I see two men, one of them working on a lawn. And down the block, which I can see a guy standing about two blocks down. Now, what he's doing or what he's waiting on, I have no idea.

Alex Blumberg

Actually, Henry's lying. He has some idea. After all, there's only two categories of people he sees on this part of his route during the day-- elderly retirees and gang members. The guy on the corner, he's not elderly. But Henry's worked this neighborhood for 20 years. And he has to come back here every day. So no matter how many times I ask him to be more explicit, he never refers to these guys we're passing as drug dealers or gang members. He calls them businessmen, workers, or boys in the 'hood.

Henry

Hello, dear.

Retiree

You've got company.

Henry

Yeah, you got something for me?

Alex Blumberg

The retirees, he calls "dear." And a surprising number are waiting for him at the door.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Henry

Yeah. How's Carlton?

Retiree

He's doing pretty good.

Henry

That's good.

Retiree

Yeah.

Henry

Yeah, I've been knowing her since I came out here many years ago, many years ago.

Retiree

You take care of my friend, now.

Alex Blumberg

I will.

Retiree

OK. All right. Have a good day.

Henry

All right, now.

We're the eyes and ears sometimes on elderly people. We see the mail piling up in the box or whatever, something is wrong. You put the mail in there, it's in there for two or three days, something's wrong. Let someone know something. There was one where I had to stop a police officer. There was a lady. She was an elderly lady, lord knows. She done passed now. But her door was open. And it's never open. It is never, ever open.

So I stopped a police officer and told him. I said that this lady here, she lives on my route and everything. But her door was wide open, and she never leaves it open. Fortunately for me, that particular time, the lady had fell again and hurt herself. So they were able to take her to the hospital. Just that once. But it's done happened in many cities and many different routes.

Alex Blumberg

Henry and I turn down a side street. Several young men in starter jackets and baseball caps slouch against a parked car. Another guy stands on an opposite corner.

Henry

Right now, as you see, there's only a few of them out. If you look on some of the corners, you'll find one or two of them out there. I told you it wouldn't be many. It is their 'hood. We just work in it.

Alex Blumberg

And how do they perceive you?

Henry

Well, they perceive me as no threat. We're not friendly. There's a wave or hello or how you doing, and we go on about our business.

Alex Blumberg

As we walk by, I see one guy slap something into a second guy's outstretched palm. The second guy slips his hand into his pocket. The two never look at each other. What's weird is they make no effort to hide what clearly is a violation of federal drug policy in front of a federal employee. Henry says it's always like this.

Henry

Simply because they don't feel that I'm a threat to them. They do not feel that I'm a threat to them. If, by chance, you drove around in a big Ford, in most cases, they would slow down. Whatever activity was going on, they would stop because they'll get hesitant. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm not a threat. They know I'm not a threat. So they continue doing what they're gonna do. I have nothing more or less to do with-- They know that I'm not going to bother them, and they don't bother me.

Alex Blumberg

So it's just like you're sort of-- it'd be like stopping just because a cloud crosses the sky or something.

Henry

Exactly, exactly, exactly. Exactly right.

Alex Blumberg

You're just sort of a part of the day.

Henry

I'm a part of the day. Matter of fact, it seems like I'm part of the fixture. There are things that happen naturally. It rains naturally. You have no say in that. When the sun comes out, you have no say in that. if someone-- Hey, how're you doing there?-- If someone dies, you have no control over that. Same with the mailman. You have no control over the mailman coming into your block or not. Mailman's going to be on every block, and that's regardless.

There was a situation where the guy moved. And he filed a change of address card, which is his responsibility, because otherwise, we wouldn't know where he's at.

Alex Blumberg

Right. And this is a customer that you've known. He's been on your route.

Henry

I've known him for a while. He had been on the route for about two or three years. Well what it was, I was coming up to his house. He decides that he's going to take him a check or have me write him one. This is the impression that I'm getting because I've already told him it's been forwarded to his new address.

Alex Blumberg

And what's he saying to you specifically?

Henry

Well, he's telling me, "You're going to give me my check. You're going to give me my check." And I keep telling him, "Well, it's been forwarded to your new address." Told him it'd probably be there tomorrow or the day after. And he says, well, he can't wait. And it looked like he was going to whoop me or something because he was taking his jacket off. And when he came to me, the boys in the 'hood surrounded him, told him, "That's my mailman. You don't mess with him." So he went on about his business. No problem.

Alex Blumberg

So what did you say to those guys when that happened?

Henry

Oh, I just thanked them-- How're you doing, dear?-- I just thanked them for what they did. They told me, "No problem." They say, "Because you've been around here too long for anybody to be messing with you."

Good morning. How're you doing?

Alex Blumberg

After two hours of walking, we've come across only a handful of people, maybe a half a dozen workers, one guy home from his job on vacation, standing and surveying his front lawn, four or five disembodied voices exchanging pleasantries through the mail slot. In short, the people left in a primarily residential neighborhood during non-residential hours. Henry doesn't get lonely, though. The fewer people, the better. In fact, he says he likes winter best, the empty days in mid-January, when it's only him and the occasional drug dealer on the street. But if there's no one on the street, especially if the weather's OK, that's when he gets worried.

Henry

Anytime the workers disappear for a period of time, that's when you start more or less thinking more safety. You figure it should be some people out here today, but it's not. That's the scary part. Because in most cases, if there's been noise outside all along, every day, then all of a sudden, there's nothing, something has happened somewhere or something will happen. Always look at it that way.

Alex Blumberg

And you feel that way. You feel like you can--

Henry

You can feel it. You can feel it. It makes you start looking. It makes you start checking. You can feel the thing like your hair's just raised up on the back of your neck, that type of thing. That's the same feeling you get out here sometimes when it's supposed to be crowded out here, supposed to be people out here, but there's absolutely nobody but you. And you want to get away as soon as possible. Let me hurry up and do what I have to do so I can get out.

Alex Blumberg

On days like that, other people could avoid this block, take another route. Henry doesn't have that choice. He has to stick to his.

Henry

I'm surprised to see you. Why aren't you at work?

Man 4

I'm on vacation for a week.

Henry

Oh, are you? See, that's why I need a job where I go on vacation.

Ira Glass

Alex Blumberg.

Henry

Yeah, sooner or later, if y'all don't hurt me out here first.

[MUSIC - "WHOOPIE TI-YI-YO" BY SONS OF THE PIONEERS]

Act Five. $82.50 A Day.

Ira Glass

Act Five, $82.50 a Day. Some neighborhoods are wealthy enough that they somehow keep those unsightly drug dealers off the corners. There, the daytime hours are filled with other kinds of people. In some places, it's children's nannies who occupy the lovely houses during the day with their own second community, second set of lives, in the same space. Mona Simpson has this excerpt from a forthcoming novel. The excerpt is told in the voice of a Filipino nanny named Wanda, somebody who's part of a community of Filipino nannies in Santa Monica, California.

Mona Simpson

Ruth told me when I first came here, "I don't need to teach you children. You have been a mother to five," she said. "You know. Children are not hard. But most, you have to think about the mother. Here, the mothers are the ones who throw the tantrums. You may have had nannies, but you have not before been a nanny."

I hold my hands open in front of me to take away whatever my employer is beginning. If she starts to sew a button, I finish. If she is rinsing a lettuce, I say, "I will be the one." When the guy spills something and pounds a wet napkin at the spot, I reach out my hands and say, "Give it to me. I will make it clean," all the while, with a smile. It is not hard. No, not when you have a purpose. And I have five purposes, the youngest 17, entering medicine.

But I have a good job. The parents of Richard get him in the morning. While they eat their breakfast, I fix their bed, take the glass of water from the side table, pick up Kleenexes. I straighten their bathroom, fasten the top to his toothpaste. Hers, it is already done. "Always the parents first," Ruth said. "A kid cannot fire you, even here. They can love you, but they cannot pay you. And anyway, they will forgive."

Ruth told me, "You have always to talk to him, even when he is still a baby. It is very important that they hear words." And I did, more than to my kids, because my kids I had one after the other, five in 10 years. But with Ricardo, I just talk and talk. I tell him everything, and now, see? He is very doll-doll. He understands more than 100 words Tagalog. In the class of 2010 at Harvard University, which is where the parents of Ricardo would like him to go, there will be 20 Santa Monica boys saying to the cooks in the cafeteria, "Excuse, where is my adobo?" And Wanda, by then, will be lying in a hammock, back in the Philippines. "What for?" Ricardo asks me. He is young. He does not yet understand rest.

Ruth said, when I started with Ricardo, "I'm not going to tell you how to love him because either that will happen, or it won't." And in four jobs, 25 years, only once it did not happen to her. "And then, you need to quit. Because you cannot do the job if you do not love the baby. No," Ruth said to me at the beginning, "I will not tell you how to love. I wouldn't if I could. Because what I would tell you, if I knew, would be how not to so much. Because you will love him the same as your own, and they never do. They love you, but it is not the same." I told her then, "I know, I know. I am a mother, too." But now, I think, if you can keep them until they are five, then, they will never forget you.

I ask Ricardo, "Will you remember your Wanda?" "Why?" He says. "You are not going away." "Someday," I tell him, "I will return to the Philippines." "Why? What will you do there?" "I will go and sit at my house, stare at my diplomas."

"Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on. Come to Wanda. I have something for you," I say, because he is very angry. Usually, it is the dad. But now, it was the mother he was hitting. She put a hand to her eye, and I got ice the way I do with his boo-boos. So I take him in my arms away.

I am on the ground now, in the yard. And he is strong. I cannot so easily hold him still. And Wanda told a lie. I do not have anything for him. So I make promises. "Someday, I am going to take you home with me to the Philippines. And there, we will make the ice candy." He is still in my arms, but he is not any longer fighting. His bones, they are different now, not pushing to get out. They fall in the pattern, like the veins of a leaf.

"I will put you in my pocket and feed you one candy every day. And you will be happy because the ocean at our place, it is very blue. The sky, it is higher than here. And the fruits that grow on trees, very sweet. His head is down to the ground between his own knees, but he is listening. He is better now, slower, his heart.

I see through the window his mother on the telephone. She holds the ice to her eye and walks around the kitchen, talking to her friend long distance, a woman who does not work and who reads many books about the raising of children. When my employer becomes upset, she calls this friend, the full-time mother.

But he is better now. Only his mouth, it is still smeared outside the edges. He will come with me. I lift him into the stroller and promise him candy, not the ice candy, just candy we can buy here. "But do not tell your mother."

I say, "Excuse, but we are going now." "Is that OK? Thank you, Wanda." This is how my employer believes she cannot live without me. She's telling her friend who reads the books how he is better with me than with her. And her friend will tell her that it is perfectly normal.

We are just alone, Ricardo and me. This neighborhood is ours during the daytime. You do not see the white mothers walking, only getting in and out of cars, carrying shopping bags. I am pushing him in the stroller, and he sits. That is the good of fighting. It makes them very tired.

The sun is solid like many small weights on our arms. I pass by the park. And in the distance, we see friends, babysitters, and they wave. But he doesn't want to get out of his stroller. So we just roll under the tall trees.

When we return home, I have ready a project. We are putting into cardboard all the coins in the house. Ricardo is doing it with me. And his mother told us we could use the pennies to put in the choo-choo bank, which is for our ticket to the Philippines.

I told my employers already, when they go to Europe to celebrate their 10th anniversary, I will take Ricardo to the Philippines. We are also finding nickels and dimes and quarters. And I have the brown tubes from the bank for those, too. "It is a hunt," I tell Ricardo. There is always money in this house, where people empty their pockets.

Ricardo is a very good worker. We just pile the logs of finished coins. If we can also save the money that is for quarters and dimes and nickels, we will have a lot. Already I have saved $75. But I will have to find the right way to ask. The pennies, they are already ours. But the rest, I will ask the mother of Ricardo, not the dad.

At the bank, we wait in line a long time. Then, when we get to the front, the lady is all business, making a total of the rolled dimes. I tell her, "This little man rolled the nickels by himself." When the lady finishes the silver, I begin to lift the bag of pennies from his wagon. They are heavy. We will get $40 from nickels, $27 from dimes, and $103 from pennies.

But the lady is pushing our pennies back out of the cage. "We cannot take pennies," she says. Ricardo, whom I've lifted up to see, gives one back to her. "We can't use these," she says. For a second, his face changes. Then, he is bawling. And he throws the roll of pennies at the lady's face. Her hand goes to the place above her eye. And she says, "I cannot help you."

She has already given us the paper money for the other coins. She is looking at me with hate. I have seen real hate only a few times in my life. For a minute, I am only stuck. The shape of diamonds, it is shocking. But she is hurt above the eye, and I am not white.

Come on, Ricardo. I am fighting him into the wagon. I will pull all the rolls of pennies and him. We will make our getaway. He sees a garbage can, and he runs, dumping pennies in the open top. He is still crying. But he is mad now, also mad. I have to stop him. This is not right, our effort.

With him, what I do is almost tackle. Wanda's not a big person. I get on the floor and hold him until the fight is out.

Then, I tell him the story, still keeping him in my lap. "Once upon a time," I say, "I work in Beverly Hills, in a house that is very fancy, three layers, floors like a checkerboard, all marble. When I was first here, the lady, she opened the door and saw me. And right away, she said, 'You are hired.' She told me she knew like that, from the way I tie my sneakers.

"The lady's husband, he had an office. And she wanted that to be neat, too. She hired me extra to go on the Saturday and straighten. He was there working while I cleaned. And he had one jar like this, up to my waist, full with pennies. And I asked him, did he want me to get tubes from the bank? And he said, 'You can take the pennies.' But I could not lift.

And so I came back Sunday, my day off. And I sat on the floor out of his way and put all the pennies into tubes. He stepped around me when he went down the hall to use the restroom and the machines. He'd ask me how much money it was as he went by. And I'd tell him the total so far. "$36." "Good job, Wanda." The next time, it was $92. By the last time he passed, I was at $306. That time, his face looked strange, like two lines cross over it. He went down the hall, and I heard Xeroxing.

"On his way back, he stopped over me and said, "Maybe you'd better leave the pennies." "Whatever you like. It is up to you." When he was back in his office on the phone, I got up and left it all there-- the rolled pennies, the pile on the floor, the jar turned over. I took the bus to my sister, and I never went back to that house. That was the end of my career for a Beverly Hills nanny."

"Is that when you came to me?" "That is before. You were not yet born. But when the husband took the pennies I rolled to the bank, you know what they are telling him? They are telling him, too, what they are telling us. 'We cannot help you.' And you know what he will do then?"

"He shouldn't have taken your pennies, Wanda. He is a bad man."

"A little bad. Listen. You know what he will do? He will throw the pennies in the garbage and walk away in a hurry. He is always in a hurry because he is rich. He is too busy, see?"

Now, I am fishing with my arm in the garbage, feeling among wet things for our tubes, the ones Ricardo threw. "But we will do something else. Come. You watch Wanda."

I pull him in the wagon out into the bright air. And we roll to the five-and-dime and the candy store. Each place, I count out the money in pennies. I put it in piles of 10 on the counter, so it is easy for the register clerk.

My father always said, "Spend your small money first." He remembered in the Philippines when money became toy. The smaller denominations, they would not buy anything. "And still, at that time," he told me, "There is so much wealth."

Ricardo is in the wagon I am pulling, eating long orange and green candy worms. I tell him, "See? In the bank, it is nothing. But out here in the world, it is money. Not for the Philippines. But we can still buy, every day a little. It is our own private fund, our trust fund. I trust you, and you trust me. You have your candy. Now, let's use some pennies to buy Wanda her cup of coffee."

Ira Glass

Mona Simson, reading from her forthcoming novel, My Hollywood.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, the program was produced today by Susan Burton and myself with Alex Blumberg, Blue Chevigny, and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Erik Halverston.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

To buy a cassette of this program, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Or you can listen to most of our programs for absolutely free on the internet at our website, www.thislife.org. Don't forget about those maps there. Thanks to Elizabeth Meister, who runs the site. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who somehow thinks that I owe him money.

Henry

You're going to give me my check. You're going to give me my check.

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.