Transcript

173:

Three Kinds of Deception
Transcript

Originally aired 12.15.2000

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

There's this scene in a book I love, About a Boy, by Nick Hornby. The situation in the scene is this. There's this very well-meaning guy who's decided that a good way to meet women would be to join a group for single parents. He's not a single parent himself. He has no children at all. But this guy, whose name is Will, goes to a meeting and gets caught up in conversations. He finds himself making up all sorts of things about his non-existent child and non-existent ex-wife.

There's a tall, blond woman named Susie at the meeting. She's nervy-looking. She's beautiful. They chat. They make plans to meet at a picnic for kids and parents. And, comes the day of, Will calls Susie to tell her that his son, Ned, will not be there. Now, Ned will not be there because Ned does not exist, but Will tells Susie that Ned won't be there because his mom has taken him for the day, at the last minute. Susie tells Will that Will needs to stand up to his non-existent ex-wife a little more firmly. And then there's this passage, which I'm going to read.

It was much more confusing than Will had imagined, making people up, and he was beginning to realize that he hadn't thought it through properly at all. How could he carry it through? How many times could Ned reasonably be whisked away by his mother, or maternal grandmother, or international terrorists? What reasons could he give for not inviting Susie round to his flat where there were no toys, or cribs, or diapers, or balls, and where there was no second bedroom even? Could he kill Ned off with some awful disease? A car crash? Tragic. Tragic. Life goes on. Maybe not. Parents got pretty cut up about kids dying, and he'd find the requisite years of grief a real drain on his thespian resources. No, disaster was approaching, and there was nothing he can do about it. Best pull out now. Walk away. But walking away wasn't Will's style. He always felt something would turn up, even though nothing ever did, or even could most the time.

Once, years ago, when he was a kid, he told a school friend, having first ascertained that this friend was not a CS Lewis fan, that it was possible to walk through the back of his wardrobe into a different world, and invited him around to explore. He could have canceled. He could have told him anything. But he was not prepared to suffer a moment's mild embarrassment if there was no immediate need to do so.

And so the two of them scrabbled around among the coat hangers for several minutes until Will mumbled something about the world being closed on Saturday afternoons. The thing was, he could still remember feeling genuinely hopeful right up to the last minute. Maybe there will be something here, he had thought. Maybe I won't lose face. There wasn't, and he did, loads of it, a whole head full of face. But he hadn't learned a thing from the experience. If anything, it seemed to have left him with the feeling that he was bound to be lucky next time.

As this scene makes clear, there are different kinds of deception. And the line between deceiving others and deceiving yourself can get kind of hazy, especially when hope comes into play. Today on our program, the three kinds of deception-- at least we're claiming that there are only three for the purposes of this radio show-- the three kinds of deception and how any one of them so easily turns into any one of the others.

Act One of our program, Self-Deception, the story of an ex-con who not only told himself a lot of things that were untrue, he created a sort of web of unreality around himself so that dozens of people in a small town started kidding themselves about what was real and what was not real. And then, all of them together, decided to make a feature film.

Act Two, Deceiving Others, an African-American lawyer in a fancy Manhattan firm decides that he wants to see what life is like in the exclusive country clubs that his colleagues go to. So he enters one the only way that they would let a black man like him in.

Act Three, Accidental Deception, American tourists in Paris accidentally mistake writer David Sedaris for a French pickpocket. At first it makes him mad, and then he starts to kind of like it. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Self-deception.

Ira Glass

Act One, Self-Deception. It's a truism that a great salesman has to actually believe the lies he tells to make the sale, the way a great actor has to believe in his own part. This next story is about somebody who aspires to be a great actor, but, in fact, is probably just a great salesman, a charmer in the old school. Alex Blumberg has the story of how he convinced an entire town a bunch of things that, on deeper examination, were more hope than truth.

Alex Blumberg

Of all the tall tales Richard Castellano told, the most incredible one was the easiest to actually verify. He had been in a film with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal called Analyze This. He had a total of 16 lines. Almost all of them were one or two sentences long. He sounded like this.

Richard Castellano

What are you, some kind of moron?

Alex Blumberg

This is the story of the power that 16 little lines like that can have, how those 16 lines can be parlayed into money, and excitement, and hope for lots of people. And it starts shortly after Richard Castellano finished filming Analyze This and moved with his wife to a tiny community in upstate New York where there's one main street, called Main Street, one block long, and one bridge across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. It's called Narrowsburg and, with a population in the hundreds, it's, literally, a hamlet.

Dick Crandell

There's no population requirement to be a hamlet. If it were bigger than that, it would be a village, and we don't have a village because it's not enough people.

Alex Blumberg

Dick Crandall is the supervisor of Narrowsburg. Supervisor's what you call a mayor when a town's too small to have mayors. And he remembers when Castellano-- Richie, as he came to be called-- first moved to town. In fact, everyone here has a story.

Dick Crandell

He was a kind of a flamboyant personality, absolutely. He wore his dark clothes from New York City and a leather jacket open. And he swashbuckled down the street a little bit, and hollered, and talked to everybody, and, you know, was sort of a conquering hero-type person.

Woman 1

He was larger than life, he absolutely was. He would walk into what was then the Chatterbox Cafe and say that he was buying everybody's breakfast. And he would walk in and say, "Hi. I'm Richard Castellano, and I'm buying breakfast." And then he would walk out.

Man 1

And he liked to sign stuff, and every time I see him he gives me signed stuff of himself, pictures of himself and a bunch of stuff. He signs everything. The first time I went to his office, he had me run over to the restaurant to get him a cup of coffee. And he wrote down what he wanted in the coffee, and he signed that.

Man 2

He started talking about his checkered background. He didn't hide it. People really liked that story, you know, of a guy who was a con, and look at him now, and he's in a movie with De Niro, you know?

Woman 2

He told people that the name of Narrowsburg was going to be changed to Castellanoville.

Man 3

He said he heisted a armored car, and he got sent up to Attica. He said to me-- he said it to many people-- that he had $2 million stashed away.

Alex Blumberg

From his bank heist?

Man 3

Yeah. I mean, he told me he killed somebody.

Dick Crandell

That was about the extent of my impression of him, except he called me Bill, which didn't make me too happy because my name is Dick.

Alex Blumberg

It isn't easy to get an interview with Richard Castellano. My first instructions were to call, let it ring once, hang up, and call back again so they knew it was me. When we finally do meet, it's in Manhattan in his lawyer's office with his lawyer there.

Castellano's in his 50s, but good-looking in that Hollywood way-- slim, well-dressed in expensive blacks and grays, good haircut. He says he understands why everyone in Narrowsburg was so excited to meet him.

Richard Castellano

You know, I've met celebrities myself and I still get that-- what's that word-- I was smitten by people I met in movie theaters. And I remember, when I was a kid, I saw the Three Stooges. They made a personal appearance at the Avon Theater here in Brooklyn. I shook their hands.

Alex Blumberg

How did you feel when you met them?

Richard Castellano

I'm still talking about it. There must have been some effect, right? So, I'd want to give them a chance. You know what I'm saying? Have a little Hollywood.

Alex Blumberg

In the beginning, everyone seemed happy to have a little Hollywood. The town got a charming celebrity with bad boy appeal. The celebrity got an adoring public. Richie opened an acting studio, The Richard Castellano School of Acting, and 42 people signed up for his classes. He and his wife also organized the ambitiously named First Annual Narrowsburg International Independent Film Festival. He said Narrowsburg would soon become the Sundance of the East. But, most exciting, he planned to shoot a movie in Narrowsburg, a gangster picture. Richie himself was the lead. People from the town would fill out the cast. 17-year-old Zac Pontier was one of the ones who showed up at the audition.

Zac Pontier

Well, everybody, and all the kids in the town, and everybody that wanted to be an actor, everybody I knew was there, probably, a huge number of people. And he had people come up and improv scenes. Like, he told you what to say.

I remember the scene that he had most people do was this kid, Dominic, was yelling at his sister about how he didn't like his father anymore because he felt like his father killed his mother. So, I was a little nervous when I came up and he said, "Action," or whatever he said. And I just went totally off on this one girl, and I was like, "How dare you talk about our mother like that! She's dead! And if it wasn't for our father, then she'd still be alive! And what about me? What do you think about me? I have nobody!" It went on and on like that.

Alex Blumberg

So, after it was over, did you feel pretty confident about it?

Zac Pontier

Yeah. He told me I did a good job, and he had me put a star by my name.

Alex Blumberg

That had to be a good sign.

Zac Pontier

Yeah, that was. I was like, oh, star, that's a good sign. I'm good to go. And so, I don't know, I remember that we didn't have call waiting then. And so I was like, "Oh, stay off the phone. No one-- Can't talk on the phone." Like, three weeks after that, I talked on the phone very little.

Alex Blumberg

Eventually, Zac got the part. The movie was called Four Deadly Reasons, and shooting began in the spring of '99. And it was the real deal. Giant Italian characters actors with Brooklyn accents wandered around Main Street. People pushing cameras yelled "Cut," and "Action." Guys in vests hollered into walkie-talkies.

Larry Revene, the director of photography, is a 30-year veteran of over 100 low-budget films. He did Hollywood Hot Tubs, Doom Asylum, Bedroom Eyes II. He says, typically, he can shoot a movie in 10 days. The formula always includes either a little T&A, or a little violence.

Larry Revene

This [? has no ?] [? pretense ?] to art. This is low-budget, commercial film, you know?

Alex Blumberg

Almost immediately, things started going wrong. Castellano was constantly missing from the set. At the end of the first week, the checks he gave the crew all bounced. Stories with headlines like, "Hey, Castellano. Where's My Money?" started appearing in the local paper.

And all sorts of secrets about him came to light. His name wasn't Castellano like the former crime boss, it was Castaldo. He'd never murdered anyone. And the armored car he claimed to have robbed turned out to be a shoe store. It was all playing out like a very old and very familiar story-- charismatic flim-flam man comes to town, raises people's hopes, rips them off, vanishes. "If only it were so simple," says director of photography Larry Revene. "If only Richard were capable of a con like that."

Larry Revene

Well, I think that that would be giving too much credit to him because I don't think he's capable of that kind of thinking ahead. I think he was thinking, you've got some helmets, I've got some swords, let's go to my garage and we'll put on a play. And he's going to believe it too because it's happening. People are involved. It's all going forward. I hope some money shows up, maybe we can pay everybody. And he's playing out his role as this wonderful movie star.

Alex Blumberg

17-year-old Zac tells this story. Well into the film, long after the script was done and the parts were cast, Richie was still sending people he'd met to the set, saying that they could get a part in his movie.

Zac Pontier

And this would happen all the time. Every time the town coordinator came outside onto the porch, there would be more people there, like, "Are you the town coordinator? We're looking for the town coordinator. Richie said that we had a big part in his movie. In the scene by the pool, I'm the guy that's supposed to be in it." And the town coordinator would be like, "No, you're not. You're not that guy. I'm sorry. Richie was mistaken."

So they were all standing around like, "Oh, can I have your autograph then?" So I felt really bad for all these people that Richie just-- he didn't get it through his head that, for that time, from when they left where he was and drove to where the movie set, they thought he was the best guy in the world. He wasn't the person that said that they weren't going to be in the movie, he was the person that said they were. So it made him look like a really good guy, a really nice guy. I think that's why he did it. He liked people to think he was a really good guy.

Alex Blumberg

Richie had misled people about who he was. He'd made promises he couldn't keep. But when you talk to him, you get the sense that he'd hooked himself along with everyone else.

Richard Castellano

I'd become what I put in my head, and I'd become that person. Like, my wife was just talking. We were watching a movie about Vietnam. And we're sitting there, and I said to my wife, "Yeah, you see that guy, he's in the foxhole? When I was in Vietnam, that's where I used to hide. And when it used to rain, we used to go there." She says, "You were never in Vietnam." I said, "I know," I said, "but it sounds good, don't it?" I find it very easy to do, to become somebody else, because sometimes, if I'm not happy with who I am, I could step into that character.

Alex Blumberg

During one of Richie's many appearances in court, the prosecuting attorney asked him if he'd ever told anyone he'd committed murder. He said yes, he had. The attorney then asked if this was true, and he said no. He explained, "I live the roles I play in my movies."

The final straw came in August of 2000. For months, advertisements had announced that Four Deadly Reasons would premiere during the Second Annual Narrowsburg Film Festival. Zac Pontier rented a suit especially for the occasion, set up a video camera in the back of the theater to capture the whole event. Here's what he recorded. Joe Dinki, the screenwriter on the film, came out in front of the curtain, sat on the edge of the stage, dangled his legs over the side and, leaning back on one elbow, the microphone in his free hand, delivered this news.

Joe Dinki

Everybody raise their hand, anyone remember those summers where everything just stinks? I wrote this screenplay for Four Deadly Reasons from an original story by Richard's son and another person. And we took it and we made it into a, I think, a very viable, very sellable, very fun, mob film. So let's all applaud Narrowsburg for their participation. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Audience

All right!

Joe Dinki

Now, the hard part. We don't have the whole film here today. And I really do apologize. But, what you will see is 15 minutes, sorry, of the film that shows exactly what we were doing, and how much fun it is, and how great your area looks, and all the people that were in this film. So, I don't want to belabor the point and keep apologizing because you guys are great, and I think it's a fun film. And I know it's going to go places. And I'm having one of those really bad summers.

Alex Blumberg

What came next was a hastily produced, 15-minute montage of scenes from the movie. It was like a porn film without the sex scenes-- awkward dialogue, noodly soundtrack, gratuitous use of bikinis and double entendres, and, most offensive, no scenes with people from Narrowsburg. Laurie Stuart, who works at the local paper, said that when it ended, the audience was stunned.

Laurie Stuart

You just couldn't believe it. Nobody could believe it. And then, 175 people just were excused, I mean, literally, excused. The guy stood in front of the audience and said, "OK, that's it. You're excused." And 175 people, in disbelief, filed out of that theater. I mean, at that point, any good will that folks had was really just frittered away.

Alex Blumberg

After the premiere, people in town stopped treating Richie as a lovably outsized character and set their sights on revenge. Suddenly, everyone was suing him-- a rental car company, 14 people from his film crew, a half dozen of his acting students. Part of the reason they were upset has to do with the real reasons most of them got involved with Richie in the first place. And to understand those reasons, you have to visit someone like John Borg, the biggest investor in Castellano's film.

John Borg

There is all my proceeds from my check, which I give him-- checks, $3,000 here, on 8/10/99, $5,000, 7/9/99.

Alex Blumberg

John Borg lives in a double-wide trailer on a small farm off a gravel road in the woods. On top of his dresser, there's a handgun laying next to an English pronunciation dictionary. Chickens run free in his yard, and he supplements his social security income by selling their eggs. There's some dispute about just how much money Richard Castellano owes John Borg. Castellano admits to borrowing around $60,000. Borg says it's $154,000. Borg says that, in decades of marriage, he'd never gone out to eat once. He didn't invest in the stock market and, up until he met Castellano, he had his entire life savings in the bank. When I ask him why he loaned so much of his money-- by his account, his entire life savings-- to a man he barely knew, he goes to his living room, picks up a video off the top of the TV, and shows it to me.

John Borg

He said, "I made movie with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal." I went to buy the movie. I bought it in Kmart in [? Honesdale. ?] I've got the movie right here, Analyze That.

Alex Blumberg

Did it sound suspicious to you at all, or not really?

John Borg

In the beginning, no, because he's a very great and a very sweet talker. And I believed the guy because of that stupid movie right there.

Alex Blumberg

In the end, one of the most surprising things about this story is just how little stardust Castellano was offering people, a bit role in a so-so Hollywood movie, and how far it took him. John Borg is like most people in Narrowsburg. He says he loaned Richie the money because he thought it would help bring people and business to the area, but you get the sense there's something more. I ask, did Richie ever offer to put him in the movie?

John Borg

"Well," he said, "we're going to see. Maybe going to get you some part." I told him I'm not interested.

Alex Blumberg

But part of you was a little interested?

John Borg

Well, if I would be interested, I would have play Marshal Dillon, which I got a picture right there.

Alex Blumberg

Marshal Dillon, what do you mean?

At this point, John Borg goes and picks up a framed photograph, resting on a doily on top of his VCR, of a figure with a cowboy hat and a handgun.

Alex Blumberg

So, this is--

John Borg

Yeah, that's me. Yes.

Alex Blumberg

That's you?

John Borg

Yeah. And that's my gun too.

Alex Blumberg

Uh-huh, and you've got a cowboy hat. Is that at your house?

John Borg

I got my hat here in the closet.

Alex Blumberg

Yeah. This is the part you wanted to play? Wait, wait.

John Borg

Not much, you know, because we didn't talk too much about it. But he told me that he going to give me a guy going to be like a law enforcement officer. So it was Marshal Dillon. Well, everything [? ran up for the end, ?] so what can I do?

Alex Blumberg

The more time I spend in Borg's house, the more evidence I discover of his obsession with the movies. He owns dozens of videos in big shopping bags, and on shelves, and stacked on tables. Later in the conversation, fairly abruptly in the middle of a story, he gets up, grabs his cowboy hat, turns the brim up like Soupy Sales and announces that he can act, if that's what you call this.

John Borg

I'm [UNINTELLIGIBLE] guy, and I [UNINTELLIGIBLE] for anybody who [UNINTELLIGIBLE] this.

Alex Blumberg

Borg calls this his stupid voice. And, as near as I can figure out, it's a schtick he developed several decades ago in Brooklyn that he used to entertain his co-workers during long night shifts. He says he showed it to Castellano, who said he'd put him in the show.

John Borg

That's what he said, he's going to put me in the show. "I'm going to give you a wonderful part in the movie." And I don't get [BLEEP], not even one minute. He promised me he's going to put me in a movie, and everything else, but he never have.

Richard Castellano

You want to know why Paul Vitti comes here? Paul Vitti comes here because his father was whacked here. His father was whacked here? What do you mean he was whacked? Yeah, his father was whacked right here in that corner many years ago.

Alex Blumberg

This is Richard Castellano quoting other people's lines from the movie in which he played a bit role, Analyze This. In our two-hour interview in his lawyer's office, he was defensive and guarded, until I asked him about his favorite actors and favorite movie scenes. He stood up, rubbed his hands together, and got into character.

Richard Castellano

Shut up, [UNINTELLIGIBLE] [? you ?] [? know. ?] Why? What's the big secret, Charlie? Gee, everybody knows what happened to Paul Vitti's father.

Alex Blumberg

Standing there in the conference room, Castellano blocked me into the scene, positioning me a couple of feet from him.

Richard Castellano

You're the doctor.

Alex Blumberg

OK.

Richard Castellano

You're the doctor.

Alex Blumberg

Oh, wait. OK, he comes to me. I got you. OK.

Richard Castellano

You know me?

Alex Blumberg

Yeah.

Richard Castellano

No, you don't. Did you read about me in the paper?

Alex Blumberg

Yeah.

Richard Castellano

No, you didn't. See, I was doing Billy Crystal.

Robert De Niro

Do you know me? No, you don't.

Billy Crystal

OK.

Robert De Niro

You see my picture in the paper?

Billy Crystal

Yes.

Robert De Niro

No, you didn't.

Billy Crystal

I don't even get the paper.

Richard Castellano

Did you read about me? Oh yes I did. No, you didn't. Well, I didn't even get the paper today. You know, that's Billy Crystal.

Alex Blumberg

Castellano acted out whole stretches of dialogue from scenes in which he didn't even appear, like someone who'd watched the film dozens of times. It wasn't hard for him to package the dream of Hollywood to the people of Narrowsburg. It was a dream he understood.

Richard Castellano

Well, I know the feeling it gave me, that I'd go to sleep every night still thinking, did I really act with De Niro in that? I mean, you read, hear so much about big celebrity, the guy that made hundreds of movies. All this talk of the world, he's the best actor in the world. Then here you are, standing right with him, shaking his hand, drinking coffee with him, acting across from him, walking with him and, you know, just being involved with him. It's the most exciting-- the next exciting feeling I'll ever get is when I meet God. That'll be the closest I can get to how I felt when I met Bobby De Niro.

Alex Blumberg

Everyone I spoke with in Narrowsburg got asked the same question-- if all this were made into a movie, who would you want to play the part of you? And all of them said the same thing, from John Borg, to Zac Pontier, to Richie Castellano. They wanted to play themselves.

Ira Glass

Alex Blumberg is a producer here at This American Life. Four Deadly Reasons was finally released in 2002, and that's two years after this story first was broadcast. It played a few festivals and then went to DVD.

[MUSIC - "EX-CON" BY SMOG]

Coming up, David Sedaris swears he took a bath, really, despite what the tourists say. That's in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Deceiving Others.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Our show today, The Three Kinds of Deception. Act One, if you'll recall, was about self-deception. We've arrived at Act Two, Deceiving Others.

When he was 30 years old, a Harvard Law School graduate and a practicing attorney making over $100,000 a year, Lawrence Otis Graham decided to take a job as a busboy at an all-white country club. To be clear, he didn't decide to do this because of his own experience at these kinds of clubs, though he'd had some. Growing up on the border of Scarsdale, New York, there were white families all around that belonged to country clubs, though his family, a well-to-do black family from Memphis, did not.

Lawrence Otis Graham

My very first club experience was not a very positive one. It was when I was around seven years old. My parents objected to my brother and I going to a country club with our best friends who lived across the street. And they belonged to a club that my parents said did not permit blacks or Jews, so they brought us to the club because we insisted we wanted to go. I was seven. My brother was nine.

But we got into the children's swimming pool. They had a kiddie pool and then an adult pool. And, within less than two or three minutes, all of the kids got out of the pool. And my brother, Richard, and I ran out of the pool too because we thought there was something in the water that was going to hurt us. And then we realized this was a club that just did not want us there.

My parents had warned me that something might happen, but my brother and I were growing up in what we imagined to be liberal and informed New York suburban communities where we thought that the stories that my parents told us about Memphis and the other parts of the South from the '40s and '50s didn't exist anymore.

Ira Glass

I just think about your parents in that situation, of how protective and sad they must have felt for you. But also, at the same time, they must have felt like, well, it's good that you saw it.

Lawrence Otis Graham

Right. They felt it was good that we saw it. They understood the environment. They knew that nothing, physically, would happen to us. But it was an important lesson for me to learn at that age.

Ira Glass

Many years later, as an adult working at a fancy Manhattan law firm, Lawrence Otis Graham and his friends all noticed something.

Lawrence Otis Graham

Many friends who were working in New York, who were black, or Latino, or Jewish, or female, kept sharing stories with me that, in their firms, they were noticing that the people that were moving up had-- in their businesses-- were ones who were brought to country clubs over the weekend. And I started to notice that there was a pattern, that none of us-- none of the blacks, none of the Jews, none of the women, none of the Latinos or Asians-- were being brought.

Ira Glass

Again, to be clear about his motivations, he wanted to be part of that network. He wanted access to those connections. And he was curious about what, exactly, went on at these exclusive clubs. And that's why he decided to get in the only way that he could, as a busboy.

For two weeks, he left his high-paid job at the law firm and went undercover, essentially, a black man impersonating a black man. He chose the oldest, most prestigious club he could get to, the 100-year-old Greenwich Country Club, in patrician, white Greenwich, Connecticut. It turned out to be hard work, physically demanding work. And he wrote up this account of his experience.

Lawrence Otis Graham

March 28 to April 7, 1992. I invented a completely new resume for myself. I erased Harvard, Princeton, and my upper-middle-class suburban childhood from my life. I pieced together a wardrobe with a polyester blazer, ironed blue slacks, black loafers, and a horrendous pink, black, and silver tie, and I set up interviews at clubs.

Over the telephone, five of the eight said that I sounded as if I would make a great waiter. But when they saw that I was black, the club managers told me I would quote, "probably make a much better busboy." "Busboy? Over the phone you said you needed a waiter," I argued.

Sunday, April 12. Today was my first day at work. Looking in my wallet, I removed my American Express Gold Card, my Harvard Club membership ID, and all of my business cards. When I arrived at the club, my new boss waved me in. "Good morning, Larry," he said with a sufficiently warm smile. "Hi, Mr. Ryan. How's it going?" Glancing at his watch to check my punctuality, he shook my hand and handed me some papers.

"Oh, and by the way, where'd you park?" "In front, near the tennis courts." Already shaking his head, he tossed his pencil onto the desk. "That's off-limits to you. You should always park in the back, enter in the back, and leave from the back. No exceptions." "I'll do the forms right now," I said. "And then, I'll be an official busboy." Mr. Ryan threw me an ominous nod. "And Larry, let me stop you now. We don't like that term busboy. We find it demeaning. We prefer to call you busmen." Leading me down the center stairwell to the basement, he added, "And in the future, you will always use the back stairway by the back entrance."

He showed me the Mixed Grill, a well-lit pastel room with glass French doors and white wood trim. "Guys, say hello to Larry. He's a new busman at the club." I waved. "And this is Rick, Stephen, Drew, Buddy, and Lee." Five white waiters dressed in white polo shirts with blue 1892 club insignia nodded while busily slicing lemons. "And this is Hector and Carlos, the other busmen." Hector, Carlos, and I were the only non-whites on the serving staff. They greeted me in a mix of English and Spanish. "Nice to meet all of you," I responded. "Thank God," one of the taller waiters cried out. "Finally, somebody who can speak English."

Standing outside the ice room, Carlos and I talked about our pasts. He was 25, originally from Colombia, and hadn't finished school. "You going to live in the monkey house?" Carlos asked. "What's that?" We climb the stairs to take our 10-minute lunch break before work begin. "Monkey house is where workers live here," Carlos said.

I was soon back downstairs working in the grill. At my first few tables, I tried to avoid making eye contact with members as I removed dirty plates and wiped down tables and chairs. I was sure I'd be recognized. At around 1:15, four men who looked to be in their mid to late 50s sat down at a six-chair table while pulling off their cotton windbreakers and golf sweaters.

"It's these damned news people that cause all these problems," said golfer number one, shoving his hand deep into a popcorn bowl. "These Negroes wouldn't even be thinking about golf. They can't afford to join a club anyway." Golfer number two squirmed out of his navy blue sweater and nodded in agreement. "My big problem with this Clinton fellow is that he apologized."

As I stood watching from the corner of the bar, I realized the men were talking about Governor Bill Clinton's recent apology for playing at an all-white golf club in Little Rock, Arkansas. "Hope, I couldn't agree with you more," added golfer number three, a hefty man who was biting off the end of a cigar. "You got any iced tea?" golfer number one asked as I put the silverware and menus around the table. Popcorn flew out of his mouth as he attempted to speak and chew at the same time. "Yes, we certainly do."

Golfer number three removed a beat-up Rolex from his wrist. "It just sets a bad precedent. Instead of apologizing, he should try to discredit them, undercut them somehow. What's to apologize for?" I cleared my throat and backed away from the table. Suddenly, golfer number one waved me back to his side. "Should we get four iced teas, or just a pitcher and four glasses?" "I'd be happy to bring whatever you'd like, sir."

"Oh, busboy," a voice called out as I made the rounds with two pots of coffee. "Here, busboy. Here, busboy," the woman called out. "Busboy, my coffee is cold. Give me a refill." "Certainly. I would be happy to." I reached over for her cup. The 50-ish woman pushed her hand through her straw blond hair and turned to look at me in the face. "Decaf, thank you." "You are quite welcome." Before I turned toward the kitchen, the woman leaned over to her companion. "My goodness, did you hear that? That busboy has diction like an educated white person."

A curly-haired waiter walked up to me in the kitchen. "Larry, are you living in the monkey house?" "No, but why do they call it that?" "Well, no offense against you, but it got that name since it's the house where the workers have lived at the club and since the workers used to be Negroes or blacks, it was nicknamed the monkey house. And the name just stuck, even though Negroes have now been replaced by Hispanics."

Saturday, April 18. Today, while I was wiping down a table, I heard a member snap his fingers in my direction. I turned to see a group of young men smoking cigars. They seemed to be my age or a couple of years younger. "Hey, do I know you?" the voice asked. As I turned slowly toward the voice, I could hear my own heartbeat. I was sure it was someone I knew. "No," I said, approaching the blond cigar-smoker. "I don't think so." "You must be new. What's your name?" "My name is Larry. I just started a few days ago."

The cigar-smoking host grabbed me by the wrist while looking at his guests. "Well, Larry, welcome to the club. I'm Mr. Billings, and this is Mr. Dennis, a friend and new member." "Hello, Mr. Dennis," I heard myself saying to a freckle-faced young man who puffed uncomfortably on his fat roll of tobacco. The first cigar-smoker gestured for me to bend over, as if he were about to share some important confidence. "Now, Larry, here's what I want you to do. Go get us some of those peanuts, and then give my guests and me a fresh ashtray. Can you manage that?"

Tuesday, April 21. Just as we were all leaving for the day, Mr. Ryan came down to hand out the new policies for those who were going to be living in the monkey house. Since it had recently been renovated, the club was requiring all new residents to sign the form. The policy included a rule that forbade employees to have overnight guests. Rule 14 stated that the club management had the right to enter an employee's locked bedroom at any time, without permission, and without giving notice.

As I was making rounds with my coffee pots, I overheard a raspy-voiced woman talking to a mother and daughter who were thumbing through a catalog of infants' clothing. "The problem with au pairs is that they're usually only in the country for a year." The mother and daughter nodded in agreement. "But getting one that's a citizen has its own problems. For example, if you ever have to choose between a Negro and one of these Spanish people, always go for the Negro." One of the women frowned, confused. "Really?" "Yes," the raspy-voiced woman responded with cold logic. "Even though you can't trust either one, at least Negroes speak English and can follow your directions." Before I could refill the final cup, the raspy-voiced woman looked up at me and smiled. "Oh, thanks for the refill, Larry."

Wednesday, April 22. Today, the TV was turned to testimony and closing arguments from the Rodney King police beating trial in California. "I am so sick of seeing that awful videotape," one woman said to friends at her table. "It shouldn't be on TV."

At around 2:00, Lois, the club's official secretary, asked me to help her send out a mailing to 600 members after my shift. She took me up to her office on the main floor and introduced me to the two women who sat with her. "Larry, this is Marge, whom you'll talk with in three months because she's in charge of employee benefits." I smiled at the brunette. "And, Larry, this is Sandy, whom you'll talk with after you become a member at the club because she's in charge of members' accounts." Both Sandy and I looked up at Lois with shocked expressions. Lois winked and, at the same moment, the three jovial women burst out laughing.

Thursday, April 22. At the end of the day, Mr. Ryan handed me my first paycheck. When I opened the envelope and saw what I'd earned, $174.04 for five days, I laughed out loud. Back in the security of a bathroom stall, where I had periodically been taking notes since my arrival, I studied the check and thought about how many hours and how hard I'd worked for so little money. It was less than 1/10 of what I'd make in the same time in my law firm.

I went upstairs and asked Mr. Ryan about my paycheck. "Well, we decided to give you $7 an hour," he said. I'd never actually been told my hourly rate. "But if the check looks especially big, Larry, that's because you got some extra pay in there for all of your terrific work on Good Friday. And by the way, Larry, don't tell any of the others what you're getting because we're giving you a special deal, and it's really nobody else's business." I nodded and thanked him for his largess. I stuffed some more envelopes, emptied out my locker, and left.

Ira Glass

Lawrence Otis Graham, reading from one of the essays in his book, Member of the Club. He says he wasn't surprised at what he called the passive bigotry of the club members, who, he said, did not think of themselves as racist. Interestingly, the more pointed language came from club staff who routinely used the word nigger.

Lawrence Otis Graham

It was not a reference to me, but it was in reference to them watching television. The television was constantly on, so it was, there those niggers are again kind of thing. But, two seconds later, they would turn to me and say, "Oh, Larry, can you come, do so-and-so?" I honestly don't even believe that they thought that people would have been offended by the use of the term.

Ira Glass

When you heard this, were you surprised at all?

Lawrence Otis Graham

No. No.

Ira Glass

Not at all?

Lawrence Otis Graham

I'll tell you why I wasn't surprised. I wasn't surprised because of what they had put me through in order to get the job. I had three call-back interviews for this job, three call-back interviews for a busboy job.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Lawrence Otis Graham

I mean, that is outrageous. If you look at what it would take to get a job at IBM, I don't think you'd have three call-back jobs. So it was very clear to me there was something about myself that made them feel uncomfortable.

Ira Glass

We called the Greenwich Country Club to find out if the club now admits blacks, or Jews, or any minority members at all. The club declined to respond.

[MUSIC - "CHEAP LABOR" BY NEO BOYS]

Act Three. Accidental Deception.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Accidental Deception. OK, to review, thus far on our program we have witnessed self-deception, the willful deception of others, and how one of those can lead to the other.

David Sedaris is a writer living, these days, in Paris, France, with his boyfriend, Hugh. He now has this story of accidental deception and how it can send somebody down the slippery slope to both of the other kinds.

David Sedaris

It was July, and Hugh and I were taking the Paris Metro from our neighborhood to a store where we hoped to buy a good deal of burlap. During the summer months, a great number of American vacationers can be found riding the Metro, and their voices tend to carry. It's something I hadn't noticed until leaving home, but we are a loud people.

On the first of our two trains, I listened to a quartet of college-age Texans who sat beneath a sign instructing passengers to surrender their seats and stand, should the foyer of the train become too crowded. The foyer of the train quickly became too crowded. And, while the others stood to make more room, the young Texans remained seated and raised their voices in order to continue their debate, the topic being which is the better city, Houston or Paris?

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

It was a hot afternoon, and the subject of air conditioning came into play. Houston had it, Paris did not. Houston also had ice cubes, tacos, plenty of free parking, and something called a Sonic burger. Things were not looking good for Paris, which lost valuable points every time the train stopped to accept more passengers.

The crowds packed in, surrounding the seated Texans and reducing them to four disembodied voices. From the far corner of the car, one of them shouted that they were tired and dirty and ready to catch the next plane home. The voice was weary and hopeless, and I identified completely. It was the same way I'd felt on my last visit to Houston.

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

Hugh and I disembarked to the strains of "Texas, Our Texas," and boarded our second train, where an American couple in their late 40s stood hugging the floor-to-ceiling support pole. There's no sign saying so, but such poles are not considered private. They're put there for everyone's use. You don't treat it like a fireman's pole. Rather, you grasp it with one hand and stand back at a respectable distance. It's not all that difficult to figure out, even if you come from a town without any public transportation.

The train left the station and, needing something to hold onto, I wedged my hand between the American couple and grabbed the pole at waist level. The man then turned to the women saying, "PU, can you smell that? That is pure French, baby."

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

He removed one of his hands from the pole and waved it back and forth in front of his face. "Yes, indeed," he said, "this little froggie is ripe." It took a moment to realize he was talking about me. The woman wrinkled her nose. "Golly, Pete," she said, "do they all smell this bad?" "It's pretty typical," the man said. "I'm willing to bet that our little friend here hasn't had a bath in a good two weeks. I mean, Jesus Christ, someone should hang a deodorizer around this guy's neck." The woman laughed, saying, "You crack me up, Martin. I swear, you do."

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

It's a common mistake for vacationing Americans to assume that everyone around them is French and, therefore, speaks no English whatsoever. An experienced traveler could've told by looking at my shoes that I wasn't French. And, even if I were French, it's not as if English is some mysterious tribal dialect spoken only by anthropologists and a small population of cannibals. Because they had used the tiresome word froggie and complained about my odor, I was now licensed to hate this couple as much as I wanted. This made me happy, as I'd wanted to hate them from the moment I'd entered the subway car.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

David Sedaris

Unleashed by their insults, I was now free to criticize Martin's clothing-- the pleated denim shorts, the baseball cap, the t-shirt advertising a San Diego pizza restaurant. Glasses hung from his neck on a fluorescent cable, and the couple's bright, new, his-and-hers sneakers suggested that they might be headed somewhere dressy for dinner.

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

Comfort has its place, but it seems rude to visit another country dressed as if you've come to mow its lawns.

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

People are often frightened of Parisians, but an American in Paris will find no harsher critic than another American. France isn't even my country, but there I was, deciding that these people needed to be sent back home, preferably in chains. In disliking them, I was forced to recognize my own pretension, and that made me hate them even more.

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

The train took a curve and, when I moved my hand further up the pole, the man turned to the woman, saying, "Carol. Hey, Carol, watch out. That guy's going after your wallet." "What?" "Your wallet," Martin said, "that joker's trying to steal your wallet. Move your pocketbook to the front where he can't get at it." She froze. And he repeated himself, barking, "The front! Move your pocketbook around to the front! Do it now! The guy's a pickpocket!"

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

The woman named Carol grabbed for the strap on her shoulder and moved her pocketbook so that it now rested upon her stomach. "Wow," she said. "I sure didn't see that coming." "Well, you've never been to Paris before, but let that be a lesson to you." Martin glared at me. His eyes narrowed to slits. "This city is full of stinkpots like our little friend here. Let your guard down and they'll take you for everything you've got." Now I was a stinkpot and a thief.

It occurred to me to say something, but I thought it might be better to wait and see what he came up with next. Besides, if I said something at this point, he probably would have apologized and I wasn't interested in that. His embarrassment would have pleased me, but once he recovered, there would be that awkward period that sometimes culminates in a handshake. I didn't want to touch these people's hands or see things from their point of view. I just wanted to continue hating them, and so I kept my mouth shut and stared off into space.

The train stopped at the next station. Passengers got off. And Carol and Martin moved to occupy two folding seats located beside the door. I thought they might ease onto another topic, but Martin was on a roll now, and there was no stopping him. "It was some [BLEEP] head like him that stole my wallet on my last trip to Paris," he said, nodding his head in my direction. "He got me on the subway, came up from behind, and I never felt a thing. Cash, credit cards, driver's license, poof, all of it gone, just like that." I pictured a scoreboard reading Marty, zero; stinkpots, one.

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

"What you've got to understand is that these creeps are practiced professionals," he said. "I mean, they've really got it down to an art, if you can call that an art form." "I wouldn't call it an art form," Carol said. "Art is beautiful, but taking people's wallets, that stinks, in my opinion." "You've got that right," Martin said. "The thing is that these jokers usually work in pairs." He squinted toward the opposite end of the car. "Odds are that he's probably got a partner somewhere on this subway car." "You think so?" "I know so," he said. "They usually time it so that one of them clips your wallet just as the train pulls into the station. The other guy's job is to run interference and trip you up once you catch wind of what's going on. Then the train stops, the doors open, and they disappear into the crowd. If stinky there had gotten his way, he'd probably be halfway to Timbuktu by now. I mean, make no mistake, these guys are fast."

I'm not the sort of person normally mistaken for being fast and well-coordinated, and, because of this, I found Martin's assumption to be oddly flattering. "It just gets my goat," he said. "I mean, where's the polizioni when you need one?" Polizioni? Where did he think he was? I tried to imagine Martin's conversation with a French policeman, and pictured him waving his arms shouting, "That man tried to pick-a my friend's pocketoni!" I wanted very much to hear such a conversation, and so I decided I would take the wallet from Hugh's back pocket as we left the train.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

David Sedaris

Martin would watch me steal from a supposed stranger and would most likely intercede. He'd put me in a headlock or yell for help. And, when a crowd gathered, I'd say, "What's the problem? Is it against the law to borrow money from my own boyfriend?" If the police came, he would explain the situation in his perfect French while I'd toss in a few of my most polished phrases. "That guy's crazy," I'd say, pointing at Martin. "I think he's drunk. Look at how his face is swollen."

I was practicing these lines to myself when Hugh came up from behind and tapped me on the shoulder, signaling that the next stop was ours. "There you go," Martin said. "That's him. That's the partner. Didn't I tell you he was around here somewhere? They always work in pairs. It's the oldest trick in the book." Hugh had been reading the paper and had no idea what had been going on. It was too late now to pretend to pick his pocket, and I was stuck without a decent backup plan.

As we pulled into the station, I recalled an afternoon 10 years earlier. I'd been riding the Chicago El with my sister, Amy, who was getting off two or three stops ahead of me. The doors opened. And, as she stepped out of the crowded car, she turned around to yell, "So long, David. Good luck beating that rape charge."

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

Everyone on board had turned to stare at me. Some seemed curious, some seemed frightened, but the overwhelming majority appeared to hate me with a ferocity I had never before encountered. "That's my sister," I said.

[LAUGHTER]

David Sedaris

"She likes to joke around." I laughed and smiled, but it did no good. Every gesture made me appear more guilty. And I wound up getting off at the next stop rather than continue riding alongside people who thought of me as a rapist.

I wanted to say something that good to Martin, but I can't think as fast as Amy. In the end, this man would go home warning his friends to watch out for pickpockets in Paris. He'd be the same old Martin, but, at least for the next few seconds, I still had the opportunity to be somebody different, someone quick and dangerous. The new and dangerous me noticed how Martin tightened his fists when the train pulled to a stop. Carol held her pocketbook close against her chest and sucked in her breath as Hugh and I stepped out of the car, no longer finicky little boyfriends on their overseas experiment, but rogues, accomplices, halfway to Timbuktu.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

David Sedaris, reading an excerpt from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Our program was produced today by Blue Chevigny and myself with Alex Blumberg, Jonathan Goldstein, Starlee Kine, and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors for this show Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and consigliere Sarah Vowell. [? Sho Ja Yung ?] runs our website. Production help from Seth Lind and [? Vija ?] [? Navarro. ?]

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, www.thisamericanlife.org, where you can get our free weekly podcasts or listen to our old programs online for absolutely free. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Torey Malatia, who's all mad at me.

Zac Pontier

How dare you talk about our mother like that! She's dead! And if it wasn't for our father, then she'd still be alive! And what about me? What do you think about me? I have nobody!

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life. Hey, Torey, say something else to the people.

John Borg

I'm going to give you a wonderful part in the movie.

Ira Glass

Promises.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.