Transcript

223:

Classifieds
Transcript

Originally aired 10.11.2002

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/223

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Hi, it's Ira Glass. Today's This American Life was first broadcast back in 2002, which actually explains the premise of the show, which was to do an entire program based on the classifieds section of the newspaper. Now, of course, Craigslist has taken the place of a lot of this classified advertising, putting the entire newspaper business in peril. So in just seven years, this has turned into a look at what once was. Here's the show.

Marilyn Tanious has been working in the classifieds for 27 years at five different newspapers. And when she reads the ads, she sees things that you and I don't. The other day, she was sitting in her office at the Chicago Sun-Times with two of her colleagues and with me, flipping through the paper and telling stories. She talked about the gun ads that Timothy McVeigh used to take out in the Arizona Republic, back when she worked there, long before he blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma. Or there was the time that Marilyn's own mother caught a thief when some stuff that had been stolen from one of their neighbors showed up in the For Sale ads. Then Marilyn turned the page and spotted this ad in the used car section.

Marilyn Tanious

OK, here's an ad. Here's an ad that tells me something. OK, I'm going to read this ad to you. And I'm going to see, what do you think it tells you. OK. "Volvo, '92, a four-door sedan, automatic, mint condition in and out, 37K, Texas car, exclamation point, properly maintained and serviced, mechanically perfect, needs nothing. Must see to believe, respect, and appreciate, $5,850," and the phone number.

Ira Glass

She looks at the three of us like, well, isn't it obvious? Then she points at the ad.

Marilyn Tanious

This line, "must see to believe, respect, and appreciate," this person doesn't want to sell this car. Someone has forced him to sell this car. It's either his wife, they had a baby, they have to get a minivan. I can tell he doesn't want to sell the car. He's upset. Respect it. You must see to respect?

Ira Glass

Marilyn says that, when you read your newspaper, you've got the news part of up front, which gives you the public life of the city.

Marilyn Tanious

You have the sports. You have the entertainment. You have politics. But if you read the classifieds, it's really about individual, personal lives.

It's, "My children are grown up, do I really need the piano anymore?" It's, "I'm really broke. I have to sell my possessions to live." I think you really get a sense of people's personal lives.

Ira Glass

With that in mind, a few weeks ago, we the staff of this radio program, took one Sunday edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, and that same week's edition of the Chicago Reader, which is this weekly paper that we wanted to use, because of the musicians classifieds and the personal ads that they run. And then we hit the streets, tracking down the ads. For instance, "New, never worn wedding dress, tulle beaded bodice, $750 or best offer." There are several wedding dresses and a bunch of wedding rings for sale in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Woman

Well, the bottom line was he didn't want to marry me anymore. And I'll never get out of the dress what I put into it. I know I'm not going to get the money, but I would like it to find a good home.

Ira Glass

This is the woman who's selling this old-fashioned-looking dress. Before she broke off the engagement, like in any relationship gone bad, every little thing seemed symbolic.

Woman

I collected this Classic Pooh. You know, Disney has this line of Winnie the Pooh stuff. And he bought me Mickey Mouse. And I'm looking at it, going, "Why did you buy this?" And he said, "Well, they didn't have Classic Pooh." I'm like, "But I don't collect Mickey Mouse." It was just, I don't know. You know me, but you don't care.

Ira Glass

The same weekend, two hours after talking to her, we followed up on this ad, "Agoraphobics In Motion, A-I-M, meets weekly in Lakeview East. Call for more details." Agoraphobics, you may or may not know, are people who fear going out into public, being around other people. And come Saturday at noon, when the meeting takes place, it's at a restaurant. And guess what? Only one person has the courage to show up there. Apparently, this is par for the course.

Man

The nature of your fear is that you don't want to join groups. But you have to join a group to get help for the problem. So it turns into a little bit of a vicious circle.

Ira Glass

Three hours later, a short drive away, there's this ad to answer. "House sale, featuring vintage furniture, linens, jewelry, books, postcards, and a steamer trunk. Same owner for over 80 years."

Woman 1

OK, we're trying to sell all the contents to help her pay for her nursing home.

Ira Glass

Kathy Gemperle and Pam Ball are running this house sale for a woman named Frances, who's lived here since 1919, but is not present today to see strangers pick through everything that she has ever owned. She saved everything and organized her pen pal correspondences, carbon copies of letters, old birthday cards, all in plastic bags. As a librarian, she had a big collection of children's books. And she'd write in the front of her books where she bought them, under what circumstances. And not only that--

Woman 2

She would write in a lot of these books, "Given to me by my dear brother." Well, he'd been dead for 30 years. So she would gift herself books and then write in the frontispiece that it was from them.

Woman 1

This is a book, and Frances wrote in it, "From my brothers Victor and Laurie in heaven, because I've always wanted this book. To Frances on Thanksgiving." And then it's dated November 21, 1980.

Woman 2

I mean, the inscriptions in these, "There was a vacant spot in my heart. Now it's filled with a great love, a love that's everlasting, my love for Frances." Her mother.

Ira Glass

In this one day of classifieds, there are all the people trying to adopt babies, and all the formerly adopted babies who are now adults looking for their parents. There's a church selling off all its furniture, and the death notice placed by Local 17 of the Heat and Frost Insulators Union for one of its members. There are those weird ads that say "I am not responsible for the debts of so-and-so." And, this is a real ad, [? "Dan Earler, ?] if your belongings are not removed from 6123 South Archer Road, they will be discarded." And there are prayers. There are lots of prayers, every day in the newspaper.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. Today on our program, something we have never tried before, and we're not sure anybody has ever tried this before. We bring you an entire hour of stories found from one day's classifieds. We use the Chicago Sun-Times from Sunday, August 25, and the same week's edition of the Chicago Reader. The classifieds are a public space where intensely private thoughts are being expressed all the time, much like this radio program. Stay with us.

Act One. Lost And Found Ads.

Ira Glass

OK, maybe this is a cheap move, but we're going to start our radio program today with the most poignant possible elements for any story. They are the lost and found column and a puppy. Here's the ad.

Leo

Stolen dog, black, toy poodle named Isis. Stolen 7/27/02 from the Armitage-Kinzie area. Call 312-719-3669.

Ira Glass

The production manager for our show, Todd Bachmann, who normally is not on the air, but who helps us get our show on the air, wanted to get in on the action this week. And he was the one to check out this ad.

Todd Bachmann

When I saw this ad, the thing that hooked me was the word "stolen." The toy poodle wasn't lost, like most missing dogs are, but abducted. Leo, the author of this ad, was working in his garage while Isis played in the fenced yard just outside. When he came out, Isis was gone.

His best guess about what happened is sort of incredible. Leo thinks Isis was taken by a puppy mill for breeding. Some neighborhood kids say they saw a woman come into Leo's yard and chase Isis around and around until she finally caught the toy poodle and ran off, kind of like a scene from 101 Dalmatians.

Leo

So when I asked the kids, then everything hit the rotary oscillator. I don't know. Being a locksmith, there's a right and a wrong. And what's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours. And I like to keep the status quo. OK? That's why I'm in the profession, to help keep that status quo.

Todd Bachmann

Leo misses Isis, and says his older dog, a 13-year-old Shih Tzu named Button, misses her, too. Leo had big plans for Isis.

Leo

What I wanted to do was mate her with Button for puppies. Yeah, Shih Tzu and poodle, a shidoodle. The best of both worlds, the little bit of playfulness, and the ability to do certain tricks and stuff, and then the calmness of the Shih Tzu.

Todd Bachmann

Leo had adopted Isis only months prior to her theft, from a family who couldn't handle Isis's incontinence. According to Leo, this family just didn't get Isis at all.

Leo

They called her Amber. The dog is jet black, all black, gloss black, curly hair, except for the little red in the mustache. And they called her Amber. I have no clue why anybody would call a black dog Amber.

And once her face was shaved, immediately I thought of a black granite statue of the Egyptian goddess, Isis. And when I said Isis, she just perked up her years. And her hair stood on end. You could just see that, her face cocked and everything, she liked that word. So that was her name.

Todd Bachmann

I spent a few hours with Leo, running around in his minivan on his quest to rescue Isis. In addition to the classified ad Leo has in all the major daily and weekly papers in Chicago, he's flooded his local park with flyers, and has even taped an enlarged five foot by five foot version of it to his minivan. The flyers also offer a reward of $20.

Leo

I'm a small guy. And I could offer the $100 reward or something. But I don't want the people to think that they can just steal a dog and get a lot of reward. I want them to realize also that the person that they stole the dog from doesn't have much, that that's not wealthy. Just because I got a poodle doesn't mean that I live in a Taj Mahal.

Todd Bachmann

We head to the animal shelter, which brings in newly captured dogs from off the streets every seven days.

[BARKING]

Leo

You be nice, or nobody's going to adopt you. Now, do you think anybody's going to want to adopt those teeth?

Todd Bachmann

After scouring the rows of cages without success, we decide to head over to a Spanish-speaking paper called La Raza to place yet another ad.

Man

Is this a help wanted ad?

Leo

No, this is I had my dog stolen a while ago. I talked to you on the phone.

Todd Bachmann

For the ad in La Raza, Leo decides to take a more creative approach. He has the man at the desk read the ad back to him to make sure he got every word.

Man

Stolen black toy poodle named, is it--

Leo

Isis.

Man

Isis. May have a contagious disease, lepto. Can cause liver or kidney failure in humans. Symptoms: dry moth, shaky hands, light-headed, dizziness, [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Todd Bachmann

Desperate, after five dogless weeks, Leo has decided to put out an ad that says Isis suffers from a dog disease which is contagious to humans. He hopes that whoever took Isis will see the ad and come running back for some kind of antidote.

Man

So that would be $25.50.

Leo

You guys ought to feel kind of ashamed of yourselves. Everybody else gave me at least one free ad.

Man

Is that right?

Leo

Yeah, because of the lost dog and stuff.

Man

OK, well, you know what, I'm going to do the same thing. I'll go ahead and run the ad at no extra charge.

Leo

OK, cool.

Man

Yeah, yeah. I feel for you.

Todd Bachmann

Despite all of Leo's ingenuity and effort, the ads just don't seem to be working. Even Leo says that if you don't find your dog after the first couple of hours, it's pretty unlikely you ever will. He keeps putting ads in the paper, though. He doesn't know what else to do.

Ira Glass

Well, Todd, thanks for that report. Let's try one last thing, since the ad doesn't seem to be finding Isis. We're joined in the studio here, Todd--

Todd Bachmann

Yes.

Ira Glass

By you and by Leo.

Leo

That's me. And Button.

Ira Glass

And Button. Button is right here. Leo, over a million people are listening to us right now on the radio. So if I could just ask the people who are listening to just take a moment and turn the volume up on your radios. OK, Leo, call the dog.

Leo

Here, Isis. Isis. C'mere, Isis.

Ira Glass

All right, if anybody hearing our voices right now notices a black poodle barking or wagging its tail in the vicinity-- what's the number to call?

Leo

312-719-3669. You can turn your volume down now. It doesn't have to be so loud.

[MUSIC - "ISIS" BY BOB DYLAN]

Ira Glass

Actually, no need to call that number. Back in 2002, a couple weeks after the ad appeared in the paper, Leo found Isis. Some neighbors found her barking in their backyard.

Act Two. Help Wanted.

Ira Glass

Well, the Help Wanted section of the Sun-Times on August 25 was a thin four pages, which is a shame, because if you count people these days who have given up on finding a job, and people who are working part-time but want full-time work, the jobless rate in America right now is nearly 10%, according to the US Labor Department. That is really high. That's the highest since the 1980s.

And a lot of people who go to the Help Wanted section of the newspaper for jobs are people on the margins of society, people who need a job to reenter the world. Here are two of them.

William

Yes. My name is [? William Telposci, ?] and I would like to set up an interview for your waiting staff. And I was-- oh, OK. Oh, OK. OK, thank you.

[PHONE DIALING]

Helen

Good morning, Mr. Chadbury. How are you? It's going fine. My name is [? Helen Bowler, ?] and I saw that you have a listing for a waitress wanted. And I'm wondering, could I come by today or tomorrow and do an interview? Today would be better? What time?

William

My name is William, and I've been looking for a job for a year, faxing resumes, filling out applications. I usually try to fill out at least 10 a day. I'm looking at the Help Wanted ads. Over the past few days, I've been to McDonald's, Burger King, White Castle, Kmart, Walgreens, Chuck E. Cheese, all over the place.

Helen

We are in Presidential Plaza, and we're on our away up to the 40th floor, to the Plaza Club in search of employment. And now we're on the 40th floor. This is a beautiful view. This job is a banquet service job for an upscale, hoity-toity club. Looks like where some snooty white folks come and drink after work.

Man

Hi. How's it going?

Helen

Hi, how are you?

Man

Good. Are you Helen?

Helen

Yes, I am.

Man

OK. And what are the kind of hours that you're looking for?

Helen

I'm looking for either early mornings or late evenings.

Man

Breakast and lunch shift.

Helen

Wonderful shift.

Man

Are you looking for something in fine dining, or are you looking for something in catering?

Helen

Fine dining would be more suitable.

Helen

I always give myself a two-month span at looking for a job.

Man

Do have any experience in this field?

Helen

Sure, I have.

Helen

If that doesn't happen, at the end of my 60 days, then I take whatever is available, whatever I can find. I'm not particular anymore after the end of the 60-day run. It's been actually about 55 days already. So I'm pretty much getting fed up. If no one has called me by Monday morning of next week, then I'm going to go and get whatever I can get, even if it is a car wash job.

Man

Yeah, so at this time, I'm just taking the applications. And I am definitely going to give you a call by Friday. OK?

Helen

And thank you for taking out some day on your busy schedule.

Man

You're very welcome. My pleasure. My pleasure.

Helen

Being a single parent, I guess I just haven't figured out how to do it all and work at the same time. So periodically, when my family needs me, I will not work. And when I need to quit, I quit. I don't like it to be that way, because it makes me look unstable. But I have to do what I have to do in order to prepare my family to go out there and do something, so their resumes never have to look like this one.

William

We're going in to the Cheesecake Factory. I was wonder if you were accepting applications for employment.

Woman

You can fill it out upstairs, and just give it to me after you're done.

William

OK. Thank you.

Woman

You're welcome.

William

My name's William. I was wondering if you were accepting applications for employment. I'm here about the job for the dishwasher, and--

Man

Fill out the application, and they'll call you back. OK?

William

Well, we're just at the John Hancock center for a security job. But I found out that I don't qualify, because they want a blue card, meaning having a clean record, and a GED or high school diploma. And I don't have either one.

I'm 39, and I've been jobless for about five years. And I've been doing job search for the past year. I worked 15 years in a fast food restaurant. And I was a gas station attendant, groundskeeper for a cemetery, and for about two years, I was a short order cook.

I went in to work drunk one day. And that's when I found out that I had a real serious alcohol problem. And it took me from that time up until today to do something about the alcohol problem. It's been 13 months since I had a drink.

Helen

Cocaine and heroin, that was my drug of choice. Occasionally, I would take a drink. And in between using heroin and getting sober, I gave birth to two children.

William

I have this friend of mine. He prefers living out on the street, no money or nothing. That's what he chooses, for that to be his life. And I was going down that road, myself.

Helen

I had been what they call a kept woman. I always met men that wanted to take care of me. So a job wasn't important. I was young. And I wasn't thinking about tomorrow or I have no 401(k) plan, I have no old age into retirement money. So I wasn't thinking about all that stuff. Because when you're 18, you think you're going to live forever.

I think turning 40 made a big difference in how I want to do things from now on. Then being a grandmother just really blew me out of the water. Whoa.

And I've gained more respect for authority figures. So it'll be easier working now, because I've accepted the fact that I do need a job. So that calls for me to humble myself now, where I wasn't early on in life.

William

When I was growing up, my mother always told me that little things mean a lot. That's why I get myself up in the morning, get myself out of the house to fill out the applications, get the newspaper, fax out resumes. I wish I could answer what's taken me so long on getting a job.

Ira Glass

William and Helen talked with Joe Richman of Radio Diaries. He put together their stories and thanks Strive, an employment service here in Chicago. Coming up, Jon Langford of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers tries to find out whether it is possible to create a workable band from the newspaper ads in just one day. That's from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International in a minute, when our program continues.

Act Three. Musicians Classifieds.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. If you're just tuning in, all this hour, we're bringing you stories that we got from the classified ads that appeared on just one day, August 25, in the Chicago Sun-Times, and in the Chicago Reader that same week. Often with the classifieds, you'll come across an ad where somebody is looking for something. And then, practically right alongside that ad, there is somebody else who is offering the very thing that that person is seeking. You've seen this?

This seems to be especially true in the musicians classifieds. You'll see guitarist looking for drummer. And then right there, you'll see drummer looking for guitarist, right on the same page. It's kind of heartbreaking, really.

So we got to thinking, what if somebody were to play matchmaker for all of those people and do what all of us think when we see those ads? Well, our producer Starlee Kine recruited Jon Langford of the Mekons to do just that, to go through the classifieds and create a band, a band culled entirely from the classifieds, to play together for exactly one day, long enough to gather together in a recording studio to record their one and only song. Starlee?

Starlee Kine

Jon's never had to turn to the classifieds for bandmates. His band, the Three Johns, were such close friends that all three of them slept in the same bed while on tour. His country punk band, the Waco Brothers, was started at a club one night as a way to get free beer. And the Mekons, who have been together for 25 years, is mostly people he went to school with in Leeds.

Jon Langford

We have never really decided to form a band. They've just kind of appeared. It's like, you'd be sitting around in the pub and saying, "Well, we need to be in a band. Everybody else is in a band. Why don't we have one?" And it's been people pretty close to yourself, and with similar tastes.

Starlee Kine

We chose seven different musicians. The only thing they had in common was that no two of them would have played together under any other imaginable circumstance. Ad number one, "Indie rock bassist and drummer available with practice bass in suburbs. Influences include Shellac, Fugazi, Mogwai, and Blonde Redhead. Contact Ben." This is from their demo.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Ad number two, "Smooth, sultry, soulful female vocalist seeks jazz musicians for band."

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Ad three, an acid funk percussionist named Steve. Ad four, an electric violinist named Nathan. He's working on a rock opera about a conspiracy theory. And at present, that's all he's at liberty to say about it. Ad five, "Experienced contemporary Christian worship leader musician, plays guitar. Available for Bible studies and large or small church situations."

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Ad number six wasn't like the other ads in the musician classifieds. It caught our eyes immediately.

Jon Langford

"Theremin effects and song player wants an audition to amaze you. I also play an incredible musical saw." We've got to go meet this guy.

Starlee Kine

We're going. We're there.

Jon Langford

I'll tell you what. There's not much amazes me anymore. That sounds terribly cynical, but I really am desperate to be amazed.

Starlee Kine

The theremin, of course, is the only instrument in the world that you play without touching. You just wave your hand through the air above it, which alters the electromagnetic field. Somehow, this produces a sound like a flying saucer in an old episode of The Twilight Zone. We ring his doorbell.

Eric Mueller

Hello.

Jon Langford

Hello, Eric. It's Jon and Starlee.

Starlee Kine

[? Eric Mueller, ?] the theremin player, turns out to be a retired factory worker who lives in one of those overstuffed apartments where every corner is fulled with tchotchkes and souvenirs from all over the world, in other words, pretty much exactly where you would imagine a theremin player living.

Eric Mueller

How are you?

Starlee Kine

I'm OK, how are you?

There are pictures of his wife and family everywhere. And it's the only apartment I've ever seen with a hand-painted mural that covers an entire wall and features both a waterfall and a volcano.

Starlee Kine

Wow, wow.

We head into a little room in the back of the apartment, and he flips on a theremin, a thin, black box which looks no cooler than a clock radio.

[THEREMIN PLAYING]

Eric Mueller

Would you like something classical, or would you like something contemporary? What would you like to have?

Jon Langford

How about "Danny Boy?"

Eric Mueller

Do you like that song?

Starlee Kine

He pops a floppy disk into a keyboard for accompaniment, and positions himself in front of the theremin.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "DANNY BOY" BY FREDERIC WEATHERLY]

Eric's a 60-something-year-old man in a royal blue tank top and matching blue gym shorts. He's warm and grandfatherly. If he had reached down and pulled a "who's got your nose" on me, I would have been ready for it.

But when he sits down in front of his theremin, everything changes. This look comes over his face, a mixture of utter calm and complete confidence. His factory worker hands glide through the air. It's graceful, with a perfect economy of motion. I turn to Jon, and his mouth is open.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "DANNY BOY" BY FREDERIC WEATHERLY]

Jon Langford

Well, we were going to ask you to amaze us, and you did. You just did.

[LAUGHTER]

I know. It's great.

Eric Mueller

You speak the truth.

Jon Langford

I'm amazed. I told you, I'm amazed. I came here. I was going to say, I was going to ring your doorbell and go, Eric, amaze me. But then you wouldn't have let me in.

Starlee Kine

Before we arrived, we hadn't understood that when Eric says in his ad, let me grant you an audition to amaze you, he literally means exactly that. He brings people to his home, plays for them, amazes them as promised, and then never, ever joins anyone's band. It's just not what he's looking for.

Eric Mueller

To be just a part of a big group, I don't know if I could be happy in that kind of a situation. I've always played the solo.

Starlee Kine

Nonetheless, he agrees to sign up for our band. Later, back at Jon's house, the difficulty of what we're going to do starts to sink in. What song could unite an acid funk conga player, a sultry jazz singer, two indie rockers, a Christian guitarist, an electric violinist, and an amazing theremin player? What one composer could shoulder the burden?

Jon Langford

I don't know why I keep thinking Elton John. Maybe we should do an Elton John song, because everybody likes Elton John, don't they? Even I like Elton John sometimes. There's certain Elton John songs I love. I like "Rocket Man." I think that's a brilliant song.

Jon Langford

I think it's going to be a long, long time, since touchdown brings me down again to find, I'm not the man they think I am at home. Oh, no, no no. I'm a rocket man. Yeah, I mean, maybe "Rocket Man." We could have space effects in it. You know, the theremin. Why don't we do "Rocket Man"? Let's ask them if they'd do "Rocket Man."

Jon Langford

Hey, how you doing? Nice to meet you, man. That's Sam, playing guitar. That's Eric, with the theremin.

Starlee Kine

The big day arrives. One by one, members of our one-day band show up at the studio, where Jon had recorded most of his own albums. Eric, the theremin player, brings his wife.

And just like in any situation, the cliques immediately form. The rhythm section hits it off immediately. They make musician jokes, like changing the time signature from a 4/4 to a 6/8, that crack each other up.

Every band has the guy who's a quiet lone wolf. And in this band, it's the electric violinist. He's off in the corner, practicing his violin and not talking to anyone. When I ask how he's doing, he tells me he can't hear himself through his headphones. And then he utters the last sentence you hope to hear when you're throwing a group of strangers together in a band.

Man

I'm in anger management, actually.

Starlee Kine

He proceeds to scare me with stories of other recording sessions he'd been in.

Man

Well, that was the same situation. I was in a studio like this, and I couldn't hear myself very well. So I took the violin by the neck, right here, and I basically just took it like, I don't know, an ax, and just went bam, and pieces went flying everywhere.

Starlee Kine

And you've done this--

Man

Twice, actually.

Starlee Kine

Twice?

Man

So we're working on that.

Starlee Kine

Musicians jam together a little. The singer, Karen, had told me on the phone that she hadn't played in public a lot, and she felt sort of shy about the whole thing. But there's something about the dynamic of being the singer in front of six musicians, that as soon as she gets up there, she seems to change, take charge.

Karen Cassidy

Meow.

[LAUGHTER]

Starlee Kine

And the band defers to her. Indie rockers shift to jazz.

Karen Cassidy

One was the papa bear, one was the mama bear, one was a wee bear. One day, they were walkin' in the deep woods and talkin', and along she came--

Starlee Kine

After maybe 10 minutes of this, they know each other well enough to play through "Rocket Man" for the first time.

Jon Langford

I don't know, do you want to give a count?

Karen Cassidy

Do you want to go?

Man

Yeah. 1, 2, 3, 4.

Karen Cassidy

She packed my bags last night, pre-flight, zero hour, 9:00 AM. And I'm going to be high as a kite by then. I miss the earth so much. I miss my wife.

Starlee Kine

And suddenly, they're a band. The guitarist and singer come together immediately, matching each other note for note. The rhythm section joins in shortly after, one perfectly fused unit. The electric violinist jumps in next, followed by the theremin player, right on cue.

Jon's standing in the middle of the room, waiting to step in, but there's nothing for him to even do. And sure, this isn't a real band, and after today, they'll never play together again, and I know it's just a cover of "Rocket Man," but everyone in the room seemed to be feeling the same, all light and giddy and sentimental and corny. It came together so easily, like they'd been a band for years.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "ROCKET MAN" BY THE ONE-DAY BAND]

From that point on, everything falls into place. Jon takes the musicians in separately to play their parts. The rest of the band eats pizza and zones out, like a real recording session. When it's Eric's turn to go in, his wife straightens his shirt collar and gently touches his cheek. The angry violinist goes in with him, and the two of them playing together turns out to be the highlight of the whole session.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "ROCKET MAN" BY THE ONE-DAY BAND]

Jon Langford

Eric, that sounds great. I've got a request, though. Could you do the classic 1950s flying saucer effect, just about 20 seconds from the end?

Eric Mueller

Sure can.

Jon Langford

And that could lead us out?

Eric Mueller

Sure.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "ROCKET MAN" BY THE ONE-DAY BAND]

Jon Langford

That was excellent. Fantastic. Do you do this around the house all the time?

Starlee Kine

Afterwards, Jon and I go to his house and put on a CD for his wife. He can't get over how easy it was. His recording sessions never go this fast.

Jon Langford

I thought we wouldn't get through it for hours. And there might be some arguments, and people might think that some people weren't playing well enough. Maybe it means that people who put the-- actually taking out a classified ad implies some sort of skill or confidence, or desire to go in there prepared and ready to show off your stuff. Maybe it's like when you have bands with just old friends, then you can have people who can't really play that well.

[LAUGHTER] That might be the-- I don't know. And that was kind of refreshing, in a funny sort of way, to think I could go in a studio, just with a bunch of people who had never met each other before, and make something that was nothing to be ashamed of.

Starlee Kine

Before we formed the band, Jon said there wasn't enough amazement in his life. But since then, he hasn't ceased to be amazed by all the lucky accidents and connections that came out of the classifieds.

Jon Langford

Let me tell you about the taxi driver. I got the taxi driver today. I get in the taxi, he goes like, "OK, sir, which way do you want me to go, which way? You will be the commander-in-chief. And I am just your lackey. I'm just your flunky. I'll take you whichever way you want to go."

And I'm like, "OK. No, I don't want to be the commander-in-chief. You be the commander-in-chief." He's like, "May I ask you what you do, sir?" And I'm like, "I'm a musician." And he goes like, "I too like to play an instrument." And he whips out this huge flute.

He gets to the traffic lights. Yeah, under the seat. He gets to the traffic lights, and he starts pulling it out. "Tell me what you think of this." And he starts blowing.

He starts blowing this flute. And he's playing the flute. And I was like, "Oh my God. I'm just going to record a bunch of people who have never met each other. What am I going to do? Did he just join the band or something?"

So he stops at the next light, and he goes like, "Let me try in the higher register." I could have got him and Eric together, it would have been like, [MAKES EXPLOSION SOUND]. But then I said, "You know what I'm doing today? I'm going to a studio to record a load of musicians who have never met. And I could sneak you in, if you've got a couple of hours free and you want to come in."

But I said, "What are the chances that I'd be doing that, and somebody would start playing music to me on my taxi drive?" And he went like, "Are you at all familiar with the writings of Jung?" And he just pulls it off and says, "Look, synchronicity. That's what Jung talked about, synchronicity."

And that's why he was my taxi ride to the studio. And he was perfectly-- it didn't seem odd to him at all. But he couldn't come in. He was very busy. But he gave me his phone number.

Ira Glass

Well, the members of our one-day band, Eric Mueller, Nathan Swanson, [? Steve Ordauer, ?] [? Kirk Marcarion, ?] [? Ben Mazza, ?] [? Sam Cortesi ?], and singer Karen Cassidy. Jon Langford's latest solo release is called Gold Brick.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "ROCKET MAN" BY THE ONE-DAY BAND]

Visit our website, thisamericanlife.org, to download your own full copy of "Rocket Man," this version of "Rocket Man."

Act Four. Personal Ads.

Ira Glass

It's hard not to feel voyeuristic when you read the personal ads there in the classifieds. People's hearts are right there on the page. Our producer, Jonathan Goldstein, decided to look into one enigmatic personal ad that we saw in the paper. It read--

Ken

Joyce, I don't want another housekeeper. Ken.

Jonathan Goldstein

Explain it.

Ken

Well, it's about a woman that I was going out with that I lost. She broke contact with me after going out for approximately three, four months. There isn't a great deal to tell. Enjoyed food, drink, music, the typical things that people do. She was just a tremendous influence in my life.

Jonathan Goldstein

So wait, about the house cleaning thing. Can you explain that? When you mention I don't want another housekeeper, what does that allude to?

Ken

I wasn't really looking for someone else.

Jonathan Goldstein

Did she call herself your housekeeper?

Ken

No. It was a joke between me and her. I don't know how well-taken it was.

Jonathan Goldstein

Explain her departure, though.

Ken

It was brutally sudden. I found out what she did for a living, which is something that was part of her mystique as I was going out with her. Some allusions were made to being something like a secretary. And it was something that I probably should have tried to make more sense out of. And I found out that she was a sexual surrogate.

Jonathan Goldstein

How do you mean? What is that? She performed sexually for another person?

Ken

I assume that's what it is.

Jonathan Goldstein

So when you found out about this, was that when you ended things with Joyce?

Ken

Well, I didn't really end things. I gave her a call. And she said to me, this changes everything, doesn't it?

And I was kind of caught off guard. I didn't know exactly what to say. So I just said that, like everything else, it changes everything, and it changes nothing. We're still who we are. But before I had a chance to say anything else, she said she didn't want me to call her again.

Jonathan Goldstein

So the next time that you called her--

Ken

That number was no longer functioning with her behind it.

Jonathan Goldstein

So how hopeful were you when you put the ad in the paper that she would actually somehow see it?

Ken

It's just a shot in the dark, just an absolute shot in the dark. There's a Chinese poem. I forget who the poet was. But it's real simple and short.

And let's see if I can quote it correctly. "I'm struck by the lightning of seeing you after you're gone." It's after you're with someone, sometimes their presence, as you remember it, can be as startling as lightning.

Act Five. For Sale.

Ira Glass

One of the things that the people at the Sun-Times said to me was that a lot of the classified section is really for people in transition, ditching an old life or starting a new life, whether they want to or not. And of course, in the For Sale section of the paper, people go to the classifieds to start a new life by buying the castoffs of somebody else's old life. And they end up with stuff that's heavy with history, but it's not their history.

Jay Allison has been making his life over from scratch recently, buying other people's stuff from garage sales, from eBay, from the classifieds. As part of the project, he polled his own kids about what to buy. And as you'll hear, they were only intermittently helpful. And he made some phone calls to the Sun-Times classifieds ads.

Jay Allison

What do you hate? Do you hate the house, or what it stands for?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Both.

Jay Allison

What's wrong with the house?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Dad. I don't know, look at it. It's tiny and small and falling apart. I wouldn't want to live here, even if we had to live here, like if you and Mom were still married. I still wouldn't want to live here.

Jay Allison

This house isn't falling apart. It's just--

Jay Allison's Daughter

It is, though. And the basements smells. And it probably has mice.

Jay Allison

After the separation, there was no choice but to get my own place. And I had to put things in it. I was going to be living by myself. And it had been about 25 years since I'd had to think much about what items I need or want in a house. So a few months ago, I got my little place, close to the old one, and began setting it up for myself, and for my three kids, whenever they're here.

First I got rid of things, things with too many small parts, and all the broken things I'd been meaning to fix. I brought the things that were emphatically mine, like my old motorcycle, and my old guitars. I brought the cockatiel and the python. Then I had to outfit the place. I kept a list. I got a cookbook, a grill, and bowls. I didn't know how much I liked bowls. They contain chaos.

And house plants, I'd never had them before. I wanted them now. And I asked the kids what they thought we needed in a home.

Jay Allison

Do you think this house is homey?

Jay Allison's Son

Yeah, it's cozy.

Jay Allison

Yeah?

Jay Allison's Son

Yeah.

Jay Allison

Does it have everything you need?

Jay Allison's Son

Not everything. You can never have everything you need.

Jay Allison

We got stuff to cook with, so we can eat. It's got clothes.

Jay Allison's Son

Clothes, yeah, clothes are required. Food is good. A bed, everyone needs a bed. TV isn't required. I admit that I do watch TV, but I read, too.

I like to go outside. I love going outside. I like to climb trees. I like jumping around. I like squirt guns.

Jay Allison

What else we need to get for this house to make it any homier, Lil?

Jay Allison's Daughter

I think it's pretty good, Dad. I like it the way it is.

Jay Allison

You don't think I need to get anything else?

Jay Allison's Daughter

A dog? Oh, I want a dog.

Jay Allison's Son

A German shepherd would be good, because they're good with kids and easy to train.

Jay Allison

If I were to call up people who had dogs for sale, what should I ask them?

Jay Allison's Son

What the dog's record of biting people is.

Man

Hello?

Jay Allison

Hi, there. I'm calling about the German shepherds in the paper.

Man

Oh, yes. I do have German shepherd puppies, but what I have left is one female. And that is all I have left.

Jay Allison

All right. So here are my questions. The first dog my kids said they wanted was a German shepherd. Do you have a lot of experience raising German shepherds?

Man

Yeah, but not around kids, really.

Jay Allison

No?

Man

No, not around kids.

Jay Allison

What do you think about them around kids?

Man

Well, they should be good, because when I was small, I had one. He was always [INAUDIBLE]. But you know what happened the other day?

Jay Allison

No, what?

Man

Look, I'm normal, right? And then in August, three weeks ago, I got a makeover. And I changed my hair color. I put on perfume. I never put on perfume. And I changed everything, my clothes.

And there's this one dog, one of the German shepherd's, and she's a real mean bitch. And I hadn't been there in two weeks until last week. And then I went in there to the yard. You know what she did to me?

Jay Allison

No.

Man

She bit me.

Jay Allison

What do you mean you had a makeover? You mean you changed the way you look? Now I'm curious.

Man

Yeah, I felt a little bit depressed and everything. So I changed everything. I changed my clothes. I changed everything. And I started going to a gym and everything. And I lost 10 pounds in, I don't know, in a month. And I don't know, I must have looked totally different for her.

Jay Allison

That's funny. One of the reasons I'm looking for a dog is my life has changed a lot, too. My marriage has broken up, and I'm living by myself. And the kids are there a lot, but I'm thinking about getting a dog to make it more homey.

Man

Ah, cool. Cool. Yeah, well, they would be great around them.

Jay Allison

What was your German shepherd like when you were a little kid?

Man

Oh, she was super-nice. She was nice. She slept in my room. And she slept on my bed also. Yeah, because I was very lonely.

I'm a very-- I don't talk to a lot of people. I'm more of a lonesome person. I don't know. I just slept with her, and I talked to her.

I've never told anybody. But yeah, I have, when I was sleeping, I used to hug her and everything. And she was like my older sister.

Jay Allison

Were your mom and dad together?

Man

They've always been together. But my dad, he's like this-- he's not mean. He's not mean. But he has this way of being. He never talks to us. He never hugs us or tells us things. So I was [UNINTELLIGIBLE] with a dog.

Jay Allison

Do you think you'll always have a dog?

Man

Yeah. I think I need a little friend. Yeah.

Jay Allison

What would you like a dog to be like?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Playful-ish, cuddly, soft, and stuff like that.

Jay Allison

What kind of dog do you think I should call about?

Jay Allison's Daughter

One that stays small. I don't want a big one.

Jay Allison

Like what?

Jay Allison's Daughter

I don't know. No, one of the little ones that Britney Spears has and Mariah Carey has. They're this big, and they're so cute.

Jay Allison

And that means you can carry them around with them like little babies, is that the idea?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Yeah.

Jay Allison

I don't want to do that.

Jay Allison's Daughter

Well, I don't want a big one that, like, ugh.

Jay Allison

How about a beagle? What do you think of beagles?

Jay Allison's Son

I love beagles!

Jay Allison's Daughter

I love them!

Jay Allison's Daughter

Oh, I want a beagle.

Man

Hello?

Jay Allison

Hi there. I'm calling about your beagle puppies.

Man

Sure, what would you like to know?

Jay Allison

Are they pretty friendly?

Man

Oh, they're lovable.

Jay Allison

Yeah?

Man

Yeah. They're very friendly. They're very lovable. They demand love. And they demand passion from their owner.

Jay Allison

How do they demand it?

Man

By following you around, wanting to hug on you, and wanting to jump up on you.

Jay Allison

Do you think a dog can love you?

Man

Oh, yes. I've got a dog that's a poodle that's particularly mine. And I have a bad heart. And every time that I go in the hospital, she's lost. She'll sit and scratch at every door in the house. She'll go to the window and scratch. She'll sit and look for me every place in the house. If I'm in bed, she'll stay in bed with me until I get up to make sure that I'm getting up. If I lay back down in bed, she'll get back in bed.

Jay Allison

So she just sticks with you.

Man

Yeah. We love our dogs. Yeah, I need a heart.

Jay Allison

It's down to that.

Man

Oh, yeah.

Jay Allison

Are you on a waiting list?

Man

Nope.

Jay Allison

How's that going to work, then?

Man

You live with your life as you can. Maybe I'll come back as a dog.

Jay Allison's Daughter

I think you should get one.

Jay Allison

Why?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Because, then when we're not here, you'll have someone to keep you company, and someone to take care of when we're not here.

Jay Allison

You think I'm lonely?

Jay Allison's Daughter

I'm sure sometimes you get lonely. Everyone gets lonely sometimes.

[LAUGHTER]

Jay Allison

It's 4:00 AM. I'm in the bedroom. A dog explains those extraneous noises of an empty house. It breathes the same air with you. It needs an occasional conversation, a hand on the back, more so than a cockatiel or a python, anyway. It stays with you, even in the middle of the night, at 4:00 AM, when you've woken with a harsh taste in your mouth, and you're writing on a yellow legal pad in the dim light, and only the crickets and the wind outside, like now.

Jay Allison

The only pets I have now, and one of them is-- I have three kids. They're five, 10, and 15. And we have a snake that belongs to my son, who's 10. And we have a cockatiel. But a dog would be a big jump from a snake and a bird.

Woman

Yeah. But you get a lot more affection from the dog than you would a bird and a snake.

Jay Allison

That's right. That's right. And I think sometimes my kids worry that I'm lonely in the house by myself. I think they'd like me to have a dog, because they would think that it would keep me company.

Woman

Oh, I'm sure. They're always waiting for you. They're always happy to see you, no matter what happens.

I mean, I lived with a man that beat me and held a gun on me. And I'd go to bed at night and wonder if that was the night was going to be my last night on earth. And I don't know. I just have such peace and happiness with the dogs.

And to spend a day-- I said, if the Lord, if I knew the last day I had on earth, I would just want to be totally away from human beings and just let me brush my dogs, and clean my dogs. And I enjoy grooming those dogs. I can totally get lost. Just give me a dog, a brush, and a table, and forget you know me.

Jay Allison

So we haven't decided on a dog yet. I'm dropping by the pound, just to see. Really, the fellowship of looking for a dog seems to help. Everybody in their lives has holes to fill. And they're even willing to talk about it, when you are. And that's good for now. The kids and I have plenty of time to get a dog.

By the way, here's the rest of the list of things I put in this house. Electric fans, a gas stove with visible flame for heat. New pictures of the kids in frames. Lots of old kerosene lanterns, good for parties, good for storms.

Jay Allison

One thing I went nuts buying was old kerosene lanterns. What do you think of that?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Yeah, no kidding. I think it's cheesy.

Jay Allison

Cheesy? Why?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Because you have one hanging from every tree in the backyard.

Jay Allison

Don't you think it's cozy?

Jay Allison's Daughter

No, I don't. Sometimes. You just have a special soft spot for them, because you had them when you were living in West Virginia.

Jay Allison

I've started a collection of rocks taken from places we visit, and kitchen knives, old carbon steel ones, scooters, and helmets, a camera.

Jay Allison's Daughter

Photograph us. Daddy. Here we are. Take a picture. We look cute.

Jay Allison

Walkie talkies, colorful flannel sheets for the kids, and a gun. And the first thing, the first thing I got when I moved in, was rugs to soften everything, to mute the empty sound, rugs on the floor of my house when I moved in, so I could circle three times and lie down, like a dog.

Jay Allison

Is there anything else I should get for this house to make it seem homier?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Wall-to-wall carpeting.

Jay Allison

Wall-to-wall carpeting in this old house?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Yeah. It would be so much cozier in this house if you had wall-to-wall carpeting.

Jay Allison

But when I first moved in here, do you remember how many rugs I got?

Jay Allison's Daughter

Yeah, but rug, schmug.

Ira Glass

Jay Allison, he never did get that dog for the kids. They are now 12, 17, and 21, though Jay recently remarried. And last month, he and his wife had an incredibly cute son. His radio story got support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for the Open Studio Project. And you can hear more of Jay's work at transom.org.

Credits.

Man

I'm in anger management, actually.

Ira Glass

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

[MUSIC PLAYING - "ROCKET MAN" BY THE ONE-DAY BAND]

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.