Transcript

231:

Time to Save the World
Transcript

Originally aired 02.07.2003

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

It was one of those jobs that could either fill you with a sense of despair, or make you feel like you love the world and fill you with a sense of mission every day. Michael Beaumier chose the second path.

Michael Beaumier

I always ask people, are you married? Are you dating? Is it serious? What are you looking for?

Ira Glass

Michael Beaumier runs the personals ads for a weekly paper, the Chicago Reader. And he takes it so to heart that he is constantly talking to people who place the ads. He not only tells them how to fix their ads so they can find the kind of person they might want, he remembers them. If he talks to somebody else who might like them, he tells that person to look up their ad.

Michael Beaumier

If somebody called me and said, is there an ad that I should answer this week? And they told me a little bit about what they're looking for. I think that off the top of my head I could say, yeah, here are three people that you should respond to.

Ira Glass

How many of the people in the personals do you know personally, have you talked to yourself?

Michael Beaumier

Well, I try really hard to not be involved.

Ira Glass

Dozens.

Michael Beaumier

Dozens, yeah. And I keep lots of notes in my office too, in terms of, well, here's this woman. And she's looking for a date. So I'll give her a call and go, hey, you know, here is this guy. He's in this week. You should call him. I'm not supposed to do that. But I do it anyhow because I just can't help myself.

Ira Glass

In a way, it's hard to believe that the perfect person ended up in that job. A few years back, Michael noticed in the missed connections section of the personals-- you know that section where people say, I saw you on the Clark Street bus. Our eyes locked. Call me. There was this guy who was taking out one missed connections ad after another. Five of them, 10 of them, 15 of them.

Michael Beaumier

He had people that he would see on the train. You were the Asian woman in the purple dress. You were reading Ayn Rand. Or I saw you at Gamekeepers. You were the brown-haired girl. Your hair was in a pony tail. You were wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt.

Ira Glass

15 ads like this.

Michael Beaumier

15 ads. He would see women all over town, Wicker Park, Bucktown, the trains out to O'Hare, at O'Hare, on flights back from places to come back to Chicago. And it was just getting crazy. And he really, really meant them. They were very, very earnest ads.

He would come in sometimes. Usually he would email ads to me or he would give them to me over the phone. I would talk to him over the phone at least twice a week.

Ira Glass

Did you ever see him?

Michael Beaumier

Oh, yeah. I saw him a couple of times.

Ira Glass

Cute?

Michael Beaumier

Oh, yeah. Yes, very cute. But just really, really quiet. And I think some people find quiet to be creepy. But he was quiet kind of like he didn't want to impose on anybody by having conversation with them, that he felt that he wasn't an interesting person. And I think that he was a very interesting person.

Ira Glass

Michael would give him these little pep talks, encourage him to start speaking to these women instead of just seeing them and then taking out an ad. And weeks passed of this. And months passed. And finally, Michael just got tired. And he wrote him this letter. He told him to make 20 copies and carry them with him wherever he goes.

Michael Beaumier

This is what I wrote. It reads, "To whom it may concern. My name is Mike Beaumier. I run the personal ad department at the Reader, the matches. The gentleman who handed you this note is named Bill. I've come to know Bill very well. In many ways, he reminds me of my father, quiet, decent, dedicated, someone who probably falls under the radar for most people. He neither drinks nor smokes. He is close to his parents and siblings. He has a job, a home, a car, and some place to be in the morning, and many friends who, like me, think highly of him. Once you get to know the guy, you'll wonder why nobody snapped him up yet. I often do, and romance is my business.

Anyway, here is why I'm writing this letter. Bill is very shy. I'm not sure why. He's very smart and really funny. I'm asking you, someone I do not know, to please, please, please save us all a lot of trouble and let this man buy you a cup of coffee. Because if you don't, Bill is just going to put in another missed connections ad in my paper. And I will once more have to give him another lecture about having the courage to approach interesting women. If Bill doesn't give you his home phone number, I will. Please feel free to call me at my office number below. Sincerely, Mike Beaumier, matches coordinator, Chicago Reader.

And I think that he used it, because I had maybe one more ad from him after this. And then it stopped.

Ira Glass

OK. By any standards, that is above and beyond the call of duty. And there are so many people out there like this, little guardian angels in all sorts of walks of life, trying to save the world one person at a time. Today on our radio program, stories of people like that. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass.

In collecting the stories for today's radio show, it became clear to all of us who work on the program that not only did most of these stories have to do with people saving the world, in every story people have these sudden moments of truth delivered to them by complete strangers.

Act One of our show today, The Rundown. In that act, the story of one girl's mission to bring people together everywhere by eliminating small talk forever. It can happen in our lifetimes, friends.

Act Two, Heather Help Me. The story of some teenagers, a telephone, and a man who only answers to a name that is not his.

Act Three, Fools Rush in Where Mommies Fear to Tread. In that act, an art history professor tries to talk with his fists.

Act Four, The Science of Good and Bad. The story of a simple test, just two lists of 18 items each, designed to tell you who you are, increase good, identify evil, one person at a time. When our reporter takes the test herself, the results spook her for weeks. Stay with us.

Act One. The Rundown.

Ira Glass

Act One, The Rundown. Well, one of the producers of our radio show, Starlee Kine, in addition to her many duties here at the public radio station, has been going around giving a lecture, proselytizing on behalf of something that she invented that she calls The Rundown. Her idea is this. Very, very simple. Small talk is not bringing us together. Small talk is the enemy. Small talk must end. And she proposes replacing small talk with The Rundown.

A warning to more sensitive listeners. She refers to the idea of virgins and sex in this brief lecture. This was recorded at one of her public lectures.

Starlee Kine

I know a lot about small talk, because I worked in an office. And there is a lot of small talk that goes on. There are like all these different forms of it. There is like water cooler small talk. And there's elevator small talk, which actually isn't even that bad, because most people think elevator small talk is the worse kind. But actually, I think it's OK, because it is finite. You know it's going to end at a certain point, which I appreciate very much. There's even bathroom small talk where I work, which is like the worst thing you're ever going to experience in your entire life. There will be people small talking through the stalls.

I actually have some audio of small talk to play for you.

Man

Coffee is on its way. Here is a special selection of the Viking blend. And I have to get back to work.

Starlee Kine

That's what happened in my office. Almost every day that seems to happen, actually. We know we are drinking coffee. It's being made. But for some reason, when you do small talk-- when you're caught in the trap of small talk-- you feel you just have to talk about what's immediately happening in front of you, even though it's so obvious.

And it's not even his fault. You know what I mean? Everyone does it. And so I can't take it anymore. So I devised The Rundown to eliminate small talk forever from the world. I want it to be done with. The Rundown, the goal of The Rundown is it's supposed to turn conversations from the conversations you're supposed to be having to the conversations you want to be having.

And so I also have an example of The Rundown. I went to a movie. And there's a ticket guy selling tickets. And I just started talking to him. So it can be done on anyone.

Ticket Guy

I had ramen noodles for breakfast.

Starlee Kine

The $.25 ones or the fancy ones?

Ticket Guy

I didn't pay for them. My girlfriend bought them.

Starlee Kine

OK. So if you're thinking small talk, you're going to go after the ramen noodles, right? Like what kind of ramen noodles, hot water, meat, something like that. But if you're doing The Rundown, you just seize on the most interesting part of the conversation. And so he did give me a very, very valuable clue. He gave me this wonderful girlfriend character to work with. From that, you can proceed to--

Starlee Kine

Are you in love?

Ticket Guy

I love her.

Starlee Kine

But you don't know if-- you're not in love?

Ticket Guy

Oh, well, I think yeah. I am definitely in love.

Starlee Kine

OK. So that's a little bit more to go with. Now we know he's capable of love, which is a lot more than knowing that he just had ramen noodles. And from there the possibilities just open up wide. You can pretty much go for anything now. So then you just keep going.

Starlee Kine

So how many one night stands have you had?

Ticket Guy

Well, I know how many girls I've been with. But I never really counted which of them were one night stands exactly.

Starlee Kine

How many girls?

Ticket Guy

34 and 1/2.

Starlee Kine

34 and 1/2. How many virgins?

Ticket Guy

Estimate? Roughly, probably four or five.

Starlee Kine

So you might think how many virgins is an inappropriate question. But I actually think it's like the perfect fallback if you have nothing else to ask. You know I mean? Because as you can see, it's totally OK. He doesn't mind telling you. People are just wait-- they love to talk about themselves. And that's what people want. And they also like to be asked questions that they have answers for. He completely knows the answer to how many virgins.

So then they feel good about themselves. And they'll keep going. And from there it is pretty smooth sailing.

Ticket Guy

The first one that came along was for two and a half years. That was the first girl I was ever with though.

Starlee Kine

That was?

Ticket Guy

She was a virgin too. We were both virgins. It was good. But it was weird. It was kind of like an all day all around town sort of thing, because it started at her grandparents' house, which was in this all yellow room. The sheets were yellow, the window curtains were yellow. And it just wasn't working out. It was kind of-- So then we drove out to this spot by a drive in movie screen that was abandoned. But it was a good experience altogether. I enjoyed it.

Starlee Kine

So that was a minute and 26 seconds. And now, after a minute and 26 through The Rundown, I know what he's had for breakfast, that he is capable of love, how many girls he has slept with, how many of them are virgins, who he first lost his virginity to, and even the color wallpaper of her grandmother's house. So that's pretty good. That's a pretty successful Rundown.

And there are a few simple rules for everyone to be able to do it just like this, eventually. So the first rule is, number one, small talk is the conversation you're supposed to be having. And The Rundown is the conversation you want to be having. Number two is, why chew the fat, when you can chew the meat? Also very important. Number three is, if you can think it, you can ask it. And then, if all else fails-- or even if all else doesn't fail-- number four is, how many virgins? So, that's The Rundown.

Ira Glass

Starlee Kine, speaking at The Little Gray Book Lectures at the Galapagos Art Space in New York.

Act Two. Heather Help Me.

Ira Glass

Well, this brings us to Act Two, an act we're calling Heather Help Us. It is this story of people reaching out and giving the rundown of their lives to a complete stranger. Jessica Riddle tells the tale.

Jessica Riddle

Recently, I remembered this thing that happened back when I was in high school. And it was so incredible that I sort of wondered whether it really happened. What it was was when I was around 15, my friends and I used to call this number. It was our area code plus the name Heather, H-E-A-T-H-E-R. An old man would answer the phone and talk to you about anything. It was kind of creepy, I remember.

So I checked around. It turns out my friend Kirsten had the same memory too.

Kirsten

Well, it started out as sort of an urban legend. We'd be at parties or something, and they would just be like, yeah, you know when you dial Heather, H-E-A-T-H-E-R. And you can talk to him about anything. And I think at parties or something people would call him and be like, so, how many little boys have you got locked in your basement? And they would just mess with him.

Jessica Riddle

I remember sort of sicking Heather on people, like them being like, you know, I wish that so and so would just get off my back. And I'd be like, call Heather. You know? Just call Heather.

Kirsten

Well there was a fair amount of passing the phone around, just to get your words in or just hear what he had to say. But I think it was more like sleepovers and things. It was more like crank calling him at first.

Jessica Riddle

But over time, it seemed like the prank conversations evolved into more regular conversations. I remember friends of mine calling and asking questions like, hey, Heather, what's 44 down? Heather, what do you think? Should I join the lacrosse team? Heather, what do you think of the color green? But I didn't realize how serious the conversations were until Kirsten told me this story.

Kirsten

One night I came home late. And things were really screwed up with the family at that point. My sister was in either the hospital or boarding school. And my parents had separated at that point. And I was just feeling awful. And it just occurred to me that I could call Heather.

Jessica Riddle

What had you been out doing? Do you remember?

Kirsten

Well, I was probably out drinking somewhere. So yeah, you probably dropped me off at home. And I went up to my room. And well, I probably sulked for about 20 minutes. But then I decided to call him.

I think I just needed someone to talk to. I really was just trying to think. Should I call my grandmother? Should I call that girl I was friends with that summer four years ago or something? Like who can I talk to? And we had probably-- maybe we had prank called him that evening. And so I decided to call him back. And I am not quite sure what my motives were for doing it. It was just I knew that he would pick up the phone, even though it was probably 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock in the morning. And I knew that he would listen to me. And he wouldn't change the subject.

Jessica Riddle

Kirsten's life was pretty bad around this time. Besides her parents' divorce, one of her sisters had a fatal brain disease, had lived in a hospital almost all her life and was never able to walk or talk or be part of the family. And her other sister had recently tried to kill herself.

Kirsten

I just started telling him about it, and that I felt really helpless and hopeless when it came to my sister who was in the hospital. And that she didn't realize how much we loved her. And she didn't value her own life. And that was something that Heather and I discussed, feelings of guilt and feelings of anger towards people that you're supposed to love. Just to repeat to somebody over and over again, I'm guilty. I feel guilty. I feel awful.

Because Heather-- because I couldn't see his face, because I didn't have to run into him at the grocery store or on the street, I think that made it a lot easier to tell the truth, be honest with myself and honest with my feelings, just because he was some guy on the other line who was just listening to me. And he didn't say, well, this is what I would do or this is what you should do. It was just brief statements, just like, oh, that must have been terrible, or it sounds like your mother has really tried hard to get your sister well, or something.

Then when I told him that my oldest sister had never been able to talk to me, he was like, oh, that must be devastating. Tiny little statements that were just sympathetic.

Jessica Riddle

I couldn't believe Kirsten could actually confess like this to Heather. Prank call Heather? That weird old guy we make fun of at parties?

Kirsten

I hope he knows that what he did for me, that I really appreciate him listening to me. And I just hope that he knows that he's not a scumbag and that he's helped me. It would be nice to tell him thank you again. I almost don't want to hear what he has to say about it, because it was something that was really personal for me. And I couldn't bear it if he won't think it's as special as I do. I wonder if he really cares, or if he just wanted to listen just to hear about different people.

Jessica Riddle

Whatever happened to Heather? Was he still alive? Did he still have the same number? I picked up the phone and dialed H-E-A-T-H-E-R. Sure enough, he answered. And he agreed to talk to me for this story, so long as I didn't give out his real name. We arranged for me to call him the next day from the radio studio.

Heather

Hello.

Jessica Riddle

Hi, Heather. It's Jessica. How are you?

Heather

I'm pretty good. How are you doing today?

Jessica Riddle

I'm very good. Do you remember our conversation last night?

Heather

Yeah, a little bit of it.

Jessica Riddle

OK. Well, I'm calling you back from the radio now. And I wanted to go ahead and ask you some questions. Is that all right?

Heather

I'll try.

Jessica Riddle

OK, great. There's something I'm dying to know about, which is how did this start?

Heather

It started way back in 1951, when some kids were having a sleepover. And one of them happened to have the name Heather. And she said, well, call my name and see if anybody answers the phone. So when they did I answered the phone, and carried on a nice conversation with them. And it has been going on ever since.

Jessica Riddle

You've been talking to people on the phone for over 50 years?

Heather

Yeah, I guess so. I never did figure it that way. But time flies by too fast.

Jessica Riddle

During our conversation, I found out a lot of things about Heather that I had never thought to ask as a kid. He became less mysterious and more like a normal old guy. He fought in World War II and the Korean War. When he got out, he got a job with the government on a military base. He's retired now. He still likes to hunt and fish.

He says the number of calls he gets fluctuates. But during peak times it's like 100 a day. He says he never asks for anyone's last name or phone number. He doesn't accept collect calls, doesn't call people back. He does have caller ID. He does not have call waiting. Over the years, he says he has talked to thousands and thousands of people. Most just call him Heather.

Heather

What most people do when they call, they say, is Heather home? And sometimes they hang up, because they expect a woman's voice.

Jessica Riddle

You know, I was just thinking that it's improbable, in a way, that these many people called you. I mean, Heather, you said thousands and thousands. That's incredible. But I think, to me, it's even more crazy that you talk to them, that you decided that you should respond to all these calls.

Heather

Well, since my wife died I've just been by myself here. And it helps pass the time. And a lot of them are nice to talk to. Like I say, a lot of them are latch key kids. They come home, and nobody's home. Both the father and mother are working. And they don't have anybody to talk to. So they call up and talk to me.

Jessica Riddle

With the people who call you who are older, do they usually want to talk about something different than the teenagers?

Heather

I don't get too many of what you call older people. I don't get anybody my age. And I don't know how old I sound on the phone. I don't think I sound anywhere near as what my age actually is.

Jessica Riddle

Can I ask what your age is?

Heather

It's three quarters of a century plus one.

Jessica Riddle

That's amazing.

Heather

You'd be surprised how many people don't even know what a century is or what three quarters of it is if they did know it. You know what I mean? So you wonder how much schooling some of these people got.

Jessica Riddle

Heather, we were talking yesterday about how you said you thought maybe there were like a dozen people who had called you contemplating suicide. And you said you were able to talk them down, talk them out of it.

Heather

Well, they were just full of tears, and sobbing, and stuff like that. And they just blurted it right out when I answered the phone. They just said, I'm going to kill myself. I tried my best to calm them down and just say, hey, the good Lord put you on this Earth for some reason. Don't kill yourself, because you might be planned down the road for something great. That's about it, I guess.

Some of them called me back three or four days later, and said, boy, I'm sure glad I talked to you. And things are good. So that makes the day. The ones that never called back, I never know if they really did it or didn't do it.

Jessica Riddle

Heather, do you have kids?

Heather

No, we weren't that fortunate.

Jessica Riddle

Do you know what percentage of the people who call you are girls and boys?

Heather

No. I would say it's close to about the same. If they're at a big party or something like that, there are boys and girls together. And they seem like they all want to talk and say hello. You know what some kids do nowadays? And I know they're real young. They'll call up and say, oh, I feel terrible today. Would you do me a favor? Would you sing me a song?

Jessica Riddle

Really?

Heather

Yeah, so I sing a song to them.

Jessica Riddle

Could you sing a song for us now?

Heather

Well, let's see. [SINGING] Let me call you sweetheart. I'm in love with you. Let me hear you whisper that you love me too. Let that love light glowing in your eyes so true, please let me call you sweetheart. I am in love with you.

Jessica Riddle

Oh, Heather. Thank you.

Heather

You know, I never thought I could really sing. So I'm glad I'm able to sing some anyway.

Jessica Riddle

Heather, I want to ask a question. What do your friends think about-- do they know about this? Do they know about people calling you? Do you talk about it?

Heather

No, I don't advertise it. I figure if people want to call me, fine. But I don't advertise it. I don't tell them nothing.

Jessica Riddle

So your friends don't know. Have they ever been over and wondered why the phone was ringing so much?

Heather

Yes. But I just tell them, that's nobody special.

Jessica Riddle

So it's a secret.

Heather

Well, it's my secret.

Jessica Riddle

Why is that?

Heather

Well, I guess maybe pride. Some people are smart, They just want to laugh at you or something like that. They might say why bother or something like that. I don't know. I'm not going to tell them, so I'm not going to worry about that. It's none of their business.

Jessica Riddle

What do you look like?

Heather

I'm about five seven. I weigh around 170. I have got snow white wavy hair. I've still got it all. And I still got all my teeth, but I've got a few crowns. I used to play a lot of sports, so I still look kind of muscular. I don't have anything hanging over my belt.

Jessica Riddle

How many people ask you that question, I wonder.

Heather

What I look like? Just some girls.

Jessica Riddle

Just the girls, huh?

Heather

Yeah. Sometimes I ask them what they look like and stuff like that. And I say, gosh, you remind me of my wife. Same dimensions, same figure, same hair, and brown eyes. It's just conversation.

Jessica Riddle

It is?

Heather

Yeah.

Jessica Riddle

It was comments like this that made me wonder if there was some other thing going on with Heather. On the one hand, they could be perfectly innocent. On the other, they made my heart sink a little. I mean after all, an older man who spends a lot of his free time talking to kids he's never met on the phone and keeps it all a secret? Kirsten always wondered too.

Kirsten

You know, the guys that would call him and make lewd comments or whatever, he would still stay on the line for that. And that makes me think, is that one of his interests too? Like that weird sexual underworld, is he a part of that and just being my therapist on the side? How does it work? Are most of his calls like dirty talk. Or is it all people like me who are just like, I've got to talk to somebody?

Jessica Riddle

So do you feel like creepiness comes with the territory with Heather, or creepiness begets the territory? In other words, the creepiness is just there and you have to deal with it, or the creepiness is sort of part of what attracted us to it. And it was a necessary part of Heather.

Kirsten

Well, yeah. It's not like we were calling teen hot lines or anything. We wanted to talk to the guy who nobody was sure about, that the government hadn't inspected and given a patent to.

Jessica Riddle

I called Heather back to ask him, basically, if he was a perv. And it just sucked. I creeped him out. I creeped myself out. We both felt bad. And we got off the phone. And in the end, I still don't know the truth is. I believe my original feeling about him. He offered us something that's not generally available to teenagers. Either we had authority figures talking down to us or our peers judging us. There were no boundaries with Heather, and that was the scary but liberating thing about him. There's a reason he became the person everyone first called to screw with and then called back for catharsis. I mean, he could be anyone.

Jessica Riddle

Oh, I also wanted to ask you, Heather, if you could describe the room that you're standing in.

Heather

It almost looks like a room in a cabin up north. I'm kind of laying down. And right in front of me is the coffee table. And the TV is on the other side of the room.

Jessica Riddle

What were you watching when we called?

Heather

I'm watching Friends right now.

Jessica Riddle

Do you like that show?

Heather

It's kind of good. I don't like Ross. He is the one that is supposed to have the most education. But he's the dumbest one of the group, in my opinion.

Kirsten

You're sitting on the train. And you see an old man sitting across from you. Or you're in the doctor's office, or at the car wash, or wherever you are. Heather could be anywhere. He could have one of those strange phones where you can get the area code hooked up to whatever-- on a cell phone. And he's travelling the Earth trying to solve people's problems. Heather. Yeah, he could be anywhere. It's nice to know that he's still out there.

Ira Glass

That story by Jessica Riddle. Coming up, it take a nation of mommies to hold us back. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. Fools Rush In, Where Mommies Fear To Tread.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme and bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, Time to Save the World, stories of people saving the world one person at a time, of people being hit with sudden moments of truth, thanks to complete strangers. We've arrived at act three of our program. Act Three, Fools Rush in Where Mommies Fear to Tread.

The person who tells this next story of human kindness asked that we not use his name on the radio. He is just not sure what to think about the story still. I can say that he is an art history professor. He was once in the Marine Corps. But that was long, long ago.

Art History Professor

My mother and I were in sort of rush hour traffic. We were going downtown for lunch.

Ira Glass

And she's driving or you're driving?

Art History Professor

She's driving actually. And we're having a great time, joking, talking about old movies, as we do, or about the family or something. Just really sweet, really fun. And it was downtown traffic. And it was also a construction scene. So the cars were just creeping along.

And all of a sudden, a guy in a pickup truck came around us. I suspect now that my mother may not have let him merge or something. But it was all in slow motion. It was one, two, three miles an hour.

So in frustration then, he drove around us, and paused, and bellowed out of the driver's side window at my mother, and called her a really, really, ugly name. In fact, it was a word that I was hoping my mother didn't even know. The C word.

Ira Glass

The one syllable C word or three syllable C word?

Art History Professor

No, one syllable C word. And F-ing C word, in fact. So now we're going to pretend, did we hear this? In conversation, are we going to pause to talk about this? And so the conversation falls silent. I guess we say, well, yeah, Martin Balsam was really good in that movie. OK, now long pause.

But I can feel my blood boiling at that point. I think I'm going to confront this guy, a guy screaming a few feet away from my mother's face. I can't let this go unchallenged. And so I start to get out of the car.

Ira Glass

And what are you thinking at this point? Are you somebody who gets in a lot of fights?

Art History Professor

Oh God, no. In fact, I had never been in a fight. I guess I'm hoping for an apology, maybe. So I get out of the car. And I walk up a few car lengths. And this guy is already out of his truck. He's already standing there. And to tell you the truth, that surprised me a little bit. That kind of gave me pause, because he's a big guy. He's easily maybe 75 pounds heavier than me.

So I was just afraid. I was afraid. So he says, man, you better get back in your car. And I march up to him. And I say, what did you call my mother? You called my mother an F-ing C word?

And this is the point-- he must not have seen the same movies that I have seen, because at this point, he actually shoves me backwards. So I figure, well, he put his hands on me. And I haul off. And since I'm off balance, I throw this huge left. And oh my God. It's like he didn't even know it was coming or something. I hit him so hard, unbelievably hard.

And I'm thinking to myself, please fall down. Please faint. Please let this be over.

But no, it isn't over, In fact, he staggers towards me. And I see that I've hurt him. But he's coming. Now it's going to turn into a wrestling match, which it does. And so he's got me in this bear hug. And now we're falling across the tops of cars, other cars in traffic. And in fact, we break an aerial off, break a couple aerials off of cars.

And I'm doing everything I can to just keep out from under him, because he's an enormous guy. And it seems like it went on for eternity. Really Hollywood. It was really something. I noticed people are standing now outside of their cars. It is a big show. It's high school now, at this point.

Ira Glass

And are you thinking, at this point, what am I doing?

Art History Professor

Actually, I had just gotten my PhD the year before. And I'm hoping to God my professors aren't watching or, God forbid, anybody that knows me. And here I am in it. I'm wallowing around in it. In fact, I am trying to keep this guy off of me. And so we're wrestling around on the ground. There are people standing all over the place.

And I feel a little tug on my shirt, on my shoulder, OK, break it up. It's all over in this little voice. And I think, oh thank Christ. It's the police. And I look, and oh my God, it was this guy's mother breaking up the fight. And she was a little, kind of leathery, sweet-- Granny Clampett, basically, is breaking up this fight.

I remember she was so sweet. You know, honey, it's over. Get up, get up. Come on. It's all over now, she said. And so I get off. And then I kind of shake myself up. I kind of jump back. And God, afterwards my clothing was in tatters, just in tatters, and blood.

And his mother helps him back to the truck. And they get in. And I get back in my mother's car. And it was like nothing had happened. The traffic just resumed. And we kind of drove away.

We drove-- I guess we were going out to lunch at this point. Now we're just driving, in those first few blocks, just away. We're just trying to drive away. And my mother pulls the car over. And I am trembling. And we didn't know what to say to one another. And I said, well, sorry about all that, Ma. And there's a long pause. And she threw her arms around my neck. And she said, nobody has ever done that for me. And I said, really? Dad never did that for you? And she goes, well, honey, we never were in a situation like that. And I said, well, you're welcome. You're welcome.

She actually passed away a few months ago. And I really miss her terribly. In the last few years, every once in a while she'll tell the story or somebody in the family wants to hear the story. And she was really proud. And she wasn't the kind of person that approves of that kind of thing. In fact, one time I heard her tell a girlfriend, she goes, you should have seen my son. He looked like he didn't have a chance, the way he was dressed-- and I guess I dress kind of like a preppy, pretty clean cut-- and boy, he let this guy have it. So she got a big kick out of the whole thing.

Ira Glass

It's so crazy to think about what experiences you have that will be the memories that stick with somebody as their most precious memories. For your mom, this is one of her most precious memories?

Art History Professor

Isn't that the truth? Isn't that the truth? And for me, I don't know quite how to think about it. I know that my wife doesn't let me tell the story at dinner parties and things. She's embarrassed by it. And I guess I'm embarrassed by it too. In fact, I struggle with whether or not I want my son to know this story. I never know if I should tell this story. I don't know if it's so flattering.

Ira Glass

I wonder if you're embarrassed because you're secretly proud.

Art History Professor

Yeah, maybe. Maybe. I guess I do feel that way. I am proud. And hell yeah. Oh yeah. Maybe so.

Ira Glass

You got him?

Art History Professor

Yeah, I got him now man. My little gift to Mom. Absolutely. [BEEP] That's right.

It was the perfect fight. I felt blessed. Once in your life you have an opportunity like this. How often do you get something-- he was so clearly right wrong, black white, good bad. I mean, because you call somebody's mother a name and then push somebody around, boys, you are asking for it, or so it seemed to me. And I didn't get hurt too badly.

[MUSIC - "YA MAMA," PHARCYDE]

Act Four. The Science Of Good And Evil.

Ira Glass

Act Four, The Science of Good and Evil. And now a test that provides sudden truth from a stranger, based on a science whose goals could not be grander, to aid in the fight between good and evil. Given that, I have to say it is a surprisingly effective test. Invented by a guy named Robert Hartman, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for his work back in the '70s. Susan Drury reports from Tennessee.

Susan Drury

Robert Hartman was born in Germany in 1910. By his early twenties, he was active in opposing Adolf Hitler. This is his son, Jan Hartman.

Jan Hartman

He went as a young man to a demonstration in which Hitler was parading, with his brown shirts and what have you. And he was completely horrified. Actually, he would never go to large demos after that. I mean here were these thousands and thousands and thousands of people cheering Hitler, whom he knew was evil. So he decided somehow to answer the question, if evil can be organized so effectively, why can't good be organized in the same way, with the same efficiency?

Susan Drury

When Hartman was 23, the Nazis showed up at his door to take him away because he was a leader of an opposition party. He escaped through the back door. And with the help of a fake passport, he fled to America, where he became a philosopher and started working out an answer to the question that would consume him for the next four decades. How do we mobilize the good of the world?

Hartman went about this using methods that scientists today would never use. He tried to mathematically quantify good and evil. If that seems strange, remember that, for Hartman, Freud, and Marx, and Einstein were still new figures on the scene, each one using scientific analysis to understand things science had never really considered before. So Hartman mapped out the kinds of small and large value judgments we make all the time. And he invented a test.

Harvey

From the very first minute that I saw the results, it was like, oh my God. This is scary. This knows things I wouldn't tell anybody.

Susan Drury

Harvey [? Shauf ?] is someone who administered all sorts of personality tests as part of his job, the Myers-Briggs, the DiSC, all the others. He first took this test 15 years ago.

Harvey

It was just something that was so unique, and so different, and so far beyond anything I had ever seen before that it was the tool I had always felt was missing, and the one I always felt I would like to find someday.

Susan Drury

Perhaps as many as 100 people in the US now administer the test. And they all seem to talk about it this way, like converts.

Man 1

It was incredible. I have no way to explain it to you, but my jaw just kept dropping, and dropping, and dropping.

Woman

It's literally like someone lifted something off of you. You walk out feeling like, OK, thank God I know that now.

Man 2

It was more of a spiritual experience for me than anything I had ever experienced before. I mean it's just like the whole world opened up, and there was nothing but light. And at that point, my life changed forever.

Susan Drury

The test is called the Hartman Value Profile, and it is astonishingly simple. There are no actual questions. It's just two lists of 18 objects and phrases that you rank in order from most valuable to least valuable. Some of the items on the first list, a baby, a uniform, a madman, a mathematical genius, love of nature, a rubbish heap, with this ring I thee wed, blow up an airliner in flight.

Some of the choices seem impossible. Which is worse, burning a heretic at the stake, or torturing a person in a concentration camp, or slavery? The second list of 18 items concerns work and happiness. There are sentences like, I curse the day I was born, and my work contributes nothing to the world. Again, you are supposed to rank them from most to least valuable.

The notion of a test invented to distinguish good from evil seemed so incredible that when I heard it existed I had to take it. And so I called up a company. They send me a test, and tell me to do it quickly. Don't think too much, they say. Just do it. It takes me 10 minutes. And really, it feels like a very strange parlor game, like a horoscope or a test in a magazine, something slightly interesting but immediately forgotten, nothing profound. I send it back, and arrange a time to get my results.

About a week later, I sit down with a guy named Wayne Carpenter. Wayne studied with Hartman in the '60s. He wears a cowboy hat over his long gray hair. He has a pile of papers with him, reports on me it turns out. But he doesn't look at them. The second he sits down, he just starts talking.

Wayne Carpenter

In your profile, the first thing that I look at is the fact that you are a very, very keenly perceptive person. In other words, you are aware of everything going on around you. You have an outstanding capacity to understand people. 90% of the time, you size up what a crucial issue is. You may not express it, but you're right.

Susan Drury

There is just nothing like having a stranger tell you that it's a scientific fact that you are right 90% of the time. Wayne tells me lots of other good things about myself. Even the negative things he spins to me in a really nice way. For instance, apparently the test scientifically proves I'm a bossy know it all. But Wayne expresses that like this.

Wayne Carpenter

When you see things that need to be done better, you like to give advice and tell people how to do it better. And you don't think about it as something that you are doing in order to create stress for them. But it can create stress.

Susan Drury

I already know most of these things about myself. But it was different coming from Wayne. The good things felt so official, like I could do anything, really. And the bad things seemed like such discreet little clumps of bad things in easy to understand categories. They're not soaking through your whole personality. It was all fine, except for one thing Wayne said to me about my need to tell people what to do.

Wayne Carpenter

As your child grows, that's something to watch out for, because one of these days she'll bring homework to you. And it will be a B plus. And you will look at it and see immediately how to make it into an A. And your natural instinct to help her is to say, you know, if you had made that one difference. And you're going to do that. When she brings you that paper, and it's a B plus, the first response you're going to have-- you're going to do that, Susan. I'm telling you right now. You can't escape that, because that is you.

Susan Drury

This haunted me. I didn't care about other stuff. But what he's describing is the opposite of my idea of a good parent. And I want to manage my way out of it. And he's telling me that's impossible too. I can't fix it. That's who I am.

Man 3

I'm supposed to greet you all here at 1:15.

Susan Drury

Every fall, Hartman's followers hold a conference at the University of Tennessee to figure out how to spread his ideas more effectively throughout the world. When I hear the word conference, I imagine throngs of people gathered together poring over the latest scientific exhibits and hurrying to make it to the next panel discussion. But in reality, the conference is just one little classroom. There's a box of doughnuts on a folding table. And half the scheduled lectures, it turns out, have canceled.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Man 4

John, what are we supposed to do next here?

Susan Drury

On the day I'm there, the big discussion is about how Hartman's followers can convince the University of Tennessee to teach a class on his ideas. This was the last place Hartman taught. He was by all accounts a dynamic and beloved professor. And yet, 30 years after his death he's mostly forgotten even here.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Man 5

Tennessee today, the world tomorrow.

Man

If Hartman's own students and colleagues can't organize themselves enough to convince his own school to teach his work, how likely is it that his ideas will organize the good of the world?

Back in the late '60s and early '70s, Hartman was actively trying to find practical uses for his test. He sent letters to all the US and European airlines. He suggested giving the Hartman Value Profile to airline passengers as a way to sort out potential hijackers before they boarded the planes. He was rejected by them all.

In 1970, at the request of President Richard Nixon, Hartman and a colleague, Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, submitted a proposal to test all American schoolchildren. Hutschnecker was Nixon's psychiatrist, and had been friends with Hartman for years. The proposal was to use Hartman's test to figure out which children had violent and criminal tendencies. Hartman figured about 1 million of them would be identified and placed into 50,000 therapy groups. Hutschnecker preferred the idea of camps. They saw the plan as a way to see trouble before it happened and try to prevent it. Again, here's Hartman's son, Jan.

Jan Hartman

And when I heard this I kind of went ballistic. I got him on the phone. My dad lived in Mexico. I said, this is really immoral. And you have to stop Hutschnecker from doing this. You can't segregate potential criminals from society just on the sense of one test. I said, because that's just what the Nazis would have done. If somebody answers the questions in such a way that you say, my God, here's a raving sociopath, but all you have to prove it is a test score, then you have a very moral problem, don't you?

What he didn't understand-- and I give him points for this, because it was a naivete, but it was also great idealism-- is that a tool is also a weapon.

Susan Drury

The media agreed. "Doctor Pushes Crime Tests for Tots," said the headline in the Washington Post. Time referred to it as an Orwellian proposal. The plan never went through.

Hartman continued to believe that he could use the test to solve these big picture social problems, that the test could serve as a way to good, as a path away from evil. But it just didn't work out that way, because people were disturbed by the idea of doctors going around evaluating everyone. They were scared that some people would end up labeled good and others wouldn't make the cut. And what would happen to them?

These days, there is still one arena where Hartman's test gets a lot of use, the workplace.

Wayne Carpenter

We work with them at Procter & Gamble and at GTE for all the sales managers in all the companies they own, Arthur Anderson--

Susan Drury

Consultants like Wayne Carpenter contract with companies to test their workers and help them solve problems based on the results of the Hartman Value Profile. It is the same test, the same logic. But they never talk about good and evil. They talk about performance, and work styles, and customer service. Wayne's company has tested about a half a million people. Wayne and Bob Terrell, the guy he runs his testing company with, show me and my producer, Starlee Kine, the letter they send out with the test results.

Wayne Carpenter

It starts out--

Bob Terrell

Congratulations. You are now in possession of your value analysis from Axiometrics International.

Starlee Kine

Why congratulations?

Wayne Carpenter

That's just the marketing.

Susan Drury

If you think about it, the workplace is kind of a weird place for a test like this. Would you want your boss to know exactly the way your mind operates? And yet Wayne helped the Nashville Predators pro hockey team figure out who should be the captain. He helped banks in New York figure out how to bring in new employees from a group of young adults who hadn't made it through high school. He has worked with AT&T, and NASA, and the US Postal Service. So here it is. Here was this very high minded idea, this test born out of the idea of a science of morality, which 40 years later has become a placement tool in human resource departments. And Wayne, though he is devoted to spreading the word about Hartman, is fine with this.

Wayne Carpenter

I thought, practically, what am I going to do? I can go out and preach, and people can listen. But if they only hear you talk about it, it's not the same.

Starlee Kine

Is the goal still ultimately that more and more and more goodness is going to add up, and in the long term, big picture way wipe out the bigger evil? Is that still the goal?

Wayne Carpenter

Oh, that is the goal. It always has been. That was the goal for Hartman. And that's the goal for me.

Susan Drury

He's trying to reach people one at a time, but even then it's not that easy. Wayne shows Starlee and me the profile of a successful businessman who recently took the test.

Wayne Carpenter

The first thing I am going to make aware of is that he's more secure of himself than 90% of the people we profile. The second thing I'm going to do is make him aware that that security and that consciousness, in terms of how he translates that back out, can hurt people without his intending to do it. And he needs to be more conscious of that. He can hurt you and it wouldn't bother him.

Bob Terrell

Who did you tell me, on television, this person is?

Wayne Carpenter

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Starlee Kine

Who is it?

Wayne Carpenter

Tony Soprano.

Starlee Kine

But Tony Soprano is a sociopath.

Wayne Carpenter

Well this is a sociopath. This person is a sociopath.

Starlee Kine

OK. So what do you do with this if you have a sociopath?

Wayne Carpenter

Knowing this person, I know there's very little I can do other than make them aware of it. And then they have to make the decision.

Bob Terrell

But if you make them aware of it, then they have a chance. And without them being aware of it, they don't have that chance. He doesn't see it. So if he sees it on paper, and he starts to think about it, and he says, yes, that's me, and I don't like that--

Starlee Kine

But do you think he's going to change?

Wayne Carpenter

The odds are probably against it. I doubt it.

Susan Drury

Hartman's son Jan says this is the big problem with his dad's ideas and with this test. Namely, once people understand what they are really like, does that make them change?

Jan Hartman

And I can not tell you the number of nights we sat up arguing that point. Our basic argument was that if you can measure things in a way that will reveal to people who and what they are, that the rest will follow.

Susan Drury

Is it that he thought if people had a system and a way of seeing their own sort of moral limitations or possible failings, they would thus adjust and correct those things?

Jan Hartman

That's the logic.

Susan Drury

Right, that's the logic.

Jan Hartman

And I would argue that there's nothing more unpredictable in the world than people, and that logic and order don't really exist in human emotions.

Susan Drury

This is why it's so hard to organize the good in the world one person at a time, because people don't always want to be good, and because when they want it they can't always do it.

Ira Glass

Susie Drury lives on a farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, where she is carefully monitoring her behavior around her two year old daughter.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Dave Kestenbaum and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, and Starlee Kine. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Jane Golombisky.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. Funding for our show comes from the listeners of WBEZ Chicago. WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who sometimes calls me up and asks--

Heather

Would to do me a favor? Would you sing me a song?

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.