Transcript

241:

20 Acts in 60 Minutes
Transcript

Originally aired 07.11.2003

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/241

Act One. Don't I Know You.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. And there's this theater company here in Chicago, where our program comes from, that for years has been putting on a new show every week where they perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. They're called the Neo-Futurists. And a few months ago, a bunch of us were sitting around talking about them. One of us had just seen one of these shows. And we thought, that would be fun. 30 stories in 60 minutes, let's try that.

Instead of our usual, each week we choose a theme, bring you three or four stories, blah blah blah, public radio, very reflective. What kinds of stories would we end up with if we did 30 in one hour? Or even 20? What would it sound like? We honestly had no idea. And so that's what we're going to do today. Today we're going to find out. And I have to say time is wasting if we're going to fit everything in. How many will it be? How many will we squeeze in? There's but one way to find out, and that is to stick around.

Act Two. No, Of Course I Know You.

Ira Glass

And let's begin with this one. Act One, Don't I Know You?

Throughout this hour we're going to be bringing you two minute documentaries, fantastically short works of fiction and all kinds of little stories that we ordinarily can't use on the radio show because they are just too short. Even though they're really fun stories to listen to and perfect stories for the radio. Our first story is one like that. It's one of those stories-- you know how people you know have their greatest hits stories of things that happen to them. We went on a massive search for stories like that from all over the country, and this is one of the stories like that that we found. It happened to this actor named Tate Donovan. He told it to our producer Starlee Kine. He was out one night going to a Broadway play with a friend, being treated in this way he never gets treated.

Tate Donovan

We're sitting around waiting for it to start. And I'm not a very recognizable actor. I'm an actor who works but I never get recognized. So all of a sudden, the 10 minutes we're sitting there for it to start, three or four people come up to me and recognize me. They know exactly who I am and they were quoting lines from a television show I was on. And like, hey, you were Joshua on Friends. And I've always admired stars who are really gracious. So you always think, you know, that's what I want to be like. I want to be really friendly when I'm famous. so I wanted to be friendly and sweet and go out to the people. They don't have to come to me all the time.

Starlee Kine

So for a little window of time though you were exactly the kind of celebrity that you wanted to always be? You were gracious and reserved.

Tate Donovan

Yeah, and warm, you know I mean? I wasn't like one of these distant celebrities. I was like, hey, I was genuine. They all left thinking, that's guy's a really great guy. He's so sweet. I was exactly how I wanted to be. I was doing it. I was doing great. And then the kid with the camera came along.

This nervous kid. I don't know, he must have been 16 years old. He was in a rented tuxedo, unbelievably shy and awkward, and he's got acne. And he's got a camera in his hand. And underneath the marquee is his date who is literally in a prom dress and she's got a corsage. And she's really nervous and clutching her hands. And he comes up to me and mumbles something about a picture. And I just feel for him so I'm like, absolutely, my gosh, sure. No problem, my God, you poor thing.

And I go up to his girlfriend and I wrap my arms around her and I'm like hey, where are you from? Fantastic, going to see the play? That's great. And the guy's not taking the photograph very quickly. He's just staring at me. And he's got his camera in his hands, and it's down by his chin. And she's very stiff and awkward. And I don't know what to do so I just lean across and I kiss her on the cheek. And I'm like, all right, come on, take the picture. Hurry up.

And finally he snaps it. And I'm like, OK, it was really wonderful to meet you. And he just stammered over to me and was like, "Could you take a picture of us?" And the whole time he just wanted me to take a picture of him and his girlfriend underneath the awning of the play. He didn't want a picture of me. He had no idea who I was.

They were in shock. I don't think they had ever come across a human being acting this way. I mean, could you imagine if you asked someone to take a picture and you just get in it yourself and kiss them?

Ira Glass

Tate Donovan with Starlee Kine. You can see Tate these days on the TV show, Damages.

Act Three. It's Commerce That Brings Us Together.

Ira Glass

Act Two, No, of Course I Know You. One of the things that's been really interesting about putting the show together this week is going to some of our regular contributors and commissioning stories that are just two or three minutes long from people who normally write stories that are ten times that length. This story is an example of that. From Scott Carrier in Salt Lake City.

Scott Carrier

Who was that woman? That woman I just saw while walking out of the restaurant? She was sitting at a table by the door, glasses, a hat, like Lois Lane. She looked at me like she knew me. And I said hello because I thought I recognized her but I couldn't remember her name. So I just kept going out the door. Now I can't even remember how I know her. I know I know her. Or used to know her. Somehow she was very important to me. She helped me out in a time of trouble. She used to roll her eyes. I'd say something dumb, and she'd roll her eyes and get me something I needed even though she didn't have to. Maybe she works in the library, or in the county recorder's office, or at the newspaper.

I think I may have been in love with her. No, she's too young. I was never in love with her, not in that way. It's just that I wanted something, needed something, and she was able to give it to me, almost out of the goodness of her heart. And now I can't even remember who she is. I'm sick. I'm old. I should just walk out into traffic and kill myself.

At home, at night, I go to sleep searching for the lost memory. Did I meet her down by the river in a canoe? Or was it on a ferry in southeastern Alaska? Or at the Foreign Correspondents club in Phnom Penh along the Mekong? She has something to do with water, with life, with mud.

I sleep poorly, turning and maybe even groaning in anguish. I don't care about the woman anymore. I'm worried for myself. I feel as if there's a black hole in my brain, and slowly but surely it's swallowing all the memories of my life. I get up at 5:30 and drive to work in the dark. I feel terrible. I look like a piece of gum in the gutter. I pull into Java Joe's to get some chemical help, and there she is behind the drive-up window.

I want to tell her I love her, but I don't because it would be too weird. All I can say is, wow. And she rolls her eyes and gets me my cup of coffee.

Ira Glass

Scott Carrier. He's a professor at Utah Valley University. Go Wolverines. Support for his work comes from hearingvoices.com.

Act Four. The Sound of One Hand Waving.

Ira Glass

Act Three, It's Commerce That Brings Us Together. In 1997, Susan Drury and her husband moved to rural Tennessee, not too far from the Alabama line. They grew attached to the local radio station.

Susan Drury

We couldn't really get any other radio stations at the house, but WKSR has a lot going for it. The way they read the obituaries on the air, the way people call in during the tornado to tell everybody they're OK and where the roads are flooded, the ads from the same downtown stores over and over and over. And then there's the show we like best.

Radio Host

Here we go. It's time once again for another edition of "Swap and Shop" here on WKSR.

Susan Drury

"Swap and Shop" is a low-tech, personable sort of Ebay. It's not fancy or particularly well produced or anything. It's just a show where people call in to say what they want to sell or buy or give away. They give their phone number and that's it.

Radio Host

"Swap and Shop," good morning.

Radio Caller

Good morning. I have a couch for sale I need to advertise.

Radio Host

OK.

Radio Caller

It's a Lane recliner couch. It's six weeks old. It listed for $1,140 and I'll sell it for $600. We've just got one too many.

Radio Host

OK, and your phone number?

Radio Caller

468-2524.

Radio Host

All right sir, thank you for calling.

Radio Caller

Thank you. Have a good day.

Radio Host

You too. There's a couch for sale at 468-2524.

Susan Drury

The show is hosted by a guy named Don Estep, and he almost never comments on anything people are trying to buy or sell. He's like a lot of my neighbors, particularly the men. The attitude is, your business is your business. There's no shame in tough times, and nobody turns himself inside out to tell you everything.

Radio Caller 2

Yes, I have for sale a table and chairs, a microwave, and a washer and a bedroom suite. And I also want to buy a car, a small car.

Radio Host

OK, there's a table and chairs.

Susan Drury

Mostly you're just left to wonder about the story behind these things. You don't get too many answers.

Radio Host

"Swap and Shop," good morning.

Radio Caller 3

Yes sir, I'd like to a used trampoline. Doesn't matter what shape it's in or if it even has a tarp on it or not. And my telephone number is 629--

Susan Drury

"Swap and Shop" is not unique to this station. Local stations across the country have these radio classifieds type shows. WKSR's version has a regular segment called "The Doggone Show."

Radio Host

Folks have found a black, white and brown young female beagle with a white tip on its tail. And more than likely a family pet. If you'll call 565-4505 is that number. Also four cows have been found and if you think they might belong to you--

Susan Drury

That first winter in our house we had no heat, which we thought was adventurous but was in fact just cold. And when we heard a lady call in with an ugly but functional wood stove for sale for $75, we called her. We got it and we were toasty.

Radio Caller 4

Hey Don, that little black and brown and white beagle with the tip on her tail that we found? Well we lost her. So you can quit advertising. On Barnett Road.

Radio Host

Barnett Road?

Radio Caller 4

Yeah.

Radio Host

All right.

Ira Glass

Susan Drury in Tennessee.

Act Five. The Sound of No Hands Clapping.

Ira Glass

Act Four, The Sound of One Hand Waving. For this one, let's go to the beach for a one minute and four second vacation on Nantucket Island.

Patty Martin

When we were in the water and we realized we weren't able to get back in, we had some friends that were on the beach. And so we started waving to them. We were doing this double hand wave thing over our heads. And our friend just kept waving back. She was standing and talking to some other people on the beach. And it must've happened two or three times. And we'd wave like crazy, and she waved back.

And then when we got on the surfboard later when the surfer picked us up and we still couldn't get in, we were waving again. And again she thought-- we asked her afterwards, we said "Why did you think we were waving?" She said, "We thought you were just trying to show us you were on the surfboard with this guy." So I'm like God, we're waving frantically to tell you what, that we're on a surfboard with some 19 year old? Nobody got it. And we were sufficiently panicked and nobody saw anything but a bunch of middle-aged women at Fat Ladies Beach waving to their friends.

Ira Glass

Patty Martin from Nantucket. She talked to Jim Sultzer. She has since passed away.

Act Six. Reaching Out With Radio.

Ira Glass

Act Five. The Sound of No Hands Clapping. This one came from Vicki Merrick and Eric Kipp and Jay Allison, who's the voice you hear.

Jay Allison

Listen. [SCALLOPS CLAPPING] Scallops clapping on Martha's Vineyard.

Act Seven. Up Where the Air Is Clear.

Ira Glass

Act Six, Reaching Out With Radio. Blunt Youth Radio is this project where they work with incarcerated teenagers. This story comes from Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, Maine. And just imagine how this works. You're a teenager. You're locked up. You're in juvenile detention. And this group comes to you and says they will help you make your own radio story on a subject that concerns you. What do you do that story about? Well here's Joey.

Joey

Hi, Im Joey and I ate somebody's urine. It all started when I went to dinner at the cafeteria and someone told my friend not to eat the pudding. Then my friend told me after I ate that someone had peed in it. I survived that day, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. So I went to the cooks to see if they had an answer.

This is Joey and Jake. We're about to see if we can interview Bill Wyman on--

Jake

Our food situation.

Joey

People messing with our food.

Jake

Yeah we're not too happy.

Joey

We're not too happy.

Joey

Excuse me Mr. Wyman? I was wondering if I could interview you and talk to you about people putting, if it happened, glass in our pancakes and peeing in the pudding and stuff? We were wondering what you had to say about that.

Bill Wyman

They don't. Nobody does that. You kids don't handle the food at all.

Joey

We heard that it was brought up at briefing that somebody put glass in the pancakes.

Bill Wyman

No, it wasn't glass. It was a piece of plastic that came from one of the glasses out there in the dining room that you kids had.

Joey

Do you know how it got into the pancake batter?

Bill Wyman

It didn't get into the pancake batter. It was put in there afterwards.

Jake

Well we heard different from other kids.

Bill Wyman

You heard different? Do you know a thing about it?

Joey

We heard that it was--

Bill Wyman

Did you two have any idea, whatsoever, what's going on?

Joey

That's why we came to you, to get an idea.

Bill Wyman

That's not why you came to me. You came to me because you thought it was true.

Jake

Yes, of course--

Bill Wyman

Then you kept it going.

Jake

If somebody said that they messed your food, joking or not, wouldn't you want to know really what happened or not?

Bill Wyman

No, I would totally go with the kitchen crew and what you guys have been told.

Jake

So you'd believe the kitchen crew over the person no matter how much credibility you could give them? You'd believe the kitchen crew over them even if--

Bill Wyman

Of course, because you don't cook the food. You think it's funny don't you? you really think it's funny.

Jake

I really don't think it's funny.

Bill Wyman

Then why are you grinning like a Cheshire cat?

Jake

Because you're going friggin' zero to ten just because we're asking you a bunch of questions.

Bill Wyman

No it's not what you're asking, it's how you're asking the same thing over again. And you're tying to get an answer which there isn't any answer there.

Joey

All right, this is obviously not working. I'm going to have to interview somebody else. I heard some kid got jumped because he supposedly peed in the pudding.

Bill Wyman

Supposedly, that's the key word right there, supposedly.

Woman

We have an investigator, and he investigated the incident. And we also had the pudding tested. They took it to an independent laboratory and tested it. And it was proven that there was no foreign matter in that pudding at all. Now perhaps you weren't told that because I don't think you're told everything. But it was sad that because you thought there was, you incited a riot in the dining room and made a big mess that kids had to clean up that had nothing to do with it.

Joey

I don't know what to think. If someone did contaminate the food with bodily fluids, I guess I'd rather not know since I'm stuck here and I had to eat the food. Thank you for your time. This is Joey.

Ira Glass

Joey, he was 18 when he recorded that story. His friend Jake was 16. If you're just tuning in, this is This American Life. We have tossed out our regular way of doing the show this week. Trashed it, chucked it, spurned it, we laugh at it, we spit on its grave. And instead we are bringing you as many short stories as we can fit into 60 minutes. It's barely, what, 18 minutes into the show and already we are at Act Seven, an incredible achievement.

Act Eight. The Greatest Dog Name in the World.

Ira Glass

Act Seven, Up Where the Air is Clear, we have this story from Jonathan Goldstein.

Jonathan Goldstein

Before he ever moved to Gotham City, before he grew into the overweight, obsessive sad sack of his later years, the Penguin was a poet and a dandy who lived in London. He wrote complex villanelles and threw lavish dinner parties at which he only became more charming the more he drank. He wore a monocle, a top hat and carried an umbrella.

One evening, at one of his dinner parties after hours spent sipping absinthe, the Penguin ran up to the roof of his building, opened up his large, black umbrella and leaped off into the air. As he coasted to the ground, he hollered out lines from Blake, stuff about grabbing life by the fat of its stomach and giving it a twist. He was that crazy. He was that bursting with life.

From that night on he made it his habit to jump off roofs ever higher while clutching an umbrella. After a while he got pretty good at it too. He saw that by kicking his legs and twisting his back a certain way, he could actually prolong his flight, coasting all over the place, sometimes only landing after several daring minutes aloft.

It came to pass that the Penguin started hearing more and more about a certain nanny named Mary Poppins. She too, he was told, had been floating around London hanging from an umbrella handle. Everywhere he went, the Penguin kept hearing about her, how it was simply insane that they had not met each other yet. So finally a dinner party was arranged by someone who knew them both, and on the evening of the party, the Penguin walked into the drawing room, saw Mary Poppins on the divan, doffed his top hat and bowed low, as was his style in those days.

He had planned a few things to say and do when first meeting Mary Poppins. He thought he might lift up his umbrella as though challenging her to a dual. He imagined she would smile and take up her own frilly, perhaps pink umbrella. And then together they would dance about the room, leaping over furniture, parrying and thrusting, perhaps even winding things up breathing heavily nose to nose.

Instead what happened was the Penguin became very shy and quiet. As he stood there staring at her, his top hat felt needlessly clumsy, his monocle too small for his face, and the squinting needed to keep it in place was giving him a slight headache. For the first time in his life, the Penguin felt ludicrous.

"I imagine you two must have an infinite amount of things to speak of," said their host as he sat them together at the dinner table. The Penguin nodded uncertainly. After three or four minutes, it became clear that the Penguin and Mary Poppins had absolutely nothing to say to one another that did not deal exclusively with umbrella travel-- getting stuck in trees, the shoulder aches, anxiety about tipping over in the wind.

Everyone at the table just sat there staring at them expectantly, which made the whole thing even more awkward. Trying to move things along, Mary Poppins asked the Penguin if he liked to sing, to which the Penguin responded, "Only when I'm drunk." Then she asked if he enjoyed children, to which he replied, "Yes, in a sweet wine sauce." The Penguin then asked Mary Poppins how she kept people from looking up her skirt when she flew. She smiled politely, then turned to the man on her left and asked him how he was enjoying the lamb.

The man on her left was wearing an elegant, aristocratic cape. Mary, a bit drunk on the sherry, noted that if he spread his cape out, he might be able to glide about like a bat. The man on her left chuckled and suggested that after dinner they head up to the roof and give it a try, which they did.

Ira Glass

Jonathan Goldstein, his new book, a re-write of the Bible, comes out this spring.

Act Nine. Of Dogs and Men.

Ira Glass

Act Eight, The Greatest Dog Name in the World. Yes we have the true story of its origin years ago. And exclusive, told by two brothers, one who's 12, one who's 13.

Brother 1

I wanted to name him Pasta. I used to like pasta a lot and it was probably the first thing that came to my mind. So out of nowhere I said Pasta. So he said Batman.

Brother 2

I wanted to name him Batman because I saw in a movie, a dog stuck his head out the window and his ears went straight up. And it looked like, reminded me of Batman.

Brother 1

And we fought over it for a little bit.

Brother 2

I just remember running around and chasing each other. I was jumping on my mom's bed saying Batman, Batman, Batman. And my brother was sitting in the chair saying Pasta, Pasta, Pasta. And that must have gone on for an hour.

Brother 1

I think it was right around the time we had this big fight about gumballs, which I'm not going to get into because it's pretty embarrassing. But if there was just some little thing that we couldn't agree on, then it would just blow up into this whole big thing.

Brother 2

Yeah, I remember being pretty upset about it. And then my mom comes in and says, all right, that's it, it's over. It's Pasta Batman. That's it.

Brother 1

And then there was silence, And then from there he is Pasta Batman Loetz. Pasta, come on. Pasta Batman.

Brother 2

Pasta, here. Pasta Batman. Hey, good doggie.

Ira Glass

Their names, Valion and Paris Loetz, age 12 and 13. They spoke with Katie Adone.

Act Ten.

Ira Glass

Act Nine, Of Dogs and Men. Elaine Boehm works at a pet shop.

Elaine

We've had to help people select items for their animals. And this woman and her husband came in. She was looking for a training collar, the pinch collar type. And of course they're pretty hideous looking but they do do the job. And they don't hurt the animal. They just get the animal's attention. Well she couldn't make up her mind what size to get. So she looked over at her husband and she said, "Dear, come over here." And then she looked at me and she said, "You know his neck is about the same size as the dog." "Put this on," she says. And the guy stood there and took it as she puts the prong pinch collar around his neck and she gives him a yank.

And he says "Yes sweetheart, this works. This works. Thank you very much." That was the end of that.

Ira Glass

Elaine Boehm talked with Jim Sultzer.

Act Eleven. Etiquette Lesson.

Ira Glass

Act Ten, let's close out this part of our show before the break with the story from the theater group that gave us the idea for today's jam-packed little program in the first place. That group again, the Neo-Futurists. Their show, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," where they perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. Turns out you can get across a surprising amount in a two minute play. Some of their plays are monologues. Some of them are scenes. But a lot of them just take some simple concept, one idea, and then spin that concept out on stage for two minutes. This one's like that.

Greg Allen

Statement. Statement. Statement. Question?

Heather Riordan

Agreement.

Greg Allen

Reassured statement. Confident statement. Confident statement. Overconfident statement.

Heather Riordan

Question?

Greg Allen

Elaborate defensive excuse.

Heather Riordan

Half-hearted agreement.

Greg Allen

Insecure statement. Distracted statement. Absurd statement.

Heather Riordan

Clarification question?

Greg Allen

Panicked [BLEEP] explanation. Quick meaningless comic non-sequitur. Fake laughter.

Heather Riordan

Fake laughter.

Greg Allen

Fake laughter. Accidental compliment of physical characteristics.

Heather Riordan

Pleased response.

Greg Allen

Shocked continuation of meaningless comic non-sequitur. Relieved laughter.

Heather Riordan

Relived laughter.

Greg Allen

Relived laugther.

Heather Riordan

Superficial compliment.

Greg Allen

Self-assured agreement as denial. Exaggerated statement. Exaggerated statement. Grossly exaggerated statement.

Heather Riordan

Clarification question?

Greg Allen

Extremely exaggerated elucidation.

Heather Riordan

Mental compliment with accidental double entendre.

Greg Allen

Confident laughter.

Heather Riordan

That's funny.

Greg Allen

Confident suggestive proposition.

Heather Riordan

Violent denial.

Greg Allen

Aghast repetition as question?

Heather Riordan

Disguted violent denial.

Greg Allen

Defensive incriminating implication.

Heather Riordan

Offended retort.

Greg Allen

Aggressive childish insult.

Heather Riordan

Disbelieving rhetorical question?

Greg Allen

Agressive childish insult.

Heather Riordan

Stunned silence.

Greg Allen

Agressive childish insult.

Heather Riordan

Defensive childish response.

Greg Allen

Agressive childish insult.

Heather Riordan

Defensive childish response.

Greg Allen

Agressive childish insult.

Heather Riordan

Defensive childish response.

Greg Allen

Attempted condescending conclusive statement.

Heather Riordan

Brilliant scathing remark with literary allusion and long-term devastating scatological implication.

Greg Allen

Pathetic self-revelation.

Ira Glass

Greg Allen and Heather Riordan from "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," 30 plays in 60 minutes, which runs every weekend in Chicago and New York. Visit their website, neo-futurists.org. Coming up, David Sedaris on an important, and I have to say, un-discussed question about cell phone use. And so many, so many, so many other stories. I don't even want to count them. In a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Well this is turning out to be an interesting show, isn't it? It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. And if you're just tuning in, this week we are throwing out our regular way of doing things, you know three or four stories and some theme, blah blah blah. To hell with all that. Instead, we are trying to cram as many stories into one hour as we humanly can. We guarantee 20. There may be more.

Act Twelve. To Tell the Truth.

Ira Glass

We are at number 11, Etiquette Lesson. Here's writer David Sedaris.

David Sedaris

In a men's room at Laguardia Airport I watched a man take a cell phone from his jacket pocket, step into an empty stall and proceed to dial. I thought he had come for the relative privacy, but looking through the space beneath the door, I saw that his pants were gathered about his ankles. He was sitting on the toilet.

Most airport calls begin with geography. "I'm in Kansas City," people say. "I'm in Houston." "I'm at Kennedy." When asked where he was, the man on the phone said simply, "I'm at the airport. What do you think?"

The sounds of a public toilet are not the sounds you would generally associate with an airport. And so his "What do you think?" struck me as unfair. The person he was talking to obviously felt the same way. "What do you mean what airport?" the man said. "I'm at Laguardia. Now put me through to Marty."

A few hours later I was in Boston, relating the story to my sister Tiffany. I mean he actually placed a call while sitting on the toilet. Tiffany is big on rules, and so I expected a certain degree of outrage. I wanted disgust but instead she said only, "I don't believe in cellphones." "But you do believe in talking on the phone while sitting on the toilet?" "Well it's not a belief," she said. "But I mean sure." When asked how she explains the noise, Tiffany scrunched up her face and held an imaginary receiver to her mouth. "I say, don't mind me. I'm just trying to get the lid off this jar."

Her face returned to normal and I thought of all the times I had fallen for that line, all the times I had pictured my sister standing helpless in her kitchen. "Try tapping the lid against the counter top," I had said. Or "rinse it in hot water. That sometimes works." Eventually, after much struggle, she would let out a breath. "There we go," she'd say. "I've got it now." And then she would say thank you. And I'd hang up thinking, well it's a good thing she called me.

Ira Glass

David Sedaris. His latest book is called When You Were Engulfed in Flames.

Act Thirteen. More Lies.

Ira Glass

Act 12, To Tell the Truth. This was recorded by Brent Runyon in the kids section in the public library.

Brent Runyon

My parents punished me so many times because I lied. Well I was home one day and I tripped over my brother. Well OK, don't tell anybody this. I jumped over my brother's chair. I jumped--

Boy

You did?

Brent Runyon

Yeah.

Boy

You lied to me?

Brent Runyon

I told you I jumped.

Boy

No you didn't.

Brent Runyon

I told you the first day I got my crutches.

Boy

No you did not.

Brent Runyon

Oh.

Act Fourteen. Call in Colonel Mustard For Questioning.

Ira Glass

Act 13, More Lies. This happened to Catherine and her husband John long before they were married, back before they graduated from college.

Catherine

Girls babysit a lot and boys don't. And girls understand that when you babysit, part of the deal is that you get to eat anything you want. So after we'd put the kids to bed, I said, "Well we should go see what they have to eat." And he said, "We can't eat their food." And I said, "Of course we can eat their food. What do you mean? And he said, "That's stealing." I said, "John, I promise you. It's fine to eat something. They expect us to. They understand. They don't expect us to starve while we're babysitting.

And finally he said "Well we can eat something but only something they won't miss." And they had a huge crate full of grapefruits. And they also had cans and cans of black beans. So I had to have the grapefruit. And John opened up a can of black beans and had that. And then I wrapped up the other half of the grapefruit. And John rinsed out and dried off the empty can of black beans. And we put the wrapped up half of grapefruit and the cleaned out can of black beans in his bag.

Ira Glass

So that people wouldn't know that you had eaten these things?

Catherine

We had destroyed the evidence.

Ira Glass

At his insistence?

Catherine

Yes, it was absurd. And then we watched TV, our hunger satisfied. And then the couple came home. And we made small talk. And then John picked up his bag in the hallway and there was a dull thud. And half the grapefruit fell out on the floor. And I said, "Oh, that's mine. I'm sorry. We're allowed to take a piece of fruit from the dining hall, and I had taken that grapefruit from the dining hall. And that's why I have it here."

And then they said, "OK, OK that's nice." And then I put it back in John's bag. And then John picked up his bag again. And then there was, you guessed it, a clang. And clanging out onto the floor went this empty can of black beans. And when the can fell out on the floor, John said, "Oh, that's mine. I keep change in that." Like I keep change, as if that was less insane.

Act Fifteen. Mister Prediction.

Ira Glass

ACT 14, Call in Colonel Mustard For Questioning, or that's what happens if you don't use a condiment kids. See all the stupid jokes that you end up telling if you have a story that takes place in a hot dog factory about hot dogs? Here we go.

Jim Bodman

My name is Jim Bodman and I'm the chairman of the Vienna Sausage Company in Chicago. And the building that we are currently standing in, which is on the north side of Chicago, on Damon near the corner of Fullerton, was built around 1970.

Ira Glass

This hot dog plant, Jim Bodman says, replaced the company's original facility, which is all the way down on the south side of town, which was a kind of warren of buildings that had been bought up gradually on one block over the course of 70 years as the company grew.

Jim Bodman

So it was put together in a Rube Goldberg kind of arrangement. So we moved into this building. And this was a brand new, state of the art, stainless steel, refrigeration is perfect, spit clean building. And we started making our natural, old world, hickory smoked, natural casing hot dogs here. And it wasn't as good.

Ira Glass

They tasted OK, he says, but they didn't have the right snap when you bit into them. And even worse, the color was wrong. The hot dogs were all pink instead of bright red. So they tried to figure out what was wrong. The ingredients were all the same. The spices were all the same. The process was all the same. Maybe it was the temperature in the smoke house? Maybe the water on the north side of Chicago wasn't the same as the water on the south side? They searched, they searched for a year and a half. Nothing checked out.

Then one night, a bunch of guys from the plant were out having a drink, gabbing about the good old days, back in the old plant on Maxwell Street. They start talking about this guy named Irving, one of those guys who knows everybody in the plant, has nicknames for everybody. And listen to what Irving's job was. Every day he would weave his way with the uncooked sausages through the maze of passageways in the old plant.

Jim Bodman

He would go through the hanging vents, that's where we hang the pastrami pieces. And it's quite warm. And he would go through the boiler room, where we produced all the energy for the plant. He would go next to the tanks where we cooked the corn beef. Finally get around the corner, in some cases actually go up an elevator. And then he would be at the smoke house. He would put it in the smoke house and he would cook it.

Ira Glass

And as they're telling stories about Irving, Irving this, Irving that, a light bulb goes off. In the fancy new modern plant, there was no Irving. Irving didn't want to commute to the north side. There was no maze of hallways. There was no half hour trip where the sausage would get warmed before they would cook it. In the new plant, they just stuffed the sausages in a cold room and cook them in a smoke house in the room next door to it. Irving's trip was the secret ingredient that made the hot dogs red. So secret even the guys who ran the plant didn't know about it.

Jim Bodman

So we said, oh my god, that is of course the reason. Why didn't we know that? That's the dumbest thing in the world to not realize it's right there. How do we fix it? And the solution to the problem was the room that we're standing in right now. And this was a new addition put on at the plant about two years after we built the facility.

Ira Glass

So you had to build this room?

Jim Bodman

This whole room. The outside bearing wall is that wall right there. We put this whole room on and in this room, we emulate the old area of the old plant.

Ira Glass

And so this room essentially is to simulate Irving?

Jim Bodman

That's exactly right. We should have called it Irving, Irving's corner.

Ira Glass

It's warm in Irviing's corner. And it smells nice too, smoky, like hickory smoke and spices. Since I first heard this story years ago from a tour of this very plant, I've found myself telling it now and then. I think that what I love about it is the fact that these guys at the factory had done everything right, finally built their dream factory with the best equipment and expertise that money could buy. But you can't think of everything. Sometimes, you have no idea why you were a success in the first place.

Act Sixteen. That One Guy at the Office.

Ira Glass

Act 15, Mr. Prediction. In the mid 1980s, right out of college, David Rakoff moved to Japan. And pretty soon ended up in this office job where he was convinced that he understood a secret about the company and its business that nobody else, not even the big bosses of the company, could see. It was like that from the start.

David Rakoff

Primarily the office was an advertising agency. But what they were setting up was this thing for expatriates who were living in Tokyo at the time, or perhaps all of Japan. And it was like a network on a computer. And they would set up a newsletter on the network. And people could quote, "log on to the computer and talk to one another." Or do research. And I was just, I don't know I just looked around the room and I saw these computers. And could only think, what kind of loser would log on to a computer, talk to someone? And in fact that night in my diary, I had written something like, this is like those comic book enthusiasts who actually read the little instructions at the bottom of the panel that said, "For more on the Green Goblin, check out Spidey number 137."

And in almost the only moment of decisiveness in my entire adult life-- I've certainly never equalled this-- I went in the next morning and I quit. And all I could think was Sayonara suckers. Good luck with your network. And we know exactly what the network was. It was the internet.

I have a negative capacity to identify trends. Like when in college I went to see Madonna at Danceteria, which was a club downtown, like 1982 or whatever. And I thought, boy is she lousy.

Ira Glass

Other examples besides Madonna and the internet?

David Rakoff

Other than Madonna and the internet, you need another example? When I was an editorial assistant working in publishing, I was handed a manuscript to read. And I think I wrote something like sub-literate, borderline misogyny, an easy pass. And somebody thought, I'm just going to take a look at this anyway. It was Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. These are not like me saying, I don't think Alicia Silverstone is going to be very good in Clueless. I mean these are--

Ira Glass

Pretty big, iconic ones.

David Rakoff

Yeah, it's like, have you fellows heard that crazy lunatic in the marketplace inveighing against the Pharisees? He'll burn off like so much morning fog. We'll never hear about him ever again. It's just like that.

[MUSIC - "LIKE A PRAYER" BY MADONNA]

Ira Glass

Mr. David Rakoff in New York. His newest book is Don't Get Too Comfortable. Well you're listening to This American Life, where today is all about speed. We are what, 44 minutes into the program and we've already finished 15 acts.

Act Seventeen. You Can't Choose Your Gift.

Ira Glass

And this brings us to Act 16, That One Guy At The Office. If you work in an office, you know there's always at least one person whose name you do not know. In Jordanna's office, Matt is that guy for perhaps, as best as anybody can figure, half the people who work there. Jordanna will tell you about it.

Jordanna Gustafson

Matt Ostrauer sits next to the printer in the busiest hallway at our office. People walk by him dozens of times a week on their way to retrieve printouts. And though he actually works in the New Media department and has nothing to do with the printer, most people don't know this. It's his sad fate that most of his conversations at work are about one thing.

Matt

Originally a lot of them were printer-based, why is this printer taking so long? Oh, paper's out. Oh there's a printer jam. Some of it has never really left that genre of conversation. They don't really expand too much so a lot of it is just very superficial.

Worker

Hey did you throw away any printouts here?

Matt

No I didn't touch anything.

Jordanna Gustafson

I'd been working in the office a few months when one day a friend called me and said he was hanging out with one of my coworkers who lived in his building. "Who?" I asked. "Matt," he said. I had no idea who that was and said so. Then I heard a voice in the background say, "Tell her I sit next the printer." And that's when his predicament hit me. So I decided to survey my co-workers to see if they knew who he is, what his real job is. Do they even know his name?

Worker 2

No, I mean I know his face very well. I stop and I chat. I say, hi how are you. As I'm grabbing things off the printer I ask him about his little electronic music devices and all that. We chit chat. And I'd say I do that probably about three or four times a day at least. But I have no idea what his name is.

Jordanna Gustafson

I wondered if Matt was at all surprised by this.

Matt

Shocked. I honestly see him between 50 and 75 times a day, like different intervals of time. At least that every day, every single day.

Jordanna Gustafson

I'm wondering if you know the name of the guy that sits right out here in the hallway.

Worker 3

Is his name-- I don't know. Works on the web right? Kind of?

Jordanna Gustafson

And Matt's response.

Matt

I'm a little surprised because I see her every day as well.

Jordanna Gustafson

I'm wondering if you know the name of the guy that sits in the hallway next to the printer?

Worker 4

I don't see anybody sitting in the hallway next to the printer. I didn't think we had anybody sitting next to the printer.

Matt

I've never had this kind of experience before. The whole situation is just ridiculous that I've been here for a year and a half pretty much every day. And there are still people who don't know my name or what I do. And it's a little bit weird. I could go through a pretty full day without talking to anyone besides the requests from the printer. Sometimes that's it for me.

Jordanna Gustafson

Matt says the printer shows up in his dreams sometimes. In his dreams, he'll be at a party waiting in line for the bathroom or at a parking lot at the beach, people everywhere, and there will be the printer, off to the side, chugging away, occasionally jamming.

Ira Glass

Jordanna Gustafson in Boston.

Act Eighteen. Party Talk.

Ira Glass

Act 17, You Can't Choose Your Gift.

Richard Kerry

I'm Richard Kerry and I have this one little talent. I don't know where it came from and it fears me to think that it is something that I myself possess. But I'm able to make the entire sound of a swamp. And I will attempt to do so now. I'm not sure I'm prepared at this moment but I'll give you the sound of a swamp. [SWAMP SOUNDS] And I don't know why but it seems to be really important at parties.

Ira Glass

Richard Kerry talked to Jim Sulzter.

Act Nineteen. The Hard Life at the Top.

Ira Glass

Act 18, Party Talk. Here's writer Chuck Klosterman.

Chuck Klosterman

This was a conversation that happened to me at a party two years ago. At one point in the conversation, I suddenly found it necessary to mention that Journey was rock's version of the TV show Dynasty. This prompted a spirited debate we then dubbed "Monkeys Equals Monkeys."

The goal of this game is to figure out which television show is the closest philosophical analogy to a specific rock and roll band. And the criteria are mind-blowingly complex. It's a combination of longevity, era, critical acclaim, commercial success and most importantly, the aesthetic soul of each artistic entity.

For example, The Rolling Stones are Gunsmoke. The Strokes, Kiefer Sutherland's 24. Jimi Hendrix was The Twilight Zone. Devo was Fernwood Tonight. Lynyrd Skynyrd was The Beverly Hillibiilies, which makes Molly Hatchet Pettycoat Junction. . The Black Crows are That 70s Show. Hall and Oates were Bosom Buddies. U2 is M.A.S.H. because both kind of got preachy at the end. Dokken was Jason Bateman's short lived sitcom, It's Your Move. The Eurythmics were Mork and Mindy.

We even deduced comparisons for solo projects, which can only be made to series that were spawned as spin-offs. The four Beatles post-1970 are as follows. John equals Maud. Paul equals Frasier. George equals The Jeffersons. And Ringo equal Flow. David Lee Roth's solo period after Van Halen was Knots Landing. So there's proof marijuana makes you smarter.

Ira Glass

Chuck Klosterman reading from his book, Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs. His latest book is a novel called Dowtown Owl.

Act Twenty. The Greatest Moment I Ever Saw On a Stage.

Ira Glass

Act 19, The Hard Life at the Top. Here's a ritual that takes place every summer on the last day of June. 1,200 new army cadets, mostly teenagers, survivors of one of the most exhausting application processes in the country, arrive at West Point. And then, in the space of one morning, they're separated from their parents, their clothes are taken away, their hair is taken away, they're weighed, they're measured. They're issued a bag, an army uniform and underwear. They take their oath of office, and then here is the first act they have as non-civilians.

All they have to do is say a single sentence. Once they get it said, they can go to their barracks. But not until then. David Lipsky spent four years writing about these guys and describes what happens each year.

David Lipsky

The drill is simple. The new cadets have to step up to a tape line, drop their bags and make their report to upperclassmen wearing red sashes. "You will walk up to the line," the red sashes tell them. "And you will say, 'Sir, new cadet Doe reports to the cadet in the red sash for the first time as ordered.'"

The new cadets swallow, nod their heads and then the screwing up begins. This cadet is so nervous he doesn't realize he's supposed to swap his own name for Doe.

Cadet

Sir, new cadet Doe reports to the cadet in the red sash.

David Lipsky

"Is your last name Doe?" the red sash screams. Words count, even footwork counts.

Cadet Clinker

New cadet Clinker, a jittery, 18 year old female cadet finds this out when she steps a little too far forward.

Cadet Clinker

Sir, new cadet Clinker.

Red Sash

New cadet, look where you're standing. I told you to step up to my line. You better learn how to follow orders new cadet.

David Lipsky

The red sash asks her to do it again. This time she stands in the right place but she's forgotten what to say.

Cadet Clinker

Sir, new cadet Clinker reports --

Red Sash

Are you showing emotion? Did I just see a smile coming across your face?

Cadet Clinker

No sir.

Red Sash

You are like a rock. Maintain your military discipline at all time. Do you understand?

Cadet Clinker

Yes sir.

David Lipsky

For these specially selected red sashes, breaking in the new cadets is a great honor. The day before, they've even practiced being hard on local civilians in a full rehearsal. Every year a bunch of teachers, sons, daughters, groundskeepers from around town sign up for a fun day as practice cadets. Every year, a handful leave in tears.

Cadet Mcleod

Sir, new cadet McLeod reporting to the cadet in the red sash for the first time as ordered.

Red Sash

Drop your salute.

David Lipsky

New cadet McLeod stutters on his first attempt. He's asked to drop his salute and start over. On this one day, almost 1,200 young men and women will make the report. If everyone did it right the first time, it would take about an hour. I don't see anyone go through the first time. It takes all day. New cadet McLeod tries again, but the words won't come.

Cadet Mcleod

Sir, new cadet McLeod--

Red Sash

Drop your salute. Are you a new cadet?

David Lipsky

"Drop your salute," the red sash tells him. "Are you a n-new cadet or a new cadet?" "New cadet," he says, forgetting the sir.

Cadet Mcleod

New cadet.

Red Sash

New cadet. Are you going to put a sir on that?

David Lipsky

Poor new cadet McLeod has already screwed up twice. To get here, he spent 18 years excelling in nearly every way he can-- in school work, in athletics, at student council meetings. He's beaten his way to the top of the 50,000 applicants who fill out request for information forms. He's been interviewed by senators, congressman, and now here he is in the last place he ever thought he'd find himself, a sudden death play audition. He only has to say one line. He draws a breath, tries one more time. And after letting go of his family, his hair, his clothes, he drops the last vestige of his civilian life. He forgets his own name.

Cadet Mcleod

Sir, new cadet-- [INTERPOSING VOICES]

Ira Glass

David Lipsky, his book following one cadet class at West Point for four years is called Absolutely American.

Act 20.

Ira Glass

Act 20, The Greatest Moment I Ever Saw On a Stage. I'll say first of all that this moment that I saw caught me completely off guard. I was at a play where I was not expecting anything special. It was put on by an organization that works with teenagers, Music Theater Workshop is what it's called. And among other things they get kids who are locked up in Chicago's juvenile detention center, the [UNINTELLIGIBLE] Home, to write and perform musicals about their lives.

This one was performed by teenage girls. OK, so we're in the detention center. Folding chairs have been set up. The girl's parents-- it's mostly mothers and grandmothers, very few men-- are sitting directly in front of the stage. And imagine for a minute what it's like to be one of those parents. OK, your kid's locked up, possibly on very serious charges some of these girls were. You're worried about what's going to happen to them next. You're probably still mad that they didn't listen to you in the first place and got into all this trouble and ended up behind bars. What could theater possibly do for you in this situation, you know? It seems like such an old fashioned idea that it can do anything.

So there's this one scene in the play.

Actress

Where did you get these clothes from?

Ira Glass

And it's the story of this girl named Candice. And Candice basically wanted better clothes so the other kids at school wouldn't laugh at her. And so she steals some clothes from Nike Town. And she gets in trouble. She gets caught. And then she joins a gang to earn some money and be more popular. Her mom find some drugs in the house, and a gun, and feels completely betrayed because that was not how she raised her daughter. And one thing leads to another and Candice gets locked up.

Then, the girl narrating the story says, "And this is how Candice feels about her mom now." And then all the girls in the play come out on the stage and stand in a line, facing their mothers and grandmothers who are right there in front of them.

Singers

[SINGING] Mama, I am sorry, for what I have done. I was arrested and ended up here in the [? Ali ?] Home. Oh I'm sorry for putting you through all of this. I know you are mad about the good times that we missed. I'm ready to come back home. I'm willing to make a change.

Ira Glass

One of the verses goes, "Mama I'm sorry for making you come to court, for almost losing your job to give me moral support. Mama I'm sorry for putting you through all this stress, for making you worry yourself and depress. I'm ready to come back home. I'm willing to make a change."

And by this time, the girls are all crying. Their parents are all crying. And each girl has a cut out, heart like on Valentine's day. Like that, made from red construction paper, like the size of your palm. And written on each one are the words "I'm sorry." And each girl goes out into the audience to where her mom is sitting or her grandma is sitting and hands her the heart. And the parents are crying and the kids are crying and everybody is hugging. It was really something.

Singers

[SINGING] I'll do anything for you mama. Please forget about yesterday. Mama, I'm sorry.

Ira Glass

Here they were, not just saying this to their mothers but saying it publicly, in front of the world, in front of their friends. Saying this thing that could be so hard to say in any case. Singing it out and hoping that it can heal something that is going to be hard to heal no matter what you do.

Singers

[SINGING] I'm sorry. Mama I'm sorry.

Credits.

Ira Glass

And that's our show for today, 20 acts in 60 minutes. Thanks to Atlantic Public Media, WCAI and WNAN. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia who remembers all the way back when we started the show.

Brother 1

think it was just right around the time we had this big fight about gumballs, which I'm not going to get into because it's pretty embarrassing.

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.