Transcript

244:

MacGyver
Transcript

Originally aired 08.15.2003

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/244

Prologue.

Ira Glass

I came to the whole MacGyver thing kind of late. I never saw the TV show. In fact, I heard of MacGyver because he kept showing up in rap lyrics.

MacGyver, of course, is the guy who fought bad guys, but never used a gun. He used his scientific knowledge. He used sheer inventiveness to get himself out of scrapes. The show's been off the air for years, but he still shows up in dozens of songs.

[MUSIC - SAMPLES OF MACGYVER REFERENCES IN HIP HOP SONGS]

MacGyver would turn a hot water bottle into a tear gas dispenser, or roll up a map to turn it into an impromptu dart gun, or mix an antidote to poison from common ingredients found at his local shopping mall, or escape from evildoers using only a bobby pin or piece of gum, notoriously, or the wrapper from the gum, in some diabolically clever way.

In real life, most of us never get to be that clever. In real life, even when there's a situation like, for instance, the largest power outage in US history, it's the professionals who have to jury rig new wiring routes, to figure out how to keep hospitals and emergency services going. It's the professionals who have to be brilliantly ingenious.

Sarah Vowell

Let's see, ingenuity. I am chewing gum right now just in case I might need to use it on something.

Ira Glass

When I reached our contributing editor, Sarah Vowell, in blacked-out New York this Thursday night, she was reading by candlelight. She'd managed to boil water on a gas stove. But that was about all the MacGyver-like ingenuity her situation seemed to call for.

Sarah Vowell

Yeah. I mean, I have the gum, and I have the situation. And so far, everything's fine.

Ira Glass

Well, no, let's just think for a second. There must be something you can do with that gum.

Sarah Vowell

Um-- well, I guess if there was some kind of windstorm, I could latch one of the candles down with it, you know? I'm trying to wrench any little ounce of drama out of this for you that I can, but--

Ira Glass

But there is no drama.

Sarah Vowell

I wish I could tell you something, and then you could put that Mission: Impossible music underneath me, and it would sound really super exciting, but--

Ira Glass

No, look. Hold on. I'll put that music under you right now.

IMPOSSIBLE"]

Just say anything. It'll sound really exciting. You going to take a bath later?

Sarah Vowell

I am going to take a bath, and light a candle! Yeah, and then I might go to bed early. I bet that line sounds really good with the Mission: Impossible music underneath. I might even take a Benadryl!

Ira Glass

Ingenious problem solving adventures. We almost never get them in our daily lives. And so today on our radio program we have searched, and we have found not one, not two, not three, but four real-life situations, real-life MacGyver solutions. Cases cracked by ordinary people like you and me.

You know, this is completely the wrong music. Just hold on for a second.

[MUSIC - THEME FROM "MACGYVER"]

There we go. The MacGyver theme.

One story takes place in prison. One involves a very low-budget movie. One solves a problem that most of us have had at one time or another in love. And one, our first act, is the true story of a potential personal crisis averted in an instant.

It is This American Life from Public Radio International and WBEZ Chicago. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Bolt Of Lightning, Pro And Con.

Chuck Klosterman

Somehow I was not aware that adults gave presents at Valentine's Day. Like, I only thought children did that, they gave cards to each other, you know?

Ira Glass

Right. At elementary school, there's swapping cards.

Chuck Klosterman

Yeah. It didn't seem possible to me that adult people gave presents at Valentine's Day. I'm not sure how I managed to get to be 20 and be unaware of this, but that was sort of the situation.

And we went to the movie Groundhog Day on Valentine's Day. And I was still living in a dormitory. So we went back to my dorm room, OK? And we're hanging out there, and all of a sudden, she gives me all these presents. She gives me, like, a Soul Asylum album, and a copy of the book Go, Dog. Go!, which I must have mentioned was my favorite book when I was five or something. There were all these sort of really kind of thoughtful gifts, and a whole bunch of them. And she'd obviously put a great deal of effort into the thought behind giving me these things.

Ira Glass

And is your feeling of the noose sort of slowly tightening around your neck rising with each present?

Chuck Klosterman

Yeah. I'm sort of kind of paralyzed by fear now, because I realize that she has an expectation that I am going to reciprocate this somehow. And I guess I just didn't feel comfortable saying I didn't know that you were supposed to do this.

So I tried to remain as cool as possible, and I started walking toward my closet. OK? And as I was walking toward my closet, I kept kind of stalling for time, saying things like, you know, I really didn't know what to get. I didn't want to buy a gift that everybody would buy. I wanted to get you something very creative. I want it to be a reflection of our relationship. I'm just sort of coming up with all these different ways to sort of describe how not only do I have, like, a really wonderful gift-- something really cool-- but it's going to be metaphorical for basically our entire relationship.

But there's nothing in the closet. I have nothing in there. It's just my clothes. I don't know what I'd like-- and I don't really know what I'm doing now. Because I'm walking toward it, and I'm kind of slowly playing with the handle of the closet, and I'm just giving every indication that something is in there. But there's nothing in there. So I thought, maybe something will evolve in my closet. My shoes will become like a microwave or something, you know?

But I begin opening this closet, and I look inside it. Of course to see nothing. Remember, nothing is in here. But I just see all my clothes lined up. And what I see is my high school football jacket. OK? And this is not like a letterman's jacket. This is just like a windbreaker-- you know, my name, Chuck, over the heart would be, like where the heart of the jacket is, with my number 18 underneath it. You know? I see this, right? And this thought just suddenly dawned on me, really quickly.

So I turn to this woman and I say, well, here's the deal. You know, I never had a girlfriend all through high school, and I used to be very envious of all my friends who would give their football jackets to their girlfriends. And I kind of created this whole sort of narrative about how this had been a huge struggle through high school of not being able to give my football jackets to anyone. Which in truth, I never struggled with. I always thought those guys were idiots.

So then I said, I think it would be really awesome if you would accept this high school football jacket of mine. And she started crying. And she just loved this jacket. I mean, she seemed to think it was really nice, and really sweet, and generally very much unlike me.

Ira Glass

Afterwards, what would you feel when you would see her in the jacket? Would you feel good, or would you feel--

Chuck Klosterman

No, no. I felt-- not really.

Ira Glass

Every single time she wore it.

Chuck Klosterman

Yeah. And she wore it all the time. And I always thought to myself, she really, really likes this jacket. She must really, really like the experience of getting it, and therefore, she must really, really like me. And yet, I couldn't really look at that jacket without being reminded that this is based on a complete fabrication.

Because I really view this as the most diabolical thing I've ever done, mostly because the end result was somebody being happy about it. Like, I would almost have less guilt over something terrible I did that caused someone to feel terrible. I'm mostly bothered by the fact that I did this terrible thing, and it made someone happy.

In my mind, it would be so much better if this relationship had ended with her cheating on me or something. I would feel so much better about it if she had, at any point in our relationship, did anything negative to me. But she never did.

Ira Glass

Well, you don't know. Maybe she's got a story like this too. Maybe she's-- [? when you told ?] her-- she could be, oh yeah, well, really? Well, there's this is one thing I've ever told you.

Chuck Klosterman

Oh, man, I hope so. Man, I hope that she cheated on me with 10 guys. I would feel so much better about this. Like, while wearing the jacket, you know?

Ira Glass

Chuck Klosterman is the amazing writer behind Fargo Rock City and, more recently, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.

Act Two. Files In Cakes, Ha!

Ira Glass

Act Two. Files in Cakes, Ha!

OK. Here's a situation where resources are scarce and people have to be inventive with what they have-- prison. There's this incredible book of prisoners' inventions called, straightforwardly enough, Prisoners' Inventions, by a California inmate who goes by the pseudonym Angelo. In the book, there are descriptions of the inventions that he and his cellmates, or cellies, have made, and these intricate, schematic drawings of devices to make cottage cheese and yogurt, tattoo guns, wake-up alarms, dice-- all of these items considered contraband, subject to confiscation by authorities.

An actor, Felix Solis, reads some excerpts.

Felix Solis

Modesty curtain. Because of the close quarters, modesty is one of the first casualties of prison life. My cellie, R, however, created this modesty curtain for when we use the toilet. It's just a simple amenity, a reminder, if you will, that some privacy and dignity is still possible.

The curtain is a half sheet suspended from a tightly strung, triple-woven line. The sliding hangers are strings of paperclips attached to the sheet through small holes. The wall mounts are made from wooden dominoes and paperclips, and fastened to the wall with contact cement.

Although the cops are notorious for confiscating inmate creations and many saw this curtain, none ever touched it, though a few ordered it taken down over the years. We never did take it down, and they never pursued the issue.

Ironically, it was a wimpy cellie that I eventually had who finally took it down, supposedly because of cops' warnings to do so. I think the truth of the matter was that he wanted all the paperclips for his own knick knack project.

Wall socket cigarette lighter. I would estimate that a good 60% of inmates smoke. Because of national anti-smoking campaigns, a major problem for smokers in prison has been the elimination of matches and cigarette lighters to discourage in-cell smoking. Variations of materials and methods are possible, but usually, a paperclip and a piece of pencil lead are inserted into the slits in one of the cell's wall sockets.

To achieve a light, a second piece of pencil graphite is used to make a quick bridge between the two terminals, forming a short circuit. At the same time, a piece of combustible material, like a toilet paper wick with fluffed up ends, is also brought close, and hopefully will catch fire from the momentary explosion of fire and heat. And there you have a light for your cigarette.

Caution. When inserting the paperclip or pencil lead into the wall socket, don't accidentally ground yourself by brushing against the cell's stainless steel toilet or sink.

Toilet paper mache cup. We usually get a small packet of state Kool-Aid in our lunches each day. I like to save up the packets so that I can occasionally indulge in a large cup instead of just a small one every day.

This led to a problem the first time I found myself in administrative segregation, since for security reasons, only small paper coffee cups were issued for use there. Besides being too small, these cups tended to start leaking at the seams by about the fourth day of use. And with prison being the way it is, new cups could be obtained only once a week on a one-for-one basis. To get another, you have to turn in the old one.

Well, after stewing on this problem for a while, I came up with what I perceived as a crackpot solution, which after long hesitation, I decided to try out. To my surprise, it worked well, though it was a bitch to make, plus it used up a lot of toilet paper.

Using wet toilet paper, I formed a large paper mache cup around the fist of one hand. A really awkward piece of work, and very thick. Then I took the largest piece of Saran wrap that our lunch bread came in and inserted it inside the cup, leaving the excess sticking over the edge. Note that to prevent leakage, the plastic inside must be an unbroken sheet, so the result is a mess to look at, with lots of folds and wrinkles. And after allowing the whole thing to dry and harden for a few hours, it was ready for use.

To thwart possible confiscation, I put a large black dot on the bottom of the cup the size of the toilet paper roll core, and took to keeping the disguised cup in the new recessed toilet paper holder on the sink. A deception that worked so well that for all I know, the cup could still be in that cell, as I accidentally left it behind when I moved on.

Ira Glass

Excerpts from the book Prisoners' Inventions by a prisoner who goes by the name Angelo. It was read for us by Felix Solis, produced with the help of Jonathan Menjivar. Copies available at the whitewalls.org.

Act Three. So Crazy It Just Might Work.

Ira Glass

Act Three. This is one of those schemes that falls into the category, sure, it sounds crazy, but it might just be crazy enough to work. It all begins simply enough. A man dreams of making a movie. He comes to Boston to film it. It's 1988. His name-- David Rudder.

We couldn't get him to come on the radio, but we did get Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote about what happened in GQ magazine.

Elizabeth Gilbert

David Rudder is a first-time filmmaker. He's a producer from a place called Rudder Productions, David Rudder Movie Productions. And he's doing a very low-budget, a $1.3 million movie called The Knockdown, which is a romantic comedy about a historic preservationist trying to save an endangered building with the help of a buxom young architect. So he is going to be shooting this movie in Boston, and he needs somebody to produce it.

Ira Glass

Before long, Rudder is interviewing a guy named George Moffly for the job. Moffly is 27. He's made some low-budget commercials for a weight loss clinic and a dog racing track. He's worked on the crew of exactly one Hollywood film called Vampire's Kiss with Nicholas Cage. And from the very start, Moffly says, the whole thing seemed a little odd.

George Moffly

They've sent me the script. It's the worst thing I've ever read in my life. I just can't believe it. I can't believe anything could be that bad. But I didn't care. I wanted to do the movie. I'd set my mind to it. I wanted to produce a film. So whatever it takes.

Ira Glass

What kind of impression did this David Rudder make on you when you first met him?

George Moffly

We were in a tiny little hotel room with a double bed and just enough room for two chairs, and I was sitting on a chair, practically touching knees with this guy who just, quite honestly, seemed improbable.

Elizabeth Gilbert

David Rudder makes a kind of shocking impression on George. He's an intimidating guy. He's about six-four, blond, kind of Aryan, square-jawed, very serious.

George Moffly

He was in a suit. He just didn't seem to know anything about film. And I had wondered, I said, well, this is really great. So you're doing a film called The Knockdown. And he was extremely evasive about any concrete details.

Ira Glass

Any country details, you mean like--

George Moffly

Who wrote it? A guy. OK. Well, who's the DP? Hmm. And literally, hmm. Not even anything after that. Just hmm.

Elizabeth Gilbert

They sit down to the interview, and it immediately takes a peculiar turn. What happens is that David Rudder starts saying to George, have you ever dealt with the Teamsters? You know, in all the movies and commercials that you've worked on, have you ever had to deal with the Teamsters? And the phrase "dealing with the Teamsters" is kind of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge code for, have you ever had to bribe the Teamsters? Which is something that generally you did have to do at that time if you were making a movie in Boston.

George Moffly

And they ask me, have I ever bribed up the Teamsters? And I answer truthfully, yes, I have. And then they ask me, have you ever bribed the Boston teamsters? And I answered truthfully, yeah, uh huh. Then Rudder asked me, have you ever bribed Jimmy Moar or Billy Winn? Now, I knew both of those guys, but the answer was no, I had not.

And I thought, you know what? I want a job. I want this job. I want to be a producer. So I said, sure, all the time. You know?

Elizabeth Gilbert

And with that, he's given the job.

Ira Glass

As you've probably figured out by now, this is no ordinary movie. In fact, the movie is just a front for a scheme that is either ingeniously smart or really, really dumb, depending on your point of view.

David Rudder, in fact, is not David Rudder. He is FBI Special Agent Garland Schweickhardt. Schweickhardt, for years, has been a pencil-pusher at the FBI, a bureaucrat. But he's come up with this idea for a sting operation. Catch the Teamsters, and prove that they're in bed with the mob.

Back when this is happening, back in the late '80s, the Teamsters and the Patriarca crime family seem to be working hand in glove on a lot of things.

Elizabeth Gilbert

And they'd been shaking down every movie and film production that had come to Boston and demanding that more teamsters are hired than necessary, threatening the Feds, dumping peoples' trucks in the river, giving money to the mob, and the FBI wanted to catch them at this.

Ira Glass

David Rudder, or Special Agent Schweickhardt, had he done undercover work before?

Elizabeth Gilbert

He had never done any undercover work before. And this was what he saw as his big career opportunity to be an FBI guy like you see in the movies. He went to the FBI's big crime undercover bureau and managed to convince them to give him $20, $25, $30,000 to start this project.

And then he went to film school for a semester at UCLA. Studied in one film class. Learned a lot about the business from that. Went to Paramount Pictures, asked them if they had a dud script that they were never going to use. They handed him this turkey of a script called The Knockdown.

And he was selling himself as a guy who was doing an investment for some friends. And this is a kind of lark. It's an investment project for a small group of dentists in the Alexandria, Virginia, area.

Ira Glass

How early on does Rudder send George to go and talk to the Teamsters?

Elizabeth Gilbert

It's the first thing he has George do in his job as his producer. He says to George, go to Jimmy Moar. See what you can do in terms of cutting a deal.

George Moffly

So I was given marching orders to go meet with Jimmy Moar. And the Teamster hall is this red brick, generic, '50s, early '60s building underneath three overpasses. I'm led into the hall through a series of buzzers. Go to a really dim, fake-paneled office where Jimmy Moar is, and he says, so what can I do for you, George?

Elizabeth Gilbert

He introduces himself. He says, I'm here representing David Rudder. We're making a small film. We only have $1.3 million. The budget is laid out like this. We can only afford to hire seven teamsters. And Jimmy Moar, who is this tough, tough scary guy, says, no. You're going to hire 19. And he wouldn't even come down to like 18.

George Moffly

He said, well, you know what? 19 is our offer. That's what we're going to do it for.

Elizabeth Gilbert

19 is ridiculous. It would be half the crew of this entire movie. There would be no reason in the world they would need this many people.

And George, who's a tough guy in his own right, he got sort of angry about this. And the first thing he did was offer him a deal. He said, look. Can we work out something? Basically said, can I buy you off? Jimmy Moar said he wasn't interested in that. He said, you hire 19 of my guys or you can forget about it, and you can take your [BLEEP] movie to Toronto.

George Moffly

And I said, you know what? [BLEEP] you. Tell you what. We're just not going to use any Teamsters.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Why don't we do this? Why don't I not hire any Teamsters, I take the money that I saved, I hire a bunch of Pinkerton guards with guns, and I order them around the set to shoot to kill any union disruption that might happen while we're doing this movie.

George Moffly

Which was when he offered to break my legs. I'm told to get out of his [BLEEP] office, or he's going to, you know, tear me from limb to limb and throw me in the river.

Elizabeth Gilbert

So that was the end of that negotiation. It didn't go very well.

Ira Glass

And from the FBI point of view, that is not what they wanted to happen. They wanted the bribe to go down.

Elizabeth Gilbert

From the FBI point of view, it was a total wash. I mean, Jimmy Moar wouldn't even talk about taking a bribe.

George Moffly

So I have to call David Rudder, and I tell him, look I'm a failure. I haven't been able to do it.

Elizabeth Gilbert

So Rudder, aka Special Agent Garland Schweickhardt, goes back to his bosses at the Los Angeles bureau and says we can't get anywhere with this. It's not working. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea. And the sting operation is canceled.

George Moffly

And shortly thereafter, I get a phone call saying that the dentists have pulled out.

Ira Glass

Months go by. Everybody goes back to their regular lives. And then the dentists get a lucky break. A small-time mafia-related thug named Robert Franchi strolls into the FBI office one day and announces that he wants to turn state's evidence and help them nab members of the Patriarca crime family.

His motives aren't altruistic, mind you. He doesn't want to rid the world of organized crime. He simply owes some gambling debts to a guy, and that guy has gone out and threatened Franchi's mother. His mother.

Elizabeth Gilbert

And this comes to the attention of Garland Schweickhardt, who still has this dream of this sting operation. And he realizes, this is somebody he could actually use. And he's going to have Robert Franchi approach the Patriarca crime family and say, I've got this friend, he's making a low budget movie in Boston, he doesn't have enough money to deal with the Teamsters. He'd be willing to pay off anybody he has to pay off to save some money on the other end, can you pull some strings with the Teamsters and see if you can help them out. And now that this is happening, they need to make the movie again.

George Moffly

I actually had moved to New York. I'd left Boston. And I was the location manager on a film called The Ambulance with Eric Roberts. And one day, I'm in the production office and the phone rings, and David Rudder is on the phone, and asks me if I'd be interested in working for him again.

And it wasn't until after I hung up the phone, I thought, how did he get this number? That's weird. Which was something that, over the course of the next year and a half, would happen a lot.

Ira Glass

So he flies you to California, right?

George Moffly

I'm delighted. I mean, I'm flying to LA.

Ira Glass

Had you ever been flown anywhere on business?

George Moffly

No.

Ira Glass

Does he meet you at the airport?

George Moffly

Yeah. David pulls up in a gold Rolls Royce. I'm just like, I can't believe it. I mean, this guy's for real.

Elizabeth Gilbert

It's just this real Hollywood moment. Of course he doesn't know, or have any way of knowing, that the bronze Rolls Royce actually used to belong to a major drug kingpin, that it's seized federal property, and that David is borrowing it just for the day to impress George and make it look like he's a real Hollywood guy.

So they continue driving through Hollywood, and they get to this very nondescript office building, and there's a parking space there that says, Reserved for David Rudder Productions. They go up into the elevator, and George starts to feel this sinking feeling that maybe this guy isn't such a big shot, because the office building is filled with nothing but medical practices and biopsy labs. And it's just not the kind of place you would think that a Hollywood guy would have an office.

And once he opens the door to his office, this skanky orange-carpeted weird place, it's got posters all over the walls of movies that David Rudder clearly did not produce. You know, like Biloxi Blues and Clan of the Cave Bear.

George Moffly

And then he brings me into his office, which is nothing. There are no papers. There was no sign. There are no pictures of his wife. There was no anything.

Ira Glass

No computer?

George Moffly

No computer, nothing personal. Just an empty desk and a filing cabinet.

Ira Glass

Still, it's not like anybody else is offering George a producing job and a producing credit in a movie, so he says yes-- on one condition. He insists that they get a better script.

So first they tried to get somebody to rewrite The Knockdown for $5,000, and then, when that fails--

Elizabeth Gilbert

He says to David Rudder, look. You know, if you want to make a movie that's going to work, it's not going to be this movie. And why don't you give me $20,000 and send me out there to find a script that's actually decent so that we can get good actors in it, so that we can get good people to work on it, and so that we can make some money on it later. And he convinces him to cough up another $20,000 of US taxpayer money to go buy a new movie script for this scam movie that the FBI's making.

Ira Glass

It's amazing. Because from the FBI's point of view, this movie is still never going to be made.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Right. But at this moment, this is where the story turns. Because at this moment, David Rudder starts to have an ulterior motive, which is that he really wants to make a movie. You know, he's been hanging around this business for about a year now. He's interested. He thinks it's exciting. It's glamorous. And in the back of his mind, he's thinking, you know, we might actually film this thing. And he seals the deal by shaking George's hand and saying, "Let's make a movie we can be proud of." And you know what? He meant it. He really wanted to at that point.

Ira Glass

Why? What was his vision of how this could go? Like, what was going to happen if they made this into a movie?

Elizabeth Gilbert

Well, the vision that he had was bigger than what he had admitted to the FBI. What he had started thinking, as he was understanding more about the movie-making business was, you know, we could continue doing this in other states. And what he thought was, you take the initial seed money that the FBI gave him, you actually make the film, you sell the film, you sell it to HBO, you sell it to the airlines, you put it in some festivals, you make some money off it, it goes to video.

With those profits, you go to another state like Nevada, where they also have this same problem with the Teamsters and the mob, and you make another fake movie. And then you take the profits from that and you go to California to do it again. And he had this vision that he was going to become, like, a studio executive in the studio system. He was going to use profits from one film to make another film, and each time he was doing it, he was going to bring down the mob in another state.

George Moffly

He's excited about casting. He starts fantasizing about the kind of people that we can get in the part. Academy Awards. He mentions that a few times.

Ira Glass

Wow.

George Moffly

He's really-- I'll tell you something. He is excited about being a producer.

Ira Glass

When George is talking to him about the movie, does he ask him, like, well, do you have any name actors attached to this? Does he ask him the basic questions?

Elizabeth Gilbert

He does. One of the reasons that George is so excited about doing the movie is that he's told that Brian Dennehy is really interested in being in it, and so is Rebecca De Mornay. As it turns out later, of course, that's a complete fiction. Although I would love to know how they come up with those two names out of--

Ira Glass

I know. They seem so random.

Elizabeth Gilbert

--everybody, they're so specific.

Ira Glass

But no, Dennehy is perfect in a way. Because you've heard of him, but you just don't think he'd be that hard to get.

Elizabeth Gilbert

And Rebecca De Mornay, by 1989, wasn't doing a lot of work. You know, she might have considered it.

Ira Glass

Really, you think actually, we could get her on the phone. In a way, it's brilliant. It's perfect. That part of it is actually like perfectly well thought through.

So while all of this is happening, meanwhile, Rudder is working the mob connection, and he's meeting more mobsters. And just talk about how the monsters are reacting to the idea of this movie coming to town.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Well, you know, this is the sparkle of show business. The mobsters get really into the idea of being part of this movie. Franchi starts bringing David Rudder around. He has some dinners on Raymond Patriarca's yacht. He meets some people.

George Moffly

As the production moves forward, a host of bizarre people start coming in to account.

Elizabeth Gilbert

One of them in particular is this kid who's real handsome in an early days Travolta kind of way, Italian Stallion sort of thing going on, named Frankie Salemme Jr. He's a tough guy, he's a little mob runner, but he's also really into show business, and he's taken a few acting classes in this life. And so Raymond Patriarca says to David Rudder, you know what, I want to help out with this movie as much as I can. Maybe you can use my speedboat. We could put my speedboat in the movie. It would be really cool to see my speedboat in a real movie. And I think you should hire Frankie here to be the speedboat driver for the movie role. So suddenly the movie's got a speedboat and a speedboat driver in it. But all these guys just want to be part of the picture.

Ira Glass

While all this is going on, George finds another script-- using $20,000 of your and my tax money-- and they start to hire a crew, build sets, scout locations, to film the movie in Providence. But weird things keep happening.

George Moffly

I get a call from Rudder. I've got a crew, and I have to pay them every week. And I say, I need a check. I've set up a bank account, or we need to set up a bank account.

So he flies in. And rather than pay with a check, he has a suitcase, which we take to the bank. And then he asks the bank guy, what's the maximum I can deposit without reporting to the Feds? The guy says-- I think it was $10,000. So Rutter opens the suitcase and there is-- I don't how many tens of thousands of dollars in that suitcase. Which he then counts out, whatever, $9,000, and hands to the bank guy, who is as dumbfounded as I am.

Ira Glass

Schweickhardt works for the federal government. Like, what kind of undercover man is he that he doesn't know, well, if you deposit more than $10,000, it shows up in reporting? Like, I know that just from watching TV.

Elizabeth Gilbert

So much of this is so sloppy. When I interviewed Schweickhardt years later, when I was working on the story, I said to him, you know, what was the deal with not wanting the IRS to know about it? He said, you know what? It's just so much paperwork once you get the IRS involved. And I thought, he's just like the rest of us.

Ira Glass

David Rudder is convincing enough to the mob guys, though. The movie looks real to them. And pretty soon, the sting goes down, just as planned. The FBI records Rudder paying $25,000 in cash to the mobsters as a fee for making their movie, without 19 Teamsters working on it.

And at that point, the FBI has what it needs to make its case in court. In theory, they should shut the film production down the next day, because there's no purpose now. But they don't shut it down, because Rudder really wants to make his movie.

Ira Glass

How serious does it get? Do they start auditioning actors? Like, are there name actors who are showing up for this?

Elizabeth Gilbert

Apparently there are. Apparently Bebe Neuwirth comes in for a reading, and there was somebody else-- oh, John Lithgow comes in for a reading. They're auditioning people for extras. They're bringing in this whole parade of actors, day after day.

At this point Robert the Neck-- Robert Franchi, who is the key to this whole operation, who is the mob informant-- starts to be the only person in this whole story who has a crisis of conscience. Because he's watching, as he would describe it later, these really idealistic young kids come in and audition for what they think is a real movie. And he feels like there's something really wrong about that, you know? He knows that it's not a real movie. He knows that the FBI is behind it. He knows it's probably never going to get made. And he's a standup guy. He just feels like-- he's the same guy who was going to kill somebody for threatening his mother, you know? He just, he's got values.

The other thing that happens around this time is that George starts to get in some run-ins. George is a really scrappy little guy. He starts to get in some run-ins with these mob guys who are hanging around the movie set. And he had hired his little sister to work as a production assistant on this film, and Frankie Salemme Jr. keeps hitting on her, and she's scared of him, because he's a really scary, thuggish guy, and he won't leave her alone. So George goes to his sister's defense, as both an older brother and a movie producer, and takes Salemme aside and says--

George Moffly

If you look at my sister again, if you touch my sister again, if you touch anybody on the set, look at anybody on the set, I'm going to slap you with a sexual harassment suit that's going to make your head spin around. Which is when he told me, you know, you don't know who I [BLEEP] am. You don't know who my [BLEEP] father is. You know, I'm going to [BLEEP] kill you.

Elizabeth Gilbert

For this family, that's not just a colorful expression. That's actually like a way of life. You know?

Ira Glass

That's actually a statement of intent. That's a contract, right there.

Elizabeth Gilbert

They will find you-- fresh kills. You know? And so he sort of almost tries to make good on it one night. George doesn't find this out until years later, when the whole story comes out. George is doing some work in his hotel room, drawing up budgets, and Frankie Salemme comes upstairs with the intention-- he would admit later-- of throwing him out a window and killing him.

And he is stopped in the hallway by our hero, Robert the Neck. Robert Franchi, the mob informant, tackles him in the hallway and talks him out of it and says, why don't you cool down, it's not that big a deal, he's just a punk, you don't want anything to do with it, and sends him on his way. So Robert the Neck is turning out to be the sort of moral center of this whole event.

Ira Glass

So at what point do they finally pull the plug?

Elizabeth Gilbert

They pull the plug two weeks before they're supposed to go into production. And what happens is that somebody at the Justice Department is reviewing case files for undercover work for the FBI and discovers that the FBI is about to make a film in New England starring real actors in order to entrap the mob.

And they pull the plug on it within an hour. You know, they've made a series of frantic phone calls saying, whose idea is this? This is an incredibly bad idea. We could all get sued, at the very least. And some people could get killed. Some of these innocent people who've been put in between the teamsters, the FBI, and the mob. This is a very dangerous thing to involve citizens with.

And Schweickhardt fights for it with his life. And one of the things that he's told by the FBI is that the Justice Department feels that it could be an embarrassment to the federal government to find out that taxpayer money had been used to make a crappy low-budget movie. At which point Schweickhardt says, but it's going to be a really good movie.

Ira Glass

Aww.

Elizabeth Gilbert

You know? Like he's so hurt that they would think that he wasn't going to make a really good movie. He's like, it's not anything that anybody would be embarrassed about. It's going to be a really, really good movie script. It's a great script.

Ira Glass

This argument does not carry the day with the United States Justice Department. Rudder has to call George and tell him that the dentists have pulled out again. George is crushed. Rudder is crushed. Everybody on the film gets fired.

A year and a half passes before George Moffly finally gets told what it was all about, when the Justice Department contacts him and asks him to testify to a secret grand jury about the movie. He declines that invitation. Being lied to for two years, working on a fake movie, and nearly getting thrown out of a window made him feel like he'd served the country enough already.

The Justice Department does OK in court. Not great. Only one guy goes to prison. But the whole case scares the Teamsters and the mob in New England enough that in the end, despite everything that was wrong-headed and ill-conceived about Garland Schweickhardt's original plan, it actually achieves what it set out to do. The mob and the Teamsters stopped shaking down film crews in New England. So maybe the plan wasn't so crazy, though it might have been smart to change a few of the details.

Coming up. Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl concocts far-fetched but weirdly possibly effective MacGyver-like scheme concerning boy. In a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Four. A Girl's Guide To Mending The Unmendable.

Susan Burton

The summer I graduated from high school, I had a boyfriend who now, years later, I think of as a creep. Since he had my husband's name, I won't call him that. Instead I'll call him what I called him later, which is Shane.

Shane was my friend Lisa's older brother. I was 17, and he was 23. Shane was the only person I'd ever been friends with who had been alive in the 1960s. Of course, he'd only been a toddler, but that wasn't the way I thought about it. Shane was so old that he'd been alive in history.

Shane was also the first person I knew who'd been engaged. The girl he'd been engaged to was named Kathy. They lived together during college, but then she ran off with the manager of Wild Oats, the local health food store. It sounded to me like Kathy was a hippie.

I worked at a health food store too, but my health food store was called Alfalfa's, and it was the type of place where there was less hummus and more pate. There were a lot of Colorado moms in Volvos. I would watch them as they wrote checks. They had big diamond engagement rings from earlier that they now had to figure out how to coordinate with the turquoise jewelry they'd discovered when they moved to the West later in life. One lady, every time she came in, bought lobster salad and leaned in to tell me, "Dear, you wear turquoise very well." I would smile.

I loved everything about Alfalfa's. I loved imagining the lives of the people in my line. I would talk to them about their groceries. "What do you think of that soy cheese pizza?" I would say. Or, "I really like those Rice Dream moon pies."

One morning that summer I looked up and Shane was in my line. It was the first time we'd been together, by ourselves, without his sister. He was holding a single can of all-natural dog food. "I ran out of food for the dogs," he said. Instead of putting the can on the counter, like most people did, he put it right into my hand.

And then it started. Shane was the best boyfriend I'd ever had. I felt so grown up, walking across the lawn to his two-story condo, wearing lipstick and cowboy boots. He would be there inside, reading a book on the couch with his two dogs. He'd jump up and kiss me and open me a beer, which he could buy at Liquor Mart himself. We'd sit and talk, and every so often, he'd go to the bookshelf, and soon I'd have a whole stack in front of me. There were so many books he wanted me to read, and movies he wanted me to see. It was like a project to cram it all in.

I'd ride my bike home from Alfalfa's at night and he'd surprise me. Be there outside my house in his car, the windows down, playing, very softly, one of my favorite songs. I'd get in the car and we'd start driving, and he'd look over at me in the passenger seat and tell me the thing I was doing with my thumbs was a known sign of genius. He thought I would be the one in of my class to become famous first.

Soon it was time for me to go to college and for Shane to go back to his job teaching at a junior high. Before I left, Shane wrote me a poem and give me a silver barrette from one of the Native American jewelry stores. Flying across the plains in August, fingering the barrette in my hair, I decided I would miss Shane, but not in a terminal, serious, sad girl way. It had been a perfect summer.

Then I was at school. It was the last year before email really took off, and everyone still wrote letters. I had good letters. Once Shane drew a cartoon of his dogs over the flap. "The boys say hi!" Another time he wrote, "As soon as I sealed this, I felt like writing more." And one time he wrote, "I love you very much."

I thought about this a lot. We'd never said it to each other in real life, but now I didn't know. I wondered. I thought that maybe I had underestimated my feelings for Shane. Instead of thinking of him less, I was thinking of him more. Unfortunately, his letters decreased in direct proportion to my thoughts. Worst, in his last notes, he'd begun to mention a first-grade teacher named Tina.

One night I brought the cordless phone up to my top bunk and I called him. He said, "Well, I have some good news. I'm getting married, to Tina, the first-grade teacher." And that was when I knew-- I loved Shane.

Back home in Boulder for the summer, I couldn't get Shane out of my head. Wearing a skirt, I would ride my muddy mountain bike fast up Arapahoe Road, which I knew he had to drive on a lot, hoping he would see me. I thought the skirt plus the mud made me look wild and pretty at the same time. At night, I'd tilt my halogen bike light upward so that it would cast a mysterious glow upon my face. I'd lean forward, peddling furiously. Drive by, Shane, I'd think. Drive by and see me.

Sometimes in this fantasy, it was Tina who would notice. "Look at that girl on her bike," she'd say. "Look at how fast she's going. And she's so pretty." And Shane would glance away from the road, and it would be me. There would be a silence as he turned back to the wheel, him deciding. They'd slow down at the light. He'd get in the left lane, turn on his blinker. "That's Susan," he'd finally say. "That's Susan?" Tina would say, whipping around just in time to catch me flying over a hill, my hair the lightest thing in the dark night.

And then they would drive back to his parents' house, Shane filled with regret, Tina feeling inadequate. And the next day, while Tina was out, he'd be overcome. He would come to buy a can of dog food at Alfalfa's.

This summer, not even Alfalfa's was fun. The new darling of the front end was a high school sophomore whose father kissed her goodbye outside the automatic doors each morning. The woman who had been so impressed with my ability to wear turquoise seemed not to recognize me when I rang up her lobster salad. I'd stand there in my apron, frowning over products that had once delighted me, like Frookies, and dreaming of the day Shane would stop by.

But it never, ever happened. He never even came in for just one look. I'd become a completely different girl. Less shiny, less charming, less likely to become famous.

One day I resolved to get over Shane before the wedding. It seemed important not to think about him once he was married. Pathetic, but wrong too, in a way that was possibly actionable. The problem was I had no idea how to go about it.

The one bright spot in my summer was my fiction writing workshop. I'd signed up for a class at the University of Colorado that met two evenings a week. One evening I rode home thinking about my story, "Sunday Morning." "Sunday Morning" was told in the voice of a 12-year-old girl whose parents were on the verge of divorce. Like every story I'd ever written, it was based on a real-life experience.

In one part of the story, I said that the house was always cold, because the father didn't like to waste money on the heating bill. In another part, I mentioned a photograph of girls in matching dresses at the country club. These were just regular old details from my childhood, but the class had seized on them. They thought the country club symbolized an earlier, golden era, and the cold house meant that now the money was gone, and soon the family would be too.

Now, swooping down the bike path, I considered whether, in addition to not getting along, my parents had been losing money. It wasn't a point I had intended to make, but it was right there in the details for the class to discover. They could see things about your life that you couldn't. They could tell you things about your own world that you haven't realized.

And that's when I got the idea. I would write the exact story of my relationship with Shane, the lost, magic summer, him set to marry Tina, the way I couldn't get over him now. I would introduce the class to me, the static protagonist, and they would tell me how to act. They would not only tell me how to get over Shane. They would tell me why it had all happened, what it all meant. I would tell them my own story, and they would explain it to me.

The next morning, during my shift at Alfalfa's, I sipped from a giant glass of hot tea with soy milk and planned out the story. The action would take place on the day of the wedding. It would be a race against the clock scenario. The protagonist would have 24 hours to get over her ex-boyfriend. This struck me as an elegant conceit, and also an efficient one. If I woke up on the day of the wedding and wasn't yet over Shane, I wouldn't have to sweat. Thanks to the class, I'd have a 24-hour cure.

That evening, I sat at the computer. "On the day of the wedding, I worked a double shift," I wrote. "I punched in prices off cans of tuna and pints of Ben and Jerry's, weighed bags of peaches and by-the-pound salads from the salad bar, scooped change out of my drawer and counted it into customers' hands."

I sat back and considered my opening. This was the right idea, but I wanted to change it slightly. I didn't want all the details to be exactly, exactly like my life.

I copied the old version into a new document and began again. "On the day of the wedding, I worked a double shift. In 14 hours, I made 39 goat cheese and bagel sandwiches, wrapped 106 lunch boats in tight Saran wrap, and sliced through 16 different 10-inch cakes on the course of waiting on at least 357 customers. I was counting to keep my mind off of some other things."

I sat back. There, I thought, satisfied. As long as I switch myself from the front end to the deli department, nobody will know this is me. I called the story "Waiting." Like the girl behind the deli counter, I would be stationed in the classroom, waiting to be delivered a satisfying end.

That evening I pedaled to class at race-day speed, full of anticipation. The class was a mix of undergrads and people a few years out of school, like a guy who rode the free trolley from coffeehouse to coffeehouse all day and an aerobics instructor with tan, very shiny legs. Then there was our teacher, George.

"Let's start with 'Waiting,'" George said, as we sat down in class. This was it. I readied myself for the wise and luminous insights of my classmates.

"OK. Just starting with the first paragraph," said the aerobics instructor, "I highly doubt someone would count everything like that."

"Yeah, but the girl. What's her name?" a red-headed Southerner jumped in. "Katie?" He looked around the room for confirmation. "She says in the very next sentence, 'I was counting to keep my mind off of some other things.' It's not like she does it every day."

"I guess I just don't think it's very realistic that somebody could remember all that in their head," the aerobics instructor said.

"Maybe she was writing it down as she went along," somebody suggested. There were nods. I returned the nod. I leaned over the paper and made my first note. "Counting," I wrote, followed by a question mark. Small potatoes, small potatoes, I thought. Bring it on. What else?

"I was wondering where she went off to college," someone said. "I mean, it's back East, but where?" Murmurs of agreement. "Where she went off to college," I dutifully wrote. This was not going according to plan. Come on. How should she should get over him?

"Wait, wait, wait," said the aerobics instructor. "About the bride. Or actually the wife. I thought it was weird how Katie never even thought about the wife, you know? She never even wondered what she was like."

I had to hand it to the aerobics instructor. Sometimes she would come out with something really sharp. "Why didn't she think about the wife?" I wrote, with a big, filled-in arrow next to the note. Why didn't I ever think about Tina, I wondered.

"I guess also I didn't really have a sense of Shane," someone added. "I mean, it says he's a teacher and stuff like that, but I mean more about why he got married so quick." "Why Shane got married so quick," I noted. I was starting to see that there might be a problem. The class had some of the same questions about the characters that I did.

"Let's talk about Katie's feelings for Shane," the teacher said. OK. Now we're getting somewhere, I thought.

"There was this one part that I thought was pretty telling," said one of the older students, "where she says-- on page three, midway down the page." There was the sound of people flipping. "I don't think I loved Shane until he told me he was getting married."

"Exactly," George nodded. "But I think it's getting buried in there. You might want to make it bigger," he said, addressing me directly, "or earlier.

"But you wouldn't want to make that too much the point," someone said, "because obviously she was having a really hard time getting over him. I mean, she did feel something for him."

"Well, I think that's an interesting question," George said, tipping back in his chair. "What are Katie's true feelings? Is this is a story about social status, or is this a story about true love?" I didn't like the way the question was framed.

"Social," the aerobics instructor said. "Definitely social. It seemed like she liked having an older boyfriend." Where was this in my story? But everyone was nodding. Encouraged, the aerobics instructor added, "I mean, if they'd been in love, it would have clicked when they were still together."

No! I felt everything slump inside me. As everyone bobbed their heads in agreement, that Shane and I hadn't been in love, I looked very intently at my paper. "Why didn't anything click?" I wrote. Then I couldn't write the rest of it, so I just made a long dash.

"Maybe she's going through something more than just Shane," somebody suggested. I perked up a little. This was definitely possible. "But there's not enough in here to give us a sense of what that other thing she's going through might be," said George. "We don't know much about Katie. She went off to college. She enjoys mountain biking. But aside from that, who is she?"

She's me, I thought. Look over here! Blonde hair, green skirt, far corner.

The class was silent. Then George turned his entire body and looked me straight in the eye. Oh God, I thought. They know.

"Susan, you might need to do a little pre-writing about Katie. Get a sense of who she is. Figure her out a little more." Yes. I nodded vigorously, as if I, too, was hoping to unlock the mysteries of this girl I'd created.

"OK. Well, we should really move on to the next one," said George. "Susan, I guess my final comment would be that the story needs an end. But it develops well. Nice job," he said.

I sat there blankly. The story needs an end? I thought. No duh, it needs an end. We are gathered together today to figure out the end. The story needing an end is the whole reason we are here. And now we just started talking about some other person's work.

I sat very still and looked around the bright room, all of us at the desks in a big circle. Nothing had happened. I was still the same. Except for now I'd tried this, and it seemed like I had no more chances.

I rode my bike home slowly. It made me feel lonely, thinking of the way they'd talked about my life. It was so in general. None of them knew that they were talking about a real girl in the world.

Then, as the days went by, I felt better. The class had acted like my story wasn't so unusual. Just some old thing with an ex-boyfriend. It made the whole thing feel smaller, like less of an emergency. Dozens of girls now riding their mountain bikes through these very foothills had dated boys and been hurt. It was something that people had heard of, something that happened all the time. It was a known thing that made people sad. Now I rode my bike along Arapahoe Road at the speed of a regular girl, wearing regular clothes, like shorts, and pointing my bike light in the regular direction, straight ahead.

For a while I still thought about Shane, and then suddenly, I didn't think about him at all. Except on every birthday, when I would think, I'm still not as old as he was. And then I was 23, and that was it. I didn't think about him anymore.

Ira Glass

Susan Burton from New York.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well you can download audio of our program at audible.com/thisamericanlife, where they have public radio programs, bestselling books, even the New York Times, all at audible.com.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia. I only agreed to host This American Life because he promised me years ago--

Elizabeth Gilbert

Brian Dennehy is really interested in being in it, and so is Rebecca De Mornay.

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

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