Transcript

258:

Leaving the Fold
Transcript

Originally aired 01.30.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/258

Prologue.

Ira Glass

It really is the damnedest thing. Chris will tell you that himself. When he was in the army, when he was flying around in helicopters taking enemy fire, he was terrified. He never thought he'd look back on it later and miss anything about it.

Chris

At the time, no. I figured I'm not going to miss this. Why am I going to miss this? Somebody's constantly shooting at me, trying to kill me, trying to kill the guys that I'm working with. You've got to be out of your mind if you miss this. You know? But then, down the road, you think well, I really miss that excitement. I miss that danger.

Fred Sallatore

I miss the action.

Ira Glass

Fred Sallatore came back from war and got a job selling insurance in Texas.

Fred Sallatore

The adrenaline rush is so great. And there are not many times you and I, in our walk of life, are in a situation where the decisions we make impact the lives and deaths of others.

Ira Glass

And this is the thing I was really curious about is when you came back, did your regular life seem kind of stupid?

Fred Sallatore

Yes. Not so much dumb or stupid, but boring. And there wasn't much to it. You get up at 5:30. And you're in the office by 7:30. And you go home about 6:30. And it's just anti-climactic, I suppose. And, when you're 23 years old, it's a little depressing, initially.

Ira Glass

When did you find something that was as intense as the military to replace the military?

Fred Sallatore

I haven't.

Ira Glass

Fred's army service in Vietnam ended in 1967. Chris left Vietnam in '69, and it took Chris a while to figure out what to do with himself when he came home. Nothing felt right after what he'd been through. He went from job to job until he signed up with the Baltimore Fire Department.

Chris

And let me tell you, when I got out of the fire academy and I was assigned to my first unit, and I had my very first fire, I was scared to death. My adrenaline was just pumping big time. And it was a cool feeling, believe it or not. It was a cool feeling. It was something that I had missed for a long, long time. And I know that sounds kind of strange, but the things that I hated the most were the things that I missed the most.

Ira Glass

It is a little strange, but I have to say it makes complete sense. At some point or another, all of us have been in some situation where all we could think about was we couldn't wait for it end. To get out of school, to move away from our parents, to leave the church, or the job, or the band, or the city that we're in, we can't wait. And then later, when we look back, there was something about that place that we hated that we just cannot get out of our system. These were, actually, just the most extreme possible example of that kind of thing. Literally, they were in a situation where people were trying to kill them and, when they look back, they think you know, that wasn't all bad.

Well, you're listening to This American Life from Chicago Public Radio, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today, on our program, we bring you three stories of people leaving the fold and leaving parts of themselves behind when they do it.

Act One of our show, I've Got A Secret I've Been Hiding From You. In that act, my friend, prepare to be shocked. We have the true story of Jerry Springer in his first career as a politician, an idealistic politician, who fought hard for what he thought was right and was popular to boot, successful.

Act Two, God And Hockey. In that act, a smack down between the God of the Old Testament and the New York Rangers for the souls of a young couple from New Jersey.

Act Three, Nuns Amok. Some nuns in the mountains of Appalachia decide they want to be nuns just without the Catholic church. Stay with us.

Act One. I've Got A Secret I've Been Hiding From You.

Ira Glass

Act One, I've Got A Secret I've Been Hiding From You. Chances are-- I think I'm pretty safe in guessing this, you do not think that you need to learn anything else about trash TV talk show host, Jerry Springer. You pretty much have an opinion about him. You know what you think of him. Our producer, Alex Blumberg, grew up in the city where Springer was Mayor years ago, and he put together this story.

Alex Blumberg

Jerry Springer arrived in Cincinnati in 1969 fresh out of law school with a job at a downtown firm. In just six months he announced he was running for Congress against the conservative incumbent. He was 25. He had no experience. Nobody had ever heard of him. But he was against the war in Vietnam, and he supported civil rights. And here's the thing you might not guess: he was fantastic. Patricia Garry and Jene Galvin are both Cincinnati political veterans. Here's how they remember him.

Patricia Garry

He was, absolutely, the most gifted, natural politician I ever saw. And the grandmothers all loved him. The daughters all loved him. The brothers and sisters, everybody was a good friend of his. They were great. I mean, there was always a kind of a glamor around him where he was, clearly, a golden boy.

Jene Galvin

I put Springer at the level of Ronald Reagan, Bobby Kennedy, Bill Clinton. He's that level.

Alex Blumberg

And it's not just local Cincinnati people who feel this way about Springer. Mike Ford met Springer back in the '70's, but has moved up in politics and is, today, a Democratic political strategist at the national level most recently hired to consult with the Dean Campaign.

Mike Ford

I worked with Clinton, '90, '92. '88, Dukakis. '80, I worked for Kennedy. '76, I went through Birch Bagh, Morrie Udall and Jimmy Carter. He's the best I've ever seen, bar none.

Audience

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Yeah!

Jerry Springer

Hey, welcome to the show. How you doing?

My guests, today, say they're cold-hearted mistresses who are proud to be breaking up marriages. Please meet Holly. She says she does more than just babysit her friend's three kids. Holly, what is going on?

Holly

I've been screwing my friend's husband.

Alex Blumberg

It's kind of a long drop from wanting to save the world to hosting TV shows with titles like I Have Sex With My Twin and I Want To Be A Teen Stripper. The story of Jerry Springer is the story of an act of transformation so complete and so total that most people don't even know it happened. It's really the story of two Jerry Springers: one known only to a pocket of people in Southwest Ohio and as the heir apparent to progressive politics in America. The other known the world over as the king of trash TV.

Jerry Springer

Go ahead, tell her.

Holly

Theresa, I was screwing your husband. And he loves having sex with this.

Audience

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

Mike Ford

Well, he was Kennedy-like, very bright.

Alex Blumberg

This is a comparison that comes up a lot when people talk about the other Jerry Springer, and it's no coincidence. The summer before Springer first ran for office in Cincinnati, he'd worked as a volunteer with Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign. Here's Jene Galvin.

Jene Galvin

When Jerry got to Cincinnati, he had a Boston/Harvard/Kennedy accent. He doesn't have it anymore, but we got here, he had it. If you hear any old tape of him from that era, see any video clips, Jerry Springer came to town talking like Bobby Kennedy.

Jerry Springer

My campaign is based upon the proposition that the answers to the problems which currently plague our cities, our towns, and our homes, are not to be found in the decisions in Washington. They are, instead, to be found in the hearts, minds, and resources of our own people here at home.

Alex Blumberg

On old footage from this campaign, Springer looks even younger than He looks like a kid in one of his father's suits pretending to be Bobby Kennedy. But crowds loved him. He seemed like somebody reaching for something big even when he's talking about business prosperity and the gross national product.

Jerry Springer

The GNP, by itself, is no mark of our national achievement for it includes smokestacks that pollute, drugs that destroy, and ambulances which clear our highways of human wreckage. It includes a mugger's knife, a rioter's bomb, and Oswald's rifle. But, if the GNP tells us all this, there is much that it does not tell us. It says nothing of the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.

Alex Blumberg

Springer was running in one of the whitest and most conservative parts of a very conservative city against a 10-year incumbent, and he lost that first race. It was the last time he would lose an election for the next decade. One year later, he ran for and was elected to the Cincinnati City Council. Tim Burke was his legislative aide on the council.

Tim Burke

Jerry could go into a VFW hall and talk about why he was opposed to the war in Vietnam, and that was not a popular thing to do. He wouldn't convince VFW folks, at least not the majority of them, that they should come out against the war in Vietnam, that wasn't in their nature. But he'd walk out of that room and they'd like him.

Jene Galvin

And this is the remarkable thing about Jerry Springer, the politician.

Alex Blumberg

Again, longtime friend, Jene Galvin.

Jene Galvin

He has connect-ability that transcends specific viewpoints of people. He'd get votes from West-siders saying I don't agree with anything you say, but I just like your style. I like your guts.

Alex Blumberg

The result of this was that, on City Council, Springer had an uncanny ability to bring a marginal message without actually marginalizing himself. Again, here's Tim Burke, Springer's legislative aide.

Tim Burke

In 1971, when Jerry was elected to City Council, there was a proposal to build Riverfront arena, and the proposal was to do it with public dollars. And the original vote on council, as to how that was going to go, was an eight to one vote. Jerry was the only one who opposed it.

Alex Blumberg

Opposed doing it?

Tim Burke

Opposed doing it with public dollars. And the day of a critical vote, two members of Council were away. And it needed seven votes in order to meet certain of the procedural requirements. Jerry refused to give them the procedural vote, which had been the tradition. You don't hold something up on a procedural vote. You're free to vote against it on the merits, but you don't hold it up on-- well, Jerry bucked tradition, and then started just talking about why this was a bad thing to do, and we ought not to be publicly financing these things that ought to be supported by private business.

And, in the end, he captured the attention of the citizens of Cincinnati. They rallied to his side. The other politicians on Council got that message. And Riverfront Coliseum was built with private dollars, with very little public subsidy involved. And you don't see that happening in stadiums and arenas today.

Guy Guckengerger

Oh, it really got you going, I'll tell you.

Alex Blumberg

Guy Guckenberger is a Republican and was one of Springer's Council opponents on Riverfront Coliseum funding. He said it wasn't any fun being on the other side of an issue from Springer.

Guy Guckengerger

I mean, he'd make a public appeal and state a public position for an issue, and you either went with him or you were the bad guy. I mean, you didn't have any choice then.

Alex Blumberg

In 1974, Springer got elected to a second term with more votes than anyone else in City Council. Six months later, he resigned in a scandal. An FBI investigation into an illegal massage parlor across the river in Kentucky revealed that he'd been a repeat customer. How did they know? He'd paid for a prostitute with a check. Tim Burke was his legislative aide at the time.

Tim Burke

We went something like 10 days in a row with the headline story in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Jerry was going through all kinds of personal hell, so was his wife, obviously. So was his family, as he had to call them and explain to them what he had done and what it was doing. And this was a young man with an absolutely terrific career ahead of him and it looked like it has all been destroyed.

Alex Blumberg

And you, personally, what were your thoughts?

Tim Burke

Part of it was what the hell were you doing? Why would you throw away this terrific political career you had in front of you for a few minutes?

Alex Blumberg

At the time, it seemed that people weren't angry at the act as much as they were at the sheer stupidity of paying for it by check. But Springer was clearly shaken. The minute the facts became public, he resigned from Council. So quickly, in fact, that his colleague seemed a little shocked.

Tim Burke

I think Jerry would tell the story that his initial thoughts were I'm going to resign. I'm disgraced. I'm leaving town. I'm going to go start a new life someplace else.

Within about 24 hours, he and his wife Micki, and his other friends decided that wasn't the way to do it. And he held another press conference. And he just said here's what happened, here's what I did, I'm ashamed of it, I apologize, and just came and bared his soul to the Cincinnati public. And they rallied to him again. It was amazing.

Some of the nuns out at the College of Mount St. Joseph started a thing where they were sending stones and little pebbles to members of Cincinnati City Council trying to encourage them to reject Springer's resignation with the message he who is without sin should cast the first stone. It was tremendous the way that people responded to him. And that was, really, what started his comeback.

Alex Blumberg

After a few months, Springer took tentative steps to get back into public life and manages another run for City Council. The Democratic party wouldn't endorse him, but they did leave a spot open for him on the ballot. Jene Galvin went with him to campaign.

Jene Galvin

The Saint Patrick's Day Parade in Cincinnati, at the time, was huge, huge. It ran through the downtown streets. Thousands of people would come. You'd hope for great weather, and on this day we had great weather, a tremendous crowd.

And as Jerry would come down through the crowd, they jeered him, they mocked him. And some of it didn't mean they wouldn't vote for him, but they mocked him. "Hey, Jerry. You got a check on ya?" "Hey, Jerry. You're really stupid, aren't you? Why'd you write a check?", just yelling all this stuff. And he would just sit there and smile and laugh and take it. And boy, my heart was kind of breaking for my buddy up on that back seat because I'm down driving this car. He just took a beating.

Alex Blumberg

Still, the campaign worked. 18 months after resigning from City Council in disgrace and admitting publicly that he'd paid for a prostitute with a check, Jerry Springer was elected by the citizens of Cincinnati to a third term on City Council.

Two years later, back on the Democratic ticket again, he was elected Mayor, this time with the largest vote total in the city's history. It's not going too far to say that, less than four years after being caught writing a check to a prostitute, Jerry Springer had become the most popular politician in Cincinnati, ever, partly because he was able to mock his own stupidity. A rock and roll radio station convinced him to record a spoof commercial, a take-off on a popular credit card ad at the time.

Jerry Springer

Hi. Do you know me? My face is seen all over Cincinnati, constantly. But when I travel, say across state lines, people don't know the difference between Jerry Springer and Gerry Ford, so that's why I carry this. The American Expense Card, it's the card that's good at thousands of clubs and motels across the river. I can even get instant, hassle-free check approval. For quick, enjoyable entertainment, it can't be beat. Just like me.

Alex Blumberg

Most people, if they know the story at all, they know it wrong. They think Jerry Springer was Mayor, there was a prostitution scandal, he resigned, and then had nothing else to do but become the Jerry Springer of The Jerry Springer Show.

The truth is much stranger and more complicated. Jerry Springer became Mayor after the prostitute. And The Jerry Springer Show was a full decade and a half after that, during which time Springer left politics, more or less, on his own terms and then rose again to the top of an entirely different field-- television journalism.

Jerry Springer

The president of the local teamsters union in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky is warning trucking companies to send trucks out in convoys after midnight on Monday.

Alex Blumberg

This is Jerry Springer as he was known to Cincinnati and throughout the '80's-- local news anchor. Here's how he got there. In 1980, he stepped down as Mayor to run for Governor and lost in a tough, three-way race. When it was over, he was out of money and jobless, so he accepted an offer to anchor the local news at Channel 5, the lowest ranked local news program.

In a fairly bold programming move, the station also let him end the broadcast with his own, nightly commentaries, which were often of a liberal bent: pro-union, anti-Reagan and Bush. He ended the broadcast each night with his signature phrase: "Take care of yourself and each other."

Springer spent 10 years at Channel 5, during which he brought the nightly news from last to first in the ratings and earned 10 Emmy Awards. He attracted notice, including offers to host his own show.

In September of 1991, the first Jerry Springer Show was taped. Soon afterwards, Jerry Springer left Cincinnati for good. His final commentary on the local news is legendary.

Jerry Springer

OK. Bear with me. This'll be a little tough. You should know this isn't the first time I thought about leaving. I thought about it some 20 years ago when a check, that would soon become part of Cincinnati folklore, made me see life from the bottom. To be honest, the thought about ending it all crossed my mind, but a more reasonable alternative seemed to be hey, how about just leaving town, running away, starting life over someplace else? You see, in political terms as well as human, here in Cincinnati, I was dead.

But then, in probably the luckiest decision I ever made, I decided no, I'm staying put. I would withstand all the jokes, all the ridicule. I'd pretend it didn't hurt. And I would give every ounce of my being to Cincinnati. "Why, in time," I was thinking, "you have to like me or, if not like me, at least respect me." And I'd run for Council, even on endorse, and I'd prove to you I could be the best public servant you ever had or I'd die trying. Be it is a mayor, an anchor, or a commentator, whatever it took, I was determined to have you know that I was more than a check and a hooker on a one night stand.

But something happened along the way. Maybe it's God's way of teaching us. I don't know. But, you see, in trying to prove something to you, I learned something about me. I learned that I had fallen in love with you, with Cincinnati, with you who taught me more about life and caring and forgiving and also, most importantly, in giving, giving something back. Which is part of the reason I have been-- excuse me-- so sad this week, why it's so hard to say goodbye. God bless you, and goodbye.

Jerry Springer

Amy, you have a friend, Rusty. Let's now welcome him to the show. Here is Rusty.

Man

Oh, yeah.

Man

Oh, yeah.

Woman

Go, Rusty!

[LOUD THUMP]

[EXCLAMATIONS AND SCREAMS FROM AUDIENCE]

Man

Come on [BLEEP]! [BLEEP]!

Alex Blumberg

It wasn't immediate, the switch from the nightly news to this. Originally, The Springer Show was meant to be the successor to Phil Donahue. And, indeed, the first year's topics included homelessness and gun control. Springer booked political guests like Oliver North and Jesse Jackson, and the show seemed innocent and upstanding. One early show bears the quaint title: Single People: On The Outside Looking In. But the ratings tanked, a new producer was hired and-- well, you know the rest.

[SOUNDS OF AUDIENCE AND PEOPLE YELLING AND FIGHTING]

For those in Cincinnati, those that know the other Jerry Springer, watching the show can be bewildering. Again, here's Patricia Garry who used to work with Jerry back in his City Council days.

Patricia Garry

Well, first off, that doesn't look Jerry.

Alex Blumberg

What is it about him, do you think, when you see him? What do you see when you're looking at him?

Patricia Garry

I don't know. Is he even in there? Where is Jerry? But he's still got that outward, you know, he can be happy with the microphones, and smiling, and all that. And then he does that little, pseudo-commentary at the end.

Where is that positive energy? Where is that belief that he can make a difference? Where is that wanting to make a difference? That striving? He was always shooting upward. I don't know if that person is around.

Alex Blumberg

That's the thing, that seems to me, is that somebody with this gift, clearly--

Patricia Garry

It's a Greek tragedy, isn't it? It's really a Greek tragedy. Yeah. I couldn't have written a better one: to end up being the joker instead of being the king.

Alex Blumberg

Yeah.

Jerry Springer

I'm not conflicted because I know there's me and then there's the show.

Alex Blumberg

Jerry Springer might be the only person intimately familiar with Jerry Springer, who claims to feel no ambivalence about the place Jerry Springer has ended up. I talked to him in his office before he taped his show. It's hard not to like him. He's engaging, funny, but there's a certain practiced quality to the way he answers questions about his career choices.

Jerry Springer

You know, I create this persona for the show. And that's what it is, I'm an act. Its like I'm in movies. No one goes after some actor because, let's say, he played Hitler in the movies.

Alex Blumberg

I'm not saying anybody should have an issue with it at all. Here's a person who's, at every stage of their professional career, it's been imbued with a sense of trying to make a difference until you get to the Springer show.

Jerry Springer

Well, we certainly made a difference in television. I'm not sure people are happy about it. I try not to think about it too much. Life is what it is. And you take what's handed and you work as hard as you can and, hopefully, you'll be successful. But I just don't spend too much time worrying about that. I do my show. I've always said it's a stupid show. I've had a wonderful life because of it and all that, but I've never, for a second, thought that it's important. It's trivial. It's chewing gum, and I recognize that. Once you do something that's significant in life, all this other stuff is just a way to eat.

Alex Blumberg

From talking to Springer and his friends, I think the best answer to the question how did this idealistic, political guy end up in a job where he helps no one, is partly he stumbled into it and was as surprised as anyone about how big it got.

Once the show started, what they euphemistically referred to as targeting the youth market, its success was both instantaneous and breathtaking. Within a span of a couple of years, Springer went from being just another talk show host to a worldwide phenomenon. The Springer show can be seen on televisions in over 40 countries, worldwide, including Tunisia. And when the show is named after you, you get a lot of the money. And the money really meant something to him. He'd come to this country when he was five, the child of Jewish refugees who escaped to America from Nazi Germany.

But there is some evidence that Springer is more ambivalent about his current job than he's willing to let on to a reporter. About four or five years ago he started making phone calls to his old friend, Mike Ford, who ran several of Springer's political campaigns, just to chat about politics. The more notoriety the show attracted, the more popular it became, the more frequently, it seemed to Mike, Jerry would phone him.

Mike Ford

We talked, I would say, maybe, once a month, and it was always about getting back in. He would call me and he would say, so what are we going to do? And I would say well, I'm doing it. I don't know what you're going to do, but it's not happening on the show. And then we'd talk about options.

And we looked at everything. I went down to Mississippi to look at running against Trent Lott. We looked in New Orleans. We looked everywhere, but especially in Ohio. And he was feeling it out for years. He was empty, OK? That's the issue here. The show does not make him happy. It didn't fill his needs as a person.

Alex Blumberg

If you follow the news very closely, you may recall stories in early 2003 that Jerry Springer was considering a run for Senate in Ohio. Much of the national news reported this as a joke, the talk show fool trying to dress up as a statesman. But the small band of Jerry's friends from before knew the story was actually the opposite: a former statesman was trying to shake off the costume of a talk show fool. What this meant for Jerry was going around the state and speaking in front of as many Democrats as he possibly could. Jene Galvin went with him.

Jene Galvin

People say, would you come down Hocking College and speak? Yes. Will you come to the Mercer County Democratic Party dinner and speak? Yes. Will you come down to Athens County and help a young Ohio University woman running for City Council win an election? Yes. He goes.

Tim Burke

I introduced him to the State Democratic County Chairs Association back in January.

Alex Blumberg

Again, Tim Burke.

Tim Burke

And, as I introduced him, you could just see that there was a great deal of skepticism in that room because, for the most part, the county chairs from around the state of Ohio only knew Jerry for this crazy television show he has.

Tim Burke

Many of you know him only as a host of some goofy television show. I know him as somebody who cares deeply about people, about politics. I'm proud to introduce you to my longtime friend, Jerry Springer.

[APPLAUSE]

Jerry Springer

Thank you, very much. May you never be on my show.

Tim Burke

You could, literally, watch the audience change from skepticism to an audience that was laughing with Jerry.

Jerry Springer

The tax cuts proposed by the President are obscene. What the hell is he giving someone like me a tax break for?

[LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE]

Jerry Springer

The argument for the tax package, and you hear it all the time, the argument for the tax package is to give people back their money so they'll spend it and will help the economy. Here's what's stupid. Rich people can already afford anything they want to buy. Do you think, if I get a check back in the mail, suddenly I'm going to buy something? If I want to buy something now, I'll go out and buy it. Don't give me the money. Take that money and make sure that every citizen in the United States of America has health insurance! That's where you spend the money!

[APPLAUSE]

Jerry Springer

If we would get that message across to the citizens of Ohio, I don't care how Republican your district looks, they will say, "Aha! That relates to me. Now there's a reason to sign up and vote Democrat." We've got to give them a reason. That's what we stand for. We are right on the issues. It just drives me insane when I watch the news and I see this garbage. Look, I'm the king of garbage, so I know garbage!

[LAUGHTER]

Tim Burke

And at the end of the speech, he had them all up on their feet. These are a bunch of hard bitten politicians who've heard lots of political speeches in their lives, and he had them on their feet at the end of the speech. He turned the room, just like that.

Alex Blumberg

You don't have to be a political strategist, however, to design the attack ad against the Jerry Springer Senate campaign. He airs one, himself, twice a day in most markets, for an hour each time. So along with the speeches and the candidate appearances, Mike Ford tried to research the question could Jerry Springer, the man, get beyond Jerry Springer, the show? Put it another way. Had Springer forever blown his chance to do the one thing he truly loved doing?

Mike Ford

We put together, more or less, focus groups. And we sat him in a room and, instead of asking questions directly about Jerry, we decided what we should do is, in effect, run a campaign before their eyes that was completely honest about all the things he'd ever done wrong or were distasteful, and then mixing them with the bio of the guy, and then letting him talk to camera about issues. We had impressive voices reading mean, horrible, nasty editorials. They had clips from the show. They had headlines about bad things. They saw all the bad, but then they saw a lot of the good.

In every market we started horribly, and every single, one of them turned around in every audience, in every market. And the key thing there was that information is received in inverse proportion to its predictability. So if you said Jerry Springer is dating a llama, they would go yeah, yeah, I saw that in the Enquirer. But then you start unroll all this other stuff. And then, when he looked to camera and started talking about what's going on in this state and in the country, it was completely persuasive because it was all new.

Alex Blumberg

But there's one other thing they told Mike Ford. All the people in all the focus groups said the only way they could vote for him was if he quit his show. The voters, it turns out, could get beyond Springer, the show, to Springer, the man as long as Springer, the man, did it first. Which is what killed his exploratory bid in the end. He couldn't get out of his TV contract in time to start a Senate race, but he's still out there giving speeches. If you go to the website runjerryrun.com, you'll see five events with the Ohio Democratic organizations scheduled next month alone.

Springer's been thinking a lot about his message. He hits it in every speech he gives and it goes something like this: "We all believe, Republicans and Democrats alike, that the purpose of government is to provide protection. No one disputes that government should maintain a military or police force, or try to stop terrorists, but Democrats believe that government should protect its citizens from another form of violence as well."

Jerry Springer

The violence of a pink slip on a Friday afternoon that says you've been laid off and now you don't have enough money to take care of your family. You know, job insecurity, the inability to get health insurance, that you have to choose should I take my medicine this month, or do I buy my kid a coat for the winter? So the Democratic party exists in America today to provide protection for middle and low-income America, particularly against economic violence as well as military violence.

Alex Blumberg

Has doing the show for these last 8, 10 years, has it informed your political thinking in any way?

Jerry Springer

No. It's just confirmed it. Any job I've ever had it's been the same constituency, it's been middle and low-income people that need a voice, that need help, that need whatever. So, even in my entertainment, that's my base. In politics, it certainly was my base. When I practiced law, it was my base. This is who I am.

54 years ago, this week, I came to America. I was five years old. Most of my family had been killed in the holocaust in the camps in Germany and Austria during World War II.

Alex Blumberg

The speech that you're hearing now is one Springer delivered back in January of 2003 to a group of Ohio Democratic county chairs. There was no press there. And the only reason we have it on tape is because an audience member recorded the whole thing on a personal tape machine from his chair. He probably thought that it'd be a joke, but he was so moved by the speech that he took the tape and had it duplicated at his own expense. He sent it around to all the county chairmen around the state, the idea being, here's a guy with a message for us.

In the speech, Springer gives his standard economic spiel and also condemns America's current foreign policy as arrogant and bullying. And then he ends with his own story of first coming to America with his refugee parents on a boat from Europe.

Jerry Springer

We came over on the Queen Mary, January 19th to January 24th, a five day voyage over to America in 1949. And, when we arrived, my very first memory was my mom waking me up and saying, "Jerald, we have to go up on the top deck there." One of the decks of the Queen Mary. And all I remember-- because the rest has been told to me. I was only five-- but I vividly remember everyone standing out on top of the ship and the deck there-- there were about 2,000 passengers on board-- packed together, packed together. And what I remember, other than being freezing, is that nobody said a word. It was absolute quiet.

And we were passing the Statue of Liberty. And my mother told me later on, as I got older because, obviously, I wouldn't remember exactly what I'd said, but she remembers me asking her what are looking at and what does it mean? And she said, in German, eines tages, alles. One day, everything.

The Statue of Liberty means everything. We take it for granted today. We take it for granted. Remember, the Statue of Liberty stands for what America is. We, as Democrats, have to remind ourselves and remind the country the great principles we stand for. This is a place of protection. This is not a country of bullies. We are not an empire. We are the light. We are the Statue of Liberty. Thank you for having me.

[APPLAUSE]

Alex Blumberg

The elements aren't new. The immigrant experience, help for working people, the Statue of Liberty, but the effect was, somehow, electrifying for the people in that hall and the people passing around this tape. Wouldn't it be funny if, in the end, what the world really needs is more Jerry Springer?

Ira Glass

Alex Blumberg, he's one of the producers of our show.

Coming up, so a bunch of nuns and an Orthodox Jew walk into a bar. Actually, they walk into the second half of our show, and that happens just one minute, on Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

This is American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, stories of people leaving the fold and, like Jerry Springer, having one part of them stays stuck back in the old days before they left.

Act Two. God And Hockey.

Ira Glass

We have arrived at Act 2 of our show. Act 2, God And Hockey.

Shalom Auslander and his wife were raised in religious homes. But they were wobbling away from it, thinking of leaving the fold. But still, living in an Orthodox Jewish community in Teaneck, New Jersey, they were huge fans of the hockey team, the New York Rangers. And in 1994, The Rangers had an incredible season. They beat The Islanders, beat The Devils in a 7-game, double overtime win, went to the playoffs against Vancouver.

And during one of these away games, fans could go, while the team was in Vancouver, for $5.00 and sit in Madison Square Garden and watch the game on the Jumbotron with other fans. But the problem for this couple was the game was on a Saturday and religious Jews don't drive on Saturdays, it's against the rules of their religion. Shalom and his wife really, really wanted to go.

Shalom Auslander

So this was push coming to shove in terms of the whole God existence thing. We kind of looked at each other, and I was all for going. I just said oh, to hell with it. My argument was if God got them in that position and--

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

God made The Rangers winners.

Shalom Auslander

God made the-- look, He brought over Messier from Canada. He brought over Kovalev from Russia. He really went out of his way to get these guys into this position to win, and it was probably a mitzvah to go watch them. You know, this commandment to go watch them.

Ira Glass

What was her argument?

Shalom Auslander

Her argument was fear, terror, God revenge. So her feeling was let's walk. It's about 14 miles from what we judged.

Ira Glass

Wait a second. You actually thought that, if you drove instead of walked, that God would actually make the team lose?

Shalom Auslander

I did.

Ira Glass

That would be His revenge on you, really?

Shalom Auslander

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I certainly knew that, if it did happen, there would be a part of my head that went ah, nice going. Nice going. They play all season, and then you've got to go in the cab. And now look what happened.

Ira Glass

So let's walk from New Jersey into Manhattan, literally?

Shalom Auslander

Yes. Literally.

Ira Glass

Across the bridge.

Shalom Auslander

Down Teaneck Road. You know, walk along the side of Route 4, which is this 8-lane, super slab highway, across the George Washington bridge. Walk down the highway, cross through Harlem, hit Broadway, and then it's 100 blocks down to Madison Square Garden.

So we go and, as we're heading along, its turning out to be quite a longer walk than we thought it was. Particularly in our sabbath finest. And those are hard shoes. But her feet are slowly blistering. And its just getting worse and worse, and she's complaining more and more. It's at the point where she's taken her shoes off and walking. And I don't know how many of you have been in Manhattan, but that's a huge commitment to walk down a Manhattan street in just your socks. You've got to be in a lot of pain.

So, by the time we get there, the euphoria of the game took over, and it was just really great to be there. But we didn't really consider God much after that, until The Rangers lost. I think they lost 4-1. It was ridiculous.

And the game just ended, and everyone just starts filing out, miserably. And we're just standing there just dumbfounded. Not only do we now hate the Rangers but, just theologically, we're spiraling. And the moment that final buzzer rang, my wife looked at me and said, "We should have driven." It was just that kind of-- all right, if this is the way He's going to play, if this is the kind of game He's playing, then we're not having any of it. And we left the Garden and I had a sidewalk hot dog. I was like, I'm strictly non-kosher from now on.

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

Take that.

Shalom Auslander

Yeah. How do You like that? Where can I get a Slim Jim around here?

Ira Glass

And a milk.

Shalom Auslander

Yeah, exactly.

Ira Glass

I never thought about it. Like, this is the downside of having a personal relationship with God is that you'd constantly be bearing a grudge. I thought it was all just like reassurance and stuff from God all the time. He's there in times of need. I never thought you could actually just feel a grudge against him for something like this.

Shalom Auslander

Well, you know, it depends what kind of God you're picturing. I came from a normally, incredibly dysfunctional, family with a pretty overbearing father. So, as a kid, you're going to these Hebrew schools. You're hearing our father who art in heaven, and I'm going oh, God, tell me there's not another one up in heaven. He's bad enough at home. He's bad enough at home.

Ira Glass

I realized that, as you said that, my image of God is exactly-- I could never put this together in my life-- is exactly my image of my father, but bigger, which is he's usually not around. Sometimes he'll take an interest. He means well, but mostly he's kind of like, you're on your own.

Shalom Auslander

Yeah. That wasn't mine. I wish that were my mine. Mine was a God in heaven, lumbering around in his underpants, half drunk on Chatham wine, looking to yell at somebody.

[LAUGHTER]

Shalom Auslander

So I picture that guy watching The Ranger game and going to hell with you, buddy.

Ira Glass

Yeah. So you have this moment with the team. Does this actually have consequences past that week?

Shalom Auslander

You know, I think it helped hasten the slide. The week after was the first time that we just ignored the fact that it was Sabbath. And I think our big God revolution, at that point, was to get in our car and go to a mall. And that was the big one for us. Sabbath was the big one. That's the hard one to get past.

Ira Glass

So this happened a decade ago. Have there been times that you missed being religious, having that life, having that community? Is there some part of it that you've missed along the way?

Shalom Auslander

No, because I gave up the practice of it. But it's funny, my family, or the people from that community, or anybody I went to school with, would look at me and say oh, he's completely irreligious and not spiritual at all. But the truth is I kind of feel like the most religious person I know because I still haven't quite gotten that God out of my head. He's still there. He still makes comments. There is always the picture of a big, old, frowning man, in the back of the room shaking his head, saying you're going to pay for this. So I could say I don't believe in it, but that's not going to get that character out of my life. And I don't know why I can't just give it up. I wish I could.

Ira Glass

Shalom Auslander in upstate New York. He has a collection of short stories coming out next year called, Beware of God.

[MUSIC - "THE NEW YORK RANGERS' GOAL SONG"]

Act Three. Nuns Amok.

Ira Glass

Act 3, Nuns Amok.

Now the story of some people who, absolutely, did not want to leave the fold and tried, in fact, to leave without leaving. This is in the 1960's, an order of nuns called the Glenmary Sisters. Susan Drury tracked down some of them to talk about what happened.

Susan Drury

They didn't become nuns to escape the world. They didn't go live a life of cloistered contemplation. These women wanted to be Glenmary Sisters because they wanted a bigger, wider life. They wanted to get out of their hometowns. They wanted to serve the poor. They wanted adventure.

Monica Appleby grew up in Chicago. When she graduated from her Catholic high school in 1954, she knew that she didn't want to be a nurse or a teacher or get married right away. A lot of her friends were joining the convent, but she was certain she didn't want to be like the nuns she knew from school. Then she got a brochure from the Glenmary Sisters and was intrigued by the photo on the cover.

Monica Appleby

Well, it's a sister who has a veil on and starched piece across her head, and only her face shows. But she is sitting at a tractor, driving. I thought it would be really neat to drive a tractor. And even for a sister to drive a car in those days was highly unusual. I heard later, though, that, that was a staged picture.

[LAUGHS]

That the Glenmary Sisters never did drive tractors.

Susan Drury

The Glenmary Sisters were started in the 1940's. And their founder, Father Bishop, always intended that they would be a different kind of order. Unlike almost all other nuns in the US at that time, the Glenmary Sisters were not going to have hospitals, or schools, or any other institutions. Their job was to serve the poor, to just do whatever was needed in the poor towns where they were sent. Even more unusual, they were going to minister, not primarily to Catholics, but to people in places where there were few or no Catholics. To missions in rural parts of Appalachia where many people had never seen nuns.

And, though they were cutting edge nuns, they were still nuns. They had mass every day and said their prayers three times a day. They studied theological books during meals and had silence every evening. These practices kept them grounded in their training and faith, they say, but other rules seemed to get in the way.

Marie Cirillo joined the Glenmary Sisters in 1948, and says that one of the greatest obstacles to doing their work was that they had to wear the traditional habit. It was floor-length. It was gray wool. It had a veil.

Marie Cirillo

And it had a cape on it. And, oh God, and I remember going up a hollow, getting out of the car, trying to climb up this mountain to this house. And the mother comes out. And the kids are on the porch and start screaming, "Mama! Mama! Witches! Witches!" And I think, God! I don't need this.

[LAUGHS]

And then another thing that was bothersome was that we couldn't eat with people. And if you're going out from the convent into the mountains and you're driving around, and you've packed your sandwich. But if you're stopping in a house and they want you to have something, and you can't do it. And then you have to go get in the car and start nibbling your food. You think this is so stupid, it's so stupid.

Monica Appleby

That part didn't work at all.

Susan Drury

Here's Monica Appleby again.

Monica Appleby

The basis of our work was building relationships and, since we were so strange, it was finding a way for people to trust us. So that's why you would start questioning.

Susan Drury

The timing was right for the questions they raised. In the early '60's, The Second Vatican Council was meeting to try to figure out how the Catholic church could adapt to become more relevant to the modern world. The pope asked every religious order to develop their own proposals for changes they thought would help them carry out their missions.

The Glenmary Sisters were excited by the chance. The sisters proposed that they be allowed to participate in broader political work. They wanted permission to attend conferences on non-religious matters. And they wanted to be able to have secular people in their houses, to invite people for meals and fellowship. In addition, the sisters had begun to wear a modified habit: a two-piece suit with a short veil.

It was one magazine article that changed everything. In July of 1966, The Saturday Evening Post ran an article titled The New Nuns. The tone of the article was admiring of the Glenmary Sisters, but the descriptions and photos of the nuns eating out at night, playing with children in alleys, showing their legs, did not go over well with conservative Catholics. Their Bishop was told to rein them in. And, by early 1967, they got word from Rome, the sister's recommendations for their order had been rejected.

Helen Lewis

They would not accept, for one thing, the short habit. The cardinal said it showed too much bosom.

Susan Drury

Helen Lewis was a community college teacher in Virginia and worked closely with many of the Glenmary Sisters for decades. She and Monica Appleby wrote about them in a book called, Mountain Sisters.

Helen Lewis

The cardinal also said that they were acting as if they were the only agents of social change. He felt that they were a little bit, I guess, too uppity, or too arrogant or something, in making all these recommendations. And so they were ordered to go back to cloister, go back to all the old rules and regulations, go back to the long habit.

Susan Drury

The Church had asked them to weigh-in, had asked for their ideas, and then the Church had rejected those ideas, wholesale. In fact, by being ordered back to cloister, back into the traditional habits, they were given more restrictions than they'd ever had. And this is when they set out on a very unusual path.

They decided they wanted to live as religious sisters without the Church, itself. They were going to quit but stay in Appalachia, serve the poor, and continue what they saw as their religious work. They were going to leave, not because they wanted a new life, but because they wanted to do what they had felt called to do all along. 70 of them quit and, of those 70, 44 started their own group they called FOCIS: Federation of Communities in Service.

Monica Appleby

We had a meeting with this Father Becker, who was representing the Bishop, and we sat around a table dividing up the property and the goods.

Helen Lewis

And I do remember thinking that this is probably as close to the feeling of a divorce that I could ever have because it was like I had lived for 18 years with these women and then, all of a sudden, we had this split.

Susan Drury

The former sisters began building their new lives outside of the convent as members of FOCIS. They went back to work in many of the same towns and cities they had been in before.

They elected Monica Appleby as their president. Monica's job was to raise some money and help this organization hang together. They had a ceremony and a special mass and made commitments to each other that mimicked the vows they made in the convent: chastity, poverty, obedience. Just as in the convent they wore special rings, but this time the ring signified their commitment to FOCIS.

For many of the former sisters, this was the first time in their lives they lived on their own without their family or the Church providing for them. Now they had to buy clothes, keep bank accounts, find housing, and find jobs that would support them while they worked with the poor. They had to adjust to regular life in the secular world.

Monica Appleby

Just finding clothes to wear and figuring out how to dress, we would give each other suggestions.

[LAUGHTER]

It was kind of a teenage thing. I remember I went to Chicago and I got everything on sale. But I enjoyed picking out clothes. I picked out a green suit, I remember, that was polyester so it didn't wrinkle. Yeah. I thought that was real sharp.

Susan Drury

So while the former sisters had decided they would live as nuns, they didn't look like nuns any more. And, as Anne Leibig tells me, that changed things, especially with men.

Anne Leibig

Before, we had to have it like you said. We'd see people, and we'd smile. And there wasn't anything sexual going on but, when I wasn't a nun any more, I didn't have to be a nun and I had regular clothes, I begin to sense that there was some different reactions from men as you'd smile at them and stuff. And then I started figuring out that there was something about flirting. I thought well, this flirting thing, I'd better learn about that.

Marie Cirillo

I think the hardest thing, and it still lingers a little bit, was that some people were so anti-structure anything that they just wanted to not be controlled in any way, or organize anything, or do anything together, just let me free because they had been so pinched with the structure. Well it's, I guess, maybe like in prison, you know? So I think that was the major tension.

Susan Drury

The sisters didn't want to be obedient to any one person, so they had to figure out how to share authority. They also thought they could share money. Their plan was that those who could get paying jobs would make a budget for themselves, then send the rest of the money to the group to support some of the sisters who were doing unpaid mission work. But, as Helen says, it was a lot harder than they thought.

Helen Lewis

It was hard for them to share money. Plus the fact that they had set up for themselves these meager budgets, just very small amounts of money for clothes and for gasoline and transportation, and so it just became not at all possible for them to do that. And I think that surprised them.

And they didn't want to say they didn't want to share. And they didn't want to say they wanted to keep their own money if they were working for a job, but they needed it, you know. I mean, they were poor.

Susan Drury

All the things they needed to keep going were things the Church used to provide, community and common purpose, organization and financial support, that made the work possible. They really couldn't make what they wanted, an order of sisters, without the institution, without the hierarchy, without the things that drove them crazy, so they struggled with obedience. They struggled with poverty. That left one more vow.

Marie Cirillo

They had promised to remain celibate. And I don't think they intended to romance, but there were a lot of young men in the mountains who were in love with these sisters. I mean, they were intrigued with them and, I think, they had fantasies of romancing Catholic sisters. Maybe. I don't know. And so, very soon, they were being hit upon by some of these young men or, at least, being courted.

Susan Drury

They'd left the Church in 1967. By 1969 they were making money, working regular jobs, and living apart from one another. Many were dating and married.

Finally, they all gathered together in Big Stone Gap and decided they didn't want to have an organization at all. They didn't want to do the fund raising. They didn't want to contribute from their own wages. They didn't want all the meetings where they'd make decisions together. And they didn't want to pay for a staff. As president, Monica was fired.

Monica Appleby

I remember it, distinctly, because it was at this set of three workshops that I organize. And I remember sitting in the room that was the dining room, where the big table was located, and screaming. And I made a scream like an animal. And I was just flattened, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I perfectly agreed with what people were saying. All those high ideals that we had weren't able to be materialized in the real world. All those pictures in my mind were changed.

Susan Drury

When they look back, Monica and the others don't think it was a mistake to leave the church and they don't really see FOCIS as a failure. Things evolve, they say. They continue to do the same kind of work, most of them, but on their own in social service jobs of different kinds.

And many of them have stayed in touch. 23 of the former sisters along with their husbands, and partners, and children, are still members of a scaled-back version of FOCIS. They gather at least once a year to socialize, worship, and study together.

And now, as many of the members enter their 60's and 70's, they're wanting to try again and build one, last organization, a retirement center, a place where, as Monica says, they can live together, care for each other, and learn to age and die gracefully.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Susan Drury lives in Tennessee.

Our program was produced today by Alex Blumberg and myself with Diane Cook, Jane Golombisky, Starlee Kine and Sarah Koenig. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Kelsey [? O'Dell. ?]

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

You know, you can download audio of our program at audible.com/thisamericanlife where they have Public Radio programs, best-selling 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, he reminds you.

Jerry Springer

'Til next time, take care of yourself and each other.

Ira Glass

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

[MUSIC - "MARIA", THE SOUND OF MUSIC SOUNDTRACK]

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