Transcript

259:

Promised Land
Transcript

Originally aired 02.20.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/259

Prologue.

Ira Glass

A couple of months ago, I happened to see, for the first time as an adult, the old Disney cartoon Snow White. It's kind of amazing, really. It's Walt Disney's first animated feature, made back in 1937, and when you watch it, it almost feels more like an opera than like a modern movie. Snow White and the prince and the seven dwarfs each enter the film in this very stagey way, each of them singing a song that declares who they are and what it is they want.

Snow White

[SINGING] I'm wishing-- I'm wishing-- for the one I love--

Ira Glass

Snow White, for instance, sings to her reflection in a wishing well, and her voice echoes back.

Snow White

[SINGING] Today. I'm hoping-- I'm hoping-- and I'm dreaming of, the nice thing-- the nice thing-- you say-- you say.

Ira Glass

And in fact, she meets the prince that very day. So I mentioned this to my sister who works for Disney-- she's a film executive there-- that I'd seen Snow White and how it felt like an old opera and how old-fashioned the opening songs were. And she goes no, no, no, no, no. It's not that it's like an opera. What you're hearing is just the "I Wish" song. And she tells me this is a standard thing, that this is in lots of movies. And the way it works is this. The very first song that the main character sings, they declare what it is that they want, and then that is what gets the story going. It's the "I Wish" song.

Ariel

[SINGING] I want more.

Ira Glass

For instance, the Little Mermaid princess sings about her wish to be human.

Ariel

[SINGING] I want to be where the people are. I wanna see, wanna see them dancin'. Walking around on those-- what do call 'em? Oh-- feet!

Ira Glass

Quasimodo, in the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame sings this from his tower as his first song.

Quasimodo

[SINGING] Safe behind these windows and these parapets of stone. Gazing at the people down below me. All my life I watch them as I hide up here alone. Hungry for the histories they show me. All my life I wonder how it feels to pass a day. Not above them, but part of them. And out there--

Ira Glass

OK, hold up. I'm going to stop that. That is just too uplifting. Anyway, this phenomenon, the "I Wish" song, goes way beyond Disney films.

Dorothy

[SINGING] Somewhere over the rainbow, way up--

Ira Glass

This, of course, is the "I Wish" that Dorothy delivers at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz to go over the rainbow.

Dorothy

[SINGING] There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.

Ira Glass

It turns out lots of old stage musicals begin with the "I Wish" song. Fiddler on the Roof has the daughter singing matchmaker, make me a match. Funny Girl has Barbara Streisand singing about becoming a star. My Fair Lady opens with Julie Andrews wishing for a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air. And Stephen Sondheim, ever the virtuous in this kind of thing, in "Into the Woods" has six different characters singing the various "I Wishes" in the opening.

Baker's Wife

[SINGING] I wish--

Cinderella

[SINGING] The King is giving a Festival.

Baker

[SINGING] More than life.

Jack

[SINGING] I wish--

Cinderella

[SINGING] I wish to go to the Festival.

Baker

[SINGING] More than riches--

Cinderella

[SINGING] And the Ball--

Jack

[SINGING] I wish my cow would give us some milk.

Baker's Wife

[SINGING] More than anything--

Baker

[SINGING] I wish we had a child.

Jack

[SINGING] Please, pal, please, pal--

Cinderella

[SINGING] I wish to go to the Festival.

Jack

[SINGING] I wish you'd give us some milk or even cheese-- I wish.

Baker

[SINGING] I wish we might have a child.

Cinderella

[SINGING] I wish.

Ira Glass

My sister Karen said that even the Britney Spears movie Crossroads begins with an "I Wish" song. Britney is dancing on her bed in her underwear, singing into a spoon, like it's a microphone, to a Madonna song on her stereo about a girl wants to be a star, which is what she comes by the end of the movie.

Britney Spears

[SINGING] I've had to work much harder than this. For something I want don't try to resist me. Open your heart to me--

Ira Glass

When somebody points out to you how common this is, you start to see the "I Wish" song everywhere. And if you're host of your own national radio show, you start to think why haven't we done that? Why don't we ever start the show with a song--

[MUSIC PLAYING]

--where I express my hopes and my dreams for what the show will be today.

[SINGING] Oh, the woman in Act 1 is wistful, but funny in a quiet way. And the guy in Act 2 has a tough job to do, a mission that's gone on 20 days. I only wish their stories will be gripping and special, even though it's not the news and they're not stars. You remember what they said, you'll mention them at dinner, and when their on you will not leave your cars. Because it's radio. Stories on the radio can be funny or emotional, can fill you with longing. My wish is that today's show lives up to this song. And bring on the conflict. Make the people speak. Bring on that music we use every week. I wish for radio, decent stories on the radio.

[SPEAKING] Yes, friends. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. You know, those old movies and shows with the "I Wish" songs, they were stories of people trying to achieve some dream, trying to get to some promised land. And here this week at This American Life, we filled our show with stories like that. Stories of dreamers, stories of people who want to reach a place that they've only heard about. We have three stories in three acts. Starlee Kine, David Rakoff and Hillary Frank.

[SINGING] Oh, I wish that you'll stay here and la-cha-da-da. Please don't say goodbye or I'll see ya. You know you want to hear the final words we have from Torey Malatia.

[SPEAKING] Stuff's coming up, friends. So stay with us, eh?

Act One. Across The Street From Heaven.

Ira Glass

Act One. Across the Street from Heaven. Well, decades of "I Wish" songs, sung by cartoon characters, spawned an entire empire of "I Wish." Disney films led to Disney theme parks. And at least for now, until the whole thing gets bought up by a big cable company, they're still there, emitting a whole fog of "I Wish" over small children. Starlee Kine tells this story, a true story, about a wish from her own childhood.

Starlee Kine

I guess my mom was what you'd call overprotective. When I would sleep over at a friend's house, the parents would inevitably receive a call around 3:00 in the morning from my mom, asking if they please wouldn't mind holding a mirror up to my mouth to make sure I was still breathing. After that, it was pretty hard to get invited back.

I wasn't allowed to play soccer because I might get brain damage or die of internal bleeding. I wasn't allowed to ride a school bus because the driver might kidnap me. I wasn't allowed to walk my dog down our peaceful suburban street. "It's much too dangerous out there," my mom would say. I pleaded with her for months and she finally agreed, on one condition. I could walk the dog one time around the block provided I leave a trail of popcorn behind me so I didn't get lost. Later, outside, when the neighbor kids asked me what I was doing, I pretended not to hear them.

This pattern would repeat itself many times over the years. I'd ask to do something, my mom would refuse. I'd beg her to change her mind, and when she finally did, the compromise she came up with was so strange and complicated that I'd often wish she'd just kept saying no. Take what happened with Disneyland. A kid growing up in LA can get tired of Disneyland at an early age. 10-year-olds talk about it as though it was a phase they went through when they were young, like when they used to kiss the bear on the Snuggles box. Yeah, Disneyland's all right, I guess. I mean, if you're into that sort of thing.

My sister and I, however, were different. By the time I was nine and she was six, we'd still never been to Disneyland. My mom thought it was way too dangerous. She arrived at this conclusion during one of her daily trials through the morning paper, scanning for dangers that could befall her children. Somewhere in the back, she'd found an article about a faulty ride at a fair in a small town somewhere in the Midwest, and that was enough to seal our fate for years. No matter how much evidence we provided to the contrary, no matter how much we begged or whined or threatened to stop eating and drinking for 30 days, she still wouldn't budge.

But just as we were about to give up for good, my mother had a change of heart. Perhaps the guilt had finally gotten to her. In any case, she decided to throw us a bone. She still wouldn't take us to Disneyland. She hadn't totally lost her mind after all. But she would let us do the next best thing. For two weeks, we could stay at the Disneyland Hotel.

Judging by the look on her face, you could tell my mom was pretty pleased by this proposition. She beamed at us expectantly, her arms outstretched. All we could manage to do was shrug our shoulders and nod.

When the time came to leave, we packed up our little suitcases. We threw in our favorite toys and games. I carefully folded in a fresh unopened pack of Mad Libs I'd been saving for a special occasion. My mom made sandwiches for the ride and packed extra clothes for us in case it got too cold or too hot. She turned the air conditioning on in the car and waited until it was nice and freezing inside before letting us in. She didn't want us to get heat stroke. Then she pulled out of our driveway, and we were off.

15 minutes later, we were pulling into the parking lot of the Disneyland Hotel. My mom told me to keep track of where we parked, and I made a mental note that we were in the Goofy section.

The Disneyland parking lot was literally across the street. It was filled to capacity with lines of cars stretching as far as the eye could see. Behind them, I could make out the top of Space Mountain. That's how close we were. We headed to the hotel and into the lobby. The receptionist looked at us and smiled. She leaned down and asked me where we were visiting from. I pretended that I didn't hear her.

For the next three years, we'd go to the Disneyland Hotel for two weeks twice a year without ever crossing the street over into Disneyland proper. Whenever we forgot something, like a toothbrush or a raincoat, we'd buy a new one instead of driving the 15 minutes home to pick it up. This made us feel more like we were on vacation.

Before I ever saw the hotel, I pictured a giant treehouse with branches stretching in every direction and little Do Not Disturb signs hanging from their tips. But in reality, the rooms weren't all that different from any other hotels, which wasn't a bad thing. They had everything a little kid loves about staying in a hotel. The comforters were scratchy, and the beds were springy and fun to jump on. And we could've spent days pressing the button on the ice machine.

The only problem was that we were constantly being reminded of what we didn't have. There was a picture of the Magic Kingdom on the ashtrays, on the complimentary notepads, on the soap, even worked into the paisley pattern of the curtains. When you ordered room service, the kids' menu also doubled as a Mickey Mouse mask. You just had to poke out the two slits for eyes and place the hooks over your ears. Then when you looked in the mirror, you could see Mickey's face looking back at you.

This wouldn't have been half as bad if not for the fact that the real Mickey Mouse wouldn't have been caught dead in that hotel. He was much too famous. Instead we had to settle for the second- and third-tier characters, who walked around like they owned the joint. We soon had more autographs by J. Worthington Foulfellow-- the oily fox who lures Pinocchio away from school-- than we knew what to do with. My sister and I would ask him when Mickey was coming, but he'd just shrug his shoulders and do a little dance.

We had a perfect view of Disneyland from our room. We'd watch people line up outside the entrance an hour before it even opened. At night, we could see the glow of the Electric Light Parade moving down Main Street. At first we were sure mom would cave. There was just no way she couldn't. She taken us, her two precious children, her whole reason for living, to the funnest place on Earth, only to stop 50 feet shy of the fun. It was like she was dangling the fun in front of us to see how long we could go on grabbing at the air before finally collapsing of exhaustion.

There was a monorail that took the hotel guests directly to the park. It looked like something out of the Jetsons. In the beginning, my sister and I hung out in front of the monorail all the time. We'd bring our coloring books and Connect Four pieces and just camp out. We'd even eat our lunch there. We were like dogs waiting behind the door for our owner to finally open it and let us out. Every time we heard footsteps, we'd perk up our ears, hoping it was our mom coming to tell us it was time. We were ready, but she never came.

To pass the time, my sister and I became experts at the various kid activities the hotel had to offer. We could assemble the Donald Duck popsicle stick faces with our eyes closed. The hotel had a fake beach next to the pool even though the real beach was only 10 minutes away. Every hour, a judge with a whistle around his neck would give an award for the best sand castle. The prize was five Disney dollars, valid for use only at Disneyland. My sister and I always won because we never had to get up and leave. The other kids would barely have managed their first tunnel, while we would already be adding on a second level to the carriage house in back.

We eventually got to know the different people who worked there. The guys who sang in the fake barbershop quartet, who didn't like each other at all. The mime who frankly seemed to be phoning it in. The man who sold churos that we bought for dinner. My favorite, however, was a caricature artist. We'd always wait until the last night of our trip to get our caricature done. We liked to save it for the end. The caricature artist would ask what we enjoyed doing most, and we'd tell him whatever we were into at the time. When I was nine, I had just gotten a new dog. The caricature artist drew my dog and me riding Space Mountain. He made my dog look like Pluto. His paws are sticking up in the air.

My mom still has these caricatures. They cover an entire wall of her house, picture after picture, the way other parents display photos of their kids. If you look at them in order, you can actually see us grow up before your very eyes, our oversized heads and little bodies acquiring different hairstyles and fashions over the years. There I am in fourth grade, learning how to swim. The caricaturist drew me jumping into a tiny bucket of water. In fifth grade, I discovered boys, and you can see me and Kirk Cameron riding a tandem bicycle. Sixth grade was my dark phase, where I didn't think I was interested in anything. The caricaturist just drew me standing in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean, rolling my eyes and looking surly.

The hotel was literally brimming with children, a lot like how I imagined Never Never Land to be. Everywhere you turned, you spotted one, hiding behind a potted plant or laying under the continental breakfast buffet table. It was like their parents had surrendered all control of them. You'd get in an elevator, and there'd be at least a dozen kids, dressed however they saw fit. One wore a snorkel on his head even though he wasn't going to the pool. One wore a sneaker on his right foot and a cowboy boot on his left. Several of them wore capes made out of hotel pillowcases. Within seconds, some kid would push every one of the elevator buttons, and the other kids, deep in conversation with one another, would clap distractedly. If there were any adults in there with us, they'd roll their eyes, but not even all that much. They knew this place was for us.

My sister and I made friends with these kids whenever we could. Timing was key. It was imperative that we catch them before they made the trek across the street. After that, we'd lose our edge. So every night we'd hang out by the checkout desk and await the new arrivals. We'd sidle up to them while their parents were checking in and ask them where they were from. We told them that we knew the hotel pretty well, so they should stick with us. We knew how to get stuff. "Would you like extra marshmallows with your hot chocolate?" we'd say. "The room service guy is a friend of ours. How about extra whipped cream?"

We'd spend a few hours with them or, if we were lucky and it rained, a full day. Then these kids would head off to the park. My sister and I would be waiting outside the monorail when they returned. They'd climb off, all loaded down with souvenirs, looking pink and exhausted. But in their eyes, we detected a change. They'd seen things we couldn't even begin to imagine, and we couldn't think of anything to say to them. After a few days when they checked out of the hotel, none of them bothered to say goodbye.

We did finally make it to Disneyland as kids when I was 11 and my sister was 8, and it happened in the most random way possible, like a piano falling out of the sky onto our heads. One morning, long after my sister and I had stopped asking, my mom just said, "Hey, guys. Do you want to go to Disneyland?" It was a school day. We had no idea where this uncharacteristic burst of spontaneity was coming from, but my sister and I had learned by now not to question these things.

Once we are finally inside the gates, my sister and I knew exactly where to go. There had been a map of the park with illustrations of all the different rides in the hotel lobby. We studied it so long we had it memorized. But the real Disneyland was different than the one we'd imagined for so long. It was strange to see that it was a natural place with long lines and smelly bathrooms. When I climbed onto a ride, I was surprised by how solid the seat felt. When you think of fantasy places in your head, you never think about the fact that they're plastic, that the overhead bar might pinch your neck. We thought it was great.

My mom, of course, wouldn't let us go on everything. She said the Matterhorn looked like it was about to fall apart, and we knew Thunder Mountain was out of the question. But we didn't care. She seemed more relaxed that day than we'd ever seen her. She laughed her head off in the tea cups. And when my sister got a paper cut from the salted pretzel wrapper, my mom just gave it a kiss instead of rushing her to the Emergency Room.

We were getting our Mickey Mouse hats embroidered with our names when our mom came up to us and told us to follow her. She led us to the ticket office in front and asked the lady for three annual passes: one adult and two kids. The passes meant we could come to Disneyland any time we wanted that year for free. The lady took our ID photograph for the card, my sister and I each wearing the same stunned expression on our face.

The thing is, we never went back that year. We didn't use the passes once. Before going, my sister and I had been sure that once we were there, we'd never want to leave. Nothing was more important than being allowed inside. But now that we'd actually seen what it was, it's not that we were disappointed, but it just didn't loom so big anymore. We kept meaning to go back, but other things kept coming up.

Finally, when I was 18, I returned. That year, my prom was held at the Disneyland Hotel. Being there as a teenager with my friends, it was hard to believe it had all ever happened. I didn't want anyone to find out, but I just knew the place too well. At one point, one girl wondered aloud where the bathroom was. "Oh, it's just down the hall about 20 paces," I said. "Past the storage room, but before the Lost and Found. Just make a left, then a right, and then another right, and you're there." Everyone stared at me, and I felt my cheeks go red.

My mom, of course, initially didn't want me to go to prom at all. She worried about some kind of accident on the road, about the limo getting a flat and a crazy person picking us up and killing us all. About drinking, about my friends, about my dress, about my date. The only way I was able to calm her down was when I told her where the prom was being held-- the Disneyland Hotel. Her shoulders immediately untensed when I said the words.

In reality, of course, sending a group of teenagers off to be by themselves in a hotel is exactly the sort of thing a parent probably should worry about. And in retrospect, letting loose your daughters at six and nine years old without supervision of any kind in a hotel full of strangers and adults in masks was probably a lot more dangerous than walking across the street to take them on It's a Small, Small World. But my mom never saw it that way. For her, the Disneyland Hotel was always the safest place on Earth.

Ira Glass

Starlee Kine. Coming up, an experiment in trying to reach enlightenment involving a man and six to eight ounces of vegetable broth. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we do some theme and bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, Promised Land. Stories of people who wish to get somewhere they've never been.

Act Two. Life In The Fast Lane.

Ira Glass

We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two. Life in the Fast Lane. There's an ancient idea that fasting can lead to moments of enlightenment. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert. The Buddha fasted, as did Pythagoras and Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw.

Is it possible that all that stands between us and genius and insight is food? Well, we wanted to find out if anyone could reach this promised land, and our contributor David Rakoff agreed to be the guinea pig in a little experiment. He went on a 20-day fast that was 14 days with no food, three days transitioning in and out on either side to find out if he would see God-- or some variant.

David Rakoff

Let's start with a showstopper, shall we? For the next three weeks, my path to enlightenment goes like this. I'm to wake up, head to the bathroom, and give myself an enema. You heard me. Warm water, Chamomile tea, and eight drops of lemon juice. I'm to hold it in for 15 minutes, lying on a towel on the bathroom floor, passing the time by reading some sort of spiritual literature. I opt for The New York Times. This is followed by a shower and a breakfast of 8 to 12 ounces of clear vegetable broth. At other points during the day, and I cannot say exactly when because this is copyrighted proprietary information, I will consume fruit juice, vegetable juice, herbal tea, and finally, more broth just before bed.

I'm on an extended fast. I find my particular fast on the web. It's like a correspondence spa. For about $300, I am provided with an exhaustive regimen that includes the recipe for the special broth I will be drinking, along with a schedule for the additional juices and herbal teas that I will also be drinking. And I will be guided by the center's founder and president, a man I'll call Brian, based in California. I can email him with all of my questions. I make sure to tell my doctor, and Ira also agrees to check in with me every now and then.

Ira Glass

David, this is the first day of your fast.

David Rakoff

Yes.

Ira Glass

Are you very, very hungry right now?

David Rakoff

I'm not very, very hungry. I'm quite sleepy. And I'm finding it rather difficult to talk this much.

Ira Glass

Wow! It's taxing.

David Rakoff

Yeah. And that kind of scares me, actually.

Dr. Lisa Sanders

People who stop taking in carbohydrates have to make this switch from one kind of fuel to the other kind of fuel from carbohydrates to these very tiny fat cells known as ketones.

David Rakoff

This is Dr. Lisa Sanders who, as part of a team at Yale, spent the past five years analyzing the science behind over 700 different diets. She's also written a book based on this work called The Perfect Fit Diet. On day one of the fast, she tells me my sluggishness is due to this switch from carbohydrates to ketones.

Dr. Lisa Sanders

When that happens, people feel sort of tired and out of sorts. Some people describe feeling a headache. After a couple of days, people often return to feeling very normal even though they're not taking in any carbohydrates, even though they're not taking in their usual supply of gasoline. Then people say that they don't feel hungry at all. There's something about ketones that kills your appetite. Food is not an issue for them anymore.

David Rakoff

What I've been reading is that, yes, they do predict a few days at the beginning where it's going to be quite difficult, and then comes a kind of a clarity, peace, and clearheadedness. And I was wondering whether there was a physiological reason that you could think of that might account for this sort of enhanced clarity?

Dr. Lisa Sanders

Hm. Well, hm. Let me think about that for a second. Ketones are your brain's preferred fuel. So maybe there's something about that that makes people feel good.

David Rakoff

The website where I bought this fast explains my changes in mood very differently. It is not about ketones or switching fuel sources. It is about toxins. According to my fasting center, as an urban North American living in the 21st century, I have a surpassingly toxic body with an average of 5 to 10 pounds of damaging impurities housed in my cells. My nerves and organs are apparently coated with this ubiquitous, sludgy film of judgment-clouding, character-distorting poison. Chemical fertilizers, remnants of medication, heavy metals, artificial colorings, all conspire to make me less than the best David I can be.

Under this logic, the reason I feel so rotten to these first few days of my fast, is that as the poisons leave the relatively inert resting places they have carved out in my cells and pass through my skin and, most importantly, my colon, they will once again exert their poisonous effects. Stuff that hurts going in will hurt coming out, I am told. And it's all about stuff coming out, so to speak. Every fast I research is intensely concerned with notions of purity and cleanliness and the need to flush oneself out, whether through laxative teas and chugging a gallon of saltwater or, in my case, the enemas. Did I mention that I have to do a daily enema?

The fixation is on the eradication of these supposed pollutants, 5 to 10 pounds of them. That is the size of a robust newborn baby. It seems like an awful lot of poison in an ostensibly healthy person. Dr. Sanders says there's little scientific proof of this.

Dr. Lisa Sanders

I've never seen any evidence of 5 to 10 pounds of toxins stored in our bodies. Most things don't do much and don't get around that much. Our cells are pretty selective about what they take up and what they don't take up as far as I know, as far as we've been able to show.

David Rakoff

Uh-huh.

Dr. Lisa Sanders

And purification of your body, we live in a dirtier and dirtier world. And yet our lives are longer and longer. Go figure.

David Rakoff

So would this be pseudoscience?

Dr. Lisa Sanders

I think so. I mean, there's a lot of stuff we don't know about the human body. There's no question about it. And so that's why I can't just out of hand say this is a whole bunch of hogwash. We should have studies. If this is true, then they should be able to show us that people who do this are healthier in some measurable, tangible way than people who don't do it and not just those who volunteer to do it. Because obviously, this is going to appeal to somebody who's very interested in their health and their well-being, somebody who cares about what they eat and that they exercise correctly. So this is not going to be science. This might be beliefs. And societies are filled with beliefs about things that are good for you, that may or may not be-- that may have no scientific merit whatsoever, but that doesn't mean that they don't work. It doesn't mean that they do work either.

David Rakoff

The fasting program I'm on doesn't just promise weight loss, greater energy, and enhance virility, but also insight, clarity, and inner peace. And to be quite frank, I could do with some inner peace.

David Rakoff

Do you have any advice for me?

Dr. Lisa Sanders

Well, I would not think of this as a health experiment. I wouldn't think of this is a weight loss experiment. I would think of this as a spiritual experiment.

David Rakoff

Uh-huh.

Dr. Lisa Sanders

I have to say, I read about these holy people who fast for weeks at a time and have these visions. And you really don't know what to do with it because you know that something happened to them, but they interpreted what happened to them through their spiritual interests. I'd be interested in seeing how a rationalist would interpret these same feelings. I hope you see something. I hope you have a good experience.

David Rakoff

By day four, the day I'm supposed to have turned the corner, I am certainly feeling better. I am no longer hungry, and the headaches and listlessness are largely gone. I feel more or less normal. But that's it. No brilliant shafts of light piercing the clouds, no strange hallucinatory visitations. By day five, I have more energy. I even manage to make it to the gym.

On day six, I definitely feel something, although not what I expected. I rise early. My energy is high. I feel great. I stand in the bathroom on top of the spread-out newspaper and give myself my weekly haircut. And then suddenly, my heart begins to race. I am overcome with a shaky weakness and the distinct feeling that I cannot trust my body to do what it is meant to do. Or rather, that what my body is meant to do in that moment is to pass out and have me crack my head against the cold, unforgiving edge of the bath. I get dressed and go to see my doctor a block away. I buy a banana on the way just in case everything goes to hell and I have to end this thing.

My doctor takes my blood pressure and my pulse, both normal. He's not crazy about the idea of me fasting, but tells me that I am essentially fine, and I return home, my fast intact, the banana uneaten. I call Ira to tell him about it.

Now, I've got this banana, sitting on my desk like a loaded gun. You know, and wasn't it Chekhov who said, you know, if you introduce a gun in the first act, it's got to go off by the third. Here is Ira's suggestion of what to do with this taunting fruit. Maybe it's just the fast, but he seems to be talking double quick.

Ira Glass

Throw it out the window.

David Rakoff

No, I think what I'm going to do is--

Ira Glass

Throw it out the window.

David Rakoff

Well, Ira, I live on a street. Throwing it out a window could hit somebody. It's actually against the law probably.

Ira Glass

You live on the first floor. Throw it out the window.

David Rakoff

I don't live on the first floor. This is fascinating. Should I be wearing anything special when I throw it out the window?

Ira Glass

Does it make you feel safer to have the banana there? Or is the banana taunting you, like seeing--

David Rakoff

The banana is not really taunting me. There was a point when I thought this morning-- well, I thought a few things and I thought, well, that's it. It's over. And then I thought, ah! Back to the world of food, of interest and diversion. Yahoo! But then I felt like a failure and kind of back to square one, like oh God! Now, how am I going to get through another week of this?

Well, it's time for me to make my broth. I have to make this every two days or so. It serves to provide me with electrolytes so that your heart doesn't stop. I was thinking about this lack of enlightenment, but I'm feeling and I sort of thought like I was that woman in the movie Manhattan who was at a party and she says to Woody Allen something like I finally had an orgasm, and my analyst told me it was the wrong kind. I just fell like how come all the other kids are getting enlightened and I'm not?

Day nine. Here's something else I'm not feeling, something Ira keeps egging me on about.

Ira Glass

Have you started to feel superior?

David Rakoff

Am I walking around, he wants to know, an ethereal creature of light and air, passing by the falafel stand, for example, and looking disdainfully from my slender Olympian perch at the weak-willed humans who feel the need to stuff their gullets with something as earthbound and disgusting as solid nourishment? Not really, as it turns out. This fast hasn't lessened my usual feelings of venality and guilt. If anything, they've increased a little because my days are taken up in this narcissistic rumination about my intake and my output. Between the hours of making the broth and the enemas, this is one of the most self-obsessed things I have ever done in my life. And I say that as a first-person journalist.

One night on the subway, I see a woman at the end of the car. She leans over to the people sitting next to her and asks in a quiet friendly, almost business-like tone, "Do you have any extra food I can buy off of you?" I can only hear her because the train is silent. She isn't standing in the middle of the car addressing us. She's just asking those within earshot. I walk over and give the woman a dollar before I get off at Union Square. "But do you have any extra food?" she asks me. I apologize and say that I do not have any extra food. But I know in that moment that there is neither clarity nor serenity enough in the world that would give me the chutzpah to tell her why not.

Day 11. Brian advises everyone on the fast to keep it to themselves and not tell too many people. What I will find, I am told, is that those who know I am fasting will project their own worries or anti-fasting prejudices onto me, saying things like you look too thin, whereas those who have no idea will simply think I look healthy and great. It seems true. My friends who do know I am fasting think I look gaunt. But then I go to synagogue for the baby-naming service of some friends' twins. I've lost 12 pounds. I wait for the compliments. I find out later that someone asked my friend Jeff, does David have cancer?

Captain's log. I wonder if this is something. I'm curiously relaxed, as if my bones have been removed. How can I explain this? It is as if I have taken an anti-anxiety pill. I am aware of my problems and the things that concern me. Intellectually, they can still freak me out. But my physical anxiety response is gone.

On the street, a bike messenger zooms by dangerously close to me, nearly shearing off my kneecaps. I can only mutter, "Jerk," where once I might have hissed it. I cannot work myself up into a lather. Do I think, oh, hello, God's creature, fellow and bicycled human. Come ride freely. Let the wind carry you like a seedling, like a bird? No. What I thought was, jerk, I hope you are crushed beneath the wheels of a bus. But the difference was the venom that pulsed through my veins now had the restful back-and-forth rush of the ocean's waves. It's a pleasant feeling, certainly, but hardly seems worth the effort of weeks without food. If this is all there is, then I hate to say it, but Miss Peggy Lee was kind of right.

Day 13 without food. It is the home stretch of the fast, and I have lost 14 pounds. I'm not hungry, but I am experiencing appetite. I find myself thinking about food a lot, cooking it almost more than eating it. I pour through books and surf the web for recipes: roast goose with prunes, brown butter madeleines, candied grapefruit peel, precisely the kind of oldy-worldy delicacies Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl saw dancing before her eyes before she froze to death on the Copenhagen street.

On the final day of fasting, I bound out of my house, a brilliantly blue and freezing day. I am feeling jaunty and alive, like a character in the movie who, newly in love, walks through the streets he thought he knew, only to find them vibrant and full of beautiful humanity, and he, a wonderful part of it all. He dances for a group of French children. He smiles with friendly commiseration at a young couple, flirts nonthreateningly with an old lady, telling her, "Madam, you smell delicious." He tips his hat to the cop.

But it is not universal brotherhood that has me jazzed as I dance along. What I am thinking to myself is, hello world! Tomorrow I eat an apple! My high spirits are tempered with something else, though. A sheepishness that I have somehow failed to receive the thing that I should have, and here I am already out the door, and it's too late.

When I tell Brian that I feel good but not markedly different, he doesn't hesitate to tell me that my experience is atypical. From Brian's perspective, I didn't approach this with an open mind. I need to talk to someone who's managed to achieve what I did not. I compare notes with Amy Warren, who has fasted five times.

Amy Warren

When I read the pamphlet, initially I was like, oh, this is all about cleansing and getting rid of toxins that have been building up in your system. And I found that first time I did the fast, that was the most satisfying in terms of feeling that the toxins were leaving my body.

David Rakoff

And you felt that that happened?

Amy Warren

Yes, I saw it. I mean, I saw it.

David Rakoff

What form did it take?

Amy Warren

Well, is it appropriate to talk about on the radio?

David Rakoff

Oh, OK, so it took that form. I see.

Amy Warren

I mean, it might sound really insane and gross. But the stuff that would come out of you, you would be, like, where-- what is that? You wouldn't even know what it was. It looked like from a movie, like, it looked like unreal.

David Rakoff

I was just going to say, by a movie, you don't mean Room with a View?

Amy Warren

No. I mean a movie like in Star Wars where in that sewer and the water and all that sludge and slime and weird bubbly things, and just misshapened, odd-- what is that? It's all there, and it comes out of you. And then you're like, what? And when everything's running clear, like water from a faucet, you feel like you're new, like you're a new person. And you feel like you're sexy and like alive. And you feel like you're somehow your highest self. There's nothing you couldn't do.

David Rakoff

Really?

Amy Warren

In terms of your life and your goals and everything, you feel sort of focused and clarified and like you know what you want to do, and you feel like you could do anything. You feel empowered.

David Rakoff

Really? Wow! I did it wrong.

Amy Warren

Oh, no, you didn't do it wrong at all.

David Rakoff

I think I did, but it's OK. But I didn't feel that clarity. I mean, I feel good. But I feel just as good when I've had a tiny bit of caffeine and, you know, that it's exactly it, and I've exercised or something. So I don't really know. I feel like everybody's like, oh, where were you? Paris. Oh, did you see the Eiffel Tower? Or the Louvre? The Louvre, I couldn't see that. That somehow, I managed to miss everything. They would say like, oh, well, how was the food? Was it wonderful? Well, there was a vending machine and some Junior Mints.

In a little unscientific survey conducted by the producers of this show, calling around to friends, and friends of friends who'd fasted, and even four people who specifically did my fast, albeit for much longer, they found that everyone felt great physically, energetic and alert, and nearly everybody spoke about a clarity of mind. But only one person seemed to feel more than that. This woman said that for a moment while driving, her spirit was filled up and she was overcome with a sense of total well-being, of a level and profundity she'd never felt before. Amy's experience was more typical.

Amy Warren

When I first started doing it, I was thinking like, yeah, I'm going to-- it's going to be like spiritual nirvana. I'm going to recognize the universe in a way that I've never recognized the universe. But I really feel like that expectation, you know, it was-- it never happened.

David Rakoff

It never happened?

Amy Warren

No. Not in a way that I would have sort of expected it to. I mean, I did definitely-- I always felt a sense of clarity and focus, different than any other time in my life, but I never felt like it was a religious or spiritual thing.

David Rakoff

It's Wednesday morning at about 7:30, and today is the apple. On the first day I'm allowed to eat, before I have my apple, I'm supposed to mix a tablespoon of bran and flaxseed into the broth. It makes it as thick as porridge, and it knocks me out.

OK, it's an hour and a half later. I hadn't thought that eating would be quite this difficult. And I suppose I'd better try and eat this apple. It's very strange. I looked forward to it for so long, and now it just feels like a little bit of an ordeal. All right. [BITES AN APPLE AND CHEWS] Here I am, chewing fruit again. I almost feel like I was never away from it.

Right when I started the fast, I had the briefest romantic notion that it wouldn't just work, but it really would be the magic bullet. I entertained the fantasy that the fast would short-circuit logic, and somehow, my problems, such as they are, didn't need the talk and the scrutiny. They needed this. There was even a moment where I could see my problems, feel them, impacted and concentrated into a grey, plaque-like obstruction. A thick, squat blockage the shape and size of a scallop somewhere in the channels of my body. And I thought that this was the way that they would be pulverized and broken up and flushed away.

Now that I've finished the fast and am on the other side, it's hard to remember exactly what I was waiting for, although I do know that it was something wholly unfamiliar and thrilling, like a new color, one I'd never seen before. Not a mixture, no trace of blue or yellow or red. What would that look like? Even though our physical world makes the existence of such a thing basically impossible, I'd still really like to see that.

Ira Glass

David Rakoff. He's put the story of his fast into his brand-new book Don't Get Too Comfortable.

[MUSIC - "EAT IT" BY WEIRD AL YANKOVIC]

Act Three. Mystery Train.

Ira Glass

Act Three. Mystery Train. We close our show today with the story of two people, each earning for certain future, though not necessarily the same future. Hillary Frank remembers the story.

Hillary Frank

The lights were out. We were stopped on the tracks, and Danielle wasn't happy. "All I wanted," she said, "was to have McDonald's with my boyfriend." It was supposed to be their big Friday night in Boston. They were sitting diagonally behind me. Danielle and her boyfriend Donny had gotten on the train in Providence a few stops after mine. Eavesdropping in the dark, I learned their names, that they were 15-- four years younger than me-- and that they were surprised to see the girl sitting by the window behind me. Donny's surprise was pleasant. "Man, Cynthia, I didn't expect to run into you," and Danielle's was more like, "yeah, didn't think I'd run into you."

Other than an elderly couple in the back, we were the only people in the car. Cynthia told them it was her 18th birthday. She invited Danielle and Donny to the party her sister was throwing for her in Boston. "I'll get you good and wasted," she told them. Donny practically cheered. Danielle must have punched him because he winced out loud. "I ain't doin' none of that," she said. "Yeah, you are," Donny teased. "You're gettin' doped." "Am not," she said. "You know I can't do that. None of it. You know." "Come on," Cynthia prodded. "It'll make your man happy." "No," Danielle repeated. She sounded like she was going to cry. "I can't. I can't."

The lights came back on. The engine revved, and we inched along the tracks. Everyone sat quietly for a minute. Cynthia spoke first. "How long you been together?" "Five months," Danielle answered. Cynthia seemed to be working up to something. "How long have you known?" "Three months," Danielle said quietly. Cynthia's seat creaked. "I was once, too," she told Danielle. "A couple years ago." Pregnant, I thought.

We were back up to speed. The conductor poked his head into our car to tell us we'd been delayed because some juveniles had placed shopping carts on the tracks. It seemed strange for him to be using the word juveniles when we were all teenagers ourselves.

Cynthia asked Donny if he loved Danielle. "Of course I love her," he said. "She's mine." "If you really did, then you wouldn't have kissed Angel," Danielle snapped. "Angel?" Cynthia asked. She scooted over to the aisle seat. "Yeah," Danielle said. "He kissed her two weeks ago, even when he knew she had AIDS." "Not a real kiss," Donny said. "What do you mean not a real kiss?" Cynthia asked. "It was nothing," he told her. "Yeah right. Nothing," Danielle shot back.

Cynthia leaned over the aisle towards Donny. "Show me," she said. "Show you what?" Cynthia slid back to the window seat and patted the cushion beside her. "Show me how you kissed Angel," she told him. As Donnie crossed the aisle, Danielle yelled at him. "Don't show her! Tell her!" "It's OK," Cynthia said calmly. "I mean no disrespect. Say it with me, no disrespect." "Fine," Danielle mumbled through clenched teeth. "No disrespect." "So show me," Cynthia said.

There was a soft smooching sound, which must have been a peck on the cheek, because both of the girls shouted "No way!" in unison. "I know that's not how he did it," Danielle said. Cynthia laughed. "Show me for real," she commanded.

Tonguey mouth smacks were followed by Danielle tearing at Donny's back. There was slapping and whining verging on tears, and Cynthia's voice saying, "Chill, girl. I stuck my tongue in his mouth, not the other way around," as if that made it OK. Then she added, "You kissed Angel like that? You can't love this one that much."

It went on like this for around 20 minutes. Cynthia asking Donny if he'd ever cheat on Danielle. Donny saying no. Cynthia saying, "You wouldn't? Even if I did this to you?" Donnie buckling to temptation, and Danielle grumbling in her corner with occasional outbursts of fury.

Finally, Cynthia stopped her come-ons and said, "You are sick. You would do all that with me and you say you love her?" "But I do," Donny said uncertainly. "I'm going to be with her 'til the day I die." "You should dump him," Cynthia told Danielle. Then she asked Donny if he had a place to stay. Danielle answered for him. "25 Maple Street with me and my mom." "Well, if that ever changes," Cynthia said, "you'll always have a place in Boston at my sister's apartment. You can see it right now if you come to the party."

The train slowed as we entered Back Bay station. "We're going," Donny announced. "I'm going to McDonald's," Danielle said. "Girl, come on. It'll be fun," Cynthia said. "She's going," Donny said. "She's going and gettin' so doped." "Am not." They were still going back and forth like this by the time we got off the train. I stood there watching them on the platform, wondering what Danielle would end up doing.

I still think of her sometimes. I end the evening in my head. On bad days, Danielle goes to the party. She watches Donny drink spiked punch and smoke pot and maybe settle into a corner with a cute girl in a halter top. Sometimes she winds up at McDonald's by herself, washing down a big Mac and supersized fries with a chocolate milkshake. But on good days, Danielle crosses the tracks, sits quietly on a bench, and waits for the next train back to Providence.

Ira Glass

Hillary Frank is the author of the novels Better Than Running at Night and I Can't Tell You.

[MUSIC - "WITH ARMS OUTSTRETCHED" BY RILO KILEY]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Diane Cook and myself with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, and Sarah Koenig. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production now from Todd Bachmann, [? Kelsey Betts, and ?] Chris Ladd. Music for our original "I Wish" song at the top of today's program was composed and perform by Mr. Brian Morris. Thanks to Mary Gaffney for recording that for us. Thanks also to Beth Miller, Karen Gardner, Michael Saw, Tom Stempel, Andreas Buchinger, Dennis Paulson, Jorge Just, and Carrie Willis. Our website: www.thisamericanlife.org, where you can listen to our programs for absolutely free or buy CDs of them. Or you know you can download today's program in our archives at audible.com/thisamericanlife.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia, who mysteriously says to me every morning when he sees me at the office, "Madam, you smell delicious!" I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - "YOU'RE CRAZY FOR TAKING THE BUS" BY JONATHAN RICHMAN]

PRI Public Radio International.