Transcript

281:

My Big Break
Transcript

Originally aired 01.21.2005

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

It took not one, not two, but three, three big breaks to get Marisela and Yadira to college. Every time they got a break, they thought it was a done deal, nothing more to say, and then they just had to start over from scratch and wait for the next bolt of lightning. They were honors students, in the top 10% of their class, AP courses, all that stuff. They were ambitious. They wanted to go to college. But they didn't have the money for it.

Then one day, in their junior year, a man comes to their high school talking about a scholarship program called the Daniels Fund, which sends students to special college prep classes for months. And then if they do well in those classes, they get their entire tuition paid at the college of their choice. Great, right? It's a first big break.

They get in the program. They start the special classes. They're happy. They're doing great. And then they hear a rumor that despite what they had been told by that man who came to visit their class, the scholarships only go to US citizens. Marisela and Yadira-- they live in the US, but they are not citizens. Their parents brought them to the US from Mexico when they were little kids. So they went to their adviser. And they were told, yeah, there was a misunderstanding. They weren't going to be able to get any scholarship money when these special classes were finished.

Marisela

And I remember she said that they didn't want us in the prep program because we were taking up the space of the students that could actually get it. That's when it really hit me. Like woah. And I remember getting very depressed and I even started skipping some classes. Because I remember thinking that why do so much work for nothing? So that's where I would just go into my room and just stay there the whole day. I would talk on the phone. And then when there was no one to talk to, I would just sit there and think.

Ira Glass

Here's how harsh this was. Marisela and Yadira had two friends in advanced placement classes whose families also came over from Mexico. Except the friends were born in the United States. They could get the scholarships. They had social security numbers, which you need before you can get most financial aid. And suddenly, it felt kind of hard to be friends with them.

Marisela

We were all the same, and we all had the same type of parents and the same type of living. And it was just like-- I was mad that they had their papers and that we didn't when, in fact, we were the same. It was just like luck or something, that they got more lucky than we did. And it was just not fair because it's not like you could-- we couldn't buy luck. We could buy a fake social security, but we can't buy the luck to get a real one.

Ira Glass

And then, Marisela and Yadira got their second big break. They found a scholarship program that helps undocumented students. But again, there was a catch. Yadira got a full scholarship. Marisela, she didn't. They both cried when they got the news.

Marisela

And that whole day it was really hard for us to talk to each other.

Ira Glass

This is Marisela.

Marisela

Not because-- I wasn't mad at her. But just because everything came tumbling on me. Oh, I felt like less, like less than her. I saw my life in an instant, what it was going to be like. And I saw bad things coming, like me working, something that I don't want to do, or marrying young just to get out of a situation.

Ira Glass

Later that day, Marisela told her mom.

Marisela

I cried so hard. And she didn't know what to do. She was like, oh, don't worry. She started crying too. She was all like, I'll raise enough money, you could go to beauty school, like to do your hair and to do your nails. You could go there. I'm like, oh mom. I didn't know what to tell her, because for her it was a big thing. But to me, that's not what I wanted.

Ira Glass

This happens more often than you'd think. Public schools in America have to accept undocumented kids up through high school. But once they graduate-- this is over 50,000 kids a year-- they have no more rights. They can't work because they're not citizens. And though, theoretically, they can go to college as international students from another country, in practice, most undocumented kids are like other kids. They need financial aid, which is a problem because most scholarships follow what the federal government does. And federal student aid, Pell Grants, can't go to undocumented students.

Given all that, it was especially amazing that Marisela got her third big break. A private donor heard of her situation and ponied up most of the money that she would need for college. The school put up the rest. At first, Marisela thought, OK, three big breaks-- three huge big breaks-- now they're set. They are set. But actually, as time has passed, other problems have become clearer to them. For instance, it's a long shot that they're ever going to become citizens. Even if they marry Americans, it would take years to make that happen legally. And in the meantime, they're scared of getting caught by the INS. They worry about the future as much as they ever did.

Marisela

I'm working really hard in college. But I still don't know what's waiting for me. It seems like I'm just living life to the day. I have goals. But I don't have ways of how I'm going to get there.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, My Big Break, stories of people who get their shot, their chance, their once in a lifetime opportunity that they think can solve all their problems, and then, of course, after the big break they discover all sorts of other problems that they never imagined before. Act One of our program today, Take My Break, Please. In that act, two entertainers get the biggest possible chance anybody ever could to make the big time, and they blow it. Act Two, What Happens in Baghdad Stays in Baghdad. Two young men decide that it would be interesting to be part of the rebuilding of Iraq, and so they take a bus to Baghdad during the war and the bombings and the kidnappings and the danger, and they try to make their mark. Act Three, Oedipus Hex, the true story of a third grader who stumbles upon a rare opportunity at making his mother happy, and driving his abusive father out of the picture forever. Stay with us.

Act One. Take My Break, Please.

Ira Glass

Act One, Take My Break, Please. Well, we begin our program with a classic big break which results in an equally classic result. David Segal tells the story.

David Segal

Mitzi McCall and Charlie Brill were a sketch comedy act back in the early 1960s, playing small clubs around the country, mostly in Los Angeles where they lived. They were married. They still are actually. And they were struggling. Then one day they got a phone call that changed their lives.

Charlie Brill

We were sitting at home, and I don't know what we were--

Mitzi Mccall

Starving.

Charlie Brill

Starving. No, we weren't starving.

Mitzi Mccall

Yes. I was starving.

Charlie Brill

Well, you were hungry that day.

Mitzi Mccall

Oh, was that it?

Charlie Brill

Yeah. And the phone rang and it was our manager, Mace Neufeld, and he said, guess what? What? I got you on The Ed Sullivan Show. And we let out a scream because that was THE show. It's like today, young comics want to get on--

Mitzi Mccall

Dave Letterman.

Charlie Brill

Jay Leno, Dave Letterman. Well, this was--

Mitzi Mccall

The ultimate.

Charlie Brill

Bigger. If you got a shot on Ed Sullivan, you had a shot at stardom. We were just so thrilled. And immediately, we started to work on the piece of material that we selected for The Ed Sullivan Show. And we rehearsed and rehearsed, and we fine-tuned it. We ran down to The Horn in Santa Monica. We broke it in. It got a lovely, lovely reaction. And we told everybody. In fact, I think I sky-wrote it over Hollywood. We're on The Ed Sullivan Show. Yoo-hoo!

Mitzi Mccall

Yeah.

Charlie Brill

And we were on our way.

David Segal

This wasn't just a shot at greatness. This was a chance to meet a few of their idols who'd be on the show that night too, people like Tessie O'Shea, Georgia Brown, who were both big musical theater stars. But to Charlie and Mitzi, the biggest deal of all was a guy they'd already met.

Charlie Brill

We were just in awe of Frank Gorshin, a great, great, great impressionist--

Mitzi Mccall

Impressionist.

Charlie Brill

--And The Riddler on Batman.

Mitzi Mccall

We had probably done maybe something with Frank Gorshin.

Charlie Brill

I think it was something for Frank Gorshin. I shined his shoes. And I was so in awe. So, we get to New York and we go to rehearsal by taxi. And there's thousands of people in the streets, clamoring and--

Mitzi Mccall

And the streets are cordoned off. Is that the word?

Charlie Brill

Yeah. Cordoned. And I looked at Mitzi and I said, my god, all this for Frank Gorshin.

David Segal

They were given the worst dressing room in the building, on the top floor, a space they shared with the soda machine. But they didn't care. They were both 26 years old, and they were about to go national. But first, it was time for a dress rehearsal.

Mitzi Mccall

Here's the deal. We didn't know that the dress rehearsal was something that was looked at very carefully.

Charlie Brill

By all the executives.

Mitzi Mccall

Exactly.

Charlie Brill

And they have an audience. We didn't know. We were coming down in our bathrobes with hair curlers. And we go through our act.

Mitzi Mccall

And when we get to a punchline, instead of doing--

Charlie Brill

The punchline.

Mitzi Mccall

--We go blah, blah, blah.

Charlie Brill

Because we don't want to reveal the punchline. We want the band to laugh. And we don't want-- it was a secret, our punchlines. So we used to go-- and here we are. And Mitzi, by the way, blah, blah, blah. So then we schlep upstairs to our dressing room and we hear in the loudspeaker, McCall and Brill, Mr. Sullivan's office please. McCall and Brill. So we go down and we go into Mr. Sullivan's office and there he was--

Mitzi Mccall

Oh my God.

Charlie Brill

--Ed Sullivan. He was sitting in the chair, getting made up. And I looked at the man who could make our entire careers. So he said, what you did in dress rehearsal-- first of all, I don't get the blah, blah, blahs. Is that-- I'm not getting that. And we said, no, Mr. Sullivan. Those are our punchlines and we want them to be fresh.

And he said, oh, well, I wish you would let us in on them for the dress rehearsal. And he said, and the piece of material you're doing is too sophisticated for this audience. And I went, what? Because I had seen the Sullivan show all my life. And he said, well, there's going to be mostly 14, 15, 16-year-old girls in the audience tonight. And kids. And it never occurred to me to say, why? What are we doing, like a circus show? And he said, so show me your entire act.

And because we were so new and eager to please, we stood there in the office and showed Mr. Sullivan our entire nightclub act. Anything we had ever worked on.

Mitzi Mccall

Which was like 25, 30 minutes of--

Charlie Brill

Sketches.

Mitzi Mccall

Blah, blah, blah.

Charlie Brill

Yeah, sketches.

Mitzi Mccall

And he said, OK, here's the deal. We're going to put that first girl that comes in--

Charlie Brill

In the first sketch. We'll put her in the second sketch. But then you do the other girl that you did in the third sketch in the second sketch.

Mitzi Mccall

And then that's what you end with.

Charlie Brill

That's what you end with. Now we went, uh, OK.

David Segal

They went back upstairs in something close to a panic. Basically, they had just been told to write a new act, right then and there, instead of the routine they had been fine-tuning for weeks. They might have freaked out, but they didn't have time. The curtain was going up in an hour.

Charlie Brill

We were in a daze. We didn't really know what he said. Should we put the first--

Mitzi Mccall

What did he say?

Charlie Brill

If we take the first girl and put it in the third-- and then there was a knock on the door. The door was open, but there was a knock. And there's this guy standing there with funny hair and granny glasses. And he said--

Mitzi Mccall

Give us a coke-luv.

Charlie Brill

Give us a coke-luv. And I looked at Mitzi and I said, this guy wants a glove or something. I'm not sure what he wants. And he started to laugh and he said, no, give us a coke-luv.

Mitzi Mccall

And he pointed to the machine.

Charlie Brill

The Coke machine. And I said, oh yeah, well come in. It's all yours. And he said, can you give me a dime? 10 cents. And I said, oh, I got to buy you the Coke as well? OK.

Mitzi Mccall

What do you think, we're made out of money, kid?

Charlie Brill

Yeah.

David Segal

The worst part was that this guy seemed to want to just hang out. So he helped himself to a seat on the sofa.

Charlie Brill

While he's talking to us, he takes out of his pocket a napkin and a pen and he's drawing me. He's looking at me and he's drawing me. That's nice. And he did some pictures of me and Mitzi on napkins.

Mitzi Mccall

All we thought about was, I wish this kid would go so we could work on our act. Get out of here.

Charlie Brill

We haven't put the first character in the third sketch and the second in the-- and he left. And we looked at each other and said, OK, now. What are we doing? McCall and Brill, McCall and Brill, onstage for the show.

Ed Sullivan Announcer

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, live from New York, The Ed Sullivan Show.

David Segal

The show was about to begin. All the performers gathered in the wings, waiting for their turn. Finally, Ed Sullivan came out and announced the first act.

Ed Sullivan

Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles.

[SCREAMING]

Charlie Brill

We were on The Ed Sullivan Show with The Beatles.

[MUSIC-"ALL MY LOVING" BY THE BEATLES]

Charlie Brill

We didn't realize that's what the crowds were for. Because, to be very honest, we didn't really know who The Beatles were.

Mitzi Mccall

Actually, our manager, when he called us and said, you're going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. And he said, and guess what? You're going to be with The Beatles. And we said, who?

David Segal

The guy with the pen? The one who drew the pictures? That, of course, was John Lennon. And this was February 9, 1964, the first time a US audience had laid eyes on The Beatles. Years later, Lennon said he thought the kids that night had lost their minds. Charlie, watching from 20 feet away, thought so too.

Charlie Brill

Honest to God, my hand to God, I tell you-- we couldn't hear them. The screams, all through what they did, were so loud I never got a chance to hear what they sounded like, who was singing.

Mitzi Mccall

This was something different.

Charlie Brill

Yeah, I'd heard about Sinatra at the Paramount. People were screaming. But this, I never heard or saw such bedlam in my life. Now, when they're finished, the screams keep going on.

[SCREAMING]

David Segal

It must have dawned on you at that moment, or was it before, that this was a cultural phenomenon? Just off the charts.

Mitzi Mccall

I really need to be rigorously honest right now. No, it didn't, no.

Charlie Brill

Well, think about it. Think it over.

Mitzi Mccall

All right I'll think it over. No.

Charlie Brill

OK.

Mitzi Mccall

It never occurred.

Charlie Brill

No. We were too nervous of what we were going to do.

Mitzi Mccall

Please.

Charlie Brill

I mean, I knew they were a hit.

Mitzi Mccall

But, you know what? We hadn't gone on yet. I wanted to know that we were going to be fabulous.

Charlie Brill

Our careers were at stake here.

Mitzi Mccall

Crazy.

David Segal

73 million Americans watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night, about 40% of the entire country. Ordinarily, when that many people come together, it's for the last episode of a long-running TV series or for playoff games, teams they already know. Not for a show that turns the stage over to an act that nobody's heard of. Arguably, Mitzi and Charlie had the single greatest break in the history of show business.

People forget this was an hour long program, with The Beatles playing a few songs at the beginning and then a few songs toward the end. In between, there were six different acts from Vaudeville, from Broadway, from the circus, from everything rock was about to bulldoze aside. It was basically the future sharing a bill with the doomed. Which is why, after The Beatles finished singing "She Loves You," the next thing on The Ed Sullivan Show that night was a guy in a tux doing a card trick.

Fred Kaps

We do the trick with one, two, three, four, red spot cards. Now from these four red spot cards I take in my right hand-- my right hand is, of course, always the hand with the thumb on the left side. Now in this hand--

David Segal

There is an acrobatic novelty act. There's Tessie O'Shea, a very large woman in a sequined gown, playing a banjo, doing her signature tune, "Two Ton Tessie from Tennessee."

Tessie O'shea

[SINGING] They play tennis on her double chin. They call her Two Ton Tessie, Two Ton Tessie from Nashville, Tennessee.

David Segal

Frank Gorshin comes on with 10 minutes of impersonations-- Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn. The far-fetched conceit of his act doesn't seem quite so far-fetched 40 years later.

Frank Gorshin

Well, it's election year and once again a lot of the Hollywood stars will be out campaigning for the candidates of both parties. Well, a funny thing occurred to me, what if these stars should suddenly decide to run for these offices themselves? They'd have no trouble getting votes because of their popularity. In just a short time, the stars will be running the country.

David Segal

He imagines a meeting of the US Senate where character actor, Broderick Crawford is Vice President and people like Marlon Brando are senators.

Frank Gorshin

Tonight, we're going to discuss what an [UNINTELLIGIBLE] change made the present two-party system [UNINTELLIGIBLE] would you raise your hand and say, aye? Opposed, no. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] 10-4.

Mr. Chairman, for years now, year after year after year, there have been just two major parties-- one at Frank Sinatra's house and the other one at Dean Martin's.

David Segal

Just two years after this, Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California.

[MUSIC- "THE ARTFUL DODGER" BY DAVY JONES]

This is the Artful Dodger from the musical, Oliver, played here by an 18-year-old Davy Jones. When he heard the screams that evening, he thought-- and this is a quote-- "I'd like a little bit of this action." Two years later, he was cast as a member of The Monkeys, the made-for-TV knockoff of The Beatles.

Mitzi and Charlie were slated for what was probably the worst slot on the show. They were the last act before The Beatles returned for the final songs.

Charlie Brill

We were in a daze. But we heard him introduce us. We walked out. Now, the screams came on because they wanted The Beatles.

Mitzi Mccall

That's when I said I thought I heard, get them off.

Charlie Brill

Yes.

Mitzi Mccall

Did you hear that?

Charlie Brill

I think I said it.

Ed Sullivan

Now, we take you to Hollywood at a very tense moment in the career of a young, aspiring actress, the office of McCall and Brill.

Charlie Brill

Miss Tidy, would you come into my office right away please?

Mitzi Mccall

Yes, sir. Neat, neat, neat, neat, everything nice and neat. That's me. Hello, sir.

Charlie Brill

Miss Tidy, I am having a terrible time trying to find a young actress to star in my next motion picture.

Mitzi Mccall

Yes sir.

Charlie Brill

Now, are the young ladies outside waiting to be interviewed?

Mitzi Mccall

Yes sir, they're neatly waiting outside sir. I'll send them in.

Charlie Brill

Just one at a time, Miss Tidy.

David Segal

The premise here is that Charlie's a director casting a movie, and Mitzi is his secretary and then a bunch of different women auditioning for the role. She plays an aspiring starlet.

Mitzi Mccall

Hi, sir. You might not remember me, but I was Miss Palm Springs back in 1956.

David Segal

A stage mom.

Mitzi Mccall

So if you're not interested in her, maybe you can be interested in me.

Charlie Brill

Well, I'm really not interested.

Mitzi Mccall

You know, I have a little talent. [SINGING] 'Cause everything's coming up roses.

David Segal

And a method actor.

Mitzi Mccall

Then and only then can the true justification of the motivation of our inside urgency, henceforth find the infinitesimal need of our outward action, dig?

David Segal

Did you notice the dead silence after she says, dig? In a room that only 30 minutes earlier had been filled with a noise that scared the cops. That's a lot of silence.

David Segal

So you were up there for, what, how long do you think? Two minutes or something like that?

Charlie Brill

It was two years.

Mitzi Mccall

Two years.

Charlie Brill

We were there for two years. We started at 24. We didn't know what we were doing. We didn't know if we finished the act or didn't finish the act. But the band leader had the punchline and he played, tada. And now, you want to see a couple of Jews standing there so nervous, looking to see if--

Mitzi Mccall

If Mr. Sullivan is going to call us over.

Charlie Brill

--Ed would call us over because that's what makes you. Did he call us over? No.

Mitzi Mccall

Yeah, but I think I saw-- no. Get off.

Charlie Brill

We were looking at each other saying, did he motion to us? Wasn't that a motion?

Mitzi Mccall

No, no get off.

Charlie Brill

It wasn't. Get off.

David Segal

Did you have a sense at the time that it had gone well or gone poorly?

Mitzi Mccall

No, no. We knew immediately.

Charlie Brill

No we knew-- into the toilet.

Mitzi Mccall

Yeah. But see, they didn't have this expression then but, we sucked.

David Segal

It was, in fact, the worst three minutes of their lives. They bombed so bad that when they came off stage, people wouldn't look at them. Mitzi's mom dodged their call.

Mitzi Mccall

The biggest terror was that we didn't want to go home.

Charlie Brill

We just didn't want to go home.

Mitzi Mccall

We did not want to go back to Los Angeles.

Charlie Brill

But that night we felt so bad. And Frank Gorshin was nice enough to take us to Downey's.

Mitzi Mccall

Sardi's.

Charlie Brill

Sardi's. And we had a drink and he said, don't worry. This is not the end of your lives. And we said, oh my God.

David Segal

It was such a fiasco that in 40 years, neither of them have actually seen their performance. Until now. Watching a tape of it, the first thing Charlie noticed was that they actually did get a couple laughs.

Charlie Brill

It made me quite ill. Miss Tidy, send in the next young lady, please.

Mitzi Mccall

Hi, sir. I'm the next young lady's mother. My little girl is waiting outside. She used to be one of The Beatles.

Charlie Brill

What happened?

Mitzi Mccall

Somebody stepped on her. That was funny. You ad libbed that.

Charlie Brill

You know something, Mitz? We were a hit.

Mitzi Mccall

No, you know what comes to--

Charlie Brill

We were a hit. Look at us, cute.

Mitzi Mccall

You know what? There's something wrong with you. It was pathetic.

David Segal

The problem, they both say, is that they had to rearrange their act for 14-year-olds in a hurry the day of the broadcast. They're still convinced that if they'd been invited on the show any other night, things would have been different. As it happened, they retreated back home, where their agent didn't call for six long months. From then on, they'd wince every time they heard The Beatles. Imagine that. They had the rest of the '60s ahead of them. They were in for a lot of wincing.

But Mitzi and Charlie regrouped and recovered, and they had long and fine careers. Through the '60s and '70s, they played nightclubs and Vegas. And they were on television a lot, goofy stuff like The Gong Show, but great programs too like The Tonight Show, which they were on four times. Mitzi later wrote for sitcoms like Alf. Charlie eventually landed a leading role on a detective show called Silk Stalkings, which ran on the USA Network for nine years. They have a daughter whom they adore. No knock on Alf, but it gradually dawned on Mitzi and Charlie that on February 9, 1964, they were part of something seismic.

Charlie Brill

We were in the midst of greatness. We didn't know it. People would come up to us and say, wasn't that you that was on The Beatles show? And we said, yes, yes, waiting for them to say, boy, did you suck. And they went, oh my God, you're famous.

David Segal

Mitzi and Charlie are retired now. Though last month they performed on stage for the first time in a couple decades, opening for their old friend, Ann-Margret. Meanwhile, The Beatles have split up. Hell, Wings have split up. But four decades after they flamed out in front of nearly half the country, Mitzi and Charlie are still together, still standing, and still refining the act.

Charlie Brill

I said to Dixie.

Mitzi Mccall

Mitzi. Mitzi is my name.

Charlie Brill

Mitzi, Mitzi. I said to Mitzi, let's go to Florida.

Mitzi Mccall

Did you call me Dixie?

Charlie Brill

I think I may have.

Mitzi Mccall

Who's Dixie?

Charlie Brill

No, nobody.

Mitzi Mccall

No, what do you have a girlfriend after--

Charlie Brill

No, there's no Dixie.

Mitzi Mccall

All right, never mind. It doesn't matter.

Charlie Brill

It was a slip. OK--

Mitzi Mccall

Dixie.

Charlie Brill

Forget the Dixie.

Mitzi Mccall

What am I doing in this relationship?

Charlie Brill

Anyway, I said to Mitzi--

Ira Glass

David Segal is a reporter with the New York Times. This weekend, Charlie and Mitzi celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary.

Act Two. What Happens In Baghdad, Stays In Baghdad.

Ira Glass

Act Two. What Happens in Baghdad Stays in Baghdad. This next story is sort of the international version of starting in the mailroom and getting a big break. It begins when Jeff and Ray decide to spend a few months on vacation in a war zone. Jen Banbury met them when they showed up for dinner one night at the house she was sharing with a few other journalists in Baghdad. She lived there for 10 months writing about the war for Salon.com. Here's Jen.

Jen Banbury

Jeff and Ray couldn't imagine not wanting to go to Baghdad. It was all they thought about for a while. They'd see it on the news and want to be there. They wanted to see it firsthand. They wanted to see a war zone, and they wanted to help. They had just spent a few weeks in the West Bank, volunteering with an ambulance crew. In Baghdad, they wanted to work.

Jeff Neumann

That was our goal all along, was to go over there and try to find work.

Ray Lemoine

We said-- oh, you know what I think our plan was? Two weeks, if we can't get a job--

Jeff Neumann

Yeah, we were going to split.

Ray Lemoine

We were going to split and we were going to go to Afghanistan or Africa, I think.

Jeff Neumann

I don't remember.

Jen Banbury

Back in the States, they had been working at Fenway Park in Boston selling Cokes. They made enough money to travel, thanks to a simple idea. After years of hearing Boston fans yell, "Yankees suck," they decided to put the slogan on T-shirts and sell them at the games. So many drunk, diehard Red Sox fans bought them that Jeff and Ray could travel for months during the off-season using the profits.

Getting into Iraq turned out to be surprisingly easy. From Israel, they made their way to Amman, Jordan. And from there, they found the cheapest way to get to Baghdad, public bus. It's a nine hour drive, but it ended up taking Jeff and Ray over 20, because the bus kept breaking down.

Jeff Neumann

It was pretty crazy. It was a quote, unquote, five star bus.

Jen Banbury

What is a five star bus?

Jeff Neumann

That's what I'd like to know.

Ray Lemoine

It was just the way that the Jordanians tried to sell us the product. "It's a five star bus. Very good Mr.--"

Jeff Neumann

They think five star means good. They have five star hotels, five star restaurants in Amman.

Ray Lemoine

Why not a five star bus?

Jeff Neumann

Yeah, so we get to the bus terminal and it's bullet holes in the windows, fallen apart. We got on the bus, and it was like the record scratched when you walk in. It was like [RECORD SCRATCHING NOISE]. Me and Ray walk in. We're like-- what's going on, guys?

Ray Lemoine

We broke down in Fallujah, and we're like pissing on the side of the road, just like OK.

Jeff Neumann

And there was fighting going on. There were huge, black plumes of smoke coming up from the city. We were like, wow.

Jen Banbury

Were you starting to second guess it at all at that point? When you're seeing helicopters and smoke and--

Ray Lemoine

We just-- I think we had a little something to drink, or--

Jeff Neumann

Yeah. We had a few drinks.

Ray Lemoine

Yeah, we weren't that concerned.

Jen Banbury

It was that easy. They were in. No credentials, no papers. When they finally got to Baghdad, Jeff and Ray were half asleep, half drunk, and had no idea where they were going. They remembered the name of a hotel that they had read about in the news where journalists supposedly stayed, and they got a taxi to take them there. Right away, they started looking for jobs with private companies and with the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority that was running Iraq at the time.

Ray Lemoine

We had applied for every job in Iraq.

Jeff Neumann

Everybody in the CPA, when they first met us was like, so how exactly did you get here? And then they would just laugh and scratch their heads and stuff.

Jen Banbury

But the CPA desperately needed people to help run parts of the government that had never existed under Saddam. And desperation breeds opportunity. Jeff and Ray actually ended up getting pretty important jobs, coordinating about 400 Iraqi organizations that had sprung up to distribute clothes and school supplies, and tons of other donations coming in from the States.

Jeff Neumann

We had airport hangars full of donated clothing and stuff.

Jen Banbury

And did you have any experience in doing stuff like that from before?

Ray Lemoine

Yeah, the T-shirts. Because our whole thing was, I'm never carrying a box. We always had to carry these boxes, because we made the shirts. We were like, we're never carrying boxes again.

Jeff Neuman

We swore it off forever.

Ray Lemoine

We swore off boxes. And then we show up in Iraq and our job is boxes. I remember, I'd see Jeff sorting. I'd come in and--

Jeff Neumann

It'd be like a flashback.

Ray Lemoine

It would just be a flashback. And he'd just be like, I want to kill myself.

Jen Banbury

They were immediately working 16-hour days. And because they didn't care about following all the rules, they were actually able to get more done than lots of people at the CPA. For instance, they'd go to Sadr City, a huge slum on the outskirts of Baghdad, and a place most Americans never went because, under the rules, they were only supposed to travel there in an armed convoy.

In fact, most westerners never left the Green Zone, the fortified compound in the middle of Baghdad. Jeff and Ray wanted to be out working with Iraqis. They started going to Sadr City a lot, without weapons or a military escort.

Jeff Neumann

And it's one slum area of Baghdad where Saddam put most of the Shiites and he just made them live in a slum, basically. You go in there and there's two feet of raw sewage running down the middle of the streets, inside the hallways of hospitals, schools, everything.

Ray Lemoine

Donkeys on the street eating raw sewage, kids with no shoes on. That was one of the major things was kids didn't have shoes, and we would always try to bring them the shoes and it was--

Jeff Neumann

I've never seen anything like it. It was crazy. We were in the office and we hated it, we'd want to kill ourselves in the office but we'd get to Sadr City and it was the best. It was great. We'd just go out there and play soccer with little kids all day and stuff. It was cool. It just made us feel good. Because we'd get back to the office from being out there, and it would be like every day was the best day of our lives.

Jen Banbury

Almost every day, Jeff and Ray left the Green Zone and went to a tobacco shop where they played backgammon and hung out with the old men who adored them, even if they weren't exactly sure what to make of them. I visited the shop with Jeff and Ray once and it was like Cheers. Everyone knew them and greeted them loudly when they came in. The shop was just a block away from the Green Zone, but they were pretty much the only Americans who ever went there. They'd drink tea and smoke narghile pipes with the Iraqi guys.

There are liquor stores in Iraq and drugstores where pharmaceutical laws are pretty lax. You can walk into a drugstore and buy liquid Valium and a host of other potential recreational drugs without a prescription. Lots of westerners do a certain amount of self-medicating in Baghdad. But Jeff and Ray knew more about how to get that stuff than most of us.

Ray Lemoine

I got the nickname of Training Wheels over there, because I fell over so much. I passed out in three gardens that I can think of-- your garden, the garden at Al Hamrah.

Jeff Neumann

Yeah, I passed out on the bathroom floor in Al Hamrah.

Ray Lemoine

--In the garden at the pool area.

Jen Banbury

They'd crash parties thrown by FOX News and NBC. They hung out with these French guys who always had pot. They drank during bombardments.

Jeff Neumann

They say, go downstairs to the bomb shelter. And you say, do they have booze? Then they--

Ray Lemoine

Actually, they opened a bar in the bomb shelter.

Jeff Neumann

Yeah. We were in the Al-Rasheed. That's where we ate dinner every night. And all of a sudden like eight or nine rockets hit the face of Al-Rasheed. And it just felt like the building was going to come down. Smoke starts billowing into the dining hall. Everybody's laying on the ground. We're doing army crawls and [BLEEP.] And they shuffled us downstairs into--

Ray Lemoine

The bomb shelter.

Jeff Neumann

--the bomb shelter. But it turned out to be a sports bar. And they had a big, widescreen TV with satellite. And they had CNN on. And they're like--

Ray Lemoine

It was our building burning.

Jeff Neumann

--here's the Al-Rasheed under rocket attack. And there's flames billowing out of windows. And we're sitting in there, in the bar, watching the building we were in burn. We were just like, what?

Ray Lemoine

And then they switched the channel back to a rugby game.

Jen Banbury

By the time Jeff and Ray got to Iraq, it was kind of shocking how few Western aid groups were there. Most had pulled out after the UN and Red Cross bombings in the fall, meaning aid work was almost at a standstill. And for all the American officials who are working really hard to rebuild Iraq, I met even more who are there to spend three months beefing up their resumes and get out. Compared to that, Jeff and Ray were saints. They simply wanted to hang out with Iraqis and do good work. If you're rebuilding a country and everything's chaos, you could do a lot worse than them.

And Jeff and Ray did this work in the face of real danger. They and the people who worked with them were getting personally targeted. Every Tuesday, they'd have a big meeting for all the non-governmental organizations they worked with, right near the gate to the Green Zone.

Jeff Neumann

Then they started-- people tried to suicide bomb the front gate three Tuesdays in a row at like 12:30.

Ray Lemoine

We were definitely asking people, what was up with that bomb?

Jeff Neumann

Yeah, how come they try to bomb the same gate every day?

Ray Lemoine

That's weird. How come every Tuesday at 12:30 there's a bomb found, or threat, or a detonator.

Jeff Neumann

Literally three weeks in a row.

Ray Lemoine

Yeah, one time we hear a boom and see a tire flying. And we were so gullible. They were like, oh no, that was not--

Jeff Neumann

Yeah, that wasn't for you guys.

Ray Lemoine

That was nothing to do with you guys.

Jen Banbury

Eventually the threats and the bombing attempts meant that Jeff and Ray had to leave early, before they felt ready. So they had to choose someone to take over the work they had started. It wasn't hard to decide. There was this guy, Haider, who they worked with in Sadr City. He'd drive them out there all the time. He became their right hand man.

Since they didn't want him to go into the job unprepared, like they had been, Jeff and Ray sent him to a non-governmental organization leadership conference in Beirut. It was bittersweet choosing Haider. They knew he was the best person for the job. But they also knew the danger it might put him in.

Jeff Neumann

So we got on this flight.

Ray Lemoine

Never left Baghdad in his life.

Jeff Neumann

No. And he'd never flown, obviously. And a five star hotel in Beirut.

Ray Lemoine

We should have just told Haider, go to Lebanon and never come back.

Jeff Neumann

We did tell him.

Ray Lemoine

We did tell him that.

Jeff Neumann

When we gave him the plane ticket we were like, dude, you don't have to come back.

Ray Lemoine

But we should have--

Jeff Neumann

We're like, milk the room service with the room, and charge it to the US government.

Ray Lemoine

USAID says that you're not getting room service? Destroy that minibar.

Jeff Neumann

Yeah, we're like think minibar, room service. We're just like milk it. We told him-- we were like, you don't have to come back. But he did.

What we were told-- it was four gunmen followed him from his house, while he was on his way to the Green Zone, killed him at a traffic stop. Because of that--

Ray Lemoine

We chose him because he was-- we got him killed. And-- I don't know.

Jen Banbury

When they look back on their time in Baghdad, Jeff and Ray mostly see it as a failure. The aid program they ran doesn't exist anymore. They got their best friend killed. It's still hard for them to talk about Haider. They just really admired him. He was doing all the work they were doing, plus finishing his PhD and taking care of 13 siblings. During the months they worked with him in Iraq, he treated them like brothers too. And he made them feel like everything in Iraq might just turn out OK.

Ira Glass

Reporter Jen Banbury with Jeff Neumann and Ray Lemoine. They have a book about their experience called Babylon by Bus. Coming up, a child tries to fix his family by harnessing the most powerful force there is. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. Oedipus Hex.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, "My Big Break," stories of what happens to people after they get their big lucky chance. We've arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three, Oedipus Hex.

Shalom Auslander tells this story which happened to him when he was a boy in one of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious schools called Yeshivas. Warning to listeners that although the story is about a little boy, it might be, in some very mild way, not for every child.

Shalom Auslander

Rabbi Brier walked into our third grade classroom, hung up his long black coat, took off his big black hat, and handed each student a small, black booklet entitled The Guide to Blessings. We had one week, he told us, to prepare for the annual Yeshiva of Spring Valley Blessing Bee. My heart leapt. This was just what my mother needed. The Blessing Bee would make her forget all of the troubles of her home. To have a son who's a talmid chacham, a wise student, that was the ultimate. Her brother was a respected rabbi, and if her husband couldn't be one, well, maybe her son could be.

The Guide to Blessings was a 70-page long listing of hundreds of different foods divided into different chapters. Soups, breads, fish, desserts. I flipped through it, slowly realizing the size of the challenge that lay ahead. Falafel, herring, eggplant parmesan. I had my work cut out for me.

Friday afternoons, the yeshiva closed early so that we could all rush home to help our parents prepare for Shabbos, the Sabbath. Rabbi Brier told us that the sages tell us that the Torah tells us that the preparation for Shabbos is equal to the importance of Shabbos itself. Most of my preparations involved searching the house for kosher wine and pouring it down the toilet. It was a thankless job I admitted to nobody. My father's frustrated rage at not having his Manischewitz Concord Grape was fearsome, but it was far better than his drunken rage if he did have it. I'd search the pantry. I'd search the garage. I'd search my father's closet. But I was only eight years old. And there was always a bottle of Kedem hiding somewhere I just hadn't thought to check.

That night my father, drunk on a bottle of blush Chablis that got away, grabbed my older brother by his shirt collar and dragged him away from the Shabbos table. He dragged him all the way down the stairs to our bedroom in the basement and slammed the door shut. Even the silverware jumped.

"Who wants the last matzoh ball?" my mother asked. I made extra. When my brother returned to the table, his nose was bleeding. My mother brought him a can of frozen orange juice to hold against the back of his neck, which was supposed to somehow stop the bleeding. Rabbi Brier taught us that it is prohibited to defrost orange juice on Shabbos because changing food from solid to liquid is considered cooking. And cooking is considered working. And even God refrained from working on Shabbos.

There are 39 different categories of work that are prohibited on Shabbos. That's also why you're not allowed to switch on lights on Shabbos. The electricity causes the filament to glow, which is considered burning, which is considered working-- category number two.

My father came back to the table and drunkenly sang a few Shabbos songs, fudging the words and banging heavily on the table with his fist. I sat hunched over, absent-mindedly drawing circles on the condensation that had formed on the silver water pitcher. My father slapped my hand.

"Shabbos," he shouted. Writing-- category number five. Eventually he stumbled off to his bedroom and fell asleep snoring loudly. We sat in the dining room and picked glumly at our food.

The following Monday morning, as we all sat studying from our blessing books, there was a knock on Rabbi Brier's classroom door. And Rabbi Greenbaum, the Yeshiva principal, solemnly entered. We all rose. The two rabbis conferred quietly for a moment, before signaling us all to be seated. After a few thoughtful strokes of his long black beard, Rabbi Greenbaum sighed deeply and informed us that the night before, our classmate Avrumi Gruenembaum's father had suffered a heart attack and died. Some kids have all the luck.

"Blessed is the one true judge," said Rabbi Brier nodding his head.

"Blessed is the one true judge," we all answered, nodding our heads. I wondered what Mr. Gruenembaum might have done to deserve death. Did he bow down to idols? Did he walk four steps without his yarmulke on? Whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad. As Rabbi Greenbaum turned to leave, he paused and with a stern shake of his finger reminded us all that the sages tell us that the Torah tells us that until the age of 13, all of a boy's sins are ascribed to his father.

I turned to look at Avrumi's empty chair. Avrumi was a chubby kid with heavy orthodontia and foul breath. But a sudden respect for him grew inside me. I wondered what he might have done to cause his father's death. Whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad. Scowling fiercely, Rabbi Greenbaum advised each and every one of us to pray to Hashem-- the Holy One Blessed Be He-- for forgiveness so that he wouldn't kill our fathers too. My heart leapt.

"Blessed is Hashem," he said.

"Blessed is Hashem," we answered. Blessed is Hashem was right. All of a sudden I had two ways I could save my family. I could win the Blessing Bee for my mother, or I could sin so much, Hashem would have to kill my father. Courageous Avrumi Gruenembaum, maybe one Shabbos night he had switched on a light. Maybe he drank milk after eating meat. Maybe he touched himself. That night, just before bed, I ate a drumstick, washed it down with some milk, touched myself, and flicked the bedroom light on and off.

"Break those lights and I'll break your hands," my father shouted. It was going to be a busy week.

The Blessing Bee worked the same way as a spelling bee. There are six basic blessings on food-- hamotzei, the blessing for bread, mezonos, the blessing for wheat, hagofen, the blessing for wine or grape juice, ha-eitz, the blessing for things that grow from trees, ho-adamah, the blessing for things that grow from the earth, and shehakol, the blessing for everything else.

Bagel? Hamotzei. Oatmeal? Mezonos. Gefilte fish? Shehakol, the blessing for everything else. But that was the easy part. Things became much more complicated when you started combining foods. Some foods are superior to other foods, and in combination with subordinate foods, the superior food gets the blessing. To make matters worse, some blessings are superior to other blessings and you had to know which blessing to recite first. This is where they separated the men from the goys.

Spaghetti and meatballs? Mezonos, the wheat blessing. Then shehakol, the everything else blessing. Cereal with milk? Shehakol for the milk, then mezonos for the wheat in the cereal. Twix, the chocolate candy with the cookie crunch? Trick question. Twix isn't kosher.

I spent the next week sinning and blessing, and blessing and sinning, alternately praising God and then defying him as much as one eight-year-old possibly could. Monday morning, I stuffed myself. I had a bowl of Fruity Pebbles-- mezonos, a slice of toast-- hamotzei, a glass of juice-- shehakol, half an apple-- ha-eitz, and a couple of old french fries I found at the bottom of the fridge-- ho-adamah. One meal, five blessings.

Tuesday I touched myself. I also partook of bread without first ceremoniously washing my hands. And that evening, before going to sleep, I sat on the edge of my bed and carefully recited [BLEEP], [BLEEP], and ass a dozen times each. My father banged angrily on my bedroom door.

"Lights out," he barked.

I smiled, "For you and me both, pal."

Wednesday I stole $5 from my mother and didn't recite any blessings at all on the bag full of candy that I brought with it. A Charleston Chew, which is traif to begin with, and a Chunky, which would have been a shehakol if I weren't trying to kill my father. A Chunky with raisins? Shehakol then ha-eitz.

Thursday I didn't wear tzitzis. Rabbi Brier noticed that the strings weren't dangling from my sides and grabbed me by the ear and pulled me to the front of the class.

"Speak to the children of Israel," he quoted loudly from the Torah as he spanked me hard on my bottom. "And tell them to make tzitzis on the corners of their garments."

That afternoon, after not respecting my elders by taking out the garbage like my mother had told me to, I touched myself and silently begged God to-- just this once-- credit those sins to Rabbi Brier's account. Later I defiled a prayer book by carrying it into the bathroom. The Blessing Bee was the following morning and I could barely sleep. Lentil soup, mezonos. Potato knish, ho-adamah. Root beer. Is it a root? Is it a beer? [BLEEP], [BLEEP], ass, bitch. I tossed and turned. I blessed and cursed. And finally I fell into an uncomfortable sleep.

After a week at home, Avrumi Gruenembaum conveniently returned to school just in time for the Blessing Bee. It was all I could do to not lean over and ask him how he did it. Psst, Avrumi, tell me, was it lobster? Did you eat lobster? Rabbi Brier told us that the sages tell us that the Torah tells us that when Abraham died, Hashem comforted Isaac. We learn from this that it is a tremendous mitzvah, or good deed, to comfort the bereaved.

Rabbi Brier instructed us all to line up at Avrumi's desk, to shake his hand and recite the traditional mourner's consolation-- "May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Zion." Being just eight years old, I wasn't entirely familiar with Hashem's system. But it occurred to me that, along with all my sins, my father might also be getting all my mitzvahs. I wasn't taking any chances. Soon it was my turn in line.

"How's it going?" I said to Avrumi. Rabbi Brier pinched me. "Ow!" I screamed.

"Shmendrik," he grumbled.

After the last boy had asked Hashem to comfort Avrumi among the mourners of Zion, Rabbi Brier smacked his desk loudly. The Blessing Bee began.

We lined up at the back of the classroom, nervously pulling on our tzitzis and twirling our peyis. The rules were simple. Name the correct blessing and remain standing for the next round. Name the wrong blessing, and you take your seat.

Last year's winner, Yukisiel Zalman Yehuda Schneck, stood beside me. He leaned calmly against the wall, mindlessly picking his nose.

"Auslander, Shalom," called out Rabbi Brier. I stepped forward. "Apple," he shouted.

"Apple," I called out. "Ha-eitz," the blessing for food from trees.

"Correct," Rabbi Brier said. The Blessing Bee usually started off pretty easy. David [? Borgen ?] got tuna-- shehakol, the everything else blessing. Ari Mashinsky got matzoh-- hamotzei, the blessing for bread. And Avi Tuchman got stuck with kugel, which he thought was ho-adamah, food from the earth, but was really mezonos, the blessing on wheat. Three other kids got taken out by oatmeal. Borscht with sour cream claimed two others. And by the end of the first round, almost a third of the students were already back in their seats.

Round two. "Auslander, Shalom," called Rabbi Brier. I stepped forward. "Mushroom barley soup," he shouted.

Mushroom barley soup, mushroom barley soup. Damn. I knew I should have studied the chapter on soups more. I'd wasted half the week on entrees. Was it ho-adamah on the mushrooms which came from the earth? Or was it mezonos on the barley? Maybe it was shehakol, the everything else blessing, on the soup. "Mushroom barley soup," I called out. "Mezonos."

Rabbi Brier tugged on his beard, his eyes narrowing into angry little slits. "And shehakol," I added. Rabbi Brier triumphantly smacked his desk, signaling that I was correct.

Apple strudel took out David [? Borgen ?], Yoel Levine and [? Shlomo ?] Pomerantz. My friend, Motty [? Greenberg ?] got stuck with cheesecake. And I could tell just by the expression on his face that he had absolutely no idea. He wisely offered two answers, one for thin crust and one for thick, and somehow managed to stay alive. It was hard to believe this was only round two.

Avrumi stepped forward. I smiled at Motty. Avrumi may have killed his father, but he wasn't very bright. And he never did well at these things. He was lucky to even be in the second round at all.

"Bagel," shouted Rabbi Brier. Bagel? I looked at Motty in disbelief. Was he kidding? Bagel?

"Bagel," called out Avrumi, "Hamotzei." This was bull [BLEEP].

"Correct," shouted Rabbi Brier. "Very good." Ephraim Greenblat, Avrumi Epstein, and [? Yoel ?] Frankel all got out on cholent with barley and large pieces of meat. While chopped liver and challah with a slice of lettuce and a bit of olive took out four more, including Motty. And then there were three. It was just Yukisiel Zalman Yehuda Schneck, Avrumi Gruenembaum, and me.

Round three began. "Auslander, Shalom," called out Rabbi Brier. I stepped forward. "Ice cream," shouted Rabbi Brier, "in a cone."

Ice cream in a cone. Ice cream in a cone. I knew ice cream, but why would he add the cone? Was there something different if it was in a cone? What was an ice cream cone made of anyway? Was it cake? Was it a wafer?

"Ice cream in a cone," Rabbi Brier shouted. Is the ice cream subordinate to the cone or is it the cone that's subordinate to the ice cream? If it's a sugar cone, maybe you really desire the cone. "Ice cream in a cone," Rabbi Brier shouted again. I had no choice.

"Ice cream in a cone," I called out. "No blessing." Everyone in the classroom turned to face me. Looking back on the whole episode, Rabbi Brier had really left me no choice.

"No blessing," said Rabbi Brier. "Why no blessing?"

"Because," I explained, nervously twirling my tzitzis, "Because the room smells like doody." There was a long silence. Motty giggled and others followed. Rabbi Brier slowly rose to his feet, his thick fists pushing themselves into the desktop. It may have been a loophole, but technically speaking I was correct. Rabbi Brier himself had told us that our sages tell us that the Torah tells us that there are three situations in which one is absolutely prohibited from reciting a blessing. One, while facing a male over the age of nine years old whose genitals are showing. Two, while facing a female over the age of three years old whose genitals are showing. And three, in the presence of feces.

Frankly, given the other two options, I think I chose the least offensive answer. For a big man, Rabbi Brier moved pretty quickly.

"It's true," I said as he barreled toward me, "The Torah says that." He grabbed me roughly by my arm, lifting me clear off the ground and dragged me towards the door, shouting angrily in Yiddish the whole time. "But it smells like doody," I yelled. "The room smells like doody. Wait. There's a naked girl in the room. There's a naked girl." The door slammed shut behind me. I stood in the hallway and rubbed my bruised arm. I began to cry. The Blessing Bee was lost. I was not a great rabbi. And my father was still not dead.

I tip-toed toward the classroom door and listened closely. Two minutes later, Yukisiel Zalman Yehuda Schneck fell victim to matzoh brei with maple syrup, and the last man standing was Avrumi Gruenembaum.

"Apples," called out Rabbi Brier.

"Apples," Avrumi answered. "Ha-eitz."

"Mazel tov," called our Rabbi Brier. "Mazel tov." Total bull [BLEEP].

That night we had the traditional Friday night gefilte fish-- shehakol, with a little slice of carrot-- ho-adamah. My father was drunk again, singing Shabbos songs, fudging the words and banging heavily on the table with his fist. My mother went into the kitchen and brought out the soup. When my brother said he didn't want any, my father slapped him, pushed him over backward onto the floor, and poured the hot chicken soup onto his face.

My mother took my brother into the bathroom and sat with him on the edge of the bathtub, pressing a cold washcloth against his cheeks. And I went back to the dining room to wipe the chicken soup off the floor. Chicken soup is a shehakol, even if it is cooked with vegetables, since chicken is the dominant taste in the soup.

Rabbi Brier told us that the sages tell us that the Torah tells us that the Holy One Blessed Be He sent the Egyptians 10 plagues in order to teach us that he gives people many chances to repent, and only then, if they still continue to sin, does he punish them with death.

I went downstairs to my bedroom, took four steps without my yarmulke on, touched myself, flicked the lights off and on and fell asleep.

Ira Glass

Writer Shalom Auslander. This story appears in his memoir, Foreskin's Lament.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Lisa Pollak, Jane Feltes and myself with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, and Sarah Koenig. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Seth Lind is our production manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann, Kevin Clarke, Thea Chaloner, and Andy Dixon.

Special thanks today to reporter Helen Thorpe in Denver who interviewed Marisela and Yadira for the opening of today's program. In the year since we first broadcast this show, they have graduated from college and found jobs, though their legal status in this country has not changed.

Our website, www.thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our show by Mr. Torey Malatia. Part of the job of management oversight is actually coming to our program's dress rehearsal.

Charlie Brill

What you did in dress rehearsal-- first of all, I don't get the blah, blah, blahs. Is that-- I'm not getting that.

Ira Glass

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

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