Transcript

284:

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Transcript

Originally aired 03.11.2005

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/284

Prologue.

Ira Glass

At first you don't really think about it, Bobby says. He got drafted to play professional baseball for the Cubs, was sent to the minor leagues like most players are. And for the first few years, he says, you don't wonder if you'll make it. You know you'll make it. For one thing, the evidence is everywhere.

Bobby Morris

You see it all the time. You're in AA or even in A-ball and somebody does get the call. We had a shortstop when I was with the Reds. His name was Travis Dawkins. His nickname's Gookie Dawkins. And Barry Larkin got hurt in the big leagues, and the phone call came into the manager's office. And all of a sudden, this buzz started taking over the clubhouse. And it was about Gookie. Gookie's going to the show. And I remember him cleaning out his locker, getting ready to get on the next flight to Cincinnati.

Ira Glass

So he's your buddy, and you're watching him clean out his locker to go.

Bobby Morris

Yeah, and that's happened quite a bit. Quite a bit.

Ira Glass

By his third year, out of the 52 guys Bobby was drafted with, only 15 were still playing ball. In his fourth year, he was traded. By his seventh year, he was sitting on the bench a lot. Then he broke his wrist and had a hard time finding a team who would pick him up.

Bobby Morris

And I think I was pretty rusty, and I was pretty discouraged. I really thought that the time might be sooner than later that I was out of the game. There were quite a bit of people that said, is this it? Can you go back? And the questions started coming, and more regularly as I continued to play.

Ira Glass

How would people say it? Were they sheepish about it? Or they just didn't even know to be sheepish about it?

Bobby Morris

I wish they were sheepish about it, frankly. It's frustrating when people would ask. I was always very uncomfortable when people would ask me those type of questions.

Ira Glass

But then his season improved. He actually wen on a kind of streak. And his whole vision of where he was heading came back to him. And that's what keeps somebody going in this situation. There had always been so much proof, you know. He'd been a high school star, an all-state and a college star, an all-Big Ten, and his brother Hal Morris was playing for the Reds.

It's like what happens in a casino. You win enough at the time to keep you going, to keep you in the game. It feels like the big win is right around the corner.

What got Bobby to finally quit was that that vision of his future was replaced with a different vision of who he might become. At the beginning of his 10th year, he couldn't get onto an affiliated team. He went to the independent leagues, a step down. And when he showed up for spring training and looked around at the other guys, he thought to himself, he was seeing a lot of guys who'd hung on for too long, and wondered if that's who he was becoming. And during one of their very first practice games, he suddenly found he'd decided.

Bobby Morris

My last at-bat-- I know I've got three at-bats. I grounded out to second base, and I did know. I knew that was it, certainly. I think the moment the ball was off of my bat, I had a thought that this might be the last one. And I ran by, the throw beat me by a couple of steps, and I kept running as hard as I can through the bag. And I just kind of kept going out to the outfield a little bit. I remember thinking after, as I'm decelerating down the baseline, just thinking, well, if this is my last one, it's kind of apropos, because I gave it everything I had. I ran down to first with everything I had, and it just wasn't enough to get me there in time.

Ira Glass

For years, he'd been wrestling with this decision, and then that was that. He was past deciding. It was done, which I think is pretty much how these kinds of big decisions always go. He went to the batting cage, he hit for a while, for the last time, and then he told his coaches.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our radio program, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" We have three stories of people with big decisions to make, usually, like Bobby, between the practical thing, the thing that everybody expects of them, and some vision of something that they just can't give up.

Act One of our show, "The Karachi Kid," in which a college student has to decide whether to stay in America, where he's been going to school, or go back to Pakistan where his family is, because as everybody knows, you can't wipe on and wipe off your visa status.

Act Two, "Not Far From the Tree." Two software engineers at Apple Computer get fired and then simply refuse to leave.

Act Three, "Because I'm the Mommy, That's Why." A nine-year-old girl has to decide what to do when her mom runs away, runs away with her and her sister in tow. Stay with us.

Act One. The Karachi Kid.

Ira Glass

Act One. "The Karachi Kid." Muhammad Kamran is an IT student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He worked and saved for two years to get the money to come to the States, where there are all sorts of difficulties to get a visa.

He's a good student, an observant Muslim, doesn't drink. When he and his American friends go to bars, he sits there with his Diet Cokes. And after being here for school all these years, he's not so sure he wants to go home to Pakistan when he graduates. But he's the eldest son. He's expected to go home and care for his parents as they get older.

Muhammad Kamran

It's not that I don't want to take care of them. It's just that I want to do both. And I'm trying to figure out, what am I going to do?

Ira Glass

So in the fall, when he went home for the first time in four years, he knew his family was going to do everything possible to convince him to move back to Pakistan after college-- introduce him to marriageable women, show him how modern Karachi has become. He took a tape recorder with him on the trip. His radio diary begins right before he's about to head home.

Muhammad Kamran

The most prominent emotion that I have right now is like, oh, my God, it's been so, so long. I wonder how everything is, and how everyone is. My cousins and my brother-- my brother was 16 when I left and his voice was just breaking then. And now he's a man. He's taller than me. I'm just so excited to go there and see everything.

I'm also scared. People say it's changed a lot. It's become modern and all that. A lot of multinationals have been investing. Restaurants have opened up and there are a lot of clubs and all that kind of stuff. So I'm just scared to see what's there for me now.

When my parents sent me to college and stuff, it was understood that, once you finish college, you will come back. There are no two ways about it. And at the time, I was like, yeah, definitely. But now that I've been here, and I see so many opportunities, I want to stay here and explore what else is here. Because it's the US. The world comes here to study and work. I took so hard to get here. Why am I going back? But then-- why am I going back? Because my family, my parents.

I just reached Karachi. Getting off the baggage claim and getting all my stuff now. The flight was great. I sat next to this guy, a Pakistani businessman who was just coming back from Germany. He was telling me that him and his cousin were debating going to college in the US, but at the last minute his dad stopped him and he did not go. But he has no regrets. He likes being in Pakistan, because of the religion and the culture and whatnot.

So I'm in a rickshaw right now. I just bargained to get from Center City Karachi to my house for $1. For one dollar. You've got people honking. There's no concept of courtesy or braking.

I must admit, I used to drive the same way before. But there's no concept of lanes. In a place where the US would have two lanes, we have about one, two, three, four-- six lanes made out of two lanes' equivalent in the US. Oh, [BLEEP], there are cows crossing in the middle of the road. This is no system of driving or anything. That's about it.

The first three or four days, I was sick. My stomach was running. I was hot. I felt like an American. My God, I was complaining, I was bitching about it. I was like, what the hell is this? Who wants to live here? It was hot. I made it a point to have a yogurt drink every morning just to cool my body down.

I was very cut back the fourth day, but the fifth day, I was like, OK, this is where I grew up, so I shouldn't complain. This is where I come from. How can I start thinking that I'm a foreigner, even though I felt like one.

So I told my dad. He definitely wants me to stay in Pakistan or Dubai and work here. So you think I should stay in Pakistan, Abu?

Father

Well, after 9/11, you should consider staying back here.

Muhammad Kamran

Why after 9/11?

Father

It's all in the press, you see. They're saying that there's discrimination against Muslims.

Muhammad Kamran

I talked to my dad about this. And he kept switching reasons. He kept saying that, why I should come back to Pakistan, because of-- the first reason he gave was discrimination against Muslims and Arabs. And then he said that I should move home because everything's going to be set up for me. I don't have to worry about a house or a car or food and all that.

Father

You don't have to start fresh here. We can provide you everything. And then you just have to work.

Muhammad Kamran

And then he said that there would be all these opportunities for me, because all these companies are investing in Pakistan.

Father

Companies like Halliburton.

Muhammad Kamran

But you know who owns Halliburton.

Father

Well, that Dick Cheney.

Muhammad Kamran

Oh, so you know he owns it.

Father

Even Bill Gates came and sent a message to our president.

Muhammad Kamran

I will do some research on this and see if Microsoft is opening something in Pakistan. Not that it's funny, but the way he put it was so silly. He's just being a dad.

So I'm on my way to pick up my friend Binti, who has been my friend for a long, long time. She now works for a multinational in Karachi.

Binti

So, Kamran, how's Hani? Is she your girlfriend?

Muhammad Kamran

No, actually, she's one of my school friends.

Binti

Girls and boys can never be friends. So cut the crap. Is she your girlfriend? Would you want her to be your girlfriend?

Muhammad Kamran

Uh, no. Why do you ask?

Binti

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

[UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE] for the American citizens.

Binti

You guys suck. Muslims rule, damn it. You guys just put on this act of freedom and stuff. But you guys are full of [BLEEP]. No, actually, Muslims are nice people. Give them a break. [SINGING] Give me a break. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar.

Muhammad Kamran

You think I should come back to Pakistan.

Binti

Oh, yes, I think you should. Because it's your own country.

How old are you? 25? OK. So at 25, you decide whether you're going to be an American for the rest of your life, away from your friends, away from your family, away from your food, away from me, yes.

Or you want to be in Pakistan, maybe getting a little less salary. But then, who cares? You'll get used to that salary. If, once you go to the States, you're used to earning a high salary, you'll never come back to Pakistan and be happy. It's all about what you are used to in life. What you don't have, you don't miss. Right? So--

Muhammad Kamran

So the two aunts and my mother are just-- they're always together. So it's always very [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]. It's never one of them alone. We cannot picture them alone, because both of them are bitter women. They're really, really funny. They're really, really cool, though, because they influence my mother a lot. And so my mother's aunt is trying to hook me up with one of her friend's daughters, whose name is [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]. So I'm going to ask [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

She's saying she's from India, a rich family.

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

She's saying that the girl is very well-behaved. So what are you trying to say, that I'm not well-behaved?

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

She's like, she has knowledge of the world as well as the religions. So she's saying that-- very, very cute-looking. So I'm going to ask her right now if she can cook and stuff. [SPEAKING ARABIC]

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

And she's giving me a menu of things that she can cook.

Woman

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Muhammad Kamran

[SPEAKING ARABIC] She wants me to marry my first cousin, who basically lives in California. This is the amount of pressure I get from her.

So we never met [UNINTELLIGIBLE] daughter, who my aunts, [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE], were talking about, who was from India from a very, very rich family or something. And then they had set me up with another date. She had a British accent, and she came in a burqa and everything. And I never talked with her, because it was like a big group visiting together. But I wasn't interested.

It's not that it doesn't appeal to me. It's just that I would have tried to have it on a mutual basis, that I would like the girl too. And of course I would want to know the girl more.

OK, so we're going to this party right now, which I don't know how-- I'm here with my friend Hani. I can't even see anyone. Great, so this is the scene in Pakistan. The party scene.

There was a party tonight that I went to. And it was in a massive house. The entrance lounge was turned into a dance floor. And one of the rooms had large, large pillows all over the place. And everyone was either smoking up or making out. And there was alcohol and there was actually a bar. And there was a person mixing drinks.

I noticed there was a bottle of vodka and Pepsi and orange juice. And people were there, just looking all hip just with a glass. It was-- to be frank, it looked so artificial. I'm sure they must be having fun.

Pakistan, being a very strict Muslim country-- alcohol is not sold publicly and stuff. And it's only a few shops that can sell it. But people do get around getting alcohol. It's unbelievable how liberal Pakistan has become, at least in this upscale party and stuff.

Hi. You guys like the party?

Woman

Yes.

Muhammad Kamran

Are you from Karachi?

Woman

Yes.

Muhammad Kamran

I'm not scaring you. I'm just asking.

So we're at the party, and I saw these two girls. And I went up to them. I said, hey, what's up? Nice party, or something. And they're like, do we know you? Like, what? Because you don't go and talk to any girl at a party, because it's disrespectful. I had forgotten that. I forget what was the norms for a party there.

Hi, I'm Hani's single friend. I scared her away.

So if I am to move back to Pakistan, I'll probably-- in relative terms, I'll have more money. And I'll have more disposable income, because I'll have a car which is paid for. I'll have a house which is already there. I'll live with my parents, because that's how it goes. And I'll have to do none of housekeeping, clean my own room at the most. And I have to do no cooking at all. At all. And there are no groceries.

And the quality of life is probably going to be much, much better, compared to the quality of life to the US. Well, not probably. I'll probably make decent money. But it's always going to be like, I'll have to do my own laundry, I'll have to cook, I'll have to clean.

I'm nowhere close to a decision, but I'm really surprised and confused, because it's just-- how do I choose? How do you make them talk the same language? How do you make your heart and head talk the same language?

So I'm hanging out with my cousin, Yusef Harman. So, tell me, being the eldest son, do you have any pressures on you from your family?

Yusef

Oh, a lot. A lot. You get a lot of pressures. I mean, I can't do anything with asking my mother. All the time, she's after me. She's possessive about me. She doesn't want me to go for anyone else as yet, probably until the age of 27, or until all my sisters get married. So I just can't do anything I want to. That's how it is.

Muhammad Kamran

And I could really identify with all that because I was pretty much in the same boat that he is right now. Of course, every single decision is run by your parents, and you consult them. Let's say, you know, buying a car. If I have to buy a car after I graduate, I'll just probably go and buy whatever I want, or whatever falls in my budget. But if I'm back home, I need everyone to consent. And then my aunt would come back home, and she would say, oh, don't get black, get white. Get this, get that. It's all this.

Almost everyone in my family made some argument like this.

Man

I advise you to come to Pakistan and serve you country, to serve the country where you were born. Because America is already an advanced country, and they don't need any intellectual [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. But Pakistan requires many persons who are intellectual and highly educated.

Muhammad Kamran

That did sort of strike me. It's like Pakistan having a brain drain, like people study and then they stay back. And it does make me feel guilty because I do have to think-- I still love my country, I still have some sense of patriotism towards it. And I was born there. I can never change that.

I'm driving back home after dropping my friend. And I'm just so in thought right now. And I don't know what to say. I'm really-- I'm 80% percent convinced that I should come back to Pakistan and work here and work for my country and of course my parents. It's such a hard decision. I'm so torn. I'm so torn. I don't know what to do.

So I left Karachi yesterday. And my mom was crying at the airport so much. And I was trying to hold back. I'm so homesick. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I feel queasy in my stomach for some reason. Maybe it's the plane ride. I'm right over the top of Frankfurt, but all I can think of is Karachi. Karachi, Karachi, Karachi, Karachi, Karachi.

I got back today at 1:00. When I landed in Philadelphia, I felt so homesick for Karachi, because it's like, it's back to the grind, back to the routine life. I just kept thinking of my mom's cooking all of a sudden. The minute it touched down, the plane.

So it's been about a week and two days since I've been back in Philadelphia. And feels kind of strange to be here, because I feel like I'm starting from scratch, everything over again. I don't hang out as much as I used to before, when I was here, before I left. I don't know why. It's just kind of strange. Maybe because it's Ramadan, but I don't know. But I haven't seen many friends as much. I just feel I should be to myself. I'm a little down, I think.

I've spoken to my parents ever since I got back. And my mom was like, so have you decided anything? So I told her, I just got here a week ago. And they try to call me every other day now. Usually it was like, you know, I would call them once a week, and they would call the next week. So it's like, every time I'm not home, she's like, so how come you didn't pick up your phone? And how come you weren't home? And how come-- where were you? God, man. Give me a break.

When I was leaving Karachi, when I was leaving the airport, she told me that, whatever you do, we'll be happy with it. But I really, really know that they really, really want me to come back.

So it's 21 December, 2004. And I got done with finals last Friday. And I've just been chilling ever since. And I've made my decision to stay. After a couple months of being back here in Philadelphia, in the States, everything fell into perspective.

My feelings about Karachi faded as time passed and I as I got more involved and busy with my everyday life here. Of course, I was almost convinced at the time, when I was in Pakistan in Karachi, to stay back, because I literally went back after almost four years. Four years of not seeing my friends, my family, my cousins, my grandmother. And I loved it. And if I was literally waking up every morning thinking of my family, I would have gone back the second day.

But it's not like that. I do miss them. I miss them at a normal level. I don't terribly, terribly miss them. And once I got back here, I could picture my life back home when I went back. That scares me. I'll go back home, get a job, make a house, get married, have kids, have the in-laws over every Sunday for dinner. It'll just be the same monotonous routine over and over and over and over again. Maybe something else is going to happen. Maybe I'll go watch a movie in between somewhere.

And I could picture my life-- well, I couldn't picture it, but I could almost imagine it over here, and what I could be doing. And I imagine a house with white picket fences. No, I'm just kidding. Over here, everything is so exciting and everything so result-oriented right away that I can't imagine it. That's the excitement of it.

Ira Glass

Muhammad Kamran in Philadelphia. Coming up, two guys who aren't even officially faced with the choice, should they stay or should they go? They're told to go, leave their jobs, and they decide to stay. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Not Far From The Tree.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, stories of people deciding, should they stay or should they go? And we've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, "Not Far From the Tree."

There are some situations where it is pretty much taken for granted that you are not going to stay somewhere, like, for example, your boss tells you you no longer have a job. Sometimes, people were driven by a vision and they do not take that practical "no" to mean "no." Amy O'Leary reports.

Amy O'leary

For Ron [UNINTELLIGIBLE], there was never any question. He wasn't going to leave. The project he'd been working on at Apple Computer had been cancelled. He was out of a job. But for Ron, it wasn't so simple. He was 27 and had been working on some version of the software for years, so he wasn't ready to just stop and go home.

Ron

Having been totally embroiled in a project, working long hours and thinking about little else, to have it canceled and nothing come of it, it just seems like wasted effort. So I decided to stay and finish the part that I had been working on my own. And so I just kept showing up to work on it.

Amy O'leary

The project that made him want to stay, to live off his savings and sneak into work every day for no money, probably won't sound very glamorous. It was a graphing calculator, a software program that would help math students make pictures of complicated equations. Now, to understand why this meant so much to Ron, you've got to understand two things. One, engineers are generally much more excited about advanced mathematics than the population at large. And two, this program wasn't just making little pencil lines on graph paper. It was generating gorgeous undulating three-dimensional pictures that changed as you altered the equations. If such a thing can be said, it made calculus sexy.

Greg Robbins

I knew that Ron was working despite the end of the project he was working on.

Amy O'leary

That's Greg Robbins. He would drop by Ron's desk and was impressed with what he saw, so impressed that when Greg's contract ended, he signed on for Ron's project, which wasn't a job really as much as an extended six-month favor.

Greg Robbins

I don't remember if we discussed explicitly, but I knew there was no money in this. I mean, doing math software is sort of like writing poetry. You hope that if you do a great job, you may touch someone. But you don't expect to make money off of it.

Ron

We just started literally sneaking into the building every day. We would show up in the parking lot, look around to see who was there, and as we were approaching the door we would time our walk so that we arrived at the entrance right behind someone. And they'd open the door and look at us and say, oh, hi, Ron. And we'd walk in with them, tailgating through the door, it's called.

Tim Dereks

Their tactics was-- pretty much, as far as I saw-- when I showed up, I'd let them in.

Amy O'leary

Tim Dereks was an engineer who was actually paid to come to the office. I don't know whether it's because I was one of the few guys they knew, or whether they just happened to come in about the same time I did, but I was probably letting them in at least a couple of times a week.

Greg Robbins

The people in the adjacent offices knew we were there.

Amy O'leary

Again, Greg.

Greg Robbins

Frequently they knew what we were working on. If anyone ever came to us and asked, we were more than happy to talk about it. Sometimes we would leave out certain details like the fact that it wasn't a real project.

Ron

Occasionally, people would ask me, do you work here? And I'd say, no. And then they would assume, oh, that means you're a contractor. And I'd explain, well, actually, no. And then they'd say, but then, who's paying you? And I'd tell them, no one. At which point, they'd get it. They'd look at me and say, how do you live? And I'd explain, I live simply. And then they'd get this really interesting look on her face, and say, but what are you doing here?

Amy O'leary

What they were doing was very quietly, and very efficiently, building a perfect piece of software. There weren't any meetings, any office politics, or managers. They never compromised. They never fought. It was the fantasy version of how great work could be if management just evaporated.

Greg Robbins

Occasionally, I would tell people-- I mean, it's true. I did tell people that I reported to Ron. Ron would tell people that he reported to me. In a corporate hierarchy, that's all someone wants to hear. If they know who you report to, then they can fit you into the big picture.

Ron

I slipped up at one point when someone from Facilities came to explain to us that they were moving new engineers into our offices. I was naive. I told her the same story I told everyone else. She just explained, that's completely inappropriate. She had our badges canceled and expected us to just clear out the offices and leave the building. So we just moved to another set of offices that were empty.

Amy O'leary

For a while, it was hard to find space. They kept getting displaced by real employees. But then big layoffs hit Apple. And suddenly there were entire hallways of empty offices for the taking. At the same time, news about the project was getting around. Among some engineers at Apple, Ron and Greg's graphing calculator was becoming a kind of underground cause celebre.

Ron

Folks knew about us. And they would literally come to our office at midnight and slip a machine under the door and tell me, OK, Ron, officially this machine doesn't exist. Make sure no one opens the top to look inside. Whatever you do, don't take it out of the building. And if anyone asks, I don't know you.

Greg Robbins

When an engineer slipped us not one but two hardware prototypes, that just amazed us.

Amy O'leary

The hardware prototype was Apple's newest computer, still in development.

Greg Robbins

We had something that was extremely hard to get for the employees at the company. That was extremely rare, because they were hand-built. It was hard to believe that something which wasn't a real project could have hardware that many real projects would die for.

Amy O'leary

There was a practical reason that people were sneaking this equipment to them. Apple was about to unveil a brand-new machine, the Power PC. The future of the company was riding on it, and Apple's employees were so busy making sure that their old software would run on the new computer that nobody was creating new software-- nobody, that is, except Ron and Greg, whose flashy graphing calculator would be the company's only way to demonstrate the groundbreaking speed of their new machines.

But Greg and Ron faced a problem, the problem, the obstacle that from the beginning seemed completely insurmountable.

Greg Robbins

When we started undertaking this, we weren't thinking about, how are we going to get in the building? We're thinking about, how are we going to get it out on a million machines? You just don't get software built into the machine without the company's blessing.

Amy O'leary

And then, in the dark of night, the solution to their problem walked right in the door.

Ron

An engineer came into my office at two in the morning, and said to me, there's a factory out in Cork, Ireland. And one of the last steps in the production of the machines is to copy from what's called the golden master hard disk onto each hard disk in the factory before it gets put in the box. He said, I create the golden master hard disk.

Amy O'leary

You get that? Picture, like, the wizard from Lord of the Rings standing there in a halo of light.

Ron

I create the golden master hard disk. In a very real and pragmatic sense, I decide what does and doesn't ship. This is the date that I FedEx the disk. If you come to my office that evening, before anyone else notices, it will be boxed in 30,000 units in the factory.

Amy O'leary

Perfect plan. Only, after those first 30,000 computers came off the assembly line, Apple execs would notice that something had been slipped onto their machines, and then there's no telling what would happen, or who they would go after. So Ron and Greg came up with a different plan. It was probably the gutsiest, most radical ideal of all. Schedule a meeting, bring in management, and admit everything.

Don Norman

Ron [UNINTELLIGIBLE] showed up one day and said, hey, I have something neat to show you.

Amy O'leary

Don Norman would soon become a VP at Apple.

Don Norman

And Ron showed his fantastic graphing calculator, where you could just sort of plug in the equation. You could play with things. You could do things that were never possible before. And I said, wow, we've got to ship this in every Macintosh. And Ron said, well, that's just the problem. Because, well, it turned out that Ron didn't exist.

Amy O'leary

Not in the company records, anyway. But here he was, demonstrating the calculator in front of 15 managers who watched, captivated, for more than an hour as Ron let the software speak for itself.

Ron

They all nodded and they said, that's great. That's perfect. This exactly demonstrates everything we've been talking about for months. Why didn't we hear about this before? Who do you work for? Why didn't they tell us?

At which point, I told them, well, actually the project was cancelled three months ago. I don't actually work here. And everyone laughed and I thought I was kidding and said, no, really, who do you work for? And then there was a moment of awkward silence until they realized I was serious. Then they told me, well, we really want to ship this. Don't repeat your story. We'll figure something out. And at that point, things got really weird.

The folks in charge have adopted us. They do want to ship this. And they're assigning people to work on it. And at the same time that paid employees are working on it, I'm in the middle of managing all of this while Greg and I are still sneaking into the building.

Amy O'leary

In the end, after six months of work, the software was so reliable, so uncrashable, that it became the software Apple used to test sick computers. If your machine wasn't working, but it wasn't clear how serious things were, Apple Technical Support would tell you to run the graphing calculator overnight. Then, if your computer crashed the uncrashable graphing calculator, you officially had a hardware problem.

It was also so curious and impressive, with its shifting, spinning, multicolored shapes, that Apple used it in sales demonstrations and computer stores simply to draw people over to the machines. So after all this, the graphing calculator was installed on not just a million machines, but on more than 20 million Apple computers worldwide.

Ron and Greg eventually got a modest check for their work and went on to other jobs elsewhere. For years, Ron only told the story at parties, but recently, he posted it on the internet, where he received a flood of responses from other software engineers. Some said Ron and Greg were losers, that they were taken advantage of.

Greg Robbins

I was surprised when I first heard someone say that we had been used by the company, because for us, we were doing what we wanted to do, to have created something that people remember, that they can say, yeah, when I first saw that, I was blown away.

Tim Dereks

You know, that's just an immense achievement.

Amy O'leary

Again, Tim Dereks, who'd been letting them in the door for months.

Tim Dereks

And so, true, from one perspective he did that for Apple for free. But on the other perspective, Apple did this for him, and it's something he couldn't have gotten otherwise. I think if you offered an independent filmmaker-- you know what, we're not going to give you any money. You're going to have to beg, borrow, or steal all the equipment, but you make a one-minute film and we'll air it during the Super Bowl. I don't know of any true artist filmmaker who wouldn't jump at that chance.

Amy O'leary

This whole story appeals to our ideas about what a job can be, that if we do we want, if we do what we love, and do it our way, that eventually we'll be proven right and the whole company will be better for it. But not so fast. It's a fluke when it works out this well. Even Ron and Greg don't think it could happen to them again. They're still writing software, though. Ron works for himself, Greg for another company. These days, they both get paid. To be honest, Greg says, it's not quite as fun as it used to be. He swipes his badge in in the mornings, and he never stays nights.

Ira Glass

Amy O'Leary in New York City.

Act Three. Because I'm The Mommy, That's Why.

Ira Glass

Act Three, "Because I'm the Mommy, That's Why."

Virginia Holman's mom became schizophrenic in the '70s, when understanding and diagnosis and treatment were not as forthcoming as they are today. We end our show with this story, how Virginia and her sister were dragged along on a "Should I Go" sort of mission. Actress Catherine Keener reads.

Catherine Keener

Until my mother told us, my sister and I hadn't a clue we were being kidnapped. I simply came home from school one afternoon, and my mother told me we were going to our cottage in Kecatan for a couple of days. She said my father would join us there.

There was nothing in her manner that made me uneasy. I do recall that she seemed especially happy. Though I didn't realize it at the time, the voices in her head were telling her that she had been chosen to help serve her country in a secret war. Her mission was to set up a field hospital at the cottage. Hundreds of orphaned children would travel to our cottage at night. We were to treat their injuries and evacuate them to safety.

But right then, getting into the car, I knew none of that. I just sang along with the songs on the radio as we drove out of Virginia Beach. Our dog Ralph hung his huge gray head out of the passenger-side window.

"Goodbye, Oyster Point Village," my mother called as we left our townhouse court. "Goodbye, pool. Goodbye, [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. Goodbye, Tammy Sugarman's house. Goodbye. Goodbye." She was ecstatic.

When we hit the Hampton Roads tunnel, John Denver was singing "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," and my mother sang louder and harder than I'd ever seen, waving her head in the wind, laughing so hard tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes. My sister Emma was in the back seat, clapping her hands and growling, her latest trick. She sounded like a puppy. "Here we go, Gingy," my mother announced as we descended into the mouth of the tunnel. I held my breath and began to count to see how long I could last. The car went dark. The radio signal disappeared. And we went under.

The cottage is a tiny place, a 700-square-foot cabin constructed by my grandfather for short-term summer inhabitancy. Its foundation is two inches of poured cement that also serves as the floor. The metal shower stall was purchased at a battleship auction.

"First," my mother declared, "we've been ordered to sanitize the premises." She opens the hood of the Volkswagen and pulls out buckets and bottles of ammonia.

"What do you mean, we've been ordered? Who ordered us?"

"That's for me to know, missy. You just do as you're told. You take orders, or they'll court martial you and put you in jail. And I am your superior." My mother has never spoken quite this way before. On any other day, I wouldn't hesitate to fight her, but today I do as I am told.

Mother and I throw sitting covers over the sofa and chairs and set Emma down with a few toys. We haul the mattresses from the bunk beds into the sun to bleach out the mildew. Mom unpacks two small cans of paint and two new brushes, and we carefully paints the glass of each window in the cottage solid black.

"Now," Mom says, "it's like our very own secret hideout. When we're here at night, we could have the lights on and no one will know." I wonder how much turpentine it's going to take to clean the windows again.

My cousin Darby runs down from her house two acres over. My mother's brother, Chuck, built his house on his share of the family property, just to the north of us. To our south is the home of my dead grandmother's sister, Purlene.

"Are you down for the weekend?" Darby asks me. Mom is in the bathroom, arranging the shelves. "Can you play?" Darby is 11. I toss my broom and dustpan in the corner and head out the door the way I always do when we're down at the cottage for a weekend, but Mom comes after us.

"Darby, we've important work to do today, and Gingy must stay here to care for young Emma. I'm so sorry."

My mother is speaking with a British accent all of a sudden. We think she's making a joke, and so Darby and I crack up and keep going. My mother grabs my arm and begins dragging me back to the house, pulling me backward through the pine needles. Darby starts crying and yells at my mother, and then flees for her house.

Once we're inside the cottage, Mom bolts the door. "Can't you see what we have to do?" she says. "Other people will not understand. You cannot talk about the secret war. You have been called to help. This is very important. You will do what I say."

I feel mother wrap her arms around me, and even though I struggle to get free, I can't. "I love you. You know that," she says. "I would never do this if I didn't love you. You must help. This is important. You will understand."

My mother begins keeping notebooks, enormous five-subject spiral-bound books where she records the progress of the secret war. I sneak a look, but her notes are about as interesting as reading someone's old grocery list. What's exciting is that Mom is always on guard. We are always to be on the lookout for clues. They can be broadcast to her telepathically via the CIA, or they can appear in the environment. She takes pictures from art books and magazines, along with the things we've gathered on our walks, and glues them to nearly every surface in the house.

Clues also come in other forms, and I discover the thing that every treasure hunter or private eye must know, that once you have a bit of code, a sign, a clue, it's impossible to stop looking for more. It's addictive. The world as you know it ceases to exist and is replaced with a universe bottomless with intrigue. For me, it is like being Nancy Drew, without the red sports car or any real case to crack.

Mother, Emma, and I take long walks through the marsh, looking for signs. Mother picks up a dull aluminum can and tosses it back down, but a piece of yellow nylon rope tangled in a blackberry bush means something. I run through the sea grass, bringing her fragments of things to pass judgment on-- an old medicine bottle, boiled crab shell, a moldy corn husk doll. What do these things mean?

"Get your pack. They're coming."

I sit up and Mom is dressed in blue jeans and a dark jacket. The clocks read 3:33. It's weird to see all the numbers lined up like that, all the same. Mom says, "Tonight's a test run. Night maneuvers."

"I don't want to do night maneuvers," I tell her and roll back under the covers.

"Oh, no, you don't. We have to do this tonight. Get your clothes on."

I pull on my brown Toughskins and a green t-shirt. The night air is soft and the half-moon lights up the sky. Mom carries Emma out to the car and lays her in the backseat with a blanket. "Leave her here. You'll just wake her," I say.

"She'll be awake when the real thing happens, so she comes."

We get in the car and Mom takes a scarf out of her pocket. "Now I'm going to blindfold you. No peeking. Promise." I pull it down around my neck. I find myself wondering how long you can breathe in the trunk of a Volkswagen. I push these thoughts aside.

"Here's the deal, Gingy. You just don't know how any of this is going to happen, pumpkin. When the war starts, someone could be taking you out to see the children, someone who is to keep their arrival point a secret, even from you. There could also be a kidnapping, someone who takes you away because they don't want you to help the war children. The thing is, you never know who's who. That's why we never talk to anyone about the secret war. That's why you have to always pay attention." She pulls the scarf back over my eyes.

I close my eyes under the blindfold and lay out a map in my head. Mom starts the car. I know that my starting point is our driveway and I pay attention to the turns the car makes, trying to anticipate where we're going, but making a list in my head. Left turn out of driveway, right turn soon after.

We seem to drift to the left. I hear gravel and sand. Then we turn around, back onto the street to the right. Then another left. Uphill a bit, gear shift, turn around. We stop. Mom helps me out of the car. Frogs and cicadas, off the road, scrub grass and weeds against the legs of my jeans. Down a hill, and then we're next to the water.

Mom has her hand on my shoulder and walks behind me. We're in the woods. The air is cool on my face, and then I could smell the pine needles.

We stop, and I hear Mom rustle through her pack. "Your job is to get back to the duck blind. I'll be waiting for you there." She lights a match for her cigarette, a hiss and then the sharp sulfur smell. Her hand is back on my shoulder and we keep walking. I have to keep reminding myself to come back to the list in my head, to focus on this one thing. My mind wanders.

Then Mom's gone. I realize it just like that. There's no hand on my shoulder, no one pushing me forward, just my own movement. I pull the blindfold down around my neck and wait for my eyes to adjust. From "How To Survive In the Woods," I remember the best way to look for tracks is to look for something irregular in the landscape. Pine needles have fallen here for years, animals come through, deer and dogs, birds. Once I start looking, it's easy enough to see the line of our path. I shuffle my feet all the way. I should remember to do that when the war really happens.

I follow the trail to the road. Mom's dropped me off at the end of beach road. Home is a straight-shot half-mile walk. I stop at the cottage to get a glass of milk before I go to the duck blind. Mom's stretched out on the sofa. "The mosquitoes are awful out there," she yawns. "What time is it?"

"4:30."

"Not bad for your first time."

"Thanks," I say.

"Sit down with me?"

I sit beside her on the sofa and she strokes my hair.

Should I recall this time as horrifying? I don't. At the time, my mother's actions and behavior were incomprehensible. There was no context in which I could place the bizarre events that were occurring. If there was ever a moment when things changed, the move to Kecatan was it. At the time, I honestly believed that I could run away if I wanted. Like the war children my mother expected, I could be an orphan.

Of course, I didn't run away. I stayed. And because I stayed, I thought it meant I wanted to stay. Even at the age of nine, staying with my mother felt like a choice. Once I had made that choice, I was with my mother in her mission to set up the hospital.

I decided that I would believe in the secret war. My mother's delusion became my delusion, not so much a choice as a simple fact. It was a way not to lose her, yes, but I guess it was also more fun for a nine-year-old tomboy to believe she was chosen to aid in a secret war than to believe she was being held hostage by her mother.

"Where were you, those early months we were down at the cottage?" I asked my father on the phone, 25 years later. "What were you thinking?"

"I was in Virginia Beach, working." His voice halts. I don't budge. I refuse to fill the silence he has left on the other end of the line. "I don't know what to tell you. I don't know what I thought. Things were so bad, and your mother loved Kecatan. I thought maybe it might be the one thing that would help her. Of course," he says dryly, "that wasn't the case."

Over the years, it's been easy for me to lose track of the fact of my father's loss of my mother. He loved her too. Now I can't speak, I can't find my way through the questions on my list. They all start to sound like one small cry of why, why, why? Why didn't you do something?

My father recalls that at this time, he felt his options went like this. He could leave his wife, and us with her, and seek a divorce. Or he could move in with us, get a job in the area, and look after his family the way he had promised in his wedding vows. So Dad announced that he intended to find a job in the area and move in with us as soon as possible. Mom flung her arms around his neck as if she were welcoming home a soldier.

That fall, the rains begin. The cottage has no gutters, and soon a drip line encircles our house like a moat. Each tide is higher than the last. I walked out at high tide and I am amazed to see the cove has spilled out of its banks and halfway toward the cottage. Minnows flick about the base of the holly tree and azalea bushes.

When I return to the cottage, Mom is putting things up on blocks in anticipation of the flood. We turn the kitchen chairs upside down on the table like we do every Friday afternoon at school. Mom gets some bricks from the woodshed, and we hoist up the sofa several inches off the floor. In times of real crisis, Mom loves to rally to the occasion. Now that it's going to flood, Emma gets a bedtime story, and is changed into a sweet terrycloth gown with a cartoon duck sewn on each pocket. Mom sits on the edge of my bed and brushes my hair the way she did when I was very young, and my whole body tingles.

Mom goes into the supply box, and out comes a box of candles and rose matches. Soon the cottage is aglow inside. This place is meant for just this sort of warmth and quiet. The soft light seems to calm all of us. We eat our hot dogs together at the kitchen table in silence, while the world around us gets small and snug as we wait for disaster to strike.

Ira Glass

Catherine Keener, reading an excerpt from Virginia Holman's memoir, Rescuing Patty Hearst. Once Virginia's dad finally convinced her mom to see a doctor, they learned that she'd been psychotic for five years.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program produced today by Lisa Pollak and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Kevin Clark.

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Binti

Muslims rule, damn it.

Ira Glass

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

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