Transcript

286:

Mind Games
Transcript

Originally aired 04.08.2005

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/286

Prologue And Act One.

Ira Glass

The first thing you need to know about Lori is that normally she's not the kind of girl who does this sort of thing at all. She doesn't write to strangers. She doesn't do fan mail. But she was looking at-- you know the page in certain magazines where they have the little pictures of the people who write for the magazine? She was looking at that, and she saw the photo of this writer who she liked.

The picture was blurry, but he had this intense look in his eye. And you could tell he was smart and cute. Both at the same time.

Lori Gottlieb

But I saw this picture and I was like, that guy's my soul mate. I know that's completely insane, but I knew that I could not not contact him because I would aways regret it if I didn't. So I wrote this letter to the magazine, to him, care of the magazine. And I made up a story. I said, I know this is going to sound really weird, but I saw your picture on the contributors page, and you look exactly like this guy that I met in the airport years ago.

This is a complete lie. So I said, I was changing planes and you were going into one gate and I was going into another, and we struck up this conversation. And you were talking about how you wanted to become a writer. And I said, I'm not sure if it's you. I know this sounds really strange, but if you remember this, let me know. And if it's not you, let me know also, just so that I know that it wasn't you.

Ira Glass

Ah, very clever, though, the ending, that he basically has to call you even if he's not the guy, just to put your mind at ease.

Lori Gottlieb

It was my way of getting to meet him.

Ira Glass

She figured that, in the extremely unlikely event that they actually sort of got along and it led to something bigger, well, then she would admit the truth, and no harm done. Remember, she had never done this kind of scam before. She had no idea how complicated it could get.

Lori Gottlieb

So I don't hear from him, which I was relieved by, actually. After I sent the letter, I really regretted actually sending the letter. And I was glad that I never heard from him. And I was really glad the whole thing went away, because I was really sort of just embarrassed that I had done this.

So then one day, like three months later, I get a call. And I was actually waiting for the cable guy. I'd been waiting for, like, three days for the cable guy. So I'm on the phone with the cable company, and they're saying, the guy in the field is going to call you any second on your call waiting, so we're going to hang on with you while we contact him and he's going to call you.

So then my call waiting beeps in. And I say, hello. And the person says, is this Lori? And I say, yes. And the person says, I'm the guy. And I think he's the cable guy. So I say, where have you been? And he says, I know, I'm really sorry. I meant to contact you earlier. And this whole thing goes back and forth until I realize that he's not the cable guy. So I said, you're not the cable guy? And he says, no, I'm the guy from the airport.

And I'm floored, because I can't believe that he's calling, that I'm actually on the phone with him, that I'm talking to this guy that I was momentarily obsessed with. And it's him. And he starts to tell me that he's really glad that he heard from me, because, yes, he's the guy from the airport. And what a coincidence, he's coming to LA to do a story the next day. And can we see each other again?

And I'm thinking to myself, again? This didn't happen. And I'm really worried that he thinks that I'm somebody else, like, maybe he met some other girl in the airport a long time ago and he thinks that I'm that girl. And when he meets me, he's going to be really disappointed that I'm not whoever he was thinking of. But I also don't want to correct him, because then I think if I tell him, you know what? Actually, I made the whole thing up, and I just wanted to get to meet you, he'll think I'm insane and he won't want to meet me. So I decide that I will meet him, but I will tell him the truth immediately upon meeting him.

Ira Glass

Wait, you know there's a third option, and that is that he knows he didn't meet you, but he just wants to meet a girl.

Lori Gottlieb

I thought about that. And there was actually a fourth option, which was he knows that I'm screwing with him, and he's just getting back at me by kind of playing the game.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Lori Gottlieb

Yeah. I mean, there were so many options that were just out of my experience or out of the experience of anything that I had heard about, that I couldn't imagine what was going on. And so, out of fear that I wouldn't be able to meet him, I decided to say nothing.

Ira Glass

I have to say, you were meeting him, like, for him to be the person on the phone when you're expecting the cable guy, did that make it seem more romantic? Like, you guys were meeting, so cute. Or did it make it feel like you didn't even want to deal?

Lori Gottlieb

Oh, no. The minute I found out that it was him, I completely regressed back into my state of obsession. And in terms of meeting cute, actually he was coming to LA and I was going to New York, and we were going to miss each other completely. It was like a romantic comedy, but it turned out that my flight back to LA was an hour before his outgoing flight back to New York. So it turned out we were going to be in the same terminal at the same time at LAX. So he said, wouldn't it be great to meet in the airport again?

Ira Glass

Which, of course, was the single most confusing thing that he could possibly say, because, on the one hand, how fated, how romantic comedy can you get, both at the airport, right? And on the other hand, what the hell is he talking about? They've never met.

Act Two. The Spy Who Loved Everyone.

Lori Gottlieb

And I didn't quite know what to do about that, because he looked so unlike his picture that at that point I wondered if he was actually the guy, or if he had sent-- like he was playing a mind game with me, and he had sent some other guy to kind of go on the date with me.

Ira Glass

Wow. I love how, because you're running a con, suddenly you believe everybody is running a con.

Lori Gottlieb

Well, your sense of reality gets turned upside down. It's like you think I'm an honest person and I did this, so who knows what other people are doing.

Ira Glass

So she sits there. And the longer she sits there, the more that she can see that, yes, when he turns his head this particular way, he probably is the guy in the photo. Not that that helps anything. She is not liking the real him, not attracted.

Lori Gottlieb

And because I'm not interested, I'm kind of deciding, do I need to even tell him that I made this up, or can I just leave?

Ira Glass

Oh, right.

Lori Gottlieb

He doesn't need to know that I made up the story. But then, on the other hand, it was sort of strange because he kept talking about our encounter in the airport. And it was kind of frustrating to me, because I felt like, why is he doing this? I couldn't understand why he would do this. It wasn't just that he had seen my letter and kind of went with it. It was like, he then took the letter to a whole new level of deception.

First he said, when I met him at the bar, the first thing he said to me was, oh, I recognized you immediately. You look exactly the same as you did in the airport. Then, when we were talking, he'd just pepper the conversation with all these little lies, like he said that when we were in the airport he remembered that I was confused about what I wanted to do with my life. There were a bunch of little things. Oh, he said he remembered that I had grown up in Los Angeles, and he remembered where I had gone to college. And these were all things that he could have found out other ways.

Ira Glass

Like, just googling your name on the internet.

Lori Gottlieb

Yeah. So he says to me-- you know, the bar closes-- and he says, do you want to come up and continue talking? And I wanted to leave really badly at that point, but because I'd been there for so many hours, I thought, I cannot leave and not get to the bottom of this story. And I feel so guilty at this point that I really feel like I have to come clean.

So I go upstairs and I say to him, you know, I have to tell you, I really don't think that you're the guy from the airport. It's been really nice meeting you, but you're not the guy. And he says, no, no, no, I am. And he's very insistent about it. And it's sort of like, once he had his own position, he didn't want to change his position.

Ira Glass

Right, it's embarrassing to say, no, no, no, I was just lying there. It's embarrassing.

Lori Gottlieb

Well, it's really embarrassing, especially if you've been so adamant about your position, which he had been. So I say to him, you know, actually it really wasn't you, because I made the whole thing up. And he is stunned into silence. And I think, oh, god, he thinks I'm a freak. And I'm sitting there thinking, I just want to crawl into a hole right now. I should never have told him the truth.

And then he just looks at me very calmly and says, no you didn't. I remember this. And I look at him like, what is he doing? I can't imagine what he's doing. Why is he doing that? Is he trying to save face for me? And he wasn't sort of excited about it. He was cool as a cucumber. He was like, no, it happened, I remember. And it was like it made me seem crazy. Like all of a sudden, it's like-- you know how you appear crazier when you're trying to prove to somebody that you're not crazy?

Ira Glass

Yes.

Lori Gottlieb

And basically, I said, look, I gotta go. And oddly, then he said at the door, he's like, can I kiss you? And I just gave him my cheek. And then he gave me his card. And I left.

Ira Glass

But there were only two possibilities. Either he actually believes that he met you, or he knows he didn't. Right?

Lori Gottlieb

Right, but let's say that he believed that he met me. Reverse the situation. If somebody said to me, you know, I think I met you in the airport, and I believe them. And then they said, I made it all up. I would believe them. I would say, oh, huh. You know, I thought that actually you were telling the truth, but if you say you made it up, you must have made it up. What would be my motive for telling him I made the whole thing up?

Ira Glass

Yeah. I find that very convincing, actually. I wasn't actually sure what I thought up until you said that, but, actually, now I actually believe that he completely knew that he was lying. I actually believe there's no chance that he actually thought he met you.

Lori Gottlieb

There's no reason for him not to believe me, except for the fact that I've already established myself as a liar because I'm telling him I lied and sent you this note that was a complete lie.

Ira Glass

I love how this started off as this innocent little romantic lie. And then, before it's done, you yourself are caught up in this whole world of where you can't even figure out how to convince him. And you can't figure out why he's saying what he's saying. Like, your mind so messed with by the end of this story.

Lori Gottlieb

Yeah. I don't know what to make of it. I mean, years later I don't know what to make of it. It's this thing that I sort of-- whatever went on in that room that night, it stayed with me for so many years because it was so confusing to me.

Ira Glass

Lori Gottlieb. Her new book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough is coming out in February.

[MUSIC - "MR. MAGAZINE" BY THE KNACK]

Act Three. Invisible Girl.

Ira Glass

Act Two, The Spy Who Loved Everyone. We have this story of good intentions and where they lead from Jorge Just.

Jorge Just

It's a Saturday in January, dead of winter, a crowded subway car, New York City.

Subway Announcer

Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

Jorge Just

At the Canal Street station, a guy walks onto the car. He's wearing a hat, gloves, scarf, and coat, but no pants. At the next stop, Spring Street, someone else gets on with no pants. This continues for half a dozen stops. The car's filling up with pantless people who don't seem to know or even notice each other. Reactions vary.

Some riders avert their eyes. Some laugh out loud. Some stare, turn away, stare again. Finally, at 33rd Street, somebody new comes through the car. It's a vendor. She's selling pants.

Female Vendor

Big guys, tall guys. Short pants, medium pants. Anyone need pants? $1.

Jorge Just

It won't shock you to know that this whole scene was staged. The pantless people are part of a group called Improv Everywhere, led by a 26-year-old New Yorker named Charlie Todd. He pulls stunts like this all over New York. He calls them missions. The people that carry them out are called agents. Here's how Charlie explains it.

Charlie Todd

It's always hard for me to describe it, because I always want to use the word "prank." But prank always has that negative connotation of, in order for there to be a prank, there has to be a victim. Somebody who has been fooled and has been embarrassed or humiliated or had the best of. And what we try to do is really the opposite. We try to make people happy.

Jorge Just

For Charlie, happy means fun, and fun means making strange things happen in boring locations. Take mission 27, The Moebius.

Charlie Todd

The Moebius mission was a time loop in a Starbucks.

Jorge Just

It worked like this-- Charlie and six friends choreographed a five-minute sequence of events to repeat over and over again. They planned it at a Starbucks, and they performed it at another, the one across the street. Each agent had their own action. Charlie and his girlfriend started off. They walk in and get in line. Charlie notices a pack of cigarettes in her purse and confronts her about her smoking.

Charlie Todd

She says, don't tell me what to do, and storms out of the Starbucks. And I run out after her, yelling her name. Katie, come back. And then, four minutes later, we walk back into Starbucks, get in line again. And so that's our loop.

Jorge Just

Agent number three spills his water, stands up, gets napkins, comes back to clean up the mess, and repeats. That's his loop. Agent number four answers a phone call, walks through the window for better reception, then goes back to his chair. Agent number five gets up to go to the bathroom, decides the line is too long, returns to his seat. Agent number six simply sneezes at a precise moment.

Charlie Todd

And the capper was my friend, Ken, would walk through the Starbucks with a boom box playing "Shiny Happy People" by R.E.M. And he would walk in one door, go through the entire restaurant, walk out the other door. We repeated that sequence 12 times in a row, for an hour total.

Jorge Just

Charlie says that for the first few repetitions, nobody noticed a thing. It was the argument between Charlie and his girlfriend that finally caught people's attention.

Charlie Todd

By, like, the third or fourth time that I had run out the Starbucks chasing after my girlfriend, people were starting to say, like, well, if I was him, I'd just break up with her. But it wasn't that they thought that they were in a time loop. It was that they thought that we really just kept getting into a fight.

And then by, like, the fifth and sixth time that we did it, people kind of started to get freaked out. There was one woman in particular who we had on the hidden camera, who called her friend and said, you have to come down here. I'm at the Starbucks in Astor Place, and I don't know what's going on.

Jorge Just

I don't know if you've ever been in a Starbucks, but if you do go, you'll notice lots of people doing the same sort of thing over and over again. Sip the coffee, read the paper, update the blog. Stare hard enough and everyone looks like they're in a time loop. It took people almost an hour to find the line between staged scene and reality.

Charlie Todd

By the end of it, by, like, the ninth and tenth time we're doing it, the whole Starbucks is talking to each other, participating in this thing. It's almost as if everybody in that Starbucks felt like they could predict the future. And they started kind of like conducting it, like they would point at Chris and say, oh, and he's going to sneeze right now. And here comes the boom box guy again. And oop, that means the couple's coming back, and there they are! And then, after the 12th time, we just left.

Jorge Just

In a way, this might be the most surprising part of the Moebius mission. After going to that much trouble just to provide a roomful of strangers with an unforgettable memory, the members of Improv Everywhere get up and they leave, and not just because you can't close the curtain on a coffee shop time loop. Charlie posts pictures and descriptions of the missions on his website, but that's as close as he gets to a standing ovation. He's got loftier goals, anyway.

Charlie Todd

I want to live in a world where anything can happen. I guess what I mean by that is-- I don't know. I guess we shouldn't have to rely on television or movies to show us fantastic things and fantastic stories. Let's attempt to bring some of that excitement to the real world, I guess.

Jorge Just

Charlie's missions are cool, but it's his objective that's intriguing-- to create fun, inexplicable experiences for random strangers. It's like giving people a small, unexpected gift, and in the process, making the world seem a bit more enchanted. But as anyone who's read a children's book can attest, mess with the forces of enchantment, and things can go terribly, terribly wrong. That's what happened with a mission Charlie calls the Best Gig Ever.

Charlie Todd

The Best Gig Ever, an idea. My friend, Mark Lee, came up to me one night. And he came up to me and said, let's find a rock band, a struggling rock band, and give them the greatest gig of their life. So I researched on the internet for the next couple of weeks, trying to find the perfect gig, the perfect band who I knew was setting themselves up for just a horrible audience.

And I found this band, Ghosts of Pasha, from Vermont. Never heard of them before. Nobody in New York had probably heard of them, apart from their friends, because it was their first tour ever. And they had just recorded some songs this summer, and they were going to tour in October. And they were playing a gig in New York on Friday night at 8 o'clock for a $5 cover.

Then they had a gig two nights later on Sunday night at the Mercury Lounge, for an $8 cover at 10:00 PM. So I knew, even if they had friends in New York, those friends would come to the Friday night show, and they would not come back, no matter how good the show was. They're not coming out at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night to support their friends again.

Jorge Just

Charlie recruited 35 agents to act as hardcore Ghosts of Pasha fans. They downloaded the six songs on the band's website, and they memorized the lyrics. Some agents made T-shirts and temporary tattoos using the Ghosts of Pasha logo. They timed their arrival, getting to the club as the next-to-last band was getting off the stage.

Charlie Todd

People entered separately or in pairs, didn't act like we knew each other. And by the time they were doing their sound check, all of us were in the room. Not only were they getting ready to perform, we were getting ready to perform, too. And everybody from the previous gig had left. They had three paying customers that night, not counting us.

But instead, they had 38, the 35 of us and the three paying customers. And once they got on stage and said, hello, Mercury Lounge, or whatever they said, we definitely exploded.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

Band Member

We're Ghosts of Pasha.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Jorge Just

You're listening to footage from a video camera that one of Charlie's friends snuck into the Mercury. The club was dark and the camera was hidden in a bag. At first, you can't make anything out, but then the camera goes into night vision mode, and it's all there in black and pale green and white. 35 people isn't much of a crowd, but somehow they make it seem like the place is packed.

I sat and watched the video with Charlie, who pointed out his favorite moments, and showed me how the agents reacted to the music in their own particular ways. Some pushing to the front, others hanging back. He points out another guy near the front of the stage, who's dancing spastically, flinging his arms, shaking to the music.

Charlie Todd

At a show, there is always that one guy who's dancing too much. And like, the guy we're looking at now, he's that guy. So it's appropriate. We're not all doing it, but he is.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

Jorge Just

Charlie spends most of the show taking pictures. Each rock crowd has one of those kids, too. But at a certain moment, even he gets swept up in the excitement and starts acting more like he does when he's seeing his favorite band, The Cure.

Charlie Todd

I will say that, at this moment right here, I am definitely into the show.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

We were requesting songs. We only knew the names of, like, six songs, because they only had six songs on their EP, which they had on their website. And I was screaming for, they have a song called, "What About the Shut-ins." It's like [SINGING] What about the shut-ins of the Second World War.

And I was screaming for "Shut-ins." I was just yelling, shut-ins! Shut-ins! And they played it. I think, probably coincidentally, they were playing it next on the set. And I just went crazy. When they started, when I heard the first notes, I was like, yeah! I got my request.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

Jorge Just

Where's the difference in really, really being into a band and pretending to be really into a band?

Charlie Todd

Yeah, there's not much difference. For that night, it felt just like I was at a Cure show, singing along to "Just Like Heaven." You know, I was at Ghosts of Pasha, singing along to "What About the Shut-ins." It was, whatever. It was the same thing, basically.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

Audience

Pasha, Pasha, Pasha, Pasha.

Band Member

Thanks a lot. Audience, audience, audience, audience.

[CHEERING]

Jorge Just

The band gets offstage, and Charlie and company leave the bar to go celebrate another mission accomplished. A couple of days later, he puts up pictures and reports of the evening on his website. Charlie figured the band would find his page in a month or two. It's basically inevitable once he's posted everything online. What he wasn't sure of is how they would react.

Charlie Todd

When I would tell people this idea, like, as I was preparing for this event, one of the main responses I got was people saying, like, that is so cruel. What's going to happen when this band does their next gig in your city and nobody shows up? That is the cruelest thing I've ever heard. And I really don't buy into that logic. I mean, it's kind of an interesting thing to think about. Like, is it cruel to give somebody the best day of their life just because they'll never have another day like that again? And I don't think so.

I mean, it's kind of like you have a wonderful dream and you wake up. Do you wish you just have bad dreams every night? Or is it-- you know. And I think it's great to have wonderful dreams. And yeah, it kind of sucks for a second, but you'll always have that moment.

Audience

Pasha, Pasha, Pasha, Pasha, Pasha, Pasha, Pasha.

Chris Partyka

We got punked. That show at the Mercury Lounge was a fake. And it just seemed like a blow. Like, it was like a blow to my heart.

Jorge Just

This is Chris Partyka, the guitarist of Ghosts of Pasha. It turns out that finding Charlie's website was a bit worse than waking from a dream. And it happened faster than Charlie expected. Lead singer Milo Finch found out only three days after the show. His discovery was a disturbing capper to an already long and bizarre few days.

To understand how weird this was for the band, you need to hear the story from their perspective. They hadn't even wanted to play the Mercury show in the first place. They were exhausted. They'd just driven from Vermont to Boston for a show Thursday, and to New York for a show on Friday. Ezra, the drummer, and Brad, the bassist, had then driven the six hours back to Vermont on Saturday, then turned around and returned Sunday. Milo stayed in New York, but he'd been up all night partying.

Milo Finch

I remember being on the street before the Mercury Lounge show, completely exhausted, just sitting on the street waiting to play. We didn't want to do it. I remember just sitting there, and it was pretty dead. We thought it was just going to be dead. And we were like, cool. It'd be dead. We could just go up there and play and just get out of there.

Chris Partyka

Get it over with.

Jorge Just

It turns out that the band Charlie picked wasn't just obscure, it was practically brand-new. They'd only been together a couple of months. This was their fourth show ever, the third on their tour.

Milo Finch

It was really weird, because we knew this was our third show. I remember turning to the drummer, to Ezra, and being like, what's going on? Like, in the middle of a song, like, a drum break.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

Jorge Just

What started weird soon got weirder. Keep in mind, they hadn't put out an album. Nobody anywhere had ever heard of them. But somehow, a crowd of New Yorkers knew their lyrics.

Milo Finch

The first song we noticed it was in "New York, New York," one of our songs. And right off the bat, as the chorus, and they came right in with it. I think they came in with it on better timing than I did. They came in right in. And they nailed it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

Honestly, it was really odd. I mean, there was moments where guys were ripping off their shirts and swinging them over their heads in, like, helicopter fashion. There were girls that were pointing at the stage and interacting with me as we were pointing back. It was just like bedlam.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

The exclamation point on the whole evening for me was how creepy it was when the guy jumped up on stage with no shirt. And I just remember him being up front the whole time, punching the air and spinning in circles, and he was all sweaty. And he jumped up on stage at the end of the last song and hugged me. He's all sweaty and clammy, and he's like, thank you. Like, he just kept saying thank you in my ear.

And I was just like, all right, thank you. You know what I mean?

Chris Partyka

Agent V.

Milo Finch

Yeah, Agent V. He seemed like he wasn't really acting, just getting it out.

Jorge Just

The band got into it, too. Milo's favorite moment came at the end of the set.

Milo Finch

During the solo on "Power Bitch." I had kind of just laid on the stage. The crowd rushed the stage was grabbing my hands like this, because I was right on the lip of the stage. And I put the microphone out into the audience, and they were screaming, grabbing at my hand and touching the microphone. And I made sure I slapped every hand that came up, just so no one felt like they didn't get it. And however the act was going on, or whatever they were pulling, or whatever they were doing, I felt that, at that point in the show, we answered it back with something real. And everybody was, at that point, everybody in the room was on the same page.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

Audience

One more song, one more song, one more song, one more song.

Jorge Just

The show was exhausting. They'd played the tour's first ever encore, and left all the energy they had onstage. Like Milo said, when a crowd screams at you like you're the Beatles, you act like you're the Beatles. Only this crowd stopped screaming the moment the last minutes were played. Chris remembers unplugging his amp, looking up, and being shocked that the place was empty. Ghosts of Pasha were suddenly alone.

Milo Finch

I remember we were all standing out on the street, smoking our cigarette after the show, and totally confused. Kind of speechless for a little bit. I think Brad broke the silence. He's always good for breaking the silence. He was like, what the [BLEEP] just happened? What the hell was that, I think was the-- what the hell was that? As he was lighting his cigarette. It was just creepy.

Jorge Just

Creepy, but also pretty sweet.

Chris Partyka

We just had nothing in our heads, so we just decided to fill it with, well, OK, we're really excited and we're in a really good mood, so this is great. Finally, 35 people from New York City randomly came to our show and knew our words and stuff, and that's a good feeling.

Milo Finch

You know what it was? I think some of the talking was, we were addicted to it. We were like, that felt really cool. Like, let's play like that all the time. Let's get shows like that all the time.

Jorge Just

That warm feeling lasted exactly three days, until somebody emailed them a link to Charlie's site. The band met up at the local computer lab and read it together. The next 48 hours were the worst. Email poured in mocking Ghosts of Pasha. Their website's bulletin board was flooded with people making fun of them. It got so bad they had to shut it down.

The band felt like the butt of a big joke. They struggled to take it all in stride, but, inevitably, one member would get mad and the others would have to talk him down. A couple of hours later, they'd be on the phone with each other again, making each other angry, calming each other down.

The guitarist, Chris Partyka, was most affected. He got teased a lot as a kid, which is why he started playing music in the first place. It was something he could do by himself in his room, where nobody could make fun of him. News of the prank hit Chris pretty hard.

Chris Partyka

It's the worst thing I could possibly think of ever happening to me in my life, because I'd been avoiding confrontation my whole life so I wouldn't get made fun of. And the moment I decide that I want to try and be real and do what I really want to do, all of a sudden it's reacted in the same way as it was when I was in kindergarten. And it's just like, what is the difference? I'm 30 years old now and I'm still getting made fun of by people.

Jorge Just

Knowing all this, it's surprising how Chris feels about it now, six months after it happened.

Chris Partyka

It was a gift. It was the gift of, like, yeah, everything's OK. At this point, I don't really feel like anything can hurt me, because I've dealt with what I've never thought that I could deal with before. It was like psychotherapy for my childhood. You know what I mean? Like, everybody in the world, look at Chris, and everyone's like, duh, look at him, duh. And then, what am I supposed to do with that but be like, hey, how you doing? I'm Chris. I play the guitar, and I like it.

Jorge Just

After mulling it over for a few days, the band decided what to do. They wrote into Charlie's website with their enthusiastic reports of the evening. Brad, the bassist, was terse. Chris, the guitarist, was thoughtful. And Milo, the lead singer, was the lead singer. Here's Charlie.

Charlie Todd

The lead singer was really enthusiastic and upbeat about the whole thing. I mean, you could tell that he definitely had like, if not an ego, definitely had a lot of pride in the band, and made that clear, too. He had one line in his report that said, like, no matter what happened, we rocked the house that night, and you knew it. There were elements of like, we realize that it was a prank, but just so you know, we did rock it. Which, I agree with him. They did, they rocked it.

Jorge Just

They rocked the show and snatched the opportunity. Bands need publicity, and Ghosts of Pasha knew a happy story sells better than a sad one. And they were right. The band was interviewed in Spin Magazine. An A&R guy gave them a call. In other words, Ghosts of Pasha played along. They took Charlie's story about what happened that night and made it their own.

But not everybody's ready to make themselves at home in Charlie's world. Some people prefer their life just the way it is.

Christopher Rawson

All right, my name's Christopher Rawson. I am a fine arts student. I'm going to New York University. And they basically threw me a fake birthday party.

Charlie Todd

The idea was to throw a birthday party for a stranger, go up to someone in a bar, at random, and act like it was his birthday.

Jorge Just

Charlie gathered about 30 Improv Everywhere agents, and headed to a bar called Dempsy's to pick the evening star. He decided on Chris, who was sitting with a friend and a full pitcher of beer. They looked like they were settling in for the night. Charlie called the other agents and described Chris, and then he walked over and started the party.

Charlie Todd

And I said, hey, Ted, how's it going? Sorry we're a little early for your birthday party. But thank you for inviting us.

Christopher Rawson

They came up to me, and they were like, you know, just really addressed me as this other person, as Ted, and were just like, hey, what's up buddy? Happy birthday.

Charlie Todd

And he looks at me. And at first, he thinks it's just a case of misunderstanding. He's like, oh, I'm sorry, you've got the wrong guy. I'm not Ted. And I just laughed, and said, that's really funny, Ted. You did invite us to your birthday party, We got the evite.

Christopher Rawson

A few minutes later, more people started coming in and everybody was wishing me happy birthday and calling me by Ted. And everybody seemed to have this memory or this experience that they had with me in the past, which obviously was completely foreign to me.

Charlie Todd

I had sent out an email to everybody involved with some specifics about this guy, Ted Hine, and said that he was 25 years old, that he went to the UNC-Chapel Hill, that he worked at Oppenheimer Funds, that his favorite band was Dave Matthews. Like, we came up with all these specifics about him. And I told everybody, like, pick out what your relationship is to Ted, figure out what your story is and stick to it.

Christopher Rawson

People were giving me hugs and being like, oh, I haven't seen you in so long. What have you been up to? And they had all kind of brought in little gift cards, and on all of them they said, remember spring break, things relating to school. A few of the people thought I worked for some sort of bank or something.

Charlie Todd

And he got really freaked out, which I didn't necessarily anticipate. But looking back on it, I guess I probably should have anticipated that that would freak somebody out.

Christopher Rawson

I was definitely freaked out and suspicious. I mean, it seemed very confrontational and very grotesque even, I would say. So yeah, it was kind of like a really bad dream.

Jorge Just

Chris, it turns out, wasn't the brash 25-year-old East Villager that Charlie thought he'd chosen. He was actually a college student, a very young one, who had recently transferred to NYU. If Charlie's the kind of guy who goes out in the world and makes things happen, then Chris is the kind who stays closer to home. He's thoughtful and sensitive and shy. Chris likes to have things in a certain, understandable order, and Charlie wasn't part of it.

Christopher Rawson

There was no sense that it was kind of a charade. I mean, it all felt very natural. It felt really close to reality, but yet it was so strange and different that it couldn't be. So there was definitely the worry, too, on my part, I guess, that I was going insane maybe, because it made no sense. So I kind of felt like I was losing my mind in that sense, like, the ability to rationalize what was happening, because I really couldn't.

Jorge Just

He showed them his driver's license, but they laughed it off. And Chris couldn't shake the feeling that a guy named Ted, the real Ted, could show up at any moment to find Chris drinking Ted's free drinks, and even worse, blowing out Ted's candles and eating Ted's cake. But every time he tried to leave, a fake friend would stop him, beg him to stay, buy him a drink. And eventually, he just became Ted.

Christopher Rawson

It was pretty much my only option. I think that was the moment of the shift, was kind of realizing that I was like, OK, well, if they all think I'm Ted, then what the hell.

Charlie Todd

He starts answering to Ted. He starts introducing himself as Ted to kind of the late comers. In the end, he was not only just agreeing that he was Ted, like, he was corroborating all of our stories.

Christopher Rawson

People were like, oh, remember this? And I was like, oh, yeah, that was great. What a great time. And just kind of played along with it. I think I just kind of decided that maybe I could, by assuming that identity, have some control or some say in the situation.

Charlie Todd

It was disappointing at first. I see this guy get freaked out, and I was like, oh, no. Like, my whole idea is to make this guy's night. To watch that transformation, to the guy playing pool, doing shots, and getting phone numbers, was really a blast to watch. And I can't decide, in the end, whether I picked the perfect guy or whether I picked the worst guy.

Jorge Just

There may have been a worse Ted somewhere in the world, but probably not in that bar. Sure, he'd had fun, even let them convince him to take the gift cards home. Chris rose to the challenge and became Ted. But by the next morning, he was Chris again, only he was Chris with another man's gift cards, which there was no way he was going to spend.

Christopher Rawson

I don't know, it became kind of this weird collection of sacred objects almost. For a year, I kind of saw them as this other, these empowered things.

Jorge Just

It's sort of like in the sci-fi movie when you-- you know, you come back from being back in time, and you reach in your pocket and you still have the [INAUDIBLE].

Christopher Rawson

Right, exactly. Or when Tom Cruise wakes up in Eyes Wide Shut in the mask from the night before. It was on his pillow. As much as I wanted to forget it, I woke up and those gift cards were there. It was like, oh, I guess that did happen.

Jorge Just

Chris' response over time was different from Ghosts of Pasha's. They came to appreciate the idea in their own way, but it just left Chris feeling vulnerable and a little paranoid. He hated the thought that all those strangers at the bar could just pop up again at any moment. One day, he was sitting on a bench in Union Square when a guy walked up to him and said, hey, Ted. He waved him off, but it was freaky. It didn't help that his memory of the whole thing was a little hazy. For example, he didn't remember giving his phone number out to anyone that night. So you can imagine how he felt when Charlie called him a year later.

Charlie Todd

And I said, hey, Ted. It's Charlie. How's it going? Your birthday's coming up in a few weeks. We want to know when you want to celebrate it. We want to throw you another party. Wanted to know what you wanted. Like, last year, we got you those Best Buy gift certificates. Do you want that again or is there a different store? Give me a call back. And I gave my number.

I didn't hear from him. And as it turns out, a friend of mine knows someone who's a bartender at Dempsy's, where we did Ted's birthday. And Ted is still a regular at that bar, I assume, and he told this bartender, he went up to her and said, do you know the people who did that birthday thing to me last year? And he said, well, could you tell them to stop calling me? And if they're going to be coming around this bar, I'm going to have to stop coming here.

It really kind of broke my heart, because it had been such a wonderful night and a wonderful experience for us. And it seemed like it had been a wonderful experience for him.

Jorge Just

I mean, but is it? I mean, did it go well? Is it a success if, a year later, Ted's story has changed?

Charlie Todd

Well, I mean, it does kind of-- that response definitely made me sad. But regardless of how he feels about it now, I do know that that night was awesome. I kind of sound like the lead singer of Ghosts of Pasha now. Like, I want to tell him and kind of say the same things to him that that guy said to me. You know, like, whatever you say, you had a blast that night. But he did. He did get his $300, and he did get completely drunk, and make friends, even if for only a night. So that night, as it exists in my memory and in the memory of everybody who was there, it was a success.

Ira Glass

In the end, Chris did to Charlie what Charlie does so well to other people. He pretended to have an experience that he wasn't actually having, and Charlie thought the fake-out was real. And when he found out the truth, Charlie reacted the way other people do to him in that situation. He was sort of upset, a little hurt. And then he comforted himself by deciding that some part of the fake-out was real.

And that's the danger of what Charlie does. He believes you'll enjoy sharing his fantasy world whether you do or not. He asks you to leave your own reality and step into his, just like every crazy pantsless guy on the subway.

Jorge Just. Coming up, mind games that can turn a girl invisible in front of a neighborhood, a city, and the national media. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio international, when our program continues.

Act 3.

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, Mind Games. And we've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, Invisible Girl.

You probably remember the story of Elizabeth Smart. Back in 2002, she was abducted from her home in Salt Lake City by a man who believed that God had told him to take her as his wife. She was 14. He was 49. And he already had a wife, Wanda, who was 57 years old. His name was Brian David Mitchell, but he called himself Emmanuel. Thousands of volunteers searched for Elizabeth Smart for months. Her picture was everywhere.

But now we know that two months after the kidnapping, Mitchell and Wanda brought Elizabeth to the place that nobody would expect them to go, downtown Salt Lake City, right in the middle of the whole thing. They'd walk the streets. Nobody recognized her. Scott Carrier lives in this neighborhood, the one where Elizabeth Smart lived, the one where her captors brought her later. And he talked to his neighbors about what happened in their heads that they didn't recognize her.

Scott Carrier

Our neighborhood is on a hillside, sandwiched between the University of Utah and downtown. The closest thing we've got here to a liberal enclave, and relatively diverse, at least economically. At the bottom of the hill are the mansions built in the late 1800s, the street lined with old sycamores, some shops and stores, apartment buildings. Going up the hillside, the houses generally get newer and bigger.

Elizabeth Smart and her family lived about a mile from our house. After she was abducted, her pictures seemed to be everywhere, taped to light posts, in every storefront window. She was on the news every day for months. But she was here, with her two abductors, walking around on the streets, and nobody figured it out. Nobody recognized her, partly because they were disguised.

They wore white robes. Elizabeth and Wanda had their heads covered, veils across their faces, revealing only their eyes. Mitchell, or Emmanuel, had a turban, a long beard, and a walking stick. For two and a half months, from August until October, they stayed pretty much right in the neighborhood, and a lot of people saw them.

Milo

Yeah, I did. I saw them. I saw them walking. I was at the gas station, and we were washing the car.

Trent Harris

Yeah, they were walking right past Blockbuster Video, right towards the supermarket.

Dana Costello

And we were up on 4 South, at the Wendy's. And we went in there for a second to see if they had salad bar. And they didn't, but on the way out, he came up, Emmanuel, or Brian David Mitchell.

Milo

And they were all wearing their robes. And they were walking slowly up the street-- I don't know where they were going-- in a single-file line.

Man 4

I saw him. And the guy, he stopped, and he stopped, talking to somebody. I think he asked for a cigarette.

Dana Costello

And the two women stood back a little bit. And he came up, and he was very humble, and he asked for some money for food. He didn't seem threatening.

Man 4

But I saw the girl eye to eye, and she looked familiar. Even that, her pictures, were in the door, you know? But it did not click. It did not click.

Scott Carrier

It wasn't like they just showed up out of nowhere. Mitchell and Barzee had been homeless, on the street, wearing their robes for a couple years before they took Elizabeth. My friend, Trent Harris, thought he knew the guy all too well.

Trent Harris

Well, he was kind of a fixture on the streets of Salt Lake City. He was always asking for money in front of the ZCMI Shopping Mall. I remember he'd sit out there with this just pathetic look on his face. Oh, he was annoying. He was really annoying.

Milo

I'd seen them before, and I thought they were just crazy extremist fundamentalists who'd walk around.

Scott Carrier

That's my son, Milo. He's the same age as Elizabeth and went to grade school with her. We have a picture of Milo and Elizabeth at a birthday party when they were four. He's dressed as a cowboy. She's a princess. My wife, Hilary, gave her dance lessons. In September, Milo saw Elizabeth with Mitchell and Barzee when he was at a gas station washing the car.

Milo

They walked by me. I was within 10 feet of them. I'm pretty sure she could've recognized me if she'd just seen me. I bet she did.

Scott Carrier

But she didn't say anything, and Milo didn't recognize her.

Milo

I didn't think anything of it, because that's ridiculous. Like, she's walking around in the middle of daylight. It wouldn't be her. It didn't even cross my mind that it would be her. Who would do that? Who would actually take the person that everybody is looking for, the most sought after person in the whole state pretty much? That's risking your life. If somebody found him and recognized her, they would've killed him.

Scott Carrier

Part of the reason the disguise worked is because, whether we saw him as a pest, or a harmless eccentric, or a crazy fundamentalist, we saw him as a loser. Someone to be pitied or scorned, written off, ignored, forgotten. And we don't really look at people like that. We look away.

There's another reason we didn't recognize Elizabeth, and it has to do with a thing that's specific to this culture and this place right here. In any other state, if you saw Mitchell and Barzee walking along with a young girl in tow, you'd think it was their daughter. But when we saw it here, we thought she was his new polygamist wife.

Trent Harris

And I remember saying to myself, you know, I'm used to seeing Emmanuel David with one woman, but now he had two, and the other one was much younger. And I remember thinking, how did he manage to pull that off?

Dana Costello

And when he came up to us the day at Wendy's, I felt bad for those two women..

Scott Carrier

Here's my friend, Dana Costello.

Dana Costello

And I especially noticed that the other one was young. But I didn't think that's their daughter. I assumed immediately, just in my head, that she was his new wife. It just came to my head. Oh, look, he got another wife.

Scott Carrier

You didn't anything bad about it when you saw that he had two wives.

Dana Costello

I didn't. I really didn't.

Scott Carrier

Officially, the Mormons stopped believing in polygamy in 1890, but it still goes on here and there. And many people in Salt Lake City have polygamist ancestors. And when we run into it, there's a sense of shame and embarrassment mixed in with American ideals of freedom of religion. And the end result is we just ignore it and let it be. We don't want to look at it.

What's especially annoying about this is the possibility that Mitchell was smart enough to figure it out and use this weakness against us. The most amazing encounter with Elizabeth happened in September, not long before the threesome left town to spend the winter in southern California. There was a party in a big house full of bohemians. Mitchell, Barzee, and Elizabeth were walking by, maybe on their way back to their camp in the foothills, and they stopped in.

Amber Meriwether and Russell Ferrell were there that night.

Amber Meriwether

There's always people in costumes at the parties there. So we just thought that they were just people in costume, just being silly.

Russell Ferrell

He drew a lot of attention to himself, because he had a lot of preaching going on. He was an obvious preacher, but it seemed dichotomous that he was meanwhile bumming beers.

Amber Meriwether

It looked like he had never seen food or drink in his entire life. The man's was obviously starving and a complete obnoxious drunk.

Russell Ferrell

Finally, he got a hold of some local-made absinthe, which is the tincture of wormwood made famous by the impressionists back in the turn of the century.

Amber Meriwether

He was just drinking it like crazy, and he was getting super sloshed. And he was trying to get the two girls to drink it.

Scott Carrier

Somebody at the party took a picture of Elizabeth standing there in the kitchen. You may have seen it, a veil across her face, her eyes so clearly now the same eyes in the posters hanging up all over town. The people at the party were so close, but still they couldn't see her. It was just too absurd. Amber even went up and talked to her.

Amber Meriwether

I walked into the kitchen, and I remember looking at her a couple of times and thinking that she looked familiar. I had been seeing her pictures everywhere, but I didn't connect the two. I just thought, I mean, come on, you're not going to think Elizabeth Smart's going to be drunk at a party. Or I guess she wasn't drunk. I don't think she drank anything, actually.

But I walked up to her and I just asked her, where do I know her from? That she looks really familiar. And she didn't really say anything back. And the man, Emmanuel, came up, he said, no, you don't know her.

Russell Ferrell

Someone said, well, was this guy using some sort of black magic over the whole scenario? Putting a veil, so to speak, over everyone's perception? His approach to her and the other woman was very-- he was quite the patriarch.

Amber Meriwether

I think he was so believing of his righteousness or his potency of his prophecy, and he would do these little things to prove to himself, more and more so, that he was being protected by God because it was right what he was doing, that every time he took Elizabeth out and that she wasn't noticed, it was true that Elizabeth was his. And he really believed that he could be protected in this way, that he made it happen in this weird way. It did happen.

He had literally put a spell over Salt Lake City, that no one would see him. It was magical. I think he believed that.

Scott Carrier

I think it's more likely we didn't see Elizabeth because we thought the guy who took her would be a monster, a bogeyman, and we expected him to appear in that form. Mitchell looked like the opposite of a bogeyman. A bogeyman stands in the shadows and jumps out at you. Mitchell stood right in front of us and sort of became invisible.

When Elizabeth was discovered nine months after her abduction, we all realized our mistake. And it was like a combination of being really happy she was alive mixed with feelings of being duped in a rather serious and sinister way. We realized we were partly to blame, that there was something within us that made us deny the obvious. And that hurt. My son, Milo, thought about it for months afterwards. He's 17 now.

Scott Carrier

Did you feel bad when you realized that you'd missed it?

Milo

Yeah.

Scott Carrier

Tell me what you felt like when you heard it.

Milo

Well, I mean, when I heard that she was walking around with that guy, it was like, holy crap, I've been right there. Like, I've walked by those guys, and just passed it off as nothing. It sounds bad, but the way that he kept her was he convinced her to stay with him. He took her up into the mountains and-- he's not a good guy. He's a terrible person. He took her up into the mountains and somehow brainwashed her, convinced her that she was meant to be with him and he was the son of God. He thinks he's Jesus.

If I could have been there-- Like, if I had known then, if I had just been able to think about it-- I don't know, it made me pretty angry. Like, maybe if I could just go back to then, that day. Thinking about that more than anything.

Scott Carrier

I saw Elizabeth a couple weeks ago, downtown between the shopping malls. She was on one side of the street and I was on the other. At first, I thought she was a woman in her 20s, maybe a legal secretary, because that's how she was dressed. But then, when the light changed and we walked by each other, I thought, who is that? She looks like a young Mariel Hemingway, really distinctive and beautiful eyes. And then I realized it was Elizabeth Smart, right as she went by me. It was like seeing a rock star or a mythic heroine. She'd journeyed to a dark world, and it seemed, looking at her, that she'd come back with her innocence intact. And this made me feel hopeful, like maybe things are going to turn out OK.

Ira Glass

Scott Carrier in Salt Lake City. His story received support from hearingvoices.com, which gets some of its support from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Julie Snyder and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, and Lisa Pollak. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Aaron Scott. Seth Lind is our production manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where we have all kinds of brand-new holiday merch for your holiday shopping needs. Also, if you're so inclined, you can go there and donate to our show. WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia, who insists,

Lori Gottlieb

I'm the guy from the airport.

Ira Glass

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

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