Transcript

315:

The Parrot and the Potbellied Pig
Transcript

Originally aired 07.21.2006

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/315

Prologue.

Ira Glass

When Rosie was a kid, they had a dog named Fu, a Shih Tzu. And Rosie's mom swears that she knows the exact day the dog went bad. It came when she heard about a discount way to get a dog grooming. It was this grooming school.

Rosie Schaap

Her friend said that it didn't cost much, and they were very good. But my mother believes that this experience sort of ruined Fu. That somehow they tortured him and did something wrong in his first grooming.

Ira Glass

What? He went to get his hair cut, basically, and they ruined him as a dog?

Rosie Schaap

Well, he got like shaved. And he got like full-on, summer shave. And he came back a different dog, according to my mother.

Ira Glass

After the grooming, he became a biter. Rosie got bit. Other people got bit. There were trips to the hospital, lots of drama. Fu hated people. And then the parrot arrived, Judy the parrot.

The neighbors had actually bought this parrot without understanding what a lot of trouble that parrots can be. Parrots can be very anxious birds, especially when you leave them alone. They can pull out their feathers. They can screech like a smoke alarm.

Rosie Schaap

So they took the bird cage and put a note on it that said, take this bird or we're going to cook it, and left the cage in front of our door. We were like two doors down the hall. So we took her in. And we didn't know-- we'd had dogs and cats, but we'd never had a bird. And before you knew it, we all loved her. You know, my mother she'd let the bird perch on the edge of her coffee cup in the morning and drink her morning coffee with her.

And Fu and Judy just quickly became best friends. I don't know what it was, but they just connected. And it was very cute, because you'd see this little, matted Shih Tzu and this like eight inch high parrot pacing the floor of the apartment together like they were walking down the hall having a chat.

Ira Glass

Dog and parrot kind of strolling.

Rosie Schaap

They would stroll together. And Fu would roll on his back. He hated it when any person came near his stomach. She could crawl all over him. And she did. She would crawl up his chest, up to his face, peck at his face like she was giving him kisses.

Ira Glass

This dog that would actually try to bite all of you?

Rosie Schaap

Yes, he loved it, loved the parrot. I mean, he'd had dog girlfriends before, and he got along fine with the cats. But we'd never seen him develop a friendship like that.

Ira Glass

Oh, this is like the big--

Rosie Schaap

This was the big friendship, big romance.

Ira Glass

Of his life?

Rosie Schaap

I think so.

Ira Glass

So this went on for a long, long time. And then, one day, Fu came into the kitchen to eat, and the whole family was there including the parrot, Judy.

Rosie Schaap

And she flew down to the floor and went over to Fu's bowls and, as I remember it, drank a little bit of his water. But then, she went into his food dish. And I don't know how that hadn't happened before. She took some bit of dog food into her beak, and, in just like a split second, he went over and bit the top-feathers right out of her head.

And she squawked, and squawked, and squawked. And sort of hyperventilated in this very alarming bird way, because they're so tiny, and you can hear them panting, and it sounds like they're going to just die from anxiety.

Ira Glass

It's interesting how the traumatic event in his life was a bad haircut, and then he, basically, turns around and gives that to her.

Rosie Schaap

Yeah, but the bird was just ready to pass-out, she was so terrified. But after that, she pretty much stayed in my room with the door closed. Fu would come to the bedroom door and scratch, and scratch, and cry, and cry. And it was just awful. And she would usually squawk, not in a friendly, hey buddy, I miss you way, but in a fearful way. It was his best friend, and he'd just sit there at the door sort of scratching and pining. And that was that, really.

Ira Glass

So he drove his best friend away.

Rosie Schaap

Because he just snapped. In one moment he was like a dog more than he was a parrot's pal.

Ira Glass

It was like suddenly he turned into a real dog, and then it's like she realized, oh, he's a dog. My friend is a dog. And then she became a parrot again.

Rosie Schaap

I don't know if she realized he was a dog, and she was a bird. Whatever their essential animal nature's, what we knew was that they had been best friends. And in some ridiculous, anthropomorphic way, it looked very romantic. And then it was totally betrayed.

Ira Glass

When he snapped at her.

Rosie Schaap

When he snapped at her. And then it was over. I think it was just betrayal.

Ira Glass

I know, but he made one, little mistake. I don't know why, but I'm identifying with the dog here, very strongly.

Rosie Schaap

Well, we did too. We did too. It was horrible to hear him pining at the bedroom door. I mean, it really was like this awful, tragic romance. And he pined, and pined, and pined.

Ira Glass

He pined for her, Rosie says, until the day he died. Judy never forgave him. We talked to anybody who knows about parrots, they'll tell you that people are constantly misunderstanding them and underestimating them. I was talking to this guy for this week's show who did research with parrots at MIT. And he was explaining to me how they're amazingly smart. For instance, he says that it's actually a myth that they only mimic words. They actually learn the words. They use them correctly. But it's one thing for people to misunderstand parrots, until I heard about Fu and Judy, I had no idea that other animals might make the same mistake. If only Fu knew how to treat a parrot.

But today on our show, we have stories of people underestimating what certain animals are like. Not just parrots, no, no, no, how narrow would that be. How small minded, how limited the vision and scope. No, no, we will not just confine ourselves to parrots this hour. We will also be talking about pot-bellied pigs. It's the Parrot and the Pot-bellied Pig. By the end of this hour, people get thrown in jail, relationships end, love affairs start, all because of these two animals.

For WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Act one of our show today, Parrot. Act two-- Pig. Act three- Combo Platter, in which David Sedaris has a story with both the parrot and the pot-bellied pig. Stay with us.

Act One. Parrot.

Ira Glass

Act One, Parrot. Eric and Alex have been telling their parrot story since they were in school years ago. They've told this story many, many times to friends, to family, to strangers. In fact, the night before they came into the studio to tell this story, they went to a bar, and they practiced telling the story to random customers including, at one point, an actual movie star, who happen to be in town filming a big, blockbuster movie.

They've told the story so many times that at this point they're not exactly sure they even have the facts right. Which means something to them, because they are reporters. Facts are their business. And, in fact, this story began as an assignment in journalism school. Alex turned in the story for a class, but, even after he did that, the two of them continued to run down leads and interview people for the story. They could not stop themselves, such is their crush on this story. The story begins in Central Park in New York City at some party thrown by some big company.

Alex Lane

Somehow, a young wannabe actor, aspiring actor of Puerto Rican descent from Brooklyn, named Johnny de Villa winds up at this party.

Ira Glass

You mean, just like wanders in?

Alex Lane

Yeah, maybe he's there with a girlfriend. I'm sure Eric recalls why he's there.

Eric Holm

I have no recollection whatsoever. But I think sometime we say, he crashed the party. And sometimes we say that he-- in any case, he got there early, very early, and he stayed late, very late.

Alex Lane

And he drank.

Eric Holm

And it may well be, as we recall it now, that he smoked a lot of pot.

Alex Lane

Smoked a marijuana cigarette.

Ira Glass

But it may not be.

Alex Lane

It may not be.

Eric Holm

That's the way we tell it now.

Ira Glass

That he's high?

Eric Holm

Yeah, but in any case he decides to wander out on his own at about 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. And he wanders through the park for a little while. And he wanders through these gates that are open.

Alex Lane

Well, yeah. In this section of the story, we should say is his recollection, what he later told police. So he wanders in and, before he knows it, there's sort of a distant splashing and sea lions. And he's just sort of walking and thinking.

Ira Glass

And he thinks that literally, they accidentally just left the gates open to the entire zoo. That's his story?

Eric Holm

And, of course, the zoo told us that that would be absolutely impossible.

Alex Lane

Maybe there's some plausibility, but it's unlikely that they left the aviary open.

Eric Holm

Which is where Johnny found himself after a little bit of wandering. And the door is wide open. He strolls right in, and, the way he tells it, there was a long line of cages.

Alex Lane

There was a mist.

Eric Holm

A mist, he says.

Ira Glass

A mist indoors?

Eric Holm

Well, he may have been high.

Alex Lane

Or he may not have. He definitely said, there was this mist. And the mist sort of cleared. and before him was a parrot with brilliant green plumage and a red tuft on its head. And they locked eyes.

Eric Holm

He looked at the parrot. The parrot looked at him. And they had an instant connection, he says.

Alex Lane

And so he says to the parrot, "you want to go?" And the parrot says to him, "yeah." And he says, "Let's go."

Ira Glass

The parrot says him, "yeah?"

Eric Holm

As he recalls.

Alex Lane

As he recalls. Which is unlikely, because this is not a talking parrot.

Eric Holm

This is a crucial plot point, actually, that it's not a talking parrot. What it is though, is it's an extremely endangered parrot, which Johnny does not know. And the third, and most important thing that he doesn't know, is that this bird is suffering from an acute respiratory illness which necessitates that it take antibiotics. And the zoo has been treating it with these antibiotics for several days or weeks.

Alex Lane

So it's endangered. It's valued at $20,000. And it's sick. And he walks out of the zoo with it on his shoulder and gets on the subway.

Eric Holm

And he takes this parrot all the way back to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Alex Lane

But the parrot is not a domestic pet. It's a wild parrot. It's flying around.

Eric Holm

It's squawking. It's poorly behaved. So even though Johnny is a vegetarian and animal lover, he is starting to have a hard time dealing with this.

Alex Lane

Buyer's remorse.

Eric Holm

Yeah, buyer's remorse.

Ira Glass

Now you know, buyer's remorse is traditionally a phrase that is used for people who buy something.

Alex Lane

Traditionally, yes.

Ira Glass

So Johnny reads up on birds, Alex and Eric say. Tries to figure out what to feed it. Tries to do right by the bird. But the bird is wreaking such havoc, flying around his apartment and screaming, that unsure what else to do, Johnny tries something that he has only heard of, he clips the parrot's wings. He clips them with scissors-- scissors. This rare, endangered species, a $20,000 bird.

Owning a parrot has turned out to be very different than Johnny expected, which actually seems to be what always happens to people who own a parrot. And after a month, he wants to unload it on somebody else.

Alex Lane

He has a friend named Ed Jupp.

Eric Holm

Another actor. They've met on the set somewhere. In fact, Ed's been in some movies. He was in a Ron Howard movie called The Paper.

Alex Lane

He was in Born on the 4th of July.

Eric Holm

He was in Born on the 4th of July. His full-time day-job or one of the ways he makes money, is that he puts together resumes for other actors. He's doing this for Johnny and expects to be paid about $500. The other thing is that it's hard for him to get this work done, because he has a girlfriend named Dawn.

Alex Lane

By the way, Ed happens to be confined to a wheelchair. He's a paraplegic.

Eric Holm

As is Dawn.

Alex Lane

As is Dawn.

Eric Holm

And while Ed's trying to work, Dawn rolls in every day.

Alex Lane

--15 or 20 times a day during his working hours. He has sort of a home office. She rolls in looking for kisses and attention. And it also happens that, I think, she's always wanted a parrot.

Eric Holm

So when Johnny comes to Ed and says, well you know, I don't have $500, but I've got this parrot.

Ira Glass

For Ed, it's just like it's solving a bunch of problems at once.

Eric Holm

Ed finds this to be a marvelous opportunity.

Ira Glass

Now Ed and Dawn don't know, certainly, that its been stolen from the Central Park Zoo. And, most importantly, they too do not realize that this bird has been suffering, now for a month untreated with a serious respiratory infection. Not knowing this, they're chain smokers. And their apartment was--

Alex Lane

Inhospitable for an endangered sick parrot. So we picture the parrot sort of gasping and wheezing when it gets to Dawn and Ed's apartment, because we were.

Eric Holm

--When we went to their apartment to talk to them.

Ira Glass

So Johnny gives them the parrot as payment for resume services, Eric and Alex say. And immediately there are things that Dawn does not like about this bird.

Eric Holm

Well, first of all, it's not very lively. Well, it's had its wings clipped, and it's dying.

Alex Lane

And, most importantly, it doesn't talk.

Eric Holm

And that's all she wanted. She didn't want just a parrot. The only thing she wants in a parrot is that this parrot will speak with her. But they hatch a plan, they're going to barter this parrot.

Alex Lane

And so they start calling stores, pet shops, bird stores.

Ira Glass

Barter you mean for a better parrot?

Eric Holm

For a parrot that talks. So when they call up and describe this bird to the stores, they all say, yeah right.

Ira Glass

Oh, they understand the bird that it is.

Eric Holm

There is no possible way that you could have this bird. Now they get this reaction several times. But, finally, they put in a call to a shop called 33rd & Bird, which is located on 33rd Street right near the Empire State Building in Manhattan And the woman who picks up the phone there--

Alex Lane

Her name is Barbara.

Eric Holm

Is that true?

Alex Lane

I believe so. I wouldn't swear to it.

Eric Holm

This is the one woman whose name we don't know, and she becomes central to this story.

Alex Lane

But we do know, she has sort of a volunteer night job at Beauty and the Beast, in addition to her pet store job.

Ira Glass

Beauty and the Beast, the Broadway show?

Alex Lane

The Broadway show, yeah. She's some kind of a stage grip.

Eric Holm

Where she works with--

Alex Lane

--a fellow animal lover.

Eric Holm

Who works at--

Alex Lane

--the Central Park Zoo.

So this woman, Barbara, who works at 33rd & Bird, because of this other friendship, knew all about the theft of the thick-billed parrot.

Eric Holm

What are the odds?

Alex Lane

What are the odds?

Eric Holm

And the thing is, that she doesn't know, really, who she's talking to. Because, apparently, bird smuggling is a big, big deal. And there are people who will smuggle birds into this country, smuggle birds out of this country. There are people who are willing to buy birds on the black market.

Alex Lane

And she's aware of this, working in a pet store.

Eric Holm

Right, and, apparently, people who do it are ruthless criminals who will, she suspects, shoot you as soon as look at you.

Alex Lane

And so this is who she thinks is on the other end of the phone.

Ira Glass

Can I just say, and maybe the whole bird smuggling thing is totally legit, but, OK, you're a professional criminal, or you're somebody who wants to to into the criminal game, and you have a choice. You could smuggle a tiny amount of cocaine across the border into the United States and make a lot of money, or you can carry a talking bird.

Alex Lane

It might not be as big a problem as we think.

Ira Glass

Right, OK.

Eric Holm

It is a legitimate, underground--

Alex Lane

Fear-- on her. And she's afraid. And she thinks she's dealing with serious, hardened criminals.

Ira Glass

So she calls the police, leaves a message about the stolen bird, very valuable bird smugglers, the whole thing. But this is New York City, nobody calls her back-- days pass. Meanwhile, Dawn keeps calling her-- remember, Barbara thinks that Dawn is a contraband bird smuggler up to no good-- Dawn keeps calling to ask just one thing--

Alex Lane

"Do you have a bird that talks?"

Ira Glass

The police won't call her back. She's going to rescue that poor bird herself. Alex and Eric say that she calls the cops one last time. There's a message saying that she's going in, here's the address.

Eric Holm

If you never hear from me again, look for me here.

Alex Lane

Look for me at this apartment building on 10th Avenue.

Eric Holm

And she hangs up the phone. She picks up an empty cage, picks up a bird that talks.

Alex Lane

Gets in a cab.

Eric Holm

She strides right to the elevator of this building where Ed and Dawn live in their smoky apartment with their wheezy bird.

Alex Lane

And, meanwhile, the precinct has finally checked their voicemail.

Eric Holm

And they're in the next elevator over.

Alex Lane

As she's riding up--

Eric Holm

They are about a minute in front of her.

Alex Lane

And they're armed to the teeth.

Eric Holm

They've got their SWAT gear on. They've got bulletproof vests--

Alex Lane

Shotguns.

Eric Holm

Riot helmets. They to think that they're going to bust up an international bird smuggling ring. And so when she gets off the elevator, all she sees is this massive SWAT team with one of those battering rams yelling, police, open up. And they bang down the door.

Alex Lane

And they take Ed by the scruff of the neck--

Eric Holm

They start screaming, where's the bird, where's the bird-- the cops do.

Alex Lane

They mace them.

Eric Holm

They-- OK, that's not true. In some tellings of the story, I have Dawn being yanked out of her chair and thrown to the ground, at the critical moment, when Barbara from 33rd & Bird walks in.

Alex Lane

Yeah, and carrying a birdcage--

Eric Holm

Carrying a birdcage. And we do know that the following exchange took place. Dawn looks up, and she sees Barbara from 33rd & Bird, and she said, "did you bring me a bird that talks?"

Ira Glass

Is there any reason to believe that the part about the SWAT team in the story is true?

Alex Lane

No, not at all.

Ira Glass

There is no SWAT team?

Eric Holm

It was probably, what, six detectives or something? That's actually-- when we went back and consulted our notes, we realized that the SWAT team part of it, that we'd been telling with more and more vigor--

Ira Glass

But in fact, it was in fact?

Alex Lane

Building security. With several police officers.

Eric Holm

Several police officers. Six detectives flashing their badges, I think, is what we said at the time.

Johnny does get charged. Ed and Dawn--

Alex Lane

Ed and Dawn are let off. But Johnny gets, not only charged, but perp-walked. So the cops call the media and say--

Eric Holm

A routine happening in New York City, where the cops will alert the media to the fact that the guy they just arrested is going to be walking between the cop car and the police precinct. His head is spinning at this point.

Alex Lane

Yeah, and he's dragged out of the car. There's like a phalanx of reporters. There's flashbulbs going off.

Eric Holm

There's cameras in this face. Microphones being shoved right under his chin there.

Alex Lane

And keep in mind, he is an aspiring actor.

Eric Holm

This is his moment in the sun, really.

Ira Glass

He's got the whole city right there. The whole city is basically watching.

Alex Lane

Somebody yells, "Why did you do it, Johnny?"

Eric Holm

And Johnny, for absolutely no reason, yells back. He yells--

Alex Lane

"I was going to make stew out of that bird." Which is not even remotely true, and it was the wrong thing to say if you're trying to engender sympathy somehow.

Eric Holm

Johnny went to jail. And Ed and Dawn were left mystified by this whole thing. But the parrot went back to the zoo and died within about three or four days, I think. It had been in bad shape, and they couldn't save it.

Ira Glass

So that was Eric and Alex's famous bird story. And after we talked they did something they'd been wanting to do for a long time. Now that they're experienced newspaper reporters, they went out and tried to contact all the people in the story to figure out, once and for all, what parts of the story are true, and what parts are just embellishments that they have been added over the years. Here's what they discovered.

The lady from the bird store, who turns out to be named Michelle not Barbara, she was completely unfindable. Dawn, the woman in the wheelchair, she died in 2002. The guy who she lived with, Ed, he was happy to talk. But he did not remember much of the story.

With some prodding, as best as he could, he confirmed a lot of the details of Eric and Alex's story. For example, the reason that he got the bird from Johnny, the smoking, the police raid-- which, by the way, he remembered as six policemen. He also talked very sweetly about how much he loved Dawn and missed her.

And I just left one person to contact, Johnny.

John Bryant Davilla

It was the Virgin Cola-- the release for Virgin Cola after party. And I was with a couple of buds, drinking and smoking weed.

Ira Glass

John Davilla, as he likes to be called these days, is now out of prison. For bird theft, he was actually only put on parole, but then he violated his parole by failing a urine test, and got sent to prison for 11 months. Now he is trying to get acting work out in Los Angeles. And when he talked to Eric and Alex he contradicted or threw into question nearly every fact they thought they had from years ago.

John says that he did not take the bird home on the subway. He did not live in Bay Ridge. He did not barter the bird for a resume with Ed. He gave it as a gift, though Ed says otherwise. He did not cut the bird's wings with scissors, he says. He did not sneak into the zoo alone. And, finally, it was not him who stole the parrot.

John Bryant Davilla

There was this cute little bird, and my homeboy snagged it, and put it in his jacket and walked out with it. And we all just like looked at each other and was like, let's go.

Alex Lane

You and your buddies, it's not you alone?

John Bryant Davilla

No, there was five of us.

Eric Holm

Do you remember what you told us at the time?

John Bryant Davilla

No, I don't remember.

Eric Holm

OK, so I'm going to read you some of this story, OK John? It was eerily quiet, save for some splashing from the sea lion pool. Quote, "It was like there was this [BLEEP] mist," Davilla said, speaking slowly and dramatically. "And the bird was there." You took the bird out of its cage, you said. The bird looked at you. Quote, "I said wow, what are you looking at man? Come on man, let's go. And we went."

John Bryant Davilla

Yeah, that was a dream I had the day after the party. And I remember that dream. And I remember thinking that I gotta stop smoking pot, man.

Eric Holm

I'm awfully disappointed, John.

John Bryant Davilla

What did you expect?

Eric Holm

I don't know.

Alex Lane

What did you expect?

Eric Holm

I thought there was a point.

Alex Lane

Eric is very disappointed here.

Eric Holm

I feel cheated, man.

Alex Lane

Well did you think he really had the conversation with the Bird?

Eric Holm

No, but I thought he thought he did.

John Bryant Davilla

I think I did, actually, to be honest with you.

Eric Holm

No, come on Johnny, you're just telling us what we want to hear.

Alex Lane

You're making stuff up.

John Bryant Davilla

No, it's a true story, man. And when they ask you, you say it's a true story.

Ira Glass

So the version of the story that they have always told, that they have wondered if it's true, that's the version of the story they're going to have live with. Because nobody, nobody in this world besides them has cared enough about this story to remember it. The facts will stay forever unconfirmable.

And when I ask Eric and Alex why this story has stuck with them, and why they've been retelling this story for years, long after they went on to become real reporters for real newspapers, this story is still their favorite story? They truthfully do not have much of an answer. Mostly they say, they just liked everybody who they interviewed for this story. Everybody told them such amazing things. And yes, this is a story about a crime. And yes, the parrot dies. But nobody is really out to hurt anybody in this story or do any harm, including Johnny.

Alex Lane

There is a sort of innocence. He wasn't out to make money off the thing. He didn't want to kill it. He loved it.

Ira Glass

I think the parrot made everybody in this story take leave of their senses including the two of you.

Eric Holm

I think that that has never crossed my mind before today, but I think you might be absolutely right on that.

Ira Glass

Like look at this. Everybody's going out of their way for the parrot. He takes the parrot for no good reason. The next two people take the parrot really for reasons that make no sense at all. They take a parrot to distract a woman from talking to her husband, or boyfriend, whatever. And then the two of you, for no reason at all, you're never going to make money, you're never going to write a story. Just keep reporting this story for months for no one.

Alex Lane

It makes no sense, our behavior. And we wouldn't have done it if it had been a kitten.

Ira Glass

I don't know man, a kitten?

Eric Holm

When we tell the story over and over, by the way, a lot of people, they think there's a punch line at the end.

Alex Lane

And there's never a punch line.

Eric Holm

The story just sort of peters out.

Alex Lane

Well, not necessarily.

Ira Glass

Maybe you need a punchline. You need a punchline.

Eric Holm

We actually got some suggestions last night.

Alex Lane

From the movie star, he sort of suggested a punchline.

Ira Glass

Who was the movie star?

Eric Holm

Topher Grace, the guy from That '70s Show.

Ira Glass

Wait, and Topher Grace had the suggestion for the ending?

Eric Holm

He did, he had an excellent suggestion.

Alex Lane

The scene is the apartment, the police barge in--

Eric Holm

Dawn is on the floor with a jackboot on her neck. And the cops haul everyone away--

Alex Lane

There's one detective who's sort of--

Eric Holm

--left alone in the apartment.

Alex Lane

He's the one charged with taking the bird, taking possession of the bird. So he opens the cage. And he looks at the parrot, and he says, "You want to go? " And the parrot says, "Yeah." And he says, "Let's go."

Eric Holm

And, scene.

Ira Glass

Alex Lane is a staff writer for the Star Ledger in Newark. Eric Holm just started at Bloomberg News. In those jobs, they both do factual reporting.

Coming up, so two pigs, a parrot, a Jew, a Canadian, and David Sedaris walk into the second half of the show. And the first pig says to the second pig, is it me or do these coming-up-next announcements just keep getting longer? More in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Pig.

Ira Glass

Well, 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 show, the parrot and the pot-bellied pig. Stories where these two humble animals are just trying to lead their animal lives and simply by being alive they create all kinds of havoc around them, without ever intending to.

We've arrived at Act Two of our show, Act Two, Pig. Well, one of our regular contributors here on This American Life, Jonathan Goldstein has been hosting a new radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called Wiretap. And he has this story of people and animals.

Jonathan Goldstein

The other day, my friend Tony called me up and told me he had the funniest story for the radio. All he'd say was that involved him, his ex-girlfriend, and a road trip they made with a pot-bellied pig. Before Tony would tell me anything further, he said he wanted me to be running a tape recorder. This way, he said, when it played on the radio there'd be my surprised laughter egging him on.

But here's the thing. I hardly ever laugh. If there's one thing I could change about myself, it would be that. Working in radio, I wish I had the kind of free and easy laugh that felt like an arm around the shoulder. A laugh that said, speak on you darling clown, I am so with you. Instead, I produce silences that, rather than encourage, make a storyteller feel like they're being scrutinized. Or worse, like I just put the phone down to go out and put more change in the parking meter.

So Tony started telling me the story, and, as usual, I wasn't laughing. But I started to realize that this time was different. For once, I wasn't laughing because the story wasn't funny. But any way, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll let Tony tell the story.

Tony Asimakopoulos

I guess it kind of marked, pretty much, the end of my relationship with Susan, my last girlfriend. We'd been going out for about four years, and the relationship was on its last legs and had been for, pretty much, about a year.

Susan is an animal enthusiast, lover. She is always trying to save something. She's always online looking for rescue animals that she obviously, she can't possibly rescue any of them, actually. Or maybe one or two, but she's obsessed with it.

And there was a couple that we knew that about a year ago or a year and a half ago, they got a pot-bellied pig, a baby pot-bellied pig.

Jonathan Goldstein

Are they farmers?

Tony Asimakopoulos

No. They're just like regular city folk. One of them had a head shop-- just like scenesters. And I guess, like my first reaction was that's kind of, I don't know, that's kind of stupid. You don't bring a pig home to the city, to a house. It just seemed like kind of a scenester thing to do like, hey, the guy got a pig.

But, so they got a pig. And it was really cute. And they showed me pictures and convinced me that it was pretty smart and fun. And it was OK running around the house and in their yard, and stuff like that.

Jonathan Goldstein

What was the pig's name?

Tony Asimakopoulos

Pig's name was Warren. Nothing was heard from the pig or the couple for a while. And then there were some rumblings. I started talking to them. And well, it's not going so well. You know he's ruining the place, and he's out of control and all this stuff.

And before long, Susan was on the case to make sure that he found a good home and happy life. She called around and found a place, an animal sanctuary, outside of Montreal. And they were like, yes, of course bring the pig. And so Susan made arrangements to bring the pig there.

I know what's about to happen, and I don't want to have anything to do with it. And, of course, I'm approached to do the job, to drive this pig to Montreal.

Jonathan Goldstein

In your car.

Tony Asimakopoulos

In my car. And I know, I know at this point in my heart, in my gut, that I'm going to be doing this, because you can't get in Susan's way when she's trying to save an animal. She's unstoppable. And in my mind, it was very clear. Drive with pig to Montreal or deal with the repercussions of not doing that for about a week.

Jonathan Goldstein

Give me a sense of how big this pig is, like, how much does it weigh?

Tony Asimakopoulos

250 pounds? It's a pot-bellied pig. It's not like a big-ass, sort of, regular pork pig. He was just kind of like a children's book pig. And hairy-- pot-bellied pigs they have fur.

Jonathan Goldstein

Are they pink?

Tony Asimakopoulos

No, they're kind of brown. So OK, let's put the pig in the cage and let's go do it. And within a couple of minutes realized the cage is not going to fit in my car. There's no way. So like OK, well, we'll just put the pig in. We'll cover the back seat with garbage bags and whatever, and it'll be fine. And at that point, I'm just not thinking. I want to just get this over with. Let's just get the pig in the car. Let's drive. Let's go.

But we did. We covered the back seat and we started to drive. The first 20 minutes we're kind of all right. The pig was hanging out in the back. Susan was feeding him and petting him. And everything was fine.

Then about-- probably about 45 minutes into it, the pig started to get more and more agitated. We ran out of food. We had to stop and get some more food. We got like a big bag of bird seed and just a couple of other varieties of dog biscuits and whatever. We stopped at places. They didn't have pig food per se, because people don't usually keep pigs.

We're driving, and I'm starting to realize that, we're both starting to realize that Warren, the pig, is getting more and more agitated. Like he's not happy. He is getting really restless. He's becoming less and less interested in the food. He is getting more and more persistent about getting up to the front seat. At this point, I can sense the pig's head popping over my right shoulder, sort of snapping. And trying to get over to my left shoulder with the window, and then back over my right shoulder and snapping. And soon had a full body hold on it, trying to keep it away from me.

And this sort of thing really started to turn into something else. I mean, you're in a situation like that with somebody, I suppose the kind of mature, adult, useful thing to do would be to accept the you're in a situation. But I was not happy. I let it be known.

And most importantly, and most significantly for Susan, I was not laughing. Because after a certain point, she started to find it funny, like most people do. Most people start to find story funny around this point, even sooner. I didn't find it funny at all.

The more she laughed, the more funny she found it, the more upset and angry I got. So she had the pig to deal with, and then, I guess, she had me to deal with. Finally, I came up with the idea that what we needed was a barricade to put between us and the pig, to keep it the pig in the backseat, to keep us from getting hurt. Whatever happened to the back of the car happened at this point because we're in survival mode.

We're driving around behind strip malls looking for a big piece of cardboard. Finally, we found what looked like something that a refrigerator been in. And I grabbed it. It was soaked in garbage, and it was raining that day. And I opened the car door. Susan is holding the pig back with all her strength. And I jammed this big piece of cardboard, slid it in like when magicians-- when they cut people in half, just slid it into the car, with all my strength, as far as it could go. And I closed the door.

And it worked. And the funny thing is, he didn't even fight. As soon as the barricade went up, he just gave up. We drove the rest of the way to the farm and cut him loose. And he joined his brothers and sisters, his new brothers and sisters, which were these gigantic, fat pot-bellied pigs. Which, I guess, in a short time he'd be like them.

Jonathan Goldstein

And was that, I mean was that like a beautiful moment?

Tony Asimakopoulos

I wouldn't say it was beautiful. I felt relieved that the pig was out of my car. And we broke up within a month of this incident.

Jonathan Goldstein

Do you think that this was the straw that broke the camel's back for Susan?

Tony Asimakopoulos

She actually said as much. She just said, I can't be with somebody who can't find the humor in the moment in something like that, no matter how dangerous it is, no matter how stupid or crazy, or wrong it is. That's not how I want to live my life.

Jonathan Goldstein

And when he told you that, did you feel like, I could change?

Tony Asimakopoulos

I wanted to change, but I could not possibly enjoy life as much as she does. I think she had a point. And I think she was right about me getting too upset over that and not seeing the humor in it.

The thing about me and Susan-- Susan loves it when things go wrong, because that's when the real fun begins. That's when the real wackiness and zaniness, and the hilarity ensues. And she just thrives on that. She just loves it.

I don't. I don't. I like it when things go right. I like things to be relatively under control. And the thing I resented about Susan was that she was constantly trying to pull me into her sort of way of having fun. In a sense, Susan was trying to help me have some fun. There's no question in my mind that the way that I react to situations that I'm unhappy with, unhappy to be in, disapprove of, is really, really similar to the way my father used to react to me all the time.

Jonathan Goldstein

Like, how do you mean?

Tony Asimakopoulos

Well, kind of stern, disapproving, punitive, making you feel stupid, making you feel like you're doing stuff wrong. I think the defining moment between me and my father was Halloween. I think I was nine. And I went to my friend Sunny's house, he lived down the street, and he had a makeup kit. And he made me up. I don't know. I guess it was some combo of drag and weird clown thing, and zombie. I don't know. We just made it up.

He made me all up, and I put on a dress. And I ran out into the street and started knocking on everybody's door and just like, I don't know, just yelling and screaming and being an idiot. Just like I'm going to cross from blah, blah, blah running down the street, and, before I knew it, I was at my door.

And knocked on the door, and I was so out of control at that point. I didn't give a [BLEEP]. I didn't care about anything. I didn't care that I was knocking on my door. My father answered the door. And like a moment of shock. And he grabbed me and pulled me in and started smacking me. Because I was embarrassing him. Because I was doing something completely stupid and embarrassing and having fun.

If you try to control everything and OK, this is going to work like that. Well you break up with people. If a best friend is too much of a hassle, just crazy at text, and three hours on the phone every two days, blah, blah, blah. After a while, you cut everything out of your life. And then you get lonely and bored. And I have fewer and fewer stories to tell. And I mean, what do you do when you don't have enough stories to tell, is you go looking for trouble.

Jonathan Goldstein

How so?

Tony Asimakopoulos

Well, I'm just like wandering around at night, walking by bars, looking for people to pick fights with, just somebody that will annoy me or irritate me. He looks good, I'm going to hang around and see what he's saying. It's a bringing to bear my frustration onto an outside thing that deserves to have my fury unleashed upon it.

Jonathan Goldstein

Do you miss Susan?

Tony Asimakopoulos

I do. I miss her because I was close to her, and I love her, and I think she's a wonderful person. I love the way she dealt with people. And I loved the way she was. And I wanted to absorb some of that. I wanted some of that to rub off on me. I want some of that.

Jonathan Goldstein

And did you get it?

Tony Asimakopoulos

I have some of that.

Jonathan Goldstein

What do you think that she saw in you that was alluring to her?

Tony Asimakopoulos

I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I was another animal for her to save.

Ira Glass

Jonathan Goldstein's CBC radio show Wiretap is at www.cdc.ca/Wiretap. Thanks also to his friend Tony Asimakopoulos and to Sarah Gilbert.

Act Three. Combo Platter.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Combo Platter. Starting out today we have had a story about a parrot, and we've had a story about a pig. And to end today's show, we have this story from David Sedaris.

David Sedaris

When asked why she'd chosen to become a journalist, the parrot was known to cock her head a half an inch to the right, and pause for a moment before repeating the question. "Why did I choose to become a journalist? Well, I guess what really drives me is the money-- that and the free booze." It killed her to follow this with, "I was just joking about the money."

The paper she worked at was called The Eagle. And she wrote for the Tempo section, which was later renamed Lifestyles, and was now titled, simply, Living. Most of her stories were little more than puff-pieces. Interview the wealthy tortoise who'd shelled out money for the new speedway. Cover the benefit gala for ringworm, or heartworm or the earthworm or anti-defamation league.

She wanted an opportunity to show her chops and finally got her break when a pot-bellied pig took over as director of the local art museum. The Eagle wanted something simple, 300 words tops, but the parrot thought differently. It scheduled a long lunch. Her guest arrived on time, and after ordering they got down to business.

"So," the parrot began, "it's a long way from Ho Chi Minh City to the much coveted director's chair of a noted museum. I'd like you to reminisce about the journey a little."

"I'm sorry," the pig said. "But I've never been to Ho Chi Minh City."

"But you are from that region are you not?"

"No," the pig told her, not at all.

The parrot ran her fat, black tongue over the ragged edge of her upper beak. "I don't mean to contradict you," she said, "but I have done a little leg work, and it seems that you're officially registered with your health care provider as a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. So let's turn our thoughts eastward, shall we, and talk about your past."

"Technically, yes, I am a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig," the museum director said. "But that's just a silly formality. The fact is that I was born in this country, as were my parents and their parents before them."

"I see," the parrot said. And she scratched the words self-hating onto her notepad. "So how will your ethnicity reflect itself in regards to our museum? Can we expect to see more Oriental art, a pricey new Ming wing, perhaps some big Treasures of The Emperor extravaganza?"

"Nothing's planned," the pig said.

"But you wouldn't rule it out?"

"Well, no, not completely, but--"

"That's all I wanted to know," the parrot said. And at that moment, their lunch all arrived.

It was she who had made the reservation, and, in a moment of inspiration, she decided they'd go to Old Saigon. The fact that it was her idea would not be mentioned in the article. Nor would she add that the pig had never in his life used a pair of chopsticks, and that he gripped them, one in each hoof, as if they were screwdrivers.

During the meal, a few blades of lemongrass for him, a Mekong platter for her. They talked about this and that, but she wasn't really engaged, busy as she was dreaming up a headline. Museum Takes on Asian a Slant was good, but she'd have to fight hard to get it past her editor who despised, what she called, word play.

When their lunch was over, the pig trotted back to the museum, and the parrot headed down to the VFW Hall, where she hoped to round out her article. There she spoke to a red-shouldered hawk, who hadn't actually fought in Vietnam but might have had the war lasted just a few weeks longer.

"I could have practically been killed over there, and now one of them is coming to my museum trying to tell me what art I should look at?"

"I know it," the parrot said.

The article was due the following morning, and she stayed up all night in order to finish it. Her editor scowled at the bulk of pages but softened after the first read through saying, " Good work, you," and, "Maybe we should send this over to the city desk."

The eventual headline was no masterpiece, Pot-bellied Museum Director Stirs Controversy. But the parrot was so relieved to move out of the Living section that they could have called it Mud and she wouldn't have cared. As for the pig, he wasn't nearly as upset as she thought he would be. Rather than threatening a lawsuit or demanding a retraction, he phoned to say that he was disappointed. "Deeply disappointed," were his exact words.

The parrot reached for a pen, hoping for quotes that might lead to a second article. "Is that all you have to say?" she asked.

"Any response," he sighed. And gently hung up the phone.

"Hello," the parrot said, "Hello."

The pig would not have admitted it, but what really bothered him was the pot-belly business. He'd been plump all through his youth, and the years of name calling had not just shaped his adult life but deformed it, like some cell made crazy by radiation.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten without thinking. Popped a passing canape into his mouth, finished an entire potato chip or dry roasted peanut without calculating the damage. While others prepared for bed, he ran a treadmill. They tucked into their ample breakfasts, and he hung upside down from a bar in his living room, doubling at the waist until he saw stars. Then came the traditional sit-ups, and a half a slice of dry Ry-Vita before examining his silhouette in the hallway mirror and getting ready for work.

He did not have a pot-belly. He would never again have a pot-belly. But now, here was this article, essentially, comparing him to Buddha. After hanging up on the reporter, the pig began a three-day fast. Lunchtime came, and as his colleagues shuffled to the museum cafeteria, he sat at his desk and looked out the window at that stupid hawk, marching back and forth with his picket sign.

The veteran had hoped that others might join him, but none of his fellows seemed to care. "The war is over, and it's time to move on," they'd been quoted as saying. "Who cares if some," and there was that word again, "Who cares if some pot-bellied Charlie wants to hang a picture on the wall?"

"Damn that parrot from the Eagle." The pig's anger felt vaguely nourishing, but he knew that it was misplaced. The reporter hadn't assigned the animals their names. That was someone else's doing, someone who sat back and ordained, wide-mouth bass, humpback whale, lesser wart-nosed horseshoe bat, not caring whose life was ruined.

By the time he next ran into her, the pig had lost close to 10 pounds. They met at a museum benefit, a costume ball which he hosted, and which she hovered on the edges of, guzzling rum punch and gathering quote she'd heard a 1,000 times before. "Wonderful party and, of course, it's for such a good cause."

The parrot was, she liked to joke, back with the living, by which I mean section, not the sensation of being alive. She'd assumed that the pig would be in disguise, and was surprised to see him in the same dark suit he worn at the restaurant. He was standing at the bar, nursing a glass of water.

And she came from behind and tapped him on the shoulder. "Let me guess," she said, "you're Henry Bacon, right?"

"Who's he?" the pig asked.

The parrot rolled her eyes. "American architect, designed a little something called the Lincoln Memorial?"

"Oh," the the pig said, "that Henry Bacon." He was going to admit that he was no one or, at least, no one special, when the parrot stepped back and examined him again over the rim of her punch class.

"I've got it," she said, "you're Luther Ham, took the silver medal for 200 meter freestyle, Helsinki 1952. Little wisp of a thing, but, boy, did he have shoulders."

"Right," the pig said. "So who are you supposed to be?"

The parrot shrugged and held up her glass for a refill. "I thought I'd go all out and come as a two-bit journalist." For verification, she presented an ink stained claw. "So hey," she added, "I'm sorry about that article."

"That's all right," the pig told her.

"All right for you," the parrot said, "I'm the one with the god damn hawk calling me every 10 minutes. Now he wants to go after Middle Easterners. Heard of a Persian cat who runs a parking garage down by the civic center and is after me to write an expose."

The pig laughed for the first time in months, and immediately thereafter, as was his habit, he began to analyze why. Was it the idea of this parrot bedeviled by a ridiculous hawk, or the image of a long-haired cat making change in one of those sweltering little booths? He pondered this for days but never reached a satisfying conclusion.

"Earth to pig, Earth to pig," the parrot said.

And he looked down to see her wing resting on his stomach.

"Is it my imagination or have you lost some weight?"

"No," he told her, "I mean, yes I did. It's not your imagination." He thought of how kind it was for her to mention it. And then he noticed how oddly satisfying it felt to be patted down by a wing.

Meanwhile, the parrot was still talking. "Don't get me wrong," she said, "I have seen a cockatoo in my time, but I'm not dating anyone now if that's what you're wondering." She grabbed a passing appetizer, dumped the caviar back onto the tray and ate only the cracker. "A cliche, I know, parrot eats a cracker, but fish eggs make me bloat."

"It's the salt," the pig told her . He'd hoped to say something more interesting, but, just then, the band started up. A wolf, in sheep's clothing, called out for a foxtrot. And as if a switch had been thrown, the party came to life. Here was the hare in cat's pajamas dancing with a chameleon whose costume changed with every turn. The Ugly Duckling cut in on a swan. A trio of mice lowered their sunglasses, and as they scouted the floor for partners, the parrot turned to the pig and held out her claw.

He accepted it awkwardly in his hoof, this spindly pitchfork, this warm, mottled twig. And so began, what the reporter would later refer to, as her days of swine and roses.

Ira Glass

David Sedaris is the author of several books, most recently, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Diane Cook and myself with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, Lisa Pollak, Alix Spiegel, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Seth Lind, and Steven January. Special thanks today to Ben Resner and Irene Pepperberg.

Our web site, where you can listen to our programs for absolutely free, www.ThisAmericanLife.org, or you know you can download today's program in our archives at audible.com/ThisAmericanLife. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our show by Mr. Torey Malatia, who says that he had a dream exactly like today's show, all three acts. The dream even included me reading these very credits.

"Yeah, that was a dream I had, and I remember that dream, and I remember thinking that, you know, I got to stop smoking pot, man."

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

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