Transcript

321:

Sink or Swim
Transcript

Originally aired 12.01.2006

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/321

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Sometimes you set out walking briskly on the path to disaster, without even suspecting. Scott was 23, and he saw an ad in the paper looking for a German interpreter. He'd majored in German in college, lived for a year in Germany, speaking German. What could go wrong? The job was with the Detroit Visitor Information Bureau. And his first assignment was a bunch of tourists who were going to the Ford Wixom plant. He met them early, at the hotel.

Scott Shrake

They seized upon me immediately and started asking me questions. And that's when I realized that I spoke Hochdeutsch or standard German, which is what you learn in school. And they spoke Austrian, which sounds completely different. And so I really couldn't understand them.

Ira Glass

But no time to worry about that. In minutes they're all put onto buses and off to the Ford plant.

Scott Shrake

And I knew what was going to happen. It was gradually taking shape. But we went in and there was a conference room. A man from Ford was in there with his presentation ready to go. And he said, "So where's the interpreter?" And all the Austrians gestured at me. And he said, "Good. Shall we begin." So the man starts talking all this automobile industry jargon, sort of welcome to the Ford Wixom plant. I'd like to start by explaining how a catalytic converter is implanted on our power train which moves at an estimated 1.5 meters every 10 seconds, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then he turned to me. And I just sort of stammered, "Dies ist eine auto Fabrik." This is an auto factory.

Ira Glass

It was somewhere around this point that Scott realized this was no idle group of Austrian tourists. These were people from the Austrian car industry. And somehow they had picked as their interpreter the one guy in Detroit who knew absolutely nothing about cars. So not only did Scott not know the German words for what they were talking about, he didn't know the English words.

Scott Shrake

So I'm just standing there stammering idiotically. And they were all looking at me politely. And so it was a total free-fall, like if you just threw someone out on an opera stage and said sing opera.

Ira Glass

And let me just ask you like if it were a simple sentence like, our conveyor belt operates at three miles an hour, can you even say that in German?

Scott Shrake

No.

Ira Glass

One of the Austrian women stepped forward, and she tried to takeover the translating. What Scott did would seem like the only reasonable thing at the time. He excused himself to go to the bathroom, snuck outside, found a telephone, called a friend to come get him, and he never looked back.

He felt a little ashamed. But mostly he felt relieved.

Scott Shrake

It was a good feeling.

Ira Glass

And can you say like-- people say a lot of about you're in a kind of a sink or swim situation and how gratifying it is to actually overcome all obstacles and to actually swim. But what you're describing, nobody really talks about how great it can be just to totally embrace utter and complete failure.

Scott Shrake

Well, I started to sink in that conference room. And so I just got out of the water and ran.

Ira Glass

Which brings to the conflict at the heart of today's program. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our show, Sink or Swim. We have three stories of people who get thrown in over their head. In one of our acts we have a guy who is not a doctor who starts doing something that even he admits only a doctor should be doing. In another, the entire world decides that a teenager is something that he feels that he is not. And Jonathan Goldstein brings us the story of the first global sink-or-swim. I'm talking of course about the story of Noah's ark. Stay with us.

Act One. Mr. Central High.

Ira Glass

Act One. Mr. Central High.

This is the story of somebody who gets in over his head, gets into water so deep that it is actually hard for him to make it, all by accident. He never intended for it to happen this way. Susan Drury tells the story.

Susan Drury

There's a famous photograph you may have seen. It's a photo of Bill Clinton as a teenager. He's standing in the Rose Garden, shaking the hand of then President John F. Kennedy. Clinton was in Washington, DC, because he'd been elected governor of Boys State in Arkansas in 1963. Boys State is a mock government program held in most states.

And then there's another less famous picture. This time Clinton is President. It's 1998. And he's shaking hands with a teenager named Chauncey Julius, who had been elected governor of Boys State in Tennessee. And if you look closely, you'll notice that Chauncey is giving Clinton a confident two-handed handshake, the kind that Clinton was known for, like Chauncey might be the one in charge.

This is a story about how Chauncey got to be in this picture and what happened after, none of which he expected. The story starts when Chauncey's in ninth grade. He lives in Columbia, Tennessee, in a rough part of town. His mom has a good factory job at the Saturn plant. But his dad is addicted to crack and is blowing all the family's money. Chauncey is selling drugs and skipping school. He is the picture of a kid going nowhere. But one day, he decides he wants something different.

Chauncey Julius

I remember the day that I stopped selling drugs. There had been a couple raids in the area. Police, and having to hop out of windows and run away so I wouldn't get caught. It was the next day after one of those raids. And I was sitting on the porch. And I remember it was around this time. It was around like sundown.

And I wish I had it. But I have a little piece of paper that I still have. I wrote it in ninth grade. And on it, it has some goals. It talks about how I want to graduate from school, maybe go to graduate school.

And I said that I wanted to be a CEO of a major-- at that time it was a cosmetic company because Boomerang was big. The movie Boomerang. And he was like the CEO of like a cosmetic company. So I said I want to be a CEO of Revlon or something. I think that would be awesome. Just the girls and everything. They'll like me. I just wanted to be like the guy in Boomerang.

Susan Drury

And that was that. He quit selling drugs. When Chauncey came back to school, it was the start of 10th grade. He had come out of ninth grade with only half a credit, mostly because he almost never went to school. He didn't know any of the guidance counselors. But he decided he needed someone to help him. So he walked into the guidance counselor's office. There he met this woman, Mary Ann Lynn.

Mary Ann Lynn

He came into the guidance office and said, "Who is the best guidance counselor in this office?" And the secretary said, "Well, Ms. Lynn is the most spirited." He said, "OK, that's who I want to talk to."

Susan Drury

OK. Let me point something out right here. If you had only gone to school basically to sell drugs for your whole ninth grade year, would you waltz into the office and demand the very best the school had to offer? Probably not. But here's the thing everybody was about to find out about Chauncey. When he needs to turn things around, he will find what he needs to get it done. Here's Mary Ann Lynn.

Mary Ann Lynn

He wanted to know if he had any kind of chance of getting to go to college. That he could not afford anything like that. And I said, "Oh, honey. Oh, yes." I said, "We will work on our grades. There's money. We dig for money." And he says, "I know I want that. I know I may not have the background for it." But he says, "I want that."

Chauncey Julius

I began to go to class. I began to go to school. That was a big step. I had to remember my locker combination numbers and dust my books off. Probably one of my priorities was to graduate with my class. The thought of being left behind that was a no-go. That wasn't happening.

Susan Drury

This seems like a pretty big transition to make when you're 15 years old. But there's something about Chauncey. He wasn't an ordinary kid. He was a kid so self possessed, so good looking, and so confident that everybody noticed him and wanted to know him.

Mary Ann Lynn

Even as a sophomore in high school, you wouldn't have known he was a sophomore. I mean he could come in and sit down and talk to you like he already had his degree. Now where he learned that or how he learned it at that time, I don't know. But I could see him being President or whatever. He just had a God given gift of charisma. If he had had on a neon sign, it wouldn't been any more clear.

Susan Drury

Chauncey got to work. He took as many summer school classes as he could. He attached himself to several teachers who acted as mentors and coaches. He was in a couple plays. He was on the football team and later became captain. He became a part of a group called Elevated Young Minds. And he went with this group on a tour of black colleges. He also became increasingly involved in church. And he even got ordained as a minister. One of Chauncey's classmates told me it was like Chauncey came out of nowhere, and pretty soon he was everywhere. The kids liked him. And teachers began thinking of him as a leader, as someone who would go somewhere, someone who could do great things.

One day during his junior year, Chauncey was walking down the hall on the way to his English class when he saw Mary Ann Lynn in the hallway.

Chauncey Julius

Ms. Lynn said, "Listen to the announcements today when they come over the loudspeaker." I was like, am I in trouble? I didn't know what was going on. They caught me totally by surprise with this one. But I was listening to the announcements. And they said, Boys State delegates. My name was mentioned in there. And I was like, did they just recommend me for something? What is Boys State?

Susan Drury

Boys State is a big deal. Being chosen as a delegate means that the teachers at your high school think you're among most promising, the most impressive boys in the school. The program takes place over a week at a college campus. And the whole thing is geared around mock elections. Hundreds of boys representing every high school in the state are divided into towns, counties, that sort of thing. And the whole week is filled with campaigns for various offices, from sanitation chief to mayor to governor.

So Chauncey went at the end of his junior year. He knew it was an honor, but it didn't feel like that big of a deal to him at the time. Mostly it just seemed like it would be fun. Like a long field trip where he would get to hang out in this little school.

But Chauncey felt different once he got to Boys State. He was surrounded by all these boys, all of whom were smart and motivated and outgoing. And even though he hadn't planned on it, Chauncey decided he would just go for it and run for governor, the highest office. It was almost like he couldn't help himself. He announced his candidacy in front of hundreds of boys in a huge auditorium.

Chauncey Julius

Everyone who was running for governor is in this room. People just yelling out, hey vote for me. Side conversations and everything. People holding up banners. And people got their cronies and their little goons saying, vote for my best friend here. You hear all that added. The other people that was running, they come with all these supplies. Markers. They got construction paper, poster boards. Everything. They came prepped. And I had this little dingy t-shirt that I held up that I wrote with probably a Expo dry erase marker. I wrote, Julius for Governor. And I held the shirt up. And I remember the response. Boo, whatever. Put that shirt down. Ain't nobody voting for you. And immediately, something clicked on the inside. Don't tell me that you're not going to vote for me. Don't tell me that I can't do nothing. You're not going to tell me that I'm not going to win.

Susan Drury

Chauncey gave a terrific speech and beat out 11 other guys to become the nominee of his party. And as he headed into the general election, people flocked to his campaign.

Chauncey Julius

People were just doing crazy stuff like hanging out stuff from their room windows. And across the whole window, they'd hang out a banner that says, "Vote for Julius" or vote for-- And I'm just like, wow, I didn't ask the guy to do that.

Susan Drury

For the first time Chauncey saw all these people, not just teachers but kids now, pulling for him, doing things for him, just because he was him. He was shocked by it and overwhelmed. I mean what does it say about you when a guy you don't even know shaves your name into his hair?

On the day of the election for governor, the other candidates nervously stood at the podium and read their speeches. But Chauncey took to the stage as if he had done it a hundred times before. By this time he'd already preached at his church. And he was really interested in leadership. He'd read all sorts of books on it. He grabbed the mike and walked the stage like a motivational speaker. He was a natural. And he had the audience, hundreds of 17-year-old boys, captivated.

Chauncey Julius

It was like it was in slow motion. I got up, and I just began to just go for it. Clapping, standing-O. Everything. It was just like a rush, an adrenalin rush. And where it was so much where I was almost about to pass out because the rush was so great. And it was like a drug. It was-- Wow!

Susan Drury

He won in a landslide.

Chauncey came back home after being elected governor at Boys State. But his position in his hometown had changed. His win was important not just for him, but for lots of people in his town for lots of reasons. Colombia's just 30,000 people. And nobody from Colombia had ever been elected governor of Boys State. And here was Chauncey, the black kid from a tough neighborhood. The kid who turned his life around, bringing home the honor. It became a very big deal.

Chauncey Julius

The word is spreading. The word is spreading, even in my neighborhood. Even the people that's my friends that was out there still selling drugs. What you doing man? I saw you in the Daily Herald. You the governor? You won. You the governor now? They was like man, congratulations.

Susan Drury

The Chamber of Commerce threw him a big party and gave him a plaque. The County Commission named June 19th, Chauncey Julius Day. Chauncey spoke to the local American Legion, the Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club. He is a story and a guy people could not get enough of.

And though Chauncey had won a mock election for a mock office, he got some very real power out of it at his own school. Administrators asked him to help pick the new principal. And the student government appointed him to a special office created just for him. And when all the seniors voted on the superlatives-- you know, most likely to succeed, most popular, those sorts of things-- Chauncey won so many awards that the administrators had to call him into the office and tell him to pick just two, so other people could have some. He chose Mr. Central High School and Mr. Football.

Chauncey Julius

I got away with a whole lot more. Had a little bit of influence. Had a little bit of power. Had some connects. And I can get out of some things a little bit easier, after all I did. I was on the panel to decide who was going to be the next principal. So there was some arrogance there, a little bit. I knew some people. Didn't have to go to class as much because some of the teachers I had, had a hand in helping me go to Boys State. So it's like, it's Chauncey, he all right.

Susan Drury

But none of the success changed his home life, which was still as unpredictable and crazy as ever. Chauncey's mom, Deborah Julius, told me they lived in a house where you can go to the closet it to get your coat and find that Chauncey's dad had sold it for drugs. She never felt like they belonged in the circles Chauncey was now moving in. Here's Deborah.

Deborah Julius

Part of me kind of, sort of wanted to say why did you do this? Don't get me wrong. I was happy. I was elated. What was happening to Chauncey was great, under any other circumstances, like if he had a dad that was prominent or if he had a dad that even had a good job and was just an ordinary Joe. If we were just a normal family and a functional family.

Susan Drury

Did you ever think they had it wrong?

Chauncey Julius

Every day. Every day I knew they had it wrong. I was same person that brought piles of weed past your doors when I was in ninth grade. Am I really a success? This is just high school, people. We're about to graduate. Not only that, but I'm going through hell in my home. So my grades aren't all that good. I'm still struggling at Algebra II. Will I pass Algebra II? I have a lot of flaws. Ya'll sure you got the right person?

Susan Drury

Chauncey was facing a whole community, everybody with these huge expectations. And at some point of his senior year, he couldn't do it anymore. He just wanted to disappear. Here's Mary Ann Lynn.

Mary Ann Lynn

We put him in a place where if he came down a notch, he would feel like he failed. I'm not sure we did the right thing on some of that. Then I feel like what happened to him and what happens to anybody in that situation is hey, I do have to be great. They've told me I'm great. I've got to be perfect. And there were still some struggles with some academics. And the background, he just didn't have it. So he had so much pressure on him to be great.

Chauncey Julius

I felt the pressure to perform, to perform in academics. The pressure for football. I was a senior. I was a captain. The pressure from friends, where you don't hang out with us as much as you used to because I'm really involved in school activities. And the fact that I'm trying to graduate. Prior to no one knowing my name, I didn't have these pressures.

Susan Drury

If he could just make it to graduation and pass all his classes, he'd have a full scholarship at Tennessee Tech, thanks to his win at Boys State. The scholarship was Chauncey's dream. But after three years of trying to play catch-up up with the rest of his class, at the end of his senior year he was still one credit short.

Chauncey Julius

And I didn't graduate with a diploma. It hurt. Embarrassing, because I was the poster boy. Didn't finish in what really mattered. I wanted that more than anything, to graduate.

Susan Drury

Here's Mary Ann Lynn.

Mary Ann Lynn

We kind of set him up for failure. Everything went wonderful. And then right before he went to college, it was like throwing mud in his face. So he went down. His feelings about school, about himself, and everything. How did I be so great and then all at once everything go wrong?

Susan Drury

Chauncey's successes had been very public. But his failure was pretty private. He was allowed to walk in his school's graduation ceremony. And hardly anybody even knew he didn't really graduate.

The next fall, Chauncey got another chance. He showed up at college, took the GED test that weekend, and was instantly admitted. But within a couple of weeks, he stopped going to class. College was harder than he thought. And he felt like he had lost his momentum. He spent his time hanging out and partying. He basically fell off the map, like he had in ninth grade.

Chauncey Julius

And I had like a lot of support there. I just never used it. I thought that when you go to college everything you need to succeed, you already had to possess. And I didn't. And I felt that I was a fraud. I felt that I had let people down. I was like OK, I don't have what it takes.

Susan Drury

By the end of freshman year, he had lost his scholarship and was kicked out. He came back to Columbia. He half-heartedly took some classes at the local community college. He worked in a factory and at Long John Silver. Everyone in his hometown, the bankers, the preachers, the drug dealers, knew who he was and had thought he was heading somewhere. He went from possibly the most promising kid in town to just another kid with a GED and no plans for the future. Chauncey decided joining the army would solve his problems. He went down to the recruiter's office and signed up.

Chauncey Julius

Recruiters would love a person like this. I mean they didn't have to work hard at all. My recruiter was so laid back because he knew I was so-- He didn't have to work at all. Whatever he put in front of me, I did. I was like, whatever you want. You don't even have to drive me to Nashville to the medical station, I will run from Colombia. That's like 45 miles. And I was like, I will go. Whatever you need for me to do, whatever it takes for me to get away from here, and for me not to face the embarrassment of failing to this community, to my high school, to whatever it takes for me where you're going to enable me to run. I'm going to do it. Ten days later from the time I walked into that office, I was gone.

Susan Drury

And in the army, the trend that had started years earlier came back. His superiors saw in him something. Leadership, he says. Determination. But there was one difference in the army. Nobody cared about his potential, about what he might do. They only cared about what he actually did.

Chauncey got sent to Iraq. And then he came back, got married, and reenlisted for another tour. In all, he spent six years in the Army. And he just got out. Things haven't turned out the way he thought, but they are turning out. For the first time in many years, he feels like he can return home with no shame.

Chauncey Julius

And I talked to a lot of my friends. And they say, Chaunce, I thought you'd be on TV by now. Like honestly, like we expected to see you on CNN. Like, what are you doing? They always want to know like what I'm doing. And I'm just, I was in the military for a while. I was in school for a while. And I went into the military. And went to Iraq twice. And I'm back in school.

But I'm running my race. I had to learn that. I had to really learn that. And I think what people saw in me is happening right now. What they saw and what they saw can happen possibly is happening right now in my life.

Susan Drury

Chauncey's counselor, Mary Ann Lynn, has thought a lot about why it took till now for Chauncey to come into his own, about why things went so wrong at the end of high school for him. She's got a gift for finding kids who are about to fall through the cracks. And she makes it her business to try to help them. And when she looks at what happened to Chauncey, she thinks the adults in his life just got carried away.

Mary Ann Lynn

Probably the cruel thing-- Sometimes I've blamed myself with, OK, did I push him too hard and put him into a position that was so hard to survive? But we took him from just being a kid in school and kind of made him famous. And then he had all this stuff thrown at him. And I don't think we realized what we were pushing him into.

Susan Drury

Chauncey just started school at Kansas State University near Fort Riley, where he was based in the Army. Within the first three weeks of school, one of his deans told him they hadn't seen a student of his stature in 25 years. The dean predicted that Chauncey would take the school by storm.

Ira Glass

Susan Drury, in Nashville.

Coming up, a former heroin addict gets into a situation where he has to invent for himself, on his own, the rules and procedures of being a doctor. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. I'm Not A Doctor But I Play One At The Holiday Inn.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Sink or Swim. We have stories of people who put themselves into situations that they are completely unprepared for. We've arrived at Act Two of our show. Act Two. I'm Not A Doctor But I Play One At The Holiday Inn.

Back in the '60s, a heavy drug user, a hippie, named Howard Lotsof, tried a powerful hallucinogen named ibogaine. Lotsof apparently had one of the most intense drug experiences of his life. And when it was done, the odd thing was he had absolutely no desire to ever use drugs again. Just wasn't interested. He stayed clean. And years later, he decided that ibogaine should be used to cure drug addicts. And so he tested and got patents for several different dosages of ibogaine. But for a variety of reasons it never got picked up by any of your mainstream drug companies.

But ibogaine hung around on the margins. This drug, like it's supposed to be doing the impossible, especially for heroin addicts. You take it. You go on this intense trip. And at the end of that trip, you have no withdrawal symptoms. None. Nothing. And you also have no desire to ever do heroin again. Well, this brings us to our story, which was put together by Lu Olkowski and Trey Kay. Lu narrates.

Lu Olkowski

At his worst, Dimitri was living in his parents' basement in Detroit. He had been using heroin for 27 years. His wife had died. Many of his friends had died, and he was edging towards 40. That was when it finally hit him that it was time to do something.

In 2002, Dimitri went to Amsterdam for an experimental ibogaine treatment. It was given to him by a woman who cared for drug users our of her thatched roof farmhouse, surrounded by her five kids. Thirty hours after taking the drug, Dimitri was cured of his heroin addiction, literally cured of his 27-year-old habit. He remembers waking up at the crack of dawn three days later and experiencing a sensation that he hadn't felt in years, joy.

Dimitri

I have never felt that good in my life. Didn't need heroin. I was completely exhausted. And I just kept on saying-- I said praise God, over and over and over again. And one of the little girls-- I can't remember which daughter it was. She said, "We had a black man from the Bronx, and he kept saying the same thing. Praise God and praise God."

Lu Olkowski

Dimitri says a lot of people come out of ibogaine treatments feeling euphoric, almost evangelical. And Dimitri became a kind of ibogaine convert, determined to take the good news about this miracle drug that had instantly cured him, to other junkies. He knew tons of people back in the States that needed help. And as far as Dimitri was concerned, they weren't treated well by the traditional medical establishment.

Dimitri

I mean my girlfriend works at a hospital. She comes back and tells me these stories. I've seen it. I've been in a hospital when I was an active user and fought with doctors for friends of mine. I had a friend of mine sitting home with spinal meningitis and aspirin because they didn't believe it. And he turned out to be HIV-positive too. And I take him in a second time. And got in a big fight with this doctor who started moralizing. "God only gives you three chances." None as an MD, but he knows how many chances God gives you.

Lu Olkowski

And so Dimitri decided to become an ibogaine provider himself, to save his friends just like the woman in Amsterdam had saved him. There were only two problems with this otherwise laudable goal. First of all, because ibogaine is a hallucinogen, it's illegal in the US. It's a Schedule I drug, like heroin. And if Dimitri was caught buying or selling ibogaine, he could go to prison for the rest of his life. The second problem was that by giving people ibogaine, Dimitri was basically doing the job of a doctor or nurse, without being either.

Dimitri was a small-time rock star, bike messenger, dishwasher. He hadn't even taken a first aid course. And ibogaine is a potentially dangerous psychotropic. So for guidance, Dimitri hooked up with other underground ibogaine providers, former junkies like Dimitri who over several decades had developed a kind of ad hoc collection of protocols about dosage and care. And the first time he gave a treatment, it went OK. But with the second guy, a drug dealer who helped Dimitri find ibogaine and who actually referred addicts to him for treatment, it didn't go so smoothly,

Dimitri

So we go through the process. He gets done with it basically. OK. This is my second treatment. And then he goes into a seizure, eyes rolling to the back of his head, foaming at the mouth, biting his tongue, a seizure. It was unbelievable. I thought he was dead, Long story short, I was freaked. And actually at that point I panicked. I didn't know what to do.

This guy was going to die and what the hell am I doing? And this guy's going to die. And yeah, what business do I have to do this?

Lu Olkowski

Dimitri managed to get the guy to a hospital, where he eventually recovered. But this was the first time Dimitri realized exactly what he had gotten himself into. How crazy it was to be flying without a net, doing a job that put other people's lives into his hands. And this is the issue. Dimitri knows what it's like to be a junkie, to be desperate, frantic, to quit. And he believes that since he has what he thinks is a cure, despite the risk, it's his moral responsibility, his obligation really, to help.

Dimitri

It's terrifying, man. And especially, you spend time with these people. You get to know people. God, you don't want them to die. You don't want them to be hurt in any way.

Lu Olkowski

Because Dimitri doesn't want his clients to be hurt in any way, he tries to be as much like a professional clinic as a former junkie with a by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation can be. He says he's even cobbled together a set of rules, more or less through trial and error. For example, a client should be clean of drugs and alcohol for a certain amount of time before treatment. They should get EKGs if possible and liver panels. And so just like he's had to invent nearly everything else about this job, he's had to invent boundaries for himself. Boundaries that are hard to maintain with everyone.

Dimitri

They ring my doorbell, call me up in the night. I had a guy threatening to shoot me two weeks ago who had had a relapse. And this is like a real close guy, man. He wanted to [BLEEP] kill me.

Lu Olkowski

Having a client threaten to shoot you probably wouldn't be accepted in the world of professional medicine. But Dimitri sees addicts differently than most people do. He loves them. I interviewed him for a total of 35 hours over seven months. And here's how he described every single addict he knows.

Dimitri

He's really a god. He's a beautiful guy. He's a great guy. He's a musician. He's a writer. He's an incredibly sweet man. And he's such a great guy. He's got great taste in music. He's read some great books. He's funny. He's strange. I like him, man. I really like him.

Lu Olkowski

One of the people Dimitri talks about this way, one of his clients, is Jimmy. Jimmy's middle-aged, clean cut, working class. The kind of guy you'd see working at the post office or sitting next you on a bus. He's clearly genuinely a sweet guy. But if you hang around with him long enough, you feel the dark cloud that follows him around.

I talked to Jimmy a few days before Dimitri was going to give him an ibogaine treatment And he told me he had tried to shake heroin many times before. He'd done traditional rehab, and a whole array of alternative treatments. He even tried ibogaine once before, with another underground provider. According to Jimmy, ibogaine pretty much worked the first time around. He says after the treatment he felt no craving for heroin. The thing that made him relapse was the dark cloud, all the other problems in his life.

Jimmy

Somewhere around three or four months when I started feeling a little bit lonely again. It's like, why isn't anything really happening? I mean I'm feeling all these feelings, but what's really changing in my life. I remember Eric was talking about a guy taking ibogaine. And a few months later he met a girl. He got married. So I'm like, when is this going to happen for me? And then I started getting to feel like, ahh, maybe I'm just the same old person, and there is no cure.

Dimitri

Let's see where this knucklehead is.

Lu Olkowski

I'm standing on a street corner in the rain in midtown Manhattan with Dimitri. It's 5:00 PM, the time Jimmy is supposed to show for his treatment. But he's late. Dimitri is not happy. Just the week before, he was waiting for a client in the exact same spot and the guy never showed. It's not unusual. The flake factor is an occupational hazard when your entire client base is heroin addicts. But it still gets to Dimitri, who's always nervous and tense before a treatment.

Dimitri

I'm getting hives, which is normal. You see. It's all over my legs and my feet. I get hives every treatment.

Lu Olkowski

Finally, three hours later-- three hours-- Jimmy arrives.

Dimitri

There he is. [WHISTLES] Jimmy! Jimmy!

Lu Olkowski

We drive up and open the car door for Jimmy.

Dimitri

[BLEEP]. Get the [BLEEP] in the car.

Jimmy

Sorry for putting you through a lot of crap.

Dimitri

What did you forget? That you're going to take like a [BLEEP] strong African hallucinogen today. It like slipped your mind?

Jimmy

Yeah. I just crashed because I was like up all night.

Dimitri

Oh, OK. At least you got some sleep.

Lu Olkowski

And then Dimitri begins the underground provider equivalent of an intake survey.

Dimitri

You been hydrating yourself today?

Jimmy

Yeah, sort of.

Dimitri

When's the last time you used?

Jimmy

Thursday.

Dimitri

What time?

Jimmy

7:00 maybe, 8:00.

Dimitri

OK. How many bags were you doing at the end?

Jimmy

It really depended on how much money I had. I tried to hold a bundle through the whole week. And I ended up doing the whole bundle of in one day. I mean I can't hold onto it. It sucks.

Dimitri

Yeah, yeah.

Lu Olkowski

As I listen to this exchange, it's hard to tell if Dimitri is getting any useful information. It's all so casual. Basically, Dimitri and Jimmy just joke around until we get to the hotel in New Jersey. A comfortable chain, where Dimitri has instructed Jimmy to book an economy suite with a small bedroom and a separate living space with cable TV. While Jimmy hangs out, Dimitri puts away some groceries and preps the room.

Dimitri

I'm going to set up a bucket for him to puke in. I want to make the room as dark as possible. Good thing we're starting at night.

Lu Olkowski

Dimitri is careful to make everything as comfortable as possible for Jimmy. He even turns around the LCD alarm clock because he knows people are really sensitive to light when they're on ibogaine. Then he takes out about 20 capsules containing varying amounts of ibogaine. He leaves the pills on the desk and tries to figure out how much to give Jimmy.

Dimitri

All right. I'm going to do about 16. [WHISTLING] Hmm, that's too much. Hmm.

Lu Olkowski

Can you see what you're doing?

Dimitri

I'm going to give him a dose of like 16 milligrams per kilogram. I'm just trying to combine the pills so they add up to that. Yup, that's right. OK.

You ready, buddy?

Jimmy

Yeah, I'm ready.

Dimitri

OK.

Lu Olkowski

Jimmy strips down to his underpants and crawls into bed before taking the dose. His job is to lay there, as still as possible, in this dark room and let the drug take effect. Dimitri's job is to wait on the other side of the door in case anything goes wrong. After two hours, Dimitri goes in to check on his patient. Jimmy doesn't acknowledge we're there until Dimitri asks how he's doing. He opens his eyes and looks around. But just like a newborn baby, his eyes don't really focus on anything.

Jimmy

Oh, it's really intense.

Dimitri

It's really intense?

Jimmy

Yeah.

Dimitri

OK. Did you throw up a little bit?

Jimmy

Huh?

Dimitri

Did you throw up a little bit?

Jimmy

Yeah.

Dimitri

You're doing fine though, buddy. You're doing really good. Do you want me to get a towel for you?

Jimmy

Huh?

Dimitri

You want a towel?

Jimmy

No.

Dimitri

OK, buddy. OK.

Lu Olkowski

The treatment takes about 30 hours and is, at least for Dimitri and me, uneventful. We watch a lot of TV. Dimitri checks in on Jimmy and cleans him up when he throws up. Jimmy just lies there having visions, not sleeping, but not fully coherent either.

Dimitri seems worried when Jimmy's finished with the treatment. Jimmy's isn't euphoric the way people usually are. Instead, he's kind of depressed and agitated. And after chatting a little bit, Jimmy reveals that he'd been doing coke the night before.

Jimmy

I was getting high the night before. Coke.

Dimitri

Oh, you did coke the night before.

Jimmy

Yeah. I was smoking crack.

Dimitri

Oh, smoking crack. Oh, let me tell you something. Don't smoke crack the night before.

Jimmy

I actually prior to when you called me up, I was smoking crack. When you called me and asked me where I was.

Dimitri

At 5:00 o'clock?

Jimmy

Yeah.

Lu Olkowski

Oh, my god.

Now remember that when we picked Jimmy up, he told Dimitri he'd been clean since Thursday, the day before the treatment.

Dimitri

So did you smoke crack all night?

Jimmy

Yeah.

Dimitri

So you didn't get any sleep?

Jimmy

No. I was smoking crack.

Dimitri

So basically you haven't slept since Thursday morning. And it's Sunday evening.

Jimmy

Right, right.

Dimitri

So like, yeah, so you kind of had that crack ibogaine combo a little bit, right?

Jimmy

Yeah. I was doing benzos and methadone too.

Dimitri

Oh, really. How long?

Jimmy

For about two weeks.

Dimitri

Anything else? I mean right now it doesn't really matter. Just for my amusement.

Jimmy

No, no.

Dimitri

You weren't like sniffing shoe polish or anything like that? No, no glue. OK. All right.

Lu Olkowski

Dimitri was joking. But later when I talked to him, he copped to the fact that mixing all those drugs was a really bad idea. Something horrible could have happened.

Lu Olkowski

And so, the risk would be like heart attack?

Dimitri

I don't know. I don't know. To be honest with you, I don't know. Maybe I should know, but I don't.

Lu Olkowski

When I went home, I called the doctor who does ibogaine treatments at a licensed clinic in Cancun, Mexico. He told me that because Jimmy had taken benzodiazepine, there was a serious risk of seizure and potentially death, which brings us back to Dimitri's constant dilemma. He knows he's doing a really risky job. He can't control everything. And the stakes are very high. And when I raise this with him, he suddenly seemed sad.

Dimitri

I probably don't have a lot of business doing it in a certain sense. But there's nobody else doing it.

Lu Olkowski

And that it seems is the heart of it. No one else is doing it. So far everything's worked out OK for Dimitri. No one has been killed or hurt on his watch. In fact, he feels he's helped many people. And he likes doing this work.

Dimitri

The actual work is basically touching people, cleaning people, nurturing people, holding people up, soothing their fears, being stern when they need some direction. And during the actual-- and being really patient and quiet. It's not about me.

Lu Olkowski

The job is to love these people, he says. But sometimes that's really hard. There are just so many addicts with so many problems.

Dimitri

OK. This guy's got a probation officer. And he needs to do this, this, and this. But he doesn't have a house. And this other guy's homeless too. And she's got like all these abandonment issues. And then this one can't really get it, because to get off the psych meds would be too much. And on and on and on. All these people with really sad, hard lives. I think about like what am I really doing? How important is it? And I think about that a lot. I think I've said this many times. This is what I can do. OK. This little thing. This little thing.

Lu Olkowski

Dimitri just hopes doing that one little thing is enough.

Ira Glass

Lu Olkowski. She reported this story with Trey Kay.

Act Three. If This Ark Is A Rockin', Don't Come A Knockin'.

Jonathan Goldstein

Contrary to what most people think, the years leading up to the great flood were actually quite joyful. The pre-flood generation saw that the random smitings, the slavery, and the back-breaking labor of the early days had left their forefathers bitter and hateful. And so they collectively resolved to live lives of greater ease. Work, they realized, was overrated.

Two days of toil a week were plenty. In this way, they had time for hobbies. People drew pictures, played music, and danced. It was a golden age of art. And the pre-flood generation really felt like they were onto something.

One man though felt that this whole business was ass-backwards and off track. His name was Noah. He was over 400 years old and was used to the work ethic of the good old days. Noah swore in his wrath that he for one would always remain old school and he would keep his children old school, by teaching them about the value of good, hard work.

Noah and his sons were contractors. They built huts for people. Officially, the company name was Noah and Son and Son and Son. Though in private, Noah referred to his outfit as Noah and his good for nothing dummies. He called his sons dummies at least 100 times a day.

Noah knew he disciplined his boys with great ferocity. But he also knew it was necessary. During those dark, evil days, one had to teach one's children right from wrong. And if that involved the use of straps, riding crops, thick branches, throat punches, and leg locks, so be it. That was what a father had to do.

One day while yelling at his sons as they worked, Noah heard a voice. He could only hear it faintly, under his own words. At first he thought it was a whistling in his nose hairs. He pressed a finger to each side of his nose and shotgunned mucus onto the floor. But still, the ghostly voice below the surface of his own speech persisted.

When he stopped to try and hear it better, the little voice would cease. Noah started to speak once more. And once more he heard the tiny voice behind his own voice. It was mumbly and high pitched, and he could hardly hear it. He kept his mouth shut for the rest of the day, communicating his wishes to his sons through a hardy assortment of lashes, sucker punches, and head butts. He put down his wine jug and waited for sobriety to return, whereupon he would take a long walk with Brandy, his beloved poodle. He would talk freely. He would see if the little voice still lingered.

Several weeks went by, and the voice continued still. Eventually, Noah began to understand little bits here and there. Out in the woods, Noah would speak. I am talking. I am talking. Blah, blah, blah. My sons are dummies. Blah, blah, blah. I am listening, and I'm talking. Blah, blah, blah. And as he spoke, he could hear, "You must build an ark made of gopher wood. I will guide your hand to choose animals, which you will place within the ark. There is going to be a great flood. All will drown except you and yours, and the chosen animals."

"What is gopher wood?"

"It's this wood that gophers like."

"Can I enlist the help of the dummies to build the ark?"

"No. You must do it yourself."

"Why build an ark?"

"I shall bring a flood that will wipe out the world. The whole thing was a bad mistake, except for you. You I like."

"Who are you?"

"I'm the creator of the universe."

Noah decided to set the whole family down and tell them what God had in store. I was just talking with the Lord, said Noah. And you know what, he regrets having made his children too. And he says it just like this. I will blot them out.

The brothers looked at each other. "What does that mean, blot them out?", asked his son Shem. You take your thumb and you smoosh 'em into the earth like lady bugs. He's going to drown the whole world with his tears of rage. And after everyone's dead, he's going to start fresh. And guess who he chose to spearhead the operation? That's right. Me. Also, you virginal dummies have to get married so we can reseed the earth. Enough waxing the nimrod. Clean your toga and get out there.

His father had had visions before. And so the prevailing opinion was that the old man was, once again, off his rocker. Of everyone, the family, the neighbors, the village at large, it was Noah's youngest son Ham who was the only one that sort of believed that his father might not be crazy. From what Ham had heard about God, he was a lot like their father. Tough, stubborn, and prone to yelling right in your face for pretty much no reason. To Ham, a flood didn't seem that out of the question. And God would have chosen his father, because his father felt just like he did. He hated his kids, and was going to teach them the meaning of righteousness by killing them dead.

Sometimes when his father was hard at work on his ark, Ham would sit off to the side and draw pictures of it. It incensed Noah. Are you sick in the head, Noah would exclaim. Why would anyone want to make stupid pictures? Can you eat them? Can you build a house with them? Can you use your precious art to diaper your loins? As far as Noah could see, Ham's artist friends did not contribute much to society. Still, Ham liked them. He spent much of his time with a woman artist named Lila. Recently, Lila had covered an apple tree in bear fur and replaced all the apples with dead snakes. She called it the tree of knowledge.

Ham thought Lila's work was provocative. And he thought Lila herself was possessed of a strange blond-haired, weasel-like beauty. While sitting together one day sketching pictures of Noah as he worked, Ham turned to Lila and said, "If somehow the old man is right about this whole flood thing, I'd like you to come and ride out the flood with me." Lila considered Ham's offer. Then she took his hand.

When the ark was ready, Noah took to the task of gathering animals. After only one day of work, he already looked like hell. He appeared to be bleeding out of every pore in his body. He had two black eyes, three broken ribs, and his nose hung half off his face from a bobcat bite. So great was his pain, that after the very first day even Noah began to doubt whether he had actually heard the voice of God. "Is one obligated to trust the voice inside one's nose?" Noah asked himself. Maybe I am sick in the head. But what is there left for me? If I admit to that, it means the dancing dummies are right about the world and I am wrong. There is nothing left for me to do but to persist. And so he persisted.

As Noah hunted around for animals, he judged them. He wanted to try and bring only the most worthy animals aboard his ark. He would stop by a group of rabbits and figure out who was a hardworking rabbit and who was a lazy, stupid dummy. Judging the rabbits made him feel a bit like God. He liked that. As he walked away with the ones he had chosen for salvation, he would look back at their brethren and shake his head disapprovingly. Goodbye, you dead dummies. And that was that.

The flood started slowly. It did not seem biblical at all. The first day was nothing more than a drizzle really. Nothing to cause alarm. It continued like this for some time. We sure are getting an awful lot of rain for this time of year, people said. But eventually it got worse. The rain fell faster and heavier. Each drop fat with purpose and spite.

Ham stood looking at the ark with Lila at his side. His father was already on board. He'd begun to live in there several days earlier as the very first drops of water fell. Ham turned his head towards the sky and felt the drops of rain pock-mark his face. He imagined them all in the ark. He imagined the aardvarks, the orangutans, the smell, the claustrophobia, his father's constant screams and shouts. He imagined himself deciding at the very last minute to forego the ark entirely and take his chances with the flood.

The sky began to hemorrhage. All at once, the drops became indistinguishable one from the other. The water poured down like all the heavens had become an inverted ocean. Ham opened his mouth to scream and caught a yap-full of water. The taste reminded him of this time when he was 10 and had almost drowned at the beach. In a panic, he grabbed Lila by the skin of her bicep and together, they ran up the plank and into the cold, echoey darkness of the ark.

The first hands he heard banging at the outside walls of the ark felt like nails pushing into his temples. Then there were more hands, pounding, punching, scratching. Then kicks and shrieking that even drowned out the sound of the rain. The worst was when Ham was able to make out individual voices. He could hear their neighbor [? Zebala ?] and her little daughter Ariel. They called his name. "Let them bang", said Noah. "God knows what he's doing."

"You know, we can empty out the alligator cage to make room for a few more people", offered Ham. "The world can do without alligators."

"And disobey God? You dummy. And you try reopening that door. Do you have any idea what a pain in the ass we'd be in for? No thanks." Noah sat down and ate apples in the dark, waiting for his ark to rise above the world.

For 40 days and 40 nights, they rode the ark as the animals roared, whined, and screeched. Sometimes when things quieted down, Noah and his family pressed their ears against the walls to try and figure out where they were. Most often though, they just spent their time remembering. Ham thought back to the days he'd spent with his artist friends and some of the old crowd he ran with. There was Aloysius, who lived in a tree house and made big pots of bark soup for the hungry. And Gwendolyn, a young widow who kept her big fat baby in a sack on her back. And when she danced, you couldn't help but smile. He thought about every single person he had ever known, and how he would never see them again.

Believing it might bring him some solace, Ham pulled out a stick of a sketching tool and some parchment, and went over to draw the puppies in their cages. He studied their faces. He tried to see what God and his father had seen in them, why they had chosen in these particular dogs over all the others. The two dogs paced about their cage. And as Ham watched them, the puppy that was slightly larger set upon the haunch of the other. And for no apparent reason, tore into it with nasty, purposeful bites. The smaller dog yelped, twisted its body over, and sank its teeth into the ear of its attacker. Flopped upon each other in this way, the puppies rolled across the floor.

Ham turned away and walked over to the giraffe cage. There he found the long-necked beasts eye-to-eye, each trying to step on the other's hooves. He looked over at the tiger cage, where the tigers were scraping at the walls to get at the bear cubs next door. And the bear cubs sat stock still, eyeing Ham with hunger. Ham left the cages and went looking for Lila. She was sitting on the floor, painting a flower onto a rock she held in her hand. He knelt down beside her, put his face in her hair, and waited for the rain to stop.

Ira Glass

Jonathan Goldstein. He's the host of the CBC radio program, Wire Tap.

Credits.

Ira Glass

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by Mr. Torey Malatia, who is always coming up and asking me, what is the point to all these radio shows that we do?

Jonathan Goldstein

Can you eat them? Can you build a house with them? Can you use your precious art to diaper your loins?

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.