Transcript

37:

The Job That Takes Over Your Life
Transcript

Originally aired 09.27.1996

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/37

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Maupassant didn't care much for the Eiffel Tower. And he didn't care for the food at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. But he ate lunch at the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower all the time. "It is the only place in Paris," he used to say, "where I don't have to see it." That is exactly how I feel about my job. I come into work days. I come into work weekends. I stay late at night at work. At least if I'm here, I think, I'm not out worrying about all the things I'm supposed to be doing when I get here.

My dad used to work days and weekends and nights when I was a kid. Now, some Saturdays, he calls me up. I'm at the office. He's at the office. A couple weeks ago, I realized two things about my job, my job producing this radio show, this one right here that you're listening to. I realized that every week as I come to grips with the fact of having to actually do the show, I go through the five stages that Elizabeth Kubler Ross says you go through to come to grips with death. Do you remember the stages? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. That was the first thing I realized.

The second thing I realized was that if I'm having these feelings, I'm spending way too much time at my job. You know, I'm not here to talk about me though. I'm here to talk about you. Our show today, it's all about you. You, you work too hard. You spend too many hours at work. You spend too many hours thinking about work. And if you don't have a job, you spend too many useless hours thinking about that.

Today's show, The Job That Takes Over Your Life.

Act One, a guy who interviews sick people until he comes to believe that he is sick.

Act Two, some teenagers who think they're signing up to be in a play find out they're joining a sort of cult instead.

Act Three, guys who thrown in the slammer simply because they don't want to work in unsafe conditions.

Act Four, let's not even go into what's in Act Four right now.

Act One. The Test.

Ira Glass

Act One.

Scott Carrier

I was hired to interview men and women in the state of Utah who receive Medicaid support for treatment of mental illnesses generally diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Ira Glass

That's Scott Carrier, who's had an on again, off again, career as a radio reporter in Salt Lake City. He was hired for this interviewing job because the director of the research project heard some of his radio stories and thought he was a good interviewer, somebody who knew how to listen. They taught Scott how to administer this test which measured mental health. It was 100 questions, each of which was scored on a scale of one to seven. It took an hour to give the test. Scott was paid $30 for each test he gave. The people he gave the test to got $5.

Scott Carrier

I had little understanding of schizophrenia before I began, and I have little more understanding now. I took the job because I had no other. I took the job because I just quit my steady job, my professional job, after realizing that what I wanted more than anything was to put my boss on the floor and stand on his throat and watch him gag. Then my wife moved out, took the kids and everything. She said, "I've thought about it, and I really think it's the best thing for me at this time in my life."

And so I took the job interviewing schizophrenics because it was offered to me, and because it was all there seemed to be. And it seemed somehow predestined, a karmic response that could not be avoided. It would only be temporary, something to get through the summer. And I was told that they needed someone willing to drive around the state, through the small towns searching out individuals who were often transient and prone to hiding. I like to drive. I like to travel, and I like the idea of pursuit. So I took the job and did the job, and my life will never be the same.

The patient is 21 years old and has lived with his parents since his discharge from the Army. He has no friends, no recreational activities and no social life. He spends his time writing and reading, but these activities do not give him any pleasure. He has lost weight, has general anxiety and loss of libido and occasional feelings of unreality. He is worried about his unpredictable behavior. For example, getting down on all fours and chewing the grass because he was thinking what it would be like to be a cow.

The patient is 25 years old and believes that she is the devil and therefore responsible for all the evil in the world. She has not been out of her house for seven days and only comes down from her room for meals. A few days ago, her mother walked into her room and found her crying. She asked her mother what was the most painful punishment that one human being could inflict upon another. The mother tried to get the reason for this question, and her daughter mumbled something about the devil having to be punished for the benefit of humanity, something about having to die for his sins. When the mother asked her if she still thought she was the devil, she answered, "Let's not get into that again. It only upsets you, and you don't believe me anyway, even when the evidence is all around you, plain for you to see."

The people I interview are all so sad, so lonely with such thin souls, like ghosts and demons have invaded their hearts and are sucking their souls dry. A person's soul should be like an ocean, but a schizophrenic's soul is like a pool of rain in a parking lot. They suffer, and they are completely alone in their suffering. And there's nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do, to bring them back. I come home at night and cry. I sob like a three-year-old.

Today, halfway through an interview with a man in Tooele, he says "I have a crystal in my pouch. Do you want to see it?" I say "OK," and he takes it out, a normal crystal the size of a large paper clip. And he says, "I can look through this, and it will tell me whether you're a good person or a bad person. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to look through it or not?" My first thought is to say, "Do you want to go on with the interview? Maybe when we're done, you can look through the crystal."

But then, I realized that he's really asking me to take his test, just like I'm asking him to take mine. I come into his house, I ask him very personal questions, and I expect him to answer honestly. And why should he? So I say, "OK, go ahead." And he puts the crystal up to his eye, turns it clockwise and counterclockwise, back and forth, squinting, looking me up and down. And he says, "I can't tell for sure. I'm going to have to read your mind. Here, take my hand."

He holds out his right hand with the crystal resting in the palm. I take his hand, and he puts his left hand over mine and squeezes it tight and shakes it and goes into a small spasm. The he lets go, and sits back like he's exhausted. He asks me if I felt anything, and I say, "Maybe a little." And he says, "I sent you a message. I put it in your mind. I told you what is wrong with me."

I'm not supposed to figure out what's wrong with these people. I'm just supposed to ask the questions and score the answers from one to seven. This is partly because I'm not a doctor and might get something going that I wouldn't know how to contain. But it's mainly because my supervisors want clean data. They want all the people asking the questions to be doing it in the same way. I'm not supposed to get emotional. I'm not supposed to let the patient get emotional. The therapy part of the county mental health system is in another department. I wouldn't even know what number to call, and I've been told more than once not to worry about it. I should never have let him take the crystal out of his pouch.

I drove around all day trying to find a Navajo man. He lives very close to the Four Corners, the cross where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. It's all dirt roads, a house every five miles or so, no addresses, no phones. I stop at every house and knock on the door, but either nobody's home, or nobody will answer. I flag down every car that passes and ask directions, and the people offer complicated directions that I follow as best as possible, sometimes driving for 20 or 30 miles. But it's always the wrong place, or nobody's home, or there just isn't a house there at all.

Driving around, I think about how I have some of the same problems as the people I interview. I'm angry, depressed, prone to paranoid delusions, and I worry a lot. Up to now, I thought these were common problems, and that I was more or less able to control them. But now, I don't know. I feel like I'm just faking it. Eventually, late in the afternoon, I find the man, or at least I think he's the man. I'm a third of the way through the test before I realize he's not the right guy.

"When was your last visit to a mental health clinic?" "I don't go to the clinic." "When did you last see a doctor?" "I don't have a doctor." "Do you blame yourself for anything you've done or not done?" "No." "Have you felt more self-confident than usual?" "No." "Have you heard voices or other things that weren't there, or that other people couldn't hear, or have seen things that weren't there?" And he says, "I think you want to talk to my son." And I ask him what his son's name is, and he says, "Same as mine."

I come back the next morning and interview the son in the kitchen. They make coffee for me on a propane camp stove as the house has no electricity. The son is 19 years old, a good looking kid, tall, healthy, says he used to run cross country in high school. He seems to be fine, but as I go through the questions, he starts to fix his eyes on mine, a direct, almost hypnotic stare straight into my head like he's trying to pull me in and trap me. I try to look back, to look just as deeply into his mind, but it's like looking into a cave.

He says he hears voices, satanic voices, and that he worries a lot about his shoes, that they're not the right kind, not the kind he sees on MTV. I can't tell if he's sick, or if he's just trying to torture me. And I drive away thinking, I don't know anything about this disease, that I know even less than when I started. I spent two days driving around and I made $30. And I feel really, really, tired.

The house is dark as all the windows have heavy curtains pulled nearly shut. The curtains over the big picture window in the living room are open just a bit, and the light cuts through like a laser beam and hits the red, shag carpet, throwing up small dust particles and cigarette ash. Two feet away from the light, near the television, is a slice of pizza lying upside down in the carpet. I'm interviewing a woman, a mother, and her teenage daughter is on the phone talking to her boyfriend, or rather a series of boyfriends who call and call, and all of them wanted to go out right now, but her mother won't let her. She's trying to answer my questions, trying to concentrate and be polite, but she's mainly listening to what her daughter is saying on the phone. And will suddenly switch from saying, "No, no, I've been feeling fine. I haven't had a relapse and months," to screaming out, "Is that John? I told you never to talk to him again." Or, "Who is it? Is it a boy? You can't go out. Tell him he has to come over here."

I can't stop looking at the slice of pizza on the carpet. I keep looking at the slice of pizza because it's the only clue that the woman is sick. I mean she has a teenage daughter and a dirty house, and maybe she shouldn't try to wear her makeup to bed, but these are not necessarily symptoms of schizophrenia. She seems to be fine, just worn out, until I get to the question, "Have you been worrying a lot?" And she says yes she has. She's been worrying a lot that the elders of the Church, the Mormon Church, will take her daughter away from her.

And I ask her why, and she says because she stopped taking her medication. And I ask her, "Why did you stop taking your medication?" And she says that the only reason she takes it is because she told her bishop that she was visited by the archangel Gabriel, and that she had had sex with him. And then, she was also visited by the archangel Michael, and that she had sex with both of them at once. And that they'd ravished her almost every night. So her bishop made her go to a doctor, and the doctor gave her some pills. And she took the pills, and the angels stopped coming. The bishop and the elders had told her that if she had sex with any more angels, they'd take her daughter away. So I asked her again why she'd stopped taking her medication. And she says, "I'm lonely. I miss them. I want them to come back."

Today in a restaurant eating lunch between interviews, I decided to take the test. I answered the questions and scored myself appropriately, and at some point I realized I wasn't doing so well. I decided not to even add up the points because then I'd be left with a score, and I'd never forget it. If I were to write a report on myself, it would sound something like this.

"The patient is 36 years old and lives alone since his wife left him three weeks ago. She took the kids and all the silverware, except for a large knife and a bowl and a coffee cup. The patient admits that her leaving may have had something to do with the fact that without warning, he completely gutted the house, tore out all the walls and ceilings, all the lath and plaster right down to the studs. He says he did this in order to live like a primitive. When asked if he was successful, he says it was the first step in the right direction."

"The patient is a 36-year-old male who lives alone since his wife and children left him two months ago. He says there's a darkness that separates him from other people, a heavy darkness, like looking at a person from the bottom of a well. He believes that if he could say the right words, then the darkness would go away. He says he sometimes knows the right words but cannot say them. Other times, he can't even think of the words to say."

"The patient is 36 years old and lives alone since his wife and children left him three months ago. Last week, he went fishing in the [? San Juans and now believes that there's no better fisherman than himself. He says, 'I can't tell you about it because talking about fishing is silly, like farting and tap dancing at the same time. All I can say is I walk around in the water, and I know the instant that fish will jump for the fly. I cut open their stomachs and squeeze out the bugs in my hand, study what they eat, how it all gets digested, even the exoskeleton and wings.' He says he was sick before, but now he's OK, and that it was the fly rod, just holding the rod in his hand, that cured him. His house is clean. The electricity is on. The walls have been sheet-rocked and painted white. He says, 'I'll have to ask her, beg her, and maybe she'll come back.'"

Ira Glass

That's Scott Carrier in Salt Lake City. Years after writing that story, it is now in print in a collection of Scott's work, which comes out in March, called Running After Antelope. Coming up, more stories about jobs that take over your life.

Act Two. Hair.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Tribe. Of course this is This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. And a couple weeks ago, coming out of The Bluebird, a bar here on Clybourn Avenue in Chicago. I was with my friend Teresa, and we're going out of the bar. And we walk, and there's this group of maybe 40 people that comes skipping. I mean that's a word you don't really use very often to describe people, adults, in front of you, but they were more or less skipping down the street, chattering, half walking, half running. And they greet us joyously and look us in the eye. And they surround us, and they seem curious and happy and alive. It seems like a group of three or four dozen people who are in love, in love, all of them.

It turns out it's the cast of Hair, which is in town, or was in town then. These are mostly college kids from Cal State Fullerton who've been drafted into this road company of the show, grown long hair. One woman tells me, "I have never felt so strongly about love and peace and the war." They're not just in a play, they say, they are on a mission, a mission to spread tolerance and love. And they say things like--

Hair Cast Member

1996, we need the message of love, peace and freedom because without a small group of people that can hold onto those old values, we're in major trouble. The idea is we have to live the life so that we can continue that that life is real.

Ira Glass

They're all wearing matching necklaces with these little Native American stones hung on them, signifying that they're are members of a tribe they call the Potawatomi Tribe. They all live together in a dorm. And a couple days after this, Peter Clowney, from the staff of our radio show, decided to visit that dorm to see just how much this job, being in this play, had taken over their lives.

Peter Clowney

When I arrive at the dorm, it's 1:30 in the afternoon, and most of the tribe is just getting out of bed. The show's choreographer is playing Prince on a boombox in the second floor lobby to wake everyone up. About six people dance, and late risers in towels and boxers weave their way around them on their way to the showers. Some of them stop for hugs. I collar one for questioning.

Peter Clowney

So are you a happy member of the tribe?

Ephraim

Oh, extremely happy, extremely happy. I've never been happier, ever.

Peter Clowney

What does the tribe do for you?

Ephraim

They give me so much love, love that I've never felt before in my entire. It's so scary because I called my mom on Sunday, and I told her how this has been really life-changing and everything. And I really scared her. But I mean it's just been so great. I wish it could never end. I really do.

Peter Clowney

I hear this maybe a dozen times while I hang out with the tribe. Phyllis Ivy, an enthusiastic member of the tribe, listens in on my interview with Ephraim, and then she jumps in.

Phyllis Ivy

I have a question, Ephraim. Do you differentiate the show, Hair, from the tribe, or is this a production that-- because we're going to go on. We're all going to play other roles and everything. I mean true, this is such a life-changing experience for me as well, but when you get down to it, we are actors. We are paid to play this role.

Ephraim

This show is so different thought.

Hair Cast Member 2

True.

Ephraim

I will never be as close to other actors as I will to this group.

Peter Clowney

The original producer or Hair, Michael Butler, traveled the country for two years looking for a college production of the show that he could turn into a national touring company. He chose this group because on stage, in some undefinable way, they seem like a real tribe. They have the spirit of a real tribe, even if they aren't the greatest singers and dancers. And in the early days of rehearsals for the national tour, they had encounter sessions where it was drilled into them that this is more than just a show, that this is more than just a business, that they really are a tribe.

But of course it is a business. People have jobs to do. They have to be able to sing and act and show up on time. And when the producers take the show on the road, they'll face a business problem. There's only enough money to bring about 25 of the cast members, downsizing from 38. Phyllis Ivy says it'd be understandable if they chose the best singers and performers.

Phyllis Ivy

There are people who can't sing in this show. There are people who can't hold pitch. There are people who can't act. There are people who can't dance. If we were to audition for this show, if in New York, Michael Butler wanted to hold auditions for the world tour of Hair, there are not a lot of people in this cast who would be in that show.

Peter Clowney

This sounds common sense, but within the world of this tribe, it's heresy. They've been told that everyone belongs in the tribe if they believe in it and work hard. A few cast members stand and listen to Phyllis say this with their arms crossed. And then they come over. "Can I pipe in?" one of them asks.

Sasha

Can we pipe in?

Phyllis Ivy

Sure.

Sasha

OK, because I don't want anything negative to be--

Phyllis Ivy

Oh no.

Sasha

But you know what? We've got more heart and soul than any of these casts put together, and our show is actually pretty incredible. And I know I never would have probably had a chance because I'm not a strong singer, but with my dedication and my heart and soul involved in the show, it's been life-changing. And it's a lot more than that.

Hair Cast Member 3

Sasha is one of those people who cannot really-- she's not a vocal person. But she is a great and every bit a part of the show as you and I are.

Peter Clowney

When Phyllis Ivy responds, she's trembling.

Phyllis Ivy

I didn't want to appear like that. However, I mean we've talked about tribe, and we've talked about how we all bring in individual talents into the show.

Peter Clowney

I walk downstairs, and I'm surprised to see how quickly word spreads that I saw them disagreeing. They want me to believe they get along. When I go into the rec room, where some of the guys are playing ping pong, a cast member comes looking for Nathan, one of the de facto leaders of the tribe.

Hair Cast Member 4

Hey, I have to talk to you right fast.

Peter Clowney

You have to talk to me?

Hair Cast Member 4

Yeah, real quick.

Peter Clowney

There's a hurried conversation around the corner. Nathan returns with a speech to make to me.

Nathan

I know that everybody wants the best for this show. If it goes on with the 38 people we have now, great. But if not, those people are going to obviously go through a lot of pain and a lot of hurt. But then I think that their belief in the show is going to continue to just send us energy and vibes and say, we still love you guys really and we want you to do the best that you can.

Peter Clowney

Nathan is not just spinning me. He believes this. He's completely sincere. Of everyone in this group, Nathan, at 21, is the one everyone says is a real hippie. Nathan dressed like a hippie. He looked like a hippie even before he got a part in Hair. An for nine months now, he's been a peacekeeper in the group, someone whose earnestness and belief in getting along and taking care of each other has helped keep the group going.

But now, while Nathan talks about love holding the cast together even when 13 people might get cut, one of the guys in the room, Rod, snorts and mutters under his breath. And then he lays into Nathan.

Rod

It's [BLEEP], Nate, to say that you're not going to have animosity, and that you'd be saying good vibes. Who's going to be sending good vibes, man?

Nathan

OK, then maybe not for you. But wouldn't you be happy if I went on tour?

Rod

Who do you know that's going to be sending good vibes when they don't get to go?

Peter Clowney

Are you going to go on the tour?

Rod

Probably not. I would love to, but I doubt it. I'll have to get down on my hands and [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Hair Cast Member 5

Let me go. What about ping pong man?

Rod

No, I really want to go. And if I don't go, I'm going to be really miserable and really hateful.

Hair Cast Member 5

And he's honest about it too.

Rod

I'm going to be-- I don't know. Nathan, you know you're going to go.

Nathan

I don't know that I'm going to go.

Rod

The only guy with real long hair and a beard, and they're going to leave him here. Give me a break.

Peter Clowney

Unintentionally over the course of nine months, the tribe has revived another part of '60's communal living along with peace and love. It's resentment, competitiveness and paranoia. I was taken aback when I asked Derek an innocent question like, "What's the tribe like?" And he responded this way.

Derek

Here's the point. I'm going to tell you this. Whoever doesn't want to be Potawatomi shouldn't be Potawatomi, and they really shouldn't be in the Potawatomi tribe, which will happen. If you cannot be Potawatomi, walk. If you don't want to be a tribe, get out. If you don't like what we do, get out. It's where we are. And if you think that you can stay in and still want to put a monkey wrench in our action, you will not. We will put you out. We invite you in, and we ask you to leave.

Peter Clowney

I did those interviews a few weeks ago. And for now, the cast is off-tour. Most of them are at school. No decisions have been made yet about who would tour in the spring, and so everyone is still getting along. When they run into each other at school though, members of the tribe still hug each other, just like they always have. And another student said to them recently, "When are you guys going to cut out all that love crap?"

Ira Glass

Well, coming up, guys who get thrown in jail because they refuse to work in conditions that get 320 of their coworkers blown up. That's in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. The Port Chicago 50.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week of course we bring you a variety of stories around some theme. Today's theme, the job that takes over your life.

Newsman

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press. Flash, Washington. The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Stay tuned to WOR for further development, which will be broadcast immediately as received.

Ira Glass

After Pearl Harbor, the Navy opened to blacks for the first time. But rather than get sent out on ships, one large group of African American men found themselves stationed in one of the least desirable dumps. It was literally a dump, an ammo dump called Port Chicago. This is just north of San Francisco. Now, the place is called Concord Naval Weapons Station. Their job was to load ammunition onto ships, and conditions were so unsafe that it was the site of the worst stateside disaster of the war. On July 17, 1944, two ships blew up, killing 320 men and rocking all of San Francisco in what many people thought was just an earthquake.

A court of inquiry blamed the sailors. It concluded-- here's a quote, "The colored enlisted personnel are neither temperamentally nor intellectually capable of handling high explosives." Well, when survivors were ordered right back to work-- the guys who had survived the whole thing, they were sent right back to work. They were told, go back to work under the same conditions. 50 of them refused, and they were sentenced to up to 15 years of hard labor.

Over the years since then, there have been many attempts to clear their names, including in 1944 by then civil rights attorney, Thurgood Marshall. Dan Collison spoke with five survivors of the incident about what really happened at Port Chicago.

Port Chicago Worker 1

We sent everything out of there, from 30-30 rifle cartridges all the way up to 2,000 pound blockbusters, we called them.

Port Chicago Worker 2

My job basically was to load ammunition with the crew, which worked in the hold of the ship.

Port Chicago Worker 3

You'd be down in the hold. Here come those big bombs and things coming down the ramp-way they had built. But sometimes, they let it come down too fast. And they hit together, and they made a loud noise.

Port Chicago Worker 2

You hear this all night long, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

Port Chicago Worker 3

And this would almost give you a heart attack. Yeah, you would almost have a heart attack. And so we used to ask them sometimes, say, "Is there any danger of this ammunition exploding?" They'd say, "Oh no, don't worry about it. It's safe. It's not live." They said they don't have any detonators in them.

Port Chicago Worker 4

We were not trained to load ammunition. We would take ammunition-- we'd take a crowbar when we had to go so high. We'd take that crowbar and push that ammunition up there because they told us it would not explode because it didn't have any detonator in it. We believed that.

Port Chicago Worker 2

All of the loading crews were black. There were no white loading crews. You didn't have a lot of white people that you saw.

Port Chicago Worker 1

We only had basically one officer, and he would be the only person white.

Port Chicago Worker 3

Well, the white officers, they didn't have much to do with us anymore. And to stand around and supervise and see that we loaded that ammunition.

Port Chicago Worker 4

It was pressure. We were told that so much had to be done that night. We had to do this so much. It was a rush race.

Port Chicago Worker 5

And the division commanders push the petty officers to push the man to load as much as they could as fast as they could. But we knew they were betting, $100 or so that my division will put on more ammunition than your division.

Port Chicago Worker 2

Each one would put up money that their division would out-load the other one for those particular shifts or that particular day. They had day lotteries, week, and whole ship lottery.

Newsman

Frequently, the urgent need for ammunition forced the depot to load two ships at the same time at the same pier. So it was on the night of July 17, 1944. The Quinault Victory and the E.A. Bryan were moored at the Naval magazine, Port Chicago. 16 cars of ammunition and bombs were spotted on the pier beside the Quinault Victory as the ship rigged to load. Bryan had been loading day and night for more than three days. 3.5 million pounds of explosives were aboard or waiting nearby on the pier. Everything was normal until 10:19.

Port Chicago Worker 1

It was a Monday, a hot July day. And for some reason, the day was kind of a day that I felt a great foreboding, and I don't know why.

Port Chicago Worker 2

The lights were out at 10:00. So the lights went out at 10:00. We were all returned to our bunk.

Port Chicago Worker 1

I had pimples, still being a teenager. So nightly, I would go in and tidy myself up and put on Noxzema. And I got back to my locker, put my gear away, said my prayers and leaped up-- I had a top rack-- and I leaped up in the rack. And here comes the voice over the intercom system again. "Lights out. Quiet about the deck."

Port Chicago Worker 2

I'm laying there with my hands behind my head looking out at the sky. And at that time, I guess a few minutes after the lights went out, the sky lit up, and it was just like the sun rose. Everything was bright. You could see all the buildings for a second.

Port Chicago Worker 1

Shortly after that, here comes the second explosion, filling the sky with all kinds of lights and colors like at a fourth of July celebration.

Port Chicago Worker 2

Then came the concussion. The concussion blew a hole in my body. My left arm got mutilated. Face, head, neck, shoulders and body got mutilated. That was the first explosion. The second was just a few seconds afterwards. That lifted me out of the bunk and threw me on the floor.

Port Chicago Worker 1

All hell broke loose, and it was just a lot of confusion because glass was everywhere. Men were just in fear, and some had run out in their bare feet and shorts. And it was just bedlam.

Port Chicago Worker 2

You could hear the people now screaming and yelling, "Get out of the barracks. It's coming down." So I myself scuffled, crawled out and took off for the outside.

Port Chicago Worker 1

And when there were no other explosions, then I crawled out. But then I noticed that I couldn't see clearly. And that's when I first realized then that I was hurt. And I called to my buddy, "Hey Morris, come and get me and take me to the sick bay." And then somebody else hollered, "Well, the sick bay has been blown up."

Port Chicago Worker 2

When I got outside, there were a few people outside yelling for volunteers to go down to the docks. I went up to the guy and said, "Hey, I want to volunteer." He asked me, "Did you see Percy get out of the barracks?" He didn't recognize me. He was my squad leader because my face was so mutilated from the blood and guts.

Port Chicago Worker 1

The left eye was lacerated so badly that that was removed that night. And then the right was lacerated, and so consequently, the right eye-- eventually, I lost the sight in that too. So that was the beginning of the end and caused me to be a blind person.

Newsman

In the Pacific war, American battleships, cruisers and destroyers shelled Guam island on Sunday for the second straight day. Here at home, officials say that 337 persons are known dead or missing and presumed dead, more than 300 hundred others injured, as the result of last night's explosion of two ammunition ships at Port Chicago in upper San Francisco Bay. And now, General Electric takes you to Washington.

Port Chicago Worker 4

The first thing I thought, same thing, Pearl Harbor again So that's what it was like, just like somebody dropped bombs over the whole thing. It didn't look like it was an explosion from one of the ships. It looked like a plane had come down and just bombarded the place.

Newsman

In the waterfront barracks and administration area, buildings crumpled like cardboard, roofs blown off, walls gone. In the vicinity of the loading piers, total destruction. Both ships broken, twisted hulks.

Port Chicago Worker 3

That was a shocking thing to see those ships torn up and seeing-- I was standing watch over all those dead bodies. I had to stand watch over that. That was my duty, and you couldn't tell one from the others.

Newsman

Meantime, the court of inquiry was collecting testimony and exhibits. Experts in all fields were called in to study the area. The cause of the explosion could not be fixed with certainty, but it was suspected that a depth charge was accidentally detonated.

Port Chicago Worker 5

I knew what it was because we were expecting it all the time. We worked with that in mind that one day, that stuff would blow up.

Port Chicago Worker 3

We felt like just we were getting a raw deal because we were the ones that were doing the dirty work. We were the ones that were fooling with the ammunition. So why shouldn't we have a leave of absence to get away to get your nerves settled. But that didn't happen.

Port Chicago Worker 2

I think I was in the hospital maybe all week, and I think the day after, I returned to [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. We were ordered to go to work, and I still was bandaged up, face, arms. My stitches were still there and everything. So we were lined up outside the barracks to go to work. They hadn't told us what we had to do yet, but then they said, "Forward march."

Port Chicago Worker 5

I was marching on the outside. I called cadence. Something like this, Hoo left, hoo left, hoo left right left. Left 2, 3, 4, left, right, left. And I believe it was Lieutenant Delucchi He said, "Column left." And when he said, "column left," everybody stopped because "column left" meant we were going to the docks. And the docks meant loading ammunition.

Port Chicago Worker 4

They gave us an ultimatum, would you load ammunition? That's the ultimatum we had. And I told them myself, I said, "I am absolutely afraid," which I was. "I'm afraid to load ammunition." "You step over there then." Then they called another one, and I think he told them the same thing. "You step over there." And when the end of the day was over, I think just about all of us had stepped over there.

Port Chicago Worker 2

Then the Admiral came down and explained to us what our responsibilities were.

Port Chicago Worker 3

He told us-- he said "Well, one thing I want to tell you is that you could be charged with mutiny if you don't go back to work."

Port Chicago Worker 5

And he explained at that time, if we refused to go back to work, he could have us shot.

Port Chicago Worker 3

It was the cue. When he said you could be shot, then the fellows went to mumbling. You know, a lot of people are afraid to die.

Port Chicago Worker 2

From my upbringing, my mother taught me that if a white man threatened to hang you, he would do it at his first legal chance. And she told me about the Klan, and she was brought up in Mississippi. So I believed that they had a legal chance to shoot us, so I was afraid. So I said well, I'm not going to give them a change to shoot me. I'll go back to work.

Port Chicago Worker 3

But then 50 of us decided we weren't going to go back to work. If we were going to get shot, they just had to shoot us because we weren't going to go back and load anymore ammunition.

Port Chicago Worker 5

That's when we were arrested. I would say "arrested" because we were all shipped to I think it was Treasure Island. We were sent to stockade. Then we found out that we were charged with mutiny.

Port Chicago Worker 3

We didn't commit any mutiny. We didn't take over any ship. We didn't take over a base. We had no weapons. We didn't even have a pen. We only refused to go back to work. Now how could that be mutiny?

Port Chicago Worker 5

I didn't know anything about mutiny. I just knew that I didn't want to work under the same conditions that I did work under and advance the chance of the same thing happening again.

Port Chicago Worker 3

Well, the mutiny trial-- it's just like a thing that is cut and dry. We were all sitting over here. All the white officers were over here. We weren't allowed to say anything but what they would ask us.

Port Chicago Worker 5

The verdict was guilty as charged. I expected it from the way that the trial went. Of course, the length of the sentence was a surprise.

Port Chicago Worker 3

The lowest sentence in there, I think, was eight years. I had 12 years. And some had 16.

Port Chicago Worker 1

Well, I don't even remember crying behind it. I know I did after I got into prison, but it just seemed like it was something that was going to happen in the end after the trial. You know after you sit in the trial for a few days, then you see what was going down.

Newsman

7:00 PM, Eastern Wartime. Bob Trout reporting. The Japanese have accepted our terms fully. That's the word we have just received from the White House in Washington. This, ladies and gentleman, is the end of the Second World War. The United Nations, on land, on the sea, in the air and to the four corners of the Earth, are united and are victorious.

Port Chicago Worker 4

Well, when the war ended, after they had suspended our sentence, they had to release us. We got our discharge.

Port Chicago Worker 5

My discharge from the Navy prevented me from receiving jobs that I would have received as a civilian. It branded me as a person incapable of following orders.

Port Chicago Worker 3

I used to not be able to talk about it because it would hurt. It would hurt inside. You didn't want your friends to know that you was in the service, and you had been charged with mutiny. You didn't want people to think that you didn't like your country or something, that you'd do something like that. They're still in this country we knew about.

Port Chicago Worker 4

Not even with the fellows I worked with. I didn't talk about it with my wife or children. Every time I would bring it up or even think about it, it looked like I got a hateful feeling in me. And it would just about tear me apart. I just hated the other race. And the hate was building up. It stayed with me. The hate stayed with me. Hate can really destroy a person. I could've been a better father, I believe, if I hadn't had that hate. I wouldn't abuse them or anything, but there were just things that I didn't talk about, things I held in, things I think I could have done better.

Port Chicago Worker 3

We can think of ourselves as a hero because we stood up for our rights. We stood up because we knew that we did not commit mutiny.

Port Chicago Worker 4

I think it was right. I don't know how heroic it is, but it was right.

Port Chicago Worker 5

I was fighting for something, and if you were to ask me to put a name on it, I don't know. But things were not right, and it was my desire to make things right. I have never felt ashamed of the decisions that I made. I did what I thought was best, and I did it in the best way I knew how.

Port Chicago Worker 3

Long ways back. It doesn't seem like it's been 50 years, and it still hangs over us at 50 years.

Ira Glass

Albert Williams, Freddie Meeks, Joseph Small, Percy Robinson and Robert Routh talked to Dan Collison, who produced that story. Gary Covina was the editor. Funding for the story came from the Funding Exchange. The Navy has made it a policy never to discuss the Port Chicago case, and has never exonerated the sailors who were court-martialed. In 1999, President Clinton pardoned one of the survivors, Freddie Meeks.

Act Four. Orientation.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Orientation. Our theme today is the job that takes over your life. And of course nearly any job can do that. You don't have to be working in unsafe conditions with millions of tons of explosives to have a job dominate you. In fact, I would argue even the most innocent, innocuous office job could do the trick. I offer as evidence this story by Daniel Orozco called "Orientation."

Matt Malloy

Those are the offices, and these are the cubicles. That's my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the voicemail system answer it. This is your voicemail system manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed. These are your in and out boxes. You must pace your work. What do I mean? I'm glad you asked that. We pace our work according to eight-hour workday. If you have twelve hours of work in your inbox, for example, you must compress that work into an eight-hour day. If you have one hour of work in your inbox, you must expand that to fill the eight-hour day. That was a good question. Feel free to ask questions. Ask too many questions, however, and you may be let go.

Russell Nash, who sits in the cubicle to your left, is in love with Amanda Pierce, who sits in the cubicle to your right. They ride the same bus together after work. For Amanda Pierce, it's just a tedious bus ride made less tedious by the idle nattering of Russell Nash. But for Russell Nash, it's the highlight of his day, It's the highlight of his life. Russell Nash has put on 40 pounds and grows fatter with each passing month, nibbling on chips and cookies while peeking glumly over the partition at Amanda Pierce, engorging himself at home on cold pizza and ice cream while watching adult videos on TV.

Amanda Pierce, in the cubicle to your right, has a six-year-old son named Jamie who's autistic. Her cubicle is plastered from top to bottom with the boy's crayon artwork, sheet after sheet of precisely drawn concentric circles and ellipsis in black and yellow. She rotates them every other Friday. Be sure to comment on them. Amanda Pierce also has a husband who's a lawyer. He subjects her to an escalating array of painful and humiliating sex games to which Amanda Pierce reluctantly submits. But we're not supposed to know any of this. Do not let on. If you let on, you may be let go.

Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce's existence, has eyes for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance, but Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. It's the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense of course.

Anika Bloom in that cubicle. Last year, while reviewing quarterly reports in a meeting with Barry Hacker, Anika Bloom's left palm began to bleed. She fell into a trance, stared into her hand, told Barry Hacker when and how his wife would die. We laughed it off. She was, after all, a new employee. But Barry Hacker's wife is dead. So unless you want to know exactly when and how you'll die, never talk to Anika Bloom.

For your information, we have a comprehensive health plan. Any catastrophic illness, any unforeseen tragedy is completely covered. All dependents are completely covered. This is our kitchenette, and this, this is our Mr. Coffee. This is the microwave oven. You are allowed to heat food in the microwave oven. You are not, however, allowed to cook food in the microwave oven. This is the refrigerator. You may put you lunch in it. Barry Hacker, who sits over there, steals food from the refrigerator. His petty theft is an outlet for his grief. Last New Year's Eve while kissing his wife, a blood vessel burst in her brain. Barry Hacker's wife was two months pregnant at the time and lingered in a coma for a half year before dying. It was a tragic loss for Barry Hacker. He hasn't been himself since. Barry Hacker's wife was a beautiful woman. She was also completely covered. Barry Hacker did not have to pay one dime.

But his dead wife haunts him. She haunts all of us. We have seen her reflected in the monitors of our computer moving past our cubicles. We've seen the dim shadow of her face in our photocopies. She pencils herself into the receptionist's appointment book with the notation, "To see Barry Hacker." She left messages in the receptionist's voicemail box, messages garbled by the electronic chirps and buzzes in the phone line, her voice echoing from an immense distance within the ambient hum. But the voice is hers, and beneath her voice, beneath the tidal whoosh of static and hiss, the gurgling and crying of a baby can be heard. In any case, if you bring a lunch, put a little something extra in it for Barry Hacker. We have four Barry's in the office. Isn't that a coincidence?

This is the custodian's closet. You have no business to be in the custodian's closet. Kevin Howard sits in that cubicle over there. He is a serial killer, the one they call the Carpet Cutter, responsible for the mutilations across town. We're not supposed to know that, so do not let on. Don't worry. His compulsion inflicts itself only upon strangers, and the routine established is elaborate and unwavering. The victim must be a white male, a young adult no older than 30, heavyset with dark hair and eyes and the like. The victim must be chosen at random, before sunset, from a public place. The victim is followed home and must put up a struggle, et cetera. Kevin Howard does not let any of this interfere with his work. He is, in fact, our fastest typist. He types as if he were on fire. In any case, when Kevin Howard gets caught, act surprised. Say that he seemed like a nice person, a bit of a loner perhaps, but always quiet and polite.

This is the photocopier room, and this, this is our view. It faces southwest. Enjoy this year while photocopying. If you have any problems with the photocopier, see Russell Nash. If you have any questions, ask your supervisor. If you can't find your supervisor, ask Philip Squires. He sits over there. He'll check with Clarissa Nix. She sits there. If you can't find them, feel free to ask for me. This is my cubicle. I sit in there.

Ira Glass

Daniel Orozco's story, "Orientation," appears in Best American Short Stories, 1995. At the time it was published, he was making his living as a temp in Seattle, Washington. This story was read by actor Matt Malloy.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself, with Peter Clowney, Nancy Updike and Amy Takahara. Contributing editors for this show, Paul Tough, Sarah Vowell, Jack Hitt and Margie Rockland.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, www.thisamericanlife.org, where you can listen to our programs for absolutely free or buy tapes. Or you know you can download audio of our program at audible.com/thisamericanlife, where they have public radio programs, bestselling books, even The New York Times all at audible.com. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who we love despite his flaws.

Matt Malloy

He is a serial killer, the one they call the Carpet Cutter, responsible for the mutilations across town.

Ira Glass

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

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