Transcript

420:

Neighborhood Watch
Transcript

Originally aired 11.19.2010

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International.

Paul Gereffi

This person's an airline pilot so they're gone quite a bit.

Ira Glass

Paul Gereffi is a letter carrier in Ft. Lauderdale. He's been doing the same route on and off for 15 years.

Paul Gereffi

This house next door here, one of the original Miami Dolphins lives there from the 1966 team. And this guy's a policeman. That's why that car's there.

Ira Glass

After closing up his truck, he heads out on foot with the mail. Before we get to the story of the guy whose life Paul saved, a word about the mentality you can get walking a mail route.

Paul Gereffi

This is a couple that have young children, and now their kids are going away to college. You see them growing up. And next thing you know. Like here there's a pennant in front of the house. It says Ole Miss. He's going to Ole Miss. This guy here just passed away about a year ago. He was a retired mail carrier. He was a really nice old guy.

[BARKING DOG]

Paul Gereffi

Hey!

Woman

Hey! Stop it.

Paul Gereffi

What's going on? We were just talking about your father.

Ira Glass

It's not like the mailman knows a lot about any of us, but he's the one person in the neighborhood who knows a little bit about everybody.

Paul Gereffi

Oh, once in a while a man or woman will pull down in the street. "I'm moving out. Here's my change of address, individual only." You know, it's just sad, because they're splitting up or something bad's happening. So you just sometimes know things. It's like a doctor. You know things about people, but you don't say anything or acknowledge it. It's just in your head.

It's funny because I'll run into people sometimes, and I'll know their name and then I'll know their address. And they'll say, "How do you know my address?" And I say, "Well I'm your mailman once in a while. You have that little grey box off to the side, and it's got a little dent in the front. They'll just freak out.

[MAN ADDRESSESS HIM]

Paul Gereffi

Good. How you doing?

Man

All right.

Paul Gereffi

Good, good.

Ira Glass

Sometimes knowing just a little bit about everybody, you step in.

Paul says that a common scam in Southern Florida is the people who go door to door pretending to sell stuff just to see if it's an old person who lives in the house, to see if they live by themselves, casing the place basically to rob it later. He's called the cops lots of times on strangers in the neighborhood who seem to be doing just that. He's comforted a little boy who came out of his house crying one day, wondering why his mom's late getting home from work. And he saved a guy. He went into the studio with me to tell me the story.

It happened one day. Paul was driving in his mail truck. He saw these two guys standing on the sidewalk in front of an office building right near the entrance to the parking lot.

Paul Gereffi

And they were punching each other and fighting and wrestling. As I'm coming closer, I noticed some people standing there watching. One guy I remember clearly had his arms folded. And I'm thinking, OK, they must be filming a movie. Sometimes they film movies in the area. And that was my initial thought. Well I kind of recognized this guy from delivering his mail occasionally. He owned a pizza place there. So as I got closer, he saw the mail truck. And he started waving his hand back and forth for me to stop. So I slowed down. And he had this guy by the pants with one arm and he put his hand to his ear for me to call for help. And he's saying, "Help! Help!"

Ira Glass

So Paul pulls over and he calls 911, when he notices that the pizza shop owner must have been stabbed. There were these huge circles of blood on his clothes. The two guys were still tussling on the ground.

Paul Gereffi

So in the midst of this, what really struck me as odd is a person that worked at the office building is pulling into the parking lot. These two people are fighting. The guy saying, "Let me go! Let me go! Leave me alone!" And she very carefully steers around them, goes into the parking lot, parks her car, gets out, looks back for a second, and goes into the building like, Well, I've got work to do or something.

Ira Glass

Paul found out later that would had happened was the older guy, the pizza shop owner, had fired the younger guy, told him to get out.

Paul Gereffi

The guy went home, came back, snuck in the back door with a steak knife, and stabbed him five times. And after he did that, he ran to get away. Well, the restaurant owner in his anger chased him out into the parking lot to apprehend him so he couldn't get away. I mean he was not going to take it. So even though we found out later he was in critical condition-- he had been stabbed five times== he chased the guy maybe 50 yards to the back of the parking lot, caught him.

Ira Glass

That is amazing.

Paul Gereffi

And that's when I came across the scene. So I heard the sirens coming. I'm pleading with the dispatcher, "Hurry, hurry!" Then the police came, and ironically the guy that had been stabbed ran. He ran away back to his restaurant, because he was worried that he had left the door unlocked. So they had to catch him and sit him down until the ambulance got there.

What struck me really odd about the whole situation was that so many people stood there and did nothing. And that's what the gentleman said, "You know, people drove by. They were standing there, and nobody helped me until the mailman came by."

Ira Glass

The National Association of Letter Carriers named Paul one if its Heroes of the Year in 2008 for this. Others who were named that year, a postal carrier in Cedar Rapids who crawled inside a partially submerged car and rescued the driver. A carrier in New York who alerted the authorities to what became a major identity theft case, had been noticing tons of credit card mail in the name of an 85-year-old woman who had been in a nursing home for months. It's so common for letter carriers to stumble onto something during their route and perform a good deed that these incidents are a regular feature of the Letter Carrier Association's monthly magazine.

These postal workers, they see what is happening around them, and they feel responsible. Versus the rest of us. We're more like the people standing on the sidewalk. And today's show is about the tension between those two different ways of reacting to trouble. Which kind of person do we want to be? I mean really. Not pretending. Really.

Our show today in four acts. Four acts where there are decent reasons for people step in and help and even better reasons not to. Stay with us.

Act One. Wary Home Companions.

Ira Glass

Act One, Baby Steps.

Let's begin today with a story of a bunch of people on the sidewalk in one neighborhood deciding if they're going to intervene one by one. And mostly, I have to say, deciding yes. I don't think that's much of a spoiler. And they say yes for reasons that will all become clear enough to you. Ryan Knighton is the dad in the story. He's Canadian, and I only point that out because he uses the word nappy.

Daniel Beirne

"I think I'll take Tess for a walk," I announce one morning. Tess is our 4-month-old. This would be our first walk together. My wife Tracy paused. "Oh," she said. "Uh, OK." "I've already got the baby chest sack carrier thing," I said. "If you can put her sweater on or whatever." "You sure?" Tracy asked. I was already busy putting the harness on inside out. "Yep. We'll be fine." "I'll go with you then," Tracy said. She sounded extra cheerful, persuasive.

I couldn't angle a kind way to say, "But I don't want you to walk with us. For once I want to take Tess for a walk by myself." So instead I said, "Look, you never get any time alone." Tracy didn't need reminding. In four months, she'd never been further than the shower without Tess either in her arms or in sight. She hadn't much in the way of alternatives either. I'm her husband, but I'm also blind, and people are naturally wary of leaving me in charge of a baby, even my own.

Though I've been blind for 10 years now, I'm still not very good at it. I lost my sight slowly over a 15 year stretch, a slow and painless deterioration of my retinas caused by a genetic misfire with a long name. While I've adapted to much over time, four months with a baby is a slender window in which to perfect my new dad skills. Just imagine changing a nappy in the dark. What was once a diaper is now psychedelic origami.

Today my plan was to strap on our child for a walk through city traffic. You can understand Tracy's reluctance. "It's just a little walk," I said. "We'll be fine." "You have the baby carrier on upside down," she said surrendering.

A few minutes later I descended our front stoop with Tess. I have never been more petrified as a blind pedestrian. Tess was harnessed to my belly, and the weight of her there, that new presence against my chest and stomach, brought other sensations to the surface. I could feel memories of mushing my gut into any number of undetected obstacles, into poles, bicycles, parking meters, chain-link fences, you name it. I stepped cautiously, deliberately, as if carrying a sack of sweaty dynamite. I swept my cane with the care of a mine detector. 20 minutes later, we'd only made it to the corner. We live two doors down from the corner.

The first person to pass us saw the situation in simpler terms. "Jesus, that's got to be tricky," she said as she passed. Maybe she said it to me or maybe to a person she was walking with or maybe, as her phrasing suggested, to her pal Jesus. Already strangers were praying for our survival.

Within the next block and the next 20 minutes of slow-going movement, at least a half a dozen others offered similar prayers or insisted on guiding us or asked to take us home or asked if we'd lost mommy.

Slowly we edged around the corner at Grant Street and left the residential sidewalks for Commercial Drive. More people meant more noise to govern by, a good thing. The sound of traffic stretched into the distance, so at least I had something pointing me in the right direction. The help of crowds has a backhand though. Busy people pay less attention to their surroundings. Folks regularly clip my shoulders, and I've been caught off-balance and knocked down before. Here they might even slam us head on or smush a slice of hot, cheap pizza into Tess's face. And there will be dogs too. Usually it's pit bulls around here. Pit bulls leashed to bike racks or snoozing in front of doorways, as you'd find them in their native habitat by the Gates of Hades. Too often I've whacked my cane against a dog where no dog should be. And too many times large, toothy shadows have snapped at my legs. Tess could become a chew toy.

I waved my free hand in front of us, braced my arm, and pushed ahead, the way running backs rush into a dog pile, but really, really slowly. Within 10 steps, somebody clipped my shoulder. As I rebounded, it happened again, this time sending me off course towards a garbage can. A woman caught up with us. She'd retrieved Tess's baby sunglasses that had fallen to the sidewalk awhile back. "Here," she said. "You let the baby drop these." "Thanks," I said. "You should be careful," she said.

Telling a blind person he should be careful is like telling him to look out. It's not a question of should but how. I thanked her again and tried to fit the glasses back on to Tess's face. Mostly though I just poked at her chubby cheeks with the arms.

We shuffled on. Soon I recognized a voice at a sidewalk cafe table. The voice belonged to Joe, an older Italian man who continues to be as best I can determine shackled to my preferred coffee shop. "My God," he said as we approached. "You've got a little baby." He was up and at us in seconds, pinching Tess's cheeks. This was a man who looked past my blindness and her vulnerability. He simply drank in the baby and her babyness. It was refreshing. "I'm telling you," Joe said coming up for breath, "this is a hell of a beautiful baby. She likes me. I can tell." He tickled the baby some more. "And look," Joe went on, "she's got her little sunglasses on and--" Suddenly all the espresso fueled joy drained from his body. "The glasses. My God, no," he said, his voice low and serious. "She don't see. My God, she don't see like you." It took a few minutes to convince him that everything was fine. He found it hard to believe that babies might wear sunglasses for comfort.

As we rounded the corner at Graveley Street, stepping past the pub and local U-Brew, a mere 30 yards from home plate, I heard the ridiculous girth of an SUV shoot out from a building's underground parking lot. The weight of its super-sized engineering and Freudian neurosis blew across the sidewalk in front of us, close enough in fact to bat the cane from my hand and into the street. My heart stopped. I didn't know if Tess had been clipped. Everything happened so fast.

She sucked wind, readying a hail of tears and a permanent distrust of her father's guidance. Nothing came though. And still nothing came. So I knew she was shaping that worst cry, the deep, silent, open-mouthed cry, the one that can't find any voice in the beginning. I braced myself, and then it arrived. She violently shook and kicked and squealed with laughter.

Out of her came a glee powerful enough to start my heart again, a laugh like I've never heard before. Meanwhile the driver had stopped. He fetched my cane. Had I been one step closer home when the SUV had left the lot, my spine would have resembled what now remained of my cane.

"Sorry there," the driver said and handed me my new boomerang. "I didn't see you coming. Cute baby." Before I knew what to say or remembered how to yell, he was back inside his tank putting it in hyper-drive. "You should be careful," he said from out the window and sped away.

Ira Glass

Actor Daniel Beirne, reading a true story by Ryan Knighton, an excerpt from Knighton's book, C'mon Papa: Dispatches From a Dad in the Dark. This story originally aired on the CBC radio program Wire Tap, which is hosted by Jonathan Goldstein and distributed in the United States by PRI, Public Radio International.

[MUSIC - "YOU'RE OUT WALKING THE STREETS TONIGHT" BY SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET]

Act Two. Baby Steps.

Debbie Logan

I'm being asked if you want the dog to be intermittently barking in the interview or not. We have a dog in the office.

Ira Glass

Debbie spoke to me from her office. She's the building manager for a development of apartments and townhouses in Nashua, New Hampshire called Twin Ponds, 364 units. And in those 364 units, at least 250 dogs, she says. Since they started advertising their dog friendliness about a year ago, business has been unstoppable.

Debbie Logan

We have no weight or breed restrictions. We have one small dog playground on our property. We're in the process of building a large one. And that's why a lot of people come to us and why our occupancy rate it so high. It is 99%.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Debbie Logan

People love their dogs.

Ira Glass

Take that, economic recession. But of course there's a problem that goes with having lots of dogs around, and that's human beings who don't pick up after their dogs. You see this pretty much everywhere in the world where there's large numbers of people and dogs living together. And here at Twin Ponds, there's a woodsy area and a little brook and of course two ponds, lots of potential places for wayward, hidden poo.

Debbie Logan

There was a lot of problems, but it was impossible to find out who they were. They were very sneaky, and they would go out at night or around a corner when nobody's looking. And the bigger problem was that it was showing up in grassy areas where kids were meant to play.

Ira Glass

Ew.

Debbie Logan

I know. And around the ponds when people are going over there to enjoy the fishing. And one of the biggest things was I'd get a call that said, "Well I can't prove it, but I swear it's so-and-so in whatever unit number." Well I can't do anything with that.

Ira Glass

She tried the neighborhood watch kind of approach to the problem for a while, put the residents on the lookout.

Debbie Logan

We did offer to pay people if they could show us a video of another offender. It only worked for a very short amount of time, and we found out very quickly that people aren't comfortable doing that.

Ira Glass

Wait. It worked for a brief amount of time? How many people shot videos of their neighbors?

Debbie Logan

It was a while ago. I would say I maybe had-- Let's go with half a dozen.

Ira Glass

Half a dozen?

Debbie Logan

And most of those videos I couldn't even tell who the person was anyway. It just wasn't working, and the more we thought about that, that wasn't the right way to do things.

Ira Glass

So Debbie began researching. She spent four or five months looking for some alternative, looking at what cities do and what dog parks do to get people to pick up after their dogs. What she found was that nobody seemed to be doing much at all. She could put in video cameras everywhere, but that would cost a fortune. She didn't want to have to pass that cost onto her tenants.

Finally poking around on Google, she found a service called Poo Prints, which would DNA test all the dogs in her buildings and compare that DNA to DNA found in any errant poo. Watson and Crick, when they discovered the double helix in a strand of DNA, Crick supposedly announced, "We have found the secret of life." Now PooPrints was using that to keep the sidewalk clean.

Debbie Logan

And I happened to come across it finally. And initially I thought that it was a little on the crazy side to DNA dogs.

Ira Glass

Really? Why did it seem crazy?

Debbie Logan

Doesn't it sound crazy?

Ira Glass

Yeah, it actually does sound crazy. Well it just seems like, really? Things have come to this? That that's what we're going to do?

Debbie Logan

And it's working.

Ira Glass

It's working, though it took some effort. First step, Debbie had to get samples of all the DNA of all the dogs in all of her buildings. She had the owners bring the dogs to her office. They swabbed the inside of each dog's cheek with a Q-tip, paid $30.00 to cover the cost, and sent it to the lab. Which you would think would be simple, except that they're dogs. You have to schedule them one at a time.

Debbie Logan

You don't want the risk of you're doing a dog DNA in the office and you have someone else coming in. And if those dogs greet each other, then that's it. You have to reschedule that appointment.

Ira Glass

You mean because the dogs lick each other? That's the problem?

Debbie Logan

They're swapping DNA. That's right. So we only do an appointment every hour. And we stayed open late and weekends. So one of the things that I love the most right now is of course is if somebody calls and they've "found a pile," quote, unquote, on the property, we send a maintenance guy out, and we have a collection kit. And it's like we play a little CSI out there. We get our sample, send it in.

Ira Glass

And sure, she says, the poor maintenance guy who has to get a dab of poo and then mix it with a special solution and FedEx that sample to the lab in Knoxville. Not much fun for him. But just how exciting does Debbie find it? She finds it so exciting that she has a music cue on the ready on her computer.

Debbie Logan

So pretty much, when I know there's a sample to be picked up, I cue up the music and crank it when one of my maintenance guys is walking through the door. He knows exactly what he'll be doing when he hears this.

Jim Simpson

Well I don't think we have as much excitement as Deb does on her end.

Ira Glass

And as your poo technician, does he get excited when he actually gets samples to test?

Jim Simpson

No. That's another day at the lab.

Ira Glass

This is Jim Simpson, the president of the company that does the DNA testing called BioPet. BioPet was the kind of company that ran blood tests for veterinarians. Then a few years ago, they realized that since the dog genome had been mapped, there must be a way to make money selling DNA testing of some kind to dog owners. So they started doing doggy paternity tests. Yes, there is a market for that. Also they sell a test that tells you pretty inexpensively exactly what breeds make up your dog, though other companies offer those services as well.

But then when somebody at BioPet read about a town in Israel that had a huge problem with dog waste and that hoped to solve it with DNA testing of dogs, they wondered if it would be possible to get a DNA sample from dog poo and ship it to a lab in usable form. This turned out to be a tricky thing to figure out. Bacteria grows in the poo sample if you don't do it right. But finally about two months ago, they had it down. And they started to market the product, PooPrints, in earnest. Only six places have bought it so far, which is why the company president knows Debbie by name. She is his biggest customer for PooPrints. But Jim Simpson thinks the potential is huge.

Jim Simpson

We think it's worldwide. We've got representatives all over the world that are the starting to push the product and then they are getting interest. But we think it's going to be a material part of our business at the end of one year.

Ira Glass

Now I would think that another problem in terms of just getting this product out is that there are lots of places where there might be dog waste in front of a building, but it's in a city or it's on a street where all kinds of dogs come by who don't live in that building. And so testing all the dogs in that building isn't going to help you.

Jim Simpson

That's correct. Yeah, it definitely has to be a defined area. Most apartment complexes are a gated type community and they have a defined area for the dogs to go to the restroom, so it seems to work quite well. We do have some small islands that are looking at the program as well.

Ira Glass

That's right. He said islands, specifically on the island of Cypress in the Mediterranean, the town of Limassol. An environmental health official inquired about bringing in PooPrints to solve their poo problem. Meanwhile an executive in Copenhagen read that perhaps they could collaborate with BioPet and offered to help with the politics to institute mandatory adoption of PooPrints, either all through Denmark, or at least in its biggest cities. Though it has to be said that when people start debating mandatory DNA dog testing, they don't always end up choosing it.

Richard Hopp

I think what ended up happening in our building was people fell into camps.

Ira Glass

Richard Hopp is a resident of the Scarlett Place Condominiums in Baltimore, a fancy address near the water at the Inner Harbor. And this spring, a rash of doggy droppings in the hallways and supposedly even in the elevators of their high-end building led the condo board to consider DNA testing and $500 fines for violators. Richard tipped off a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He was squarely against the testing. He says that two puppies were being house-trained in the building at the same time, and that might have been a lot of the problem. "What was the big deal?" He asked. "Why start complicated new rules?"

Richard Hopp

What happened at the very beginning was the board had come up with this set of rules, what the fines would be. The guest dogs. In order to bring a guest dog into the building, they'd have to be DNA tested. And the people at the front door were supposed to check every dog that came in the lobby to see if they had a tag. This very elaborate set of rules.

Everybody was just laughing about it. And I thought it was just funny. So in my mind I was thinking, first of all, how do you know that you have every dog in the building tested? My little dogs don't have photo ID, so how is anyone going to know if I show up, have my dog tested, that it's really Sparky? Who would know?

Ira Glass

Wait a second. You're saying that people, members of the building, would actually try to evade the rules by bringing in a random dog for the dog test? That's what you're saying?

Richard Hopp

Well I don't know what would happen, but if you consider the kind of person you're dealing with, it's the sort of person who would watch their dog make a number two in the hallway inside the building and not do anything about it. So if you're dealing with that kind of a person to begin with, then who knows what they're going to do? And it just seems so silly to try and get a cheek swab from my little dog. I mean my dog doesn't even have a snout, so I'm not even sure that he really even has a cheek. He's not going to cooperate.

The whole thing just seems so overly complicated and overly expensive.

Ira Glass

I don't know. It's a Q-tip that you put into his mouth and then you pull it out. I don't know. It doesn't seem so hard.

Richard Hopp

I don't know. I guess I've never tried. And I suppose it's possible, but I mean it seems like there was an easier solution, which is either look at the closed-circuit cameras.

Ira Glass

Are there closed-circuit cameras in the hallways?

Richard Hopp

Yes. Or deal with it on a neighborly basis. It's a condominium building. I know for instance on my floor that there are four other dogs. And if there was a mess, I would be able to pretty well identify where it came from. And you just talk to people in a neighborly way, rather than trying to use this technological advancement.

Ira Glass

The article in the Sun papers got picked up everywhere, all over the country. There were TV stories. "And this was not good for the building," Richard says. "Board members who had supported the DNA testing," he says, "were made to feel ridiculous." The DNA idea was dropped. And the simple threat of action was enough to make the poo problem vanish too.

Richard Hopp

So there are still some hurt feelings in the building. There's two board members who won't even acknowledge me at this point if our paths cross in the lobby. Yeah, they were very upset by it.

Ira Glass

The apartment buildings up in Nashua, New Hampshire are a very different situation. Lots more dogs. All of the illegal poo was outside, where there were no closed-circuit TV cameras. And Debbie Logan says that the simple threat of DNA testing has had a huge effect.

Debbie Logan

I would say it only took about a month's time to see a dramatic difference once we started going, once the word started getting out there that we were doing this. The property has cleaned up not 100%, 99%.

Ira Glass

Now since you've started this, how many times have you had violations that you had to investigate?

Debbie Logan

We have actually fined six pet owners, and believe it or not, one of the people was a two-time offender, which is mind-boggling. It's a pretty steep fine when we catch you.

Ira Glass

What's the fine?

Debbie Logan

$100.

Ira Glass

What did the person say the second time?

Debbie Logan

The pet owner informed me that they believed they were having problems with another tenant and they thought it was a conspiracy and that it was a setup. It was staged.

Ira Glass

And did they lay out exactly how that would go? That somebody would abduct their dog, squeeze poo out of it, and then plant it? Did they lay out a whole scenario?

Debbie Logan

Actually the scenario was that they knew where they disposed of their dog droppings, and that they must have collected them in the middle of the night and then set it up on the property elsewhere, dot dot dot. It was hilarious.

Ira Glass

In the last two decades, DNA evidence introduced an element of certainty to our criminal justice system. Wrongly convicted men were sprung from prison. There was a clarity where things had been cloudy and ambiguous. And Debbie says that it's the certainty that's the most novel thing about doggy DNA testing, and it comes at such a cheap price and removes her from the he said/she said world of tenant disputes that's the bane of a property manager's existence. It's her favorite thing about the doggy DNA program, the certainty.

If people don't pay their $100 fines within a month, Debbie says that she'll start the eviction process. She's not kidding around. She runs a tight ship. But it hasn't come to that yet.

Coming up, what to do when your neighborhood watch is low-rent wise guys. We have practical tips. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Three. Witness for the Poo-secution.

Ruth Padawer

Emily's plan actually has two parts, and one of them is a real long shot. She's trying to recruit volunteers from all over Fair Lawn. Neighbors, strangers, anyone who is willing to sign up to be Scott's friend, to serve collectively as Scott's surrogate mom after Emily herself is gone. But first she had to lay the foundation. She'd already made sure Scott knew how to drive and cook and shop for his own food. But at 38, he was still living at home. So she bought Scott a house, basically so he could have a trial run at living on his own.

Emily Feldman

I wanted to be there for the mistakes, because I felt that by the time something happens to me, he would know that he's fine. I mean I'm here. I can make sure it's going right and make those corrections, that nobody will have that quote "burden." I don't want anyone to have that responsibility. So this way I'll see it.

Ruth Padawer

Emily couldn't have a better vantage point. Scott's house is smack across the street from her. It's a cute Cape Cod with essentially the same floor plan as the house where he grew up, except this one's his.

On the summer day when Scott gave me a tour of his new place, he had lived there only a few days.

Scott Feldman

This is the football pillow I got from Walgreens for myself, and this ladybug pillow I got from Bed Bath & Beyond. I was going to use it for my bedroom, but it looks better on this sofa here.

Ruth Padawer

The house became available last spring after the previous owner died. Emily's a school teacher on a limited budget, but she snagged a 1% mortgage for Scott through a state program for disabled adults. He makes the payments with his Social Security income.

The house is very tidy, but the setup is kind of strange. It looks like what a 10-year-old boy might come up with if he had the chance to live on his own. There's a dolphin nightlight in the bedroom, a list on the wall of US Presidents' birthdays and birth places that he got off the Internet, and tons of Disney DVDs and stuffed animals throughout the house. In the kitchen, Scott's taped hooks on the outside of each cabinet door and then hung a cooking utensil on each one. It's practical, but it looks a bit surreal, as if the ladles and spatulas simply floated out of the drawers and got stuck on their way to the ceiling.

Scott Feldman

It's easier for me to know it's there when I need it and I don't have to mix it up in the drawer, because we don't have enough drawers to separate all of these.

Ruth Padawer

Not surprisingly, Scott's had a few mishaps since he moved in. Early on he ripped out the metal tracking for all the closet doors because he didn't know what they were for and then dumped them at the recycling depot. And last month he strung an extension cord across the living room floor, then threw a blanket over it to cover it up. It took a while for Emily to convince him what a bad idea it was and that he should just tuck it under the carpet. It's as if now that Scott's in his own place, every day is the dress rehearsal for Emily's death, another day where she has a glimpse of how Scott will live without her.

Emily thought that once Scott got into his own house, the hard part would be over. But Scott has a tendency to isolate himself, and Emily worries the house gives him the perfect cave to disappear into. She's afraid that once she's gone, he'll withdraw, spend days without talking with anyone, and wind up feeling even more depressed, which he's done in the past.

So Emily wants to recruit people to check in on him, help him solve problems, take him out for a game of ping pong. She could use state funds to hire a caretaker or place him in a group home, but Scott's always hated following someone else's rules, so much so that used to hurl the TV and yank the toilet seats off their hinges when he felt boxed in.

Scott Feldman

I don't like people telling me what to do. People just like to steal my rights by annoying me with commands and threats.

Ruth Padawer

Emily spent the whole summer working diligently for Scott, trying to find volunteers who could create a safety net for after she's gone. She wants volunteers instead of paid helpers, not just because of the expense, but because she believes volunteers will be devoted to Scott, not a paycheck. She's not expecting anyone to be his mom, but she is hoping that if enough people step forward, Scott will be OK.

Emily Feldman

What I want to do is bring in as many people. I'm going to even ask somebody from the police. I want them to know he's here. Believe me, by the time I'm not here, I want to know that people are there for him in some way. And they don't have to do the work. It's just look in and if you see something's not right, there are other people to call. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to spend any money. It's just being there. I can't plan out everything. I'm not stupid. But what I can plan out, I want to.

All right. I made this flier to put up in places. If you notice, the letters are very big. "Big brother volunteer wanted." And then, "High-functioning young man needs a friend to accompany him to movies or bowling, the recreation center."

Ruth Padawer

A week earlier, Emily had stopped in at Benny's Luncheonette, the diner around the corner from where she and Scott live. She asked if she could post a flyer saying, "Autistic man wants friends." The owner thought the autism reference might scare people off. So today, Emily comes back with her new version and tapes it to the door.

She spends the next several hours working her way through town with a grocery bag full of flyers. She heads into the police station.

Emily Feldman

Is there somebody that I could speak with? It's not a dangerous matter. I was wondering if they have a Big Brother organization.

Ruth Padawer

Emily makes her pitch through a thick layer of glass, leaning in to be sure the cop on the other side can hear her.

Emily Feldman

But I was thinking even if they don't have an organization, would there be any policemen, young or old or whatever, who would want to be a friend, a big brother, look in on him.

Dispatcher

Nothing's coming to my head right now as far as a referral for you.

Ruth Padawer

The dispatcher gives Emily the number for the community policing officer. That's not particularly promising, but Emily is undeterred.

Next step, the town senior center. There she spins things differently to play up what Scott has to offer, not just what he needs. She trots out every possible lure she can think of. She tells the director that Scott likes old people.

Emily Feldman

He admires them because he thinks they're older and they know more, more about history and their experience of Presidents. And they were born at a time when there were the Presidents that he never knew. So to me it felt like it could do something nice for a person who maybe lost their wife or who's alone sitting here. And now they can have somebody. Maybe they don't drive and they need someone to pick up a quart of milk. He would do things like that, you know what I mean? And now he has a house. They could come over, and he could teach them some things.

Senior Center Director

OK.

Emily Feldman

He's good with the computer and stuff.

Senior Center Director

Great. I'll post this.

Ruth Padawer

I worried that the director was just sending her flyer to bulletin board purgatory. She could've offered to announce Emily's proposal during the daily lunch program or the all day Bingo games.

Next Emily heads to the mayor's office. She's been at this for hours, and she's clearly getting frazzled.

Emily Feldman

I wanted to ask. I've been really trying for the longest time, and I have been trying in the hardest way possible to get volunteers, people who would stop in on him.

Ruth Padawer

The two clerks behind the counter seem uncomfortable, maybe a bit embarrassed about how blatantly Emily's pleading.

Emily Feldman

So I just felt that because the mayor is the mayor, that he has to know people. He's the mayor, you know? I just feel that way about it and I would love to see somebody step up and say, I'm going to try and help you.

Ruth Padawer

The clerks suggest Emily try calling the Human Services Department or the Health Department or the Rotary Club. Emily tells them she has tried those things. She has also tried the town's high school, the local college, and our congressmen, and gotten nowhere. During her 20 minutes with the clerks, it's hard to ignore her rising sense of panic about what will happen to Scott if volunteers don't come through.

Emily Feldman

And the day comes that I'm not here, it would just be nice if people just knew who he was. I don't want him to be a prisoner in his own house. You know what I'm saying?

Clerk At Mayor's Office

You know what, we'll also do our Office of Emergency Management. They have an emergency phone chain and all, and if someone has special needs.

Ruth Padawer

A couple months after Emily knocked on doors and put up flyers, I checked in with her to see how things were going. Despite her efforts, not a single person had responded to her appeals in town.

Ruth Padawer

Your plan was this two-pronged plan. One, get him the house. And two, get volunteers to be the safety net underneath him. Obviously the house part has worked out.

Emily Feldman

Beautifully.

Ruth Padawer

How about the other part?

Emily Feldman

The other part hasn't worked out. It's funny. I thought about that too, how I was all gung ho that all of this would just fall into place. And I got tired of asking is what happened. It wore me out. I really didn't want to beg people. I figured the story was good enough, you know what I mean? And because you see it on television. You know you do. You see them push the bus. Here's the bus. I said, "I've never seen a bus." I'm waiting for the bus to come.

Ruth Padawer

What? I don't get the reference.

Emily Feldman

Oh you don't know that program on television?

Ruth Padawer

Emily explained she's talking about Extreme Makeover Home Edition, the ABC reality show where tradespeople, aided by volunteers in the community, renovate the house of a family suffering from hardship. A family like Emily's. Every episode, the producers send the family on a week-long vacation, and when they return, a giant tour bus is hiding the spiffed up house.

Emily Feldman

And then they go, "Move the bus!" And all the neighbors are there. And the whole neighborhood actually pitches in and helps. And it's like, wow. They did this for this family. Isn't this nice? I mean, it really would be beautiful, because you do get tired. But I can't walk away from it, and I can't just turn my back on it either.

Ruth Padawer

My producer, Jonathan, and I asked Emily why she thought the community wasn't responding the way she'd expected. Could it be that people were afraid of the responsibility of having someone rely on them or all the messy emotions that went along with that? She said she didn't think so.

But then she started talking about how a while back, she and another teacher helped out a colleague, a 50-year-old woman dying of lung cancer. They drove her to doctors' appointments, hauled her and her oxygen tank to Broadway shows, and sat with her in her last days.

Emily Feldman

And the hard part was I knew she was going to die. That was difficult, dealing with that and being with it. It took a lot out of me very honestly. And would I do it again so readily? No. I did it and I'm glad I did it, and she had a wonderful spirit, but, God, I can't give that much of myself.

Jonathan Menjivar

It sounds like you do understand why people would be reluctant.

Emily Feldman

I do. I do. I understand, because you put yourself in it emotionally, you know? So you're right about the fact that a lot of people are aware of that. What if I get involved here and I don't want to be involved? And so there is that. People stay clear of it maybe for that reason.

Ruth Padawer

The reality is that Scott does need more than just an occasional pal. Nearly every night for years, he's gone to Emily wanting to talk about pain from the past, like being taunted and rejected in high school. "Why didn't people understand?" he asks. "Why am I autistic?"

Scott Feldman

See I'm not happy about what I'm born with. I claimed that remark because of the way people mistreated me. What I'm trying to say is that because I was born with autism, I usually have a lot of fear and fright about life. Even today I get a little scared of people sometimes.

Ruth Padawer

It's that fear of socializing that sabotaged the one nibble of interest that Emily got. She had placed an ad on Craigslist seeking a volunteer to work with a high-functioning autistic man. Only one person answered Emily's ad, a 62-year-old unemployed construction worker from the Philippines named Pru Dumlao.

Pru Dumlao

I was looking for a job. It's very hard to find a job. So I have to do something. And then I saw him and I think, this one's good.

Ruth Padawer

Pru called a lot at first, and his enthusiasm made Emily uneasy, suspicious even. She wondered why on Earth a pure stranger would want to help out Scott. This was an odd turn of events. Here she was getting exactly what she'd wanted, and it creeped her out. Eventually Emily realized Pru had no family here and was probably just lonely and bored. She ended up inviting him to hang out with Scott.

Emily Feldman

Hello! How are you? Come in, come in. Scott was waiting for you.

Ruth Padawer

Emily invited Pru to go to the town recreation center with Scott. By then Pru had landed a full-time job, but he agreed to join Scott just the same. Scott drove Pru and me to the rec center super cautiously. Pru sat in the passenger seat looking totally at ease. Scott rambled on about fire and fire fighters, and it was really nice the way Pru tried to engage them. He stuck with Scott. He didn't talk down to him.

Scott Feldman

A fire chief can give you complete information.

Pru Dumlao

You met the fire chief here?

Scott Feldman

There's a fire chief on--

Pru Dumlao

You met him already?

Scott Feldman

I think the fire chief is somewhere.

Ruth Padawer

At the rec center, Scott and Pru ended up at the air hockey table. Scott got totally into it. In fact, he was beaming. By then Emily had arrived too and she was stunned. She'd almost never seen him that happy.

Scott Feldman

I got you good! I got you good!

Ruth Padawer

Pru and Scott kept laughing every time they scored. But 20 minutes after they arrived, smack in the midst of the action, Scott abruptly announced he wanted to go home and left.

Emily and Pru haven't talked since that day at the rec center. The experience embarrassed Emily. Here she was begging people to spend time with Scott, and then his autism interfered. It makes him afraid of spending too much time with people he doesn't know well. It's another roadblock, but for now maybe it doesn't matter. Scott's been doing more and more on his own, and he's actually reaching out to neighbors for help all without Emily. Just having the house has changed him, made him more confident and even more sociable.

A few weeks age when he was out raking leaves, he knocked on the door of his 84-year-old neighbor and offered to rake her yard too. He asked another neighborhood, a guy he barely knew, to help him haul a table, and the guy said, "Sure." He started to really rely on a man who lives across the street. A bunch of times Scott's even sat on the guy's front steps late at night, chatting with him about real stuff, like Scott's frustrations. And the other day when the guy heard Emily was going out of town for a few days, he offered to look in on Scott. Emily didn't even need to ask. It's not the bus, but it's a start.

Ira Glass

Ruth Padawer writes for the New York Times Magazine.

[MUSIC - "NEW KIND OF NEIGHBORHOOD" BY MODERN LOVERS]

Act Four. There Go The Neighbor Hoods.

Jim O'grady

It's the mid-'90s, and I'm living out in a beach bungalow. And I look out the window one day and I see three large men in black suits and shades standing in front of a Lincoln Town Car doing this. And I know right away they're there to do one of three things, beat me up, kill me, or more likely, make me think that they're there to beat me up or kill me.

So I flash back right away to the week before where I had bumped into [BLEEP] in the local diner. And seeing me had reminded him that the day before I had been on the local news insulting him. So he raised his slicked head from his steak and eggs and he said to me, "You should remember that I can have you taken care of." And there was something in the way he said taken care of that I knew he didn't mean it tenderly.

So I'm living at the time in a beautiful place, tree-lined lanes. My neighbors are retirees and railroad workers and immigrants. The problem is we're all in court fighting [BLEEP] about whether the residents should stay or go. We're fighting for our homes. The other problem is that I am very poor at risk assessment.

So it's my name on the op-ed calling [BLEEP] greedy, and it is my face on TV calling him an aesthetic cretin. I was very proud of that phrase. And that's how come three men are standing outside my window. And I try to work. I'm a writer. I go back. But I'm going back and forth to the window and looking out over hours.

And as I'm doing this, I think two things. I have a simple thought process.

One, being a wiseguy is [BLEEP] boring. The whole time they're standing there listening to the bird chirp and checking out their man manicures.

And the other thing I think is about a guy I'd read about named Clarence Jordan, a white man who had founded an interracial farming commune in rural Georgia in 1942. And this got the attention of the local Ku Klux Klan. So every now and then at night they would come by, shoot a shotgun, throw a firebomb at the houses. So Clarence had a problem, but Clarence was a disciple of non-violence. So he did one thing that you do, is you try to find some mundane human activity that you share with your enemy and use it to make them see you as a person.

So one day he's at the local post office and he sees some Klan guys and he goes over and he says, "Hey, fellas. Are you married?" And they go, "Yeah." And he says, "Children? Do you have children?" They go, "Sure." And he says, "Well you know how when a baby wakes in the night and it's fussing and you just can't get it to go back to sleep? And you're up until dawn?" And they say, "Oh, yeah. God." And he said, "Well when you shoot at us it wakes the babies. And we have a hard time getting them to go back to sleep."

So I take that thought and I combine it with my complete lack of common sense. And instead of calling the cops, I go out my front door. And I go up to the three guys. And I say to the big guy in the middle, "You've been out here for a while now. Do you need the bathroom?" And nobody moves a muscle. And the big guy says, "No, we're good." And I think, [BLEEP] Clarence Jordan. Now what? And I said, "Well, are you hungry?" And this is a quote. This is an exact quote from the big guy. He says, "Well to be honest with you I would not say no to a bowl of lentil soup."

And that's how it starts. 20 minutes later, the four of us are around my little kitchen table. And it turns out they're not even mobsters. They're unemployed construction workers. They've taken this job from [BLEEP] because they're hoping he'll hire them to build the McMansions once he kicks us off the land and razes our houses. So the soup is not enough to get them on my side, but it's enough that they tell me [BLEEP]'s a prick who pays them next to nothing and made them get man manicures because he thought it would make them threatening.

And so the end of the story is we came up with a system for the afternoons when it got really tedious for these guys. One of them would take the car to the end of the lane and be the lookout, and the other two would hang on my couch, watch my TV, take a nap. And I was writing a book. I kind of liked their company.

And this went on for four or five days or so until [BLEEP] was satisfied that I'd been terrified enough. And I'm not going to exaggerate and say that me and these guys became friends, because we didn't. But I really do think. I don't know. Here's what I think. We did share some mundane human activities. And I think that if [BLEEP] after that first day, after the soup, had asked them to harm me, I think they would've told him to take his $6 an hour and shove it up his [BLEEP].

Ira Glass

Jim O'Grady. He's co-author of the biography Disarmed & Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan. He was recorded at the Moth, which features personal stories told live in front of an audience. For more Moth stories, you can listen to the Moth Radio Hour from PRX, which airs on public radio stations across the country or you could check out the Moth's free weekly podcast at themoth.org.

[MUSIC - "I AM THE NEIGHBOR" BY JASON FALKNER]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program today was produced by Lisa Pollak with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Senior Producer for our show is Julie Snyder. Seth Lind is our Production Manager. Emily Condon's our Office Manager. Production help from Shawn Wen.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

WLRN's Alicia Zuckerman wanted to record the postman, Paul, as he delivered mail at the top of our show. Ryan Knighton's story in act one was produced by Jonathan Goldstein and Mira Burt-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime for CBC's WireTap. Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

WBEZ management oversight for our show by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. All I have to say is, look out, Richard Daley, or dare I say, Rahm Emanuel. Torey is looking for somebody to see the new Harry Potter with him.

Emily Feldman

I just felt that because the mayor is the mayor that he has to know people. He's the mayor.

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.