Transcript

43:

Faustian Bargains
Transcript

Originally aired 11.22.1996

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Full audio: http://tal.fm/43

Act One. Dangerous Minds.

Ira Glass

So LuAnne Johnson was a teacher, and she wrote a book about her job, and she sold that book to Hollywood. And before long, her book was made into a movie called Dangerous Minds. Now it's also a TV show, also called Dangerous Minds. And now, every week, LuAnne Johnson can turn on the TV and see a teacher with her same name march around and do things she thinks are unethical, inadvisable, and sometimes just plain silly, like holding a school fundraiser in a strip club.

Luanne Johnson

Number one, there's no teacher I know who would do such a thing. It's illegal. I think you'd lose your job, and I would hope you would lose your job. But I just objected to that. And I would never do it.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, deals with the devil. As we do every week, we've invited a variety of writers and performers onto the show with their stories. This week, all stories about selling your soul, making Faustian bargains. In our program today, Act One, Dangerous Minds. Act Two-- Act Two is actually a found tape of Satan's own telemarketer. Act Three, Voyager. Act Four, Carmen Becomes Faust. Act Five, First Contact. Stay with us.

Act Two. The Undiscovered Country.

Ira Glass

Act One, Dangerous Minds. First, a word about LuAnne Johnson's book, the one that they adapted very freely into the movie and the TV show Dangerous Minds. It was called My Posse Don't Do Homework. LuAnne Johnson taught in the public schools, and she says that contrary to what you may see on the evening news, it was not a war zone.

Luanne Johnson

No, that's one of the reasons I wrote that book, is I felt like people were just writing off kids. You know, 13, 14 years old, saying, well, they're hopeless, they're useless, and there's nothing we can do. All the things I was reading were about how horrible they are, and they have no respect for people, and they don't care, and they're unteachable. And I just don't feel that's true. I think that's really wrong.

Ira Glass

Well, LuAnne Johnson's deal with the devil proceeded in several stages. First the film, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer, came out, I don't know, two years ago I think, three years ago. And LuAnne Johnson did like some things about the film.

Luanne Johnson

The primary lesson I always try to teach my students is you choose who you are. You can throw up your hands and blame everyone in the world and say, I can't earn an A, I can't do this, I have to do that. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to come to school. You choose to be here. Now you can choose to learn, or you can choose to vegetate. I think that came across in the movie, that there is hope, that you're not a victim.

Student 1

Man, you don't understand nothing. I mean, you don't come from where we live. You're not bussed here.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Do you have a choice to get on that bus?

Student 1

Man, you come and live in my neighborhood for one week, and then you tell me if you've got a choice.

Michelle Pfeiffer

There are a lot of people who live in your neighborhood who choose not to get on that bus. The people who choose to get on that bus, which are you, are the people who are saying I will not carry myself down to die. When I go to my grave, my head will be high. That is a choice. There are no victims in this classroom.

Ira Glass

But the movie took some liberties with LuAnne Johnson's book. For instance, the filmmakers made her mixed race class into an all minority class. The filmmakers invented fictional black parents who did not want their kids to learn. The filmmakers organized the film around two stories which did not happen in real life. In one, LuAnne Johnson gets so overwhelmed by how impossible it is to make progress with her kids that after just a few months, she decides to quit. And in the other, a student is shot and killed. And she feels that these things reinforce the very stereotypes that she was trying to dispel by writing her book in the first place.

Luanne Johnson

And I think the movie really promotes racial tension by constantly pitting black against white, having the kids call me "white bread," which never happened. It just, it didn't happen.

And I said to them, why'd they do that? And they said, well, we found it hard to believe that a classroom of black and Hispanic kids would welcome a white teacher and give her any respect. And I said, but it's not a matter of your skin color, it's a matter of how you treat them. But they couldn't believe that. And they still don't. And I think there are a lot of people who do believe that you can't walk into a classroom filled with minority kids and they're going to treat you right.

Ira Glass

Around this time, her deal with, well, with Hollywood, let's just say, with Hollywood took other turns. A new printing of the book My Posse Don't Do Homework came out.

Luanne Johnson

And when I got that in the mail, I opened it up. And it said Dangerous Minds.

Ira Glass

As the title it said Dangerous Minds?

Luanne Johnson

Yeah. It said Dangerous Minds, and it had the movie poster on it. And it said by LuAnne Johnson. And I thought, well, I didn't write a book called Dangerous Minds. How can they do this? So I called my editor, and I said, "How can you do this? How can you change the title of my book without even telling me?" And she said, "It's not your book. It's our book. You wrote it. We bought it. We own it."

Ira Glass

Not long after that, executives, executives somewhere in America, decided to exercise a clause in an old contract that she had signed, and her deal took this turn.

Luanne Johnson

Someone called me and said, did you hear? I heard they're making a TV show out of your book. And I said, oh really? Oh, that's interesting. So I called my agent in Los Angeles and said, "They're making a TV series? I would like to consult, because I don't want them to do what they did with the movie, get so far removed from reality. I'd really like to have something to do this time."

So she called back later and said, "No, they said they don't need you. They don't want you. They can't afford you." And I said, "What do you mean? I know I'm a lot cheaper than those Hollywood people." So, call them back.

Ira Glass

That's right. Apparently they haven't heard about educational salaries in America.

Luanne Johnson

Right. And then there was some discussion between her and them and me. And in fact, I asked one of the producers how much they're paying the writers. I said, "I heard you were paying them $50,000 each per episode." And he said, "Oh no, we're only paying them $30,000 plus perks."

Ira Glass

Per episode?

Luanne Johnson

A week. And we asked them to pay $25,000 for a year. And they said, "Well, we'll see. Probably not."

Ira Glass

Again, there are things about the TV series that LuAnne Johnson likes. She likes, especially, the feisty, in-your-face way that Annie Potts plays her, for example. But she also finds plenty that makes her uncomfortable. Like that episode where the students stage the fundraiser in the strip club. They hold something called a hair war.

Annie Potts

What? What is a hair war?

Student 2

It's kind of like a fashion show, only with hairdos.

Annie Potts

You're trying to tell me that people will come and lay down good money to watch us get our hair curled?

Student 3

Where've you been, in a coma? This ain't your everyday, walk-around hair.

Luanne Johnson

So I called the producer, Andy Schneider, and I said, "Andy, I'm very upset about this." He said, "Well, what's your problem?" And I said, "Where do I start? Would you like if your 14-year-old or 15-year-old daughter came home from school and you found out her teacher had taken her to a strip club?" And he didn't answer that.

Ira Glass

LuAnne Johnson, the real one, not the TV one, is trying to raise millions of dollars to start a new school these days. And having herself portrayed on national television this way every week, she feels, is not going to help her credibility.

Luanne Johnson

They did the hair war to raise funds because Ms. Johnson had a fight with a school board member who it turns out is taking money away from the program. For a teacher to involve kids in a political fight like that among the adults is inappropriate. It's just not professional behavior. And I wouldn't do such a thing. It's undignified, and it's silly. And he said, "Well, I think it's cute." And I said, "Well, I'll tell you what, I'm not cute, and my students don't think I am."

Man

Modelled by Academy Program's English teacher, LuAnne Johnson.

Ira Glass

The last scene of the hair war episode has LuAnne Johnson on stage in a strip club modelling a big outrageous hairdo as her students cheer. If LuAnne Johnson made a deal with the devil, it was a devil whose intentions, anyway, seemed particularly benign and well meaning.

The producers of Dangerous Minds are Andy Schneider and Diane Frolov. Before this project, they produced the offbeat program Northern Exposure for five years. They've worked together so closely for so long that they habitually finish each other's sentences. And if you ask them what they're trying to accomplish in Dangerous Minds, the goals sound remarkably similar to the ones that LuAnne Johnson had in mind when she wrote her books.

Andy Schneider

To give voice to a lot of kids that don't have a voice in television.

Diane Frolov

We set out, we wanted to make people feel that these kids were their own kids. That's the point of the show.

Andy Schneider

These kids who we think of as at-risk kids, kids that come, often, from broken homes or from poverty, that they are not just statistics or something to be feared as elements of crime, but they're just kids like everybody else. They're us. We're them.

Ira Glass

Though the producers do not have a lot of personal experience with these kinds of teenagers, they say they get their storylines from consultants who work with teens like this-- teachers, social workers, a youth gang services counselor. They read books. They got the idea for the hair wars show from a story about hair wars in the Wall Street Journal. And they described LuAnne Johnson's phone call to them about the episode this way.

Andy Schneider

She felt that in the end, when she participated in the hair wars, that she looked--

Diane Frolov

Silly.

Andy Schneider

--silly. And our feeling is, well, that might be the case. But in terms of creating a story, and an arc in the story, and giving a satisfying conclusion, it really helped the story to have her participate in it. And we felt as writers that that was endearing, and something that was positive and really lovable about her, that she would participate in the competition.

Ira Glass

The real LuAnne Johnson also had problems with a scene in an early program where a black character threatens to kill the TV Ms. Johnson because she's encouraging his girlfriend to go to college.

Luanne Johnson

And I said, this is so wrong. There are black males who aren't trying to kill people. Why do you have to constantly present them as violent? They can drop out of school even and still not be a criminal.

And I really resent that, because nobody ever threatened me. You know, this is totally unrealistic to think that some black girl's boyfriend's going to come and shoot the teacher because she's trying to tell the girl to go to college.

Ira Glass

Producers Andy Schneider and Diane Frolov say that, although LuAnne Johnson herself was never threatened, other teachers in her situation certainly have been. And while they don't recall talking to LuAnne Johnson about this particular episode of the show, they don't view the scene the same way she does.

Diane Frolov

The conflict was not so much about the fact that she was going to college but that he was losing control of her.

Andy Schneider

And that dynamic could have happened with white people or anybody.

Luanne Johnson

Then, one of the things I said to them, and I probably offended them, but I said, "I'm not trying to offend you, but I really believe that one of the problems that the script writers are having with presenting black and Hispanic males accurately is that you don't know any who you haven't mowed your lawn or served your food. You've never been to their houses."

Andy Schneider

I don't know.

Diane Frolov

Are we supposed to list our friends and that sort of thing in our defense?

Andy Schneider

And the process of writing is always a process of research. So, you know, Diane and I wrote Northern Exposure for five years. We didn't know any Alaskans. We didn't know any Native Americans. But the process of writing and getting into a world is a process of researching that and coming into contact with those people that you're trying to write about.

Diane Frolov

We're not doing this just willy-nilly.

Andy Schneider

And again, I don't think we should have demographics, but our staff is largely minority, our writing staff.

Diane Frolov

And there are also former teachers on our staff.

Andy Schneider

And mentors and counselors and things like that.

Ira Glass

What do you think the overall message of the TV series is?

Luanne Johnson

Ooh, that it's a war zone.

Ira Glass

So the overall message of the TV show is, in fact, the exact opposite of the kind of thing you're trying to convey with your books?

Luanne Johnson

Yeah. Yeah. It's not a new story. It's the same old story, which isn't true and never has been.

Diane Frolov

Well, we hope that's not the message of our TV series.

Andy Schneider

We feel that the message of the series is hope.

Diane Frolov

Yes, and that people can make a difference in the lives of other people. And that these are kids, and they're, as we've said before, they're our kids. It's very disappointing to hear that from LuAnne.

Andy Schneider

The war zone aspect of life in school is something that we will concentrate on more, only because you need conflict, you need dramatic situations, you need stakes to be high. Otherwise, I'm not sure how you make a show. I mean, you have to deal with issues that have impact.

Ira Glass

In a sense, this is the Faustian bargain the producers of Dangerous Minds have made. The high school in their show has more war zone moments, more heroic attempts by teachers to save kids, more crises and near crises than any real inner city high school, because they need three stories per episode, and they have to be dramatic.

At this point, LuAnne Johnson says that she's refusing the Faustian bargain offered her by Hollywood. She has no contract with the TV series. They send her checks. She sends them back uncashed. She says if she had it all to do over again, she wouldn't have let anybody make a film or a TV series from her books unless she'd written the screenplay herself. And she's hoping the studio that produces Dangerous Minds, it's Disney, will change the way that it depicts her.

Luanne Johnson

Disney somehow seems to believe that they own LuAnne Johnson the way that they own Mickey Mouse and Dumbo and that they can take this character and make her do what they want and say anything-- you know, whatever experiences they want to have her do. I maintain I'm not a character. And I don't think you should be able to have me say things or do things that I wouldn't do and misrepresent me.

Ira Glass

Of course, as the producers of Dangerous Minds point out, Disney does own a Mickey Mouse and a Dumbo and a LuAnne Johnson. They can make this character do what they want. And given the deals everyone has made, they have to.

Act Three. Voyager.

Ira Glass

Act Two, The Undiscovered Country. Well, our program today is about deals with the devil, and this next tape seemed oddly fated to end up on the show. Over the last few months, it's been sent to This American Life, not by one, not by two, but by three different radio producers in three different parts of the country, none of them knowing that the other ones were sending it.

And none of them knew where the tape came from. As best as anybody could reconstruct-- this is quite actually a little story. As best as anybody could reconstruct, NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu was leaving a party in New Orleans, put on his coat, and discovered this tape in his pocket. The tape starts with no explanation, in mid-conversation. Here are some excerpts.

Woman

She just don't know me that well.

David Black

She knows you very well.

Woman

Uh-uh. Alice don't know me that well.

David Black

She said that your mama wants to come back from the dead.

Woman

My mama's not dead.

David Black

Well, now you lying or what? You tell me the truth now.

Woman

I don't have a reason to lie to you, mister, and especially about my mama.

David Black

I know, I know. But now here's the thing, now. I deal in mysticism. I bring back dead people. Is there anybody dead that you would like to bring back?

Woman

No, uh-uh.

David Black

Anybody at all?

Woman

No. I had told [? Mr. Slips ?] just now that I had wanted to talk to him about it.

David Black

Have you ever seen a spirit?

Woman

No.

David Black

You want to?

Woman

No.

David Black

What?

Woman

No.

David Black

Why?

Woman

I just don't want to see none. I have no reason to want to see one.

David Black

Madam, can I come over to your house tonight?

Woman

Uh-uh. No. No.

David Black

I want to come over and talk to you and bring a spirit along with me.

Woman

Well, you leave that spirit where it at, and you stay where you at.

David Black

But it's not a mean spirit.

Woman

I don't want no kind of spirit.

David Black

I won't charge you a cent.

Woman

I don't want to see no spirit. I don't want to be bothered with no spirit. I don't want no spirit around me. If I see a spirit, I wouldn't be able to sleep for months.

David Black

Do you believe in spirits?

Woman

No. I believe, let me tell you, I believe--

David Black

I'll bring it over and show him to you tonight.

Woman

Uh-uh, I don't want to see him.

David Black

I'm coming tonight.

Woman

You ain't coming to my house tonight.

David Black

You don't want to see the spirit?

Woman

No, I don't want to see no spirit.

David Black

Sister, there's nothing to get frightened of.

Woman

Uh-uh, I don't want to see no spirit.

David Black

Why?

Woman

Because I said I don't want to see no spirit. And you see, firstly, Alice lied to you. She really did. If she told you that, she's lying.

David Black

Alice belongs to the occult.

Woman

What is that?

David Black

Alice is one of our members of the spirits.

Woman

Alice is a spirit?

David Black

She is a member of our spirit group. In other words, Alice can bring the spirits back.

Woman

What do you mean? She can bring the spirit back where?

David Black

She can bring them back from the dead.

Woman

Oh, she can?

David Black

I'll have her come over with me tonight, too.

Woman

You are not coming to my house, and Alice isn't either.

David Black

Well, do you like Alice, or what?

Woman

I have nothing against Alice. She is a very, very sweet person. She is a good neighbor. It is nothing in the world. I don't believe--

David Black

Well, we'll be over about 7:30, 8:00. As soon as it gets dark.

Woman

Well, I bet you you won't come in my house.

David Black

Well, you don't like Alice? Or what is it?

Woman

I love Alice.

David Black

You don't trust us?

Woman

I don't trust the spirit.

David Black

Will you pray with me?

Woman

When?

David Black

Now.

Woman

Pray, go ahead and pray.

David Black

Repeat after me. Oh lord--

Woman

Uh-uh.

David Black

Say a prayer with me.

Woman

Uh-uh.

David Black

I want to put a hex on you.

Woman

Uh-uh.

David Black

Oh lord-- say it with me. Is Alice over there?

Woman

Uh-uh.

David Black

Tell her to come talk to me.

Woman

Might as well see if she's home.

David Black

No. Who's this? What is your name?

Woman

Uh-uh.

David Black

Give me your name and everything.

Woman

Uh-uh.

David Black

Tonight the spirits shall come to your house.

Woman

Uh uh. You ain't getting my name.

David Black

I am coming over.

Woman

Well, you insist on coming over somewhere where you're not welcome.

David Black

I am welcome in your house. You just don't know I am. I bring with me the love of the spirits. They want to contact you.

Woman

No spirit wants to contact me. Uh-uh.

David Black

Why do you say this?

Woman

Because I'm afraid of spirits.

David Black

You are not afraid. You are not afraid. You are not afraid.

Woman

Don't repeat it a third time.

David Black

You are not afraid. Why not?

Woman

Because I asked you not.

David Black

Are you superstitious about three?

Woman

Well, kind of.

David Black

Three, three, three,

Woman

Yap, yap, yap!

David Black

Three,

Woman

La-la-la-la--

David Black

Three, three. 13. Say 13. Say six.

Woman

I can't say it.

David Black

Say what?

Woman

None of it.

David Black

None of what?

Woman

What you're saying.

David Black

Oh, you mean 13?

Woman

I guess so.

David Black

Well, try and say 13.

Woman

I can't.

David Black

Can't what?

Woman

Can't say it.

David Black

Are you afraid?

Woman

I am.

David Black

You're not afraid.

Woman

I am afraid.

David Black

No, no you aren't.

Woman

Yes, I am. You don't tell me what I am.

David Black

Do you love Jesus?

Woman

I know I love Jesus.

David Black

Well, then you're not afraid.

Woman

I know Jesus don't do crazy work like that. I know. God knows--

David Black

Sister, this is religious worship. We're no devil people.

Woman

I can't have that.

David Black

I'm very religious. I'm a preacher.

Woman

Look, I can't. I'm not going to say that, because I don't know you. I don't know what--

Ira Glass

Well, our crack This American Life investigative team did some calling around. And it turns out this tape was made by an audio artist named David Black. He was living in New Orleans at the time and would just call people up as this satanic character and mess with them.

David Black

Hello, brother?

Man

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

David Black

Could you speak louder?

Man

Yeah, I'll speak a little louder.

David Black

Let us pray together. Are you sick?

Man

Yeah, I'm sick.

David Black

What seems to be the problem?

Man

I had a stroke about four, five years ago. And I've got high blood sugar.

David Black

God bless you. God love you.

Man

God bless you. God love you.

David Black

Praise the lord.

Man

Praise the lord.

David Black

Repeat after me. Oh lord--

Man

Oh lord--

David Black

--take my soul--

Man

--take my soul--

David Black

--and put me over a barrel--

Man

--and put me over a barrel--

David Black

--and pull my pants down--

Man

--and pull my pants down--

David Black

--and slap me--

Man

--and slap me--

David Black

--with the punishing rod.

Man

--with the punishing rod.

David Black

Forgive me of my sins--

Man

Forgive me of my sins--

David Black

Louder, please.

Man

Forgive me for my sins--

David Black

And take me to heaven--

Man

And take me to heaven--

David Black

--on a muskrat.

Man

--on a muskrat.

David Black

Love me, father.

Man

Love me, father.

David Black

You need to be louder, please.

Man

Love me, father.

David Black

Love me like you do--

Man

Love me like you do--

David Black

--the little roach--

Man

--the little roach.

David Black

Louder, louder.

Man

The little roach! The little roach!

David Black

Take me--

Man

Take me--

David Black

--by--

Man

--by--

David Black

Louder. Take me--

Man

Take me--

David Black

--by--

Man

--by--

David Black

--the--

Man

--the--

David Black

--jock strap--

Man

--jaw strap--

David Black

--and thrash me--

Man

--and thrash me--

David Black

--but love me.

Man

--but love me.

David Black

Amen.

Man

Amen.

David Black

Praise the lord.

Man

Praise the lord.

David Black

Take me--

Man

Take me--

David Black

Repeat after me. [JIBBERISH]

Man

[JIBBERISH]

David Black

As loud as you can, brother.

Man

[JIBBERISH]

David Black

Amen. [JIBBERISH]

Man

[JIBBERISH]

David Black

[JIBBERISH]

Man

[JIBBERISH]

David Black

[JIBBERISH]

Man

[JIBBERISH]

David Black

Brother, do you love me?

Man

Oh yeah.

David Black

Say I love you.

Man

I love you.

David Black

Loud.

Man

I love you.

David Black

Is that as loud as you can talk?

Man

I can't talk so loud.

David Black

Put your mouth close to the receiver and holler it.

Man

I love you.

David Black

Five times.

Man

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.

David Black

Thank you, brother.

Man

OK.

David Black

Oh lord--

Man

You ain't through yet?

David Black

Brother. Oh lord--

Man

Oh lord--

David Black

--snap the button--

Man

--snap the button--

David Black

--on my underwear--

Man

--on my underwear.

David Black

And let my armpit--

Man

And let my armpit--

David Black

--fall upon--

Man

--fall upon--

David Black

--the crawfish--

Man

--the crawfish--

David Black

--on the ground.

Man

On the ground. Thank you, father.

David Black

What? What?

Ira Glass

Coming up, more deals with the devil, one hidden, one intended, one for children. That's in a minute when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program we choose a theme, bring you stories on that theme.

And here in Chicago, where we do the show from, we have seen a spate, a passel, a whole big group of stage productions of Faust in the last few months. Randy Newman and David Mamet did their musical version at the Goodman Theater, Doorika Theater Company actually kicked the butts of Randy Newman with their version. Somebody else did one this summer, I can't remember who. Damn Yankees came through, starring Jerry Lewis.

It's Faust, Faust, Faust. This town is Faust crazy. So we figured we should jump on the bandwagon with Satan. That's what we're doing this hour. And today's show is deals with the devil, selling your soul.

Act Four. Carmen Becomes Faust.

Ira Glass

We are at Act Three of our program, Voyager. In the opera Faust, when the devil appears for the first time, he says, simply, "Here I am. Why are you surprised?" See, that is the way to do it. That is the way to do that. The problem in our daily lives is that when we're offered the deal with the devil, we often do not know that that is the choice we're making. This next story is about a bargain like that. This American Life producer Alix Spiegel headed home to Baltimore to meet with a friend of hers, Jayna Park.

Alix Spiegel

Jayna and I meet in the courtyard of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, then walk down the street to Louis's Bookstore Cafe. When we were teenagers, Jayna and I would go to Louis's between orchestra and violin lessons. We'd eat fish sandwiches, talk about music, and gawk at the art boys.

Jayna is Korean. When Jayna was 11, Jayna, her mother, her violin teacher, and her aunt, all drove four hours from the small town where she grew up to Seoul, South Korea's capital. They went to a big hotel, the hotel where all the Korean celebrities and international tourists stayed, and went to the room of violinist Berl Senofsky. She played him the Mendelssohn violin concerto.

Jayna Park

I think the first thing he said was-- well, the first thing that my aunt translated to us was-- she should come to the States and study with me. Is that possible? Is that possible? Like, would your family allow her to go? Asking my mother this, basically. And I remember my mother just being like, what? What? What? You want what? You know, like she was just utterly confused. And then at the same time, I could see her just like sort of smiling. Like she couldn't believe her daughter, you know, whatever.

Alix Spiegel

No one in Jayna's family really knew what she'd be getting into if she accepted Senofsky's offer to go to America. But it was clear from the beginning that if Jayna went, she would go alone.

Jayna Park

My dad was talking about, you know, maybe we might have to give her up for adoption. I kind of almost remember feeling like, he's asking me, like, would I be willing to give up my parents and my family for this glamorous life, or whatever? And at the time I didn't understand. I was like, how can you ask me this question? I don't want to give up anything.

Alix Spiegel

Later, at Jayna's house, she brings out the violin. I ask her to play me the Mendelssohn, the song that she played for Mr. Senofsky, the song that literally divided her life into past and present. The opening melody is famous for being hard to play.

Jayna Park

[INAUDIBLE] [PLAYING VIOLIN]

Alix Spiegel

I remember the first time I saw Jayna. She was short and chubby, and dressed in a red Korean coat. Immediately after coming to America, Jayna dropped about 20 pounds. I remember people whispering that she was chubby when she arrived because meals were the only time that Jayna's strict Korean mother would allow her to stop practicing. There were other rumors, all part of the Jayna mystique, the young Korean prodigy who had sacrificed so much, come alone from Korea to study in Baltimore.

Classical music, like ballet or gymnastics, is a discipline with a torrentious aesthetic. The greater the sacrifice, the bigger the hero. And to Peabody, a second-rate music school in a second-rate town, Jayna's sacrifice and talent were Olympian. We were all awed. No one so young played so well.

Jayna moved in with a host family, the Kilsteads. Carla Kilstead, another Senofsky student, was about the same age as Jayna and I. We would all hang out together, play Space Invaders in the Peabody lounge and beg money off our moms for the candy machines.

Alix Spiegel

Then I remember you being in the car with my mom, and me, and Carla.

Jayna Park

Was this like the first time ever that I came to Peabody?

Alix Spiegel

This was the first time ever. And I remember we were driving past the Inner Harbor, and there was a ship.

Jayna Park

Ship. That was my first curse word, because, yeah, you and Carla were trying to teach me. Like, you guys just took me by the hand, OK, look, see, that's a ship. And I was like, ah, ah, [BLEEP], [BLEEP].

Alix Spiegel

Jayna says the first couple of years in America were everything she wanted them to be. Everything was new. Everything was interesting. Her life with her host family was good. She did well in competitions, and Senofsky got his manager to set up some concerts for her in Holland. Then, after two years of study at Peabody, Jayna went back to Korea for the first time. And when she came back to America, things started to fall apart. Her relationship with her host family deteriorated.

Jayna Park

I don't know what it was, but I think like around the third year, or something like that that I was living with them, I really started to feel like my presence there was a burden to them, you know? And that's when it started getting hard, because then I realized, oh my gosh, what am I doing? I've been here, I've been living with a family that's not mine, basically strangers. What can they possibly like about this?

Alix Spiegel

She left that host family and moved in with another and then left them for another. More was expected of Jayna than of any of us, and she was essentially raising herself. She was lonely and started to miss her family in Korea. At one point, she called her mom.

Jayna Park

Well, I was really upset. So I called and I was crying, and I said, you know, can I just come back and just go back to school there? At least let me try that and see if that works. And I was really hoping, if not assuming, that my mother would just say, sure, come back, you know?

She said, that's ridiculous. You've been there for so long now, and now you have to carry on what you've been doing. And I just remember hanging up. I don't remember exactly what I said. I just remember hanging up, feeling so desperate.

Alix Spiegel

I remember Jayna during this part of her life. I remember driving her back from orchestra rehearsal and sitting with her in my car outside her house. I was 16 and she was 14. I remember her telling me about the problems in her family back home in Korea. Her father was having financial difficulties. Her brother was having trouble getting into the right college, which in Korea determines your whole future. And her sister had had some kind of breakdown and had been put into a mental institution.

It was all very draining, and Jayna was having a hard time. But what I remember best was that these crises somehow forced Jayna to think about her decision to come to America in a new way. Watching her family struggle from a distance somehow brought her face to face with her own distance from them and from her culture. I remember her telling me that she felt she could never go back to Korea, that she had missed too much.

Jayna Park

I was accused constantly by my family of becoming so Americanized. But then I would look at myself here, and I would be hanging out with my friends and stuff. And then all of a sudden, I would look at myself and just feel like, gosh, but I'm not like them. I'm not one of them. So I really just kind of felt like I didn't belong anywhere. And that's when I slept a lot.

Alix Spiegel

In the world of classical music, if you don't make it as a soloist by the time you're 16 or 17, odds are you're never going to make it. At 20, it hadn't happened for Jayna. She was still practicing and competing, but it was more of a struggle.

Jayna Park

And so one day, I just decided, OK, I'm going to try something else. I want to know what it's like to not be a violinist. So I put my violin away, and for two weeks, every day for two weeks, I was just living like a non-violinist. I was going to bookstores, looking for-- I don't know. I was reading, just trying to look for what interests me. I was just like wanting-- I don't know. I was dwelling on that luxury of being able to choose for myself. But eventually, I really missed it. I really missed the music.

Alix Spiegel

Someone recently wrote that the tragedy of Bob Dole is not only that he sold out his principles and sold out everything he ever believed in to become president, this deficit hawk who campaigned on the kind of tax cut he used to ridicule as voodoo economics, but that after he sold out his principles and his soul, he discovered that there were no buyers.

Jayna's story reminds me of that. She agrees that yes, she made a Faustian bargain. She left her family, left her country, left her home. But she never got the fame and fortune she made all those sacrifices for. And when I talked to her, I somehow expected her to be as conflicted about it as she was when we were in my car at 16. But in fact, she was fine with it. Her feelings have changed, and she's outgrown the premise of the bargain. She doesn't particularly want to be a soloist, and she's not driven for fame.

With or without violin, Jayna clearly prefers life in America to the restricted life she would have had in Korea. And though recently her parents have started talking about coming to the States, moving in with her so that they can be closer, she finds these conversations make her nervous. She doesn't want to give up the independence she's had since she was 11.

Jayna Park

I don't feel regret. I don't feel regret that he was there, and that I gave in to this deal. I don't know if I should say I gave in. But I really don't regret the fact that he was there that day, listening to me and saying those things, you know, come with me to a new place, a new world, and all that. I don't think that he was wrong.

Because I have to say, it was just a very adventurous thing to do. And I really feel like if I had a choice to stay home and to do this, I think every time, I would choose it, choose to go.

Alix Spiegel

Jayna's now 23. She's still at Peabody. She gigs with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Young Concert Artists' Orchestra in Baltimore. She has a sponsor, a businessman in North Carolina who heard her perform and now helps her with a monthly check. At her apartment, after playing three songs for me, Jayna stops and is about to put her violin away. She asks, should I keep playing? And I say, sure, play more. No, she says, I mean the violin. Jayna's still wondering.

Act Five. First Contact.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Carmen Becomes Faust.

Carmen Delzell

When I was nearing my 30th birthday, I decided it was about time to get off welfare. Both the children were in school, and old dreams of being a hippie revolutionary scrounging for a pound of bulgur and soybeans in the mountains didn't seem nearly as romantic as it had five years before. My husband had run off to the Virgin Islands two winters before with a fat Jewish girl who knew somebody down there who had a boat.

Ira Glass

When this story begins, this story of another deal with the devil, another person coming in from the sticks to the big city, Carmen Delzell is living in a tenant farmer's shack, no phone or radio or clock. Water comes from a pump, is heated on an Ashley wood stove. It's 1978. And to earn her way out of there, Carmen Delzell started to go to auctions and thrift stores out in the country, and buy stuff cheap that she could drive into Washington, DC and sell for higher prices at the flea markets there.

Carmen Delzell

I must have been a sight in those days with my folding tables and clothes racks and raggedy looking children in Georgetown. I think I was pretty then, but I didn't know it. I wore peasant blouses with no brassiere, and my hair was long and curly and white-blond from the sun.

You must realize that in those days, hippie women were really different from straight women. We thought we were practically another race. We believed in all kinds of dogmas and rhetoric. We believed it, and we lived it. Not eating meat was one of those. Smoking dope was really important. We believed in karma and revolution and a whole lot of obscure practices which sound silly now but made a whole lot of sense back then.

So when a young lawyer or real estate broker or something would come along and hang around too long, I didn't know what to think. Didn't they know that we were worlds apart in every way? What could we possibly have to say to each other? I was so naive. When the man who ran the flea market invited me out to dinner at the Steak 'n Egg Kitchen, I was flabbergasted. I was, but I went anyway.

By now, it was beginning to get chilly. Money would really be tight when it got too cold to sell on the street, so I decided to go to a fortune teller. She lived and worked in a storefront in Chinatown. She was fat and sneaky-looking and had only one breast. But as it turned out, she was right about everything to come, and she gave me three wishes. I wished for an apartment, a man, and an antique store.

She gave me a strange list of things to buy. They were a bottle of Chinese floor wash, four seven-day candles, red, white, blue, and green, a box of bano sangrados, which means spirit bath, white flowers, jinx remover powder, and Indian money draw soap. I drove back to the country $20 poorer and kind of depressed that I could have been so vulnerable.

That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, I poured the bottle of Chinese floor wash into the bucket of fresh pumped water and scrubbed all the floors in the house with it. This was to clear out evil spirits. Then when the children went to sleep, I began the ritual of the spirit bath. I placed the candles around the galvanized tin tub that we used for everything, filled it with kettles of hot water, and poured in the first bottle of red liquid from the box I bought.

Just before I got in the tub, I arranged the white roses in front of my dead mother's picture. This was to ensure her blessing and ask her to intervene on my behalf. As soon as I got in the water, I got this weird, tingly feeling. The shadows from the candles loomed around me like ghosts, and the water looked like blood.

I sat there naked and shivering by the wood stove and prayed out loud for God to send me things I associated with red. I asked for sex, adventure, and central heat. I also asked for red cowboy boots and a ruby ring. On Monday morning, I drove to Culpepper and found the cowboy boots for $2 at the Pink Ladies Shop and the ring in a jar of buttons which they let me have for $0.25. That night, the awful man from the flea market drove out to see me and spent the night.

I realized my next wishes would have to be more specific. Tuesday evening, I repeated the ritual, except the water turned blue. I found it a harder color to match with things I needed, so I just asked for general good fortune. Nothing special happened Wednesday, but nothing went wrong either.

Well, it went on like that for the next 14 days. My luck began to turn. I found better clothes in the thrift shops than I'd ever found before, and made over $100 at the flea market. My landlord began to smile and wave at me when I drove past his house, and letters with small checks in them arrived at the post office. But I guess I have to get to the unbelievable part, and here's what it is. A handsome young millionaire came up to me the last day of the baths and offered me free rent in a sunny slum apartment, and $10,000 to start my own business. Sounds like a lie, doesn't it? I know it does, but it's true.

Soon after we moved there, he fell in love with me, and we all lived together that winter, sleeping on mattresses on the floor and eating Chinese food out of cardboard containers. That was one of the happiest times in my life, though I missed certain things about living alone in the country. The dark side of the magic hadn't revealed itself yet, so we blithely enjoyed our warm rooms, and I thanked Jesus every night for his blessings.

I've heard that we punish ourselves better and more profoundly than any spirits or gods we can imagine. I hope that's true. I hope that's true because I still feel guilty. Because, you see, David, the millionaire, was married, and I knew it from the very beginning. He invited me to Washington, DC to have dinner with him and his wife.

I remember everything about that night. I wore an antique dress, platform shoes, and three carved Bakelite bracelets. My entire outfit cost less than $10. His wife had a mink coat, and long, red fingernails. I was very impressed with them both. They'd invited me to drive from my little house in Virginia to discuss a business deal. He was a slum landlord. She had an antique clothing store. They had discovered me selling things at the Georgetown flea market and wanted me to trade clothes for a three-room apartment in a tenement across town. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time.

So I took the place. But things didn't really go as they were intended to. The apartment was cramped and lonely. All the other tenants were on strike because the building was falling down. And David, the owner, wanted me to be his mistress. During this time, my visits to the local Haitian voodoo store became more frequent.

You must understand that living in the ghetto was very different from living in any other part of town. Even the grocery stores sell statues of Santa Barbara, San Lazaro, and the Virgin Mary. And when one of the neighbors was found dead on the front stoop, the Jamaican woman whose son dressed like a ninja and practiced swinging his nunchucks in the hall put holy candles all around the lobby in the order of the seven African powers.

We were the only white family on the block. It was very lonely. My only comfort was sitting in the cool, spooky Catholic church looking at the handmade doll clothes the ladies made for the statues.

And then, one full moon, I put on my black velvet dress pinned with a rhinestone dagger, wrapped a small box of jinx remover powder in a white handkerchief, and walked across town to the house where David and his wife lived. It was not really clear to me at the time what I was up to. I felt as if I was being guided by an unseen force, but I swear, I had no real idea what I was doing. I took a pine branch and I put it through the mail slot. And then I left this little package on the stoop, said a few magic words, and ran.

The next morning, when David came out to get the paper, he found the stick and the spell. His wife asked him to go buy half and half for their coffee because they were having weekend guests. David says he doesn't really know why he decided to go to the little tienda by my house, but when he got there, he decided to come see me. Until that moment, neither one of us had felt anything for the other.

When I opened the door, he was standing there crying. He said he loved me and couldn't live without me. I said the same thing, and he never went back home. His wife sued him for $1 million, all the furniture, and the Mercedes. She won, but I got him. It took me years to figure out how to get away.

It's true that I loved him for a while, or at least I thought I did. But looking back on it, I realize I had been alone so long that I would have probably thought I was in love with anybody who took care of me. I remember when he bought me this Diana Ross song, "I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again." I'd play that before he came over and dance around the house and try to get in the mood.

Then my brother was found half-dead of a barbiturate overdose in the woods of West Virginia on a commune, and he came to live with us. Four people in a three-room apartment. One thing led to another, and David took us all under his wing. Michael tried to kill himself two more times. Christmas came and went. David gave me $40 a week and took me out to dinner, which sometimes cost three times that.

I felt like I was El Salvador and David was America. I used to scream and cry and beg him to let me go. One of the neighbors put it into words very well when he carved "landlord's whore" on my front door. I refused to let David have it painted over. It was true. There are only two kinds of frenzy that take all my reason away. One is the frenzy of love, one is the frenzy of needing money. It got to the point where I was in a constant frenzy. I needed a lawyer and a psychiatrist.

My cripple brother moved across the street to another hot slum apartment and lived with a black woman named May. They fought over money, other men, his leaving his clothes on the floor for her to pick up, et cetera. She was very beautiful, like Diana Ross, but she stayed drunk on straight gin and watched soap operas all day. David gave him $200 a week to live on. It was part of our understanding even though we never discussed it.

I knew that my staying with him kept my brother from another suicide attempt. The money gave us all a false sense of security, but the thought of it being taken away haunted us constantly. I was 30 years old. The children were eight and four. My brother was 24. And David was 33 and already a millionaire.

Then one hot night in June, I began to break all the windows in the apartment with my bare hands. I began to scream out the window that this is what happened to a woman when she had to sell her body to pay the rent. David tried to hold me down and cover my mouth, but I broke away and ran down three flights of stairs screaming.

When I got out on the cement steps, he and his brother caught me again. But before they realized what was happening, I ripped my dress in two and stood there naked and yelling, "Take it, take it. This is all you want. This is what you pay for, my body, not me, just this body." His brother slapped me in the face and they drug me naked up the cement stairs, scraping the skin off my back.

I don't remember too much after that, but nothing really changed. We went on living there. My brother went on living across the street. Two years later, he finally did kill himself by jumping out the window. I kept his remains in the kitchen cabinet for a long time.

But it took me seven years to get rid of David. Ronald Reagan was up for a second term that year, and he was invited to the inaugural ball. David wanted me to go, too. Now, I do know people who would be delighted to go to the inaugural ball just to see what it's like. But I was so superstitious, I was sure God would strike me dead for hobnobbing with the richest and meanest congregation on Earth.

So I went back to the voodoo lady. She told me what to do. First I had to take an apple and cut out its core. Then I was to write my problem on a piece of paper and put it inside. Then I had to wrap the apple with a black ribbon while I chanted, bind him, bind him, take away his power and set me free. And then, on the first night of the new moon, I buried the apple in the nuns' graveyard behind the Sacred Heart Church.

The next day, the children and I drove to Cincinnati where an old Hell's Angel friend of mine ran a tattoo parlor. I got him to put a big red heart and dagger up high on my bicep. I knew no good Republican man would ever want to be seen with me again. And you know what? He didn't.

The truth is that like any other Third World country that tries to cut itself off from America too quickly, our economy has never recovered. And that's why tonight by the full moon, I have returned to the bar where we first made our fateful bargain to beg him for enough money to pay the rent. They say that once you start messing with the occult, you're forever in its debt.

Ira Glass

Carmen Delzell lives in Buda, Texas. She just opened a vintage clothing store called Lucky Day.

Act 5.

Ira Glass

Act Five, First Contact. You know, there's been so many retellings of the Faust story-- Marlowe, Goethe, Sayers, Thomas Mann, there are various versions of the opera Faust-- but only one person, as far as we can determine, only one person has attempted to tell the story of the devil coming to Earth to steal someone's soul as a children's story. That person is Daniel Pinkwater, and he has agreed to read his book Devil in the Drain, to end our program today.

Daniel Pinkwater

I knew that the devil lived inside our plumbing. I could hear him making noises, especially down the drain of the kitchen sink. Sometimes, I would look into the drainpipe with a flashlight and try to see him. Finally, I caught a glimpse of something down there.

"Hey," I said, "are you the devil?"

"What if I am?" A voice from down the drain answered.

"I just want to know, that's all," I said.

"I don't have to tell you anything," the voice said.

"Come up here so I can see you," I said.

"Oh no, you'll turn on the water as soon as I get there, and get me all wet."

"No I won't. Honestly."

"Well, that's what I would do."

"You are the devil, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"I'd really like to have a look at you. If I absolutely promise not to turn on the water, will you come up so I can see you?"

"Why do you want to see me?"

"I just do. Come on up. I won't hurt you. Besides, there are those little bar things across the drain. I couldn't get at you if I wanted to."

"I'm not afraid of you. I'm the devil."

"Then come up and let me see."

"All right, but if you turn on the water, I'll do some pretty bad things to you."

"You're really suspicious," I said.

"You would be too if you were me," the devil said. His voice sounded closer.

"Are you coming up?" I asked down the drain.

"Yes, I'm coming," the devil said. "And don't say it's my fault if you get scared to death."

"I'm not scared," I said.

"Well, you should be."

I could see the devil climbing up the drain. He was pretty small. He wasn't any bigger than the goldfish I had lost down that drain once when I was changing the water in the fishbowl. The devil got up to the little crossed bars. He had a face that reminded me of the fish, and he was almost the same color.

"Well, here I am," the devil said. "You're terrified, right?"

"Do you remember when I lost my fish down this drain?" I asked.

"Sure I do," the devil said. "You murdered him."

"I did not. It was an accident."

"Sure it was," the devil said. "Poor fish, he probably trusted you."

"The water overflowed, and he got sloshed out of the bowl and down the drain," I said. "I don't think he was smart enough to trust me or not trust me. Fish are dumb."

"That's right," the devil said. "Tell yourself that. I heard him crying for help. You didn't even care."

"I did care," I said. "But I didn't kill him on purpose."

"But you admit you killed him."

"Is that what you do?" I asked.

"What?"

"Try to make people feel bad about things they can't help?"

"It's one of the things I do," the devil said. "Now admit it, you feel pretty horrible about killing that fish, right?"

"I didn't kill him," I said, "and to tell the truth, I don't feel that bad about it. I'm sorry it happened, but it wasn't my fault."

"I'm getting bored talking about your stupid fish," the devil said. "How come you haven't mentioned how frightening I am, and at the same time, sort of fascinating?"

"You look a little like a fish," I said. "How come you live in the plumbing?"

"Again with the fish," the devil said. "I live in the plumbing because I can do whatever I please."

"How come you're so small?"

"I'm as big as I need to be," the devil said. "Now how about you getting me a pretzel? Do you have any of those skinny salty ones?"

I got the devil a pretzel. I pushed it down the drain. He ate it.

"That was lousy," he said. "I know you only got it for me because you're so frightened of me."

"Look," I said, "I got you the pretzel because you asked for it. You want another pretzel, I'll get you another pretzel. I happen to be a good-natured kid, and I'm not in the least afraid of you."

"Yes I do," the devil said.

"Do what?"

"Yes, I do want another pretzel."

"I'll get it."

"Ha, the kid's terrified," the devil said to himself. I heard him say it.

"That does it," I said. I turned on both taps, hot and cold.

"Hey, no fair," the devil shouted.

"Too bad," I said.

I heard the devil shouting and gurgling a long way down the drain pipe. He was really mad.

"That was a rotten trick," he shouted. "You ought to be ashamed."

"I'm not," I said.

Ira Glass

Daniel Pinkwater's book, Devil in the Drain, has been banned by children's libraries all over America. Really.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Nancy Updike, Alix Spiegel, Peter Clowney, and myself. Contributing editors, Paul Tough, Jack Hit, and Margy Rochlin.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

If you'd like a copy of our program, call us at 312-832-3380 here in Chicago at WBEZ. Our email address, radio@well.com.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

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