Transcript

434:

This Week
Transcript

Originally aired 05.06.2011

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/434

Prologue.

Ira Glass

This past Monday, a guy named Dan Curry got into his car to drive across the country from the East Coast to California alone. And to pass the time, he brought along 16 hours of Spanish language lessons on CD. I reached him in his car on Wednesday.

Ira Glass

So I have some questions for you.

Dan Curry

OK.

Ira Glass

Donde esta, usted?

Dan Curry

Donde esta-- I know what that means.

Ira Glass

What's it mean?

Dan Curry

Donde esta you.

Ira Glass

It means, where are you.

When I reached Dan, the answer was Odessa, Texas. He was just outside Odessa, Texas. It was actually kind of a big moment for him. After 14 hours of listening and practicing Spanish out loud with his CDs, he had just tried out his Spanish for the very first time with a person, an actual person, a Spanish speaking person. He was ordering lunch.

Dan Curry

I pulled up to a place. It's a little stand. They had a little drive-in, drive through area. So I went and ordered two pollas, pollo soft tacos and un-- I did it all en espanol-- and un carne asada. And it should've been about $4 or $5. But the girl, she was bilingual, kind of rolled her eyes when I was talking. She said something to me in Spanish. And I said, "Oh, si, si, si." And I ended up buying $26 worth of stuff. Instead of getting two chicken tacos, I got eight. The carne asada I got was a big vat of it. It was about $19, and all these shells. I was too embarrassed, so I bought them. I said, "Quiero caliente--" And I didn't know the word for sauce. I haven't learned the word sauce yet. So I said, "Sauce." And she switched to English at that point for me.

Ira Glass

Wait, the word for sauce is salsa. Haven't you heard the word salsa?

Dan Curry

Salsa is sau-- Oh, salsa means sauce? I thought salsa meant salsa.

Ruby Melman

I'm scared.

Ruby's Father

I got you. Put your feet on the pedal. I got you.

Ruby Melman

Don't let go.

Ira Glass

Sunday, in suburban New Jersey, eight-year-old Ruby Melman went out with her mom and dad to try, this was her second attempt, to learn to ride a bike. Her dad ran along beside her, holding the handle bars.

Ruby's Father

Keep going. Pedal, pedal. Oh, Ruby, you gotta pedal. Why are you stopping?

Ruby Melman

Because it's scaring me.

Ira Glass

It took about a half an hour for her to get it.

Ruby's Father

Good. You gotta pedal, OK?

Ruby Melman

Let go.

Ruby's Father

You're not pedaling enough.

Ruby's Mother

And keep your eyes up, Ruby. Look forward. Look ahead.

Ruby's Father

Good, good.

Ruby's Mother

There you go. Good job!

Ruby's Father

Pedal, pedal.

Ruby's Mother

You got it. Keep going. Keep going. Did you do it?

Ruby Melman

Yes!

Ruby's Father

That was really good, Ruby.

Ruby's Mother

OK, let's try it again.

Ruby's Father

So I'm going to ride around the corner.

Ira Glass

So this is the first time you're getting on a bike since when?

Bill Riley

This is the first time in almost four years, three and a half, four years. Let's see if I can--

Ira Glass

Saturday, on the north side of Chicago, my friend Beau O'Reilly, age 56, is getting on a bike again for the first time since he had both his knees replaced.

Beau O'reilly

All right. Here we go. Here we go.

Ira Glass

All right, both legs are going.

Beau O'reilly

Yes, and it's moving. It feels OK.

Ira Glass

How's your knees?

Beau O'reilly

They hurt. Yeah. What?

Ira Glass

I have to say we are kind of a sight. Beau, with his huge shock of grey hair. Me, trotting along beside him with the microphone. And then behind us, Beau's girlfriend, Judith, chasing after us down the sidewalk with his cane.

Beau O'reilly

But that feels OK. A little winded. A little breathing. Feeling it, but feels all right.

Ira Glass

At Ground Zero this week, on Thursday, President Obama laid a wreath. A woman named Theodosha Alexander was out on the sidewalk. She'd worked as a temp in the Twin Towers all through the '80s and '90s, knew tons of people who'd worked there. Since 9/11, she's generally avoided Lower Manhattan because of that. But she came down on Thursday, hoping it would feel different now that Osama bin Laden was dead.

Theodosha Alexander

It's like a relief that he's finally gone. You know, it's gone. No more. Maybe it's over. Maybe I won't have dreams about it. Well, I feel better right now. I feel great. I feel like they got him. They got him. They got him.

Ira Glass

That same day, Thursday, at the hospital that US forces set up at Bagram Air Base to deal with US casualties in Afghanistan, there was no question that we are, of course, a nation that is still at war. Doctor Wade Gordon, one of three orthopedic surgeons there, says that it's been pretty steady the last six months, including this week, with Osama bin Laden gone.

Dr. Wade Gordon

This week has been pretty busy. We have been averaging probably between 8 and 12 new trauma patients each day.

Ira Glass

And so what kinds of injuries are those?

Dr. Wade Gordon

Well, sadly, a large percentage of them are amputations from blast injuries from explosions. There's a fair number of gunshot wounds as well.

Ira Glass

I saw a quote from a soldier, I think it was in the New York Times, who was in Afghanistan and said, "OK. Can I go home " And I'm wondering if you're hearing any of that.

Dr. Wade Gordon

Yeah, I think there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek joking about that. Yes, it's nice after 10 years, but I guess I'm not certain, really, how much that's going to affect the reality of what we're doing over here, of day to day putting guys back together again here.

Ira Glass

So much has happened this week. What else? In the Grand Canyon on Wednesday, high school freshman were on a class trip.

Lauren

This is Lauren. We're walking down the trail to go to the Grand Canyon right now.

Woman

No. I know you wouldn't push anybody over the edge. But just don't even pretend to do it. OK? It's something we want to avoid. OK?

Ira Glass

Sunday, in a bar in New York City, patrons raised their glasses in remembrance of the bartender who ran the joint and lived upstairs til he was 90, Jack Loftus.

Bar Patrons

Here, here. To Jack. Cheers.

Ira Glass

This is a neighborhood where guys drank a lot and got into fights. Jack was this six-foot-three fatherly figure who kept things calm. This guy, Tommy Pryor, said his own dad was a big drinker who Jack knew how to keep in line.

Tommy Pryor

I love Jack, because I saw him love my father, respect him, take care of him when my father wasn't on his best behavior. And I felt I could trust Jack to help me control my father.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Every week in our show, of course, we choose a theme and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today, we are trying something we have never tried before. The theme this week is, "This Week." Everything you're going to hear this hour has happened in the last seven days. We wanted big things and small things, the most important things happening in the country, and the most important things happening to people far from Washington, D.C., far from the network news cameras. A portrait of seven days in the life of our country. On WBEZ Chicago, it's a special edition of This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. Seven days in 60 minutes. Stay with us.

Act One. Sunday Night, State College PA.

Ira Glass

We were all worried planning this week's show, coming into the week with no tape gathered at all. We worried like, OK what if there is no news? What if nothing interesting happens? And then, Sunday Night, it was a small bit of news.

Pres. Obama

Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda.

Ira Glass

That's President Obama, of course, Sunday night. One of our producers, Sarah Koenig was in a college town, State College, Pennsylvania, where she heard the noise of students shouting and blowing horns and what sounded like fire crackers on Sunday night. And since she wasn't watching TV, she had no idea what this was about. She thought maybe they had won a big game or something. She actually called the cops, who also at that point had no idea what it was about. And all week, she kept thinking about the hugeness of the students' reaction.

Sarah Koenig

When I heard Monday morning about Osama bin Laden, my reaction was, "Oh, wow," at about that decibel. The difference between that and this [CROWD CHANTING USA AND CHEERING]-- This is what was happening about three blocks away when I called the cops on Sunday. Thousands, maybe 5,000 or 6,000 Penn State students massed on Beaver Avenue. You've probably seen the pictures or read the accounts by now, young people letting loose all over the country. Here, there was all kinds of patriotic singing. Someone lit a small fire, and kids were jumping over it. A guy dressed like Captain America was body surfing the crowd. [CROWD NOISE]

And by the end of the week, there'd been a bunch of stories in the papers about these September 11th kids, the so-called millenials, young, loyal Americans for whom Osama bin Laden was the boogie man, their Voldemort. But I still didn't quite get it-- the taking to the streets, all the revelry. And I know I'm not 20 years old, and I like to go to bed around 11:30 instead of putting on my superhero outfit. But still, the difference between their reaction and that of everyone I know over 30-- that difference is a gulf.

So I asked some of the kids who were there that night. Where did this outpouring of feeling come from? Why did they take this news so personally? I'm just going to play you the tape from the interview that finally helped me understand it. The girl speaking is Lexi Belculfine. She's a junior. She's 20 years old, editor of the school's daily newspaper. She's got a poster of Dave Matthews above her bed. And what she explained to me is that her fear, after September 11th, wasn't some abstraction. It was real and lasting.

Lexi Belculfine

I distinctly remember being very afraid for a very long time. Yeah, I definitely was. I guess it was just a realization of how quickly everything could be ripped out from under you, that these huge, catastrophic things can happen. That was really frightening. After September 11th, I wouldn't even look at a plane basically. I live 10 minutes from the Pittsburgh International Airport. So we watch the planes go right into the airport. And it just gave me this incredibly uneasy fear of planes, of flying. And you know, it's silly, but I was 11 and didn't understand it. And I needed something to be afraid of, so I chose flying.

I think that you could probably even say that that feeling, being eleven and not understanding and being scared and confused and frightened, is why everyone was so excited Sunday night. Because we all kind of carried that fear with us. We definitely must have. Because if not, then I don't think Sunday night would have happened.

And so I think that this moment wasn't necessarily an end point, but was the closest thing that we had felt. It was this big indicator that there could be an end.

Sarah Koenig

Oh right. Because if you're you, and like most of your cognizant life has been different versions of the same situation, which is that we are at war with this sort of shadowy network, I could totally see how it feels like it's never going to end.

Lexi Belculfine

And that's exactly how it feels. It's kind of neat for me. My little sister-- my mom was pregnant with her September 11th. She was seven months pregnant I think. And now, she's in third grade. I don't know. I really, the past couple of days, I've been thinking about her a lot. And I'm almost really excited for her because she doesn't know about any of this. She doesn't understand any of this. And for me, at least, it was this moment that I realized that maybe Chloe won't have to have the same confusing years as a 12, 13, 14, 15-year-old.

Sarah Koenig

Did you feel like, well, maybe she never has to know now?

Lexi Belculfine

Exactly. And that was a really cool feeling for me.

Sarah Koenig

Did you even know before Sunday night that you were waiting for an end point? Do you know what I'm saying? Like before the feeling came, did you even know, "Oh, this is the feeling I've wanted to have all this time"?

Lexi Belculfine

It's really interesting, because I don't think that I had. I don't know that I necessarily felt the way that I did until I'm watching 6,000 of my peers in the streets celebrating. But I had no idea.

Sarah Koenig

When I'd asked another student why he and his friends cared so much about what happened Sunday since they were just little kids when September 11th happened-- it didn't happen to them. He shot back, "No. It didn't happen to you guys. It happened to us."

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig in State College, Pennsylvania.

Act Two. Monday, Cairo Egypt.

Ira Glass

In Egypt, on Monday, the day after President Obama announced Osama bin Laden was killed, out on the street, it was kind of a non-event. No demonstrations. Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement. Yes, obviously people talked about the news. But that was it. It was a normal work day. Crazy traffic. Lot of smoking. Everybody glued to their cellphones. And for all of us wondering what does the death of Osama bin Laden mean for the Mideast, this was the reaction in the most influential, most populous, Arab country in the world. A fourth of all Arabs live in Egypt. Our producer Nancy Updike went by Tahrir Square in the afternoon.

Nancy Updike

If anyone in Egypt wanted to mark Osama bin Laden's death publicly, or spark a national conversation about it, Tahrir Square would be the place. But the only activity I saw there on the day of the announcement was a man taking a nap on the grass. In Cairo, the conversation is not about bin Laden. It's about something completely different. From the moment I got here, I was hearing the same thing over and over, "I'd love to talk, but I'm on my way to a meeting." Or, "I'm in a meeting. Can I call you back?"

These weren't work meetings. They're the meetings of 82 million people deciding what their country will be. If Egypt had a national sound right now, it would be the sound of chairs scraping into a circle, or maybe the sound right after that.

[MALE VOICES ARGUING]

Arguing. This man is saying, "Why, why, why, why." He's one of about 15 people in a room forming a new political party. They're figuring out what the party stands for, and how it should present itself, right now, in front of me. They've got a name for the party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. But what does that mean exactly? The man shouting, "Why," is responding to someone else who is saying, "We're not liberals. We're not calling ourselves liberals."

"What's wrong with liberalism," the Why Man wants to know.

"Liberalism has a taint " the other guy says. "Some people are equating liberal parties with infidels. I have nothing against liberalism," he adds. "I am a liberal."

"And wait, how are we different from other free market parties," someone else asks.

A man sitting behind the one desk in the room clarifies, "We're somewhere between socialism and liberalism, free market, but more like France or Germany than America."

I spent the week going to meetings. They're happening everywhere. This one is 25 men sitting on plastic chairs in a circle out on the sidewalk lecturing each other about politics. I went to another meeting on the AstroTurf deck of a boat on the Nile, two judges, three religious men, and a DJ, who I think qualifies for the title of Mr. Meeting.

Mr. Meeting

[SPEAKING IN ARABIC]

Nancy Updike

This is [? Gihad ?], a charming, six-foot-tall, DJ, music producer, and party boy who was apolitical and, he cheerfully admits, rather debauched under Mubarak's rule. He told an interpreter and me about sleeping until 5:00 PM, going to parties all night. But then, he saw friends die in front of him on Tahrir Square. And now, he's quit being a DJ. He's living off his savings, and he goes to meetings all day. He starts ticking off his previous 24 hours. Noon prayer, followed by a neighborhood meeting about how to deal with crime. Then, on to a seminar about the pros and cons of a parliamentary republic versus a presidential republic. 8:00 PM dinner meeting with friends working on political issues. 11:00 PM meeting with other activists to nail down the agenda for a meeting the following day. Then at 2 AM, a final meeting back in his neighborhood. Four hours sleep. Woke up. Picked up a friend. Drove here.

My interpreter and I left Mr. Meeting, got off the elevator at the sixth floor of an office building, and headed into a conference room for one last meeting that ended up being pretty mind blowing. At first, it looked like a classic corporate gab fest-- fluorescent lit room, about 30 people sitting around a huge oval conference table with croissants and bread sticks in front of them. But this was an assembly of two very different groups, long time enemies, in fact, sitting face to face to see whether in the new Egypt they'll still be enemies.

On one side was writers, journalists, editors, left-wing Egyptians actively working to keep Egypt secular. On the other side, current and former members of the Gama'ah Is-lamiyah, an Egyptian Islamist organization that spent years murdering both foreign tourists and Egyptians. They went after policemen, and politicians, including the president of Egypt. They were part of the plot that killed Anwar Sadat. The men sitting here have served decades in Egypt's prisons. The Gama'ah Is-lamiyah also targeted Egyptian intellectuals, exactly the sort of people they're now sitting across from.

The Gama'ah Is-lamiyah started off the meeting the way they had to by reiterating the fact that they publicly renounced violence 14 years ago. And they still renounce it today. "No one is forcing us to say this," said Najah Ibrahim, a thin man with a long white beard, the Gama'ah Is-lamiyah leader who spoke most often.

He said, "Mubarak is gone. We can say what we want. And we're saying the same thing today we've been saying for years, 'No violence.'"

After 15 minutes of back and forth about that, one of the journalists suddenly shifted the conversation with a quiet question. "What's your position on art?" For years, Islamic extremists have preached a sort of cultural anorexia, no poetry, music, dance. And in this meeting, once art came up, it took over the conversation. The secularists wanted to know, "What art is OK in your view?" "Does painting have a place in Egypt, sculpture?" "How about theatre, movies?" "Do you believe in such a thing as Islamic art and non-Islamic art?" "Would you ban any art if you could?"

The conversation went from chilly and polite to blunt. One of the secularists, a famous novelist, [? Yousef ?] [? al-Kayyid ?] said, "We're not here so you can reassure us. We're here to find out what you really believe." For the next hour, the secularists and the men from the Gama'ah Is-lamiyah have a surreal conversation, the kind that happens when people with profound differences do manage to speak civilly and honestly with each other. The two groups argued, quoted poetry, brought up specific Arab pop stars and their videos, and talked about the evolution of Islamic scholarship on the subject of whether it's OK to paint or sculpt a person. The short version, according to the head of Gama'ah Is-lamiyah, first, no. Then, yes. And now, it's probably OK. Photography? Fine. Ballet? Not OK. No there isn't Islamic literature and non-Islamic literature. Literature is literature. We like music, well, some music. It can't be sexy. We used to sing ourselves and put on little plays when we were in prison entertain ourselves. And we read.

One of the Gama'ah Is-lamiyah men said, "I really like the writing of Naghib Mahfouz. Since reading him, I don't read any other novels. I read all his books when I was in prison, and I related to them."

This was an olive branch of sorts. Mahfouz is Egypt's most celebrated writer, proudly secular, who was stabbed in an assassination attempt by an Islamist militant after Gama'ah Is-lamiyah put hm on a hit list.

Later in the meeting, one of the Gama'ah leaders, Najah Ibrahim, said, "Look, we may differ with you about art, but Gama'ah Is-lamiyah will not burn art. We'll not destroy. We'll not ban. I could disagree with you about literature, art, or politics. That doesn't mean I would be violent against you or attack you. No. We fight thought with thought."

Maybe promising not to stab someone seems a little too basic to be a bragging point, but in this conversation, it was part of a bigger statement by the Gama'ah Is-lamiyah, "We want to be part of the real Egypt, not a fantasy that we try to create by killing people."

The Gama'ah Is-lamiyah is in this meeting because it was the first violent Islamist group to not only renounce violence, but also publicly apologize and say what they did was wrong. Their leadership then spent years writing a detailed, mutil-volume refutation of their former beliefs including a direct challenge to al-Qaeda's argument that America is a nation of infidels who deserve to be killed. Gama'ah Is-lamiyah said, "No, that's not true." And they quoted the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion in their rebuttal.

All of which brings me to Osama bin Laden. Egyptian thinkers provided the inspiration for al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's modern ideological underpinnings are mostly from Egyptian Islamist writers, especially Sayyid Qutb. Bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri is Egyptian, and he started reading Qutb as a teenager. One of bin Laden's professors at university was Qutb's brother. The modern phenomenon of violent political Islam has its roots in Egypt. And, in terms of ideology in some key members, so does al-Qaeda. But what does that mean for Egypt today?

I had a guess, and I ran it by the leader of Gama'ah Is-lamiyah, Sheikh Karam Zuhdi, the day after the meeting at his home.

Nancy Updike

It seems to me that Ayman Zawahiri and bin Laden and al-Qaeda, they're following ideas that came from Egypt 50 years ago. And Egypt, itself, has moved on.

[SPEAKING IN ARABIC] I think you're absolutely right. These are the ideas of the '50s and the '60s and the '70s. Egypt has overcome that, has gone through other phases. Like I said, the youth on Tahrir, they brought down whole regime just with the strength of the words and maybe a stone.

Nancy Updike

Do you ever worry that it could come back in Egypt-- violence in the name of Islam?

[SPEAKING IN ARABIC] I feel it won't come back, God willing.

Nancy Updike

Egyptians right now are in love with Egypt. Egypt is what they want to talk about, not bin Laden. And that includes groups like Gama'ah Is-lamiyah that used to have a similar ideology. The Gama'ah Is-lamiyah leaders are doing the same thing other Egyptians are doing, sitting down at tables with croissants and bread sticks, and talking about the future of their country.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike in Cairo.

Act Three. Monday, Tucson AZ.

Ira Glass

Here in United States this week, despite the President calling for a moment of unity, democracy still seems to meet people at each other's throats. Take this incident in Arizona. This was not big news at all. The Tucson Unified School District is considering something that you wouldn't think, from the outside, would be something that people could get quite this mad about. The issue was whether the Mexican-American studies program in high school will be turned from a core credit to an elective. That's it. People who oppose that change say that if it's going to be an elective, then the many at-risk kids who do well in that course, whose GPAs are helped by that course, who basically are the target population for that course, they will never take the course. So the course will miss its target population.

So Monday, this week, school board is going to discuss this. And this middle school teacher named Sarah Bromer, from this charter school, goes to the school board meeting with a tape recorder. And she sits in the second row next to a seat that has this piece of paper on it that says, "Reserved."

So the meeting is packed, over a hundred people in the room. And from the beginning of this meeting, there's heckling. Somebody calls the school board president bandito. There is chanting. The school board decides to hear 30 minutes of testimony from the public on this issue. And then, the school board wants to cut it off. But people keep standing to speak. So somebody stands up, they try to speak, they're escorted out by police. Then, an older woman, a teacher at Pima Community College named Lupe Castillo she gets up.

Lupe Castillo

And I will read to you the letter from Birmingham jails by Martin Luther King. This is what you need to hear. You need to understand and respect.

Ira Glass

The police move in to arrest her. And then, things go kind of crazy. The crowd starts chanting. People start standing on their chairs.

Crowd

Leave Lupe alone!

Ira Glass

At this point, the teacher who was recording this thing you're hearing right now, Sarah Bromer, says, "There are all these students in the room. Suddenly, they show up-- 10 of them with white T-shirts, and duct tape over their mouths. The police then move like a wave across the room, flushing out Lupe and lots of the protesters, and most of the media actually. Sarah, who is recording this, ducks between the chairs and then she sees down there between the chairs the woman who had moved into that seat next to her, that reserved seat, who turns out to be a petite woman in conservative, professional clothes. Sarah works her way back over to her seat next to the woman.

Sarah Bromer

Why are you here tonight?

Woman

Oh, I just came to observe democracy a little bit, but I'm feeling kind of weird. It's a little too loud to me.

Sarah Bromer

Where are you from?

Woman

I'm from Iran.

Sarah Bromer

From Iran?

Woman

Yes. I'm not a citizen yet. A permanent resident of the United States. I just wanted to see how they talk to each other. This is just so crazy, man. After 12 years in the United States, I don't think I still exactly get it. Because mostly when I watch things on TV, things are more kind of calm. But now, it's a little too rowdy and scary and both sides yell at each other a little bit.

Sarah Bromer

I saw you at one point crawling along the floor right when it got really crazy. I saw you kind of crawling along. Were you frightened?

Woman

I'm not the most brave person on the face of planet, and I sort of avoid conflict usually. Somehow I didn't have this opinion about the United States. I didn't think this happens in the United States. I thought it happens elsewhere.

Sarah Bromer

Well, it hasn't gotten violent yet.

Woman

No, no.

Sarah Bromer

Hopefully it won't.

Woman

I got a headache though. I think I'm nervous.

Ira Glass

At one point, the Iranian woman asked Sarah, "OK, if this is a democracy, and if you can actually vote out these people if you don't like them, why is everybody being so rude? Why are they yelling so much?" It's a good question.

Well, coming up-- when everything in your life depends on a political event that the political world ignores-- that's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Four. Saturday to Wednesday: CA, NY, WI, ME.

Ira Glass

This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each weekend on our show, of course, we choose a theme. This week the theme is, "This Week." We are spending the hours hearing about large things and very small things that happened these past seven days.

Ira Glass

Is this a good time to talk?

Shirley Everett

Yeah, if you don't mind me packing.

Ira Glass

Sunday, in Oakland, California, Shirley Everett-Dicko was closing up Charcoal Park, which was a very hard to describe combination store, African-American history museum, community center where kids hung out and came for movies and pizza Friday nights. Shirley has had to place for two years. She's been waiting for a miracle that has not come yet to help pay the rent. And she said on Sunday that lots of people driving by saw the moving trucks and people carrying stuff out and chose that moment to stop in.

Shirley Everett

Now that they feel this activity, they think they're coming to shop, right? And I'm like, "I'm leaving now." "No, I've been meaning to come here." I said, "Well, that's part of the problem." I hear everybody keep saying you were going to come here. You never did.

Ira Glass

This looked like such a nice store. I kept meaning to stop in.

Shirley Everett

Yeah, we've been meaning to. I drive by it all the time. Now, you come over the day I'm packing up to leave. We've had a lot of that.

Gabe

Does that closet creep you out?

Kevin

Yeah, actually it really does, and the other one doesn't look like it.

Gabe

Yeah, it looks like someone hung themselves in there.

Kevin

I know.

Ira Glass

On the other side of the country on Saturday, it was moving day for Gabe and Kevin, boyfriends moving in together. Neither of them had ever done this-- had a boyfriend and moved in with him, ever.

Gabe

Yeah, I feel like I've always seen friends do this.

Kevin

Yeah.

Gabe

And it was always like, "Oh, I don't know if it'll ever happen for me or if I'll ever have that experience or anything." So now that I am, I'm like, "Oh."

Eric

Well, today is Wednesday, and later this evening, there's an Elton John concert in La Crosse, Wisconsin that my girlfriend Roz and I will be attending with my parents, my brother and sister, and possibly my pastor.

Ira Glass

Eric and Roz are 21 and 23 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Eric

And it is at this concert where we intend to tell my parents that we plan on moving in together.

Ira Glass

And what do you think the reaction is going to be?

Eric

I'm not really optimistic about it I guess. They're a very Christian couple of people who I love, I really love, but--

Roz

Previously, he's made mention to them this could be a possibility in the future. And what his mother's reaction was was that-- I believe the words were, "God is not the only one judging you." Is that correct, Eric?

Ira Glass

So they have been prepping. Eric made a list of talking points-- what he figured his parents would say, how he would respond. And Thursday, the day after the concert, I checked in with them again to see how it went. Roz said that it was hard to enjoy Elton John she was so stressed out about this conversation they were going to have, which unfortunately, they did not start until midnight-- that wasn't the original plan-- until midnight in his parents house, before hitting the road to return to Stevens Point.

Roz

We were standing in the kitchen. And his mom and dad were just thanking me for coming. And they were so happy that I was able to experience the show with their family. And I'm just like-- my stomach is in knots. And his mother is such a gracious woman. Here she is like, "Oh, do you guys need anything for the trip? Some food?" She's packing up tons of food for us, and she's like, "Let me make you a sandwich." And I'm thinking, "You're going to want to retract those statements once I tell you I'm going to be living with your son."

Ira Glass

So, they finally broke the news-- they want to move in together. They each gave a little talk about why, and waited.

Roz

Eric's mom just said, "OK." And she just kind of paused, and her response was, "Well, you're both adults. And we see." She didn't really say, "We understand," or "We accept that." But she's like, "We see."

Ira Glass

So Eric, it seems like this went very, very differently than you thought it would. It seems like your mom was lovely.

Eric

Yeah, she really was. My dad was all right too.

Ira Glass

But during our interview, Eric's mom left him a long voicemail that he discovered when he got out of the studio. It is not over. His mom thinks they're rushing into it. It could ruin their relationship. June 1, moving day, is coming up very, very soon.

Eugene Rand

I'll get that there, buddy.

Ira Glass

On Monday of this week, in South Portland, Maine, the two grave diggers at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Eugene Rand and Bill True-- they're also best friends by the way-- held a work stoppage, and then ended the work stoppage-- that's what you're hearing right now. The work stoppage was to protest the fact that the 137-year-old cemetery was finally going to modernize. They were going to finally buy a machine to dig graves, a back hoe, to replace one of the two guys.

And on Monday, the cemetery's president met with two guys and told them that he had decided to keep them both until the end of June, and then, he would decide about the back hoe. Satisfied, they went back to digging. Bill says that the whole problem is this new manager that the cemetery has brought in.

Bill True

I enjoy working here. I like doing this. That dude over there, he's got to go. He just needs to change his attitude a little bit. Show a little respect to the guys that do actually do the work here. I guess not treat us like a couple paeans that don't know anything. Yeah, I really hope things work out.

Ira Glass

It could take all day to dig a grave by hand. They hit rocks. It's hard to keep the sides straight and square. It's hard work. And here's something that the reporter who talked to these guys, Clay [? Boten ?], learned that I had no idea about.

Bill True

That whole cliche about six feet under? Never. Even in the old days I guess, maybe they went six feet under. No.

So ?] if it's not six feet under, how deep do you guys get?

Eugene Rand

Four feet.

Bill True

Just below the frost line, average four feet.

Eugene Rand

No one has ever been buried six feet.

Bill True

That's an old cliche. It really is.

Eugene Rand

It's just an old saying, really.

Ira Glass

The first foot is real easy, Eugene says. The second foot gets tough. Your third foot is killing. The fourth foot, you're ready to quit. And squaring off the bottom, that can be half a day by itself, he says.

Act Five. Wednesday, Tuscaloosa AL.

Ira Glass

You really didn't see it in the headlines, but all this week, people across the south were still dealing with the aftermath of last week's tornadoes. That's not over, not even close. Official estimates are that there were at least 300 tornadoes. At least 329 people have died across seven states, according to the Associated Press. And a week in, you would think that there would be this agreed on set of facts. Not so. David Kestenbaum learned this down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

David Kestenbaum

It's understandable that after a monster tornado churns through your town, picking up cars, and chewing up houses, even a week later, there's going to be some new piece of unsettling news.

Doug Ray

We started getting some calls that a lake-- actually kind of a pond in a development, older neighborhood, that had been largely destroyed-- that they had drained it and found five bodies in the bottom of the lake.

David Kestenbaum

This is Doug Ray, editor of the local paper, The Tuscaloosa News. The thing about the bodies in the lake story, though, it just wasn't true. Neither were the others.

Doug Ray

The first rumors we started hearing were Sunday afternoon.

David Kestenbaum

One rumor that the former mayor had been killed? Not true. In fact, he'd stopped by the newspaper in person. Another, that the hospital morgue had a 150 bodies in it-- also not true. It only holds six.

Stephanie Taylor

Wait, do ya'll want to go through-- I made a list--

David Kestenbaum

This week, Doug started a new beat, the Rumors Beat, and he put Stephanie Taylor on it who started making a list.

Stephanie Taylor

The mayor has allegedly ordered all cops and firefighters to shoot every dog they come across. This is a really grim rumor that we've heard that there were several children in the Chuck E. Cheese, it's a pizza place with games and stuff, that were killed and were not pulled out. And I know for a fact that was not the case, because that's where I went. I was out there five minutes after it happened. There was nobody in that building at the time. I don't even think they were open. And there's a few others that I need to put on the list. It's wild. It's gotten out of control at this point.

David Kestenbaum

Down here right now, it's hard to say what's a crazy rumor and what's a tip worth following up on, because a freaking tornado tore through town. Everything seems crazy. It's like, if that can happen, who knows what's true? Stephanie had two stories on the front page the day I visited, one incredible one about a couple, Amy Hall and Keith Matthews. I went to visit them at a shelter. Amy says when the tornado hit, she was at home talking to Keith on the phone who was telling her, "Look out. I think the tornado is headed your way."

Amy Hall

And I didn't take him serious at all. Then my power went out. So I'm like, OK. He said, "Well, just look outside and see if you see it." And I looked outside, and it was right in the street in front of the house.

David Kestenbaum

The tornado was.

Amy Hall

The tornado was. And it seemed like it was just sitting there waiting to see, you know, for me to open the door to say, "OK, well, you know I'm here. So I'm going to destroy your stuff." That's how it was just sitting there turning. So I closed the door. I locked the door like that was going to stop it, and I grabbed Kristen, my 10 month old, off the couch. As soon as I was running through the little hallway to get to the bedroom where the kids were, the house just came up. It just rose up in the air.

David Kestenbaum

The tornado lifted the house with her and her three kids in it.

Amy Hall

And we were like we were floating, like we couldn't move. We were just floating.

David Kestenbaum

What was it like being in the house when it is in the air?

Amy Hall

It was like a movie, something you would see on a movie. We were floating like astronauts. And I was holding Kristen, and I was still on my phone with Keith. So he could hear everything.

Keith Matthews

I just heard a bunch of racket and stuff going everywhere and the phone came disconnected. I just tried to get to them fast as I could.

Amy Hall

We was just shifting wherever the wind blew us, that's where we were going. And it just slammed us. We was a block and a half over from where our house actually was when we got out.

David Kestenbaum

The tornado picked the house up and moved it a block and a half?

Amy Hall

Yes. It moved us a block and a half.

David Kestenbaum

Everyone survived. Her littlest son was on his mattress and slept through the whole thing. A relief worker told me she met a kid who said, "I flew in the sky like paper." So when you hear something like five bodies, 36 bodies found at the bottom of the lake, your response isn't, "No way." It's, "How awful." Here's Stephanie with the newspaper.

Stephanie Taylor

I believed a few of them at first. I even wrote in a story that a man had been killed in a tobacco convenience store, and people were walking over his body to get cigarettes and soft drinks and things. Because when I was out on the street, I heard that from at least 4 people, and one was an official person. And he was repeating this as if it was truth. And I came back here, and I checked with my boss. And he said, "Go with it." And I wrote it. And the more I've thought about it, the more unlikely it seems. But on the first day, when there was so much pandemonium, and so much information coming from everywhere, it seemed like something that could've happened and probably did happen, to me. And the longer I've had to stew on it, I don't think that it did but--

David Kestenbaum

A lot of these seem to be also about the bodies. Like there was a house there that's not there, and where are the people? You know it's kind of that question, because you don't always get the body right? It's like, where did the people go? Where did the house go? Where did life go?

Stephanie Taylor

Right. And I think a lot of people have called us to ask about whether there were 36 bodies in the bottom of this lake. And they argue with us when we tell them, "No. That's not happened. They did not drain the lake. We've seen it. It's still there. There's still water in the lake. The mayor told that they did not drain the lake." And they argue and say, "They did. They did drain the lake, and they did find these bodies in there." And then, I mean what do you say back to that? It seems like they want to believe it in a way. And maybe because that would kind of resolve where these people are rather than not knowing where they are. I don't know. I don't know what makes people want to believe it. It's just-- I don't know.

One thing, I'll get home and I'll turn on the television and turn on my computer and have it in my lap, and just read this stuff all day long. And in the car on the way home, I'm listening to the radio station, and they've been going constantly, 24 hours a day since this happened. People are calling in, "We need these items." That kind of stuff. And I can't seem to turn it off. And maybe I should. But I think a lot of people are like me. And that might be where a lot of these stories are coming up. Because it's information overload. It's all anybody has been talking about or thinking about or doing for the past week.

David Kestenbaum

I went to see the lake. It hadn't been drained. The houses around it were gone or badly damaged. The tornado had stripped the trees. They looked like giant sticks stuck in the ground.

Ira Glass

David Kestenbaum as part of our Plante Money team. All the songs that we're featuring in today's show by the way, were released this week. This one is by an Alabama rap group, G-side featuring Chris Lee, about the tornado.

[MUSIC - "THE BLACKOUT" BY G-SIDE FEATURING CHRIS LEE]

Act Six. Thursday, Greenville SC.

Ira Glass

Thursday night of this week, the first Republican presidential primary debate was held in Greenville, South Carolina. Most of the political world treated it as a joke. The candidates with the best poll numbers skipped it. No Mitt Romney. No Mike Huckabee. Not even Donald Trump. One Republican called the debate "a beauty contest where everybody is ugly."

But there's another way to look at this debate. For the few fringe candidates who did show up, this was their one big moment to get noticed. Robert Smith traveled down to Greenville, South Carolina to follow them through the experience.

Robert Smith

There's a political rule that applies to even the most minor candidates. Never admit you're losing. No matter how badly you're doing in the polls, you have to pretend that you're one of the big dogs. And that's why it was sort of amazing for me to hear a guy named Herman Cain admit last week that he really, really needed this debate.

Herman Cain

I think that this first debate could potentially move me to what they call, "top tier." There's a lot of people who don't know who Herman Cain is. So my goal after that first debate is for people to be going, "Who is this guy?".

Robert Smith

Herman Cain is the pizza man. He was the CEO of Godfather's Pizza. And he's never been elected to anything. Cain's poll numbers are mostly non-existent, and by that, I mean not there at all. Most of the pollsters don't even ask about him. But on the morning of the Republican debate, he was touring Greenville, South Carolina, breaking another rule of politics-- don't set the expectations too high.

Herman Cain

I am here playing to win.

Robert Smith

And you're willing to say it.

Herman Cain

And I'm willing to say it. And I want my ideas to cut through all of the political clutter. That's what my goal is tonight.

Robert Smith

For Cain, this isn't just bluster, because he actually has done this before. He had a moment when he did cut through the political clutter, when he took on the President of the United States. And he won.

[PLAYBACK]

Herman Cain

Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you very much for this opportunity. And I would first like to commend you on making healthcare a national priority.

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

It was 1994 and President Clinton was holding a series of televised town hall meetings about his new plan that would require businesses to provide health insurance. Cain was picked for the audience because he ran Godfather's.

Herman Cain

I remember standing up, and that's when they came to me-- [PLAYBACK] Mr. President, my question is quite simply, if I'm forced to do this, what will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?

President Clinton

Well, let's talk a minute about what you would have to do.

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

If you could design a training program for participating in a presidential debate, this is what it would look like-- tussling for eight minutes back and forth with Bill Clinton. What followed was perhaps the most complicated mathematical discussion that's ever been broadcast on prime time. Cain and Clinton were arguing payroll numbers, profit percentages. And the whole time, Cain could feel these TV cameras.

Herman Cain

So I knew that millions of people would be watching me for the very first time in my life. That was probably the most nervous I had ever been.

[PLAYBACK]

Herman Cain

OK, first of all, Mr. President, with all due respect, your calculation on what the impact would do, quite honestly, is incorrect.

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

A few more minutes of this, President Clinton was ready to move on.

[PLAYBACK]

President Clinton

Let me ask you a favor. Would you send to me personally your calculations?

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

Even 17 years later, this moment have never faded for Cain. The most animated he gets in our interview is when he talks about the morning after Clinton. His wife came to him while he was in the shower.

Herman Cain

[KNOCKING ON DOOR] "Herman, you're on CNN and every channel." I said, "What did I do? I didn't kill anybody." I came out, and it was the lead story. Ted Koppel, that night, summarized it, "Last night in Omaha, Nebraska, the pizza man from Omaha stumped President Clinton concerning his healthcare plan." I was shocked.

Robert Smith

And apparently hooked. Cain started traveling the country giving motivational speeches. He wrote books with titles like, CEO of Self, all about how he became a success in fast food, and brought down the President's healthcare plan. Herman Cain had tasted glory. And now, in his first presidential debate, he wanted more-- Herman Cain on every channel.

Herman Cain

Every channel, Herman Cain.

[PLAYBACK]

Bret Baier

Good evening, I'm Bret Baier. Tonight's first Republican presidential debate is being sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party of South Carolina.

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

And 17 years later, Cain was back in a live, televised debate. Up on stage with politicians like congressman Ron Paul, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. The debate started with foreign policy, and Cain struggled to come up with the answers.

[PLAYBACK]

Herman Cain

One of the things that I've always prided myself on is making an informed decision based upon knowing all the facts. And at this point, I don't know all of the facts, but that's the process that I would use.

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

We talked before the debate about his strategy. He told me how he had written out some good lines, was planning to get some jokes in. But up on stage, you could see him making the rookie mistake of actually answering the questions. He wasn't getting that big moment back, even though he tried the same move on the moderator that he tried on Clinton.

[PLAYBACK]

Herman Cain

Well, Chris, with all due respect, your experts are dead wrong. Because I have studied the fair tax for a long time. First of all--

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

But then his answer sort of droned on after that. It turns out that challenging a reporter isn't the same as challenging a President. And it occurred to me as I watched him that I had completely misunderstood that moment in 1994. Herman Cain didn't take down President Clinton and his healthcare plan. President Clinton elevated Herman Cain. Being on stage with four other also-rans wasn't helping. And this time he was going to have to do it himself. Then, it happened. The moderator, finally near the end, asked a question made for a motivational speaker like Cain.

[PLAYBACK]

Reporter

You have an impressive personal history, sir, but why do you have any belief that you stand a chance to win this nomination, let alone the Presidency.

Herman Cain

A couple of reasons. Most of the people that are in elective office in Washington, D.C., they have held public office before. How's that working for you?

[END PLAYBACK]

Robert Smith

Bingo. It turned out to be the catch phrase of the debate, never mind that he's been trying it out for months. He tried it on us last week.

Herman Cain

How's that working out for you?

Robert Smith

Apparently, quite well. After the debate, Fox News did a focus group. Half the people said Cain won. His staff excitedly told me that after the quip, Cain was the 15th most trending topic on Twitter. But Herman Cain seemed to know that this didn't have quite the same electricity as it did back in 1994.

Herman Cain

I wouldn't call it a breakthrough, but I would call it a heightened awareness of this guy named Herman Cain. And I hope the take away that people had was, we need to take a closer look at this guy.

Robert Smith

The morning after the debate, I flipped the channels. And Cain was right to be wary of claiming victory. Most news outlets didn't even mention the debate happened.

Ira Glass

Robert Smith is another member of our Planet Money team, Planet Money is a co-production of our show and NPR News. You can get their free podcasts at NPR.org/money.

Act Seven. Saturday and Sunday, Gainesville and Coral Springs FL.

Ira Glass

Here's somebody else who had a big week this week.

Laura Hucke

My name is Laura Hucke. I just graduated yesterday at 2 o'clock. And I don't know what I want to do, and I don't know where I want to move. So that poses a problem.

Ira Glass

After graduating from the University of Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, Laura got into her car to make a trip that she really hadn't hoped she would be making four years ago. She didn't have a job. So she was moving back in with her parents. 1.6 million people will graduate from college over the next month into what is still a very tough economy. This week, also happens to be the one year anniversary of when our own intern, Eric Mennel, graduated from college and made the exact same trip to move back in with his parents, jobless. So we sent him along for the ride with Laura.

Eric Mennel

When I first showed up at Laura's apartment, she was visibly freaked out. She had just called her mom and dad almost crying.

Laura Hucke

I was packing and my trunk was almost full. So I guess I was trying to fit something in there. And I was pushing it in, and I had to put my keys down. And I guess I put them in the trunk because I wasn't thinking very straight. I just closed it, and I'm like, "Yes! It fit." Then I realized my keys are in there. I was just like, of course, this would happen when I'm trying to leave, the day I'm trying to leave, you know.

Eric Mennel

She'd packed mostly the night before. So 30 minutes later when the locksmith showed up, we were on the road.

When Laura started college, she wanted to be a book editor. She figured she'd live in New York or maybe L.A., anywhere but Coral Springs, Florida where she grew up. But by her senior year, Laura just couldn't get it together to apply for any jobs. She was overwhelmed by all the possibilities. She had no idea where to start. And she battles with the sometimes crippling lack of self-confidence.

Laura Hucke

I definitely feel a huge sense of helplessness or something that's really overwhelming, and I'm already in that pit of negativity of-- I don't have any experience. I'm never going to get a good job that I want. How am I going to get a job? I have nothing on my resume. All my friends had internships, and they're getting all these amazing jobs, and they're moving away. What's my plan after college? I'm moving back home like I'm a failure. I don't want to be one those 30-year-old people living in their parents' house. That's just a complete failure. I feel like my whole life people have just told me how smart I am and how I'm so destined for greatness. To not achieve that is just unfathomable.

Eric Mennel

When I graduated to move back home a year ago. I spent the first couple of nights sleeping on my kid sister's top bunk. I couldn't land a job. And after two weeks, then a month, then six months, without any real sense of direction, it was easily the saddest and most depressed I've ever been in my life. So I felt like I knew what Laura was in for.

And for one thing, it changes your relationship with your parents. It's awkward. You get annoyed with them. They get annoyed with you. And Laura says she and her mom have always fought a lot, even before this.

Laura Hucke

I'll give you an example of the stupid crap that goes on between me and my mom. I'm sitting at my kitchen table eating lunch, and she's sitting at her desk, on the computer, and she's watching a tennis match. And she was saying something about it. And I had said, "Oh. It got postponed because it was raining?" And she goes, "No, it got delayed." And I was like, "Isn't that the same thing?" And she goes, "Well, no. Postponed and delayed are two totally different things." And I'm like, "Well, don't they both mean putting something off to a later time?" I'm like, "Why are you fighting with me about what delayed and postponed is."

Eric Mennel

Her dad comes out to help her unload stuff for her bedroom. Before she went to college, the room was pink with green carpet. But while she was gone, her parents painted it the color they liked, the color of the rest of the house, brown, which she hates. After talking to Laura's mom, Amy, and dad, Charlie, it's clear that as much as Laura doesn't like the idea of living at home, they wouldn't call it ideal either.

Amy

My expectation is she's going to come back home and expect it to be like it was before. And I don't think it should be that way. I think she's a grown up now, and she should behave as a grown up. So I see conflict.

Eric Mennel

From Laura's mom's point of view, that's the main danger here, that Laura won't respect her boundaries and priorities. That she'll act like a kid. I asked about their fights, and what they remembered about the tennis argument.

Amy

She considers it a conflict. I didn't even remember it. You remembered it.

Charlie

My recollection is that Amy was right and Laura was wrong in the definition of what postponed and delayed were. But when they get into stuff like that, I stay out of it, because I don't want to get in the middle of anything. When you get in the middle of something, you're making a mistake, especially with two of them, because they're both right. So how could I possibly be right, OK?

Amy

There's something interesting. You said, "As I remember it, Amy was right." So if I was right, why didn't you get involved and stop the argument so it didn't get unpleasant for both Laura and me?

Eric Mennel

My prognosis-- they're doomed. As of Monday, everyone was still getting along. By Thursday, the story was a little different. Laura's dad went into her room to pull a guitar amp out from under the bed. He had been storing it there while she was away at school. As he was walking out, he bumped into her dresser. The flat iron she uses for her hair fell on the floor. Laura gave him attitude. He got into a fight with his wife over it. As of Friday, Laura still hadn't finished unpacking.

Ira Glass

Eric Mennel is our show's intern.

[MUSIC - "HELPLESSNESS BLUES" BY FLEET FOXES]

Well, our program is produced today by our senior producer, Julie Snyder, and Sarah Koenig, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Jane Feltes, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and our colleagues at Planet Money, Adam Davidson, Jess Jiang, Chana Joffe-Walt, Caitlin Kenney, and Baldur Hedinsson. Production help from Eric Mennel. Seth Lind is our production manager, Emily Condon's our office manager. Jen Berman's filling in as our West Coast producer. Original newsy but not too newsy sounding music by Cassettes Won't Listen.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, where you can get our free weekly podcast, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our show by our boss, Torey Malatia, who's been walking around-- oy-- with this new catchphrase:

Man

How's that working out for you?

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.