Transcript

484:

Doppelgängers
Transcript

Originally aired 01.11.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/484

Prologue.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.

Ira Glass

One, two, three.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) One, two, three. One, two, three. Sometimes, things aren't what you think they are. And people aren't who you think they are. That's what we're talking about today. I'm Ira Glass.

Ira Glass

That is really weird to hear you do that. I'm here. This is actually Ira Glass. I'm sitting here with Fred Armisen--

Fred Armisen

Hi.

Ira Glass

Hi. Who's probably best known for Saturday Night Live, but also Portlandia.

And I knew that you had worked up an imitation of me because we just happened to meet once.

Fred Armisen

Yeah.

Ira Glass

And then you said this thing that I thought was a polite way of saying-- I can't remember exactly how you put it, but it was sort of like, but you're not famous enough so I have no use for this on television. [LAUGHS].

Fred Armisen

I might have said that exactly.

Ira Glass

Yeah. And--

Fred Armisen

Well, after that, this writer at SNL, Christine Nangle and I, we figured out a way to turn it into a sketch that we could put on "Weekend Update," the news segment on Saturday Night Live. By chance, NPR came up in the news. I think this was around the time that they were talking about cutting some of the funding.

Ira Glass

Cutting funding when Vivian Schiller got fired-- Vivian Schiller, the president of NPR.

Fred Armisen

That's exactly right. How's she doing, by the way? OK? Have you kept in touch with her?

Seth Meyers

--Tea Party. Here to comment on NPR's troubles, the host of This American Life, Ira Glass.

Fred Armisen

So I came out and I'm wearing your glasses with a wig to look like you.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Act One. You know, I was thinking the other day--

And then the joke being that you were interviewing people at "Weekend Update."

Seth Meyers

Ira, look. You can't bring other people on as your guests. You're my guest. It's just, your CEO just resigned. And now the Republican budget proposes cutting your funding completely. I mean, aren't you afraid that NPR might start laying people off?

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Act Two.

Seth Meyers

Oh boy.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Laid off, no guts--

Ira Glass

So this never made it to air. This is just the recording from the dress rehearsal. Why didn't it make it to air?

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Rita finally gets a job.

Who knows? It might have been a little unwieldy.

Ira Glass

So if people want to watch that, the entire video-- we have a link at our website.

So I invited you here today because the theme of this week's show is doppelgangers. This show is about doppelgangers, about people who are doubles or look-alikes. And I realized that because you had worked up this imitation, you could co-host as my doppelganger. In this room, in this studio, this is the one place where I actually am famous enough that you can use this imitation.

Fred Armisen

Yeah, yes.

Ira Glass

So if you're ready, that's what we'll do.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Sure. And another way to look at it is you're co-hosting with me, that this is my show.

Ira Glass

Exactly.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) And that's what we're talking about today. I'm Ira Glass.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]. All right. So let's go to this copy. So we have some copy for today.

Fred Armisen

OK.

[PAPERS RUSTLING]

Ira Glass

That's this one. And let's go to there. And let's just-- why don't you start?

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Today on our show-- today on our show--

Ira Glass

Let me think. I'm just thinking about how I would do it. I would go, like, today on our show.

Fred Armisen

Oh, yes. That's better. OK.

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Today on our show--

Ira Glass

We have two stories of supposed doppelgangers.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) We have two stories of supposed doppelgangers. And we try to figure out the truth of them.

Ira Glass

Do I sound that nasal?

Fred Armisen

Maybe.

Ira Glass

And we try to figure out the truth of them.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) And we try to figure out the truth of them.

Ira Glass

One concerns two men who have never met--

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) --the other, two animals who never meet.

Ira Glass

I think you should do the next part because it's so, like-- do you want to hear me do it first? Or do you just want to do it?

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life--

Ira Glass

Distributed by Public Radio International.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Distributed by Public Radio International.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS]. I feel like a Muppet. Why does it make me feel like a Muppet, Fred?

[LAUGHING]

Seriously. Why--?

Fred Armisen

I think you could be a Muppet. I don't know why they don't have a Muppet of you.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life--

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life--

Ira Glass

Distributed by Public Radio International--

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass.

Ira Glass

And I'm Ira Glass.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) And I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Ira Glass

So Fred, do you want to start Act One?

Fred Armisen

Yeah, OK.

Act One. Dead Ringer.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Act One, "Dead Ringer." We start today with a story of physical resemblance, not of a person, but of a food.

Ira Glass

A quick warning that if you're squeamish or averse to graphic images of food, there's going to be some of that in this report. Here's Ben Calhoun.

Ben Calhoun

I first heard about this whole thing in an email. It came from a listener, a woman named [? Emily Rancer. ?] She works in the food industry.

And the letter Emily wrote was about a story she'd heard from a farmer. The farmer who told her this is apparently a person of some standing in the pork industry. Admittedly, I don't know the first thing about the pork industry. But he's in charge of a pork-producing operation that spans several states.

The story he told Emily went something like this. A while ago, he was visiting a pork-processing plant in Oklahoma. He's walking through it with a friend, a guy who managed the plant, actually. And at some point he saw boxes stacked on the floor labeled, "artificial calamari."

He stood there, wondering for a second. And then he asked his friend, what's artificial calamari? Bung, his friend replied. It's hog rectum. Rectum that would be sliced into rings, deep fried, and boom. There you have it.

OK. If I can, let me just narrate for you what this would mean. It would mean that in restaurants everywhere, right this second, people are squeezing lemon wedges over crispy, golden rings, and dipping the rings into marinara sauce. And they're eating hog rectum. Now they're chewing, satisfied and deeply clueless.

It's payback. It's payback for our blissful ignorance about where our food comes from and how it gets to us. It's amazing. And it's perfect.

But it also seems like it couldn't possibly be true. So I called up the farmer to talk to him personally. I wanted to hear it first hand.

And the farmer confirmed the story-- the entire thing, the boxes, the bung. But when I asked him to go on the record, to tape an interview and give his name here on the radio, he very politely declined. Which seems suspicious, right?

When I asked him why, he said he'd spoken with his girlfriend about it. And she suggested that he should think about the words that he wanted to come up when somebody googled his name.

This was all fine, though, because he referred me to the real expert-- the guy who gave him the tour of the hog-processing plant. And that guy-- he agreed to talk.

[PHONE RINGING]

Ron Meek

Hello?

Ben Calhoun

Hi. Is this Ron?

Ron Meek

Yeah.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah. This is Ron Meek, meat-processing plant manager, presently residing in Mountain View, Missouri, where he runs an organic beef processing plant there called Beyond Organic. If the story really were true, Ron would have been the guy who explained to the farmer what was in those boxes.

Ron Meek

The boxes are 10-pound boxes. They cut off so much of it, like maybe a 10 or 12-inch piece of the bung. And you know what it looks like? After they're cleaned and washed and everything, they just look like a bunch of big noodles in a box, is all it looks like.

Ben Calhoun

But specifically the labels that said "imitation calamari," where did you personally see the "imitation calamari" labels?

Ron Meek

Oh, I've never seen a label say that. That's all I was told by the people I work for. They told me that.

Ben Calhoun

Oh. The people that you work for told you that it was used for imitation calamari.

Ron Meek

Right.

Ben Calhoun

And is there any possibility that you think that when they were explaining this to you, that they were kind of having you on a little bit?

Ron Meek

Having me on?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, like--

Ron Meek

Bull [BLEEP]ing me?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah.

Ron Meek

Well, I wouldn't think that. You know, it could be 5% could have been that. But I seriously doubt it.

Ben Calhoun

OK, just to give a little better picture. A pork bung-- and "bung" is the actual industry term for it-- is long, and flappy, and ugly. At one end it widens out into this more bulbous shape, like a pink, wrinkly pear. That's the rectum. At the other end it narrows into a soft, pinkish-white tube.

I know. It sounds gross. But also consider we are a nation that eats more than a billion pounds of sausage every year. Billion, with a B.

Maybe you like liverwurst, or capicola, or summer sausage with a natural casing. Then you, like me, have eaten bung-- stuffed, dried bung. A lot of brats and Italian sausages are stuffed in intestine. So if you eat those regularly, you pretty much live up the street from bung.

So why does the idea of a fried ring of bung just feel grosser? Partly it's the visual, right? When you see that little ring of calamari, you don't want to picture it in the context of a pig's behind. Then there all the people who don't eat pork, period.

Ron said there's also another reason.

Ron Meek

Just because the word "bung," probably. I mean, people don't just want to jump up and say, man, I'm gonna eat me some bung tonight, you know? I mean, that's just the way it is.

Ben Calhoun

But the big question, the question you've been thinking about since we got on this topic-- have you or I eaten imitation calamari, bung dressed up as seafood?

Well, Ron didn't know. He said his plant exported a lot of their bung to Asia. But he just didn't know much about whatever happened after it left the door. So he could only speculate. Anything, he said, would be a wild guess.

So I turned to people who would know, is pork bung being falsely peddled as calamari? I called the USDA. The USDA's food-inspection service issued the following statement to me. "Products we inspect, including those derived from pork, must be accurately labeled and cannot purport to be a product of another species."

So it's against the rules. But people break the rules. A recent study of seafood by a group called Oceana used DNA testing and found that all across the country fish is regularly being labeled as other species in restaurants and in grocery stores. Escolar sold as white tuna, Pacific rock fish being fraudulently sold as snapper.

In Miami, more than 30% of fish was being sold as something it wasn't. In New York, the number was 39%, Boston 48%, Los Angeles-- are you ready-- 55%. 55. That means if you order fish in LA, you are most likely eating a species you did not order.

In other words, seafood substitution is rampant in this country. And depending on where you live, from what I can tell, you can get cleaned hog bung for about half the price of cleaned squid. So there would be money in it if you could pull off the switch. And as best as I can tell, were you to do this, you would not be caught.

A lawyer who is familiar with this area of law and regulation told me once bung leaves the plant, there's a variety of agencies and entities that would be in play-- USDA, FDA, state and local government. But ultimately, he said, the regulation we have is not designed to catch an offense like this. It's aimed mostly at sanitation and food safety. So bottom line, the lawyer said, if somebody wanted to do it, chances are they'd get away with it.

So is someone out there doing this? Well, for weeks I looked for an answer. The USDA says they've never heard of anyone trying to pass pork bung as squid, or any other species.

[PHONE RINGING]

I contacted the National Restaurant Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Pork Board--

Woman 1

Hello?

Ben Calhoun

--a squid fishermen's association--

Woman 2

Good afternoon, National Pork Board.

Ben Calhoun

--Sysco, and other big food and restaurant supply companies.

Woman 1

It's hog what?

Ben Calhoun

Bung. Hog rectum.

Woman 1

Oh my gosh.

Ben Calhoun

That's the executive director of the California Wet Fish Producers Association. But the answer was pretty much always the same. Nobody had heard of it. But almost to a person, they added that that doesn't mean it's not happening somewhere.

Ron Meek said a lot of the bung from his plant got exported. So my next call was to the US Meat Export Federation, which confirmed that, quote, "The main destinations for pork bungs are China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines. They are mainly used for processing, but we are aware of some uses in soups and certain entrees. We are not aware of them being used as a substitute for calamari, but it's not impossible," unquote.

So over the past few weeks, I've called Asian food suppliers, people who live in, work in, and eat in those countries. I talked to a woman named Corinne Trang who's written an overarching compendium of Asian cuisines. I've talked to academics at NYU and Haverford and USC and Harvard. I've reached out to chefs who know Asian food.

The answer, again, always similar-- never heard of it, but it's possible. Partly because bung doesn't have such a complicated reputation in Asia, where it has to be some kind of secret ingredient like it does here.

On the other hand, though, people pointed out that in Korea and Japan you can't get more than a few hours from the ocean. Squid is cheap and it's readily available. You'd only eat a substitute if you wanted the substitute. Generally, people said, if the switch was happening somewhere, they'd guess China.

Eventually I found my way to this guy who I was really excited about, someone who I thought might have my answer. He was-- get this-- an anthropologist who lived and worked in China for 40 years where he studied food, and specifically, meat. When I talked to him, though, he made two points.

Point one, my question about this happening in Asia was racist. Even just asking the question was racist because it plays on ignorant stereotypes about other cultures eating things that we perceive as weird.

Point two was that Ron Meek-- my guy from the pig plant-- Ron was pulling my leg. And he was getting away with it because I was a dumbass. He told me more than once that I should, quote, "find something worthwhile to do with myself."

When we ended our conversation, he told me that he was refusing to even dignify what I was doing by appearing on the radio or by letting me use his name.

OK. So to respond to his points one by one, first, am I racist against Asians? Well, I'm half Chinese. My mom's Chinese. Like anyone, I've had the occasional issue with my mother. But this has not been one of them.

We grew up eating chicken feet and fish eyes. And I think it's possible to raise the question of who eats what without being racist.

His second point, though, that Ron Meek was pulling my leg-- I mean, the guy was still an expert on meat in China. So I called Ron back.

Ron Meek

All right. Shoot me some questions, dude.

Ben Calhoun

I told him the whole thing, about the anthropologist, about what he said.

Ben Calhoun

I mean, the only thing I want to ask you is, are you messing with me?

Ron Meek

No. I mean, that was what my boss told me. I was like, what the hell are we save these hog bungs for? He says they use them for imitation squid and stuff like that.

Ben Calhoun

But so in your heart of hearts, you believe it.

Ron Meek

Yeah, man. I mean, I ain't going to sit here and tell you things that are bull [BLEEP] and play with you when I'm just going off of my knowledge of saving hog bungs. I mean, you got to think about how far advanced slaughterhouses are, especially big ones that want to make every penny count.

Like the one I worked at, you bring the pigs in, you stun them, then you stick them. And the blood goes off into a trough. And it goes down and it's vacuum sucked out of there with a vacuum into centrifuges. And they separate the blood from the blood plasma. And they save that.

I mean, they save the lungs. They save the pancreas. They save the spleens. They save the hearts.

The only thing left by the time it's all said and done is a skull and jaw bones. I mean, you can be an anthropologist all you want. But if you don't work in a processing plant, you don't know [BLEEP].

Ben Calhoun

I contacted the plant Ron worked at where this happened. And for what it's worth, they backed him up. They said their sales team had heard of people eating pork bung as imitation calamari, though they hadn't witnessed it firsthand or heard it directly from a customer. It was all hearsay.

So at the end of all this, I still had no proof that anyone was passing off bung as squid. And then I realized, I hadn't asked the more basic question here. Could bung do it? Could it pass as calamari?

And that question led me to a guy named Eddie Lin. Eddie Lin has eaten a lot of bung, at least 100 times, he said, probably more. Eddie has an extreme food blog called "Deep End Dining" and an online TV show called Kamikaze Kitchen.

Eddie Lin

I can definitely see a resemblance texture-wise.

Ben Calhoun

Oh really?

Eddie Lin

Yeah, definitely. There's sort of a rubbery texture, sort of like a calamari.

Ben Calhoun

Huh.

Eddie Lin

But you would really have to get rid of that-- needless to say-- foul flavor and odor from the bung.

Ben Calhoun

Somehow I hadn't figured that the bung, once it was scrubbed and rinsed and cleaned with steam, that it would still taste like-- you know.

Eddie Lin

So yeah, you would definitely have to do some major, major blanching. Or brining, I meant. Brining.

Ben Calhoun

To just try and leech those flavors out of there.

Eddie Lin

Yeah. I mean, those flavors have been marinating in that pig for quite a while. So--

Ben Calhoun

A lifetime.

Eddie Lin

Yeah. [LAUGHS].

Ben Calhoun

He thought it wouldn't be easy. But he thought it could be done. And there was only one way to tell if he was right-- to cook up some bung and eat it. And if the taste was overwhelming and the texture was all wrong, well, then I'd have my answer.

And at this point, I'll be frank. I started to root for the bung. I realized that this is not a story about fraud. It's not a bait and switch story.

It's a story about possibility. It's classic rags to riches. It's about whether a cut of meat-- perhaps the lowliest, most malignable cut of meat in America-- might somehow, in at least one place on the planet, be dipped in the redemptive oils of the great culinary equalizer that is the deep fryer.

And it might emerge transformed, no longer an outcast, but instead hair combed, clean shaven, in a suit and tie. It might walk reborn onto a table. Through sheer force of resemblance, it might be loved. Its history, years of drudgery and hardship, doing the body's least glamorous job, all washed away.

No, this is not the story of a con man like Bernie Madoff. It's Pretty Woman. This is whether Good Will Hunting finds his way out of Southie. It's whether Charlie, on that very last chocolate bar, really can get a golden ticket.

To do all this, to try it, I called my little sister, Lauren. She's a chef, trained abroad at the Cordon Bleu, worked at Michelin Star restaurants. She's that kind of chef.

Soon we were standing in front of a deli case. And I don't know why I feel hesitant about saying this because I don't think it's racist. It was in Chinatown.

Lauren

Pork bung, there it is. Look at it. It looks like the sphincter.

Ben Calhoun

Wait. What do you mean it looks like a--?

Lauren

This one up here that's cut up, it looks like a butthole. [LAUGHS].

Ben Calhoun

It does.

And Lauren had theories about pulling it off-- brining, soaking, maybe braising. But once we got to the store, once she'd seen the meat up close, her doubts got worse.

Lauren

I think if you're looking at it, I don't think it's going to--

Ben Calhoun

You don't think it's going to work.

Lauren

No. It's too thick. There's too much muscle tissue. It's too thick. You'd have to use a ring cutter to make it the right thickness.

Ben Calhoun

What do you think those bits are in there?

Lauren

Oh, you know. Poo.

Ben Calhoun

My sister said Eddie Lin was definitely right. The giveaway would be the stubborn flavor of poo. That flavor, she said, it's tough to get rid of. The earth revolves around the sun and bung will always tastes like [BLEEP].

But there was no backing out now. We would eat. We would eat our way to the truth.

And so what if it didn't look good? So what if bung was destined to taste like bung? You know who it didn't look good for and he still put up a fight? Rocky Balboa. That's who.

This was it. The bung versus calamari. Squid versus tail. The rumble in the bunghole.

We set up the tasting at a restaurant, in the lull between lunch and dinner. In the dining room there was just a few tables eating. And all around the restaurant, the morning shift was wrapping up as we walked in with a red cooler filled with squid and hog bung.

So originally, I'd recruited some half a dozen people from our office at This American Life as tasters. The final group the day of the tasting included, from the office, Seth Lind and Brian Reed.

Ben Calhoun

So when's the last time that you guys had calamari?

Seth Lind

I had calamari probably like a month ago.

Ben Calhoun

And what about you, Brian?

Brian Reed

I haven't had it since we got this tip about the possible--

Ben Calhoun

Oh my gosh. Have you been avoiding?

Brian Reed

Yeah, no, totally. And to be honest, I'm like a regular eater of calamari. Not like all the time, but it's something I'll routinely order if it's on an appetizer menu, you know?

I mean, I grew up in an Italian-American family where my grandparents were also born here. I feel like calamari is just big among that sector of people at Olive Garden and stuff like that. So I just grew up eating it, you know?

Ben Calhoun

I hadn't realized this. For weeks, Brian had been avoiding calamari. He'd been living in fear.

Ben Calhoun

Brian, if you find out that they're indiscernible from each other, will you ever eat calamari again?

Brian Reed

No, I don't think so. That's why I want to do this, just to know going forward.

Ben Calhoun

Back in the kitchen, things were looking bad. I'd given up on the idea that bung would taste the same as calamari. Now I'd hung my hopes on the idea that at least visually it would look the same.

But as my sister dropped the flowered rings of hog bung into the fryer, they had turned into this big, ugly, tangled wad, nothing like the jiggly squid rings.

Ben Calhoun

They're very scraggly looking.

But then, as if by a miracle, they changed. My sister gave a shake to the fry basket. And as they sizzled, the bung just seemed to gracefully snap into rings.

Ben Calhoun

Well, look at that, though. It's like magic. They're turning into circles.

Lauren

Yeah. [? Lewis, ?] I'm going to pull these first ones.

Ben Calhoun

Soon we were face to face with the plate. On it there were two piles of rings, similar in size, similar in shape. The bung had more of a frizzly edge to it, kind of like a fancy onion ring. The calamari was smoother. I asked Seth and Brian to just give a first impression.

Brian Reed

I have a guess. It's one of those things where you're pretty sure, but you could totally be wrong.

Seth Lind

God, I thought I would be more sure. I don't-- I'm waffling now. My gut reaction is that this was calamari and this was not.

Brian Reed

OK. Before you eat it, see, I totally thought this was calamari, the other one. So I'm going to do it at the same time.

Seth Lind

All right.

Ben Calhoun

OK. So just to be clear what's going on here, Seth has chosen one pile of rings, which he thinks is calamari. Brian has done the same thing. Only Brian is choosing the other stack of fried rings.

Seth Lind

OK. So we're about to bite into these simultaneously, which we both think this is calamari.

Brian Reed

But they're the opposite ones.

Seth Lind

But they're the opposite ones. OK.

[CHEWING]

Ben Calhoun

So in actuality, Seth is right. Seth is eating calamari. The chewing you hear from Brian's mike, that is this sound of a calamari lover eating fried pig rectum.

I should also add, there were actually two varieties of bung on the plate that day. One bung that my sister had blanched over and over to mellow any organy, fecal flavor. And then untreated, straight-up bung-- unfiltered, unchained, uncut, 100% pure bung. That one, the latter one, bung at its purest, at the height of its bung-iness, this is what Brian was eating.

As they ate, Seth still looked confident.

Seth Lind

I think I was right.

Brian Reed

I think I was right.

Ben Calhoun

Really?

Brian Reed

Yeah. [LAUGHING]. I totally think I was right.

Ben Calhoun

Game, set, match, bung. And it wasn't just Brian. I thought so. Damien, who manages the restaurant, he also thought it was passable.

A few of us picked up a faint flavor of pork rind. But if you weren't really looking for it, you wouldn't notice it was there. One of the restaurant's staff, a guy named [? Ethan Vanburen, ?] had the simplest, clearest explanation.

Ethan Vanburen

I think that when you slice something up really thin and deep fry it, it's going to taste like something that's been deep fried.

Ben Calhoun

If a plate filled with bung came out, how many people do you think would even-- do you think you'd notice, if you were in that setting?

Ethan Vanburen

I'd say top scenario is somebody says, this calamari tastes funny, and keeps eating it.

Ben Calhoun

And as for Brian-- oh, Brian-- Brian was reeling a bit, trying to figure out just what this was going to mean for him.

Brian Reed

I'm sure I've been fooled in the past. I'm just sure of it.

Ben Calhoun

Wait, you're thinking that you've been places in the past and you've had bung?

Brian Reed

I just imagine seeing a plate with this food that looks like this on it sitting with my family growing up. We've definitely have eaten something that tasted like this and just thought it was calamari, for sure.

Ben Calhoun

Not only wasn't he sure if he'd ever eat calamari again, he didn't want to eat the calamari on the plate in front of him. Calamari I guaranteed him was real.

Just to repeat one last time, I have no proof that anyone, anywhere, has ever tried to pass off pork bung as calamari in a restaurant. All I know is if you wanted to do it, it would be easy. And I'm choosing to believe that it's happening somewhere. Because at some point in working on this story, I stopped identifying with Brian and anyone who might feel ripped off or grossed out by getting imitation instead of the real thing. Now I identify with the bung.

And I'd like to think that somewhere out there, right now, under a heat lamp, a platter is sitting. It's warm and it's full of promise and transformation and redemption. That's the world that I'll choose to live in. For me, for you, for the bung, for the bung in all of us.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun, he's one of the producers of our program.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Ben Calhoun, he's one of the producers of our program.

Ira Glass

Thanks to the restaurant, Aurora, in Brooklyn, for letting us use their kitchen for our taste test.

Ira Glass And Fred Armisen

OK.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) OK. Who was this? Wait, who am I?

Ira Glass

Well, coming up, Philadelphia and Afghanistan, doppelgangers?

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

So we're going to start Act Two?

Ira Glass

So we start here. So we're coming back from the ID break.

Act Two. In Country, In City.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, "Doppelgangers." Stories of things that have a double, an evil twin, or a not so evil twin.

Ira Glass

Oh, wait. I should just explain. Oh, right, so--

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) What?

Ira Glass

That was just a note to myself. I should explain--

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) No, that was a note to me.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHS].

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) [LAUGHS].

[LAUGHING TOGETHER]

Ira Glass

So this is why Fred is here. Fred Armisen is co-hosting the show as me because it's a show about doubles and look-alikes.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Right. But we're both creating the same person, in a sense. And that's kind of what the fun is of--

Ira Glass

Oh, that was really good, the way you just did that. [LAUGHS]. Finish your thought?

Fred Armisen

I didn't have an end to that thought.

Ira Glass

You just knew that you could--

Fred Armisen

I like when you do the little self-- the little discovery.

Ira Glass

All right. Well, we've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, "In Country, In City."

So for decades now, the writer Alex Kotlowitz has been writing about the inner cities, and especially the toll of violence on young people. He's probably best known for his book There Are No Children Here. He appears on our show from time to time.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Recently he heard about an unusual program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where they're giving guys from inner-city neighborhoods counseling for symptoms of PTSD.

Ira Glass

And it's interested Alex because for a long time he has wondered whether the violence that he was reporting on in Chicago and its effect on kids and adults was comparable to the effects of trauma that a person experiences at war.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) So he knew, and we know, how strange that sounds. You know, to compare being in Afghanistan or Iraq to working a street corner in Chicago or some other city.

Ira Glass

So Alex tried to see if it was really comparable by doing a pair of interviews. He talked to this vet from Afghanistan and also a guy from Philadelphia who's lived in some pretty bad neighborhoods his whole life. Alex wanted to see if they were doubles of some kind for each other.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) One of these guys is 28. One is 30. And both of them are trying to make sense of what they experienced. Here's Alex.

Alex Kotlowitz

Here's the first of these two guys, Brandon Caro. Brandon spent a year in Afghanistan. His roughest time was the six months he spent in the eastern part of the country near the Pakistani border. He was a Navy corpsmen, a medic who worked with the Marines.

Brandon Caro

As a teenager, yeah, I certainly lacked discipline. I have been thrown out of my house more times than I could remember. And I was 21 when I enlisted.

And really, I enlisted because I had, up to that point, not finished college. And it didn't seem as though I was going to finish college any time soon.

Alex Kotlowitz

Then there's Curtis Jefferson. He grew up in a rough neighborhood in North Philly where he oversaw a small group of guys who sold drugs. He made his first drug sale when he was still in high school.

Curtis Jefferson

I was 16. And my aunt gave me some money for school. And at that point I purchased some weed and some crack with that. Never bought my clothes.

After that, I sold all the drugs. And I guess from there, that's where it started. And I seen that money come in, and I wasn't asking nobody for no money. Especially with my aunt, I wasn't asking for it from her pockets and all that. So from there, it was all she wrote.

Alex Kotlowitz

OK. They're two completely different people who made very different choices in their lives. But I spoke to each of them, looking for similarities in their experiences. And honestly, there were more than I expected.

Here's the first similarity. For Curtis on the street and for Brandon in Afghanistan, they could never let their guard down.

During his tour, Brandon was charged with training Afghan soldiers. And in May, 2007, he heard about Afghan soldiers who attacked their American trainers.

Brandon Caro

They had weapons around us all the time. On convoys, we would have to line them up in the morning and collect their cell phones because we couldn't trust them not to inform on us to Taliban fighters. It was exhausting, trying to keep an eye on the Afghan soldiers and look out for IEDs or snipers.

Curtis Jefferson

Because you trying to just focus on one thing, trying to get money, they're the same thing, eventually somebody is going to come up and test you. Somebody is going to test you. There's either somebody who's going to rob you, somebody going to send something to your boys', they're going to get robbed, someone is going to send shots through your way, or something.

Brandon Caro

It felt like a piano could fall on you at any time, you know? That's what it felt like to be on patrol, and especially to be on patrol with the Afghans.

Curtis Jefferson

Because if you were out there, you noticed different things. For one, people with their hands in their pockets.

Brandon Caro

You're looking for someone that doesn't look right, that doesn't feel right.

Curtis Jefferson

Another thing, people got hoodies on, especially black. There's a certain look. They put the hoodie on their face, you can't even see their eyeballs. Like, come on. It's daytime. I can't see your face. Let me see your eyes or something.

Brandon Caro

I would watch the way they looked at me. You know, if they would stare back at me, if they would smile at me.

Curtis Jefferson

If a person always got to keep touching their side, you're not going to your pocket. You're touching something. And I've been out there so long, I could tell if somebody got a gun on him or not.

Brandon Caro

For some reason, it was always a white Toyota Camry that was packed with explosives and driven into a convoy or driven into a checkpoint.

Curtis Jefferson

Grand Marquis, or what else? Crown Victoria. That's a dope boy car. And when I seen cars when I was on the streets, it was either get ready, go for the stretch, go to the guns, or get out of the way. That might the hop-out boys coming to stick you up.

Alex Kotlowitz

Here's something else they shared. They both saw people killed and then had to figure out how to keep going. The first fatality Brandon ever saw came when a convoy, which he was originally scheduled to be a part of, was hit.

Brandon Caro

They brought the casualties into our base. And when we swung open the two doors that opened up into the cab of the truck, I was looking at just a heap, a mass of flesh and that gray, digital pattern army uniform. But there was no form to what I was looking at. I knew that what I was looking at was human, but I didn't know what position the body was in because it had been so badly damaged.

And so we got into the cab. And we started to put him into a bag. And I tried not to look at his face. I remember thinking, don't look at his face, don't look at his face.

But I had to, inevitably. It was by far the most intimate, goriest thing I've ever experienced in my life.

Curtis Jefferson

My first time seeing somebody shot was my own mother. I was five years old. Going on six. We was living in the in the projects, Blumberg projects.

My mom just got her degree in nursing. She was a nurse, had a nice little job she was working to get us out of the projects.

Then one morning, she was going out to work. I gave my mom a kiss on the lips. She told my grandma, I'll see y'all later. I'm going to work.

As soon as she went out to work, I just heard all this shooting. But by that time, I knew what shooting was. But you know, there it was. She just got caught up in a shootout.

Somebody knocked on the door. She told my grandma, she said, Barbara's dead on the ground. All I know is my grandma was screaming and hollering. She ran outside. And there she was, right on the ground.

Back then, the nurses were wearing the nurse outfits with the little hat. Yeah, that's how she was. That was off her head. It was laying next to her. The whole white outfit just red, blood, there's nothing but blood.

I'm just looking at her. And [? Friday's ?] over there, like, what's wrong with mom? And grandma, like-- what's wrong with her? My grandma was crying and screaming. She didn't even say nothing. She just keeps telling me, go in the house, go in the house, go in the house.

I was angry a lot. Like, every day, every day. Because I thought about my mom every day. Every day, every day. I still think about her every day.

Brandon Caro

From that point on it was very difficult for me to sleep, to focus. I didn't realize how much those things really had made an impact on me. But they did.

Curtis Jefferson

I seen a lot of people get shot. I seen people get shot by cops, anything. Best friends shoot each other. I been seeing all types of crazy stuff. I don't know.

Brandon Caro

There was a convoy that went up to Nuray, in which there was a sniper attack that killed my old sergeant and his sergeant. There was the rocket-propelled grenade attack on a tent inside our FOB followed up by machine-gun fire. [SIGHS].

Curtis Jefferson

I could say I've seen like a dozen. And for me to not even be no cop or no doctor or nothing, that's a whole lot to see somebody killed and dead. That's a whole lot.

Alex Kotlowitz

This brings us to the third parallel. They buried their feelings.

Curtis Jefferson

Well, you know, after my mom got shot, I didn't get no counseling. I didn't get no counseling at all. And my aunt asked me, too. My aunt gave me a decision.

And she asked me one day. I had to have been 12. She was like, do you want to go to a counselor? And I told her no. For what? I don't need to talk to nobody.

I was so much in denial. I think I can handle everything by myself. But I really couldn't.

Brandon Caro

I think at that point I was probably still in denial. I knew that I was toting around a lot of emotional baggage.

As much as I wanted to talk to people about how I really felt, I also didn't want to talk about it at all. The more I'd give it air, the more real it would be. And I didn't want it to be real. I just wanted it to be over.

Curtis Jefferson

I can't show no weakness because my homies need me out there. And I've been doing that for years. It's to the point where I start getting adapted to it, like [BLEEP] yeah.

But at the same time, I was still scared. Don't nobody want to die like that.

Alex Kotlowitz

The fourth shared experience-- raw, unfiltered rage.

Curtis Jefferson

I was definitely looking for revenge for my mom. When I was about 10 years old, I told my aunt I was going to look for the people that killed my mom. And I was going to go back down into the projects. And I was going to kill them. I always thought like that.

Brandon Caro

I mean, the way I felt about the Afghans-- I began to just hate that whole culture entirely. I hated them.

There was one time we were driving on an extremely, extremely dangerous road. And we had come very close to falling off the cliff, which would have killed us. The truck to our front was a truck filled with Afghan soldiers. And they were pointing and laughing at us for almost falling off. And in that moment, more than any other moment, I wanted to open up on them and kill every one of them.

I'd love to say that it was only toward the Taliban, toward the enemy that I experienced this rage, anger, and desire for revenge. But it really wasn't. It became a much bigger thing.

I was in Dallas one time around Thanksgiving. And I saw some people coming out of the mosque. I think that they had just had prayer or something like that. And it reminded me of Afghanistan.

And in that moment I just thought about how angry I was and how-- it enraged me. It enraged me because I don't want them here. All right, I said it. I [BLEEP] said it, all right? All right.

I realize how much anger and resentment I have and how dangerous that is.

Curtis Jefferson

I shot my sister's boyfriend. I mean, I don't know. I think I had one of them moments. It had to have been.

It just took one burn. It just set me off for no reason. I was just thinking about everything and I just shot him.

I felt in some type of way, I made the situation deeper than it wasn't. You know what I mean? It wasn't even that deep. But I've been holding a lot of stuff in.

Because he always trying to discipline me. That's what it was I didn't like about, how he always tried to discipline me. All my sisters are way older than me. Like 40, pushing 50. See what I'm saying? I'm the youngest and I'm the only boy.

So you know, her boyfriends, they just how I need to stop getting in the streets. But it's just how he was saying it, like don't raise your voice at me. He's talking about yeah, I'm going to take you out in the street and fight you and all this, you're going to learn your lesson.

It just was the part when he was like, yeah, I'm going to knock you the [BLEEP] out. And that just went in my head, like what? First thing I do is grab my gun and come around the corner.

He was outside, too. And I'm thinking the whole time, I hope he ain't really outside. Because he think I'm going to fight him. I'm not fighting this man. I'm going to kill him.

I didn't even give him a chance to put his hands up. As soon as I got around there, he was just all in my face. And I just backed up and shot him. Shot him in the stomach.

I thought I was going to kill him. I thought he was dead, though. I guess everything worked out. That's the way he is. He ain't the person [INAUDIBLE] tell. He still survived. So I don't know.

Alex Kotlowitz

Here's something I didn't expect with either of them. The toughest times weren't when they were on the battlefield or in the streets. It was when things were quiet. That's when they struggled the most.

Brandon Caro

The worst times for me were the times when we weren't out on patrol because that's when I was alone with my thoughts. I would try to clear my head. It was impossible. These thoughts would just appear. And I would worry.

I thought about what it would be like to be shot--

Curtis Jefferson

Half my day dreams is looking at my cell in the summer, watching TV, like, dang. Just imagine bullets ripping through my body. You know, mother [BLEEP] just come out with a gun, just start shooting everything. And I'm getting hit, everybody's getting hit.

Brandon Caro

I would think what it would feel like to be blown up in an IED, to be pinned down and have the vehicle set ablaze and to burn alive, to be trapped in the truck because the doors were too heavy to cut through, or to pull open.

Curtis Jefferson

Just seeing it with my own eyes, just seeing blood, and me just falling to the ground, like, is it too late for the ambulance? Would I still be alive when the ambulance comes and gets me? That crazy kind of stuff. You sit and think about that stuff, that kind of stuff drive you crazy.

Alex Kotlowitz

For both, reality eventually caught up to their fears. In the spring of 2006, Curtis told us he got caught in a shootout with rival drug dealers. The first bullet to his back spun him around. He got hit four more times in the stomach and in the arm.

As a result, he walks doubled over, like an old man. Because of permanent nerve damage, he falls a lot. And when he's under stress or eats the wrong food, he has bleeding from his intestines.

Brandon too was hurt in a rollover when his Humvee fell off a small cliff. Brandon had been manning the turret and fortunately another soldier pulled him in just as the vehicle rolled. He suffered three fractures of his vertebrae and two herniated disks. And the pain kept him up nights, even after he left Afghanistan.

Both men were on a lot of medications after their injuries. And our sixth similarity may not be so surprising. They self medicated.

Brandon Caro

I started to drink again. And on the weekends I would drink heavily.

Curtis Jefferson

It makes my body just feel a little better. Just a little basic Mary Jane, that's all.

Brandon Caro

Usually a Crown and Coke was my drink of choice. And I would probably drink at least 5, up to 8, 9, 10 in the night.

Curtis Jefferson

But sometimes it does give me the opposite effect.

Brandon Caro

When I was very, very drunk I would start to cry because of how upset I was.

Curtis Jefferson

Because, you know, when I smoke it puts me on the mellow. Then, you know, you just start thinking. Then that's when all the thoughts just come. Like, where the hell did they just come from? And I'd be like, oh. Some thoughts I think, sometimes I don't want to think about.

Alex Kotlowitz

Echo number seven, they lashed out at friends and family. Curtis had night terrors and would wake in the middle of the night thinking his girlfriend was someone who was trying to shoot him. He'd push her, he'd hit her in the head, he'd call her names.

Curtis Jefferson

I just was like, dang, I know I'm hurting this girl. Like I'm really putting my hands on her like a man, like put marks on her arms. And I said, I'm going. I'm losing it. And that's cra-- and I was like chhh.

Alex Kotlowitz

Brandon had a difficult relationship with a girlfriend, too. They'd get into huge arguments and she'd get scared. One time Brandon got so agitated a friend intervened and tried to calm him down. Brandon punched him. His girlfriend locked herself in her room and called the police.

Brandon Caro

The police came. And I was inside. The police rang the doorbell. And I opened it up. And it was two cops, a guy and a girl cop.

And I asked the guy, is your weapon loaded? And he said, why would you ask me something like that? And I said, because I want you to shoot me in the head.

Curtis Jefferson

I just sat in my bedroom. And I had my gun under my bed in the sneaker box. I had a 40 Mag, big, old, cowboy gun.

And that's when my grandma caught the gun in my mouth. And she just opened the door to make sure I was cool. It just was one of them days she opened the door and I had a gun in my mouth, you know?

I mean, she didn't know what to do. She didn't know to come closer or stay back. She didn't know what to do. So she's looking at me, start [INAUDIBLE] crying.

And she didn't want to come next to me in there. So she's just talking to me the whole time. Like, come on, baby, it's all right. I love you, you're my grandson.

Like you know, your mom didn't leave you out here on earth for this. Now you blessed, you just got shot five times. Like, why are you--?

She said, it's going be all right. We're going to get some help for you and everything. And I just decocked it and put it back in the box and just sat there. And called my homie up and bring some weed around the corner and get high. And that's how that went.

Alex Kotlowitz

Both Brandon and Curtis have gotten help. Brandon's in AA and went through a writing program for veterans at NYU. Curtis is receiving counseling through the program at Drexel that offers help to guys coming off the street. But finally it's here where their stories diverge. Brandon's tour ended and he's now thousands of miles from the dangers of Afghanistan. Curtis still lives in his old neighborhood, where the danger's ongoing.

Curtis Jefferson

When I get more money, I am definitely moving. I'm going to move. That's the project I'm working going on right now. I'm out.

I'm going to live somewhere comfortable, that I know I can walk the neighborhood. You know, I could sit out there on my step all day, all night if I wanted to.

Alex Kotlowitz

Not long ago, a guy was shot and killed down the block from where he lives. And Curtis happened to see the body on the ground.

Curtis Jefferson

And I just was thinking about a lot of the-- I was paused. I just was like, yo, when he shot, like, damn, that boy was on the ground. And that was me. It's just, I'm living. Like, he died. And I was like, damn. And it just felt like I felt all them bullets all over again.

Alex Kotlowitz

Curtis worries that because of the way he walks, perpetually bent over, he looks weak and that people will target him-- rob him, beat him up, shoot him, take revenge. I wonder for someone like Curtis, if it's really post-traumatic stress, since really there's nothing post about it.

Brandon, meanwhile, says he doesn't talk to his friends or family about his anger and his nightmares, which he still has regularly. He tried counseling, but didn't like it. So he sought out other veterans who understand what he's been through.

And Curtis now attends group counseling with others who, like himself, were once running the streets. That's the final echo. They've both come to realize that they're not alone.

Ira Glass

Alex Kotlowitz. His books and documentaries include most recently the film The Interrupters, which he wrote and co-produced. It's at iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, and on DVD.

[MUSIC - "ME AND MY SHADOW" BY SAMMY DAVIS, JR.]

Credits.

Ira Glass

OK. So should we do the credits?

Fred Armisen

Yeah, let's do it. You ready? God, you do this whole thing at the end of every show?

Ira Glass

Yeah. OK. Ready?

Fred Armisen

You've got to hire someone to do that.

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Well, our program was produced today by Miki Meek and myself--

Ira Glass

With Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan Menjivar, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Our senior producer's Julie Snyder.

Ira Glass

Production help from Tarek Fouda and [? Thea Bennen. ?]

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Seth Lind is our operations director.

Ira Glass

Emily Condon's our production manager.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant.

Ira Glass

Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) Our website, where for the first time ever you can watch the videotape of the Saturday Night Live dress rehearsal of me doing Ira Glass.

Ira Glass

That address, thisamericanlife.org.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our show by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia.

Ira Glass

After a hard day at the radio station, he always declares on his way out the door--

Ron Meek

Man, I'm gonna eat me some bung tonight, you know? I mean, that's just the way it is.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) And I'm Ira Glass.

Ira Glass

He's actually Fred Armisen, by the way. Portlandia, season three. That's Friday nights?

Fred Armisen

On IFC.

Ira Glass

IFC, season three. Back next week. More stories--

Ira Glass And Fred Armisen

--of This American Life.

Ira Glass

I think we're done. And I think we should cut--

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) I think we are. I think-- are we OK? I think we're OK.

Ira Glass

I think we're OK.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) I'm not too worried about it.

Ira Glass

I think we've got it.

Fred Armisen

(IMITATING IRA GLASS) I wouldn't worry about it.

Sammy Davis Jr.

Say, Frank.

Frank Sinatra

What is it, Sam?

Sammy Davis Jr.

Would you do me a favor?

Frank Sinatra

What do you want now?

Sammy Davis Jr.

Would you mind just taking it one more time?

Frank Sinatra

From the top?

Sammy Davis Jr.

No, from the ending.

Frank Sinatra

Wonderful.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.