Transcript

515:

Good Guys
Transcript

Originally aired 01.10.2014

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, here's what intrigued Ben. His friend Sonari told him that he'd come up with this thing. And there's no way to say this without sounding like an infomercial. But Sonari was doing this thing that was saving him lots of money.

And Sonari is exactly the kind of person who would know about this kind of thing. He's a business reporter. He's one of our colleagues at NPR news. Anyway, here's Ben.

Ben Calhoun

He told me he was just saving on everything. He used it for shoes, for clothes, big stuff like new tires.

Ira Glass

Ben, by the way, is This America Life producer Ben Calhoun. He and Sonari are buddies. And Ben says that Sonari came up with this new financial strategy one day when Sonari was shopping for shoes.

Ben Calhoun

And he realized that all the shoes that he wanted were the super-expensive shoes.

Ira Glass

Oh.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, yeah. And he keeps coming back to this pair that's way too expensive. And he stays there for hours stressing about this decision. Until finally, he caved. So he's like, I'm just going to do it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it. So he got up to the counter. And this is what he says happened.

Sonari Glinton

I remembered this thing a guy that I had interviewed had talked about about the good guy discount.

Ira Glass

The good guy discount?

Ben Calhoun

The good guy discount. This is the thing. Sonari, he'd interviewed this negotiations expert from Columbia University Business School. And the guy told him about this technique where you say, can I get a good guy discount on that? You're a good guy, I'm a good guy-- come on, just, you know, a good guy discount.

Ira Glass

And this works for the professor?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, it's supposed to be a thing.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Ben Calhoun

So Sonari remembered this when he was about to buy these shoes. And honestly, he didn't think it was going to work.

Sonari Glinton

And I go, hey, is there a good guy discount? And he goes, what? You've seen me here all day. You know I want these shoes. It's tough for me, blah, blah, blah. And he looks at me, and he goes, I'll tell you what, brother. And he swiped the card.

Ben Calhoun

Like his little authorization card.

Sonari Glinton

Yeah. And he goes, I'll give you 25% off.

Ira Glass

25% off?

Ben Calhoun

Mm-hmm.

Sonari Glinton

It was the most positive reinforcement you could ever get. I was so happy.

Ira Glass

So Sonari told Ben all this, because Sonari had started doing this all the time, asking for the good guy discount. And he thought that Ben should try it too. And Ben suggested this might be a good radio story for our show. And all of us here at the radio show, we all said great.

And we all told him, of course, as part of the story, you're going to have to go out and try to get the discount yourself. And Ben turned red and started to squirm. But he said, sure. And we put it onto our story list. This was last February.

11 months have gone by. And now and then, one of us would remember this at a story meeting and say, whatever to happened to that good guy discount thing? And Ben would get all embarrassed. And it was clear he was just hating the idea that he was going to actually have to go out in the world and do this thing. He could not bring himself to.

Ben Calhoun

I just could not get over the pitch itself. It's so cheesy.

Ira Glass

To say, like, I'm a good guy, you're a good guy.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah. I think it's kind of smarmy. I love Sonari. I love Sonari. I think that Sonari is a wonderful person. But it traffics in this term of good guy when it's nonsense.

It's me saying, I'm a good guy, which I feel like it's the kind of thing of saying, I'm so humble. The second part of it is, you're saying, and the thing I'm going to do as a good guy is I'm going to ask you to do me a favor and cost yourself money. That's what a good guy I am. And I don't know. I find it to be not the behavior of a good guy.

Ira Glass

A good guy, Ben said, would not make somebody else uncomfortable on purpose. And he was convinced that asking for a good guy discount, it puts the sales person on the spot.

Ben Calhoun

You're asking them to break the rules for you for absolutely no reason. And I hate making other people feel uncomfortable.

Ira Glass

I have a different take on it than you do. I think it shows moxie. And the good guy discount is part of what makes this country great, even if Sonari is the only one who's doing it, that impulse of just-- I'm just going to go for it. I'm going to say something that's ridiculous and corny and just see if it works. I mean, in the movies, that's what gets the girl. In the movies, that's what makes you a hero.

Ben Calhoun

If I were to try this three times, how many times do you think it would work?

Ira Glass

One.

Ben Calhoun

So here's one question before I go in. Is it important that I do the whole, I'm a good guy, you're a good guy?

Ira Glass

You've got to say something. What else are you going to say?

Well, today on our radio program-- good guys. We have four stories, including I go with Ben as he tries to find out whether or not he has what it takes to get free stuff by claiming to be a good guy, even though he worries that doing that, trying the entire exercise, means that he is not a good guy at all.

Because, friends, it is a struggle sometimes to know what a good guy would and would not do. And in each of our stories today, we have guys trying to find that line, trying to stay on one side of the line, trying to stay good guys in a world where we all know that can be very, very difficult. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Takes One To Know One.

Ira Glass

Act One, Takes One to Know One. So after 11 months of stalling, Ben finally headed out to get himself the good guy discount wearing a microphone hidden underneath his shirt. I went with him.

Ben Calhoun

First place we go, a baby store. It's a big national chain. I've bought stuff at this particular store before. And for a test, I chose one of these baby items that's mind-blowingly expensive, so much so that it's hard to imagine anyone actually buying it. It's a blanket for a stroller. It cost $190. My thought in doing this is that the markup is probably so insane that it'd make it easier to give a discount. Anyway, so I grab one, and I get in line.

Ben Calhoun

Now I feel nervous.

The whole pitch still makes me queasy. But I'm committed to selling it as best I can. There's one cashier working.

Ben Calhoun

Hey, how are you doing today?

Cashier 1

I'm good.

Ben Calhoun

Oh, good. What's the total on that?

Cashier 1

$206.85.

Ben Calhoun

Is there any way I could get, like, a good guy discount on that?

Cashier 1

Good guy discount? I don't think we don't do those.

Ben Calhoun

[LAUGHING]

It's hard to hear. But when I ask for the discount, she cracks a smile and kind of laughs and says, good guy discount? We don't do those.

Ben Calhoun

Are there any promotions coming up, or is this going to go on sale anytime soon or anything? No, nothing?

I leave the thing on the counter. So first attempt-- we're 0 for 1. Ira felt like I should have tried harder, and for the next one, I should keep the thing going longer, lean harder on the shtick-- I'm a good guy, you're a good guy, what do you say? I am not so sure. So next stop.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, I guess I'll try the nine first. Do they run a little big?

This item-- winter boots. We go to a big, big sporting goods store, though not a chain just in case some strict corporate policy had been the problem at the baby store.

Cashier 2

The following customer can step down.

Ben Calhoun

At the registers, I get called up. There's a woman, maybe late 20s. She's got a lot of makeup. She looks fed up with something. My thought is, I'll smile a little more, be a little more friendly.

Ben Calhoun

I know this is going to sound silly. Is there any kind of good guy discount I can get on those?

Cashier 2

No, we don't offer-- it's just whatever the vendor sells it for.

Ben Calhoun

So there's no promotions that I'm missing out on or--

Cashier 2

No.

Ben Calhoun

0 for 2. She sends me on my way.

Cashier 2

Here you go. Have a good one.

Ben Calhoun

Have a good one. It's like, have a nice day, with all the friendly burned off. So Ira and I head outside.

Ira Glass

You didn't push it very far. You still just kept it to one sentence before you caved.

Ben Calhoun

No, but I came back with the-- so there's not any sales or promotions that I'm missing out on?

Ira Glass

That's different than selling her the good guy discount.

Ben Calhoun

You mean being like, come on, I'm a good guy.

Ira Glass

Uh huh. Yeah, you still haven't said that.

Ben Calhoun

Oh, that feels-- but you know what? I feel like I could tell that she was going to say no.

Ira Glass

No. No, I couldn't tell.

Ben Calhoun

At that point, all you're doing is humiliating yourself.

We go around and around. Until we remember, oh right, we can just find out. Ira goes back in.

Ira Glass

My friend was just in here, and he tried to get a discount from you. He asked you for a good guy discount. Like, five minutes ago.

Cashier 2

Yes. Yes, I recall.

Ira Glass

If he had pushed harder, could he have gotten a discount?

Cashier 2

No.

Ira Glass

If he had been more charming? Do you get an employee discount that you could have swiped a card and given him? Do you have any kind of discount at all that you have any kind of power to give him?

Cashier 2

No. It's just a store policy.

Ira Glass

If your sister came in here or something, could you give her a discount?

Cashier 2

No.

Ira Glass

But you get a discount, right?

Cashier 2

Right, which I'm rung up by another fellow manager or associate.

Ben Calhoun

See? All of this brings us to attempt number three, record store. Yeah, they do still exist. I grab what should amount to $70 worth of records. I go to the counter. Behind it, there's a serious record store guy-- black hoodie, black wool hat, hair sticking out of the front.

Cashier 3

How are you doing?

Ben Calhoun

Hey, is there any way I could get, like, a good guy discount on those?

Cashier 3

No.

Ben Calhoun

Not like a bulk?

Cashier 3

No, not for new stuff. No. Because we barely make a profit on that stuff. Yeah, so I'm afraid not.

Ben Calhoun

I mean, so many nos in such a tiny, tiny answer. I counted them-- five nos in 8.7 seconds. It's like a Russian nesting doll of no. And really, I would argue it's hard to say no that thoroughly unless you actually want to say no, unless you think you're being asked for something stupid by someone stupid.

This is what I believed would happen. And this one, it makes me 0 for 3. And I've got to say, it felt bad. And it raised the obvious question, what does Sonari have that I don't? As we headed back to the office, Ira said, maybe he's just more charming and better looking. So I called Sonari, and I asked him something that I probably should have asked him before, which is, exactly how often does this work for him?

Sonari Glinton

I would say 15 to 20% of the time.

Ben Calhoun

20%-- that's actually a lot of nos. He only gets one out of five. I tried three times. So I needed two more tries. Fine.

Ben Calhoun

Hey.

Cashier 4

Hey.

Ben Calhoun

So here we are, number four. The item is a clock. And here we go.

Ben Calhoun

Is there any way that you guys would give like a good guy discount on that?

Cashier 4

No, I'm sorry.

Ben Calhoun

No, not at all?

0 for 4. I head to a small cookware shop. And if Sonari's stats are one in five, this is the big game, do or die time. If the good guy discount is real for me, then this is it.

Ben Calhoun

Could I ask you, this All-Clad pot up here, would you guys ever give like a good guy discount on this?

Sales Associate

On All-Clad?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah.

Sales Associate

You know, it's hard. I could probably do about 5%.

Ben Calhoun

Like the sword from the stone, my friend. Behold-- the good guy discount. Apparently, it can work for anybody. It'll work for you. But can we can just stop for a second? Just stop.

And I know that this is going to sound super earnest. And I'm real sorry about that. But I believe it, so I've got to say it. I don't think that you should try it. I'm not going to try it again. Sorry, Sonari.

I just don't think that we should go throwing around the term "good guy," like it's some kind of coupon. I think that "good guy" means something. Just the other day, I was with my son and my dad. And my kid is eating cake. He's two. He loves cake. And he's got one bite left. And I say, can I have a bite? And he looks up at me. And he holds out his hand, offers me his last bite.

And my dad says, what a good guy. When I was a kid, he used to say that to me too. I like the way the world looks during those moments. I think I'd rather have whatever that is than a discount.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun is one of the producers of our program.

Act Two. Heels On The Bus.

Ira Glass

Act Two, The Heels on the Bus. So a test of whether or not you are a good guy, it can happen anywhere, as Mike Birbiglia well knows. He's a comedian and told this story onstage in New York.

Mike Birbiglia

Last week, I was meeting my wife in the city for dinner. And I went down to take the subway. And one of the unfortunate things about living in New York with the subway-- and you guys probably know this-- is sometimes on the weekends, the subway is just off.

And there'll just be a sign that's just like, there isn't the subway, you know? And it'll say, you could take the bus, you know? It's written in pencil. And there's an ellipses, you know?

So last weekend, that happened. And so I walked up to the bus. And I said to the bus driver, hey, the subway is off, but it said that I could take the bus to the subway. Do you know where I can get off? And the bus driver said to me, and I quote, he goes, "I don't know anything about the subway."

I was like, you don't know anything about the subway? You're wearing the same outfit as the man running the subway. If someone said to me, you see that guy walking down the street with the khaki shorts and the Kings of Leon T-shirt? You know anything about that guy? I'd be like, yeah, I'll tell you a few things about that guy. I know that he could use somebody.

There's only one other person on the bus. And it's this guy. And he looked up at me, and he goes, I'm taking the subway. You can follow me. So now I'm in an action film. I'm like, got it. I sit down, and I'm following this guy.

And then we go a few stops. And this lady walks onto the bus. And she was a pretty lady. And she wasn't just bus pretty. Like, she was pretty for the world.

And I did this thing that I sometimes do when I see a pretty lady, which is I looked at her long enough to realize that she was pretty. And then I looked at the floor. And then I never looked up again. That's my move.

And so I'm looking at the floor. And then I'm looking up at this guy I'm about to follow, because he's, like, my ride. But then he was staring at the lady. And I know we're all guilty of staring at some point or another. I think we've all done it.

But I think that there's an etiquette to staring. I think that you can use your peripheral vision if you want to look at somebody. You can stare at someone like you're inside of a spooky painting in Scooby-Doo where your face doesn't move, but then your eyes pan side to side, like you're living in the walls of a mansion.

But this guy was not doing the spooky painting. He was just full-on staring at this lady like a gargoyle. And I was so mad. I was just like, we all want to stare at the lady. But we don't. Because we are decent people. And we have decided as a group that we are not going to stare at the pretty lady.

But that's the difference between decent people and creepy people. Creepy people do the things that decent people want to do but have decided are probably not a great idea. Decent people are like, I would like to stare at that pretty lady, but it will make her feel uncomfortable. Creepy people are like, look, I'm going for it.

We go a few more stops, and the creepy guy stands up, looks at me, and says, let's go. I was like, oh great. Now she thinks I'm with you. This pretty lady and I have built up a rapport where we have an understanding that she is pretty and I am decent. And when I am in her presence, I stare at the floor. And now she thinks I am with you, a creepy man.

And so as I walk by this woman, I try to convey all of this with my eyes. Like, I am not with this guy. And that look takes so long to convey that the look itself becomes creepy. And I know it. And so I say, sorry, which were the first words uttered in a conversation we were not having.

As this woman understands her bus ride, she walked onto a bus, a creepy man stared at her for 10 minutes and then left the bus, and then another man, who she did not know was on the bus, approached her and apologized, which means what he did is worse.

And I'm so frustrated about the unfairness of the situation that when I get to the dinner with my wife, I'm explaining this whole thing in detail. And I'm like, it's not fair, because I am not creepy. I am decent. And my wife says, wait, is the moral of the story that you want credit for just not being creepy?

And I was like, exactly. Because I think that decent people are undervalued. And my wife says, but you do get credit. I married you. And I said, I want more than that.

Ira Glass

Mike Birbiglia. He's heading out next week on a 100-city tour from Milwaukee to Melbourne, or should I say "Melbin," called Thank God for Jokes. Details about when he is visiting your town at birbigs.com. Coming up, proving that you're a good guy to somebody who will never, ever know what you did. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program-- good guys, stories of people trying to be good guys and not always sure if they're succeeding.

Act Three. No Man Left Behind.

Ira Glass

We have arrived at Act Three of our program. Act Three, No Man Left Behind. We now turn to a kind of classic story of a buddy who's trying to do a solid for another guy from Julia DeWitt.

Julia Dewitt

Out in the desert scrublands of northern South Africa in a place called The Karoo, there's nothing-- no trees, no water-- for as far as you can see.

Don Shirley

You're in a primeval landscape.

Julia Dewitt

This is Don Shirley. Why he knows this place so well will become clear in a minute.

Don Shirley

You see a little rise. And when you get to the little hill, there's actually a big hollow there where the ground has collapsed. At the bottom of a very steep slope, you actually have a sheer face in front of you.

And at the bottom of this sheer face is a puddle. So you think, oh, this is just a little puddle that doesn't go anywhere. But when you take the duck weed off the top, it's actually clear water.

Julia Dewitt

Which means that this isn't just standing water. This water is filtering down to somewhere.

Don Shirley

Now, if you go into this puddle, there's a small slot that goes through, which is just wide enough for a man's body to go through. After 20 foot, you're now starting to enter the cave, and gradually the cave gets wider.

Julia Dewitt

Down below you is 900 feet of water. This is Bushman's Cave.

Don Shirley

It's a huge cave. Now, if you take the Eiffel Tower and stand it on the floor of Bushman's Cave, the top of the tower would be just about coming out of the water.

Julia Dewitt

The cave is almost 1,000 feet deep and 2 and 1/2 football fields wide. The main thing that lives in the pitch darkness is a species of strange little blind white cave shrimp. Otherwise, the cave is dark, deep, and dead. This cave is a dangerous place for humans. And it's basically totally inaccessible to almost all of us. But for deep water divers, this is heaven.

There are only a very few divers on the planet that have ever been anywhere near the bottom of this cave. And only about a dozen recreational divers ever dive to these kinds of depths, period. Don is one of these extreme divers. He met another of these deep water divers, a guy named Dave Shaw, back in 2002. They were immediately friends. And a couple of years later, Don took Dave to dive Bushman's.

On dive day, they got to the puddle, and Dave went in first. Dave swam down through the slot, and the cave opened up below him. While he was going down, he was doing something called laying a shot line. Basically, he was leaving a trail of rope in the total darkness. This is the only way he knew how to get out of the cave.

Don Shirley

You're in pitch black, absolute pitch black. So if you shined a light in any direction, it would disappear. The darkness will eat the light. Basically, being 900 foot in a cave, you might as well be on the Moon. In fact, I think more people have walked on the Moon than have actually been to those sorts of depths in caves.

Julia Dewitt

This sounds unbelievable, but it's true. More people have been on the Moon than have been to the depths that these guys have. Now, Dave was exploring on the bare floor of the cavern. There's nothing to see but his light in the black and the white rope that he dragged with him. Then suddenly--

Don Shirley

His torch caught the remains of Deon Dreyer.

Julia Dewitt

No one knows exactly what happened to Deon Dreyer. But a decade earlier, Deon was diving with a team in Bushman's. When they stopped to take a headcount, Deon was gone. People had been looking for his body ever since.

Don Shirley

He was still in his wetsuit, still wearing his cylinders-- a collection of bones inside a wetsuit. And at the time, he tried to move the body. But the body was stuck in the silt. He was panting, and he said, I shouldn't work hard at this depth. It wasn't in the plan. So I needed to leave the body there.

Julia Dewitt

Deon was 20 when he was lost in Bushman's. Dave didn't take finding Deon lightly.

Don Shirley

He thought of it more of a mission to actually-- his task to bring this body back.

Julia Dewitt

So when Dave came up, he told Don he was going to come back and get Deon's body.

Don Shirley

He phoned up Deon's parents and said, I'm going to retrieve your son's body.

Julia Dewitt

The thing is that a dive like this is a major operation. It took them months to plan.

Don Shirley

You're at 900 foot under the water. There's a lot of risk involved in that. Every 33 foot that you go down effectively doubles the risk. When you're down at those depths, anything that goes wrong is an issue.

Julia Dewitt

Combining extreme depths with the hard work that Dave had to do to get Deon's body into a body bag came with a lot of risk. At depth, too much nitrogen is kind of like a narcotic. Basically, it feels suddenly like you drank five martinis in a row.

Too much helium can give you twitching fits. If you breathe too heavily, like Dave might have to while he's moving around Deon's body, you pass out. And then, of course, there's the bends.

Don Shirley

If you come too quickly, it's like opening a Coke bottle once you've shook it up. And it fizzes. And then, you would have problems with bubbles in your blood.

Julia Dewitt

To prevent the bends, Dave would take several hours to come up to the surface. So they recruited a team of support divers that would go into the water intervals to check on Dave at various depths while he came up.

Don Shirley

And the rule was, no one will go deeper than the depth where we actually plan for them to be.

Julia Dewitt

Don would go the deepest.

Don Shirley

But as far as Dave and I were concerned, basically what we said is if Dave has a problem, he would signal me. And in caving, when you flash a light, you wave a light around, that's a distress signal.

We got to the day that we're actually planning to do the main dive. And we went down early in the morning. It was still dark. The sun was not quite up yet. And at 6:15, Dave went under the water. I followed 14 minutes later.

Julia Dewitt

Don followed the shot line down through the slot and into the cave.

Don Shirley

So as I was going down, falling through this black space, I was expecting to see some rising bubbles as I was going down. Also I would see Dave's light where he was coming back. When I was going down, I didn't actually see any bubbles coming back. What I did see-- in the area where I thought he would actually be, I did see a light. It was one light, a solid light just shining.

Julia Dewitt

But the light wasn't moving.

Don Shirley

Something is not quite right. And he's spending longer doing something. And then I knew that I would probably be going down to the bottom.

Julia Dewitt

Don dove past 800 feet, deeper than he had ever been before.

Don Shirley

Now, I went past my target depth. But the problem was, as I got to 833 foot, I actually had my own personal problems go on then.

Julia Dewitt

He heard a sharp crack.

Don Shirley

My rebreather controller actually imploded.

Julia Dewitt

This just means a piece of his breathing apparatus broke. Don trained constantly for moments like this. So he knew exactly what to do. He would just add oxygen to his gas mixture manually.

Don Shirley

But at that sort of depth, any oxygen that you add makes a hell of a difference. And I pushed my oxygen pressure much too high inadvertently. Now, that's very unhealthy at that depth-- very unhealthy. So now, I was liable to actually pass out very quickly.

Julia Dewitt

Don knew then that this was it. It was the end of the line. He had to turn around and go back.

Don Shirley

The surface is not somewhere that you can actually go to solve a problem. When you have a problem, you have to solve that problem there where you are. And if you don't solve that problem, you don't come back. You have to put the brakes on, as it were, at that point. And I was thinking, OK, Dave might come back. He's either dead, or he's working his way back. But all I could deal with was what was in front of me.

Julia Dewitt

Don knew that he now had over 10 hours in the water ahead of him. Don slowly ascended up to the roof of the cave. At this point, he started to pass out. And then, he got a helium bubble in his ear.

Don Shirley

And that made me lose balance completely. I'm over this extreme depth of water. You then have no-- absolutely no-- sense of up, down, sideways, or anything. And I didn't really have any sense of really where I was.

Julia Dewitt

Don lost grip on the shot line. And as he was passing out, reviving again, and passing out, he started swimming in these little circles, spinning around looking for the line. Remember, this line is the only way Don knows how to get out of the cave.

Don Shirley

And I'm in this void, the black. I had an extremely bright light in my hand. And where the light was going into the black, I was seeing black. And where the light was hitting the roof, I was seeing light, white. And then, I'd keep spinning around like that. So I was seeing black, white, black, white, black, white.

And then, I caught the line, the white line, in my torch. And the next time I spun around, I grabbed hold of the line. The trouble was, now I had vertigo. And that makes you vomit, right? So now, I was vomiting underwater as well, vomiting in between breaths, effectively. As time went on, I couldn't breathe anymore.

Julia Dewitt

Don eventually stabilized himself. And he started his ascent again towards the surface. He met a support diver. And using a waterproof pencil and one of these slates the divers use to communicate underwater, Don wrote him a message.

Don Shirley

I said, I'm OK, and Dave's not coming back. But still, in my mind, I had a hope that he would. From that point on, the guys had a task, which was to support me.

Julia Dewitt

For hours, the team up above waited to see if he would make it out alive. His only job was to breathe. Dave's light down below had disappeared.

Don Shirley

If you see the videos of me coming up, you would think, this guy's half-dead. It had been just over 12 hours in the water. I couldn't actually really do much for myself other than breathe. My head was like a marshmallow.

Julia Dewitt

Don was put into a decompression chamber and then taken in the morning for more treatment at a hospital in Johannesburg. Dave did not come up that night. Dave was dead. And then, a week later, Don got some news.

Don Shirley

I actually was told that Dave's body had come up. During that week, there'd been lots of speculation as to what had happened. Dave was carrying a camera on his head. In retrieving the camera, then we could piece together really what happened.

Julia Dewitt

As the camera rolls, you see Dave trying to get Deon's body into a body bag.

Don Shirley

One of his lights had actually got tangled up in the line and smashed. So now, bearing in mind you're in the pitch black, his main light had actually been broken. So he couldn't really see so well.

Julia Dewitt

Then Dave also gets tangled. He pulls away. But now he's tied to Deon's body.

Don Shirley

And you could see that he was working trying to get himself out of this line. He was cutting with the scissors. But his scissors weren't even getting anywhere near the line.

Julia Dewitt

Listening to the video, you can hear Dave's breathing start to get shallower and shallower as he starts working harder and harder.

Don Shirley

Dave passed out from too much carbon dioxide. He worked right up-- right up-- to the very last breath that he ever took trying to get out. And then the camera just carries on recording until the batteries run out.

There's barely a day goes by where I don't think of Dave. And really, there are a lot of times I turn around-- I do a fantastic dive, and I just want to say, did you see that? And Dave very much did die nobly doing what he did. He did everything that he should do.

And he died, as they'd say in the military, with his boots on. When Dave's body had come up, hanging underneath Dave's body, cocooned in the line that Dave originally had laid, was Deon Dreyer's body. So Dave actually achieved what he wanted to do.

Ira Glass

That story came from Julia DeWitt. That was first broadcast on the Public Radio show Snap Judgment, which has gotten so good. If you are not downloading their podcast every week already, it's at snapjudgment.org or the iTunes store. They're also heard on many Public Radio stations.

Act Four. Deep Dark Open Secret.

Ira Glass

Act Four, The Deepest, Darkest Open Secret. More than four years ago, back in 2009, a US soldier got in touch with our program. And he was attached to a special operations combat unit. He was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.

And he offered to do a story for us about what it's really like to serve. One of our program's producers, Sarah Koenig, started talking to him. His one condition is that we would not use his name. So for this story that you're about to hear, we're calling him Adam, which is a pseudonym that he chose.

And a disclaimer-- Adam says some disturbing things about himself, but also about his fellow soldiers. We want to be clear that this is just his own experience. This is his own thoughts. This is his own perspective, his own story. He does not speak for the military in general. He is speaking for himself.

We think also that this story about war probably is not something that children should be hearing. And a warning-- also we quote some people who use an offensive term at one point in the story. OK, here's Sarah.

Sarah Koenig

When he first got in touch with us, Adam said he wasn't like the other guys in the Army. For one thing, he was almost 30 when he joined, about a decade older than most people. And he'd had a good career in the tech world as an engineer. But he had been unhappy doing that. He wanted to try something difficult and frightening and unknown.

He decided he wanted to go to war, even though he thought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were bogus and even though the other guys in his unit considered him-- and this is their language-- a "liberal fagot." So yeah, he said he'd give us an outsider's perspective. And I said, sure, let's see what happens. So he started sending me recordings from Afghanistan like installments in a diary. And then, not too long after he deployed, Adam sent me a recording I found jarring.

Adam

In infantry school, I would be shocked of the reasons that people were there. People-- well, I wouldn't say "people." Men want to kill other young men. That's why they were there.

Sarah Koenig

It seemed to Adam that the way they talked about it, a lot of macho bluster about wanting to kill the bad guys, was just a cover for a much more basic desire they had-- that deep down, these guys didn't want to just kill the enemy. They wanted the opportunity to kill another human being period.

Not everyone was like this, he said, but most of them. And at first, Adam said, this kind of disturbed him. But then, after a while, it didn't.

Adam

So I've really realized, building up to my deployment, that I'm not any different than most of these people. Regardless of the noble aspirations I say I have for joining the army, I'm pretty sure I just want the opportunity to kill someone too. If I'm being honest with myself, it's there.

Sarah Koenig

Take a moment to compile all your stereotypes of a Public Radio producer. And now apply them to me. And you're right. I'm exactly who you think I am. I'm a peaceful sort. I don't come from a military family. I've not been in a lot of bar fights. I haven't lived in the South, playing violent video games.

That makes me very different from Adam, who did all those things. So I recognize I'm coming to this a little more wide-eyed than a lot of other people might. Still, I don't know what to make of Adam. I like him. I like talking to him. I think he's smart and weird and honest.

Here's a rational man saying he wants to kill someone just to see what that's like. What are we supposed to make of that? But this isn't a story where I'm going to get to the bottom of that question in the next 15 or 20 minutes. This is a story where I just ask that you hear him out.

Some things you should know before we start-- Adam ended up doing three different tours in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2011. And he never did kill anyone. Being in war messed him up in certain ways. He's been seeing psychologists weekly for a couple of years. He's been diagnosed with severe PTSD. He has dramatic mood swings. And he barely sleeps, maybe three or four hours a night.

Adam's not on active duty anymore. He's back in the US working on a Ph.D. And so recently I played him back some of the recordings he'd sent me. I wanted to find out what he made of his 2009 self.

And he said, yeah, what I said back then about wanting to kill someone, that wasn't an exaggeration. And it had surprised him to realize it, he said, because he was in his late 20s when he joined. He thought he knew himself pretty well. But the army and the training, it changed him.

Adam

You do learn to-- they do teach you to want that. You yearn for that in basic training, or at least infantry basic training. Just over and over again, the only success you ever have is hitting a target or winning a fight in basic training.

Everything else you do you're criticized for. But if you do those things, you're doing good. And the interaction you have with the drill sergeant, most of it is based on killing somebody.

Sarah Koenig

I want to play you another piece of tape. It's when you get some prisoners that you're in charge of. OK. Here, I'm going to play it.

Adam

We recently just rolled up two high-valued targets. And we didn't kill them. We captured them. And we brought them back to base.

And we have a temporary holding facility-- temporary jail, really-- where we kept them until they could be transferred to Bagram. And while they were being held here, which was like three days, we had to rotate shifts just to guard them. It's just a basic sit outside their cell, make sure that they don't hang themselves type of thing.

And at least two other people came up to me and said it was really hard for them not to shoot them while they were in the cell. Now, don't get me wrong. One of these guys was a Taliban leader, and another guy was his little deputy. These were bad people.

But they were really nice. I mean, personal interactions with them-- I felt bad for them. Because they're crying. They miss their families. They were very polite.

But even I wanted to shoot them, even though they were unarmed, behind bars, uncombative. Something-- it's not a revenge thing. It's not a hey, you killed a bunch of my buddies thing, hey, you're a threat to society thing.

It's a hey, I want to shoot you, because I want to know what it's like, what it feels like to shoot you. It sounds sick. But it's probably much more prevalent than most people care to believe.

Sarah Koenig

Um-- do you remember that?

Adam

No. It's completely accurate. I remember feeling those things. I don't remember that specific situation, just because I can't remember those specific people. But that's just because that situation happened so many times.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, really?

Adam

Yeah. More times than I can count. Half the people we rolled up were probably innocent. But we would have killed them all if we could have got away with it.

Sarah Koenig

But see, that really sounds just homicidal, like straight-up homicidal.

Adam

That is straight-up homicidal. It was simply fear of repercussions that stopped those people from being murdered.

Sarah Koenig

And you're saying that was the norm?

Adam

Yeah, this is not an abnormal mindset.

Sarah Koenig

How do you know that's not abnormal?

Adam

Because I've been around hundreds of men that have the same mindset. This is not me. I am merely a representative of the community that I was working in.

Sarah Koenig

And you're saying that's because these are the enemy, and they're going to kill us, and so--

Adam

That's-- I mean, people can say it in those terms. But it's not like that. It's very much-- you have the power to do it. And you're on the verge of having the permission to do it. So you want to do it.

Sarah Koenig

So it's just more primal than that, you're saying.

Adam

Oh, yeah.

Sarah Koenig

I have to say, before you talked about this, I had never heard anybody say this, really.

Adam

Say?

Sarah Koenig

That I wanted to go kill somebody and admit it.

Adam

Yeah, I've never heard anybody say it either.

Sarah Koenig

(LAUGHING) And so I can't tell if he's just crazy, or if he's the bravest bastard out there. And he's just willing to admit something that nobody else will admit.

Adam

I would say there's probably no chance that I am on one side of that spectrum or the other. It is probably somewhere in between. I can't give you an accurate estimate of which spectrum I fall closer to.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, so you don't know yourself?

Adam

I've seen four psychologists in the last 24 months. No, I don't know if I'm crazy. Some people seem to think so.

Sarah Koenig

Was it a situation where-- at this point, you're saying you're a few months in-- where every day you were kind of thinking, I wonder if today's the day I'm going to shoot someone? I wonder if today's the day.

Adam

Every day, yes. Every day-- every mission we went out on, I was hoping I'd get to shoot somebody. This was actively talked about. Everybody wanted to get their first kill. Not everybody-- many people already had their first kill. But if you didn't have your first kill yet, everybody was talking about, OK, is this the day you're going to get your first kill?

Sarah Koenig

Because people know when you have it?

Adam

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

It's a thing?

Adam

Of course they know. But if you do have a kill, people have a greater amount of trust in you. People know you're dependable. People know that you're willing to cross that threshold. And there's just some benefits to that.

Sarah Koenig

Because you've been tested, kind of?

Adam

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

The next piece of tape I want to play you, it's about being on a mission one night and having the opportunity to shoot at someone. Do you remember how long you'd been there at this point when this happened? Do you have a memory of this?

Adam

I remember in detail everything about this situation.

Sarah Koenig

OK, how long had you been in Afghanistan when this happened?

Adam

A few months.

Sarah Koenig

A few months, OK. And up until that point, it seems like you had sort of indirectly caused the deaths of people by kind of sighting people, and those guys got killed. But it was indirect, is that right?

Adam

I had shot at people. And I knew those people that I shot at died. But everybody was shooting at them. So I have no idea if I shot them. And I called out targets to aircraft.

Sarah Koenig

OK, so let me play this. Here we go.

Adam

It's almost 1 o'clock on Sunday, November 8. It's the day after a mission. And if my voice sounds a little weird, it's because I'm on a lot of drugs. It was night, last night, and we were coming down to land. And apparently the pilot thought the ground was actually 50 to 100 feet lower than it actually was. So we came slamming into the ground pretty hard. And I hurt my back pretty good-- nothing structural, just some muscle.

But anyway, the worst part about this mission was I was on a security element. So people breached the door and went in there and looked for bad guys and stuff. I'm looking for bad guys out in fields and around the buildings, just trying to make sure nobody's coming to get us.

But I actually saw-- it's late at this point. There shouldn't be anybody awake walking around. And I actually saw a guy. And so this guy pops up in my sites. And I want to shoot him, but I didn't. He didn't have a gun, and he wasn't coming towards me. But I knew he was a bad guy. And I still didn't shoot him.

I don't know what that says about me. I don't know if it means that I'm either afraid to kill somebody or just that I want to kill somebody for the right reasons. Or maybe it just means I'm a puss, and I hesitate to pull the trigger.

Sarah Koenig

Do you remember that incident?

Adam

Oh yeah, vividly.

Sarah Koenig

What do you think about it now?

Adam

I still would have shot that guy. Well, I know a lot more about that guy now. He turned out to be a very bad guy. So I definitely would have shot him on sight.

Sarah Koenig

Why do you think you didn't?

Adam

I think I was still worried about the repercussions of shooting somebody that was unarmed.

Sarah Koenig

Repercussions meaning just sort of morally to yourself or that you could actually get in trouble with your superiors or something?

Adam

Yeah, there would actually-- I thought there might be some trouble with my superiors, which there would not have been.

Sarah Koenig

Right. But you're saying in the tape, maybe I just want to shoot someone for the right reasons, or I don't want to shoot somebody who's unarmed. Or maybe I'm just a puss. You seem to be questioning more than that.

Adam

Yeah, I was. I was wondering if those were actually the reasons. They are not.

Sarah Koenig

What do you mean? How do you know?

Adam

I've thought about it for about three years and five months.

Sarah Koenig

And so you never did kill anyone.

Adam

No. I messed some people up, but I never killed them.

Sarah Koenig

And how do you feel about that?

Adam

Um-- yeah, I think I missed the boat on that one, missed my opportunity to do that. I think the opportunity to kill somebody in the United States, to have the experience of taking another life, is going to be pretty slim unless I want to go to jail or a mental institution.

Sarah Koenig

But I'm never hearing you say, it's just wrong to kill other people. You're not saying that.

Adam

Is it wrong to kill other people?

Sarah Koenig

I think it is.

Adam

Regardless of motive?

Sarah Koenig

No, I guess not regardless of motive. But it is wrong to kill someone for the experience of killing them.

Adam

Yeah. So yeah, I would say maybe it is a bit sociopathic. I wouldn't change how I characterize it at all, though. I would say that my threshold for violence is much lower now. And I would kill people in situations much more readily or much more quickly than the normal person would. And I actively hope to have those situations.

Sarah Koenig

Do you think you're seeking them out?

Adam

Am I putting myself in those situations?

Sarah Koenig

Yeah, like getting in bar fights or something where somebody could get killed.

Adam

No. I mean, I started drinking quite a bit there for a while. I have got into some confrontations with some less than polite people. My temper is very short if somebody was to be impolite or rude to me. I don't go around looking at people and saying, I want to kill them. But if I have a good excuse to kill somebody, I'd definitely take that opportunity. I would-- yeah, I think I would.

Sarah Koenig

I mean, is this what you're largely discussing with psychologists? I mean--

Adam

No.

Sarah Koenig

Are they hearing this and having the reaction I'm having, or no?

Adam

They don't hear any of this. They want to talk about my mother, for God's sakes.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, you're not talking to them about this?

Adam

No.

Sarah Koenig

Oh.

Adam

I literally-- I tried to guide them there at first. But now, they just really want to talk about my relationship with my mother.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, for real-- like, you're not saying it as a cliche. Like, actually they're trying to talk about your mother.

Adam

No, it's not a cliche. It's true. This is absolutely true.

Sarah Koenig

But it doesn't also sound like you're worried about this impulse in yourself.

Adam

Why would I be worried?

Sarah Koenig

I don't know. Because what if you end up killing somebody?

Adam

That is entirely possible, yes.

Sarah Koenig

But why aren't you worried about that?

Adam

I don't know. It just never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be able to justify it.

Sarah Koenig

I spoke to other men who trained with Adam and who also served in Afghanistan doing the same job as Adam's. And I asked them if it was real, this mindset of wanting to kill just to kill. And they all said, yeah. Maybe not to the extent Adam experienced it, but yeah. They said it was common.

They said things like, quote, "It's not pretty to talk about. And nobody wants to hear that back home. But that's part of it." Another guy said, "I didn't join to go out and kill people. But once you do the training, I don't know, it's almost like a job. And your job is to kill people. And you do want that experience."

I talked to a psychiatric expert on war trauma and PTSD. And he also agreed. "This is true," he said. "This is a part of war that people like to ignore, the pleasure of killing. Killing is our society's most basic prohibition. So that's what military training is for," he said, "to get people to the point where they can cross that line."

Of course, the US military doesn't want sociopaths or would-be murderers in its ranks. Doctor Michael Matthews, a psychology professor at West Point who studies how soldiers react in dangerous situations, said in his experience, soldiers who truly think that way, who really just want to kill for killing's sake, those people are uncommon. And if they do surface, he said, they should be screened and probably kicked out of the military, which Adam would agree with.

But what Adam is saying is that there's a subtler thing that happens. There's some other class of people who aren't sociopaths but who go through military training, and the desire to kill is suddenly there. It seems natural to him that this happens, normal. But just because bloodlust is normal, that doesn't mean Adam thinks it's OK. In fact, he thinks he shouldn't have been allowed to go to Afghanistan at all.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "GOOD GUYS AND BAD GUYS" BY CASPER VAN BEETHOVEN]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Brian Reed with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Dana Chivvis and Allison Davis. Seth Lind is our operations director.

Emily Condon is our production manager. Elise Bergerson is our administrative assistant. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Research help from Michelle Harris. Music help from Damien Grey, from Rob Gettis.

Mike Birgilia was recorded at UCB East in Manhattan and Littlefield in Brooklyn.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website-- thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

Thanks as always to our show's co-founder, Torey Malatia. You know, his new plastic surgery is-- I don't know. It's just at that awkward phase.

Mike Birbiglia

Where your face doesn't move, but then your eyes pan side to side.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass-- back next week with more stories of this American life.

Announcer

PRI-- Public Radio International.