Transcript

528:

The Radio Drama Episode
Transcript

Originally aired 06.20.2014

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

Full audio: http://tal.fm/528

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Hi, everybody. I'm speaking to you today from the stage of an opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

[APPLAUSE]

A warning to listeners that there is mild cursing throughout this hour, and on the podcast, we're not going to beep that. And I'm here on an opera house stage with a story that is so small, it almost feels wrong to tell it in a room this grand. It's actually about a real opera singer-- not a super-famous opera singer or anything like that. Carin Gilfry makes about half of her living singing. The other half she makes recording audio books.

And about a year ago, she was staying at a hotel. And she had a deadline on this children's book that she was supposed to be recording, and the hotel room was kind of noisy. She was hearing a lot of noise from the street. And so she looked around for a quiet place, and she went into the closet-- put pillows all around to deaden the sound, sat on the floor with a microphone. And then the cord of the microphone went under the door of the closet out to her laptop, because her laptop had a fan that made noise.

And so she closes the door so it's pitch dark except for the light from her iPad, which had the text of the book that she was supposed to read. And she began.

Carin Gilfry

The Exciting Exploits of an Effervescent Elf, written by Trisha Sugarek and narrated by Carin Gilfry. Chapter one, "Where is Emma?" The enchanted forest was deep and green and splashed with--

Ira Glass

Can I just say, wouldn't it be incredible if I just now played you the entire audiobook? You paid, like, $85 for those seats, right? Actually, I can't play you the whole audiobook because Carin gets exactly, like, two and a half sentences into this book. And she stumbles on a word, and she decides, oh wait, I'll just start again. I'll just start from the beginning.

So she gets up to get out of the closet and start the tape again, start the recording again. And she tries to get out of the closet.

[DOOR RATTLING]

Carin Gilfry

Oh, [BLEEP].

Ira Glass

And she discovers that she's locked in.

Carin Gilfry

[CHUCKLING]. Oh, my god. Seriously?

Ira Glass

And Carin told me at first she thought, like, this isn't going to be that hard, right? After all, she has the iPad. There's Wi-Fi. She could call the front desk on Skype, right? But there was a problem.

Carin Gilfry

This Wi-Fi was, like, half of one bar, and it kept just cutting out. But I found the hotel number.

Ira Glass

This of course is on the recording.

Carin Gilfry

212-661-9600.

[IPAD ALERT NOISE]

Carin Gilfry

I dialed it.

[PHONE RINGING]

Recording

Thank you for calling the Roosevelt Hotel. Please listen carefully to the following options. For additional information about the hotel, please visit our website--

Carin Gilfry

And then, of course, it's, like, the longest hotel phone menu ever.

Recording

--for sales and catering services, press 3. For accounting, press 4. For the human resources office, press 5.

Carin Gilfry

I'm trying to press 0 to get to the operator. And I'm thinking the Wi-Fi is going to cut out at any moment. So I'm listening to this giant long menu, and finally I hear--

Recording

If at any time, you wish to speak to an operator, press 8.

[PHONE BUTTON]

Carin Gilfry

So I press 8.

[PHONE RINGING]

Front Desk

Reservations. May speaking. May I assist you?

Carin Gilfry

Hi, I'm actually in room 1136.

Front Desk

Hello?

Carin Gilfry

Can you hear me? Can you hear me?

[CLICK]

[BLEEP]

Ira Glass

After that, there's seven minutes of silence on the recording-- just, like, total silence. Nothing happens except every now and then, Carin just laughs to herself. It happens one minute and 48 seconds after the phone call. Then it's quiet. There's no other sound for 44 seconds. And then on the recording, you hear--

Carin Gilfry

[CHUCKLING]

Ira Glass

Now and then, she tries the door handle again, thinking, she told me later, this can't really be true. Like, this can't-- there's got to be a way this is going to work. One wall of the closet has the hallway on the other side. And 18 minutes after Carin locks herself in, she hears people. She hears some German tourists walking towards her down the hall. And fortunately, she actually has the skills for this very situation.

Carin Gilfry

[SPEAKING GERMAN] Can someone help me?

Ira Glass

The Germans come to the door of the room. They whisper to each other for a little bit. And then, they do nothing.

Carin Gilfry

Hello?

Ira Glass

Her husband is out on an audition-- he's also a singer-- and his phone was turned off. She texts her mom, hears nothing back. She phones her mom. And right then, somebody taps on the door of the hotel room and calls through it. "Are you OK?"

Carin Gilfry

Yes! Please, come in!

Ira Glass

"Can you come to the door?" the person asks.

Carin Gilfry

I can't. I'm-- I'm stuck in the closet. [CHUCKLING]

Housekeeper

Hello? Where are you?

Carin Gilfry

In the closet right here. Oh, thank you. [LAUGHTER] I'm an audiobook narrator--

Housekeeper

Oh, OK.

Carin Gilfry

--and I was trying to narrate a book.

Houskeeper

Good. Oh--

Carin Gilfry

Oh, my god.

Ira Glass

Carin knows that's a really weird thing to say to somebody as you're getting rescued, but she just couldn't help herself. Nobody wants to look like a nut, you know? Apparently the Germans went and they found this very sweet Jamaican housekeeper. And 22 minutes after Carin was locked in, the housekeeper set her free.

Carin Gilfry

God, I was so happy to see her. And she was so nice. Oh, my gosh, she was so nice.

Ira Glass

I know this is a weird question, but is it appropriate to tip in a situation like that?

Carin Gilfry

I don't know. I didn't think of it then.

Ira Glass

Now Carin, remember, she's an opera singer. And operas are all about spectacle. It's 80 people on the stage and horses and love and vengeance and big, grand feelings. It would really be hard to get further from that to what happened to her in that closet, right, where all the action takes place in a space not much bigger than your body. It is the simplest plot imaginable. There's literally no movement in this plot.

Ira Glass

If someone were to stage this as an opera, how would that go?

Carin Gilfry

It might be minimalist music, actually.

Ira Glass

Oh, right.

Carin Gilfry

Like, just a repeating theme over and over and over again with me yelling, help!

Ira Glass

And you know, people say those kinds of things in interviews, and then I'll put that quote at the end of the story. And it makes for a nice ending-- put a little plinky music under it. Maybe you've heard our show.

But when we did this interview three or four weeks ago, I realized, oh, wait a second. For once in my life, I don't have to let this story stop here. I am actually going to be in an opera house very soon. I can reach higher with this.

I can take this to the next logical step-- the step it never gets to, the step you need an opera house for. And it turns out, I actually have a hook-up for the kind of music that Carin is talking about. Some of you know this. I have a cousin. His name is Philip Glass. He has--

[APPLAUSE]

--written a number of minimalist operas. They have been performed here on this very stage since the 1980s-- Einstein on the Beach just this past fall. And so I called Philip, and he sat down to write. And so today, right now, I am pleased to present here on the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House stage--

[APPLAUSE]

--the world premiere of his latest opera. I am not joking-- this opera is called Help. Commissioned for our program today on the BAM Opera House stage, his work is played by orchestras all over the world, please welcome Philip Glass.

[APPLAUSE]

And to perform this with him, Jonathan Dinklage on violin, Emily Brausa on cello, and, of course, the woman this is all about, Carin Gilfry, mezzo-soprano. Carin?

[APPLAUSE]

Carin Gilfry

(SINGING) Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Carin Gilfry, with Jonathan Dinklage, Emily Brausa, and Philip Glass.

[APPLAUSE]

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Ladies and gentlemen, for decades, the Brooklyn Academy of Music has been a home for all sorts of new kinds of theater and dance and music and opera. And when they invited our program to perform here today, we wanted to live up to that tradition by trying to invent something new.

And so what you're in for today is true stories. It's journalism, like we always do, but presented as radio drama. And we think these are radio dramas like you have never heard before. We have journalism turned into opera, into a full-on Broadway musical. We have journalism turned into a play that is structured like a radio documentary.

The fact is, there are so many ways you can tell a true story. There are so, so many ways. And today, instead of just applying the tools of journalism to everyday stories like we usually do, we try to harness the full power of music and theater.

Like Carin's story-- we are not done with Carin's story. Sure, you could do it is as a minimalist opera. But what if you wanted to stage it as kind of an old-school opera-opera, the kind that they take you on field trips to when you're a kid. Like, what would that be? I asked Carin in our interview, and she was game to speculate.

Carin Gilfry

Oh, I don't know. I mean, as a whole opera? I mean, opera is long. Maybe the elves from the book would come and prance around and sing about the enchanted forest. That was the book I was narrating.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Opera Chorus

(SINGING) We are the elves from Carin's story. We are the elves from Carin's story. We are the elves from Carin's story. We are the elves from Carin's story. We are the elves from Carin's story. We are the elves from Carin's story.

We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves.

My name is Cheets. I'm Violet . My name is Cheets. I'm Violet.

We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves. We are the elves!

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Of course, you would need more than elves in this story. Like, also you would want--

Carin Gilfry

The people. The people walking around the closet. The German people. There could be, you know, a "just got to New York" aria sung in German.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

German Couple

[SINGING IN GERMAN]

Ira Glass

Actually what they're singing is, we have just arrived. The air is dirty and smoggy.

German Couple

[SINGING IN GERMAN]

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

I don't know if you caught the German there. One of the tourists says, I think someone called for help in German. And the other one says, impossible-- everyone in this country is illiterate.

Then there's the front desk lady-- you know, the one that Carin calls from her iPad.

Carin Gilfry

Right. It could be funny if she was like, oh, my life is so boring. I just answer this phone all day, and people ask for room service. You do a cutaway. I'm stuck in the closet. And finally, this is her big moment, and she doesn't even know it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Front Desk

(SINGING) Oh! It's so boring. It's boring as can be! It's boring to sit behind this desk. It's boring to be me!

Carin Gilfry

(SINGING) Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me?

Front Desk

(SINGING) No one ever notices my radiant complexion. No one ever asks me for anything but directions.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Then there's the husband. In this version of the story, we could actually see him out on his audition, belting his heart out, oblivious to the pain that his wife is going through.

Carin Gilfry

So maybe we could incorporate some kind of famous baritone aria.

Ira Glass

I wonder, like, what would be the most appropriate and ironic aria for him to be singing.

Carin Gilfry

Oh, I don't know. Something about love, I'm sure. Or something about being a rescuer.

Ira Glass

We actually talked about what would be best. And we finally settled on a scene from Rigoletto, where the title character who loves his daughter more than anything in the world rages against courtiers who have locked her up in a tiny room. Open up that door, he sings. Open up.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Husband

[SINGING ARIA FROM "RIGOLETTO"]

[APPLAUSE]

Husband

God, that was great. Carin will be so proud of me.

Ira Glass

Of course, the climax of our opera arrives with the entrance of the housekeeper.

Ira Glass

What should she be like in the opera version of this story?

Carin Gilry

Um, gosh. I mean, maybe she just rescues people all day. Maybe somebody's having a baby, and she delivers a baby. And then she cleans up after it.

Ira Glass

Like, she saves a guy who's out on the ledge. She gets him to come inside.

Carin Gilfry

Yeah.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Houskeeper

(SINGING) What is it now? You've locked yourself in? I just delivered a baby in room 310, rescued a hostage, extinguished a fire! It's time to retire. But first, this little door's no match for me! One little push, I'll set you free!

[APPLAUSE]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Carin Gilfry

(SINGING) I can't believe--

Opera Chorus

(SINGING) She can't believe--

Carin Gilfry

(SINGING) I am free.

Opera Chorus

(SINGING) She is free.

Carin Gilfry

(SINGING) Out of the closet.

Opera Chorus

(SINGING) Out.

Carin Gilfry

(SINGING) And into the light.

Opera Chorus

(SINGING) Her clothes are all the same.

Houskeeper

(SINGING) I don't get paid enough. I don't get paid enough.

Husband

(SINGING) Ah--

[GERMAN CONVERSATION]

[OPERA COUNTERPOINT]

[GERMAN CONVERSATION]

[OPERA COUNTERPOINT]

Carin Gilfry

Seriously. True story.

Opera Cast

(SINGING) Ah!

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Our opera, En Schrank Gefangen, or Trapped in the Closet, was composed by Matt Aucoin, music direction and keyboards by William Hobbs. It featured Rachel Feldsetin, Candice Hoyes and Sarah Craft as elves, Marnie Breckenridge as the front desk, Adrian Rosas as the husband, Jeanine de Bique as the housekeeper, Rod Gilfry, who's actually Karen's dad, as the German tourist with Heather Buck, and mezzo-soprano Carin Gilfry as herself.

[APPLAUSE]

Act One. 21 Chump Street: The Musical.

Ira Glass

Which brings us to act one. Act One, "21 Chump Street, the Musical." I've always wondered what it would mean to try one of our radio stories as a musical. I was taken to so many musicals as a kid. And I think because of that, my basic sense of what makes a satisfying story actually comes from musicals much more than from TV or movies.

If you think about, like, the classic old musicals-- Fiddler on the Roof or even A Chorus Line-- it's like, they're funny at the beginning. And then there's something really emotional. And they're about some bigger idea. They take you into this world. I just love that.

And so what you're about to hear is our first attempt at a musical based on journalism. Probably 70% to 80% of what you're about to hear is verbatim quotes from interviews. The rest is artistic invention. I'll say that upfront.

It's based on a true story you may remember from our radio program. Back in May, 2011, at a bunch of high schools in Palm Beach County, Florida, a group of young police officers were sent undercover to pose as students. They went to classes. They ate in the cafeteria. They had fake Facebook accounts, of course.

There had been complaints about drugs being sold at these schools. That's what they were there to deal with. And what happened next in this one school was transformed into a musical by a team of people who usually do this on Broadway. Pretty much everybody involved in this, the cast, the chorus, the musicians, the director, Michael Mayer-- all from Broadway. Words and music are by Lin-Manuel Miranda, probably best known--

[APPLAUSE]

--probably best known for writing and starring in In the Heights. He will be your narrator.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lin

The plan was called Operation D-minus. And one of the schools included in the plan was Park Vista Community High School, where a kid named Justin Laboy--

Justin

(SINGING) That's me.

Lin

--an 18-year-old honor roll student--

Justin

(SINGING) I get straight A's, man.

Lin

--was in the last semester of his senior year. Justin could hardly believe his luck, when a very pretty girl showed up.

Justin

(SINGING) Naomi!

Lin

In not one but two of his classes.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi!

Lin

She sat in front of him. He switched seats.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi!

Lin

The last name she used was--

Students

(SINGING) Rodriguez.

Lin

Justin, what drew you to Naomi initially?

Justin

(SINGING) Man, she used to fall asleep in class. She was a (SINGING) light-skinneded Puerto Rican-Dominican-- long hair, mature in the body like whoa.

Students

(SINGING) Like, whoa.

Justin

(SINGING) That's not the only reason I liked her, though. She said she moved with her mother to Florida from New York.

Students

(SINGING) Where dreams are made.

Justin

(SINGING) Well, so did I. So I said, hi. She seemed mature, and I talked more.

Students

(SINGING) More, more!

Justin

(SINGING) And I was like, what the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do?

Justin

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do?

Justin

(SINGING) Tell me who I gotta be for you to be with me.

Lin

You told her all this in class?

Justin

(SINGING) Well, yeah. I texted her! You know, I was like, (SINGING) what the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) L-O-L-O-L-O-L!

Justin

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) R-O-F-L-O-L!

Justin

(SINGING) Tell me who I gotta be for you to be with me.

Naomi

(SINGING) (SINGING) Smiley face.

Justin

(SINGING) Yes! (SINGING) Next thing you know, we're texting day and night. I trust her right away.

Students

(SINGING) Like, whoa!

Justin

(SINGING) Hey, yo. I never met anyone like her, bro. Yo, she listens to all my problems. I let her copy all my homework. And then I lay it all on the line. And she was like--

Students

(SINGING) No, no--

Justin

(SINGING) No! She didn't say no exactly. I don't know.

Students

(SINGING) No, no, no!

Justin

(SINGING) Yeah, I was surprised. I'm a pretty great guy.

Students

(SINGING) So? So?

Justin

(SINGING) So I decided I needed to step my game up.

Students

(SINGING) Oh. Oh. Oh! Oh.

Justin

(SINGING) It's too late to be shy. So I got in front of the whole class one day, and I serenaded her. I was like, what the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do?

Justin

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do?

Justin

(SINGING) Tell me who I gotta be for you to go to prom with me!

Lin

You asked her to the prom?

Justin

(SINGING) Yeah! I danced and everything.

Students

(SINGING) (SINGING) Naomi!

Justin

(SINGING) Naomi! I know there's a reason you were transferred here to me.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi!

Students

(SINGING) Naomi! I know there's a reason this isn't luck. It's destiny.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi!

Justin

(SINGING) Naomi! You know me! Will you go to prom with me?

Naomi

(SINGING) I'll think about it.

Students

(SINGING) She'll think about it. She'll think about it. She'll think about it. She'll think about.

Justin

(SINGING) She said she'd think about it.

Students

(SINGING) She'll think about it.

Justin

(SINGING) She'll think about it.

Students

(SINGING) Think about it.

Justin

(SINGING) She'll think about it.

Students

(SINGING) She'll think about it. She'll think about it.

Justin

(SINGING) Yes!

[APPLAUSE]

[BELL CHIMING]

Naomi

(SINGING) I didn't say yes. I didn't say I'll think about it. I can't tell you my real name, but yes, I can confirm that I did get asked to the prom.

Lin

The undercover officer who posed as Naomi is 25 years old, a new recruit with the Palm Beach Police Force.

Naomi

(SINGING) My assignment-- to pose as a senior and find out who's buying, who's selling. Mostly pills and weed. You would not believe how easy it is to get pills and weed.

Lin

What's the hardest part?

Naomi

The cafeteria. Imagine hundreds of teenagers yelling and running full speed. And the lack of deodorant. Let's just say I would drink at the end of the day. Seriously, these kids need to learn there are consequences in life. If I'm doing my job and I'm doing it right, I am making life safer one school at a time.

Lin

So he asked you to prom?

Naomi

(SINGING) Right. (SINGING) I gave every excuse. I said it's too expensive, which is totally true, by the way. I told him, look, I'm just a transfer. I wouldn't feel comfortable with all your friends. And it's true you make friends on the job. Then it ends. You meet kids who are sensitive, smart, and defenseless. Those are the ones you remember, the ones that you think about after you're gone.

Seriously, these kids need to learn there are consequences in life. If I'm doing my job and I'm doing it right, I am making life safer one school at a time.

Lin

Meanwhile--

Justin

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do to be with you?

Students

(SINGING) What the heck I gotta do?

Justin

(SINGING) Tell me who I gotta be for you to be with me.

Naomi

(SINGING) Do you smoke?

Justin

What?

Naomi

(SINGING) Do you smoke weed?

Justin

(SINGING) No, I don't. But if that's what you need, I can find some for you. I can be your supply.

Naomi

(SINGING) You would do that for me?

Justin

(SINGING) I can be your guy. Oh, yes!

Naomi

(SINGING) Seriously, these kids need to learn there are consequences in life.

Justin

(SINGING) I'll get whatever you need!

Naomi

(SINGING) If I'm doing my job and I'm doing it right, I am making life safer one school at a time.

Justin

Listen, I'm not a drug dealer. So it's not like she asked me this day, and I got it for her the very next day. It took me a while, you know? So I mean, I'm trying to get it, and I can't get it.

Lin

What are you thinking as you're trying to get this pot to sell her?

Justin

I'm thinking, what the heck am I doing? I never done this before. So I'm, you know-- I'm really scared and skeptical at the same point.

Lin

What did you end up doing?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Justin

I called a cousin who called a cousin who called his friend, who called a couple dozen cousins, 'cause it doesn't end.

Cousin

My cousin Justin's looking for a little something-something for a certain someone, some girl he wants to be touching.

Students

(SINGING) Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something.

Cousin 1

We were just discussing our cousin Justin. Wasn't Justin the cousin who just made the honor roll, got the colleges buzzin'?

Cousin 2

Are we close to our cousin Justin? Are we supposed to trust him?

Cousin 1

Are we thugs to our cousin Justin? We don't sell drugs, man.

Students

(SINGING) Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something.

Naomi

Did you get it yet?

Justin

No, I'm about to get it.

Naomi

Is your dealer a student?

Justin

I got you, girl. Don't sweat it.

Naomi

Let me know when you got it.

Justin

As soon as I can.

Naomi

I'll find a way to repay you, Justin.

Justin

Oh, man!

Cousin 1

Yo, what is up with this fussin'? This isn't up for discussion. This is our cousin coming to us. He's our blood, and we love him.

Cousin 2

Ah, look at Justin. He's blushing.

Cousin 1

Our little Justin is crushing.

Cousin 2

Sorry for rushing to judgement.

Cousins

Why should we get you these drugs?

Justin

(SINGING) Love!

Cousins

What?

Justin

(SINGING) Only if you believe in love. Love!

Cousins

(SINGING) Love! Only if you believe in love.

Cousin 1

Get him the stuff.

Justin

I hand my cousin 25 ducats. I'm sweating buckets. He hands me a sandwich bag with some little green nuggets. I got it for you.

Naomi

X-O. Cool.

Justin

You want it now?

Naomi

See you at school.

Students

(SINGING) Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something.

Justin

(SINGING) Love!

Students

(SINGING) Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin--

Justin

(SINGING) Only if you believe in love!

Students

(SINGING) --who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something. Everybody's got a cousin who can hook them up with something.

[APPLAUSE]

Lin

Now, according to the police, Justin is a drug dealer. Maybe Justin didn't know where to get drugs. Maybe he did. What we know is this. The next day, Justin brought a rolled-up baggie of marijuana to school for Naomi.

Justin

And I was like, oh my god, I'm actually about to do this. So we was in class, and I sat down right next to her. And she was like--

Naomi

Justin, do you have it?

Justin

Yeah, I do. And I was like, you know what? We're going to wait for a few. Because I didn't want to be like, oh hey, and just slide it in her hand or whatever. So we waited.

[WOOD BLOCKS TICK-TOCKING]

Justin

And she was like--

Naomi

OK, put it in my purse.

Justin

So I slid it right in there. And then she was like--

Naomi

OK, here. Take the money. Justin, take the money.

Justin

(SINGING) I don't want your money. I got this just for you. Keep your money. There's nothing I won't do for you. I'll come through for you every time-- "Justin" time.

Naomi

(SINGING) Justin, listen. Please, just take the money.

Justin

(SINGING) Naomi, I know there's a reason you were transferred here.

Naomi

(SINGING) You're making me feel guilty. Take the money.

Justin

(SINGING) Naomi, I know there's a reason. This isn't luck. It's destiny.

Naomi

(SINGING) You really did come through for me.

Justin

(SINGING) Naomi, you know me.

Naomi

(SINGING) There's only one last thing you need to do for me.

Justin

(SINGING) I will be there just in time. Every time.

Naomi

(SINGING) Take the money. Take the money.

Justin

(SINGING) Anytime.

Naomi

(SINGING) Take the money.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi.

Justin

(SINGING) I don't want your money.

Naomi

(SINGING) The teacher's coming. Take this money, Justin.

Justin

(SINGING) I got this just for you.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi.

Justin

(SINGING) Keep your money.

Naomi

(SINGING) We aren't done. Please take this money, Justin.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi.

Justin

(SINGING) I'll come through for you.

Students

(SINGING) Naomi.

Naomi

(SINGING) Take the money.

Justin

(SINGING) Every time. Anytime.

Naomi

(SINGING) Take the money. Take this money, Justin.

Justin

(SINGING) Just in time.

Lin

Justin would later find out it's a felony in Florida to sell marijuana. And the penalty is even harsher for selling it on school property. By taking the money, Justin had made an irreversibly bad decision. And since he was over 18, he was legally an adult when he made it.

Naomi

(SINGING) Seriously, these kids need to learn there are consequences in life. I am doing my job. I am doing it right. I am making life safe for one school at a time.

Lin

In May, the police arrested 31 students at several schools. Justin was one of them.

[SIRENS]

Cop

Freeze! You have the right to remain silent.

Students

(SINGING) Everybody who sold drugs to undercover cops is busted. Everybody who sold drugs to undercover cops is busted. Everybody who sold drugs to undercover cops is busted. Everybody who sold drugs to undercover cops is busted.

Lin

He spends a week in jail wondering what would happen next.

Students

It's your word against hers. The cops have every text. The cops have every text. The cops have every text. (SINGING) Don't worry, girl. I got the stuff. I got you.

Lin

He knew he'd lose in court. He had to take a plea.

Justin

Three years' probation. I plead guilty to the felony.

Students

What? A felony? A nickel bag's a felony? What? (SINGING) Justin, say goodbye to college. They got you.

Naomi

These kids need to wake up. I don't want to go too much into it, but drugs hit really close to home for me. I saw the effects growing up of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy.

Lin

With family members?

Naomi

(SINGING) Yes. I've seen what it can do to a family. That's all I want to say about it.

Lin

Do you wish someone like you had done this type of work?

Naomi

Yes. And I hope someone like me keeps doing it. Still, (SINGING) there are kids you remember, the ones that you think about after you're gone.

Lin

During the week he spent in jail, Justin couldn't help but think about Naomi.

Justin

(SINGING) She was a light-skinneded Puerto Rican-Dominican, long hair, mature in the body like whoa. That's not the only reason I liked her, though. Yo, if it had been a guy that came up to me asking me for drugs, I would have said no. I would have said, get out of my face. I don't hang out with people like that. It's because it was her.

Lin

Have you talked to her since all of this happened?

Justin

Well, no. I would love to. I would love to have that conversation.

Lin

What do you think you would say?

Justin

(SINGING) I would say, what the heck did you do? What the heck did you do? Naomi? What the heck did you do?

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Our cast, Lindsay Mendez as Naomi, Anthony Ramos as Justin. The chorus, Alex Boniello, Gerard Canonico, and Antwuan Holley. Our narrator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the words and composed the music. The musicians, Music Director Ben Cohn, Sean McDaniel, Mark Vanderpoel, David Cinquegrana Jonathan Dinklage, Emily Brausa, with Scott Wasserman.

To everybody who was actually listening to this right now on the radio-- or podcast, I should say-- the staging of this story was like a 14-minute nonstop dance number from start to finish, choreographed by Lorin Latarro, costumes, sets. Lots of laughs--

[APPLAUSE]

Lots of laughs in today's show are visual things that you are not seeing because you're hearing it only. If you would like to see what you are missing, you can do that. You can do that right this second. You can download video of this entire show that we're doing today at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Go to our website, thisamericanlife.org. Like Beyonce, we are dropping the album and all the videos on the same day.

[APPLAUSE]

She's a role model. We also have links to where you can get the official cast album recording of "21 Chump Street, the Musical."

[APPLAUSE]

Possibly the shortest cast album recording in Broadway history. Coming up, Mike Birbiglia and the secret jokes a professional comedian usually only shares at home. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Of Mice and Men.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today, from the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, New York City, the radio drama episode.

[APPLAUSE]

We have journalism, memoir, true stories ed as radio drama. We have arrived at act two of our show. Act Two, "Of Mice and Men." So this next bit of radio drama is not an experiment for us like a musical or an opera. We thought it would be smart to have one story in today's show where we know what we're doing. A type of radio drama we actually bring you now and then on the program, a true story told on stage by the person that it actually happened to. Please welcome comedian Mike Birbiglia.

[APPLAUSE]

Mike Birbiglia

Wow. It's pretty easy following a musical.

I, uh-- I think that my favorite thing about being married is actually that you can share jokes with your wife or husband that are funny to you and that person and no one else other than maybe your cat. Because when you have a cat, your barometer for humor, poof, out the window.

Last summer, my wife and I went on a trip to Massachusetts. And I called it Cats-achusetts-- which is not funny, but in our house was the joke of the year. I was like, we're going to Cats-achusetts. My life is like, ahh! I was like, ahh! Our cat was like, ahh!

Everyone loves a good pun when you have a cat. And so we drive to Cats-achusetts. And when we arrive, my wife has a headache. And she asks me if I'll acclimate Ivan-- that's our cat-- to the bedroom, because you can't just put an indoor cat into a house, because he'll explode.

And so I bring him in the bedroom. But I'm so tired from the drive that I fall asleep, which is the only thing you cannot do when acclimating an indoor cat to a house. And so I wake up an hour later. Ivan is gone. He got out.

And so now I'm running around the house. I'm like, my cat's going to explode. I wake up my wife. I was like, Clo-- her name's Jen-- I say, Mr. Fantastic is gone-- his name's Ivan. And Clo gave me a look that I can only describe as "divorce eyes."

Because before that, point I was convinced that we would be married forever. And then once I saw the divorce eyes, I was like, oh, I guess this could end. And if it ended, it would look a lot like that.

And so now the two of us are running around the house. I'm like, my marriage is falling apart. My cat's going to explode. And we find Ivan, but we had another major problem in the house, which is that there were mice in the house.

It was actually worse than that, because they were parasitic mice. They have what's called toxoplasmosis, which means they have a-- yeah, you might know what this is. They have a parasite in them, and as a result they're unafraid of cats, and they're unafraid of people.

And the way we discovered this was that my wife was watching TV, and she looked next to her. And there was a mouse. And he was watching TV also. And she screamed!

And he just looked up at her like Stuart Little-- like, hey, what's going on? I don't like this show either. I don't know why all those women would want to marry that one guy.

And then she pushed him off the couch. And he didn't even run away. He didn't even scurry, which is a verb invented for mice. He just walked into the kitchen, like a roommate-- like, fine! I'll go in the other room! I just think you're overreacting.

And then he did a confessional into the Mouse Cam in the kitchen. He was like, I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to win. I was here before they came. I'll be here when they're gone. I'm a mouse.

[APPLAUSE]

That's from "Real Mouse-wives of Cats-achusetts." That night, I'm sound asleep, and my wife wakes me up by grabbing my face. She says, Mo-- my name's Mike-- Mr. Fantastic found the mouse. You need to get the mouse.

And I sit up, and I say Clo, we have a cat. We do everything for the cat. We gave him food. We give him an apartment that he thinks is the world. We set aside an area in the apartment for him to poop in that we clean more often than the area where we poop.

We have a gentleman's agreement that in the unlikely event that a mouse should walk in that door (A LA MARLON BRANDO) that he will kill that mouse and we will never speak of that mouse again. And he will be protected. (NORMAL VOICE) That's from "Cat-father."

[APPLAUSE]

My wife says, Mo, get the mouse. And I sit up, and I see what may be the strangest tableau I will ever witness in my entire life. Ivan's smacking the mouse. The mouse flies in the air, lands, gets up, walks back towards Ivan.

Ivan smacks the mouse, flies in the air, lands, gets up, walks back towards Ivan. Ivan is thrilled! His toy is alive!

I have a serious sleepwalking disorder. So as I am watching this, I'm not even really sure it's happening. I'm thinking, I've had this dream before.

My wife says, Mo, get the mouse. And she hands me a cup.

I sit up. I walk towards the mouse. And the mouse walks towards me. I put the cup over the mouse. I put a magazine under the cup. I take the cup into the backyard, and I put the mouse into the forest, where I can only assume that he walked into the mouth of a wolf.

And from that day forward, we have called it Mouse-achusetts.

[APPLAUSE]

I want to point out something really special that happened there at the end. A few minutes ago, I prefaced this story with a Massachusetts-based pun, Cats-achusetts, which we all agreed as a group is not funny.

Just moments ago, I concluded the story with another Massachusetts-based pun that was nearly identical. And that was Mouse-achusetts. And we applauded.

[APPLAUSE]

Which means, in a way, it's like we're married.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Mike Birbiglia. He's on his hundred-city "Thank God for Jokes" tour, which, Chicagolandians, comes to the Chicago Theater in September. To everybody hearing us on the radio, there was a person in a mouse costume on roller skates in that story doing some funny stuff. To see the video of this entire show so you understand what people are laughing at-- you will not be sorry-- thisamericanlife.org.

Act Three. How Do You Slow This Thing Down. (Podcast Only)

Ira Glass

We have arrived at act three of our show. Act Three, "How do you Slow this Thing Down?"

So this story is a follow up to a story that we ran a couple of years ago, which was a full episode of our show about one of our contributors, Josh Bearman, and his family. The set-up is that Josh's parents got divorced when he was very young. And he and his brother Ethan grew up with their dad, who's a physicist, out in suburban Los Angeles.

Josh's mom and his half-brother David lived very differently. They drifted around. They ended up in Florida. They were barely keeping it together. Josh's mom was an alcoholic. David was an aspiring rapper getting acquainted with the court system

Together they lived in this tiny condo in a retirement community in West Palm Beach called Century Village, where they did not belong. They were not retirees. And they would get into various kinds of jams and crises. And Josh would have to fly to Florida to try to help. He ended up spending a lot of time there.

What you are about to hear is an experiment at creating a radio drama which has exactly the same structure as one of the documentary stories on our show. And so what's going to happen is the real Josh Bearman is going to narrate. And then instead of going to, like, quotes on tape or things like that, we have actors performing scenes that really happened. All of this really happened. In those scenes, Josh is played by Josh Hamilton. His brother David is played by James Ransone.

The story begins last year when real-life Josh found himself back in Florida with his two brothers.

Josh Bearman

My mother's been in the hospital so much by now she's figured out how to direct the paramedics, like emergency chauffeurs or something, to all of the best facilities. Her room at Wellington Regional is big and bright. It's a corner room with big windows and a nice view. Although she can't see it, because right now she's connected to state-of-the-art equipment behind a curtain.

[SOUNDS OF MEDICAL EQUIPMENT]

When I walk in, my brother David is there already.

David

Hey, man. Oh, this whole thing was like a fucked-up remix of "The Night Before Christmas," because it was the night before Christmas.

Josh

Is this story gonna be in rhyme, or--

David

Shut up.

Josh

David, what happened?

David

You know how she gets around the holidays. I mean, I thought that you and Ethan were going to bring her out to California.

Josh

Oh, man. I don't know why we didn't. I think it was Ethan's schedule. Or we probably just didn't try hard enough.

David

Nah, nah. I mean, you never know when she's going to get all twisted like that. And I wasn't even really around anyway.

Josh

Where were you?

David

I was with this girl from school, this girl Tasha. And I went over to her house early on Christmas Eve, because they were having turkey dinner and everything-- you know, like a normal family.

I mean, I had to get out of Century Village. I was cooped up in there with Mom, and she was driving me crazy. So anyway, I'm at Tasha's. And Mom calls, and she sounds all drunk, right? And she's like, something happened to the car.

Josh

Something hap-- what kind of something?

David

I don't know! That's what I said!

Josh

That's like something you would tell me.

David

I know. And now I know how you feel. Well, whatever happened, the car got stuck, right? And I didn't have any way to get to her.

Josh

So how did she get home?

David

I think Peggy picked her up. And by the time I got back to the condo the next day, she was-- she was pretty deep in it. But it didn't seem like that big of a deal really. And then she woke up, and she was short of breath, so I was like--

Josh

Wait, wait, wait. For how long?

David

Tuesday, so for, like, a day.

Josh

And you didn't call me sooner?

David

Dude, she's done this shit, like, a million times. I mean, she wasn't even that worried about it. And she didn't want me to ride in the ambulance with her. She was like, I'll see you later tonight, Dave.

Dr. Snyder

Hi, I'm Dr. Snyder. Are-- are you the older brother?

Josh

Yes.

Dr. Snyder

You have the medical power of attorney?

Josh

Yes.

Dr. Snyder

Good. And who's Ethan?

Josh

Our other brother. He's also coming from California.

Dr. Snyder

He has the medical power of attorney?

Josh

Yes.

Dr. Snyder

Not him?

Josh

No.

Dr. Snyder

OK. Oh, uh, did your mother go to Cornell?

Josh

Yes, why?

Dr. Snyder

She told us.

Josh

What else did she say?

Dr. Snyder

That she does not consume alcohol.

Josh Bearman

Those were her last words before going under. Soon enough, withdrawal told a very different story. The first time this happened was five years ago, when David called and told me he had to remit himself to the local sheriff's office for, quote, "just a quick jail sentence." Oh, and Mom's in the hospital.

So I flew to Florida that next day and went straight to the ICU.

[SOUND OF AIRPLANE FLYING OVERHEAD]

And here's what happened that time.

Orderly

Well, looks like she'll never be the same again.

Josh

What, are you the neurologist?

Orderly

Oh, I see we have a savvy medical consumer here. No. It's 2:00 AM. I'm just the guy on rotation. So she scored low on the GOAT test, which measures brain function. She got a 62-- probably permanently impaired.

Josh

62? Out of what?

Orderly

Out of 100.

Nurse 1

Although no one ever really scores 100.

Nurse 2

Oh, that's true. I took it myself for practice in nursing school. I got, like, an 80.

Nurse 1

Yeah, for a perfect score, you'd have to be, like, Superman or something.

Orderly

No, no, no. You know who could get 100? What's that guy-- you know, that guy who can do anything including karate.

Nurse 1

Leonardo da Vinci.

Orderly

No, no, no. He's dead. He would score poorly. [CHUCKLING] I was just--

No, the-- the speaker guy who can do anything! Jesus Christ, if I was him, I'd never forget anyone's name. Uh-- he helps you realize your full potential. He's six and a half feet tall. Come on, ladies. He's, uh--

Josh

Tony Robbins?

Orderly

Yes. Exactly. That guy. That guy, he could score 100.

Josh Bearman

So as the medical professionals discussed how awakening the giant within can totally boost your neurological scores, one of the other nurses came and told me that earlier they had had to restrain my mom because even though she was unconscious, she'd somehow managed to get a hold of cigarettes. They caught her trying to light one in bed. We're not even sure where she got it, the nurse said.

And that's when I knew my mother would be fine. Within days, she was sitting up, completely lucid, chatting up strangers-- everyone's favorite.

This time, things were bad enough that I called my brother Ethan. He can only come in a true emergency because he plays for the LA Philharmonic, and he has a couple kids, and his schedule's planned out months in advance. He took the red-eye straight from playing at Disney Hall.

Ethan

Well, here we are again.

Josh

How you doing, man?

Ethan

I'm so glad you're here.

Josh

Thanks for coming.

Ethan

Hey, buddy.

David

Good to see you.

Ethan

You holding up?

David

Yeah, I'm all right. Nice tux.

Ethan

Yeah. Thought my stage attire might help me look a little more official. She in there?

Josh Bearman

Right now Ethan is working on a giant Mahler retrospective. They're going to play all nine symphonies. It's something that's never been done before.

Josh

Oh, Ethan, this is Dr. Snyder.

Dr. Snyder

Hi. It's nice to meet you. Your mother had a heart attack. She has severe respiratory distress, nearly septic infection. If we can get her breathing on her own again, recovery is possible but would take a long time.

Ethan

And then what?

Dr. Snyder

That's a good question.

Josh

No, that is a good question. If she needs in-home care, I don't think David could do it. They can't keep the cable on. And if she doesn't make it, what then?

Ethan

Where is he going to live?

Josh

Right? He can't stay at Century Village. I mean, it's a retirement community with a perimeter. It's like a geriatric army base. I don't know how he hasn't gotten kicked out already. They're definitely onto him. And if they realize mom isn't coming back--

Ethan

I'm sure we're going to get calls any day now.

Josh

Which one are you working on?

Ethan

Oh. The 8th.

Josh

Oh, that's a big one, right?

Ethan

Yeah, it's a big one. It has some really nice passages, though.

David

Mom, I know you can hear me. We love you, and we need you.

Josh

What's it about?

Ethan

Eternal life.

[MUSIC - MAHLER'S "SYMPHONY NUMBER 8"]

Josh Bearman

It's David who says that Mom would be happy that all three of her boys were together. And that's true. One of the few real senses of family I can recall was summers in the Midwest with her when we were all children years ago. And we made ice cream and caught fireflies and roller skated-- normal things like that. That's why David doesn't like being in the room much now, because he doesn't want to remember Mom like this, trapped in so many tubes. It's like some jacked-up Darth Vader shit, he says.

And yet, he's the one who's been at her bedside the most. I can't bring myself to kiss her the way David does. I don't know why.

After Ethan goes back to California, I stay with David and Mom. Time is merciless in Florida and especially merciless in the ICU. Days turn into weeks, and every afternoon I pick up David, and we go to the hospital, talk to some doctors, wait, talk to some more doctors, and then maybe get dinner. Very little changes.

David

Yo! Yo, I still want to show you that video I was telling you about.

Josh

Oh. Yeah, right. OK.

David

OK, hold up. Hold up.

Josh Bearman

In this very strange video, David's friend Sebastian, a completely grown man, is standing on some Florida crabgrass breakdancing robot-style. And the music is a tinny Casio-sounding version of "Fur Elise."

[MUSIC - "FUR ELISE"]

Josh

You know, he's pretty good.

David

I know.

Josh

But why is this happening?

David

I don't even really know. I mean, we were all just hanging out there in the driveway-- like, a bunch of us. Dude just starts doing the robot. He does that sometimes, right? And this one time, he was doing it in my face for a really long time-- for, like, a half hour. No, no-- I couldn't even believe it, man.

Josh

That he could keep it up that long?

David

No, more that I had to watch it for so long. Because I was, like, kinda trapped there, right? And at first, I was trying not to look. And then I couldn't look away.

Josh

Let me see that again.

David

OK, all right. Yeah, yeah.

[MUSIC - "FUR ELISE"]

It was like I was in denial at first. And then I accepted it.

Josh

Like the stages of grief.

David

Exactly! Exactly. And then I reached some kind of state of bliss where it was so awesome that I was almost in tears.

Josh

Yeah, I'm not sure that's exactly the Kubler-Ross model.

David

Well, they should add that one-- the awesome state.

Josh Bearman

It's nice spending time with David. But I'm also really worried about him. He's had a history with pills on and off over the years. And I suspect it's on again.

One night while we're driving to dinner, David says, oh hey, Josh, can we stop over at the Victory? That's a gas station down on Okeechobee Boulevard. And Victory's a total misnomer for the kind of place where you pull in and just see a bunch of weird dudes crouching around the entrance, like it's a totally normal social spot.

And David knows everyone here, which is weird. And I'm pretty sure something illicit is happening but I don't want to ask, because I don't want to be The Man with David. And he probably wouldn't tell me anyhow. Ah, it's nothing, David says. Sure, just your regular nighttime rendezvous in the parking lot of an off-brand gas station.

David gets back in the car, and he says, all right, I'm good. But I'm not so sure. It's weird, but Mom and David are a team-- like a fucked-up crazy team for a long time, but a team nonetheless. And they've taken care of each other. And the question on my mind is if Mom doesn't make it whether David will.

Dr. Snyder

All right, guys. She might destabilize immediately, but if she makes it, we'll load her up and get her over to the hospice facility right away.

David

Yeah, I'm just-- I'm a little concerned that she understands you. I mean, I think that she can hear you.

Dr. Snyder

Oh, I know this can be hard for you, an adjustment to end-of-life care is always--

David

I mean, she's right there.

Dr. Snyder

Right. Do you have any other questions?

Josh

Well, I was wondering--

David

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I was wondering about Xanax.

Dr. Snyder

Uh, she's already getting Ativan, which is also for anxiety. It's part of the hospice program. So she--

David

No, I meant for me. Look, I'm not talking, like, a whole prescription or anything. I'm just asking if you could hook me up with, like, a couple, you know, for right now.

Dr. Snyder

I'm sorry. I can't accommodate that request.

David

I'm gonna go outside and smoke. This shit is getting a little too real for me right now.

Josh Bearman

The hospice is nice-- institutional, but warm. Like, people are allowed to bring pets and stuff. One lady even brought her horse, the intake guy was very excited to tell us.

I spent some time going through Mom's things. I find her address book, which is a mess, stuffed with Post-Its and scraps, bearing faded numbers in Mom's perfect cursive.

Josh

How can we call her friends? I don't know who's who. I mean, no one visited her in the hospital.

[PHONE VIBRATING]

Josh

We should have called people sooner.

David

She doesn't really have that many friends around anymore. And I'm telling you, she didn't want visitors at the hospital.

Josh

Yes, but they might want to see her.

David

Well, I don't have her friends' numbers.

Josh

David, I need you to help me figure this out.

[PHONE VIBRATING]

David

I gotta take care of some shit right now.

Josh

Where are you going? Dude, you've been wandering in and out of here for weeks. Is it pills or what?

Dr. Snyder

Nah. Nah, it's Sebastian, right? He's got this other friend who called him, and--

Josh

So? That can wait. What is with all the weird petty dramas? Half the time you're pacing around on your phone dealing with some crisis, like Jimmy Carter at Camp David.

David

Well, I got Peggy's number.

Josh

Well, why didn't you tell me that before?

David

You didn't ask?

Josh

Dude! This is when you call people. When your mother is dying, you call her fucking friends.

David

Yo, she can hear you. And I know that you want to be all mad at me right now because you're mad at yourself or something, but this whole situation is fucked up. I accepted it a long time ago.

Josh

I accept that it's fucked up. I've been here for six weeks.

David

And I appreciate everything that you have done. But I've been here the whole time-- when Mom fell and knocked herself out or when I found her in the backyard or when I took her to get the last of her teeth removed. I wish it was different, but it is what it is. Mom is my best friend.

And you, you're gonna get to go home. And I'm going to be the one who's stranded here. Now, I have to go. Sebastian locked himself in his garage somehow. And you should call Peggy, but do that shit outside.

Josh Bearman

I finally bring myself to start holding Mom's hands, and she rubs my palm. I think David's right. She knows.

Each time, her grip gets a little stronger. I look in her terrified eyes and see my own. One night, just before I leave for the day, she takes my hand with both of hers. It's the biggest show of purpose in weeks. And for a second, I don't see the tubes, the room, the cracked lips, or her papery fingers. No one else is here. It's just us.

The next morning, there was a message on my phone from the hospice before I got up. I know-- they always say it was peaceful. And they made arrangements with the King David Cemetery for the next day.

David

Damn, my stomach hurts. I can't tell if it's this funeral stuff or from that bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit I ate this morning.

Josh

Hm. I mean, I'm going to guess it's the former.

David

I don't know. That shit was pretty gross. You want to hear something funny? So, I was at home earlier today, right, watching TV, just trying to take my mind off of things, you know?

And then all of a sudden, the TV goes black. And I'm like, oh, shit. This is all I need right now. So I find this cable bill from before Mom went into the hospital. It was, like, $15, but she forgot to pay it, as usual.

And the whole thing was, like, such a Mom-type scenario, you know? I mean, it's just exactly the type of thing that she would have done. So when the TV went black, I-- I kinda thought it was like Mom saying a little hello. I'll be OK.

Josh

I hope so.

Rabbi

All right. Let's get rolling.

[RABBI CONDUCTING THE SERVICE IN THE BACKGROUND]

Josh Bearman

The sun is low on the horizon beneath the clouds, bringing up steam from the grass. If you include the funeral director and the two Haitian dudes lounging on tombstones waiting to fill in the grave, there are only nine people listening.

The scene feels like a frontier funeral, a clutch of poor souls standing around a pine box, like we should leave here in a covered wagon and keep heading west and just be glad the devil's drink didn't bury us, too.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Joshua Bearman. In the scenes, Josh Hamilton played him. James Ransone played his brother David. Matt Marks was Ethan and played the French horn. Our doctors were Bhavesh Patel and Seth Barrish, who also played the rabbi. Nurses were Carolyn Baeumler and Zakiya Young. Terry Kinney directed the story on the stage.

So we've been planning for months that Stephin Merritt was going to sing a song at this point in the show. And we told Josh Bearman a couple weeks ago. And he was like, oh my god, that's crazy. My mom-- his mom in the story-- used to babysit for Stephin Merritt. It's true-- when Stephin was a kid growing up outside Boston, Josh Bearman's mom Susan babysat for him. So please welcome, Stephin Merritt.

[APPLAUSE]

[MUSIC - "HOW DO YOU SLOW THIS THING DOWN?" BY STEPHIN MERRITT]

[APPLAUSE]

Stephin Merritt, with Pinky Weitzman on violin and Sam Davol on cello. Stephin Merritt plays in a number of bands. His latest album is from The Magnetic Fields. It's called Love at the Bottom of the Sea.

[APPLAUSE]

Act Four. Bus! Stop!

Ira Glass

Act Four, "Bus, Stop!" This next story is something that comedian Sasheer Zamata has been telling onstage in her stand-up act. And we asked her to adapt it into a full-on radio drama with actors and a sound man, like a classic radio drama. In fact, we have two sound men doing sound effects with a table full of props. Please welcome Sasheer Zamata.

[APPLAUSE]

Sasheer Zamata

A few years ago, I got into an accident on a shuttle bus. My friend Nicole and I rented a car, and we were dropping it off at LaGuardia airport. We got onto the rental car company's shuttle bus to get taken to the cab stand to get a cab to go home. And we were the only two passengers on the bus.

Bus Driver

Hey, you two sure you want to sit back there? Because, ha-ha, I drive pretty crazy.

[NERVOUS CHUCKLING]

Nicole

OK!

Sasheer

OK.

Sasheer Zamata

We heard him say this, but we didn't believe him. We should have believed him. Because that's exactly what he did.

[BRAKES RELEASING]

He sped out of the parking lot and towards the airport. And Nicole and I were in the back, humoring him and playing up the wild ride.

Nicole And Sasheer

Woo! This is crazy!

Sasheer Zamata

And then he hits the brakes really hard.

[BRAKES SQUEALING]

Nicole And Sasheer

Whoa! Too crazy!

Sasheer Zamata

And then we hit another car in the intersection.

[RUMBLING]

Nicole And Sasheer

Way too crazy!

Sasheer Zamata

There's no seat belts on the bus, and Nicole goes falling into the luggage carry in front of her. I go flying into the air and headed towards the driver's seat.

Now, if I was walking this distance, it would probably take me, like, 10 seconds. But because I'm flying through the air, it takes me, like, two. And I think now I understand why flying is the fastest way to travel.

[CLUNK]

Sasheer

Ow!

Sasheer Zamata

I'm lying on the floor, and my head is pounding. And I just think, wow, that was the most realistic example of foreshadowing I've ever seen. Two seconds ago, this guy says, I drive crazy. And then he did. And then we got into an accident. I don't know why I thought anything different would happen.

Bus Driver

Hey, you OK?

Sasheer

No. Everything sucks. I want to go home.

Nicole

No, you can't go home. You hit your head.

Sasheer

Yeah, I know. But it's fine.

Nicole

No, it's not fine. We have to go to the hospital. Your face is, like, twice the size it should be.

Sasheer Zamata

We get off the bus, and the cops are already there. I see the car that we hit, and it's a tiny red car. And we T-boned it. Except the T is very disproportionate, where the top part of it's very tiny and the bottom part's a huge bus.

Cop

Did you ladies see what happened?

Sasheer

No, we were sitting at the back of the bus, and we couldn't actually see the traffic.

Cop

OK.

Nicole

But the bus driver did it.

Cop

But you just said you didn't see anything.

Nicole

Yeah, but he said, (IMITATING) I drive crazy-- before the accident, and then he did drive crazy.

Sasheer Zamata

A concept that was still blowing our minds.

Cop

But you didn't see the accident?

Nicole

No, we didn't. But how could it have been the other guy's fault? We were on the bus that hit him. Also, can someone take my friend to the hospital? She hit her head real hard.

Sasheer Zamata

Nicole was amazing in high-stress situations-- like the time when I told her I was pregnant.

Sasheer

Um, yeah, so, we didn't use a condom. And I haven't had my period in a while.

Nicole

It's OK. This is fine. OK, I support whatever you want.

Sasheer

I don't know what I'm supposed to tell my family.

Nicole

Oh, listen. I will go with you to the clinic, or if you don't want me to, whatever you want.

Sasheer

I just-- I can't have a kid right now.

Nicole

No, no, no. I know. Come here. It's going to be OK. I love you, OK?

Sasheer

OK.

Nicole

I love you.

Sasheer

All right.

Nicole

OK?

Sasheer

OK. Um, I really appreciate this. And-- April Fools!

Nicole

What the fuck?

[APPLAUSE]

Nicole

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Sasheer Zamata

See? She's a great friend. And the perfect person to have for this stupid bus accident. We get onto an ambulance and head towards the hospital. And the driver of the other car is already there. And he's much chattier than most would be after getting into a serious accident like this.

Driver Of The Other Car

So you guys were on that bus?

Sasheer

Oh. Uh, yes. We were.

Driver Of The Other Car

It was a rental company bus. Did you rent a car?

Sasheer

Uh, yeah. We rented a car to go to Boston.

Driver Of The Other Car

Oh, cool. What was going on in Boston?

Sasheer

Um, we were there for a festival.

Driver Of The Other Car

What kind of festival?

Sasheer

A comedy festival.

Driver Of The Other Car

Wow! So you're a comedian?

Sasheer

Yes.

Driver Of The Other Car

Does that mean you're a comedian, too?

Nicole

Don't talk to me!

Sasheer Zamata

I don't know why I just didn't do that! Telling a person who's not a comedian that you're a comedian is never good because the conversation that follows is always terrible.

Driver Of The Other Car

So you were up in Boston. Did you make any jokes about baked beans? They love those up there.

Sasheer

No, I didn't make any jokes about baked beans.

Driver Of The Other Car

Listen, next time you're in Boston, you say, (KENNEDYESQUE ACCENT) pahk the cah. It'll kill. It will kill. You can have that one. That one's yours. You can have that for free.

Sasheer

OK, thank you. Thank you so much. I'm gonna stop talking now because my head really hurts.

Driver Of The Other Car

(SNORTING) I get it.

Sasheer

It's not a joke.

Driver Of The Other Car

I get it.

Sasheer Zamata

I don't want to say the name of the hospital that we went to because someone here in the audience may actually work there. But we went to Elmhurst Hospital. And it was the dirtiest hospital I've ever been to in my life. There were Toblerone wrappers on stretcher beds and loose muffins on the floor-- just, like, unwrapped, unexplained, whole muffins.

I'm left with Nicole in the waiting room. And we're waiting and waiting. Nicole's actually really scared of what would happen to me if I fell asleep. So she makes it her job to make sure I stay awake.

Sasheer

Hm?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yeah?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Mm-hmm?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yeah?

Nicole

You see that doctor over there?

Sasheer

Uh-huh.

Nicole

Would you fuck him?

Sasheer

You said he's a doctor, right?

Nicole

Yeah.

Sasheer

So probably, yeah.

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yeah?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Mm-hmm?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yeah?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yes?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yes?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Hm?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yes?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yes?

Nicole

Sasheer?

Sasheer

Yes?

Nicole

Are you hungry?

Sasheer

Always.

Nicole

You want a muffin?

Sasheer

Always.

[APPLAUSE]

Nicole

Go get that muffin.

Sasheer

I'll get that muffin.

Nicole

Get that muffin.

Sasheer

I'm gonna get that muffin.

Nicole

Go get that muffin.

Sasheer

I'm gonna get--

Nicole

Go get that muffin.

Sasheer

I'm gonna get it.

Nicole

Go get that muffin! Go get that muffin!

Sasheer

I got it.

Nicole

You got that muffin!

Sasheer

I got it!

Nicole

Oh, no! No, no, no, no. That's a dirty muffin. Put that muffin down.

Sasheer

[MUMBLING].

Nicole

Oh, no. Maybe eat that candy off the chair.

Sasheer

OK. There's nothing in here.

Nicole

Oh, no! The hot doctor must have eaten it all! He loves chocolate.

Sasheer

Ah. Does that mean he'll love me?

Nicole

You're a big old chocolate woman, so yes! But you gotta stay awake. Doctors hate sleepy bitches.

Sasheer

Yeah.

[APPLAUSE]

Sasheer

I don't want to be a sleepy bitch.

Nicole

Mm-mm. Because you know what they say about sleepy bitches.

Sasheer

What?

Nicole

They too tired!

Sasheer Zamata

Five hours pass, and I still haven't gotten seen.

Sasheer

Excuse me, do you know how much longer before I get seen?

Nurse

What you need to be seen for?

Sasheer

I was just in a car accident. I need someone to check my head.

Nurse

Oh! I didn't know you were in a car accident. We thought you were waiting on somebody. You look fine.

Sasheer

But I hurt!

Sasheer Zamata

Eventually I get moved to the CAT scan area, and the guy running the scan looks like he's 12 years old, and he's, like, not putting me at ease.

Child's Voice

OK. So what happened to you?

Sasheer

I was just in a car accident.

Child's Voice

Oh. I couldn't tell. You look fine.

Sasheer

That's what I hear.

Child's Voice

Whoa! Cool gold shoes! Did you spray-paint those yourself?

Sasheer

I did!

Child's Voice

That's so cool! I want to get this one pair of sneakers with this design that has--

Sasheer

OK, can you just scan me, please?

[MACHINE WHIRRING]

Sasheer Zamata

He finally scans me. And then I wait awhile for the results.

Nurse

You're fine.

Sasheer Zamata

Every person involved with this accident was awful. Except for Nicole. She was the best part of this whole thing. So ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to present to you the last best person in New York State, Nicole Byer!

[FANFARE]

When God comes back and says if there's one just person, one righteous person, I will not destroy the world-- oh, um, OK. OK, so I will just not--

Ira Glass

It's Ira. Uh, radio listeners, internet listeners, what's happening now onstage is that people are running on giving Nicole flowers and cheering her.

Sasheer Zamata

OK. That's-- that's enough. All right, I still-- I hit my head really hard in the accident.

OK. Well, thanks a lot for listening to my--

[LIGHTS TURNING OFF]

--story.

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

There was some artistic license taken with actual dialogue. The dialogue in that story at the hospital was not reported verbatim. We contacted Elmhurst Hospital about the conditions Sasheer saw, asked for a comment. The spokesperson said she'd get back to us this Wednesday. Didn't get around to it. We reached out a few more times, and we never heard back.

Sasheer Zamata with Nicole Byer, Chris Gethard, Frank Garcia Hejl, Tony Ward, Zakiya Young, Seth Barrish, and 12-year-old Matthew Mindler as the CAT scan guy.

[APPLAUSE]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by myself with Robyn Semien and Robert Saenz de Viteri, with our senior producer, Julie Snyder, Alison Davis, and Elise Bergerson, as well as Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sean Cole, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Brian Reed, Alissa Shipp, Nancy Updike.

Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Research help from Michelle Harris and Julie Beer. Some music in today's show by Roger Neill. Thanks to Laura Coburn. Thanks to all the theater professionals who took their time out from their day jobs to be here with us for a week and to be here today-- singers, actors, dancers, writers, composers, directors, and some actual famous people.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, where you can see everything that was on today's show, the sets, the costumes, the dancing, and, like, seriously half an hour of incredible material that was simply too long to include on the radio, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

Thanks, as always, to our show's co-founder, Torey Malatia. I will never forget the crazy birthday party where he ate slice after slice of German chocolate cake. And we kept telling him, Torey, stop with the German chocolate cake. Stop it. You're going to make yourself sick. And we were right. He made himself sick. He was green and sick and then couldn't stop saying--

Carin Gilfry

[SPEAKING GERMAN]

Ira Glass

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

[APPLAUSE]

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.