Transcript

556:

Same Bed, Different Dreams
Transcript

Originally aired 05.01.2015

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/556

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Jill's been a flight attendant for years, does long flights to Europe and South America, where they're on the plane for 10 hours or more. And it's such close quarters, and customers can be so stressed out and get testy, and she and her co-workers, of course, always have to seem calm and courteous. They need to totally control the cabin.

Jill

And at the same time give off this illusion of being servants.

Ira Glass

Right.

Jill

When in reality, we're in control.

Ira Glass

It's stressful, she says. And it's easy for them to get on each other's nerves, like with this flight attendant who was Jill's nemesis for a while.

Jill

She just talked a lot. I think that's what bothered me a lot. So during our downtime, going into the galley, sort of getting away from people, it would just be incessant talking. And it drove me nuts. And I think my silence would drive her nuts. So we didn't get along.

Ira Glass

Now, of course, when flight attendants snipe at each other, if they're in the middle of the aisle with the beverage cart--

Jill

We have to do it in a way that the passengers don't know what's happening. For example, she would say, can you get me some more Cokes from the galley? And I would say, we're out of Cokes.

And to the passengers next to us, that sounds completely normal. But she knows, and I know, that we're not out of Cokes. And she's stuck behind the beverage cart. She physically cannot get there and get them for herself. And so it is--

Ira Glass

It's war.

Jill

It's war. It's this tiny, little symbol of hostility wrapped in this little sentence about Coca-Cola. She might try, like, are you sure we're out of Cokes? Because I saw some back there. And I would say, no, we're out. She'd be powerless.

If we have to do another beverage service, she might take all the red wine. And so I have to ask her every time for a bottle of red wine. And I have to ask her for something every time I need it. It's these little, tiny things that you would never know.

Ira Glass

And then about 2, 2 and 1/2 hours into these overnight flights, Jill says, it'll be time for a sleep break. Some planes have special seats curtained off or hidden behind doors in special compartments, or up secret flights of stairs in certain planes, there are crew bunks above the overhead bins. Who knew?

Jill

It's a very tiny, little space, literally above the overhead bins.

Ira Glass

So Jill would sometimes have to go to sleep with her enemy, with the nemesis. And she says that to function on the rest of the flight, they really do need to sleep, no kidding. And so they both know its truce.

Jill

There is no disturbing the other person's sleep at all. I learned to not toss and turn, not clear my throat, just be very still. I imagine myself like a vampire in a coffin, so that I'm not disturbing the other person, even if I hate them.

Ira Glass

And then they lie there, side by side, at peace, hurdling through the air at over 500 miles an hour, each of them dreaming, presumably, very different dreams. Jill does not know what the nemesis would dream about, but she has certain dreams only when she's in the air.

Jill

It's strange. I don't know if I should say this, but I do have crashing dreams on the plane. It's strange. I don't have those on the ground. I wonder if it's the turbulence.

Ira Glass

What happens in the crashing dreams?

Jill

We just crash.

[LAUGHING]

Ira Glass

Well, today on our program, "Same Bed, Different Dreams," we have stories of enemies sleeping together or working together or just stuck together in some way with very different hopes and goals, stories of deception and star-crossed haters. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Dream Weevil.

Ira Glass

Act One, "Dream Weevil." That title's going to make more sense as this story goes on. Just trust me on that. In 1986, a man and woman ran into a US embassy in Vienna and said they needed asylum.

They were from South Korea. And they told embassy officials this incredible story of kidnapping and intrigue, and being torn apart and thrown back together, and years of dreaming about escape from their kidnapper, while, at the same time, convincing their kidnapper that what they really wanted to do was stay with him. Nancy Updike has the story.

Nancy Updike

The woman who was kidnapped was a famous South Korean actress named Choi Eun-Hee. I read a book about it by a writer and film producer named Paul Fischer. He spent years researching this story.

Paul Fischer

She was compared at the time to Elizabeth Taylor.

Nancy Updike

Elizabeth Taylor. Imagine if Elizabeth Taylor, past her prime but still famous from all her iconic roles, had just disappeared one day. Choi was that beautiful, that much of an icon in South Korea, and she was gone. She found out pretty quickly who had arranged this.

Paul Fischer

When Choi was kidnapped in 1978, she was put on a boat, and the boat went to Namp'o Harbor in North Korea. And she actually has a photo, which is in the book, of her very first meeting with Kim Jong-il. He was there waiting for her off the boat with a photographer. And he had his photographer take a photo and then send it to her as a sort of--

Nancy Updike

You'll want to remember this.

Paul Fischer

Exactly, remember that time.

Nancy Updike

Remember that time I had you kidnapped and brought to me?

Paul Fischer

And it's a terrible picture. And he's beaming and smiley, and she's got her face covered.

Nancy Updike

For years, her family and her country didn't know where she was. This happened in 1978. Choi was in her 50s. And her first sickening guess as to why she had been taken was that Kim Jong-il had brought her to North Korea to be a mistress for his father, the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who was ruling the country at the time.

But no, it seemed that Kim Jong-il himself was just a very big fan of Choi's movies. He put her up in a fancy villa, surrounded by walls and barbed wire and armed guards. She called it in her memoir "Las Vegas meets Vladivostok." Kim Jong-il brought her out to display at parties. That was Choi's life for five years, until one particular night and one special party.

Paul Fischer

Choi had been there for a while. And she was standing somewhere in the center of the room.

Nancy Updike

And she was used to these parties by this point.

Paul Fischer

Exactly. They were routine. She had started feeling repulsed by them. People got drunk and groped women, and then they went on forever. And somebody had already told her that this is going to be such a great evening for you. And she nodded along, because she was used to hyperbole about everything.

Nancy Updike

Choi had no idea that Kim Jong-il that night was planning to show off for the first time another person he had acquired, the man who had directed or produced almost all of Choi's movies, her ex-husband, Shin Sang-Ok. Shin and Choi each didn't know that the other was also in the country. Shin had been brought there the same way Choi was. But he tried to escape twice, so he was thrown in a prison camp for a couple of years.

Paul Fischer

The best way to describe Shin-- Steven Spielberg's a good comparison, in a sense, as well. He made films that were very good, very commercial, very popular. And he also produced other people's films, had his own studio. And he was the most powerful popular filmmaker in South Korea, arguably in all of Southeast Asia for most of the '60s and into the '70s.

And Shin, 10 days prior to this, he was still in a prison camp, got released, and for 10 days in a villa, they fattened him up, tried to restore him to health. He arrives at the party when it's already in full flow. And he walks inside, and as soon as he enters there's applause.

Nancy Updike

What an insane thing. 10 days ago, you're in a prison camp. You walk in, and you're the life of the party. Everyone's applauding.

Paul Fischer

Exactly. And in the pictures, his face still looks emaciated. You can tell he's just gone through something terrible. The suit doesn't fit.

Nancy Updike

Now Choi doesn't see Shin come in. She just hears people start applauding.

Paul Fischer

And Choi is sort of even unfazed by this. Any time Kim does anything, people get up and applaud.

Nancy Updike

She didn't know why people were applauding. She had no idea.

Paul Fischer

Exactly, until somebody says, why don't you look happy? Look who's here. And she turns around. And it's been five years. Shin's got the marks of having been tortured in a prison camp. She doesn't recognize him right away.

And from that point on, Kim Jong-il was pulling them together. And they, sort of shell shocked, hugged one another. And then were then moved around, like blocking in a movie scene, by Kim Jong-il.

Nancy Updike

What, like stand here, sit here.

Paul Fischer

Stand here. You stand next to me. Smile to the cameras. They were sort of the guests of honor.

Nancy Updike

Famous people don't get to pick their fans. Kim Jong-il was a super fan who was also, unfortunately, the son of the all powerful leader of a totalitarian state. Shin and Choi had made their best movies together. Kim loved their movies, and he wanted them to be a couple, just like they were in their heyday. So he arranged it, parent trap style. He told them at the party that, guess what, he had a newly remodeled villa for them that they would be living in from now on, together.

Paul Fischer

Making a joke, I think he said something like, the newlyweds are going to want to be alone now.

Nancy Updike

What a weirdo.

Paul Fischer

And had them taken to a car, and by all accounts, seemed extremely pleased, and expected them to be equally so. And it's the moment right after that when they went back to the villa, closed the bathroom door, turned the faucets on--

Nancy Updike

In order to talk privately, they turned the faucets on so they can whisper and actually have a private conversation.

Paul Fischer

Exactly. And they just asked one another what had happened. The way she describes it is sort of a lovely moment, where she asks him, what happened to you? And he said, a lot. I'll tell you some other time. And then he asks her, what happened to you? And she says, a lot. I'll tell you some other time.

And Shin kind of gingerly, again, asked her, you know, you looked very smiley and happy. And have you been brainwashed? And then she made a joke about how the director can't even recognize acting anymore. And both of them were finally able to be genuine with someone. And they spent the next several hours going through everything.

Nancy Updike

Shin and Choi made a long-term plan and a short-term plan. Long-term, they were going to escape. But they would wait until they could do it right so they wouldn't be caught. Their short-term plan involved a small tape recorder, which they were able to get, because one of the weird privileges of their captivity was that they were allowed to shop at a department store that sold things that were out of reach for most people in the country, like tape recorders.

Kim Jong-il had long- and short-term plans of his own for them. He told them that soon he would summon them to talk about his vision for their future. Then seven months went by.

And during those months, Shin and Choi spent hours nearly every week in Kim's huge film archive. He wanted Shin and Choi to see it and be impressed, and they were. Kim didn't just loved their movies. He loved all movies.

It was against the law for ordinary North Koreans to watch foreign films. But Kim had set up a massive bootlegging operation running in countries all over the world so he could build up his private collection with every movie ever made, or as close as he could get. The archive was three stories high and heavily guarded, at least two screening rooms, all for Kim only, and now for Shin and Choi. Shin was bowled over by every detail.

Paul Fischer

The way the building itself was set up to run, and with admiration over how Kim had set up his own archive, and how well everything was kept, geeking out over the air conditioning settings and how he was preserving the celluloid, and how everything was cataloged, and the staff, and then how large it was.

Nancy Updike

How is it categorized? Was it by year or by genre or by director?

Paul Fischer

It went by country first. And then I think it went by year as they got them in. And then there's a lovely touch where the South Korean films are in a normal air conditioning room, and then the North Korean films were in the most lavish storage and screening room in the whole building.

Nancy Updike

The films were dubbed into Korean after being painstakingly transcribed, sometimes by Americans. There was an American defector-- he was one of several, actually-- who had been there since 1965. And one of his jobs was transcribing American films, but just by listening, because he wasn't allowed to watch them.

Paul Fischer

Yeah. And he wouldn't know that they were films, because they gave him and the other American defectors the audio. For some reason they chopped up the film soundtracks into different bits in the wrong order so they wouldn't--

Nancy Updike

Know what they were doing?

Paul Fischer

Exactly, or enjoy them. But he had this experience of transcribing, and then suddenly realizing, wait, this is Mary Poppins.

Nancy Updike

Shin and Choi spent dozens and dozens of hours watching one movie after another in the screening rooms at the film archive and in their villa, which was also outfitted to show movies. They did that for months, until finally they got word. Kim is ready to meet with you. They went, and they brought the tape recorder.

Paul Fischer

And the second they walked in, Choi had the tape recorder in her purse, and she flicked it on. And I think unexpectedly, Kim Jong-il just talked at them, mostly, for two hours.

Kim Jong-il

[SPEAKING KOREAN]

Paul Fischer

Kim Jong-il spoke very, very fast. And his mind went all over the place. And he had a very intimidating waiter slash bodyguard who kept walking into to refill drinks and empty ashtrays.

Nancy Updike

Shin and Choi wanted to record Kim for two reasons. First, they knew they might not be able to escape. Maybe they would be killed, and their children and friends would just never know what had happened to them. A recording, if they could smuggle it out, would at least be proof of where they'd been.

The second reason to record him was that they knew that Kim would insist, they say, publicly, that they had come to North Korea on their own, voluntarily. Shin and Choi were hoping that, in their private conversation, Kim might admit to having had them kidnapped and brought to him. And he almost, almost did, by making a joke.

In the first couple of minutes of their conversation, Kim talked about how he had brought Choi over first in order to entice Shin to North Korea. I say joke because Kim laughs as he says it. And then all three of them laugh.

Kim Jong-il

[SPEAKING KOREAN]

[LAUGHING]

Nancy Updike

It's tyrant management 101. If he laughs, you laugh. The rest of what Kim said in that conversation-- well, he said a lot of things. But the main thing was, North Korean movies are bad, and I'm sick of it.

Kim Jong-il

[SPEAKING KOREAN]

Paul Fischer

They were making the same film over and over again, and that there were too long and too boring, and history lessons and too melodramatic. And he says there's too much crying. I didn't tell anybody to put in so much crying.

Kim Jong-il

[SPEAKING KOREAN]

Nancy Updike

Kim Jong-il told Shin and Choi that he knew he was the only person in the country who could get away with saying what he was saying. And he told them not to repeat any of it. He said, when it comes to movies, we are in kindergarten. And other countries, like South Korea, are in college.

He said, if we don't catch up in the next 10 years, our movies are going to be the worst of the worst movies in the world. The problem, he said, just between us, is that people in North Korea had it too easy. They had things handed to them. They didn't have to hustle, like Shin and Choi did.

Paul Fischer

There's a point in the tape where he tells them that-- and I think I'm going to paraphrase a bit. But he says, there's no incentive in socialism to do any better.

Kim Jong-il

[SPEAKING KOREAN]

Paul Fischer

He says, my screenwriters, they'll write something, they'll get their rations. The other guys make a film, they'll get their rations.

Nancy Updike

So they get paid no matter what, as long as they just turn out the work.

Paul Fischer

Exactly, and follow orders. And he seemed very conscious that he needs someone who pushes himself more than that, who's used to having to do more than that to earn his keep.

Nancy Updike

Kim Jong-il never mentioned another possible reason why North Korea's movies were wooden and unambitious, like fear. He, Kim Jong-il, had written the book, the only book in North Korea about the right way to make movies and think about movies. It's called On the Art of the Cinema. It's still in print.

Everyone involved in North Korea's film industry in the 1980s had to have been aware of the potential consequences of doing something as unpatriotic or insulting as trying to realize their own independent artistic vision. Without Kim's explicit blessing, and his father's, it was better to be crappy than sorry.

The conversation continued. Shin and Choi murmured that North Korea citizens were fortunate to have a comrade leader who understood films so well. Kim Jong-il agreed. With his permission, the three of them got into critiquing specific films, a North Korean one called The Star of Korea, and while they were at it, a Soviet film called Mother that had a dying scene they all agreed had been atrocious.

Kim Jong-il

[SPEAKING KOREAN]

Nancy Updike

They were three movie lovers talking about what they loved. And Kim Jong-il's big plan for Shin and Choi was that he wanted them to make North Korean movies good, so that they could compete with films coming out of the West and win awards and be shown in theaters all over the world. He wanted Choi to act in the movies and Shin to direct them. Shin could have his own film company, just like he used to have. Shin wanted to call the company Shin Film, a very bold request in the circumstances.

Paul Fischer

Yeah, nothing in North Korea had been called anything other than The Worker's Paradise this or The Party this or the Supreme Leader this, or Kim Il-sung University. So it was a big deal. But it's also very telling of Shin that, even in this surreal situation, his first instinct is, OK, OK, OK, but can we give the company my name?

Nancy Updike

In film noir, someone is always using someone, and often people are using each other. And we don't find out until the end who gets away with what. Shin and Choi knew that their only chance of escape would be to convince Kim Jong-il to let them film and work in the West. Kim Jong-il knew that if he wanted good movies, he had to give Shin and Choi enough freedom to create them. So all three of them wanted to make great movies. But--

Paul Fischer

Same bed, different dreams. Kim Jong-il wanted the films for his own purposes. And they needed the films to get away from him. And it's almost like his ambition of making films that the world will respect completely overtook any sense of logic.

So the first film Shin and Choi shot had sequences that they shot in Eastern Europe, standing in for the Hague. And they showed Kim Jong-il the film. He said, this is fantastic. It's like a European film. It's the best thing we've ever made, allowed them to start showing it. And it never crossed his mind that they had done exactly what he'd forbidden his own filmmakers to do forever for a reason.

Nancy Updike

They'd been forbidden to show the world outside North Korea.

Paul Fischer

They showed people things that they hadn't been able to see almost in a lifetime for some people in North Korea by 1983, 1984. And the second that film started playing in cinemas in North Korea, the North Korean audiences didn't take in necessarily the higher production values.

All they could talk about was the first 10, 15 minutes shot on the streets of Prague where, OK, wait, the buildings look amazing. People are walking into businesses. They're all dressed differently. There's cars. What?

That's what really had an impact, because up until then they had been told, you are the luckiest people in the world. The Worker's Paradise is the only place in the world where people have peace and freedom. And suddenly they saw that that wasn't true.

Nancy Updike

How do you know that that's what people thought?

Paul Fischer

I was lucky enough to meet and speak to people who'd escaped from North Korea who were at varying ages at the time that they were able to watch these films. And there's another German researcher in Japan now called Johannes Schonherr who's done quite a lot of talking to defectors about the same thing. And one of the things that's fascinating is that Shin and Choi's films had a huge impact straightaway. There would have been people in their late 30s who'd never seen anything of the outside world that hadn't been filtered.

But it wasn't just that people suddenly were able to see footage of the outside world. But Shin and Choi made a film called Love, Love, My Love, which was literally the first love story in North Korean culture post 1945 that wasn't about love of the leader or love the party. It was literally the first time people were able to go to the cinema, and see something that was about two people falling in love. And it was the first time teenagers had pictures on their wall of a matinee idol, of anybody other than the leaders.

Nancy Updike

Shin directed seven films for Kim Jong-il. And then in March 1986, he and Choi went to a hotel in Vienna for some film business, managed to grab a separate taxi from their North Korean minders, sped to the US Embassy, and ran in. They were debriefed by the CIA, and later by South Korean intelligence. And they were interviewed by The Washington Post and other media outlets.

And stories about North Korea are always hard to fact check. For parts of Shin and Choi's story, their recollections, their interpretations are all there is. But the movies exist. The recording of Kim exists.

Kim Jong-il had told Shin and Choi in the recording that when people ask them why they were in North Korea, they should say freedom, for true artistic freedom. For Shin, there was some bitter truth to that, because South Korea, at the time Shin and Choi were kidnapped, had been a military dictatorship with very heavy-handed censors.

Shin's studio had been shut down by the South Korean government in 1975. His career was in ruins. In North Korea, Shin got to make films again. He wrote unabashedly in his autobiography how much he had loved making movies there.

Paul Fischer

Shin always spoke of North Korea as the place he associated film freedom with and creative freedom with, because he could ask for anything and get it. In one episode, he asked for a model train to blow up for a scene, and he was given a real train packed with explosives on rails to blow up if he wanted to.

And if he asked for a wind machine, he was sent helicopters. And if he wanted fake snow, everybody was flown to a mountain. There was no expense spared.

Kim Jong-il felt like the larger than life film producer that you hear about. And he didn't have the downside that a film producer usually has, because a film producer usually has to say no every now and then. We don't have enough money. We don't have enough time.

Nancy Updike

Shin and Choi had remarried in North Korea at Kim Jong-il's suggestion. And it ended up being a real marriage. They were together until Shin died in 2006. They seemed to have been each other's big love in life, besides movies. Although Shin loved movies more than Choi did, maybe a lot more.

Paul Fischer

In their shared memoir of their time in North Korea, it goes from his voice to her voice, back and forth. And kind of the second they start making films, her voice kind of disappears entirely. And it's all his from then on. And it's about escaping, but in equal measure it's about making the films, almost as if he's writing a memoir of his time in Hollywood or something.

Nancy Updike

Choi's 88 years old, living in South Korea. When Paul was researching his book, he interviewed her for it. And he asked her about Shin and the movies they made in North Korea.

Paul Fischer

And when I met her and spoke to her, you could sense the impatience that if she had been able to get out of there three years earlier and not made any of the films, she would have been very happy to do so.

Nancy Updike

And him not so much.

Paul Fischer

And him not so much.

Nancy Updike

Even great love can't protect you from the other person wanting what they want.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike is one of the producers of our show. Paul Fischer's book about all this is called A Kim Jong-il Production. Coming up, people sharing beds-- actual beds-- with very different dreams. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two. Smell You Later.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, "Same Bed, Different Dreams." We have stories of people who are bound closely together. They are stuck with each other, but with very different hopes and goals. We have arrived at Act Two, of our program, Act Two, "Smell You Later."

There are all kinds of work situations where people very literally share an actual bed so they can do their jobs. These are people who share a bed that they are not ever in at the same time. This happens in lots of places. It has different names-- shift beds, hot cheating, hot bedding.

Flight attendants do this. The flight attendant, Jill, who you heard at the top of the program, used to sleep in an apartment in New York with bunk beds that she shared with a bunch of airline people. Guys who work on oil rigs and oil fields do it too.

Man

Basically the only rules that we had was basically we had to swap out sheets every time that we're going to go to our shift. Swap out your sheets and put my sheets.

Ira Glass

This guy works in Carlsbad, New Mexico. When he and a friend first moved there two years ago to do fracking, to save money, they rented this small RV, just like 15 feet long, one bed in it.

He worked nights. His friend worked days. They had a rule to always shower before getting in the bed.

Man

The sheets, my friend's always been real picky on that. He always had the color blue. I always liked red sheets, something bright. So every time that I'd leave, he always had my red sheets on. Every time that I'd leave, I'd always put his blue sheets on.

And plus, we never got the same sheets, because we never wanted to be mixed up and stuff. That'd be pretty messed up. I'd be smelling him, and he'd be smelling me and stuff.

Ira Glass

Migrant workers also have these shift beds in some places in farms around the country. In New York, the main agricultural product is milk. There are 5,000 dairy farms in the state, and lots of them operate 24/7, so shift beds are common.

Stephanie Foo went to see the shift beds at one of those farms.

Stephanie Foo

I didn't see any cows on the farm. And more surprising, I didn't smell them. Instead, there were just sweet smelling bales of hay in a field with three mobile homes on it. Mexican music was blasting out of the closest one.

My interpreter, Antonia, and I knock on the door. And as soon as we step inside, the stench of manure is overpowering from a few mud-caked boots in the corner.

It's a two-bedroom trailer with holes in the floor and black mold growing in the cabinets, and clutter everywhere, roaches, and jars of Nescafe and sugar and cans of beans, Coronas. It's 7:00 PM, and we're there during the shift change.

There are four or five guys milling around, all Mexican, all undocumented. Some are just getting home, and others, like this one guy, Jose, are just making up for work. Jose's shy, but he smiles a lot. He shows Antonia and me where he sleeps.

Stephanie Foo

Oh, wow. There's a bed in the bathroom.

Jose lifts up the bed's mattress and a wooden plank underneath, knocking over a jar of change, and--

Stephanie Foo

Oh. Are you in the bathtub?

Jose

Si. [SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

He joked that if he wanted to take a bath, he could just lift up his bed and get in. His bed is a wooden plank placed over the tub. There are a couple of pillows shoved over the faucet, so that the knobs don't turn and flood the tub while he's sleeping. It's happened before.

Including the bathtub bed, there are a total of seven beds in the two-bedroom mobile home. Sometimes up to 13 people live here and share the seven beds, sleeping in shifts. Jose explained how it works. No, there are no alarm clocks. No need for them.

When you get off work, you find someone who has an opposite shift from you, and you wake them up so you can take their bad.

Jose

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

Jose says, OK, I get here at 4:00 AM, and my friend is sleeping. And I tap him on his blanket, and it goes like this.

Jose

[SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

Who is it?

Jose

[SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

Me, Jose.

Jose

[SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

It's 5:00. It's 5:00. It's 5:00. And they try to go back to sleep. Let me sleep. And I say, it's 5:00. It's 5:00. It's 5:00. And they say, OK, OK. It's 5:00.

Then I get ready for bed. He wakes up and says, OK, see you later. I'll wake you later.

Stephanie Foo

And does it feel strange and intimate? Or did it at first when you had to share a bed with somebody?

Jose

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

Jose says, yes, of course, yeah. You're used to coming to work. And suddenly someone else comes and sleeps in your bed, in your blankets. You should see. It's weird. You flip your pillow over each time.

Jose

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

But you get used to it, to everyone's smells. We become friends. You know that if he showers, it's fine, but if not, I understand.

Jose

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

Because sometimes you don't get back until 7:00 or 6:00, and there's no time to shower. I'm understanding of that, and he should be too. It's fine. I mean, you get used to it, really.

Jose

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

That's what everyone kept telling me, you get used to it-- to the hours, to the work, to everyone else rummaging around in your space. You get used to it.

Jose and Antonio work seven days a week, 16 hours three days a week, eight hours the other four, no overtime. I talked to a guy who's worked closely with many farms across the state, and he described the pay and living conditions at the farm we were at as, quote, "slightly below average."

Jose says it's not that bad. He says other farms he's lived at have been worse. At one, the roof leaked onto the beds. And it was so crowded that he'd try to sleep standing up.

At another, he couldn't sleep, because he was afraid that a drunk, violent roommate would beat him up in the middle of the night. Here, they get along. If someone wants to bring his girlfriend over, the rest of them all cram into the other bedroom, even sleep together in one bed so that guy can have a room to himself.

But mostly, they're not too concerned about privacy. As I squeezed passed piles of other people's toiletries and clothes and sheets, and condom wrappers all over the floor, I was reminded of what a luxury it is to ever feel like you have a space that's all yours.

Here, at any given moment, somebody might be in the next room bumping the Black Eyed Peas off YouTube and singing at the top of their lungs.

Antonio

(SINGING) Here we go. Here we go. We gonna rock, rock, rock. Easy come. Easy go.

Stephanie Foo

This is a guy named Antonio singing. He got really excited at this part, because he knew the days of the week in English.

Antonio

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

(SINGING) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Friday--

Stephanie Foo

Well, most of the days. All this is bearable because it's temporary. They do this a few years, then move home.

And Antonio tells me he makes more in one day here than he would in a whole week in Mexico, and sends it all back. One man says he actually owns his own farm in Mexico, with his own workers, and that he's working here to be able to expand it.

Many guys have built businesses. One is putting two kids through college. Jose says he bought a big house for his girlfriend in Mexico.

Another man puts it best. He says, every head is its own world. I come for my dreams, and he comes for his.

One of the things Antonio-- the guy who was singing-- dreams about is his bed, his future bed. He can picture exactly what his bedroom in Mexico will look like once he's finished building it.

Antonio

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

With a sturdy red floor, that's a color I like. The bedrooms each have a bathroom.

Antonio

[SPANISH] with internet, [SPANISH], Netflix.

Stephanie Foo

What size bed do you want? And is it firm, or is it soft?

Antonio

King size, no? [SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

King sized waterbed. It's the best, no?

Antonio

[SPEAKING SPANISH].

Stephanie Foo

That's why we're here. Antonio cracks another Corona. It's getting late for him. He has to get up in six hours for his shift.

I shake his hand, but before I go, I notice that I don't smell the manure anymore. I haven't smelled it in a while, actually. The air seems cold and fresh. They're right. You really can get used to the smell.

Ira Glass

Stephanie Foo is one of the producers of our program.

Act Three. The Haunter Becomes the Haunted.

Ira Glass

Act Three, "The Haunted Becomes the Haunter." This next story is about two women who aren't sleeping in the same bed. They're kind of inhabiting the same body, in a way, with very different dreams. Miki Meek tells what happened.

Miki Meek

Jessamyn Lovell didn't know she had a secret doppelganger until she got a phone call. Jessamyn is a photographer who teaches photography at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. And one morning, she was heading out the door for work.

Jessamyn Lovell

And I get this call, and he identified himself as Inspector Crudo from the San Francisco Police Department Financial Crimes Unit. And he immediately asked me, do you know a woman named Erin Colleen Hart? And I said no, and why?

And he said, well, did you ever give her your identification, your New Mexico State driver's license, or any other identification? And I said, no, no. I don't know her. And what is this about? And I immediately thought of my wallet being stolen a year and a half prior at this gallery in San Francisco.

Miki Meek

She never got it back, and assumed it was gone for good. But now this police inspector was telling her that a woman named Erin Hart had just been busted using Jessamyn's driver's license, trying to check into a San Francisco hotel.

Jessamyn Lovell

Then he, said, look, I'll send you a police report. She's in police custody right now.

Miki Meek

And she was in police custody because she had been trying to use your ID?

Jessamyn Lovell

Yeah, exactly. I don't know, I just kind of thought, that sucks that that happened, and that's that, and whatever.

Miki Meek

But then about a week after that, it became clear that Jessamyn's license had been used at more places than just the hotel. A collections agency demanded payment from Jessamyn for $500 worth of goods from a Whole Foods store. Unpaid parking tickets and toll evasions also started showing up in her mailbox. And then the rental car company, Hertz, began hounding her for thousands of dollars in charges.

Jessamyn Lovell

I figured out and added it up, and it was all, like, three different cars that she had rented. So one she just returned. Another one she had clearly damaged. And another one, the boot had been put on it, and there were tickets, and whatever. I knew I had not rented these cars, and yet they would not believe me. [CHUCKLES] They would not believe me.

Miki Meek

She was spending all her time on the phone and email, trying to tell them and other places that she'd been a victim of identity theft. And then Jessamyn got a summons to appear in court from Alameda County Court in Oakland. The charge against her was petty theft.

Jessamyn Lovell

So I was really freaked out. This must be connected to her, this woman, Erin Hart.

Miki Meek

So she bought a plane ticket on a credit card and flew to Oakland. Once Jessamyn got there, she sat around in a courtroom all morning, waiting to be called up.

Jessamyn Lovell

I was getting more and more ramped up. It felt like a lot of people were getting taken away.

Miki Meek

Until she was finally the last person in the room.

Jessamyn Lovell

And then the judge asked me, are you the one that sent this big pile of papers in to me? And I was like, yes. Those are all the documents. She's like, OK. I'm going to look through them really quickly here.

Miki Meek

OK, what was in there again?

Jessamyn Lovell

All of the Hertz stuff, and then the police report, just to show, believe me, this isn't the only thing. There's all this other stuff going on.

Miki Meek

The judge dismissed the case but told Jessamyn she should get the charge expunged so it wouldn't appear on background checks, which was going to be a whole other hassle. She walked out of the courtroom, and she was still completely worked up.

How much was this going to cost her? Who was this woman? And what else had she done posing as Jessamyn?

Jessamyn Lovell

I thought immediately, I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I'm going to figure this out. I want to know what it was she did. I want to know how she got my ID. I wanted to find her. I wanted to find her.

Miki Meek

This is where Jessamyn's story changes from a garden variety identity theft case to something stranger. She had a photocopy of Erin Hart's driver's license in the file she took to court. So she pulled it out and looked at the home address listed on it.

Jessamyn Lovell

I had enough drive, just adrenaline, that I was like, I'm going there, just like, I'm doing this thing.

Miki Meek

And what was the thing that you were thinking you were going to do?

Jessamyn Lovell

I don't know. I mean, I seriously-- I wish I could tell you I had a plan and I had something I was going to say, and I just didn't. And I remember thinking, well, I want to park close enough that I can run and get into my car if I have to. [LAUGHS] I'm not even kidding, I really did think that.

It was this huge, huge, huge, huge, huge apartment building. And I got in. Someone went in, and I just snuck in after them. I'm going in. I know her apartment number. I'm going to go in.

And so I'm walking through the halls, and I'd found the apartment. I just went up to it and knocked on it. And no one answered the door. And then I'm relieved. And I'm like, OK, well, I have to leave. And then I photographed the door, maybe one of the most boring pictures ever taken in my life.

Miki Meek

Wait, why? Like why take a picture?

Jessamyn Lovell

I almost wanted just to have the evidence for myself that you went there, you did this. Almost like, I mean, I don't want to overstate it, but like a tourist's documents. I kind of felt like I needed to have this pin drop there. I know it sounds crazy in hindsight. It kind of does sound a little weird in hindsight.

Miki Meek

Jessamyn also went to the Hertz counter in San Francisco, where three cars were rented in her name, and the Whole Foods in Berkeley where she had a $500 debt, and Hotel Vitale. That's where Erin Hart got arrested trying to check in with her license. Walking in, Jessamyn saw that it was the type of hotel she'd never be able to stay at.

Jessamyn Lovell

And I was not prepared for how fancy this place was going to be. Right away, coming in the door, they had wine, or they had tea. And the hotel staff immediately asked me if they could help me.

And as soon as I said this woman had tried to check in here with my ID, the guy knew. And actually, he said that usually when this happens-- and I was like, oh, this happens a lot? And he's like, yes. And when that happens, we ask them to leave, and they leave. And he said, this woman didn't leave.

Miki Meek

The manager knew Erin was a fraud, because she got Jessamyn's name wrong when she checked in. She had a beautifully groomed Persian cat with her, and was standing in the lobby insisting that the license was hers. That's when the manager decided to call the police.

Jessamyn Lovell

So they arrested her, and they took her away. And the cat was just left there with her stuff. And they were like, well, I guess we'll have to call animal humane. And then she came a couple days later-- she was released-- and asked for her cat at the hotel.

And they said, well, I'm sorry. We sent her to-- and she was really upset that the cat wasn't there. That definitely was the first moment where I had any kind of sympathy for her. And they gave her the number for animal humane. And then she left. Now when I went to animal humane.

Miki Meek

Wait, you went to animal humane to also track down the cat?

Jessamyn Lovell

Well, to see if she had been there. And nobody knew anything about her or the cat. And so I just, OK, and I just left. And then I photographed the outside.

Miki Meek

So Jessamyn goes home to New Mexico. But she just can't let this go. She's still dealing with the fallout, fighting with Hertz and a few other places over bills. And she decides to do a bunch of things that most of us would not do.

First, Jessamyn sends a letter to Erin's address saying, basically, I know what you did, and here's what it's done to me. She includes an invoice for $1,200, the total cost of her round trip flight to California combined with an hourly rate for her time.

And then months later, Jessamyn finds herself back in San Francisco for work. And she picks up Erin's trail again. She has a list of old addresses Erin had lived at, maybe 20 of them, that she got from a private investigator.

And she starts going from place to place, visiting Erin's old apartments. At one point, Jessamyn pulls up to this gorgeous building overlooking the Bay Bridge. At the time, Jessamyn was seven months pregnant, and she thinks, well, maybe I can use this to my advantage.

Jessamyn Lovell

I went to the front desk, the security officer. And I was like, hey, as you can see, I'm pregnant. I really have to go to the bathroom. I'm looking for my cousin, Erin Hart. But I need to use the restroom first. Do you mind?

And she was like, Erin Hart? Yeah, I know her. She used to live here. The woman actually knew her boyfriend at the time.

She's like, now I don't know for sure, and it's just gossip, but I had heard that she had had several thousand dollars of his possessions or whatever that she took off with and never came back. And I was like, oh wow. OK, jeez. You know. And she's like, well, you know Erin, or whatever. And I was like, oh yeah, totally.

Miki Meek

Erin's old boyfriend didn't live there anymore. So Jessamyn took a few pictures inside the building and then moved on to the other addresses. All of them were dead ends.

Miki Meek

I mean, is there any part of you that is kind of feeling like a creep?

Jessamyn Lovell

I knew it was cra-- like, I knew that it was not healthy. I did know that. But I could not let it go as just something someone did to me that I had no control over.

Miki Meek

Jessamyn hates feeling like she's lost control. And whenever it happens, ever since she was a teenager, she's dealt with it the same sort of way.

When she was around 11, her dad abandoned the family, her mom and her three younger siblings. Then they lost their house. And for a while, they all lived in a van with her cat and dog. Her dad, he did some pretty extreme things.

Jessamyn Lovell

My dad tried to have me kidnapped.

Miki Meek

He tried to kidnap you or sent someone?

Jessamyn Lovell

He tried to have someone come and kidnap me at my school, and then again later in a park. And my family, we ended up going for some time up to Canada so that he couldn't find us.

Miki Meek

Later, Jessamyn's mom got really sick. And suddenly she found herself taking care of her entire family. At some point, as a way to deal with all the chaos, she started taking pictures, things like an ambulance driving her mom away, screaming matches between her sisters, trash strewn all over their trailer home.

She'd methodically document what she was going through. And it gave her a sense of control. She continued to use her camera that way as an adult. At one point, eight years ago, she had a brief scare that reminded her of her dad, a random incident where she wondered if he was following her again.

Jessamyn Lovell

From that night on, I had it in my head I wanted to find him. But I didn't want to find him and talk to him.

Miki Meek

What's the thing that you wanted?

Jessamyn Lovell

I wanted to see him. I wanted to first just find him. I just wanted to know if I could find him, so I did. I did a bunch of searching and background checks and Google stuff. And he was about three and a half hours north of where I lived.

Miki Meek

Jessamyn was living in Oakland at the time. And her dad was just north of her, living in a condo on the Mendocino coast. She started making covert trips up there.

And she never knew how to explain this to her friends. So she kept it simple and told them, oh, I'm going to spend the weekend with my dad, which technically was true. It's just that she did it wearing a blonde wig, and from a distance.

Jessamyn Lovell

Well, I had a telephoto lens and was really far away. I was like out in the woods. I could get a mile or so away if I needed to.

Miki Meek

What did you see?

Jessamyn Lovell

He was on the deck. He was out for a walk. He would go to the gym, taking out the trash.

Miki Meek

And he never saw you?

Jessamyn Lovell

No, no.

Miki Meek

When you were stalking your dad, or you were following your dad?

Jessamyn Lovell

I was observing him from a distance.

Miki Meek

Observing him. And so what did that feel like?

Jessamyn Lovell

It felt really good to see him, and him not know I was there.

Miki Meek

Because why?

Jessamyn Lovell

Because I had some knowledge about who he was and what he was doing. It was like a one-way mirror. I could see in, and he couldn't see me, you know. And it felt like I had some kind of power.

Miki Meek

I don't know much about the identity theft business. But I'm guessing that the ideal target does not own a camera that can photograph you from a mile away. Two years after Jessamyn got that phone call from the police, she was still trying to track Erin down. And in February 2013, her private investigator let her know that he found Erin. She was back in jail and about to be released.

Jessamyn went with him to a jail in downtown San Francisco. She brought a telephoto lens and a video camera. And the two of them sat around in his SUV for hours, waiting. Her PI had a contact who told him Erin might come out the back.

Pete

She's going to come out the back here soon.

Jessamyn Lovell

Hopefully. One by one, people were coming out. And the entire time, I'm just like photographing. I had this lens pointed at the door. And terrified that she's not going to come out, she's not going to come out. We're not going to find her. And we see her.

Pete

Here she comes.

Jessamyn Lovell

Here she comes. Is that her?

Pete

Yep.

Jessamyn Lovell

Yes, that's her.

Pete

[INAUDIBLE]. OK, we got her.

Miki Meek

Erin Hart walked right past their car. She had a couple bags hanging off her shoulder. And she was dressed, Jessamyn thought, like she was going to a nightclub-- tight black shirt, shiny pants, and wedge boots.

Jessamyn Lovell

Immediately I thought, oh my gosh, we do kind of look similar. She was a similar build to me, which is sort of tallish, 5' 7", 5' 8", but fuller figured, wider hips. And I could see that she had a roundish face, like I do.

And she has this bright orange hair. And I just thought of my days in my teenage years dying my hair that exact orange, this super bright orange. And I just felt this uncanny connection to her. I really did. And then from there on, for the next several hours, was just, you know, adrenaline.

Nate

She's on foot. She's on foot.

Pete

Let me call Jerel and tell him.

Miki Meek

They had two other PIs working with them in a separate car. They all trailed Erin, whose first stop was a convenience store, where she went in to buy cigarettes and a lighter. She hung outside for a few minutes smoking, and then got on a public bus.

Jessamyn Lovell

(WHISPERING) Where is she going?

Pete

She's going to Goodwill.

Miki Meek

Erin got off right in front of a Goodwill store and walked in.

Jessamyn Lovell

Right away, Pete says, jump out and go in there. Go after here. And I was like, oh, should I talk to her? You know, I'm thinking, oh, OK.

He's like, no, no, no. Don't talk to her. Just go in, get your photographs. Get a good look at her. Just go, go, go. And so I'm jumping out, like freaking out, like, oh my god. He's just leaving me here with her. Like, what do I-- and then I see Nate and Jerel in there.

Miki Meek

The other PIs.

Jessamyn Lovell

Yeah. I'm like, OK. So I'm looking at them for cues. And they're not remotely giving me any kind of cues. And then I just go for it, and I go up to her, and I don't say anything to her. I just stand right across the rack of clothes in the Goodwill from her as she's going through, pulling clothes out, looking, changing her mind, very expressive. Like, oh, no, I would never wear that. I could kind of hear in my mind what she might be thinking from her expression.

And I'm at an angle where I feel like she can't really tell what I'm doing, like maybe I'm just checking my email or something, and I'm just looking at my phone. And I take some photos of her.

Miki Meek

But how nervous are you? I mean, literally, now you're face to face.

Jessamyn Lovell

I'm shaking. I'm very nervous, definitely. And I think there's a part of me that is still thinking, I could just talk to her right now. Erin. Hey, Erin. Like I could just say that.

I could hear myself saying, Erin Hart, I know you probably don't recognize me. I know you don't know me. But I am Laurel Jessamyn Lovell. And you used my ID to do a number of things.

But the power for me was in seeing her without her knowing that I was seeing her. And then she disappears into the dressing room. And that's when the other PI comes over to me and says she's stealing clothes. And I was like, what?

I just needed to get out of there. I was overwhelmed. I was feeling really sad for her. And I didn't want to feel sad for her. I wanted to feel angry at her.

Miki Meek

It was hard to maintain the anger, because she was looking at Erin and remembering things she'd done when she was young and her family was broke.

Jessamyn Lovell

I had shoplifted nice cheese, or I literally stole arugula, things that I thought and associated with class, middle to upper middle class. And I think that's what really was giving me this sympathy for Erin Hart was I could identify, in a way, with the desire to be someone else.

I could see how a path in my life could have led to my being in that moment. I really could. But it was, I guess, a little disappointing. I guess it was a little like, oh, I kind of wanted it to be like she was a criminal and did something bad to me.

And it just wasn't that. None of that satisfaction of I got her. It was just this weird transition. And anger was starting to be sort of replaced with empathy.

Miki Meek

What Jessamyn did next doesn't sound empathetic at all when you first hear about it. But for Jessamyn, it was the logical end of her search. She went through the hundreds of images she'd taken, and she put together a gallery exhibit. It had surveillance shots of Erin, the court summons, police reports, bills, and pictures of places where her ID had been used.

She had done this once before with the surveillance photos she took of her dad. In fact, her wallet was stolen while she was setting up that exhibit, which is what sent her down the rabbit hole of trying to find Erin in the first place. She called the new show, "Dear Erin Hart."

And one of the items on display was a sealed letter in a Plexiglas box. She asked the people at the gallery to give it to Erin if she ever showed up there. It wasn't a dramatic letter, just a way of telling Erin that she'd been looking for her and wanted to talk.

Jessamyn didn't see putting Erin's name and photos out in public as revenge. But not everyone saw it that way.

News Reporter

If you were a victim of identity theft, would you consider tracking down the thief and turning the tables?

Miki Meek

This is from the Today Show.

News Reporter

In an act some have described as revenge, Lovell followed and photographed the woman who stole her wallet, and then her identity.

Miki Meek

I reached out to Erin Hart through her probation officer to talk about all this. I sent a couple emails listing everything Jessamyn says about her. But Erin never got back to me. So I couldn't verify whether she was responsible for bills Jessamyn got from Hertz and Whole Foods, or any of the unpaid parking tickets and tolls, or whether she shoplifted from Goodwill or stole from her boyfriend.

So Erin secretly posed as Jessamyn. And Jessamyn secretly photographed Erin. Jessamyn admits it's an uncomfortable thing that they have in common. Each of them is willing to invade someone else's privacy to get what they want.

Act Four. Overnight Flight.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek is one of the producers of our show. We thought we would end today's program where we began, on an airplane. At some point in putting together this week's show, it occurred to us that an overnight flight really is just like this huge bed with hundreds of people all together, dreaming different dreams.

And we asked people on two different flights like this to tell us their dreams, and their daydreams, and their hopes and dreams. One of our staff was actually on a red eye flight herself and got on the plane's PA system to explain the premise.

Stephanie Foo

May I have your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen? My name is Stephanie Foo.

Ira Glass

Somehow, now, being on the PA system, she started talking like a flight attendant.

Stephanie Foo

I am doing a story about this flight.

Ira Glass

David Weinberg and Jessica Ament recorded people as well. Here are some of them.

Man

I was dreaming about old fashioned TV antennas. And then at one point, I felt like I was shaking. And I was sure it was because the plane was shaking. But I was trying to adjust the antenna.

Woman

I was dreaming about I was in a hot air balloon. And I was yelling for my dog, hey, Katie, I'm up here.

Man

Sitting there, semi-lucid, I was thinking of the horned puffins swimming underwater, and how the little bubbles come out of their feathers when they're swimming. And then I thought of them as going along in space and creating stars, and then diving into the center of the galaxy.

Jessica Ament

That's really trippy.

Man

Yeah.

Jessica Ament

Were you medicated at all?

Man

No, not at all. [LAUGHS]

Woman

I had a total nightmare. I was backing down a hill out of a garage with a friend in a VW bus. And we lost control of it and went down the hill. And my friend turned to me and said, you know, I will never forgive you for this.

Woman

Everybody says, why would you want to go to New York? Ew, it's so big. And why? You know, and I'm like, because you see all these things on television. I've always wanted to experience a cab ride in New York City. We're going to do it all. We're going to do it all.

Man

My daughter's about to have a baby. So I don't know if dream's exactly the right word, but a lot of hopes. It's her first baby, my first grandbaby. Just to put it simply, I definitely didn't live up to my responsibility as her father.

And I had not been a regular part of her life up until she was nine. I blew it. So I'm definitely not going to make the same mistakes that I made with her. I feel like I've been given a second chance.

[MUSIC - "SAME BED, DIFFERENT DREAMS," BY JOHN HOWARD]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Zoe Chace and me with Sean Cole, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Brian Reed, Joe Richman, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike.

Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Editing help from Joel Lovell. Production help from Simon Adler. Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our office manager. Elna Baker scouts stories for our show. Research help from Michelle Harris and Christopher Swetala. Music help from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia, who, of course, stopped by the office. He's wearing the same outfit today he wears every single day.

Jessamyn Lovell

Tight black shirt, shiny pants, wedge boots.

Ira Glass

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

[MUSIC - "ONLY IN MY DREAMS," BY DEBBIE GIBSON]