Transcript

57:

Delivery
Transcript

Originally aired 03.14.1997

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/57

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Each night, the planes start coming in at 11:00, one after another, a massive airlift of cargo like you'd see at wartime.

Ron Nichols

You can see, actually, there are two runways out there. You've got one on the left and the right. And you've got an aircraft fixing to touchdown on the-- looks like on the right. You've got one coming up right behind it, about 15 seconds behind it that's fixing to land on the left. It's rush hour here at FedEx.

Ira Glass

The planes land every 45 seconds or so for two hours, 130 jets here at the Memphis hub of Federal Express. 1.2 million pieces of cargo are unloaded, slid down ramps and conveyor belts, scanned and sorted and rerouted and rescanned by 8,500 people, under lights, in the middle of the night. And three hours after they start, the packages are packed onto planes to their destinations, and the airlift out of Memphis begins. It's frantic.

Meanwhile, somewhere, probably sleeping, are hundreds of thousands of Americans in one big, big hurry to get their stuff delivered to them on time, in one day. In the middle of the Memphis airport, come midnight, we look like one very anxious nation.

Everywhere around the Federal Express hub, there are television screens with two times on them. One is the current time. The other is the time that the sort will go down, that is, the time that they hope that they will stop taking in new packages. All the planes will be in, all the packages will go in. If everything goes perfectly, good weather, no maintenance problems, the sort goes down at 2:07. And for every minute they go over 2:07, the cost per minute?

Ron Nichols

Last I heard, it was over $100,000 a minute.

Ira Glass

That's employee costs, extra flights to get packages where they'll need to go, refunds to customers whose packages were delayed because the sort went late. They guy who explained this to me, Ron Nichols, is 31, and he sits in the hot seat himself. A few nights a week, he's the one who determines when the sort goes down.

If a plane with 50,000 packages is going to be late, should he hold the sort? How long? In 10 minutes, this 31-year-old can cost Federal Express $1 million. He likes the pressure.

Ron Nichols

It's a nirvana. Almost around 1:45, you get an ultimate enlightenment because you see everything. You see the big picture, exactly what's going on everywhere. And as the adrenaline kicks in, especially if you're in the hot seat, you have to make that decision as to whether or not you feel that you're going to make a 2:07. It is a rush. It's a rush because you're up against the wall, the clock is ticking, and if you make the wrong decision, it's going to cost.

Ira Glass

One thing that's interesting about the delivery business is that it isn't just people who are on the top of the whole operation, like this guy, who thrive on the pressure and hit this kind of euphoria. Even at the very bottom, you meet people like this. Tabitha Tate, for example. She stands in a row of a dozen people who do what's called the secondary sort for belt two.

I have to say, when you wander around FedEx, they're constantly telling you things like, OK, here's the secondary sort, and here's where the matrix begins, and here's the other matrix. All the names of the buildings are like the hub, and the super hub, and the mega hub, and the ultra hub. Anyway so Tabitha Tate stands there, and she has memorized 700 FedEx destination codes. And she stands by a bin of packages, and she grabs one with her left hand and one with her right. And she barely glances at them as she pitches them into 10 different destination slots faster than you would think is humanly impossible.

Ira Glass

So what do you think about while you're doing this?

Tabitha Tate

I don't just really think about anything. It's like a flow. You kind of feel it. You know what I'm saying? You already know where it goes. You don't have to think about it. You just go. And then I'm able to sort more than 47 packages per minute, which we're required to sort.

Ira Glass

How many per minute?

Tabitha Tate

47.

Ira Glass

How many do you sort?

Tabitha Tate

60.

Ira Glass

And is it sort of a macho thing, where you guys will like, who's faster, who's slower?

Tabitha Tate

Yeah. Sometimes we try to compete with each other.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, Deliveries. Act One, Speed. A few words from somebody who has cut you off in traffic and laughed. Act Two, Who You Meet. A short story by Junot Diaz about delivering pool tables.

Act Three, the world premiere of a new radio drama by David Sedaris. It's kind of a radio experiment. We gave him a sound effects record and this challenge, to create a radio play using only the effects on this one record and using all the effects on the record. We hear what he came up with. Act Four, Check Out The Package On That Guy. An investigation into whether UPS men actually do have sex with the customers on their route. Act Five, an unhappy customer gets a phone call from the CEO of Federal Express and still keeps his personal boycott going of the company. Stay with us.

Act One. Speed.

Ira Glass

Act One, Speed. Well, on the street, as a delivery worker, you're mostly alone, you're moving fast from place to place, and you spend a lot of time, basically, in your own head. And some people play little games on the job. They set little challenges for themselves. And just like there's a euphoria for the people who are under so much pressure at Federal Express in the middle of the night, there's this euphoria to moving through traffic and racing the clock to get your stuff where it's supposed to go. Tony Starbucks delivered produce in San Francisco. At his job, he used to wake up at 2:30 every morning, get stoned on the loading dock with the other drivers, and head out.

Tony Starbucks

Everybody had their own routes. And there were sort of expected times that you would finish your routes in. And part of the reasons why we had so many accidents, especially me, was because I was obsessed with doing my route faster than anybody else. And I would literally shave-- I think when I first started the route, I shaved an hour off of-- so instead of doing it in three hours, I would do it in two hours.

But along the way, I would wipe out people's cars. I wouldn't talk to the clients. I would drop off the potatoes, and they would try to engage me in a conversation, and all I could think about is, "Let me just get the hell out of here and get on my way."

The way I would shave the time is I ran a lot of red lights. I would drive 65 miles an hour down a city street. It got to the point though where I realized that after, whatever, a year of driving that I was getting into increments of 1 minute, 30 seconds. Literally, I would drive 100 miles an hour into the loading bay, slam on the brakes, and look at the clock.

I remember one day driving along 50 miles an hour down this street. And I see it's a two lane, one-way street. And I see in the right-hand lane about two blocks ahead of me just your nondescript, white rental car just going along and can't decide if they want to go right or left. And two blocks away from them, I go, "If I really wanted to, I could slow down right now because I know they're going to do something really stupid."

But then there was this part of me that said, "Well, the hell with that. I am on my route. I have to do what I have to do." And of course, as I got within 20 feet of them, they decided to turn left from the right lane, right in front of me.

I completely totaled their car. And my first reaction was to get out of the car, and I wanted to yell at them. It wasn't like, "You could have prevented this. You saw this coming." But it was like, "You have now slowed me down. You've screwed up my whole day."

And really, if it wasn't for this group of PG&E workers, electrical workers, working on the street out there who saw this and somehow decided that I was in the right-- because I guess it was like this blue collar bonding thing, like, "He's a truck driver. There is no way these people in this rent-a-car can be right."-- I think I would have really gotten into trouble because I obviously was speeding like a maniac. I sort of walked through my whole job that way except the time I ran into the Bank of America building.

You're in this very surreal world. Nobody else is up. You're bombing down the streets. I think that's part of the problem. When all of a sudden people appear on the streets, you're like, "Look, I've been on the streets already for three hours. Just get out of my way."

You knew when the record was beatable because you would be halfway through your route, and, let's say, you'd done it in 45 minutes. And you knew that if you just gave it a little extra energy that you could get through the day. But I remember one day, OK, I was halfway through my route, and there was this woman in front of me at this intersection. And the light turned yellow, and she slowed down.

And she really could have gone through the yellow light. And I could have gone through, and it would have been perfect. And I had all the lights timed. And she slowed down. And I was sitting in my truck, and I lost it.

And I lost it to the point where before the light turned green, I put it in neutral-- I was on a slight hill-- and I just sort of bumped her. And then immediately, the minute I bumped her, this huge guilt washed over me. And I'm like, "OK, that was violent. OK, it's one thing to be screaming and yelling in your truck, listening to Motorhead. It's another thing to physically violate somebody like that." So then I realized, OK, I crossed some line that I guess you just shouldn't cross.

The psychology, I think, of the delivery driver is that the job is so boring. And it's stressful. There's no more stressful job than driving in traffic, especially in an urban environment. And so then it all gets reduced to minutiae.

It gets reduced to this guy who's in this little car ahead of you, who somehow becomes your archenemy. And so it just creates an environment where you get very hostile and everybody is an inconvenience. And all you want to do is get from point A to point B.

Then there was the one part of delivery job which was always-- there you are. You're screaming, you're yelling, or you're just having these outbursts. And then there's the beautiful secretary walking to work with the short skirt.

And it would be like this-- all the noise would stop, and you'd just have this momentary calm. And then all of a sudden, she would disappear from view. And then you were thrust right back into the craziness of traffic and trying to get to where you're going. But that would always save the day, actually.

Ira Glass

Tony Starbucks was interviewed by Paul Tough and Dierdre Dolan in New York.

Act Two. Who You Meet.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Who You Meet. There's the game that you play in your head when you work. And they are also the worlds that your job takes you into, as you go house to house, office to office, like a spy, having little encounters with people along the way as a delivery person. This short story is by Junot Diaz about guys who deliver Gold Crowns, and Bristols, and Schmelkes, pool tables. A warning before we start that some of the language in this story might not be suitable for younger listeners.

Junot Diaz

The first time we tried to deliver the Gold Crown, the lights are on in the house, but no one lets us in. I bang on the front door, and Wayne hits the back, and I can hear our double drums shaking the windows. Right then, I have this feeling that someone is inside laughing at us. "This guy better have a good excuse," Wayne says. "This is bull [BLEEP]." "You're telling me," I say.

But Wayne's the one who takes his job too seriously. He pounds some more on the door, his face jiggling. A couple of times, he raps on the windows, tries squinting through the curtains. I take a more philosophical approach. I walk over to the ditch that's been cut next to the road, a drainage pipe half-filled with water, and sit down.

I smoke and watch a mama duck and her three ducklings scavenge the grassy bank and then float downstream like they're on the same string. "Beautiful," I say, but Wayne doesn't hear. He's banging on the door with a staple gun.

At 9:00, Wayne picks me up at the showroom. And by then, I have our route planned out. The order form tells me everything I need to know about the customers we'll be dealing with that day.

If someone is just getting a 52-inch card table delivered, then you know they aren't going to give you too much of a hassle, but they also aren't going to tip. Those are your Spotswood, Sayreville, and Perth Amboy deliveries. The pool tables go north to the rich suburbs, Livingston, Ridgewood, Bedminster. You should see our customers, doctors, diplomats, surgeons, presidents of universities, ladies in slacks and silk tops who sport thin watches you could trade in for a car.

Most of them prepare for us by laying down a path of yesterday's Washington Post from the front door to the game room. I make them pick it all up. I say, "Carajo, what if we slip? Do you know what 200 pounds of slate could do to a floor?" The threat of property damage puts the chop-chop in their step.

Sometimes the customer has to jet to the store for cat food or a newspaper while we're in the middle of a job. "I'm sure you'll be all right," they say. They never sound too sure. "Of course," I say, "just show us where the silver's at." The customers ha-ha, and we ha-ha. And then they agonize over leaving, linger by the front door, trying to memorize everything they own, as if they don't know where to find us, who we work for.

Once they're gone, I don't have to worry about anyone bothering me. I put down the ratchet, crack my knuckles, and explore, usually while Wayne is smoothing out the felt and doesn't need help. I take cookies from the kitchen, razors from the bathroom cabinets. Some of these houses have 20, 30 rooms.

On the ride back, I try to figure out how much loot it would take to fill up all that space. I've been caught roaming around plenty of times. But you'd be surprised how quickly someone believes you're looking for the bathroom if you don't jump when you're discovered, if you just say, "Hi."

After the paperwork's been signed, I have a decision to make. If the customer has been good and tipped well, we call it even and leave. If the customer has been an ass, maybe they yelled, maybe they let their kids throw golf balls at us, I ask for the bathroom. Wayne will pretend that he hasn't seen this before.

"Excuse me," I'll say. I let them show me the way to the bathroom. Usually, I already know. And once the door is shut, I cram bubble bath drops into my pockets and throw a fist-sized wad of toilet paper into the toilet. I take a dump if I can and leave that for them.

Most of the time, Wayne and I work well together. He's the driver and the money man, and I do the lifting and handle the ass [BLEEP]. Tonight, we're on our way to Lawrenceville, and he wants to talk to me about Charlene, one of the showroom girls. I haven't wanted to talk about women in months, not since the girlfriend.

"I really want to pile her," he tells me. "Maybe on one of the Madisons." "Man," I say, cutting my eyes towards him, "don't you have a wife or something?" He gets quiet.

Twice this year, Wayne's cheated on his wife, and I've heard it all, the before and the after. The last time, his wife nearly tossed his ass out to the dogs. Neither of the women seemed worth it to me. One of them was even younger than Charlene.

Wayne can be a moody guy, and this is one of those nights. He slouches in the driver's seat and swerves through traffic, riding other people's bumpers like I've told him not to do. I don't need a collision or a four-hour silent treatment, so I try to forget that I think his wife is good people and ask him if Charlene's given him any signals. He slows the truck down. "Signals like you wouldn't believe," he says.

The second time we bring the Gold Crown, the heavy curtain next to the door swings up like a Spanish fan. A woman stares at me, and Wayne's too busy knocking to see. "Muneca," I say. She's black and unsmiling, and then the curtain drops between us, a whisper on the glass.

She had on a t-shirt that said, "No problem," and didn't look like she owned the place. She looked more like the help and couldn't have been older than 20. And from the thinness of her face, I pictured the rest of her skinny. We stared at each other for a second at the most, not enough for me to notice the shape of her ears or if her lips were chapped. I've fallen in love on less. Later, in the truck on the way back to the showroom, Wayne mutters, "This guy is dead. I mean it."

The girlfriend calls sometimes, but not often. She has found herself a new boyfriend, some zangano who works at a record store. Dan is his name. And the way she says it, so painfully gringo, makes the corner of my eyes narrow. The last time I saw her in person was in Hoboken. She was with Dan, and hadn't yet told me about him, and hurried across the street in her high clogs to avoid me and my boys.

A month before the zangano, I went to her house, a friend visiting a friend. And her parents asked me how business was, as if I balanced the books or something. "Business is outstanding," I said. "That's really wonderful to hear," the father said. "You betcha."

He asked me to help him mow his lawn. And while we were dribbling gas into the tank, he offered me a job, a real one that you can build on. "Utilities," he said, "is nothing to be ashamed of."

The boss nearly kicked our asses over the Gold Crown. The customer, an ass [BLEEP] named Pruitt called up crazy, said we were delinquent. That's how the boss put it, "delinquent." We knew that's what the customer called us because the boss doesn't use words like that. "Look boss," I said, "we knocked like crazy. I mean, we knocked like federal marshals, like Paul Bunyan." The boss wasn't having it. He tore us for a good two minutes and then dismissed us.

For most of the night, I didn't think I had a job, so I hit the bars, fantasizing that I would bump into this cabron out with that black woman, while me and my boys were cranked. But the next morning, Wayne came by with the Gold Crown again. Both of us had hangovers. "One more time," he said. "An extra delivery. No overtime."

We hammered on the door for 10 minutes, but no one answered. I jimmied with the window and the back door. And I could've sworn I heard her behind the patio door. I knocked hard and heard footsteps.

We called the boss and told him what was what. And the boss called the house, but no one answered. "OK," the boss said, "Get those card tables done." That night, as we lined up the next day's paperwork, we got a call from Pruitt, and he didn't use the word "delinquent." Pruitt said he was contrite and determined and asked us to come again. His maid was sure to let us in.

We park in front of Pruitt's house and bang on the door. I give Wayne a hard look when I see no car in the garage. "Yes?" I hear a voice inside say. "We're the delivery guys," I yell. A bolt slides, a lock turns, the door opens. She stands in our way, wearing black shorts and a gloss of red on her lips, and I'm sweating.

"Come in, yes?" she stands back from the door, holding it open. "Sounds like Spanish," Wayne says. "No [BLEEP]," I say, switching over. "Do you remember me?" "No," she says.

I look over at Wayne. "Can you believe this?" "I can believe anything, kid." "You heard us, didn't you? The other day, that was you." She shrugs and opens the door wider.

"You better tell her to prop that with a chair." Wayne heads back to unlock the truck. "You hold that door," I say.

She stays in the kitchen while we work. I can hear her humming. Wayne's shaking his right hand like he's scalded his fingertips. "Yeah, she's fine."

She has her back to me, her hands stirring around in a full sink when I walk in. I try to sound conciliatory. "You're from the city?" A nod. "Where about?" "Washington Heights."

"Dominicana," I say, "Quisqueyana." She nods. "What street?" "I don't know the address," she says. "I have it written down. My mother and my brothers live there."

"I'm Dominican," I say. "You don't look it." I get a glass of water. We're both staring out at the muddy lawn.

She says, "I didn't answer the door because I wanted to make him mad." "Make who mad?" "I want to get out of here," she says. "Out of here?" "I'll pay you for a ride." "I don't think so," I say.

"Aren't you from Neuva York?" "No." "Then why did you ask the address?" "Why? I have family near there." "Would it be that big of a problem?"

I say in English that she should have her boss bring her. But she stares at me blankly. I switch over. "He's a pendejo," she says, suddenly angry. I put down the glass, move next to her to wash it.

She's exactly my height, and smells of liquid detergent, and has tiny, beautiful moles on her neck. "Here," she says, putting out her hand. But I finish it and go back to the den. "Do you know what she wants us to do?" I say to Wayne.

Wayne is sinking the bolts into the slate with the Makita. "You can't do it," he says. "Why not?" "Kid, we have to finish this."

"I'll be back before you know it. A quick trip, in, out." "Kid," he stands up slowly. He's nearly twice as old as me.

I go to the window and look out. New ginkgos stand in rows beside the driveway. A thousand years ago, when I was still in college, I learned something about them. Living fossils, unchanged since their inception millions of years ago.

"You tagged Charlene, didn't you?" "Sure did," he answers. I take the truck keys out of the toolbox. "I'll be right back," I promise.

We reach the Washington bridge without saying a word. "Is this the best way?" she asks. The bridge doesn't seem to impress her. "It's the shortest way." "That's what he said when I arrived last year. I wanted to see the countryside. There was too much rain to see anything anyway."

I want to ask her if she loves her boss, but I ask her instead, "How do you like the States?" She swings her head across the billboards. "I'm not surprised by any of it," she says.

As we cross over the bridge, I drop my hand into her lap. I leave it there, palm up, fingers slightly curled. Sometimes you just have to try even if you know it won't work. She turns her head slowly, facing out beyond the bridge cables, out to Manhattan and the Hudson.

Everything in Washington Heights is Dominican. You can't go a block without passing a Quisqueya bakery, or a Quisqueya supermercado, or a Hotel Quisqueya. If I were to park the truck and get out, nobody would take me for a delivery man. I could be the guy who was on the corner selling Dominican flags. I could be on my way home to my girl.

When we reach her block, I ask a kid with a sag for the building, and he points out the stoop with his pinkie. She gets out of the truck and straightens the front of her sweatshirt before following the line that the kid's finger has cut across the street. "Cuidate," I say.

Wayne works on the boss, and a week later, I'm back, on probation, painting the warehouse. Wayne brings me meatball sandwiches from out on the road, skinny things with a seam of cheese gumming the bread. "Was it worth it?" he asks me. He's watching me close. I tell him it wasn't.

"Did you at least get some?" "Hell, yeah," I say. "Are you sure?"

"Why would I lie about something like that? Homegirl was an animal. I still have the teeth marks." "Damn," he says.

We're back on the road a week later, Buckinghams, Imperials, Gold Crowns, and dozens of card tables. I keep a copy of Pruitt's paperwork. And when the curiosity finally gets to me, I call. The first time, I get the machine. The next two times I'm in the Bedminster area, Pruitt picks up and says, "Yes?"

But on the fourth time, she answers. And the sink is running on her side of the phone. And she shuts it off when I don't say anything. "Was she there?" Wayne asks in the trunk. "Of course she was."

He hands me the map, and my fingers trace our deliveries, stitching city to city. "Looks like we've gotten everything," I say. "Finally," he yawns. "What's first tomorrow?" We won't really know until morning when I've gotten the paperwork in order, but I take guesses anyway.

One of our games. It passes the time, gives us something to look forward to. I close my eyes and put my hand down on the map. So many towns, so many cities to choose from.

Some places are sure bets, but more than once I've gone for the long shot and been right. You can't imagine how many times I've been right. But this time, nothing comes. No magic, no nothing. It could be anywhere.

I open my eyes and see that Wayne is still waiting. "Edison," I say, pressing my thumb down. "Edison, New Jersey."

Ira Glass

Junot Diaz's story "Edison, New Jersey" is from his book Drown. Coming up, David Sedaris tries something none of us has ever heard anybody try, the real power of the UPS uniform, and more. That's in a minute when our program continues.

Act Three. World Premiere.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, invite a wide variety of writers, reporters, and performers to take a whack at that theme with radio monologues, documentaries, short fiction, and, occasionally, short radio dramas. Our program today is called Deliveries, about deliveries. And we've arrived at Act Three, World Premiere.

David Sedaris is a frequent contributor to our program, author of the new book of stories called Naked, an occasional commentator on NPR's Morning Edition. And a few weeks ago, we gave him this assignment, to write a radio play using only the sound effects from one sound effects record. And he had to use every sound on the record somewhere in the drama. He accepted the challenge.

We chose as our sound effects record this volume I hold in my hand. It is called Ultimate Sound Effects over one hour-- I guess that isn't part of the title-- volume 5, CD 8093-2. "Compose" is the label. The effects on here, just so you can follow, the challenge that faced the playwright, in order, on the CD anyway, are "Horse-drawn Carriage On Street," "Swamp Noises," "Time Bomb Through Airport Security." You see that on a CD record, and you wonder, "How much call is there for something like this in our radio production world?" "Steam Trains At Station," "Exterior Airport," "Construction Site," "Bowling Alley," "Jet Takes Off," "Native Americans Dance," "Busy Harbor," "Animals At Riverside," "Big Cats," "Old Clock Chimes," "Car Accident," "Five-Minute War," "Barnyard Sounds," "Workshop," "Aviary," and "The Sound Of A Beating Human Heart."

We asked David, also, to keep the play short, possibly the hardest part of the assignment. I read him the list of effects over the phone. And he took as part of the assignment-- he decided to do them in exactly the order that they appear on the CD. Here is the world premiere of the radio play that he created.

Linda

I remember. It was a late Sunday afternoon, and Cliff and I were taking a hansom cab through the heart of Good Times Square.

[SOUND OF HORSE'S HOOVES]

Cliff

That's the charm of Empire City. You hold out your hand and hail a horse-drawn carriage, just like in the days of yore.

Linda

We like to drive in every weekend from Hasselbrook to take in the sights.

Cliff

I like it for the volatile crowds and the smell of roasting pennies.

Linda

And I like it for the salt, salt in those big, splashy shows on the Great White Way.

Cliff

We sure do love those shows. I remember we'd just come from a matinee performance of Palsy, that new musical about the Medicare debates.

Linda

Oh, it was spectacular, the costumes and the dancing.

Cliff

A chorus line on their walkers with the IV stands. God, I love that show.

Linda

We bought a few dozen scalding pretzels from the passing snack cart, settled into the backseat of our horse-drawn carriage, and had just started rehashing the show when that witch appeared.

Cliff

She wasn't a witch, Linda. She was a tattoo artist.

Linda

A tattoo artist with a particularly offensive message etched into her forehead.

Cliff

The strange thing, the unusual thing was that she knocked on the door of our carriage and handed us a simple plastic pail containing a human heart.

[SOUND OF A BEATING HEART]

Now that was an eye opener.

Linda

The girl said that it had been her mother's heart and that she desperately needed to have it delivered to Clydesdale, where her brother was awaiting a transplant. And Clydesdale, that was out of state, not far from Hasselbrook.

Cliff

She'd intended to deliver it herself, but then something came up. A date.

Linda

She'd been invited to a beer blast by a man with a Caesar haircut. I like a Caesar.

Cliff

Me, I thought it was some sort of scam. I've read about things like this in the papers. A couple comes to town to take in a show, and the next thing you know, someone's handing them an organ and picking all the salt off their pretzels. It's the oldest story in the book.

Linda

But then she reached into her pocket and pulled out two tickets for Sublet. And what could we say?

Cliff

That's the hottest show in town. Nobody gets tickets to that.

Linda

So we said, "Sure, we'll deliver your mother's heart to your sick brother in Clydesdale."

Cliff

Because it seemed like the right thing to do. A matinee performance with front-row seats.

Linda

So off we went. Our Rascal was in the parking lot 10 blocks away. But the traffic was an absolute tangle, and it would have taken hours to reach it.

Cliff

I had the carriage driver take us to the river where we could have one of those medical waste barges carry us to the other side.

[SOUND OF A FOGHORN AND BOAT BELL]

Linda

The view was remarkable.

Cliff

The sky, the color of a freshly-minted nickle.

Linda

We were in heaven, absolute heaven, until the barge driver let us off in-- what do you call a place like that?

[SOUND OF INSECTS CHIRPING]

Cliff

A swamp. I'd call it a swamp.

Linda

I lost my good possum-skin evening pumps in the muck, but what did I care? I just grabbed the heart, flagging down a passing car, and demanded a ride to the airport.

[SOUND OF A PLANE TAKING OFF]

Even barefoot, I'm quick on my feet.

Cliff

I'll give you that. We arrived at the terminal where we booked a commuter flight to Clydesdale.

[SOUND OF PA ANNOUNCER]

A quick bag of salted onion skins in the captain's lounge. And then, wouldn't you know it?

[SOUND OF TICKING TIME BOMB]

Linda

A bomb. A bomb in the airport metal detector. All flights cancelled.

Cliff

So my mind was racing.

Linda

But not as fast as mine. Taxi! I hailed a cab to the nearest--

[SOUND OF CAR HORNS, SQUEALING BRAKES, AND SHATTERING GLASS]

--train station.

[SOUND OF STEAM ENGINES]

Cliff

It wasn't that far of a drive, but wouldn't you know it? The son of a bitching, G-D train pulled out just as we were buying a sack of salted pork rinds.

Linda

You were buying the pork rinds.

Cliff

All right. But I got them for the both of us.

Linda

And paid with a large bill. The big man. You just had to flash your money around, didn't you?

Cliff

It's their job to make change. It's not my fault the guy couldn't break a $50.

Linda

You were trying to impress him is what you were trying to do.

Cliff

We were having this exact same argument when I noticed--

[SOUND OF A JACKHAMMER]

I noticed a crew of construction workers building a ferris wheel at the far side of the station.

Linda

He noticed them only because they noticed me. I'm an absolute magnet for catcalls. That's the curse of being an attractive woman.

Cliff

I approached the forklift operator, a man named Carl, and we had a little talk, mano to mano.

Linda

Oh, I liked that Carl.

Cliff

After explaining the business with the heart, he offered us the services of his brother, who worked not far away in one of the neighboring burbs. So we get to this place where Carl's brother works. And it turns out that the guy polishes balls.

[SOUND OF BOWLING BALL ROLLING AND HITTING PINS]

In a bowling alley. "Pins and Needles" it was called because there's a main floor and then an observation deck selling wool and sweater patterns. I like the feel of the place, and the fries were great.

Linda

What wasn't so great was that Carl's brother had been laid off just 10 minutes before we arrived. He'd taken his car and headed west, just like that.

Cliff

Were we in a bind or what? The assistant manager of the snack bar offered us a lift as far as the neighboring airfield. And I took her up on it because--

Linda

A trollop is what she was.

Cliff

Hey, now.

Linda

Enough blush on her cheeks to cover the moon. And that business about the airfield, it wasn't an airfield, but a--

[SOUND OF A PLANE TAKING OFF]

--military base. You saw all those soldiers prancing behind that barbed-wire fence. The girl dropped us off and drove away laughing because that's what whores do. She was a prostitute. She was a trollop.

Cliff

Call her what you will. But if it wasn't for her, we never would have met those--

[SOUND OF DRUM BEATING AND MAN SINGING]

Indians. That's what they were. They were Indians.

Linda

Native Americans.

Cliff

An entire tribe of wannabes performing a ceremonial dance upon their ancient burial ground not far from the runway.

Linda

It was like seeing a big, splashy musical except that there were no ushers or comfortable seats.

Cliff

Following their little ritual, they were scheduled to perform aboard one of those gambling rafts, traipsing up the river to where else, but Clydesdale.

Linda

They offered us a lift if we'd help them pack up their tom-toms. So we made a few quick trips back and forth to the minivan, and off we went to the casino-port.

[SOUND OF A FOGHORN AND A BELL RINGING]

Cliff

Once the boat got underway, I bought myself a bucket of sausage coins and took a seat on the observation deck. It was a still night. And call me freakish, but I could feel the eyes of the river creatures watching me from the banks.

[SOUND OF AN OWL HOOTING AND A COW LOWING]

Linda

The humidity devastated my hair, so I went down below deck where they keep-- well, that's where they keep the big cats.

[SOUND OF BIG CAT GROWLING]

Show cats. I stood up close to the bars where I could feel the ocelots breath against my face. It was hypnotic is what it was.

Cliff

We were each lost in our own separate reveries when--

[SOUND OF A CLOCK TICKING AND CHIMING]

--the big clock struck. And the gambling raft pulled into Port Kimberly to stock up on poker chips. The captain said we'd be docked for an hour or more. But with this human heart, we just couldn't wait that long.

Linda

We jumped ship and rented a car. Traffic was unusually heavy for a Sunday night at 3:00 AM, so I let him do the driving.

Cliff

I was making decent time until a cola tanker swerved into the opposite lane and--

[SOUND OF AN EXPLOSION]

Linda

Dear God, what a mess. Those who weren't maimed or crippled rushed from their cars with cans and paper cups, trying to scoop up as much free cola as possible.

Cliff

The tanker driver opened fire on the crowd, and a few people shot back.

[SOUND OF GUNFIRE AND A BOMB EXPLODING]

Next thing you know, all hell broke loose. The riot police, the National Guard, two or three dozen private militias. They were all over the place.

Linda

We left the rental car and fled through a pasture toward a neighboring barn.

Cliff

My idea because I like barns. I'm a barn person.

Linda

And I can't stand the damn things because I'm not a barn person.

[SOUND OF BARNYARD ANIMALS]

Straw makes me anxious, and I was nervous enough having dodged all that gunfire.

Cliff

We were all pretty shaken up, Linda, myself, and this human heart we were carrying.

Linda

I put my ear to the side of the pail and heard nothing. I figured that after everything it had been through, the poor thing had suffered a heart attack.

Cliff

It was alive, but weak. I tried frightening it to get the heartbeat up. "Yah, yah, ooooh." And that seemed to work.

[SOUND OF A BEATING HEART]

Linda

Once he stopped screaming, I heard in the distance the sound of--

[SOUND OF A BUZZSAW]

--power tools. It was coming from a shed beside the farmhouse. "Hello, we're here in the barn with a human heart."

Cliff

It was a farmer building an--

[SOUND OF BIRDS TWEETING]

--an aviary.

Linda

That's a place where birds are kept.

Cliff

He had these birds just roaming freely through the house. And I sat back for a moment before I thought, "Birds. Birds fly." Not bad, huh?

Linda

Oh, it was brilliant is what it was. We tied the human heart to the foot of a carrier pigeon, taped the address to its beak, and sent it on its way. "Fly away, little pigeon. Fly away to Clydesdale Memorial Hospital."

Cliff

And I guess she found her way because two days later, we received our tickets, just as promised.

Linda

Front-row seats to the matinee performance of Sublet.

Cliff

The hottest show in town.

Linda

Afterwards, we tucked the playbills into my purse and, just like always, we hailed a hansom cab.

[SOUND OF SHEEP BLEATING, CATTLE LOWING, AND A DOG BARKING]

Cliff

No, a hansom cab.

[SOUND OF A HELIOCOPTER]

Linda

No, a hansom cab.

[SOUND OF HORSE'S HOOVES]

That's it. We settled into the backseat and trotted off with our memories. Until that bearded coot knocked on the door, carrying a lung in a saucepan.

Ira Glass

"The Heart of Times Square," by David Sedaris, performed by Toby Wherry and Penelope Boyer.

Act Four. Check Out the Package on That Guy.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Check Out The Package On That Guy. A not-terribly-recent article of The Wall Street Journal asserts that an inordinate number of women have fantasies about their UPS delivery men, their continual efforts to put out calendars with names like "Buns of UPS." It's part of UPS's marketing campaign. There's a UPS commercial that shows women swooning over their UPS guy. One reporter actually called five therapists. Four had clients who fantasized about UPS men.

So are UPS vans actually rolling dens of iniquity? Do the drivers actually get play out of this? TAL pro-- TAL-- see, that's what we call it around the office. This American Life. This American Life producer Nancy Updike went on-site UPS to find out.

Nancy Updike

It turns out that asking UPS drivers whether they have sex on their route is pretty much like asking any other group of mostly straight men about sex. Very quickly, you find yourself talking about an elevator, a mirror, or a nymphomaniac.

Ups Driver 1

A girl in the company that was moving obviously had the hots for this gentleman, and confronted him in the elevator, and told the gentleman--

Ups Driver 2

In the morning, she would get up. She would have a blanket in front of her. But she would have one of those mirrored doors right behind her. And you could see nothing but her rear end every time.

Ups Driver 1

But this gentleman that I know-- I'm going to not say names-- but he had a building route. And there was a nymphomaniac in the building. And she'd come down on occasion--

Nancy Updike

So I talked to 15 men in 2 hours as they were leaving their UPS jobs at the end of the day. Some were funny. Some were hot. Some were stupid. The majority were in their late 20s or their 30s, mostly black.

And I believe I now have the empirical evidence necessary to put everyone's mind at rest here. UPS delivery guys, as a group, are not having more sex than you are. Here's how I know. When you ask them what sexual experiences they have personally had while on the job, you instantly get into really boring territory.

Ups Driver 3

Before I got married, there was a situation where I had light conversation with a woman. And it was just clicking very well. And it almost happened, I guess. The vibes were there. Everything was right. But nothing happened.

Nancy Updike

Nothing happened. Let's try another guy.

Ups Driver 4

No, I had one close encounter. I delivered a package to a place in Dearborn Park here. And it was in the morning, around 10, 11 o'clock. And a girl came down, a woman, whoever, I don't know. She looked in her 20s. Came down in her lingerie. And she answered the door.

Nancy Updike

She's in her lingerie at the door. What happens?

Ups Driver 4

I kind of roll my eyes, gave her the package. I had to go.

Nancy Updike

He had to go. How about this guy?

Nancy Updike

What's the most outrageous proposition you ever had?

Ups Driver 5

Can I come back after work and make love to them.

Nancy Updike

And do you ever do it?

Ups Driver 5

No.

Nancy Updike

They don't do it. Not at work. Of 15 guys, not one believably told me about a sexual encounter he had on the job. And they restrain themselves for the exact same, boring reasons you do. They don't want to lose their job. They're married.

Ups Driver 6

We usually don't have time to-- as far as that goes.

Ups Driver 2

Just don't have time.

Ups Driver 5

Just don't have time. Tell her I'm in a rush.

Nancy Updike

A few guys said they'd heard of other guys having sex on their routes. And weirdly, the setting for these events was always the same.

Ups Driver 7

He invited her on the truck.

Nancy Updike

She got in the truck with him?

Ups Driver 7

In the back of the package car.

Nancy Updike

In the back of the truck. And they had sex.

Ups Driver 7

Had the wild thing going back there, on the shelf.

Nancy Updike

On the shelf, which brings me to a question. Who are all these people that other people know who like having sex in these places that sound so uncomfortable?

Ups Driver 4

I imagine a lot of women would like to see the inside of a package car. I've heard drivers say, "Let's just throw some envelopes down here on the floor, and we can-- you know.

Nancy Updike

How come it always happens in the van? I've never heard people, where the guy comes into the house. It's always the woman going into the van.

Ups Driver 4

I don't know. I do not like going into a building because you never know what situation you're going to run into. It could be a crazy old lady who says, next thing you know, something's missing from the apartment. It could be some frustrated woman. You could walk in to her apartment, and she could say you tried making advances at her.

That's sexual harassment. You're out of a job. You don't want to be in that situation. The union cannot do anything for you to back you up. To climb into a vehicle, that's definitely consensual.

Nancy Updike

The bottom line about the whole UPS sex connection, what actually happens to real people-- and this is going to blow your mind-- is that sometimes women ask their UPS man out on a date. An off-hours, let's have lunch, let's have dinner, regular kind of date. Just like you and me. And aside from that, with very few exceptions, I believe it is all simply lies.

Ups Driver 8

Oh yeah, they come to the door all the time. Just got out the shower, had a gown on, and then it just open up, like, "Oops."

Nancy Updike

This has happened to you?

Ups Driver 8

Oh yeah, you might get out the shower. Sometime you might--

Nancy Updike

Have a towel. And you give her the package. She fiddles with the package, and the towel falls. That has happened to you personally?

Ups Driver 8

Oh yeah. A lot.

Act 5.

Ira Glass

Act Five, Faith Shattered.

Stephen Glass

I know it's not fashionable, but I believe in big business.

Ira Glass

Stephen Glass is an assistant editor at The New Republic magazine, and no relation to me, by the way. His friends tease him about his faith in the free market in every possible situation. But he has this saga of a delivery customer and his sad disillusionment.

Stephen Glass

It's because I trust the business world so much that my harrowing, recent run-ins with several of its most respected citizens came as such a shock. Last summer, I excitedly ordered a laptop from Gateway 2000, the mail order giant.

After repeated delays, I called their 800-number to complain. 10 calls later, a customer service representative told me I could only get an answer to my question if I called at a specific hour. When I protested that I couldn't call at the time since it was Rosh Hashanah, the woman muttered, "Then the kike will have to wait." Enraged, I faxed a letter to Gateway's CEO, but got no response.

Finally, the computer arrived. It was delivered to my parents' house in Chicago, so my father shipped it to me in Washington via Federal Express, the trusty, always-on-time mail company I had cited as proof that we need to privatize the postal service. The package was late. I called. They said, it was on its way. Routine, right?

A dozen phone calls later, I began to worry. I nervously dialed the dispatcher. "You're making me look bad," she snapped. "If you call the 800-number again, I won't look for your box." Deprived of phone privileges, I drove to FedEx's Washington warehouse.

There, I met a counter worker named Edward Maxwell. He launched a Watergate-level investigation, interviewed three drivers, combed through the depths of the warehouse, and personally examined dozens of trucks. But my package never turned up.

Later, Maxwell asked me what was in the box. I told him it contained a laptop computer. And in a V-8 moment, he hit his head with his open palm. "Oh, computer. They walk out of here all the time," he said. "Never, never send one through FedEx." Another employee told me I should always use UPS.

After two more hours of futile searching, Larry, the warehouse manager, ordered me to leave the premises. I sat on the ground and said, I wouldn't budge until I had the computer. He stared at me in exasperation. I stared back.

He said to leave. I said, call the police. The attending rent-a-cop looked sheepishly at the ground. The stalemate broke when Larry promised to call me the next day. He never did.

I did get a call from FedEx security. They said, they considered the package stolen. Maxwell was right. Several days later, FedEx personnel called to assure me that I'd be happy to know they were fixing the problem by terminating Maxwell. "Why," I said "were they going to fire the only employee I dealt with who represented the company well?" "He shouldn't have said FedEx packages are often stolen," the FedEx rep answered.

"But he was right. Doesn't honesty count for anything?" "Unfortunately, no," she snapped, just before hanging up.

Meanwhile, the letter I faxed to Gateway's CEO wound its way to upper management. One afternoon, a Gateway vice president called to grovel and offered to donate computers to the Anti-Defamation League. The problem is I hate the Anti-Defamation League. The only thing I trust more than capitalism is free speech. To the ADL, Gateway's offhand remark might as well have been a pogrom.

Their reaction to the offer confirmed my suspicions. They didn't want to "be bought off" with a few computers. They wanted apologies and sensitivity training. I explained to the ADL spokeswoman that I was happy with the letter of apology Gateway's CEO had sent me, and I didn't believe in sensitivity training.

Back in Memphis, FedEx's security chief went on vacation, the reimbursing agent filled out the form wrong, and Edward Maxwell was looking for another job. I informed FedEx that I was writing a story about my ordeal. Within a few hours, I received a flurry of calls. The claims agent called, three supervisors, a media relations expert, a vice president, and, finally, the CEO.

"FedEx was ashamed," they told me. They would refund my money right away. "Can I overnight you a check?" said one. "You'll get it Friday." I asked them to send it UPS.

Ira Glass

Stephen Glass is an assistant editor at The New Republic. He writes about political culture.

Ira Glass

And Stephen, I know that the saga does not end there. Can we just begin with this simple question, did they send it UPS?

Stephen Glass

No, they didn't. They sent it FedEx. They said it was their policy.

Ira Glass

Because that would've been a real triumph, I have to say.

Stephen Glass

It would've been. I thought of just putting "Return to Sender" at the top. Until this incident, I was a FedEx lover. There was nothing I loved more than FedEx.

I got the software. I would call the 1-800-number, type in my tracking number on the phone, and listen, "Your package is now in Washington. Your package is en route to Chicago. Your package is now delivered." I would do this hour after hour. 3:00 in the morning, I would call FedEx.

Ira Glass

Your package had peanuts and a gin and tonic on the plane. Your package is thinking about you.

Stephen Glass

Your package has experienced turbulence. When Fred Smith, who's the CEO of Federal Express, and I talked, he said that Washington actually was the worst office.

Ira Glass

Really? What was your conversation with him like? And when you got the call from him, was it preceded by a secretary? Like when the President of the United States supposedly calls you, someone calls and says, "The President of the United States is going to be on the line in a moment. Just sit there." Did this happen with Fred Smith, the head of FedEx?

Stephen Glass

Yeah, it did. They had a secretary call, but the person who answers the phones at The New Republic kept saying, I was in a meeting with an editor and kept voicemailing him, which I'm sure he didn't like.

So he called on his own later. And we talked. And the first thing he said is, "Well, you probably don't want to hear about all the technology that we're developing in order to track packages." And of course, being a total FedEx fiend, I said, "Yes, I do." And we were on the phone for quite some time, talking about all the different types of new computers they're putting in. But none of these computers were able to find my package.

Ira Glass

Well, because it was stolen.

Stephen Glass

Right, of course. My point was that these computers are great, but they don't stop the problem, which is if someone just walks off with a package on the truck.

Ira Glass

What did he say to that?

Stephen Glass

He said I had a good point. And that's when I got my refund.

Ira Glass

Stephen Glass. Mr. Maxwell, by the way, now works for UPS.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Elise Spiegel and myself with Peter Clowney and Nancy Updike.

Stephen Glass

I know it's not fashionable, but I believe in big business.

Ira Glass

Where is that coming from, that sound? There we go. Take that away. Contributing editors Sarah Vowell, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Margy Rochlin.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

If you would like a copy of this radio program, it only costs $10. Call us at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Our email address, radio@well.com.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who cannot wait for the pledge drive, so he can get on the radio and say to you--

Junot Diaz

Just show us where the silver's at.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life, where our motto is--

Linda

Hello, we're here in the barn with a human heart.