Transcript

580:

That's One Way to Do It
Transcript

Originally aired 02.19.2016

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Terry Grosz

My profession that I was in as a conservation officer, state and federal, was not a job. It was a vision quest.

Ira Glass

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Terry Grosz, retired California state fish and game warden; retired special agent, from 1981 to 1998, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Terry Grosz

I was in charge of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.

Ira Glass

Author of a dozen books, he has heard of the Terry Gross on Public Radio, but does not listen to her. Not his thing. He has personally nabbed thousands of people who were killing birds and fish and game illegally, taking wildlife illegally, smuggling wildlife illegally, selling wildlife parts and products, and committing other violations. He takes it to heart that whole populations of animals can get killed off. His philosophy--

Terry Grosz

Wildlife dies without making a sound. So the only voice it's got is yours. And as a law enforcement officer, if you're not squalling like a smashed cat-- and my pardon to the cat lovers out there-- then you're not doing your job.

Ira Glass

In fact, as he says, what this mean to him was total dedication. Do whatever had to be done. One time he laid in the marsh for 58 hours to catch one particularly egregious duck hunter. Another time he got a tip that a poacher was after this one herd of elk. He slept with the elk to protect them, night after night.

But my favorite story of his involves deceit and ingenuity. It was when Terry was still in his 20s, a fish and game warden in Eureka, California. He was what they called the floating game warden, which meant that he would cover for three other officers when they were sick or on leave.

Terry Grosz

And in those days, we had salmon like you couldn't believe in Northern California. They don't so much anymore. An awful lot of the species have dwindled away due to a lot of environmental problems and illegal take. But, gosh, we had salmon everywhere. If you weren't careful, when you drank a glass of water, you'd find a salmon in it. I mean they were really plentiful.

And it was part of my job to check the salmon fishermen because we had an awful lot of outlaws that would snag them, dynamite them, gillnet them, just people shooting them in the shallows when they were going up through the riffles. I mean it was just unbelievable.

Ira Glass

He says it was especially a problem on the Eel River, near Fortuna, California, where men were illegally fishing in the middle of the night. The law said they had to stop a half hour after sunset. But they would be there at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. And they were able to haul in usually huge catches because the fish there were resting in pools in the river like-- OK, like sitting ducks, if I could just mix animal metaphors for a second.

And these fishermen used this special glow-in-dark lure that was just unstoppable. They would shine a flashlight on this lure. And it would glow, called a Glo Pup. In the middle of the night--

Terry Grosz

That bright lure would be going through a dark pool. These King salmon would just instinctively strike at it. And these guys were catching fish like crazy. And these were 35, up to 60, pound King salmon, that were heading upstream to spawn. And it was a terrible bit of destruction on the fish population.

Ira Glass

Because they wouldn't get a chance to spawn?

Terry Grosz

Yeah. They wouldn't. I mean they just flat didn't get out of that pool.

Ira Glass

But these illegal fishermen were hard to catch because they set up lookouts on the road, they would see Terry and the other wardens coming. Then, one day, Terry got an idea. It came to him when his dog brought him an old leather welder's glove that it had found. And then he borrowed a wetsuit from his buddy, who was--

Terry Grosz

Pretty much my size. I was 6' 4", 300 in those days.

Ira Glass

And that night, around 9:00 o'clock Terry says, he went to the Eel River, about a mile downstream from this pool that he knew the guys would be illegally fishing. It's called Singley Pool.

Terry Grosz

And I'm dressed and got into the wetsuit. And then inside the wetsuit, I had a citation book in a plastic bag and a three-cell flashlight, zipped it up. And I walked into the river. And like a damn dummy, there all by myself, 30 foot of water, colder than the dickens.

Ira Glass

Oh, so now you really were the floating game warden.

Terry Grosz

Well, I don't if I was floating. I was doing as sinking as I was doing floating because I was trying to be quiet.

Ira Glass

And could you see much?

Terry Grosz

Well, no. But I knew which way the river was flowing. And I knew when my feet touched, I'd be in shallow water. So I was swimming against the current. And I knew in my mind what Singley Pool looked like. At the headwaters of Singley Pool, I could see Glo Pups flying through the air.

Ira Glass

He's maybe 30 yards offshore, he says. He can see four people, backlit. There's a little light coming from a ranch house that's there. And he can the glow of their cigarettes. But it's really dark.

Terry Grosz

Three of them were fishing. One guy was just standing there. So I just kept swimming towards them and trying to get to their lures. And I'd move my hand back out of the leather glove to where just my fingers are inside the palm part of the glove. And the leather glove fingers are just kind of dangling out there with no fingers in them.

Ira Glass

This is the idea that he got when the dog brought him this glove.

Terry Grosz

And when finally a lure came by kind of close, I slapped at it. And I missed the first one. And I heard one of the guys say, "god, did you hear that salmon roll out there?" Of course, you can't see anything. And I'm out there in the river in a dark wetsuit, with no light on.

And the next one came by and it was close enough. And I grabbed it. And it hooked onto the glove, the finger part of the glove. And I gave a big jerk. And I heard, zhrrz. And he said, "fish on. Fish on."

I'm flopping and splashing, hanging onto this guy's lure as he's pulling. And I'm slapping my left hand in the water, like the fish is fighting. And he kept saying, "gosh, it's a big one. It's huge." I kept pulling and tugging.

Ira Glass

And you're floating too.

Terry Grosz

Oh, yeah.

Ira Glass

So he's getting the feeling of like this is what it's like to reel in--

Terry Grosz

Yep.

Ira Glass

--a fish.

Terry Grosz

Yep. I'm pulling against his line. And I'm jerking it. And then I'm jerking line out. Because I know if they see me, once I get close to shore, they're going to run. So I got to keep them kind of close at hand.

So the guy that's got me is getting really excited. And finally he said, "god, this the biggest salmon I ever got. I bet it weighs a hundred pounds." Well, he was 200 pounds off.

And finally I heard somebody say, "get the net. Get the net." And another voice said, "get the net, heck-- get a gun."

Ira Glass

Terry says he was too young and dumb to get scared about that. And they didn't get a gun.

Terry Grosz

Anyway, finally I felt my feet hit the bottom, where I could walk. So I kept tugging and pulling, and tugging and pulling. And he's groaning. And it was hard to keep from laughing because I knew this guy was going to be surprised.

Anyway, I finally got right up on them. And like I said, it's dark as the dickens. And then I turned on my little three-cell flashlight. And I said, "good morning, gentleman. State fish and game warden, you're under arrest."

The guy that had me, he's got the pole almost doubled, he's pulling so hard. And he goes, "oh, oh, oh."

Ira Glass

He dropped to the ground. Terry thought he gave him a heart attack. But he came to. He was fine.

Terry Grosz

The guys on either side of him, two of them were attorneys. They just stood there. They didn't even move. And I think it was just out of shock. So I walked up on the bank and then I had them because I was within grabbing distance.

And when I got all through, I had them sign the citations. I put the cite book back in my plastic bag. Put that back inside the wetsuit. Said do you have any more questions, gentlemen? And they're still in shock.

So I gather up all their fishing rods because I seized it. It was illegal gear. And into the river I walked and quietly swam away.

Ira Glass

I should say, we checked with the public affairs officer at the Fish and Wildlife office where Terry worked. And he confirmed that, yes, this was a thing for a while back in the day, game wardens emerging out of the rivers to catch illegal fishing. Terry tells the story in his memoir, Wildlife Wars. Terry says, unconventional methods, that is just what's called for sometimes.

Later today on our radio program, That's One Way to Do It, we have two stories of people who make choices that are very different from what is expected of them, including a woman who cozied up to one of America's enemies, looking to fix a problem here at home. I'm talking about people who come to the fork in the river of salmon and they swim down the path less traveled. And that makes all the difference. Stay with us.

Act One. Sex, Boyhood and Politics in South Carolina.

Ira Glass

So this is, of course, a perfect election year for the theme That's One Way to Do it. The That's One Way to Do It candidate, Donald Trump, is crushing his adversaries with unconventional politicking; Bernie Sanders, a very similar story.

One our producers, Zoe Chace, was in South Carolina this last month and was surprised by some of the voters as well, one in particular.

Zoe Chace

I was traveling around the state talking to groups like, Students for Trump--

Alex Chalgren

Yeah.

Zoe Chace

--a group of high schoolers. That's how I happened to talk to Alex Chalgren. He's one of the most oddly formal 18-year-olds I've ever met.

Alex Chalgren

My name is Alex Chalgren. I'm the South Carolina director for Students for Trump. And I live in Columbia, South Carolina.

Zoe Chace

So put together, he made me nervous. After he told me where he was from, I asked him where he was from.

Alex Chalgren

We are in Columbia, South Carolina.

[LAUGHTER]

We're at the Blue Marlin, more specifically, sort of a seafood restaurant, local, yeah, restaurant.

Zoe Chace

Do you come here often?

Alex Chalgren

I do, with my father.

Zoe Chace

I could tell right away that Alex is one of those kids that adults adore. He's like a little old person. I was sitting around this outside table with the high schoolers for Trump. And Alex stood out in a million ways from the group.

He's the only black kid, the only one in a tie, biggest smile, loudest laugh, super friendly, and charismatic. He's just striking. So it wasn't that surprising when he mentioned offhand that he'd been chosen to ask a question at the first Republican debate.

Debate Moderator

I really want to get to a Facebook questioner. His name is Alex Chalgren. And he has the following question.

Alex Chalgren

My question is, how would the candidates stop the treacherous actions of ISIS, ISIL, and it's growing influence in the US if they were to become president?

Donald Trump

Oh.

Alex Chalgren

And then my Instagram, my Twitter, my phone just started ringing off the hook. It's amazing. It was amazing. It was a huge-- it was a huge thing.

[LAUGHTER]

That really changed my life for the better.

Zoe Chace

It changed his life because not long after that, a group called Students for Trump reached out to Alex on Instagram. They asked Alex if he would get involved in the Trump campaign. And that quick, Alex became an active Trump supporter. Now, Alex was already a conservative for all the reasons that Republicans like Republicans more than Democrats.

Alex Chalgren

I've had to work to where I am today, education and things like that. And I was adopted. I've had work to where I am. Because I was born to a very destitute family.

And so seeing someone like Bernie Sanders saying that he's going to redistribute the wealth and sort of give free college and free education and all that sort of humbug. Then I say to myself, he doesn't appreciate those that have nothing and have had to work so diligently to have a future. Because I plan on going to law school and all that sort good jazz.

Zoe Chace

And when I asked him the question I was asking everybody I was meeting down there, why Trump, Alex gave me a reason I did not expect. I was like wait, did I hear right? Your main concern is what?

Alex Chalgren

Yeah. Trump is fine with gay marriage, thank goodness. And he's a realist. He knows that as society moves on, we must move on. That's a part of it.

Zoe Chace

Gay marriage, that's not even an issue anymore, I thought. This was mid-January when I met Alex, pre-Iowa, pre-New Hampshire. It had not come up in the debates much. The candidates were not talking about it. And it's Alex's biggest issue?

Alex Chalgren

That's why I picked him really. That's why I picked him. Because my biggest concern is gay marriage and the economy. For example, if it comes down to Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders, I might not vote or I might vote for Bernie Sanders.

Zoe Chace

That's how big gay marriage is to you?

Alex Chalgren

Yeah. Honestly. I mean I'll tell you why. I'll tell you why.

I'm gay. And so it's big for me. And everyone knows I'm gay. Everyone knows I'm gay. My parents know. Everyone knows. But yeah, that's-- where are you all going?

Zoe Chace

The other students for Trump kids scurry off to a corner to consult after this remark. And I find out it's because they're worried I'll lump them in with Alex and peg them as Sanders supporters over Cruz.

Trump's record on gay marriage at that point, scant at best. Not one of his applause lines, not getting much mention at all. I guess Alex can believe what he wants. Ted Cruz, proudly evangelical, proudly against gay marriage. So that's how Alex made his choice.

Then Alex tells me he's managed to alienate and confuse lots of people with his peculiar brand of politics. Trump haters turned against him on social media.

Alex Chalgren

Social media-wise, you know I post a lot about Trump since I'm active in this organization and somewhat in the campaign. I've lost a ton of followers, a ton of followers. On Snapchat, a couple hundred. I know that's pretty substantial. I know I've lost about a hundred people on Instagram.

Zoe Chace

Alex is big into Trump. Like, he's making sacrifices. He says he's lost friends. Other black kids at school make fun of him. He's gotten into big fights with his Muslim friends too, like after he posted some anti-Muslim comments from Trump on his Snapchat.

Alex Chalgren

Last week, one of my Islamic friends asked me, why do you support Trump? And I said I'm not against Islam. I'm not against Muslims. I'm against Islamic extremism. So I'm not against you at all.

And she doesn't feel that. She feels like I'm against her. And she said, well, Trump wants to keep out all the Muslims.

And I said first off, you're an American citizen. So you have nothing to fear in that regard. We're not going to kick you out of the country. You're an American citizen. You were born here.

And then also your parents, who, yes, aren't American citizens, they've given so much to this society. And we don't have to worry about you potentially being part of ISIS or ISIL. There's a very slight chance of that happening.

Zoe Chace

She was annoyed. But they're still friends. Was he afraid of hurting her feelings?

Alex Chalgren

Yeah. Yes. I don't want to do that. Yeah. I try to be-- it's like I'm walking on shells because I don't want to break the shells.

Zoe Chace

Alex jumps feet first into Trump-related awkward situations. Like later that day, we walk over to the USC campus. And he flags down college kids walking down the street. He's very formal, like at his most presentational. He's inviting them to this debate watch party he's hosting.

Alex Chalgren

It's on the 28th. It's the seventh Republican debate. It's going to be huge, as Donald Trump says. So you're more than welcome to come. What is your stance politically?

Student

I wouldn't be comfortable having Donald Trump as president. Everything that I've seen through the media, it just comes off he's just full of hate. And I just don't think Donald Trump is very accepting of all people from different backgrounds. And diversity is a huge thing for me personally. But we have to go. But thanks for talking.

Alex Chalgren

Thank you, ladies.

Zoe Chace

How do you think about how that went? Tell me what you think.

Alex Chalgren

I think it went very civilly.

Zoe Chace

But is it a hard when people your age say to you like, I don't feel comfortable having him as the president because I think he's being racist? Especially when, like, you're black and she's white and she's kind of looking at you, like, hello.

Alex Chalgren

I don't know. For me, I think they think I'm probably mentally off. That's true. Because I am black and I'm supporting someone that they think is xenophobic or racist.

Zoe Chace

So what does it feel like to feel like somebody's looking at you like you're insane?

Alex Chalgren

Really, I just say to myself, well, opinions are opinions. And when Donald J. Trump is president and he reforms this country, I think they will think differently of him.

Zoe Chace

If Donald Trump was like actually, I don't think that gay marriage is OK and I don't support it, would you still vote for him?

Alex Chalgren

He wouldn't do that.

Zoe Chace

That's a make or break thing for you.

Alex Chalgren

He wouldn't do that, yeah. He wouldn't do that.

Zoe Chace

This is officially the strangest reason I'd heard from a Republican about how they'd picked their candidate.

Zoe Chace

The question is there's a whole party, right, the Democratic Party. They're pretty much cool with gay people. Could you just be a Democrat?

Alex Chalgren

My goodness, no.

[LAUGHTER]

I mean--

Zoe Chace

"Like, are you out of your mind? The choices are between a soon to be indicted liar," Alex says, "and a socialist. I mean, come on."

I spent two hours with Alex that day. That was it. We weren't scheduled to meet again.

Afterward, I went and interviewed other voters, a conservative South Carolina blogger. I drove to Greenville to meet with some morning radio show hosts. But the whole time I was still wondering about Alex. He seemed like he was in the weirdest position of anyone I was meeting, voting for the first time, so young and intense about his beliefs, which just, like, did not match. If gay marriage is your issue, why Trump?

Alex told me that church is the center of his family life. And he's in a very conservative evangelical Christian family. He's surrounded by people he loves and respects.

I came up with a theory. He was using Trump to reconcile two very irreconcilable things about himself-- deeply conservative, super-gay. Trump, for some reason, is Alex's safe place.

I made another appointment with Alex. I had no idea the conversation would lead where it did, which was way beyond Trump.

Zoe Chace

OK. So we want to ask you a whole bunch of questions.

Alex Chalgren

OK.

Zoe Chace

Some of them are going to be personal.

I meet him in this conference room at the end of his school day. And every question I ask him, it's like a trap door opens to some deep and dramatic part of his story that I didn't see coming.

Like, first thing, we're still making small talk, settling in. There's this rainbow poster on the wall. He points it out.

Alex Chalgren

It's the rainbow.

Zoe Chace

So I ask him, do you have any rainbow stuff? Like what stuff?

Alex Chalgren

Last year, I was a little bit more bold. Last year was my first year in a public school, a public high school. And it was like-- what was it-- show your character day or something like that. We have these weeks.

And so I wore a sign that said, guys only apply. Sorry girls, in parentheses, down at the bottom. And it had the rainbow on both sides. And I wore that around the entire school all day long.

[LAUGHTER]

And then people wanted to take pictures with me.

Zoe Chace

Did you leave the house in that shirt?

Alex Chalgren

Yes. I did. Because, you see, actually at the time, I wasn't with my parents at the time. So they didn't know about that.

Zoe Chace

He was staying with a friend's family for about a month. Things weren't so great at home.

Alex Chalgren

Um, just some family issues, some problems with my dad and stuff.

Zoe Chace

This was two minutes into our conversation. But it kept happening. Like, I just kept stumbling into these surprising details.

Zoe Chace

Have you ever been to a Pride parade?

Alex Chalgren

No. Well, yes, I have. I have once. It was to protest though. My dad went and took me to protest.

Zoe Chace

Then I asked, I know your mom adopted you when she was on her own. So how did she meet your dad?

Alex Chalgren

Well, basically what happened is that I needed a manly influence, or that's what some of the elders in our church at the time thought. And so he came into the picture through a connection in our church. And then they fell in love. It was my choice.

Zoe Chace

How was it your choice?

Alex Chalgren

She said if I didn't want him as a dad, yeah, she wouldn't make me have someone that wouldn't be good, especially after adopting me.

Zoe Chace

Alex's parents are not OK with him being gay. They're evangelical Christians. They believe in the literal word of the Bible and raised Alex that way. But it's also clear that it's a loving home, with this big extended family, who all adore Alex.

Before he was adopted, his life was rough-- foster home, to back with his biological parents, to group home, to foster home. He was really unhappy. But what could he do? He was a kid. And then he met his mom.

Alex and his adopted mom are incredibly close. Alex's face just lights up when he talks about her. When he was in third grade, she was his teacher. And then she adopted him. It's almost romantic sounding, like they yearned to be a family as soon as they met.

Alex Chalgren

But I'd been asking her for about a year, are going to adopt me?

Zoe Chace

How did you think to ask that?

Alex Chalgren

I don't know. I've been praying for years to have a mom and a dad. I just connected. It's inaffable.

Zoe Chace

Ineffable.

Alex Chalgren

Ineffable. Thank you. I'm trying to use my new words, ineffable. Yeah, sort of the unspeakable.

Zoe Chace

When Alex's parents found out he was gay, it was as dramatic as things can get in those sort of situations. Alex says they suspected it and read his journal, where he had written about boys. This was in eighth grade. He had to leave school immediately and his parents started homeschooling him. And they brought in their church.

Alex Chalgren

And they wanted to nip this in the bud. Snap, cut it, make sure I was straight. And I was like a-- yeah. So the clergy came down, sat with me, the elders and people. And they read from scripture and everything.

And I was just sitting there quietly. At first I saw it as like, oh, my goodness. This is a sin. I can't believe this. I'm going to go hell. Oh, my god, I'm going to burn in hell for all eternity.

And so they're reading from scripture. And they're saying, this is what the scripture says, man shall not lie with another man, whatever. And the more that happened, the harder I became. I was less soft. And then my mom got a therapist for me, another one, a different one, for me being gay.

Zoe Chace

Was this one of those therapists who is like, I'm going to help you be not gay?

Alex Chalgren

Yeah. He was a preacher [LAUGHS] with the Presbyterian therapists' organization. He didn't do anything. I just told him I'm gay. I said this is what's going to happen. I'm gay. But you can talk about how I can have a better relationship with my parents.

Zoe Chace

I have a theory, sort of. It's not really a theory. But I'm wondering it.

Alex Chalgren

OK.

Zoe Chace

I'm wondering if a major reason that you're supporting Donald Trump so hard, that you're going in so hard for Trump, is because it's a way to express that you're gay, that that matters to you, and still keep your tie with being a Republican? Because you've grown up around all Republicans and being a conservative is a big part of your upbringing.

Alex Chalgren

Yeah. I wouldn't 100 percent disagree with that. I guess you would say that. It is a way for me to still accept me for being gay. However, I can still hold to my Republican principles, some of my Republican principles, without hurting my own people. That's why I couldn't support Cruz.

Zoe Chace

Alex's parents are big Cruz supporters. I asked if they'd talk to me about Alex. They agreed. This his mom, Jan Chalgren.

Jan Chalgren

I don't see his participating in a gay life as God's plan for his life. I firmly believe that.

Zoe Chace

Jane didn't want to get into detail about what happened when she and her husband figured out Alex was gay. But she did talk about what it was like for her.

Jan Chalgren

Heartbreaking, when that's not what I wanted for him. And I don't believe that's what God desires for him either. I love him. I love him to death and will always, always. And my husband and I have both told him that. We will always love you. We don't agree.

Zoe Chace

You don't agree with which?

Jan Chalgren

With gay marriage. Yeah.

Zoe Chace

She has the same feeling Alex has. It hurts to be disagreeing about anything because they're so connected. She has the same feelings about meeting Alex that he does about meeting her.

Jan Chalgren

Well, one day in November, it was '07, the Secretary of the school knocked on my door and said I have a new student for you, a total surprise. And it was Alex, with his foster mom. And I brought him in and got him a desk. And a cute little thing, with his little glasses.

And as time went on, he just captured my heart. He can carry on a conversation easily with any age person. And he always wanted to talk with me.

Zoe Chace

Did you ever anticipate adopting some kid from your class?

Jan Chalgren

I never anticipated, never planned for it, never thought. No. But really, he had my heart. And I went through the adoption process. And then we started visits.

Zoe Chace

They'd never spent time together outside of the classroom. So Alex proposed going to church together.

Jan Chalgren

And we did that several times. And then I was able to bring him to my house for a visit. And I remember him standing in the kitchen, looking at me and saying, "do you think about adopting me?" And I pretty much had to say, "well, we're going to pray about that. You and I together cannot talk about that. But I'm talking to your social worker. And we'll just pray and see what the Lord does."

And the Lord led our hearts together. He put our family together. And it's been wonderful. It's been difficult.

Zoe Chace

Alex, in his coming out process, I think, didn't want to lose his connection to Christianity. Eventually, in a way that I now think of as typically Alex, this eternal optimist way, he figured out a way to be gay and be a born again Christian. He reconciled these two things that seemed irreconcilable.

He looked up this alternative interpretation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and found a way that the scripture itself legitimized gay relationships. And he felt better. He could be both, gay and Christian. Jan says despite everything they've tried, the therapy, the homeschooling, the ministering--

Jan Chalgren

He has continued with being very pleased over the political climate. When states approve gay marriage, he will post, yay.

Zoe Chace

How do you feel about that?

Jan Chalgren

Oh. My hope is in the Lord. There's nothing that the Lord can't recover. Nothing he can't redeem.

Ted Chalgren

You know, he's 18 now. He's of age. The first thing he did when turned 18, the day he turned 18, he went out and registered to vote. That's something. I mean that is something.

Zoe Chace

It's Alex's dad though, Ted Chalgren, that's the major Cruz supporter in the family. Alex told me he sees Cruz as the most hardline against gay marriage and the most dangerous because he has experience arguing in front of the Supreme Court. So Cruz is the one guy who makes Alex the maddest. And Alex's dad knows that.

Ted Chalgren

What Cruz says is he's for the traditional family. And I guess that's enough of a red flag for the people who embrace the other position, that he's out and the fact that we embrace that. But he knows that. I mean we embrace a man and a woman. And, yeah, I'm sure he feels some rejection. And then that probably solidified it.

Zoe Chace

What was it like, if you can give me one example, when you found out he was gay?

Ted Chalgren

Oh. It made me so angry because I am vehemently opposed to that. Now, I have gay acquaintances, even in my work. I mean I just love them. I try to reach out to them and I fail.

It just really angered me. It broke my heart. It broke my heart for him because I think he has opened up a Pandora's box of real trouble for himself. One of the concerns, not the primary concern, is sexually transmitted diseases. And what are they called, STDs. That really is a concern.

Zoe Chace

Another concern for Ted is suicide rates for gay men. So he confronted Alex with his stats.

Ted Chalgren

And he could counter every one. He had done his research. He could counter all those. Well, in the general population, you know, yada, yada. And so none of that worked. And I was really angry. I would get angry with him quicker about other things just because I'd had this brooding anger at him about that.

And he ran away. He's run away three or four times. One time he stayed away for some weeks. And actually he jumped out of the car when I was driving and ran. He said, let me out of here.

Zoe Chace

What were you guys talking about? Do you remember?

Ted Chalgren

He was going-- he wanted to apply for this job.

Zoe Chace

This was a year and a half ago. Things were so tense between them anything could become a big fight. Alex had been offered a job at Hollister, a clothing store at the mall his dad describes as wild.

Ted Chalgren

And I didn't want him work at that place because I wanted him-- because it was over at the mall. I said, I'm not taking you to interview over there. You need to go over here and get a bag boy job at Publix or go down here to Babham's Feed and Seed and get a job down there toting feed and seed, if they'll hire you. Because you need to get a job for which you don't require transportation.

Do you see what I'm saying? It needs to be walkable. But he had-- high-falutin'. So anyway, he jumped out of the car because I said, "no, I'm not taking you there." And he said something else. "So that's way it's going to be?" I said, "absolutely."

He said, "I want out. Pull over." And I wasn't going to let him order me to pull over. You don't order your dad to do something. He said, "I want out." And he started-- so I slowed down. He bailed.

So there's been some of that combat at home, the real intense sort of combative, you could cut the environment with a knife. It really started with that coming out, isn't that what they call it? And Jan and I prayed about it. We wept about it.

I just sort of-- I think the Lord just jumped over my heart. I said let's just have peace at home. So we have peace at home.

Zoe Chace

Right now, with the election season, in the Chalgren household, there is something new to talk about. Now, he and his parents debate over Cruz versus Trump, instead of gay, not gay. Though the conversation sounds kind of similar, it is less painful.

Ted Chalgren

I delight in the victories and the things that Ted Cruz says, the principles and standards he has. So Alex knows that. And I know he's supporting Trump.

I've sort of had the hope that this is just a fantasy for him or maybe a fancy, however you want to say that. And he is very gracious with regard to not rubbing in to me the fact that Donald Trump is 800 points ahead of Ted Cruz in all the polls. He's not in my face. He's not.

And so I don't get too thrilled in front of him about what he's doing. But I'm really proud of him. And I'm really sort of dazzled by how successfully he engages his endeavors and so often accomplishes his goals.

Zoe Chace

So detente. Alex's dad had a strong Christian candidate. Alex had a candidate whom he believed supported gay marriage. Everyone was getting along. And then right as we were having these conversations, this happened. Trump went on TV and talked about the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

Donald Trump

But I would have much preferred that they ruled at a state level and allowed the states to make those rulings themselves.

Debate Host

But just to button up this up very quickly, sir. Are you saying that if you become president, you might try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same sex marriage?

Donald Trump

I would strongly consider that. Yes.

Zoe Chace

It was too obvious now. This thing Alex said would never happen, this thing he'd said mattered so much to him, the reason he'd staked himself on Trump in the first place, it just didn't seem true. So I sat Alex down and asked about it.

Zoe Chace

What does it feel like when he says something like that?

Alex Chalgren

It doesn't feel anything to me. He's saying those sort of things to get the votes. And I understand that. And gay marriage, it's done. It's done. There's no reversing it.

But Donald Trump, he's just saying it to say it because he needs to get the votes. He's saying that if he could appoint justices to fix this ruling, he would. I support Trump fully. I support Trump fully.

Zoe Chace

So maybe is it possible that I sort of overestimated how important the gay rights stance was for you with the Republican candidate you had picked?

Alex Chalgren

Here's the thing. I'm not selfish. At least I don't think I'm selfish. And so it would be selfish for me to risk the entire survival of our country off of gay marriage.

Zoe Chace

There was something else I noticed talking to Alex this time around, something a little different with him. He was so much more into Trump, even than he had been two weeks ago. It was like his favorite football team was in the Super Bowl or something. He was just googly-eyed for him. His reasons for supporting Trump no longer came from reasoning out one position to the next. It was more chemical, emotional.

Alex Chalgren

I like his persona. I like his stance on domestic policy in regard to building the wall, and building up our security, and his financial policy. I like it. I agree with it.

That we need to crush ISIS. We need to deal with the problem. We need to get rid of the problem.

You see how I do my hands here?

Zoe Chace

Yeah.

Alex Chalgren

That's like Trump. He does this.

Zoe Chace

Alex, you've probably figured out by now, fits into no known category of voter. All the ways that reporters and political consultants slice up populations, they don't apply to him.

He's not voting like a black voter, or a young voter, or a Christian voter, or a gay voter, or a Southern voter. But, of course, the way we choose our candidates is not a science. It's this alchemical mix of where we grew up, and who we respect, and whether we woke up this morning and were full of hope or full of fear.

And with Trump, maybe with any outsider candidate, Sanders or 2008 Obama, there seem to be so many idiosyncratic personal journeys that lead supporters to him. In New Hampshire, Trump won men. He won women. He won the young people and the old people, people who live in cities and in the country.

There is this other thing that both Alex's parents said to me separately when I asked why their son was into Trump? They said Trump's campaign reached out to Alex, remember. Alex liked that.

He really wants to be a political organizer. They think if Rubio's campaign had called, he might be working for Rubio right now. And the reason he liked Trump, they both said, was something much deeper about Alex, something I didn't see on my own. But they did.

Ted Chalgren

Because Trump shows power and Alex is about power. Because he was so impotent as a child, he had no control over his life.

There's something powerful about Donald Trump. And that appeals to Alex. When he speaks about his future, I think he pictures himself living like Donald Trump, with a penthouse on the 77th floor of something. And he's told Jan and I that we're going to live with him on his ranch. He's going to have horses and thousands of acres.

Zoe Chace

When I talked to Alex most recently, after talking to his parents, this was the thing that made the most sense, the power vote.

Alex Chalgren

And you can ask my mom this, ask my dad this. I have this sort of like gravitating pull towards people who are successful because I too want to be successful. Yeah. I want to be-- not necessarily, I don't focus on wealth. I focus on power. Because as Kevin Spacey said, in House of Cards, a fool goes after money. But someone that really seeks to control goes after power.

Zoe Chace

The power vote, those who want more power than they feel they have right now. That is a lot of people for a lot of reasons. That is the category Alex falls into now. The power vote-- that's Alex Chalgren.

Ira Glass

Zoe Chase. She's one of the producers of our show. Coming up, what if you could save thousands of lives each year doing something that most people find morally repugnant? That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two. Here's Looking at You, Kidney.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme. Today's theme, That's One Way to Do It-- stories of people making choices, the people near to them do not expect. We've arrived at Act Two of our program.

Act Two, Here's Looking at You, Kidney.

Of course, the main reason that we try unexpected things is when the old things do not work-- necessity, mother of invention, et cetera, et cetera. This next story is about something that definitely is not working as well as it could. It's something that results in tens of thousands of American lives lost each year. Stephanie Foo explains.

Stephanie Foo

Here's something you'd think they'd make easy, but instead it's pretty hard-- donating a kidney. In 2009, Sigrid Frye-Revere learned just how hard.

Her friend Maurie's kidney was failing. He needed a transplant. And he's someone who knew the system. He actually worked at the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan. So he knew his chances of getting a kidney were slim because there were over a hundred thousand people on the waiting list for kidneys.

Sigrid Frye-revere

So I know this sounds weird. But I just knew if I gave Maurie a kidney, he'd take good care of it. It would be going to someone that I'd grown to love and care about. And I offered to donate to him. I said, I'll help you. And there was just silence on the phone.

Obviously, he was just totally flabbergast. And thanked me. And I said, well, let's get the ball rolling.

Stephanie Foo

So Sigrid began the process every kidney donor has to go through. She contacted a transplant hospital, which coordinated the donation. There were months of blood tests and paperwork and phone calls.

Sigrid Frye-revere

I had to do everything. And when I would talk to Maurie about it, he would say, I can't help you because they really want to make sure I'm not pressuring you into doing this.

Stephanie Foo

Finally, after six months, she had a conference call with a panel from the transplant hospital, a final screening about her decision to donate. They had a lot of questions for her. But one of the biggest was, what's going to happen to your farm?

Sigrid lives on a farm and had animals that needed taking care of -- donkeys to feed, water to haul. So she'd arranged for her husband and son to each take a couple weeks off, which would give her a month of recovery time. But the panel said she might need longer than that.

Sigrid Frye-revere

And so when I said "I don't know. I mean maybe I could hire a part-time farmhand, maybe Maurie could help me." And that was the red flag. They said, "he can't do that."

And I said "oh, oh, OK. What should we do then?" And they said, well, "we're going to have to deny your request to donate to Maurie." And I'm like pleading on the phone. I'm crying. I'm pleading.

I'm saying, "well, wait a minute. Give me more time. Give me more time. We can figure something out, can't we?"

I mean, at this point it had been over six months of processing my application. And then here they are on the phone, telling me, in five minutes, sorry.

Stephanie Foo

Sigrid went and reread the law that governs these things, the National Organ Transplant Act. It says recipients can help donors out by paying them out-of-pocket for lodging, and transportation, and lost wages, but nothing else. So if Maurie gave Sigrid a few thousand dollars to hire someone to help around Sigrid's property while she recovered, that would be considered kidney trafficking. The punishment would be up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Sigrid Frye-revere

The hardest call I ever made-- I mean this quite seriously-- was calling Maurie and saying [SIGHS] they said no. We started over. But then he developed a heart condition.

Stephanie Foo

It's common for people who have been on dialysis for a long time to get heart conditions. Maurie's heart got so weak he was no longer eligible for a new kidney.

Sigrid Frye-revere

You're talking three or four months later. So if the transplant had gone ahead, he might still be alive today. And I should have lied.

I should not have told them that Maurie was willing to help me with the farmhand expenses. Or I shouldn't have mentioned that my family members could only help out for a month. What I heard from other transplant patients, they just don't mention that money is going to pass between the donor and the recipient.

Stephanie Foo

The average wait for a kidney is five years. Most patients on dialysis never get one and die within those five years.

This wasn't Sigrid's first experience with our kidney donation system. When Sigrid's son was 10 months old, he lost a kidney to cancer. He's now in his 20s and functioning just fine on his one healthy kidney. But for several years, doctors worried that he might need a transplant.

That concern led Sigrid to begin studying organ donation. And she eventually even became a medical ethicist. And in the 30 years she's been studying organ donation since then, she says she's seen how ineffective and even counterproductive our system can be.

Our huge kidney shortage doesn't make a lot of sense because, unlike hearts and lungs, there's no shortage of healthy kidneys, pumping away in most of us, primed for donation. We all have a secret power, kind of like how a starfish can grow a new arm. If you remove one of our kidneys, the remaining kidney grows by as much as 50% so it can take on the work of its missing partner.

So as far as something requiring major abdominal surgery goes, kidney donation is very safe. And yet a hundred thousand people are sitting on the kidney transplant waiting list. Each year, only a tiny portion of them, just 15%, get a kidney.

Sigrid thought there had to be better answers out there. There had to be a way to get more people to donate their kidneys. So she set up a panel where she worked, at the Cato Institute.

Sigrid Frye-revere

Welcome to Cato. I am the director of bioethics studies here at Cato.

Stephanie Foo

And at this panel, this nephrologist, a.k.a. a kidney doctor, named Benjamin Hippen, he started talking about something that seemed almost too good to be true, a country that had solved their organ crisis. They had a waiting list of people who wanted to donate-- too many donors.

Benjamin Hippen

And what you're going to hear today is what lessons can be learned from what's been reported in peer-reviewed journals from a number of different transplant centers in Iran.

Stephanie Foo

Yep, Iran. Except, Dr. Hippen explained, the way Iran accomplished this was by doing something no other country in the world allows. In Iran, you can buy a kidney from someone else. And it's legal.

Half the panel hated the idea. An organ donation policy guy, Sam Crowe, said there are just some things you don't want to let people buy and sell.

Sam Crowe

This might sound crass. But the same could be said for child pornography. The same could be said for the sex slave trade. I mean these are kinds of things that we outlaw because we're going to have a civil society.

Man

Well done.

Sam Crowe

I'm now provoked. You got me.

Man

So we can say that this has anything to do with what we're being proposed. Child pornography has nothing to do with what we're proposing today. We're proposing a situation to solve a terrible problem for out patients.

Sigrid Frye-revere

The debate essentially degenerated into what is going on in Iran. And no one had been there. And no one knew what was going on. So the whole debate was, I know better than you what's happening there. And no Westerner had really studied the Iranian system.

So I was actually kind of angry. I said, well, isn't the answer to what's going on in Iran to go see what's going on in Iran?

Stephanie Foo

So did you think that paying donors might work?

Sigrid Frye-revere

Yes. I thought if it's true, how did they do it and did they do it in an ethical way? And if they did do it in an ethical way, my god, we had an answer. Or we could improve on whatever Iran was doing, emulate some of what they were doing in a better way. After all, we're America, right?

Stephanie Foo

Sigrid wanted to go to Iran herself and conduct her own research on how Iran's living donor system worked. She presented this idea to her bosses at Cato, a libertarian think tank. So you think they'd like the idea of unleashing the power of free markets on organ donation. But this was in 2008, when Iran was still firmly a member of the axis of evil. Cato told her, no way. So Sigrid quit and began to plan her trip.

In November, 2008, Sigrid and an Iranian-American nephrologist, named Dr. Bajar Bastani, arrived in Iran. They interviewed hundreds of people-- doctors, people who worked donation centers, and, of course, donors and recipients.

Sigrid learned that there are certain rules that everyone in Iran must abide by. Both the donor and the recipient have to be Iranian citizens, for instance. But beyond that, it's practiced differently from province to province, depending on where you are. And what Sigrid saw at first was pretty disturbing.

Sigrid Frye-revere

The first donor I interviewed at the broker told me, if I'm not allowed to sell my kidney, what will I do?

Iranian Man

[SPEAKING IRANIAN]

Sigrid Frye-revere

I'm poor. I'll have to steal or kill someone.

Stephanie Foo

In Tehran, Sigrid learned donors and recipients actually haggled over the price of the organ. There's a base price that the government sets for a kidney. And it covers a third of that cost. Anything above is negotiable.

And recipients are able to manipulate the negotiations by playing on the sympathy of the donors. One donor told Sigrid that when he met his recipient, the man's wife and children were crying in the room. Then they low-balled him with an offer of 3 million toman, about $3,000.

Sigrid Frye-revere

And so the guide said, they introduced me to the recipient's family and said, "see, look, he's poor, right. He can't do any better than this for you."

And he says, "OK, OK, I'll do it for 3 million." And so the guy donated. And then he's sitting next to someone in the waiting room, who got 6 million toman. What was clear in Tehran is the balance of power was clearly off in favor of the recipients.

Stephanie Foo

There were kidney donation centers that were supposed to make sure the transactions were fair. But--

Sigrid Frye-revere

Donors were being cheated. And all of them, more or less, in one form or another, were disappointed. And you know, I'm like, oh, my god, everything I thought would be the worst is here. I was depressed. I was like, my gosh, if this is what it's really like, then this isn't the answer. But then I went on to a couple other regions, where I saw models where people generally were happy with the system.

Stephanie Foo

This was in Isfahan and Mashhad. And the way these kidney donation centers worked was totally different. People who show up wanting to sell a kidney usually have a problem that money would solve. And in Isfahan and Mashhad, the donation centers did a much better job of looking out for their interests.

Sigrid Frye-revere

Like in Tehran, they would be told, well, the recipient can't pay that much. Their family is poor. And we haven't got enough charity money. So you're only going to get half that.

Instead, in Isfahan and Mashhad, they would say, OK, how much do you need; what you need it for-- to get out of debt, to start a business, to start a family? You want this much for the organ donation. Let's see if we can do that for you.

If they have to give the donor a little less they'll say, well, let's get you a loan to make up the difference. Because they're considering the donor's needs as well as the recipient's needs. I can't think of one that we interviewed who didn't get the deal they expected and needed.

Stephanie Foo

The kidney centers also tried to provide food, clothing, follow-up care, free health care for the donors and their families.

Sigrid Frye-revere

And they also get-- the males, they have two years mandatory military service. And males who donate get exempted. And the reason they get exempted-- and see, this is what I think is kind of beautiful-- they get exempted from military service because they have already served their country and humanity by saving a life.

Stephanie Foo

It's not that things were perfect in Isfahan or Mashhad. There were still plenty of people selling their kidneys out of desperation. But Sigrid says the people she interviewed came away feeling good about what they'd done.

When Sigrid came back to America from Iran, she thought long and hard about what she'd seen, about how many lives were saved because donors were able to sell their kidneys. And then she concluded, nope, definitely not something we should try.

Sigrid Frye-revere

I thought this was really good. But I was very hesitant to assume that what works in the Iranian culture would work here.

Stephanie Foo

So why not?

Sigrid Frye-revere

That is a political question, OK, because there is so much opposition and misunderstanding what paying a donor means. That would never pass muster, not with the ethicists, not with Congress. But having my expenses covered is a different issue. I see no problem with that.

Stephanie Foo

So this is what Sigrid believes we should do in America. Instead of having people make money off of selling their kidneys, Sigrid says we should just cover their costs. Right now, it's really expensive to donate, about $5,000 on average. But that can go up to $20,000, most of that lost wages.

Medicare covers the donor's medical expenses. But it would help donors out a lot and probably convince others to donate if the government paid for every transplant-related cost-- lost wages, transportation, babysitting, psychological assistance after the surgery. If we could prevent people from losing their jobs for taking time off to donate, Sigrid says this is a first step to treating our donors with the respect they deserve.

She's tried to get this going herself. She founded a nonprofit that raises money to help donors cover their costs. So far, they've helped support 68 transplants. Other countries, like Ireland and Singapore, have already put systems like this in place, very different systems from what we have now.

Sigrid Frye-revere

You know, when I was turned down to donate, I was insulted and my friend died. I'm sorry. But if we are going to help solve the organ shortage, we cannot do it at the expense of donors. Because you don't take advantage of people who want to be altruistic like that.

Stephanie Foo

Right. Having your expenses covered would have solved your situation with Maurie, right?

Sigrid Frye-revere

Right, it would have.

Stephanie Foo

Anyway, that's one way to do it.

Ira Glass

Stephanie Foo is one of the producers of our show.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Neil Drumming, Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semian, Lilly Sullivan, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Brian Reed. Our editor is Joel Lovell. Julie Snyder is our editorial consultant. Our technical director is Matt Tierney.

Production help today from Ira Smith. Producer help today from Christopher Swetala, Benjamin Anastas, and Benjamin Phalen. Music help today from Damien Graef, from 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 asks me, at least once a week--

Terry Grosz

Snag them, dynamite them, gillnet them.

Ira Glass

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