115
November 13, 1998

First Day

Stories of the first day on the job, the first day in a relationship, the first day in school. On the first day, any first day, we're expected to live by the rules and customs of the culture we're entering, but we don't know those rules and customs just yet. These are stories of people trying to make the transition—and the difficulty of making the transition—in a new place, from outsider to insider.

Paint-by-number kit, previously sold in the This American Life store.

Prologue

Writer Jack Hitt talks about his daughter Tarpeley's first day in her new school. It was her first "first day" of any kind. The kids at the school put her through a kind of hazing. This often happens at all sorts of first days: in military academies, for doctors-in-training, in street gangs. And why is hazing so common? Hazing is so primal—and intimate. As if the existence of The First Day—the simple presence of an outsider who wants to be an insider—is so profound, so disturbing to any group, that they have to crush you, prove you harmless, before they can bring you in as family. (6 minutes)

Lost At Sea

Dishwasher Pete tells the story of his first day washing dishes on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. He'd heard he'd get a hazing when he stepped foot on the rig. How cussing can save you when reason treads, and other lessons of his job there. Listeners who want to buy Pete's zine — where this story first appeared — can get it by sending a dollar to Dishwasher, P.O. Box 8213, Portland, OR 97207. (12 minutes)

When Businesses Act Like Humans

Then Chicago-radio-listener and writer Alex Blumberg (he's now one of our producers) tells the story of encountering a corporation on its first day. It made all the human errors anyone does on a first day: exhibiting false confidence, pretending it wasn't the first day, trying too hard. (5 minutes)