13: Love

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Ira Glass

This is Ira Glass, host of Your Radio Playhouse, and starting this week, WBEZ is moving the program that usually begins right at this time, Selected Shorts, to Friday nights at 8 o'clock. So if you want hear Selected Shorts tune in on Fridays at 8:00.

And WBEZ is rebroadcasting my Friday night program, Your Radio Playhouse, right here, right now after Prairie Home Companion. And there's a little radio programming experiment. The idea is that since my program is radio storytelling plus music, it has some things in common with Prairie Home Companion, and might be the kind of thing that Garrison Keillor fans would enjoy. WBEZ is going to try this out for a few months and WBEZ management welcomes your thoughts and reactions to this programming idea.

Your Radio Playhouse has been on the radio on Friday nights now for several months, and if you haven't heard it, the stories are told in a wide variety of styles by a wide variety of writers and performers. And some of the program just happens right here in the radio studio.

For example, this week's program is about love. It's for the week of Valentine's Day. And we begin with this cassette-- I have it here-- that a friend sent me for the Valentine's Day holiday. This is "A Guided Meditation For Singles" presented by Frayda Kafka. And normally, if you're going to make something like this up, you actually would give the person-- you'd make up a name like Frayda Kafka. But I'm afraid this all too real. Frayda Kafka, produced by something called Conscious Singles Connection Incorporated, copyright 1994.

And this cassette has lots of ideas for things that singles-- conscious singles, presumably-- can do so they don't feel bad on holidays like Valentine's Day.

Frayda Kafka

You know, you can give yourself a very special day alone if that's what you're going to do with your holiday. You can prepare for it, actually prepare in advance. You can buy flowers for yourself. You can light candles. You can plan a special ritual, a special meal just for you. You can even write yourself letters about it, poems. You can listen to very wonderful music on that day.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's Your Radio Playhouse. I'm Ira Glass. And you know, you didn't have to prepare in advance for this hour. We have prepared the whole thing for you. We have set the table. We've lit the candles. It's all set. Oh, conscious singles. And couples, you couples who are sensitive to your consciously single friends. A very special hour for you, so stay with us.

What's amazing about this tape to me is its utter lack of modesty about what it promises. It doesn't just promise to make you feel a little better about being single, it is categorical. It promises complete spiritual and emotional peace. When you're done listening to this cassette it says, "You will be at peace with being single. You will feel happy. You will feel fulfilled."

Frayda Kafka

And you know you can do it by simply relaxing.

Ira Glass

You know what could be easier? What could be easier?

Frayda Kafka

All you need to do is pay attention to your breath.

Ira Glass

This isn't-- I don't know, it's not working for me. Are you breathing there at home? Are you? If you're in your car, are you breathing right now? And is it happening, are you finding peace?

She also says this sentence, which I love.

Frayda Kafka

And the rest is up to me.

Ira Glass

That is a sentence you never hear in the English language. Usually when people get into the construction and the rest is up to-- that's a pretty common construction in school, in sales situations, over the TV. You hear that a lot and people never go into the construction, and the rest is up to-- and end up with me. No, it's always you.

Frayda Kafka

And the rest is up to me.

Ira Glass

She also says this other thing that I find mesmerizing, but incomprehensible. And it's this--

Frayda Kafka

You don't even need to listen.

Ira Glass

What is that about? You know, she's in the tape business. It's not like a video thing, it's a cassette with sound.

Frayda Kafka

You don't even need to listen.

Ira Glass

If at the beginning of our radio show we would say to you, hi, we've been working really hard to prepare a really good show for you. And there's one other thing you've got to know--

Frayda Kafka

You don't even need to listen.

Ira Glass

Unless it was some sort of reverse psychology thing. You know what I mean? We've used all the promotional tactics we could think of and now we're doing reverse psychology. We're doing reverse psychology and what we're saying is--

Frayda Kafka

You don't even need to listen.

Ira Glass

Yeah, that will be the day. So side one of the tape is a kind of warm-up to the actual meditation, and side two is the guided meditation itself.

And she has us relax, breathe deeply, which we have all been practicing earlier in the show. And then she says, pretend you're having a dream. And the dream she has us pretend is astonishingly banal. You pretend we're floating among clouds.

Frayda Kafka

And you can let that cloud carry you, spiraling up over the roof. Floating over the trees. Way up over the mountains.

Ira Glass

If you had to pay for dreams, this is one you wouldn't even rent. You wouldn't even rent this one at the video store.

So you float in the dream, and of course because all the elements have to be involved, there's air and there's clouds, and you float passed the mountain. And then you come, of course, to a river. And this is where she gets to the heart of the matter. Remember the promise of the tape is that she is going to make you feel good about your singlehood, and at peace with it. And how does she do it?

It's really fascinating. She does it by having you imagine the person who you're meant to be with.

Frayda Kafka

This person understands you and loves you and knows exactly what to say to you.

Ira Glass

In other words, the whole way that you're going to come to peace with your singlehood is you just envision the day when you're not single. That seems like kind of a cheat to me. That isn't being at peace with singlehood. That's simply believing that your singlehood is a temporarily delayed state that will lead to couplehood.

Frayda Kafka

This person can be male or female. It may not even really be a person.

Ira Glass

What is that about? What is the bet that she's hedging there? Like, you know, who is she trying not to offend? Like, OK, we've got the people who are involved with the males. We've got the people involved with the females. And then, we just want to be sure like we get everybody in, the people who are involved with-- what, a horse?

Frayda Kafka

And this person will come as close to you as you wish. And touch you in any way that feels good for you. Take your time now and let yourself feel the way you'd like to be touched. You might like just a touch on the shoulder, or an arm around you. You might like a hand on your forehead. Or maybe you'd like to be held or rocked. You can have whatever you want from this person.

Ira Glass

At this point in the tape, I have to say-- for me, anyway-- it kind of starts to work on me. I start to think, like yes, I do want this person who's going to hold me and be the person who totally understands me.

Frayda Kafka

This person is here for you from your future.

Ira Glass

And one of the things that's interesting to me about this is not just that it's so effective, but that it's such a lie. I mean, if you've ever been in an actual relationship, no human being who you're going to be with is going to be there to touch you the way you want to be touched every time, and talk to you the way you want to be talked to every time.

And the fact that this could be a comfort to someone, I think it's just a sign of how much we want this. You know, that we want this person.

In the New Yorker magazine this week, John Updike writes about Lana Turner's seven husbands. He says, there's something ridiculous about a woman who take seven husbands. As if she had rummaged through the drawers of masculinity and come up with seven dwarfs.

And I think that actually, what's ridiculous about it isn't that there was anything wrong with those seven guys that they were dwarfs. What's ridiculous is the notion that she could be married to seven different people and be happy with none of them. That she, herself, would not be able to find happiness with any of those guys.

And the reason why she didn't find happiness with those guys was cause she was waiting for another guy. She was waiting for the guy on this cassette who doesn't exist.

You know, what do we do with that dream? The dream that love is going to knock at the door. Like in some melodrama. Like a TV soap opera. What do we do about it when we've heard love call before and watched ourselves mess it up? What do we do?

In this hour, that dream and the difficulty of that dream.


Well, our special pre-Valentine's Day love program in three acts. Act one, Yearning, with setbacks. Act two, Sex and Sex and Sex. Act three, A Wedding.

Act One: Yearning

Ira Glass

Act one, Yearning.

We begin with this image, a woman in a crushed red velvet dress, lying on her stomach on the ground. The dress has a train that's 60 feet long trailing behind her. Her face looks like the face of someone who's been making out in the backseat of a car for hours. Her mouth is swollen and puffy from kissing. Lipstick is smeared everywhere, on her mouth and chin. A dab is on her nose.

She's kissing the ground, methodically, with purpose. She kisses the ground, applies a fresh coat of lipstick, kisses again. Applies another color, kisses again. She's gone through 11 tubes of lipstick in 25 hours. There's that sweet lipsticky perfume in the air.

She's spelling out words on the floor in lipstick. Each letter is two feet high.

Julie Laffin

The word's say, there was a time when I worshipped the ground you walked on.

I'm making a monument to my ex-boyfriend.

Ira Glass

The woman's named Julie Laffin, and the ex-boyfriend she says, was everything she wanted to be-- creative, together. She said she did worship the ground he walked on. She said she was the kind of person who was always in love with the fantasy of being in love.

Julie Laffin

And I've worked really hard to maintain that fantasy in the face of all information about reality, the reality of the situation.

Ira Glass

When she first started kissing the ground, in public, as performance art, a part of her wished that the ex-boyfriend would find out. Maybe he would see that she had put him behind her. Maybe he'd have regrets. Maybe he'd get in touch with her. Who among us has not known this particular mix of conflicting feelings towards an ex?

Julie Laffin moved onto other kissing projects.

Julie Laffin

I kissed all the names of my ex-lovers onto public property. I kissed the names on parking meters and benches and sidewalks and glass windows. And when I kiss their names, I actually would flash to that person and really dwell on them. And it was this very kind of releasing activity.

When I got to the last person's name, I kissed it onto this big, concrete wall. And I thought, this is the last person in my life. This is the last relationship that I've had. This is actually the last relationship I will ever have. And I sort of saw myself as now I was going to take this role of the eternal spinster.

Ira Glass

When she does these performance art pieces, kissing the ground, she says that sometimes she feels like this nonentity. People stand near her, talk about what she's doing as if she's not there. And when she leaves, they walk on the words she's made with her mouth, turn them into a big red blur on the ground.

And Julie Laffin says there's something about kissing, compulsively for hours, that's partly like being out of control and partly very peaceful. Meditative.

She slides along the ground, kissing out the pattern of each letter.

Julie Laffin

The other day, this guy came in selling peanuts for the homeless. And he walked in and he said, is this what I think it is? And I said, I don't know. What do you think it is? And he said, are these all lip marks? And I said, yes. And he said, I wish I were the guy that these were meant for.

Ira Glass

There's a yearning for love that we feel when we've actually loved someone and been loved. And then there's the yearning for love that you feel if you have it. Mark O'Brien is a writer in California, but because of a childhood case of polio, he lives most of each day in an iron lung on his back. He's the subject of this amazing little film, new film, called Breathing Lessons. And the film is remarkable because it's about a guy in an iron lung, but it is completely unsentimental.

And in certain moments, it's also pretty funny. The film is by Jessica Yu, and it was just at the Sundance Film Festival. And Jessica Yu gave us permission to excerpt a memorable little scene from the film here on our radio show.

Because he's in the iron lung, Mark O'Brien has attendants cook and help him out during the day. And during the film he explains that these days he always has men do this job. Because when he had women do the job, he kept falling in love with them. And the love was never reciprocated. He wrote about one of these women, "Her pale, perfect skin, her strong, fleshy legs drove me to ecstasies of despair. See, she'd talk with me as a human instead of her savagely crippled employer."

Here's a little scene about desire and yearning from this film.

Mark O'brien

I hired a sex surrogate in '87 or '86. I forget when. I felt very crazy. I was angry at all women for not falling in love with me because I'd fallen in love with several attendants and they all said it was a business relationship. A sex surrogate is a person who has some psychological training that works with their body, having sex with a client who is referred by a therapist.

The surrogate had this big mirror and she showed me naked and aroused. I thought of myself as the ugliest man in the world. But it's like something, someone who would want to have sex with. Not just my dick, but my whole body.

And Carol was very kind to me. She kissed me on the chest after we had intercourse. I felt my chest was very unattractive, but she kissed me right there and the intercourse was so quick. I hate to say it, but it was wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. And it wasn't as great as I thought it would be, but being naked in a bed with a woman who's being extremely friendly was the most fun I've ever had. I think I'd like to do it again.

Ira Glass

Usually Mark O'Brien can't be outside of his iron lung for more than 45 minutes. But when the sex surrogate was with him, he was outside his tube for longer than that. Longer than he almost ever goes out. And he didn't even use his portable respirator.

Julie Laffin

I didn't need it for an hour. I went for an hour without it. They should think of sex as respiratory therapy. Maybe Medicare would pay for it.

About a year after I last saw her, I just felt terribly depressed. I expected somehow that seeing the surrogate would change my life. I'd started wearing cologne and I thought everyone would be able to tell I was sexy and handsome. But nothing happened. They tell us to think of ourselves as sexual and beautiful, but it doesn't do any good unless someone else sees us as sexual and beautiful. You just can't demand love. You have to be lovable. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that.

Luis Rodriguez

This is Luis Rodriquez and the piece is called "Waiting."

What made the waiting so painful? The woman had called, she was on her way.

Tense, I waited sitting at the kitchen table. There had been too many nights waking up to bottles and books on the floor. Two small children parked on blankets in the corner.

Alone ain't so bad. Dreams of women yet to be touched, to be smelled. It ain't bad.

Up on a hill hidden by wood and shingled shacks alongside curbless roads visited by nobody unless they had to be here. Alone ain't so bad.

Hammering holes into walls with fists, tears streaming down my face at saxophone riffs. Looking at old photos, feeding babies, taking out trash, and thinking of her. It ain't so bad. I couldn't stand it.

Looked through personal ads in the weeklys. Made phone calls, wrote letters, came across a video date, the godsend for lonely people. I called. After three false starts, a lady said she would be here Saturday. It's Saturday and I'm going nuts.

An hour finding the place, an old stucco white basement room. You can't miss it. Cholo graffiti on the front door. She came, made her pits. Saw the hurt in my eyes. I always spoke with my eyes, dammit. A longing for sweet companionship. Not of drunken home boys or angel dusted street women, for the mother of my kids out at Sunny's Lounge sucking Kahluas and highballs, and shooting out wicked smiles at discoed-out dudes.

The lady looked in my eyes and then stopped. Refused to sell me the video date. Refused to take the check. This can't help you, she said, and walked out.

Dolores Wilbur

He asked me to go for a walk. I said no, even though I knew I wanted to.

Ira Glass

This story about wanting love from Dolores Wilbur.

Dolores Wilbur

We were sweeping out the cottage, cleaning up. It was time to go home. We had to leave that afternoon, less than a couple of hours away.

He just looked at me without expression, not sure of how he should look. He knew I would go for a walk. He knew I wanted to.

I knew I would as well, but I wanted to say no to try it out. I gave in almost immediately. So we walked. I kicked stones watching my feet. There were trees on either side of us.

He said, I don't have anything to say. I just wanted to walk with you.

I said stupid things. Or maybe it is that they weren't stupid, but saying them out loud sounded so stupid.

He said, how do you feel?

I said, upset. He nodded. I hated that he nodded. He knew it was going badly and he began to feel miserable. He tried to think of something to say.

I said, I don't understand you. We thought we were alike, but we find we are not. I hate when you say you're sorry you hurt my feelings. You didn't hurt my feelings, you hurt me. And you're dumb. Why are you doing this? I hate this conversation. I hate this kind of conversation.

He said, I hate this conversation too. I hate it so much.

I said, well, you're the man. You're the one making it all wrong. You figure it out.

He said, I'm the one who's supposed to fix it, is that it?

I said, we can't be friends. We can't. I can't. It's not what I want.

He nodded, looked down, looked away. Looked anxious, afraid to say anything.

After a while he said, how you feel now, this has happened to me before.

What? I said.

He told me something that only made me mad. He wanted someone who didn't want him and it took a long time to be over. So what, I thought. Who cares? It's not the same.

He said, can't we be friends?

We can talk on the phone, but we can't see each other, I said.

But will we talk to be friends? He said.

No, I said.

He said, what will we say? Hi, how are you? I'm fine. That's all?

I don't know, I said.

We walked aimlessly. It was hot. We looked for shade. He stopped at a bunch of rocks marking the gate in front of a white picket fence. He picked up one of the rocks with both hands. It was big and rough, salt and pepper with white spindly lines running through it. Some bits of sparkly dust glinted off it in the sun.

He stood holding it to his chest for a moment and then, looking around, gently put it down somewhere else, less than a foot away.

There, doesn't it look better now? He said. He looked satisfied, relieved at what he had done. I fought back irritation and wondered at what this meant to him. I guessed it was because he had done something. Sometimes just doing any one thing can make you feel better. It doesn't matter what.

The look on his face picking up the rock, moving it, walking, it all made me so tired.

Do you want to turn around? I said.

He said, yes, looking anxious again. Then no, knowing he had said the wrong thing.

We sat on a mound of tall, reedy grass down from a tree. It was cooler.

I said, what are you thinking?

He said, tall grass, and looked at me. His eyes were wide open.

I smiled at him. He said things like that and I loved him. He lounged and I sat and picked up twigs and pushed them into the soft, moist ground, reaching for pieces of bark. Different mottled surfaces, rough, but warm and comforting in my hands. I placed them carefully between the twigs.

He said, what are you doing?

I said, I'm making a pile for a little animal to find and to use. And besides, the bark is so pretty.

He said, I'm breaking up little pieces of twig and hiding them around. He laughed edgy and said, yeah, that's me. Hiding stuff like nobody could see.

I wondered if he loved me. If e really loved me. That morning in bed he said, I love you. I love you.

But when I said, then why? He couldn't answer.

Now he said, I like you so much. So very much. And I noticed he didn't say love.

It didn't matter so much, I just looked at the words for a while. I looked at the sound the words made after they were said. I knew he loved me, but that he didn't know what that meant. And the truth was that I didn't either. And I wasn't sure that it made any difference.

We walked back to the cabin holding each other. It was warm again. Our bodies were wet against each other. The wet felt good.

We walked up to the house. I held his hand tightly for a moment. He let go too quickly and I pressed my lips together.

I watched him walk up the steps, push open the screen door. The breeze caught the door and it swung for a moment back and forth. I waited outside for him to lock up.

Ira Glass

Well, coming up in part two of our program, less gloomy stories. Not so many sad stories of yearning. Instead, stories of love, love, love and sex, sex, sex, and marriage. Stay with us, it's Your Radio Playhouse.

Act Two: Sex

Ira Glass

Act two, it's Your Radio Playhouse. I'm Ira Glass.

Sex. What would a Valentine's Day show be without sex? And we're going to start with this story of sexual discovery put together by audio artist Gregory Whitehead, who lives in Massachusetts.

Just a little warning here, some of the material in the next two stories might be unsuitable for younger listeners.

Woman 1

I was 13 and he was 15. And we were going to go to the movies. We went to the Blue Star Shopping Center on Route 22. To see Live or Let Die. And I think his mother drove us. And we sat in the movie next to each other and he didn't make a move. And nothing happened. And then his father came and picked us up and drove us back to his house.

So he said, do you want to come up to my room? And as we went into his room, he closed the door and said, we're not allowed to lock our doors in my house. So otherwise he would have locked the door.

This is really awful.

So I don't know, he like roamed around and was showing me stuff. And I was just being sort of polite. And showing me all his toys and junk and silly things that he had. And then proceeded to make the moves. make the big moves on me. And I was just very innocent. And he was very aggressive. And just started kissing me and then just said, take off your shirt.

And so I'm sitting there thinking, well, the door is unlocked. And he said, well, he had a little sister who was pestering us. So eventually I figured someone will just walk in. And he's likes well, no. And asks me, do I want to see it? And of course, I want to see it. I want to know what it looks like. But at the same time, I feel like I'm in this incredibly ominous, dangerous situation.

It's pornographic. I'm just a little girl. Now I know how much of a little girl I was. I was just 13. I mean, 13 is young.

But there it was. It was this mindless thing. And I thought, well--


So yeah, so he whips it out. And we both sit and we look at it.

And he says, well, do you want to touch it? And I didn't want to. But I did. It was just horrible and dirty. More dirty than anything I've ever done since, even trying to be dirty.

It was clinical. And I felt like I was being experimented upon. And the worse thing was that I was so passive. And I did what I was told because I was a good girl.

It was like a game to him. Now that I'm older, now that I think about it, it was a game. It wasn't playful. It was a very sophisticated game. It was a game of erotic and it wasn't loving to-- it was just a nightmare,

to coerce someone or to seduce someone. To seduce a little girl. It was as if he were 40.

So here was this--

But there it was. This mindless thing.


So he could like make it move and flop around all by itself.

It was such a horrible situation. This spineless thing. But it has a mind of its own and a body of its own, so it moved around. And I was just appalled. I had no idea that this is what happened. That you could like make it move, all by itself without touching. And then it just stood up. It stood straight up. It was like wagging. It was like his little ventriloquist dummy that he could make talk to me.

It wasn't playful and finally--

It wasn't erotic.

His sister was knocking at the door. It wasn't loving. We put our clothes back on and--

My mother came and picked us up. And I walked outside on his nice suburban lawn. And his mother was there and my mother was talking to his mother. And I stared at our mothers.

But then I knew I could never tell--


I just wanted to get out of there. To get to a safe place.

But then I knew I could never tell anyone what had happened. So I could never be in a safe place.

Ira Glass

One of the associate producers here at Your Radio Playhouse, Nancy Updike, has this small sociological discovery about sex in America.

It's an odd sort of discovery about one of the most politicized aspects of sex in America: condom use.

Nancy Updike

I just want to know, am I the last one to know about this? Because the first time I had sex without a condom was only a few months ago. I was dating this 21-year-old Irish boy with a creamy body and a big mouth. After the first time we skipped it, we never used a condom. At the time, I was living with my best friend, Sarah. She and I were sort of married and we told each other everything.

One morning leaving my lovely boyfriend sprawled out and sleeping, I went next door to Sarah's room and sat down on her bed.

So how's the sex? She smiled.

Fun, I said. Not the greatest ever, but vigorous and sort of sweet. Pause.

I wanted to tell her about the whole condom thing because I knew she was assuming we were using them, mistaking us every day for good, righteous people instead of the bad, irresponsible people we, in fact, were. And the longer it went on, the more it felt like I was lying.

We're not using condoms, I blurted it out, looking down. There was a long pause.

Josh and I aren't using them either, she said.

I looked up. We stared at each other for a second and we burst out laughing. It may be hard to convey the strange giddiness of this moment to anyone who didn't go to college in the late '80s and early '90s. For Sarah and me, and for our girlfriends, safe sex was the marker of the modern, straight, post-AIDS feminist. She has sex with who she wants and when she wants, but she always protects herself. It was about self-respect and it was about being down with the cause. Sisters knew that sisters used condoms.

Well, that was then. Here are some of the sisters now.

Woman 2

I don't think anybody uses them anymore.

Woman 3

I used them-- oh my god-- many moons ago.

Woman 4

Well, kind of.

Woman 5

We use them once in a while like right around the time that I know that I'm ovulating.

Nancy Updike

Statistics seem to indicate that, in fact, very few women are practicing safe sex. Nationwide, only about 20% of currently sexually active women report using condoms. And one out of five of those condom-using women hadn't used one the last time they had intercourse.

Gay men, in contrast, seem more careful. But even here, a San Francisco survey showed only half of gay men saying they use a condom every time they have sex.

Interestingly, these studies, the most current according to the Centers for Disease Control, are four years old, and are based on data collected four years before that, at the height of my alleged safe sex vigilance and that of my friends. So what now seems clear is that a massive nationwide campaign to shape our sex lives failed. And no one is talking about the fact that it failed.

Most of us are not practicing safe sex and never did. At least not in that every time, for the whole time, no exceptions way that safe sex as we knew it was all about. And now, nearly everyone I know seems paralyzed in this weird state that's part shame at what we see as laziness about using condoms, and part stubborn attachment to our secret decision not to use them as often as we feel we should.

For instance, I started out scared about not using condoms with my cute Irish boyfriend and had to keep rationalizing what we were doing by reminding myself that he was a drunk, not a junkie. And that he'd gotten head for a boy only once and hadn't liked it.

But then fear faded to guilt, and now I don't even think the guilt makes sense. I'm not using condoms and my women friends are not using condoms because when we look around, we are not dying of this disease, and neither is anyone we're sleeping with. And it's been that way for 10 years now. Heterosexual, non-drug-using women simply have not, as a group, become the much-feared second wave of the AIDS epidemic as we were always being warned in college that we would.

Only 8% of all diagnosed AIDS cases in the United States are from heterosexual contact, according to the CDC. But we keep calling ourselves lazy, my friends and I, I think because we're feeling like bad feminists. Giving up safe sex means giving up that solidarity we believed in back when it seemed like we were all going to be at risk together-- gay men, straight women, women across lines of race, and class, and age, all of us united against a single, deadly common enemy.

Five years later, I think it's only a matter of time before the phrase, "No glove, no love" sounds to us the way "Sisterhood is powerful" sounds to our mothers.


Act Three: A Wedding

Ira Glass

Act three, A Wedding.

Shakespeare ends his comedies with weddings, and it's easy to see why. You want a moment of joy, of hope at the end of any program that touches on the idea of love.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

OK, hold his hand. All right, now whatever I say in English, you're going to tell him in Spanish.

Ira Glass

If you walk downstairs in Chicago's City Hall, you take the escalator down when you walk in that front door on whatever street that is. If you walk downstairs and you turn right, you come to marriage court. It costs $10. There's a big sign saying right up front you can't offer the judge a gratuity. And you know, you get the license down the hall and then there's a one-day waiting period, like if you buy a handgun or something. They don't want people rushing into it.

12,530 people were married in this court last year. That's more than any other place in Illinois, as best as anybody can figure.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

I'm going to ask them about eight questions. Now, I don't want them to answer each question. When I'm all done with the eight questions-- ocho-- then I'll say to him, OK, Francisco, what is your answer? And he'll answer once. Tell him that.

Ira Glass

Wednesday morning Francisco and Arminia Orosco stood before Judge Arthur Rosenblum. Arminia spoke English, but Francisco didn't. And although is was happening in a basement office with dingy carpet, and although the groom was in jeans with a Coors belt buckle and a leather jacket, and although they brought no witnesses, and although both of them were planning on going to work after the wedding-- her at an insurance office and him at a record store-- there was still something moving about watching her translate the vows, looking in the eyes of her husband-to-be. That is, once they actually got started.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

OK, ready? Here we go.

Francisco, do you take her to be your wife, and to live together with her as husband and wife? What are you looking at me for? Translate it.



Judge Arthur Rosenblum

And live together with her as husband and wife.



Judge Arthur Rosenblum

Do you promise to love her, honor her, and respect her?



Judge Arthur Rosenblum

Do you promise to be her friend?



Judge Arthur Rosenblum

Do you promise to take care of her whether she's sick or whether she's well?



Ira Glass

Judge Rosenblum looks in their eyes as he does the ceremony. He doesn't have a piece of paper or anything with the script. And after both of them did their vows, Judge Rosenblum gave a little speech about the wedding rings, about how they symbolize an endless love, an endless friendship. And both of them put on the rings.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

All right, you're Senor Esposa. [SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

A big embrace, he says.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

Beso, beso.

Ira Glass

Kiss, kiss. So they do.

Judge Rosenblum has done a few things to make weddings in city hall a little more human. He's replaced the generic hotel art in the office with a Norman Rockwell print.

One whole wall of his office is lined with snapshots of happy couples, him in the middle. In this office, you see the whole range of couples, all ages and races, all incomes. Though a lot of people come to City Hall because it's so cheap. And the full range of happy and unhappy couples.

Joan Healey is the [UNINTELLIGIBLE] good humor, completely wonderful woman who greets you when you walk into the office and arrive at the front window. She's the one who takes your $10. And she says that she sees some couples she frankly has to worry about a little.


I really think, walk away. Walk away. It's a long life together, long life together.

Ira Glass

And what are you seeing when you think that? What are they doing?


I get a funny feeling in the tone of voice that they use to one another. This is kidding on the square, you are seeing this. And you're kind of hurting that person. Or just maybe sitting in a chair. If one will sit, go and sit in the chair, and the one that I kind of think is not the nice one would probably go sit in another chair on the other side of the room. Not really even wanting to be together, things like that. Just kind of shake your head and say-- by the time you get up to the escalator, the top of the escalator, I hope they're still together.

Ira Glass

In his chambers, between weddings, Judge Rosenblum reads and smokes a pipe. He was out til midnight the night before I visited in his regular gin rummy game. He's 79, married twice, but not currently married. He says that there's nothing the rabbi could have said to him under the marriage canopy when he got married that would've been useful advice. Each marriage runs the course it's supposed to, he says. It's just dumb luck. Nobody can really tell you anything.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

Some should marry, some should not. Some do, some will last. Some won't last. That's true of all life in anything, right?

Joan, let me ask you something? Why do people get married?


Oh, for various reasons. Some for love, some for money. Some I don't know why.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

Well, you married for money, right?


Oh, yes. Can't you tell?

Ira Glass

If couples seem interested, Judge Rosenblum will pull a book out of his upper left-hand desk drawer and read a little bit. The book is Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

And this book is a great allegory. An allegory is a story like a parable. And what it does is it tells you something which really means something else.

Ira Glass

He turns to the chapters on love and marriage.

Judge Arthur Rosenblum

I'll only read the parts that are worldwide known.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing floor. In the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not with all of your laughter, and weep, but not with all of your tears."

Ira Glass

It can take away your faith in the romance of marriage to see 12,000 of them in a year. But Judge Rosenblum says he sees his share of truly happy couples in this job.

The other woman working up front, Michelle Roberts, says that despite this job, she's still glad to be married when she goes home at night.

And every day, dozens more arrive to take their vows. Some dressed in formal wear, some in jeans. Many with children in tow.

Valentine's Day turns out to be the busiest day of the year here. 145 marriages last Valentine's Day. The halls were jammed. The elevator jammed. The escalator jammed with people who couldn't wait to get married on the holiday of love.

Well, before we end our show, there's a song that we've actually been saving to play for Valentine's Day. We recorded this back around Christmas. And these are kids at the Daniel J. Nellum Youth Services in Chicago. And they sing this little song that they made up, a little crush song. They include Antwone Robinson, Warren Harris, Sean Cook, Edward G. Robinson, Junior, Willie Weddington, Curtis Perry, and Nate Settles. Here's their song.


Ira Glass

Tonight's program was produced by Dolores Wilbur and by myself, with Alix Spiegel, Peter Clowney and Nancy Updike. Contributing editors Jack Hitt, Margy Rockland and Mr. Paul Tough.

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia. That's a really good name to mess up during the credits.


If you would care to buy a tape of this or our other Radio Playhouse programs, call us. Call us, call us at WBEZ 312-832-3380.

You can email us with any comments or thoughts and we will email you back. Our address, [email protected].

And do you remember that really smart, amazing guy in the iron lung? You can actually email him. His name is Mark O'Brien if you want to chat with him. And his email address is marko-- M-A-R-K-O--

We, this Radio Playhouse program, we broadcast proudly from WBEZ Chicago. We'll be back next week with more stories of this here American life, I'm Ira Glass.