36: Letters

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Act One: Act One

From PRI, Public Radio International.

From PRI, Public Radio International.

From PRI, Public Radio--

Public Radio.


Radio International.

--Radio International.

One more time.

Act 1

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira glass. Today our program comes to you from a club on Chicago's North Side, The Lunar Cabaret. And we're here to conduct a little radio experiment.

Over the last two weeks here in Chicago, we have advertised, we have asked for people to come in here today with letters, letters they've found, letters they've been sent, letters they have sent. And what we're going to do is conduct an open mic session. Basically, let people come up and read their letters.

And we've asked people to change the names in the letters to protect both the innocent and the guilty. Otherwise, the ground rule is, these letters are real. I'll be co-hosting today's show with playwright David Hauptschein. And it's David who actually created the idea of the letter show. He's done this several times around Chicago, invited people to bring in their letters and read them on stage. He's also done a diary show, where people have read from their diaries, and a true stories show, where people come up on stage, and just tell true stories.

David, thank you for agreeing to try this on the radio.

David Hauptschein

Well, thank you, Ira, for having me.

Ira Glass

All right. So how do we begin this? What are the rules? What do people need to know?

David Hauptschein

There are a few basic rules. You see this egg timer here? My grandmother made soft-boiled eggs for me when I was eight years old using this egg timer. This egg timer will get you off the stage after five minutes. When you hear [DING] that, you must stop. If you're really nervous, I usually bring a pillow for people to rest their heads on, but tonight I have this little elephant for people to hold in case they're really--

Ira Glass

He's holding up a--

David Hauptschein

It's a rhino. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Ira Glass

You're holding up a six inch long, gray rhinoceros.

David Hauptschein

And I will leave this up here on the podium. So if anyone gets really tense-- which is fine, you're allowed to be nervous-- just hang on to this.

Ira Glass

I hold in my hand a bowl, a silver bowl, full of pieces of paper on which members of our audience here have written their names.

David Hauptschein

Please pick the first name, Ira.

Ira Glass

John Biederman. come on up.

David Hauptschein

It's always a very strange and powerful thing to be first.

John Bierderman

OK, I'll read you a couple of things from Carolyn. Down the side of this, has listed a few band names, White Snake, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Led Zepplin, Motley Crue, Accept, Iron Maiden, Black Rose, Giuffria. Whatever the hell--

Hiya hon', what are you up to? I'm listening to Motley Crue, "Shout at the Devil." That's a pretty kick-ass tape. It's Joe's, but it's still a kick-ass tape. And Vince Neil is such a fox. I'd love to go backstage at a Crue concert. I'd be in total heaven, because I know what I'd do. And I'll bet you do too.

Like my green marker? I think it's cool. Explain this to me. Something fishy is going on. What? I don't know. But you're acting fishy. So don't lie. And it's nothing I did. I don't act any different than before we did it. Are you trying to say that I'm acting different, or I'm slightly more insane than usual? Is that what you mean, I'm acting differently? If that's what you mean, how?

I just heard Judas Priest, Dokken, and Dio. That's pretty kick-ass.

Why did Chris ask for me today? And why did you guys hang up on me? That's pretty ignorant, not to mention, immature and rude.

I'm listening to Motley Crue, "Bastard" again. So they are so cool. I haven't decided if I like Crue or Maiden better yet, but they're both totally kick-ass.

Know what mine and Tracy's new word is? [BLEEP]. That's right. For the last two days, we've been calling every one [BLEEP]. Nice name, eh? Not as good as [BLEEP] or [BLEEP], but it's right up there.

God is this note [BLEEP] dumb. It's 7:38. And I want it to be 8:38, because then I can listen to RPM, Real Precious Metal, 103.1, 831-1031-- kick-ass. "Helter Skelter," you ain't maybe a lover, but you ain't no dancer, helter skelter.

Thank you very much.

David Hauptschein

What happened to the NPR crowd? That's more of a college rock station there. Yeah. OK, Ira.

Ira Glass

Next reader Neal Pollack.

David Hauptschein

Coming from all the way in the back, approaching the stage.

Neal Pollack

Hi. I wrote-- can I hold this?

David Hauptschein

Please do.

Ira Glass

Neil is holding the rhinoceros.

Neal Pollack

I wrote these letters soon after I graduated from college. And I like to turn back to them, every now and then, to remind myself what an idiot I was. I believed at the time that I could get any job I wanted, anywhere, at any point. And these letters, I think, are indicative. Here's one I wrote to Tina Brown, who was then the editor of Vanity Fair magazine.

Dear Ms. Brown, I'll cut to the quick. I would like to work for The New Yorker. And I imagine with the big change-over, you may need lots of editorial help. So I'm throwing my hat into the ring, and asking you to consider hiring me as an editorial assistant for your new project.

I've been precociously reading The New Yorker for some time now. And I am a devotee of the current magazine, as well as of its historical heritage. Most of the writers I respect most, living and dead, have written for your magazine at some time. I'm willing to cut my journalistic and literary teeth elsewhere, if can't get a job at The New Yorker, but I'm determined not to end up anywhere else.

The resume I've enclosed doesn't indicate this, but I've been working as a freelance writer since graduating two months ago. I've been doing pretty well, but I'm still waiting for the big score. Maybe you could help. I strongly encourage you to take a chance on me, but if I don't suit your needs at this time, thank you for reviewing my application. I look forward to hearing from you.

About six months later, I hadn't yet heard from Tina Brown so I turned my gaze elsewhere. Here's one I wrote to Strobe Talbott, who, at the time, was an editor-at-large at Time magazine, and now, as you may or may not know, is a Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. So here's what I wrote to Strobe.

Dear Mr. Talbott, I'm a damn good editor. I'm young and gutsy, as a marine in combat. My terse, tough prose style would make Raymond Chandler weep. Somewhere, somehow, the grapevine told me that you're starting a magazine called, Globe Review. Said vine also let me know that the staff will be small, which means you're not hiring too many people. Being low man on the totem pole is fine with me.

Your magazine sounds original, smart, and progressive, sophisticated but not shallow. Of course, I'm just guessing. Can you go global without me? I think so. Should you? I think not. Or at least hope not. I'll do good work as an assistant editor, copy editor, or researcher. I'll be in New York City from November 11 through 17. If you'd like to interview me, you can contact me at the Chicago address on my resume until then. Thank you for reviewing my application. And I look forward to seeing the magazine, whether I am part of it or not.

David Hauptschein

Thank you. Ready for another one?

Ira Glass

Joseph Silovsky.

Joseph Silovsky

I collect letters. These first three are ones that I found in a dumpster on Roosevelt Street. First one's July 6, 1982. Dear friends and well wishers, due to the circumstances beyond our control, the wedding which was scheduled for July 24, 1982 has been canceled. Sorry if this has inconvenienced you in the way. Respectfully, D and R.

The second is from the City of Chicago Department of Police. Dear Mr. R., since the registration of your complaint, investigation has been made concerning possible misconduct by a member of our department. A complete record of the complaint and investigation is now part of our file and will be used in planning, training, and updating equipment in our continuing effort to better provide service and protection to the public. We share your concern relative to the conduct of our members and appreciate your bringing this matter to our attention.

Although evidence in this case failed to justify the taking of disciplinary action against the accused member, the department as a whole has benefited by having taken a closer look at the performance of our member. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

The third is a letter that has his apartment number written on the back, so it was obviously just dropped off at the building. Oh, it's 9/15/1984. Hey R., thank you very much for being there when I needed you last night. Rejection must be your number one priority. You have done it once more again.

You told me to give my mother her keys back and come to your place a few weeks ago. And I told you, when I was ready to move in, I would. And I would let you know. I wasn't asking to move in. I was asking for a place to stay for the night. I spent last weekend down there. But this weekend and I'm not qualified. If you don't want me in your apartment anymore, then you should say so. I understand our situation, but I do have props. I am the first lady you've dealt with to become Mrs. R., therefore, I am special in your life. You may not want to admit it, but it's true.

It's obvious that you are seeing somebody else, in which you are entitled. But I should have top priority. Nevertheless, I hope you and your lady that's expecting your child to be very happy. Don't worry about me and my pregnancy. I'll be just fine. I don't want to come in between anyone's happy affair. You must have let our secret out about the divorce to her, in order for you to be so comfortable to have sex with her. I thought we agreed years ago that we would remain sex partners, if nothing else. However it be, I hope your wish comes true.

You are totally responsible for my unhappiness, depression, and confused state of mind that I am in. You are always doing the same thing over, and over, and over. Will you ever change? For someone to have been in love-- and still is, per you-- you sure treat the party you're supposed to be in love with cruel. As often as I've been through the same ordeal with you, I don't know why I continue to allow myself to be hurt by you. I am often hurt by the things you say to me, and your actions or ways towards me.

You are my life, friend, enemy, joy, sorrow, husband, lover, and that has been taken away from me. I have not got over the shocking news of us being divorced. Being with someone for nine years is not easy to brush under the rug. You try telling yourself that it's over, and it doesn't work. I am trying to be friends with you if nothing else.

And it goes on and on about that for a while. And then the end is--

I love you now and always will. You will be number one in my life, whether we're together or not. If ever you need me, just send for me, and I'm just a phone call away. Love, D. PS, inform me if you have a boy, a girl, or twins, and I will do the same.

Ira Glass

You're listening to a special edition of This American Life. We're coming to you from a theater in Chicago, a very small, intimate theater where people have come with real letters they've received, letters they've sent, letters they've found to read on stage. Our next reader, pulled from our bowl of readers. Katherine Corcoran, come on up.

Katherine Corcoran

If you have, and return winning prize claim number, we'll say, Lucy Corcoran, you've cleared the final hurdle. You're Illinois' top winner, guaranteed a full $11 million. Your earlier entry has been received and is being processed. And now, you've been issued a specially coded, prize category tag. Break open your security pouch, Lucy Corcoran.

Ira Glass

Say for our radio listeners.

Katherine Corcoran

Oh, I broke open the security pouch.

Ira Glass

You're breaking open the pouch right now. Silvery pouch.

Katherine Corcoran

Yes. It was affixed to the letter. I saved it just for this moment. This extra entry is guaranteed to make you one of Illinois' top prize winners of all time, with up to $11 million, if you have and return the winning prize claim number before August 9. If your tag is specially coded with the letter A--

Ira Glass

It is. You're holding it up.

Katherine Corcoran

--it's coded with the letter A, you'll really want to hurry, Lucy Corcoran, because you stand to win $1 million, $75,000, or an unbelievable $11 million fortune.

Here's another reason to act quickly. Over 8,000 winners from across the Prairie State have already claimed and been awarded their prizes, including Sparky Weiner of Chicago, Sparky Lawrence of Justice, Sparky Bailey of Chicago, and, category A winner, Sparky Peterson of Chicago.

But time is running out, Lucy Corcoran. The exact prize you qualify for is hidden beneath the silver box on your prize category tag. So if you haven't yet scratched it off, we urge you to grab a lucky coin. I don't have one. I'm scratching it off. Oh no. I'm going to wish I had one. And do it now. And do so, now.

If you uncover the code word, 11 mil-- and I did-- and your prize claim number is also the winner, we'll say, Lucy Corcoran is officially declared the biggest winner in Illinois history, and will be paid our first ever $11 million prize. You're second to none, Lucy Corcoran, in a league of your own with gigantic $366,666 prize checks pouring in, every year for 30 years, if you win. In the blink of an eye, you'd be magically transformed into a fabulously rich multimillionaire, free from money worries ever more. Would you stay in Chicago, or custom build your dream home in another part of Illinois? Would you embark on a cruise around the world, or crisscross the country in a fully loaded motor home?

It may sound like a dream to you now, but it will be your dream to bring to life if you have and return the winning prize number. So hold on to your dream, Lucy Corcoran, but don't hold on to this entry. Remember, you must reply before August 9 to advance to the winner selection step. Please, don't let anything stand in your way. Hurry. And then it's cordially signed by-- oh, there's more, but-- cordially signed by, Ed McMahon, or Ed "Sparky" Jones, and Sparky Clark for American Family Publishers. Thank you.

David Hauptschein

I'd go with the motor home, myself. Definitely, that's my dream.

Ira Glass

Our next reader, Adam Davidson.

Adam Davidson

This is age 16. Dear Adam, I can lose my guard best when I write. No wonder I scared off S with my letters. Speaking of which, I didn't hear from him. You see, how can I ever think of hurting you like that? Let's say something starts between us. What about S? I may not like him, but maybe I do. Also, what if I'm just on the rebound from Dave? Not that I didn't like you before. Maybe I'm just free to say it now. But I might be exaggerating it, because I'm feeling a loss. Maybe we're confusing a really good friendship for love, et cetera. You know the deal.

Also, let's say we do have sex. It'll be a bigger deal for you. Not that I won't take it seriously. I have seriously thought about it. But it's a big responsibility to put on me, your first time, et cetera.

Now who's babbling? Anyway, I think you're a wonderful person and friend, and the last thing I want to do is screw that up. Maybe we should just see, trial run, if making out agrees with us. You never know, we might decide it doesn't feel right and keep things status quo. Or we might end up getting it on every day.

Excuse the vulgar language. As that guy in English class would say, there is no pretty way to look at sex. Anyway, I love you, but I'm not sure what kind of love. Love, K.

Geez, I don't even know what attracts me to you. You're so [BLEEP] perfect, I guess.

And then, supplementary letter.

Will things be the same once the sexual tension is gone? I think that's half the fun. It's what has kept Moonlighting on the air. Will we still be able to joke about getting married, et cetera, without feeling uncomfortable? Confusion. Is there an S in confusion? I'm even mixed up about that.

We went out after that for a year.

Ira Glass

Jeff Dorchen.

Jeff Dorchen

I read this letter a little while ago, and I might have trouble reading it, because the handwriting is weird. It's from a friend of mine. He wrote to me, this was like seven or eight years ago. Well, no. When was the Gulf War? Five years ago. It was during the Gulf War, the first Gulf War, Bush's Gulf War. It was a guy I met in Morocco. And he was in the '68 student revolt in France, in Paris, actually, in Saint-Etienne. And the stationary is from the Hotel Adriatico, where he actually wasn't staying when he wrote the letter. He stole the paper.

Dear Jeff, it's a joke. Today I went to the concert against the war. Many people-- thanks to Bush, Hussein, Mitterrand, and so-- all the old chaps went out from their quiet routines, and we met again, speaking and debating like in the '70s. Hee hee.

Many young people here, many people here know, as a fact, that the voice of the TV is a weapon against their liberty of thinking. Since the war is the central point of the universal propaganda, the great lie of democracy is becoming obvious. Liberty is slavery. Democracy is dictative. Left is right. Everything is true as well as its contrary.

Anyway, I have bought a house, an old one in a medieval village in the mountains, at five kilometers from the city. Many things to repair. So I am a dirty owner, one to be hung. I enjoy very much to make up the arrangements of a house without referring to anyone. My new address [MUMBLING]. I do not know if I shall go to the US soon, maybe so, maybe not. Did you receive my postcard from Morocco? The page is over. Ciao, Paul.

Ira Glass

Before I choose another one, I'll read you one sentence of another letter. This is a letter that a friend of mine was given. Basically, she started to see this guy. They went out on a date or two, and nothing much was happening. And then he showed her this letter. It's one of those Christmas letters of what's going on in your life. And she only had to read a sentence or two, and decided she would never see him again.

The letter begins, ho, ho, ho, these are the words I now use to describe my ex-wife. Next reader, Jenny Magnus.

Jenny Magnus

All right, this is a letter that I received. It's addressed to me, so my name is Jenny Magnus. And on the envelope it says, lessons for advanced beginners. And then in the back, it says, burn after reading.

Dear Ms. Magnus, I can imagine how easy it must be to discover what art is all about, and then use your facile capacity to steal symbols, ideas, quotes, et cetera and combine them in an enigmatic collage-type structure, making your work seem abstruse when, in fact, it is very conventional indeed.

Holstein Park. I almost fell off my chair when, during one of your pieces, you imply that you are, quote "a really good artist." After sitting there, listening to you chant, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, which you got from Janov's book, Primal Scream-- I shop through paperbacks at thrift stores too-- then hearing you chant, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, I sat there wondering just how conventional some pretentious chick dressed in black can be.

I, by the way, use chick lightly, since you are not very feminine. In fact, you are nothing but a contrived, self deceiving, selfish, not overly bright, mediocre joke. You might be able to fool the poseurs who hang around Urbis Orbis flattering your brother, pretending to know, but not me, babe. Not me, babe.

I use babe, lightly. You are not a babe. You have no sensuality, no charm, no looks, et cetera. Without affectation, without deliberately taking steps to appear avant, where would you be? Nothing comes naturally to you, does it? You really have to steal, and grub, and labor. In fact, you are perusing this letter for material right now, I bet.

I realized how repressed and affected you are during Losers Alias. And thank God for the fire which started, or you'd probably still be on the floor reciting your brother tripe. You are just too, too uptight, baby. You think you can act uninhibited. But why do you want to? Is it that important to you that you seem to yourself and others as if you are special? You are quite interesting. The only person with absolutely no substance I've ever met. How did you get so [BLEEP]? Give up art-- you're no good at it anyway-- and save your [BLEEP] ass. Sincerely, Mason 32 degrees. PS. Well, I've done my good deed for tonight.

David Hauptschein

Jenny, clearly that person has profound hots for you. And it's somebody who was really turned on, no question about it.

Ira Glass

Coming up, more letters from everyday people in a minute, when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Most weeks on our program, we bring you stories by writers and documentary producers. But this week we're trying a little radio experiment. Playwright David Hauptschein and I have advertised, inviting people to a very intimate theater in Chicago called the Lunar Cabaret, maybe 85 or 90 people in here. And we've invited them to bring letters-- ones they have gotten, ones they have sent, ones they have found-- to read on stage. And our next reader.

David Hauptschein

Joe Fosco, coming up here to read email.

Joe Fosco

This is email. This guy, this is kind of a stream of consciousness thing. He's writing it from school. He's in the computer lab. And the only thing I want to mention, he keeps referring to the cluster. And that's what he's referring to, the computer lab with all the things around. You'll find out what he's upset about at the end. I'm going to start in the middle.

There is this guy sitting across the row of computers from me that has his left ear pierced many, many times. I'm trying to count. There are at least five metal rings going through his ear. I'm trying not to be too obvious looking at him. Yeah, it looks like five or six, at least, all up and down his ear.

You do see some interesting ones in these clusters, that's for sure. Then there is this one guy, Sparky. I don't think I have ever been in this cluster, and he wasn't here or didn't stop in for a minute. Same thing for this other girl, KGB Slut, as we call her. She's always here too. Shooter is here most of the times I am too. OK, some girl just came in who was wearing what, essentially, looks to me like a rug or a piece of carpet with some holes cut in it. She's gone now.

Who else is always in this cluster? Hm, I just realized, I probably shouldn't talk about KGB Slut girl, since she'll probably see this sooner or later, or something. Ah, who cares. What's she going to do, get the geek patrol after me or something? Oh yeah, the other day I was in here, and she had the audacity to talk about my Ronald Reagan screensaver.

Yeah, it definitely looks like a rug, a Mexican or southwestern type, by its colors, I guess. And it's got little rug-string things at its edges. It does kind of have a collar. Just a few short minutes ago, I walked over to the faculty dining room in Skibo. There was a physics department barbecue that was supposed to be going on. I wasn't sure if I should go. I mean, it's free food, and that can be hard to pass up. Plus, if it's a real barbecue, it'll be free beef, real food, for real people, what's for dinner, my favorite food.

I was extremely disheartened by what I saw, by what these people call a barbecue. Here is my image of what a barbecue is. A bunch of people outside, standing or sitting around, beers in hand, talking informally with one another. The sizzle of meat on the grill, and the sweet smell of cooking beef fill the air, and everyone is happy and jolly, and life seems so much easier.

The barbecue is sort of a tonic for the [? dour ?] of everyday life, a reminder of a sort of greater purpose than 40 hours of work a week. And yet, barbecue is not just a reminder of that purpose, but, in many ways, is that purpose. For barbecue is one of the great binding elements of the universe. That sort of metaphysical playdough that maybe can be shaped and molded but not defined.

And seeing where I come from, you can understand my shock and horror at what I saw being called a barbecue this evening in the faculty dining room. Oh, I did not stay for long, no. In the scant few seconds that I did venture into this room, what I did see scared me mightily. And I did not care to see more. So this information I bring you now is likely not even complete, not a full accounting of the barbecue perversions that occurred within.

I saw people seated at tables, many tables, which were organized in a regular, orderly fashion. These people were not conversing amongst themselves, not mingling, not understanding the sweet bliss that is true barbecue.

There was a speaker-- yes, a speaker-- at a podium, and the assembled masses applauded him, not understanding that it is not barbecue's purpose to enlighten participants upon matters of fact or scientific knowledge. But that barbecue is inherently enlightening into matters of a more ontological nature. And there were waiters and waitresses roaming the room, serving food, for the gathered horde did not understand proper methodology of a barbecue. At these sights I fled, for I had seen enough evils, and their mere presence was nearly overpowering.

My message is not one of vilification or condemnation, but rather one of information, one seeking to create awareness of what true barbecue is in its virtually boundless possibilities to create things. Albeit mostly immaterial of a whole and good nature.

It is my heartfelt hope that future barbecuers will at least recognize these possibilities, and consider the ways of true barbecue through which they are achieved. For barbecue provides a light, a beacon of good for mankind. And without proper respect for and methods of true barbecue, this knowledge will be lost, and the future of mankind will be muddled and uncertain. God bless you, and God bless barbecue.

Ira Glass

David, you've done these letter shows around Chicago for a couple years. Why did you decide to do them?

David Hauptschein

Well, that letter was a good example, actually. I used to host a lot of spoken word events, fiction, poetry readings. And I found the events were getting predictable. I was getting bored by a lot of the writing.

I think when people write just for themselves or to one other person, they are not looking over their shoulder at literary conventions. They are not worried about what the editor is going to say. They're not worried about, a lot of times, sounding dumb. And consequently, they're much freer with their expression, both stylistically and in terms of what they're willing to talk about.

For example, barbecue. A man's obsessed with barbecue, he'll write about barbecue if it's an email. But if he's going to a poetry reading, most likely he won't read about barbecue. He'll probably read a poem about apartheid or something like that, something politically important. And they are very unpredictable. And it's just--

Ira Glass

You get material that was more raw?

David Hauptschein

Yeah, it's more raw. Really, what I'm interested in, is getting inside people's heads. And I really like the letters-- this is my personal interest-- when I feel like I'm looking at someone's subconscious and seeing how they really are, whether it's a found letter, or whatever.

Ira Glass

Well, our next reader, Susan.

David Hauptschein



These are correspondence from a marriage between Sparky and Nadine. There's a poem in it, which I won't take up the whole time to read.

Sparky, all the words, all the thank yous could never convey the depth and scope of my love and gratitude for you. May we forever uncover, unfold, our love, our passion, our joy, and laugh our way through this great adventure. I love you, Nadine. And that was written September 12, 1992.

And this next letter is written from Sparky on December 24, 1993. Dear Nadine, I love you. I love you very, very much. This Christmas has brought me many gifts that I never knew existed before. I am learning about humility, patience, and trust. And most of all, I am learning about unconditional love. Excuse me. This year, I can't give you the material Christmas that I'd like to, that you deserve. I can't even give you the card I bought for you, because I lost it. Instead I can give you some other stuff now and some material stuff later.

First one, good for one really good body massage. Second one, good for one really good foot massage. The above two items may be redeemed any time and aren't really gifts, because you can have those anytime you want. Number three, good for one day of non-sarcasm. Redeem by 8:00 AM, day of use. And the fourth is good for one day of total slavery, any kind. Redeem with 24 hours advance notice to ensure proper scheduling. Merry Christmas, your love.

And the last part of the correspondence. Dated January 12, 1996. To Nadine, in regard to the marriage of Sparky and Nadine. Dear Nadine, enclosed please find our proposed judgment of dissolution of marriage, for your review. Please advise me regarding changes and corrections. Sincerely, someone, an attorney.

Ira Glass

Our next reader, pulled from our bowl of readers, John S.

David Hauptschein

You look like a guy who wants to hold on to the rhinoceros. Am I right about that?

John S.

Cool. I found this in the undergraduate library at the University of Illinois, in the computer lab. April 7, 1994. Dear Mr. V., hello, my name is Lois. I caught all three of your appearances on Jeopardy! and was greatly impressed. You are a brilliant, serious, dignified, modest, and beautiful young man. I was sorry to see your winning streak come to an end. Those categories on the last show were silly anyway. Roots, nursery rhyme, deli? Please.

And when Alex teased you about Paris, romance, and cousins, my heart nearly melted. In case you're interested, I am an attractive 21 year old brunette studying economics and political science at the University of Illinois. And I love parrots and cats, too. If you'd like, I could send you my picture. If not, have a wonderful life, and I hope to be a patient of yours some day. Au revoir. Sincerely-- and it leaves an address.

The second one I found, it was posted on a bulletin board in the English building at the University of Illinois. Hello. My name is K. I am a 20 year old, single white male. I'm about five foot six, brown hair, and have a mustache and beard. My grandmother's house is up for sale, and I really want it. I realize this is superficial, but I'm seeking, preferably, a single white female, non-smoker, 18 to 35, wealthy slash gorgeous slash beautiful model-type woman for marriage. Or I want a quote unquote "sugar mommy." A sugar daddy spoils young women, so I figure a sugar mommy spoils young men.

Please send a photo. I am a junior and a history major. This realty company is selling my grandmother's house for $49,900. I lived in the house for 15 years with my grandmother. Below is a photo of the house and one of me. And he gives the realty's phone number. If you are not interested, then please pass this flyer to your female friends. I'm very shy, so I haven't enclosed my phone number. And at the bottom it says, please hurry, time is running out.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait, before you go. Let's see the picture. You guys can't see this. He's a very serious looking guy in a tie.

David Hauptschein

Next person.

Ira Glass

Our next reader, Kara [? Schenk ?].

Kara Schenk

My letter is written on the back of a CBGB's flyer from New York, from a guy that I met while I was in Paris. He was cycling through Europe. Dear Kara, Hey, I haven't written to you in a long time. I had been in the midst of a personal and emotional whirlwind. Whoosh, and the wind went rushing through my brain and into my body chemistry. And God spoke to me and said, get a grip, dude. Whereas you've been sitting at work wishing you were on vacation, I've been sitting in my parents' house and on the couches of several friends wishing that I had work to do. Without the stable base of my own place, it was indeed difficult to focus on anything. Socializing? Yes. Continued cycling around? Yes. Work? Absolutely no.

Right now, as I write to you, I am glowing like a pregnant woman. After several weeks of trying to get in this film production company, playing my cards and doing spot jobs for the dude who runs it-- who is our age, is the son of a Time-Warner Company huge corporate executive, has access to the mass media, as well as access to, no kidding, millions of dollars-- I've emerged with, yes, a job. How fortunate for me and my wonderful temperament and abilities. He needs me to save his project, to co-rewrite the story, as well as edit the thing, a short 30 minute film-poem on the Hudson Valley of Upstate New York.

He is letting me put my whole lower leg in the door, never mind my foot. I am excited and ready to begin work. I am going to do a great job for him. So now, I am slightly more sane, more filled with better cheer, and open to a little sharing and communication with several individuals. It is a pleasure to correspond with you. It was certainly a pleasure to hang out in Paris. Hoping to hear from you soon. Why not send along some writing samples, so that we may begin to fully share our literary interests and creations? Love and kisses, Sparky. PS, thank you so much for the photos. I look pretty good. I'm shocked.

Ira Glass

Next reader. Is this Miki Greenberg? Did you fill one of these out?

Miki Greenberg

Yes I did.

Ira Glass


David Hauptschein


Ira Glass

Miki is running sound for us.

David Hauptschein

Who's going to run sound while you are coming up here, Miki? You're invaluable. You can't be taken away from this. It's like the pilot coming back to chitchat with the passengers. OK, here we go. Let's hope the plane doesn't crash.

Miki Greenberg

I heard about a pilot who used to do that as a joke. Sit in the back in the regular, on those little Caribbean flights. The pilot would sit in the back in regular clothes, and then he'd wait till everyone got on, and wait about 15 minutes and say, damn it, where is that pilot? I'm going to fly this thing myself. Go up in front, and all the passengers would be like freaking out.

This is a letter that comes from someone I do not know. It's from an insurance agency. It comes here to the club. I'm one of the people who runs Lunar Cabaret. And we have a band called the Dysfunctionells that play here every two or three months. The cover of the letter is a psychedelic graphic that says the words, featuring dot, dot, dot, Dysfunctionells psychedelic? Just for the record, the Dysfunctionells are a very folk-based, Bluegrass, rocking band that I love. They're not psychedelic at all. But here's what it says.

Regarding survival of the fittest. Dear fine club owner, psychedelic light shows. Remember Janice, Jimmy, Jerry, Timothy? What a long, strange trip it has been. Things change. Music certainly changes. Your club featured Dysfunctionells. You have to change to survive. The current issue of Illinois Entertainer features an article titled, "The End of an Era," which describes the closing of what the magazine calls the Midwest's premiere hard rock, heavy metal club. The owner cites, quote unquote "the sky high insurance premiums," as one of the contributing factors in his decision to close the doors permanently on the club. It goes on to talk about why he's underwriting this, financially strong, blah, blah, blah. And then he says, your phone number is 312-327-6666. Ours is 708, blank, blank, blank, 3790. One way or another, let's talk.

Ira Glass

And that's to sell insurance?

Miki Greenberg

I think he wanted to sell us some insurance. I think he wanted to. This is the weirdest insurance letter I've ever gotten in my life.

Ira Glass

Next, David Sadowski.

David Sadowski

Letters from Bullwinkle. In 1983, at the Chicago International Film Festival, they had a tribute to Rocky and Bullwinkle. And I talked to Bill Scott and June Foray, who did the voices of Bullwinkle and Rocky, afterward. First, here's part of what they said at that event.

How long did it take for you to develop the characterizations? Bill Scott-- About a minute and a half. No, as a matter of fact, the strange thing was, June got slickered into doing Rocky over a drunken martini lunch with Jay Ward. She would have agreed to anything. Can you do a flying squirrel? Oh sure, I can do a flying squirrel. I was a writer, and Jay Ward does not read. And the only way he knew what was in the script, was if I would read them to him.

And I read him the voices on the way to the recording session, first one, right. And there's June, there's Paul Frees, Bill Conrad, all those wonderful people. And I said to him, who's going to read Bullwinkle? And he said, oh, I thought you were. And that's how much preparation I had for the part of Bullwinkle Moose.

So afterward, I talked to them, asked them some more questions. And I got their autographs here on this ticket. It says, Hi-dee to old Dave from old Bullwinkle and Bill Scott, plus Rocky, Natasha, Nell, and June Foray. But anyway, afterward, I told Bill Scott I wanted to write a book about The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. And he said, get in line. I still have yet to see one, though.

And then I told him I had a 78 RPM record of Rocky and Bullwinkle. It was a song called, "I Was Born to be Airborne." He said, there is no such thing. This record, he said, didn't exist. But then I told him that I had taped all the shows off the air, off WGN. And I had them all on videotape. And he got excited, because he had never seen most of the shows in their original form. And he had me make copies for them. So Bullwinkle, Bill Scott, paid me to make videotapes, copies of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Shows for him.

So we kept up a little bit of a correspondence. And I'll just read from some of these letters. Good luck with the taping. I look forward to seeing some of the shows that I've never seen before. Here with another payment for your taping [? chores. ?] This stuff looks very good, although I am weary of the pull a rabbit out of my hat stuff. And I'm depressed at how fast and skimpy the Mr. Know-It-Alls had to be done. But the other material is very fresh and funny to me.

Some of it I even remember. Though I must say that the episode of Bumbling Brothers, when Conrad breaks up at the end, was a complete surprise. I thought it was hysterical. For god's sake, please record the Hoppitys. I've never seen one of them. I wrote the Hoppity episodes, I think. Though I may have rewritten somebody else's stuff. Tell you better after I see them. I can usually recognize my own stuff. I also did the voice of Fillmore Bear, but I was in a period of relative modesty at the time, and was in favor of just taking one credit on a show, preferably the highest in the production hierarchy. I don't know that I'd do it again.

And anyway, the upshot of it was, the taping project was never completed. Because shortly after receiving the fourth letter from him, Bill Scott had a heart attack and died at the age of 65. And so, while that may have been a sad thing, one thing that they did say at the festival was that-- somebody asked, why did they stop doing the show? And they said, well, you know, we had enough for syndication, but we could have gone on forever. And in syndication, they will.

David Hauptschein

Who would have thought we'd have a Rocky and Bullwinkle expert here? Thank you.

Ira Glass

Andrew Fenchel. While he's taking the stage, Andrew is wearing an Iron Maiden tee-shirt.

John Biederman

Kick ass.

Andrew Fenchel

I found this letter in the street, in my neighborhood. I think it won't really need any other introduction except that, where the letter writer refers to Vienna, I think it's safe to assume that that's not Austria. OK. Time, 10:00 PM. June 10, '96. Dear Carla, what's up babe? How are you doing? Fine, I hope. Well, I'm in Vienna. But I didn't forget to write. Baby, I miss you. I can't wait to see you. I've been thinking about you all the time, and I can't stop. I got into a fight in here with a king, and for that, I got two weeks in the hole.

Baby, I hope you're not talking to someone else. I've been waiting for your letters, but I haven't received any yet. What's up with that? Carla, I feel that you don't love me anymore. Baby, I love you more than what you could ever know. I miss making love to you, kissing you. Please, send me some pictures of you. When I get out of here, I'm going to get a job. I'll even quit gang banging if you show me you love me.

Carla, what do you mean when you say, you went from 100% to 50%? I don't understand. I haven't been cheating on you. And I'll be with you all the time when I get out. Carla, I care about you a lot. You just don't know. Why is your mom going to kick you out? What have you done? Please, don't lie to me. Are you [BLEEP] around with someone else? Staying out late? What is it? I've got the feeling you are seeing someone else, but I guess I can't trip, so long as when I get out, you come back to me.

What do you mean that you love me, and good luck in life? I get the first part, but not the second. Are you breaking up with me? Are you going away from me? Whatever you do, wherever you go, you'll always be in my heart, Carla. Believe that. I know you think I don't love you anymore, but you're wrong, babe. I said it before, and I'll say it again. I love you, Carla.


Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Dolores Wilber and myself, with David Hauptschein, Peter Clowney, Alix Spiegel, and Nancy Updike. Contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Margie Rochlin.


If you would like a tape of this program, it's only $10. Call us at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Again, 312-832-3380. Our email address, [email protected].


WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia. I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.


PRI Public Radio International.