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535: Origin Story 2014

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Prologue

Ira Glass

Pino Audia teaches in the business school at Dartmouth, and he researches something that we took up in an episode of our show a couple weeks ago. He researches the question, how do entrepreneurs get created? And at some point, he noticed that his students and many of his colleagues actually have an opinion about this. They believe entrepreneurs make themselves.

You know, you head off on your own, you write a business plan, you start in your own garage. And the garage, by the way, is not a metaphorical garage. It is a garage-- a literal garage. Hewlett-Packard started in a garage. Apple Computer had a garage. Disney, the Mattel toy company, the Wham-O toy company.

Pino Audia

It is about big dreams and humble beginnings, and success in the face of adversity and doubters. And also the idea that, regardless of who you are, regardless of how humble your beginnings are, you can turn something into an immense success story if you work hard. And that was the point in time in which I got interested in the story of the garage as a myth.

Man

A garage is a place of possibilities. It's a place where things can get inventive, and a place where entrepreneurs begin.

Ira Glass

This is from a promotional video that Hewlett Packard put together after it spent millions to buy and restore the original garage where its two founders started what is now the largest technology firm in the world.

Man

In 1938, in a garage in Palo Alto, California, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard set to work to start a new company. They had a few hand-operated punches, a used Sears Roebuck drill press that had just made the trip west in the back of one of their cars, and they had a rented flat with a garage.

Ira Glass

Professor Audia doesn't argue with any of this, but he says that when you ask actual entrepreneurs-- and this is true in survey after survey-- you find that most of them began not by going off into their garage, but by working for somebody else, making contacts, learning the business.

Pino Audia

So this is a very robust finding, which tells us that, actually, if you want to become an entrepreneur, the obvious thing to do is to first go get a job in an industry you're interested in and learn. And then eventually, later, try to create a company.

Ira Glass

Even Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard weren't exactly outsiders. They studied electrical engineering at MIT and at Stanford. Packard had worked at General Electric. A former professor of theirs from Stanford gave them leads and hooked them up, for example, with a firm called Litton Engineering, who let them use equipment that they didn't own themselves yet. Just as, decades later, the founders of Apple Computer, 21-year-old Steve Jobs was already working at Atari, and 25-year-old Steve Wozniak was at Hewlett Packard when they started Apple in Jobs' garage.

Pino Audia

And, for example, in the case of Steve Jobs, he benefited greatly from the support that he got from the Atari people, because they introduced him to investors.

Ira Glass

Pino Audia has tried to find mentions of garage entrepreneurs or anything like it in other countries, and didn't come up with much. He says it seems to be a very American idea, very close to other American ideas about opportunity for everybody. The Apple and Hewlett Packard garages have now become such a part of Silicon Valley myth that it's made other tech companies want their own stories like it.

Google, for example. They did not start in a garage. The founders began working on the search engine in 1996 when they were at Stanford. They didn't actually move into a garage until 1998. They already had investors, and they were just in the garage for five months. But in 2006, Google bought the garage as a company landmark.

Dan Heath

It's like no one wants to hear the story of the rich, well-connected guys who meet up at the Marriott conference room to hatch a business plan. There's no romance in that.

Ira Glass

Dan Heath has written about these origin stories in Fast Company Magazine. He says that one way to measure just how appealing these stories are is to count all the ones that get quoted widely, even though they aren't remotely true. For instance, when eBay began, a story circulated that its founder created the company so his fiancee could buy and collect Pez dispensers more easily. Not true.

One of the creators of YouTube used to claim that the idea for the business came after a dinner party in 2005, where two of the company's masterminds, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, shot some video and then tried to post it online and found out just how hard that was back then.

Dan Heath

Now, that is, at a minimum, an exaggerated tale. In fact, there's a third founder of YouTube who claims the dinner party never happened. And Steve Chen later admitted in TIME Magazine that the dinner party was embellished to provide a better founding myth.

And I do want to say that while it feels like a little bit of a let down to realize that this dinner party story is not, you know, the whole truth, I feel like it's a little bit unfair for us to expect more of them than the creation of YouTube. I mean, here's this incredible site, and in some sense, that's not enough for us. Like, we want YouTube to have emerged from some kind of everyday experience. It's like it's not enough to have the value of their work. We also want there to be a really compelling story that started it.

Ira Glass

Now, in the article that you wrote for Fast Company, you point out that our attachment to these kinds of mythic creation stories is so strong that we have even exaggerated the Christopher Columbus story.

Dan Heath

Well, Christopher Columbus, as we all know, wanted to prove that he could reach India by sailing west. But no one believed his crazy theory that the Earth was round. And, in fact, his own sailors en route were terrified that they were about to fall over the edge of the Earth, and they almost mutinied. So there's a guy named James Lohan, a professor at University of Vermont, who has pointed out that virtually every element of this story is false. That, in fact, we still don't really know where Christopher Columbus was going.

There's a lot of disagreement among historians, and even Columbus's best known biographer is totally sure where he was headed. And furthermore, there was no element of "is the Earth round or flat" here. Most people at that time already knew that the Earth was round. The evidence was there for them to see. They noticed that if another ship is receding into the horizon, their hull disappears first, and then the mast later, which implies that there's some kind of curvature in play.

And again, you know, here's a guy who crossed an ocean and became one of the first Europeans to set foot on a new continent, and yet we want more from this guy. We want him to be having hand-to-hand combat with his crew en route. We just crave the drama. We crave the obstacles.

Ira Glass

Well, today on our show, origin stories. We love them so much that sometimes it is hard not to make them up. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. Act One of our show today, Madman. Act Two, Silent Partner. Act Three, Wait, Wait, Don't Film Me. Act Four, Bill Clinton's Seven-Year-Old Brother. Stay with us.

Act One: Mad Man

Ira Glass

Act One. Well, this first story is about a fight over the origin of certain ideas-- a fight over who really came up with those ideas. Sarah Koenig tells a story about her dad, Julian.

Sarah Koenig

All my life, I've heard the hallmarks of my father's achievements.

Julian Koenig

I invented thumb wrestling.

Sarah Koenig

That was in 1936, when he was a counselor at Camp Greylock for Boys. They already had arm wrestling for the boys, and leg wrestling.

Julian Koenig

But we needed another wrestling, and I invented thumb wrestling, with the same rules as a hockey puck face-off. One, two, three, go.

Sarah Koenig

It just came to you? Like, just a stroke? Oh, we should use our thumbs?

Julian Koenig

It was a-- yeah. It was just a devastating moment.

Sarah Koenig

The discoveries kept coming. Shrimp, for instance.

Julian Koenig

Oh, I popularized shrimp in America.

Sarah Koenig

In 1941, my father, a shrimp lover, was discouraged that there were only two places on Broadway in New York where you could get shrimp. So then in Biloxi, Mississippi-- and bear with me here, because this story barely makes any sense-- so he's in Biloxi on his way to Mexico with some buddies. And he sees this government boat about to go out to track the migratory path of shrimp. And he talks his way onto the boat by explaining that he loves shrimp, apparently.

And he goes out on this boat, and they find the shrimp breeding grounds or some such. The rest, of course, is history.

Julian Koenig

Then, back in New York, I patrolled Broadway and [INAUDIBLE] asking for shrimp, shrimp, shrimp. More. And in this way, talking it up, I popularized shrimp. No question about it.

Sarah Koenig

That seems like really, really thin evidence that you popularized shrimp in New York.

Julian Koenig

Well, I'm not making any claim on the industry.

Sarah Koenig

My dad does make a claim on the word "character," that he came up with the idea to use it to mean a person of unusual or eccentric qualities.

Julian Koenig

You have a character in a play, of course, but it wasn't in common usage as "he's a character."

Sarah Koenig

And what made you-- do you remember why you started using it?

Julian Koenig

I just shifted it, adapted it. But Norman Mailer thinks that he developed it. I take precedence.

Sarah Koenig

According to my father, Norman Mailer also said he invented thumb wrestling. Mailer, who died in 2007, was a famous thumb wrestler, but not its inventor, because as we now know, my dad invented it at Camp Greylock for Boys. And that's the rub. You can't prove the origin of any of this stuff. And it's annoying when people like Norman Mailer take credit.

My dad would like people to recognize him for his contributions to shrimp and character and thumb wrestling, but he's not going to make a stink if they don't. His real legacy, though, in advertising, that's another story. That he's willing to fight for, and he has been fighting for it for decades.

My father was a legendary copy writer. He wrote "Timex Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking." He named Earth Day "Earth Day." It falls on his birthday, April 22nd. Earth Day, birthday, so the idea came easily.

The magazine Advertising Age made a list of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th century. The Marlboro Man is on it, and the Energizer Bunny. "Good to the Last Drop" from Maxwell House, and the "Keep America Beautiful" crying Indian.

But the number one ad-- the top of the 100 list-- "Think Small." That was Volkswagen's American campaign to sell the Beetle in 1959, and my father wrote it. A picture of a tiny car on a big white page and some amused self-deprecating copy.

That ad was followed by Lemon, another VW ad so iconic it made it onto the TV show Mad Men, the show set in 1960 about an ad agency that's slightly behind the times. In this scene, the agency's creative team contemplates the Lemon ad.

Man

I don't know what I hate about it the most-- the ad or the car.

Man

Yeah, they did one last year, same kind of smirk. Remember "Think Small"? It was a half-page ad at a full-page buy. You could barely see the product.

Man

I don't get it.

Sarah Koenig

At the time, these ads were revolutionary. "In the beginning, there was Volkswagen," another famous New York ad man wrote. "That was the day when the new advertising agency was really born."

Here's another scene from Mad Men when Don Draper, the agency's creative director, interviews some new talent. After he looks at their portfolio, he hands it back to them with this line.

Don Draper

Looks good. By the way, it has Julian "Konig's" fingerprints all over it.

Sarah Koenig

It's Julian "Kaynig," actually. My father. And what has irritated him for so long is not that he's not recognized for his talent. I mean, the people who write Mad Men clearly know who he is. It's that some of his best work has been claimed by someone else.

Julian Koenig

In my instance, the greatest predator on my work was my one-time partner, George Lois, who is the most heralded and talented art director, designer. And his talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego. So where it once would have been accepted that the word would be "we" did it, regardless of who originated the work, the word "we" did it evaporated in George's vocabulary, and it became "I."

Sarah Koenig

If you've heard of anyone in the advertising industry, it might be George Lois. He's well known for a lot of things, but maybe especially for his provocative and funny Esquire magazine covers from the 1960s, like the one of Muhammad Ali posing as Saint Sebastian. But before that, George Lois worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach, and so did my father. In 1960, they both left DDB and joined up with another guy, Fred Papert, to form their own upstart agency called PKL-- Papert, Koenig, and Lois.

George Lois wouldn't talk to me for this story. "I'm not going to get into a sophomoric [BLEEP] fight with a disgruntled ex-partner," he wrote in an email. I can't say I blame him. I've had mixed feelings about this fight.

Of course I want to stick up for my father, take his side. But I've also thought there's something inherently undignified about the whole thing. Like it's beneath my father to care whether or not George Lois is taking credit for this or that slogan from 1962. So I never really paid attention to the details-- until now. Lately, it's been coming up more, or at least more publicly, so I started asking questions.

According to my father, it all started with the Harvey Probber account. Harvey Probber made elegant modern furniture, and my dad says he came up with the ad-- a beautiful chair with a matchbook under one leg and the line, "if your Harvey Probber chair wobbles, straighten your floor," and a piece of copy that went with it that he thought was very good.

Julian Koenig

And a year or so later, or a couple of years later, Ron Holland, a friend of mine, came running into my office to say, George is upstairs with a Japanese editorial writer. They're doing an interview with him, and he's claiming your Harvey Probber chair ad-- that he wrote it.

So I called George down to my office and remonstrated-- that's what men do frequently-- with him. And he says, I never said that. I would never say that. And he went back to his office. And a little while later, Ron comes bursting into my office saying, George said, I told that son of a gun where to get off!

Sarah Koenig

Meaning you. Meaning he had told you.

Julian Koenig

Told me where to get off. So that was really the start of it.

Sarah Koenig

In 1972, George Lois published a book, the first of many, about his career, called George, Be Careful. In it, he describes going to the Harvey Probber furniture factory in Massachusetts with my dad. "Each chair was placed on an electronic test platform to be sure it was absolutely level," Lois wrote. "'Got a book of matches?' I asked Julian, a heavy smoker.

He handed me a matchbook, and I slid it under one leg of the chair on the test platform. 'I've got the ad,' I said. If your Harvey Probber chair is crooked, straighten your floor.' Julian scowled and shot back, 'Ass [BLEEP], If your Harvey Probber chair wobbles, straighten your floor.' That was the way the ad ran, and that was the way we built the first red-hot creative agency."

Julian Koenig

And none of that ever happened as described by George. He didn't ask me for a matchbook. He didn't slide it under the leg of a chair. He didn't say, I've got the ad. None of it is true.

Sarah Koenig

But his makes a better story.

Julian Koenig

His is a marvelous story. George is a talented storyteller with a vivid imagination. The only thing that could exceed it would be the truth.

Sarah Koenig

There are other instances, also regarding ads that were groundbreaking for their time. A campaign for the New York Herald Tribune, "Who says a good newspaper has to be dull?" Some famous Xerox commercials showing a little girl operating a copy machine, and later, a chimpanzee doing it. [? An ad ?] several people who worked on the account have complained that George literally had nothing to do with.

Then there's the ad for Coldene cough medicine. The page is entirely black with just two quotes at different heights, meant to show a couple talking in bed. "John, is that Billy coughing?" says the wife. "Get up and give him some Coldene," the husband replies.

In an interview 20 years later, George Lois said, "The idea for the ad hit me like a brainstorm. This was the first time there would be no copy, no package design, no trademark," he said. "It was really the beginning of a new creative revolution. It was one of those ads that made history, effectively." Again, my dad is adamant that the whole ad, copy and design, were his.

There are many possibilities here of what's going on. George Lois could be lying. Or George Lois could have convinced himself in some way that what he's saying about all this stuff is true. Or my dad could be doing the same thing-- remembering stuff that happened when it didn't happen. Or, I suppose, my dad could be lying.

I'd worry about those latter options more if my father was the only one disputing George Lois's version of history, but he's not. There's the photographer Carl Fisher, who worked with George Lois for more than 30 years, and shot many of the most famous Esquire covers. Carl Fisher says George has taken credit for cover ideas and photographs that were Carl's, and talked in detail about certain photoshoots.

Like about flying to Las Vegas to shoot the boxer Sonny Liston as Santa, and even placing the Santa cap on Liston's head. Or rushing Italian actress Virna Lisi into a photoshoot in New York for this famous cover where she's pretending to shave her face. But Fisher says George wasn't there for either shoot. In fact, the Lisi shoot happened in Rome, and he still has the receipts to prove it.

And then there's Shelley Zalaznick, the first editor of New York Magazine. George once told a reporter, quote, "My hand on the Bible, I, George Lois, created New York Magazine." Mr. Zalaznick says that's simply not true. He himself remembers making the first dummy front page one hot August night in 1963.

Not only that-- he's never met George Lois. "As for George's version," he told me, "I'm at a loss. I don't know why grownups do things like this."

But the story my father objects to the most isn't about ad copy at all. It's personal. Papert, Koenig, and Lois had gotten the Dutch Master Cigar account, and their TV spokesman at the time was this famous comedian, Ernie Kovacs. So my dad flew out to LA to meet him, and they hit it off.

Julian Koenig

And Ernie and I spent the day together, driving around, and lunched together. End of the afternoon, in the lobby of the hotel I was saying in, the Beverly Hilton, he was not allowed past the lobby, because he had short pants on. And then he went off to go to a party that night. And on his way home, there being a rain, his car skidded and went into a pole, and Ernie killed himself.

I was on a plane back to New York and learned about it the next morning. So, unfortunate incident, but certainly memorable to me. And lo and behold.

Sarah Koenig

Lo and behold, in his 2005 book, $elebrities which is spelled with a dollar sign instead of a C at the beginning, George tells the story of his lovely lunch with Ernie, his car ride to the airport with Ernie, his red eye flight back to New York, and his learning the following morning from a stack of still-bound newspapers that Ernie had been killed in a car crash. My father has tried to fight back, aggressively at times. For instance, after the Ernie Kovacs story appeared in $elebrities, my dad retaliated in the medium he knows best. He wrote an ad.

Julian Koenig

I wrote an ad, "Low, Lower, Lois."

Sarah Koenig

That's Lois, L-O-I-S.

Julian Koenig

And I wanted to print it in the New York Times as a book review. A public service book review.

Sarah Koenig

The Times didn't run it, but it did run in Adweek, though toward the back of the magazine, and it got no response. Over the years, he and some of his former colleagues have written to reporters at the New York Times and other places, trying to correct the record. But their letters have mostly been ignored.

Just last year, a Times story about an exhibit of George Lois's Esquire covers credited him, in the very first paragraph, with "Think Small," the Xerox ads with the chimp, and a couple of other campaigns people say George either didn't originate or didn't even work on. Finally, the Times printed a short correction, giving "Think Small" back to my dad. But it was a small victory, three weeks after the fact. In the mid-'80s, my dad wrote a letter to George directly, threatening to sue, it seems, and received a letter back calling him a sad, tortured and tragic figure.

All in all, my father's efforts haven't really done the damage he's hoped, or really, any damage at all. He's an indignant Basset Hound, nipping at the heels of the media's Great Dane. George Lois is a good talker with an engaging personality, and he's become something of a spokesman for the advertising industry. There are quotes in the newspaper, and magazine profiles, exhibits, books.

Errors printed once are repeated and repeated. So if you look up "Think Small" on the internet, for instance, you'll find it attributed to Julian Koenig, but you're also likely to learn that George Lois wrote it.

Fred Papert

I liked the way he took credit for accounts he never had anything to do with, because that made it almost comical. All the Xerox stuff-- Xerox was an account that I got-- was done by Sam Scali and I think Mike Chapell. And George, at the end, started taking credit for that, too.

Sarah Koenig

That's Fred Papert, the P of PKL. He was the guy who recruited Lois and Koenig to make a new agency in 1960. Now he's one of the guys responsible for redeveloping Times Square as president of the 42nd Street Development Corporation. He knows the stories all too well-- Xerox, Harvey Probber, Coldene, Ernie Kovacs, even.

Fred Papert

It's nuts. I think he's really got a screw loose. I think George truly doesn't know what he's doing. But it's nutty on both sides.

Sarah Koenig

Fred's in my dad's camp, in so far as he knows and believes my dad is telling the truth. But his support more or less stops there. and he's categorical on this point-- that my dad is himself acting like a nut, wasting his time. They've talked about this on rides to and from the racetrack.

Fred Papert

The reason that Julian should not be fussing about this stuff at this stage is A, nobody gives a [BLEEP]. B, anybody that would give a [BLEEP] knows already what it's about. This is what George does. It's George's thing.

And they just got to put a lid on it. But I've had this conversation with him 100 times, and he gets really pissed off. So I know he's got a screw loose, too. Your father can be a pain in the ass, you know, and even be pesty if you say to him, Julian, [BLEEP] off already. We've heard this story. We know about the wobbling chair or the wobbling floor-- I've forgotten which one.

You have no idea how many letters we wrote to the New York Times, to Advertising Age, to this and that. This is a dialogue between old farts. Julian's in another world from these kinds of things. Julian is one of the great thinkers and creators in the advertising business. If some nutcase claims credit, who cares?

And he doesn't even really like me very much. You have to understand that that's where we start. Well, it's true. I think he goes to the races with me because I have a car.

Sarah Koenig

My father recognizes that there are only about four people left on Earth who care about this stuff. It's just that he happens to be one of them, and he cannot let it go.

Julian Koenig

I assume if I had a different personality, I would say, I know what I've done. And those dear and near to me know what I have done or not done, and let it go at that. But I'm a fallible fellow, and obviously, with ego of his own, and I resent being burgled.

Sarah Koenig

The odd thing about all this, as my older brother John points out, is that my father's never exactly been a champion of advertising.

John Koenig

And he never believed. He wasn't a true believer in the business. I mean, I remember him saying to me as a kid, you know, if you don't find something you want to do and really work at it, you're going to end up like me. A writer of short sentences. That's verbatim.

And so it's a little ironic, you know? Because he didn't care. That's the thing, Sarah. All those years, he didn't care, because I think he thought it was beneath him.

And the business, in some ways, was not beneath him, but was not serious enough to care that much about. And now he does.

Sarah Koenig

I understand why he cares. He's 88 years old now, so his legacy, understandably, is on his mind. And even though he did campaigns for all sorts of good causes-- gun control, nuclear proliferation, Robert Kennedy's senatorial and presidential campaigns-- my father's not quite satisfied with his life's work.

Julian Koenig

Advertising is built on puffery, on, at heart, deception, and I don't think anybody can go proudly into the next world with a career built on deception, even though no matter how well they do it.

Sarah Koenig

You're not necessarily proud that you had a career in the field of advertising and that's your legacy, but you are proud that you were the best in the business at the thing you chose to do.

Julian Koenig

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Sarah Koenig

If he could go back, choose another career, my father would like to have been an environmentalist of some kind, which is why he'd really like to be remembered for something almost nobody knows he did-- naming Earth Day. It agitated him to look up Earth Day on Wikipedia recently and not see his name anywhere. So a few days ago, I added it.

Ira Glass

We first ran this story back in 2009. Sarah's dad, Julian Koenig, just recently died in June. He was 93.

Sarah Koenig is one of the producers of our program. In two weeks, we're actually launching a brand new show, and Sarah is the host of that show. Yes, This American Life is putting out a second weekly program.

We have a new show. It's a podcast. It's called Serial. The idea is that instead of different stories and a different theme each week, every episode of Serial brings you back to the same story, and you hear the next chapter.

We've been working on this for a year. We are very excited to bring it to you. We are giving you two episodes to start.

It's in two weeks. October 3rd. You can sign up for free downloads and hear a sneak preview at serialpodcast.org, or on the iTunes store. That's serialpodcast.org, spelled not like the breakfast food.

Coming up, Peter Sagal, long before Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, his lost years in Havana. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Silent Partner

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Origin Stories, where we go back to figure out where things came from. We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, Silent Partner. One of our producers, Sean Cole, visited Chad's Trading Post, a restaurant filled with frilly knickknacks in Southampton, Massachusetts. It's a restaurant with a very distinct origin story.

Sean Cole

The first time my girlfriend Mary Ellen and I walked into Chad's Trading Post, she noticed that only boys work there, and thought it was weird. Normally, she said, in a place like this, a small country restaurant, you only see girls working. She pointed to the cover of the menu, which read, "Dedicated to and operated proudly in the memory of Chad D. McDonald, 3/12/74 to 3/11/90."

She leaned in to me and whispered, do you think the owner hires only boys because they remind her of her son? I certainly thought this was possible, and sad, in a way that makes you feel embarrassed for that person. Then a man came over and poured us some coffee.

And when he turned around, there, in huge white letters, on the back of his blue polo shirt, it said, Chad's brother. Do you think that's what they call all the managers here, I asked Mary Ellen. Do you think that's really Chad's brother? Then another friendlier manager type came over and asked us how we were doing, and if we needed more coffee. And I noticed his shirt.

Man

My shirt says "Chad's best friend." Logo over on the right hand side. And it just tells the customers who we are. Yeah, Chad's best friend, yeah, Chad's brother, Chad's dad. And we had Chad's mom, too, but she's doing other things.

Sean Cole

This is the story of Chad's Trading Post. From the time he was 12, Chad and his brothers and a few friends had always talked about starting a small restaurant together when they graduated high school. They planned out menus. Chad's father took him looking for locations. But Chad died in a shooting accident two days before his 16th birthday.

Chad's father Glenn, his brothers Scott and Cory, and his best friend Mike tell the story.

Glenn

The boy who shot and killed my son was his younger brother's best friend.

Scott

It was myself and my best friend at the time and Chad. And they were cleaning up the cellar for his birthday. No, you were there too, yeah.

Cory

Yeah. We were in the kitchen cooking sausage.

Scott

Yeah. We were cooking dinner. But they were downstairs cleaning, and I was upstairs. My mother had just left, and me and Cory were upstairs cooking dinner.

And they came up for a break, went into the room, and then we heard, like, a little firecracker go off. You know? And then the person came out of the room and he had blood on his hands, and he was freaking out. "I shot Chad, I shot Chad."

Glenn

The official ruling, which was that Chad picked up a gun, pointed it at this fellow, said bang. The other fellow picked up a gun, pointed it back at Chad, pulled the trigger, and that was all.

Scott

So I called 911. And then I paged my mother. And then the police got there.

Glenn

I was charged for involuntary manslaughter, because it was my handgun that ultimately killed Chad, and that I was not aware that he had two of my handguns out of my cabinet in his bedroom at the time. And, frankly, that was something I should have been aware of.

Sean Cole

In 1993, the year Chad would have graduated from high school, the year he and Mike and his brothers and his father had planned to open a restaurant, they decided to open Chad's Trading Post.

Glenn

This is Chad's corner of the restaurant. Notice the menu board. It tells you, welcome to Chad's Trading Post Family Restaurant. It says "nobody leaves hungry," and lists all the specials of the day. It also has a claimer on the bottom that's Named in Memory of Chad D. McDonald, and the date of his birth, which was 3/12/74.

Sean Cole

In all of the interviews I've ever heard and seen of an emotional nature, the person answering questions doesn't begin to cry until well into the interview. Chad's dad began crying before I even turned on my tape recorder. I asked him for a quick tour of the restaurant.

It's a nice place-- homey, even froofy, though all the men who created it are tattooed, muscly, working-class guys, Chad's father included.

Glenn

To the left of that, it shows you the last and most recent picture of my son, which was taken about six weeks before he died. And the picture of the two boys that were named in memory of him, his younger brother's son, who is Ian Chadwick, and his best friend's son, who is named Chad Michael.

Sean Cole

This photo originally showed the two babies in Glenn's arms, but they had the photographer alter the photo, insert Chad's head over Glenn's.

Glenn

And what they did was took the picture and replaced, by computer, Chad's picture over mine. It's actually my arms holding him, but the rest of it's all Chad.

Sean Cole

Glenn showed me a painting in another corner of the restaurant. It was the comedy and tragedy masks from the cover of Motley Crue's album Theater of Pain, Chad's favorite record. After he died, Chad's friends and brothers adapted the design into a memorial to him.

It appears on their shirts. Two brass masks hang over the door, smiling and frowning. A huge flag with the masks hangs in the breeze outside, too heavy to flutter. Chad's brother Scott calls them "the faces."

Scott

This was my first tattoo. I got the comedy and tragedy faces, with the "In memory of Chad" banner, and that was my first tattoo. And I got that for the obvious reason. That's pretty much the family symbol now. It started off with my father getting it.

Because this was the tattoo he wanted to get, you know, without the banners. But that's what he wanted to get. That's what he planned on getting the following year for his birthday. I mean, he already had it planned out, you know? And so my father came home with it one day, and he got it.

Sean Cole

And you and your dad, though, aren't the only ones.

Scott

No. There's me and my father, Steve [? Prisbian, ?] Mike [? Richberg, ?] who still works here. My grandmother has the sad face.

Sean Cole

The tattoo?

Scott

Yeah. She has it on her chest, too. And Eric [INAUDIBLE], who worked here, has it also.

And it's good. It's nice to see people. There's probably, all together, 15 people that have his name tattooed on them. We used to sit around the kitchen table, and take a needle and wrap thread around it, and dip it in calligraphy ink and tattoo each other with it.

And there's quite a few people who we masterfully tattooed Chad's name on their arm. Whether they like it now or not, it's still there.

Sean Cole

They've tried to stay as close to Chad's vision of the restaurant as possible. He never specified decor, so they've had a free hand there. He and Mike actually drafted a menu for the place, and the families kept about half of it. The other half was slow baking recipes that no customer would ever wait for.

Chad was also a lot of fun, everyone says. A lot of fun. A comedian. And they say that's why they joke around so much at Chad's Trading Post.

Scott says when he sees a heavyset customer that comes in a lot, he says, hey, tubby. He builds towers of little creamer packages on the bald head of another customer. Glenn throws crumpled up napkins at his employees. They have water fights. All this levity in a place that's essentially a large roadside memorial that serves massive omelettes.

Mike

If Chad was here, we'd have the place upside down by now.

Sean Cole

How do you mean?

Mike

Oh, it's in fun, you know? We really have fun now. But I think if he was here, we wouldn't have all that tension of his passing on our shoulder. The only tension we'd have is how much trouble we're going to get into.

Sean Cole

Because I've got to say, I mean, when I was here with Mary Ellen, we didn't know anything about the restaurant either, obviously. We just found it. And the first thing we saw was the menu, and then we saw the back of Scott's shirt. It was a little creepy, in a way.

Mike

I've never gotten that response before. I've never gotten the response that it was creepy. I always got the response that that's a very nice thing to do. It's very genuine, and it's heartwarming. I've never gotten creepy before.

Sean Cole

Well I just mean that it's like there's somebody else here in the restaurant that's not really here. But you know what I mean?

Mike

And that's exactly what it is. He's here. He's here with us, and we kind of have to yell at him once in a while, because every time something silly or stupid happens, you've got to blame somebody. And he's one to pull a prank on me for that, so oh, he's definitely here. But there's nothing creepy about it.

Sean Cole

I think I can safely say I have never seen any other family keep someone alive to this degree. They've gone out of their way to construct a world where they couldn't possibly forget Chad. A jumbo-sized photo of Chad stood behind Scott and his wife at their wedding.

They believe Chad has protected their lives in serious accidents-- that he brought Mike's son through a recent infection unscathed. Chad's room is the same as it was the day he was shot in it, with two exceptions. They took down the girlie pictures from the wall, and they replaced the carpet.

Before they did all this, right after Chad died, they all say they were lost. Mike said he wanted to crawl into a hole. Scott and his father had to make a deal with each other-- that neither would kill himself. Scott and Cory went into counseling. Scott says it didn't help much.

Scott

But that's how it was when it happened. I mean, I didn't know what to do. I had no idea what to do.

I walked in the bathroom, and I look in the mirror, and I'm just staring at myself in the mirror. And I flipped out and started punching the mirror. So now both my hands are cut, and I'm bleeding all over the place and sitting on the floor crying. And I have no idea why. You know, when you're that old, and something like that happens, you don't have any idea what to do in any circumstance.

Walking across a bridge, looking down. Yeah, maybe. You sit there and think about it for a few minutes. It takes a lot out of you. It takes a lot out of your mind, you know? And counseling made it worse for a while.

Sean Cole

What made it better-- what Glenn says saved them-- was starting the family business-- Chad's business.

Sean Cole

But, I guess, is it healthy?

Glenn

I think everybody grieves in a different way. For me, it is, because I'm doing something constructive. I was semi-retired and disabled before. I'm still disabled, but I was just vegging. I was sitting at home feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing.

When the restaurant idea came up from his brother Scott, and we started looking into it rather seriously, and we found the place, it was almost like a breath of fresh air. It was something we could all do in memory of his brother and have some fun with it. And we have, for seven years.

Healthy? I don't know. I mean, the psychiatrists say many different things. People who blithely say "things will get better over time" have never been here. Things never get better. They get a little less immediate.

So we work this in memory of him, as a way of keeping him immediate to us. Nobody forgets. And we get along this way. We get by this way. A whole bunch of us get by this way.

Sean Cole

In Northampton, where I used to live, there's a couple, and they own a cafe. And at one point, they had a child who lived 19 days. And after they disconnected him from life support, they built a shrine in their restaurant for him. Pictures of him connected to white tubes dotted the walls and beams. And his father, a musician, would perform a song at the cafe-- weekly, as I remember it-- comparing his son to a salmon and to the Messiah.

And some of us, at first, though we knew it had to be hard, felt a little embarrassed for them, as though this tragedy had driven them a little crazy. I think it's hard for us to know exactly what to do or say when we see public mourning like this, because we see it so rarely. The intensity of it is shocking. It's too naked.

And usually, we think that if you hold onto someone after their death this way, you can't live your own life. But clearly, you can.

Ira Glass

Sean Cole is a producer of our program. In the years since we first broadcast this story, Chad's Trading Post closed down. The family kept Chad's memory alive in a new restaurant called Chad's Good Table 10 minutes away. Then they sold that restaurant off in 2011.

Act Three: Wait Wait… Don't Film Me

Ira Glass

Act Three, Wait, Wait, Don't Film Me. Now this origin story. Our colleague at WBEZ and the host of the public radio show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, Mr. Peter Sagal, used to be a playwright. And to give you a sense of the kind of work that he did as a playwright, his most successful play, he says, was about a Holocaust denier and the Jewish attorney who represented that Holocaust denier in court.

Peter Sagal

And so it was all intellectual arguments and drama, and it involved the Holocaust and questions of the First Amendment law. And it came to the attention of this producer, Lawrence Bender, who is most well known for being Quentin Tarantino's producer. So he produced, among many other movies, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and so on and so forth.

Ira Glass

Back in the '90s, when all this happened, Bender read Peter's play, and liked it, and called him up, and asked Peter if he wanted to write a movie. And Peter basically had been waiting for this phone call from Hollywood forever.

Peter Sagal

I think the year of 1992, my annual income was $10,000. Yeah. This was the phone call that you wait for.

Ira Glass

So after tossing around some different ideas for this film, Lawrence Bender introduces Peter to this woman who he works with, who, at 15, had been an American in Cuba when the Cuban Revolution happened. Maybe there's a film in that. So Peter start writing this film that's half romance growing up film, half politics, about an American teenage girl in Cuba in the '50s.

Peter Sagal

And I didn't know anything about the Cuban Revolution. But one of the things I found out was that everybody involved with it was incredibly young. Castro himself was only 29. They were all 17, 18, 19, 20 years old, these guys up in the mountains with him.

And one of the things that actually happened was almost as soon as they took over, the Cuban Revolution, these wonderful young Democrats-- you know, freedom-loving rebels from the mountains-- started executing people on television. And in my original conception, there were two parallel stories. There was Maria, who I called the central character, who had a rebellious, more typically adolescent rebellion going against her own parents. And then there was her romantic interest, a character named [? Josefo, ?] who was a Cuban, and was a sort of a third column rebel underground guy, living and working in Havana to undermine the regime, sometimes through violence.

Ira Glass

And eventually, this film did get made.

Peter Sagal

It did.

Ira Glass

It did. It finally got made a bit later. And I'm just going to play a clip here from it.

Girl

Oh, God, I love dancing with him.

Woman

Did it ever occur to you that that boy might be using you?

Girl

What? What?

Woman

A nice American girl--

Girl

No.

Woman

--who can be used to get out of here.

Girl

Please. No, that's not true.

Woman

You may love dancing with that boy, but there are more important factors here, like your family and your future!

Girl

Why does it have to be either or? Just because you gave up your passion, why should I?

[SLAP]

Ira Glass

So that's a clip from the film. You want to just let people know the title of the film?

Peter Sagal

The title of the film is Dirty Dancing 2, Colon, Havana Nights.

Ira Glass

I have to say, I watched the movie last night. I watched Dirty Dancing.

Peter Sagal

The whole thing?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Peter Sagal

There is not a single line of dialogue in that movie that I wrote.

Ira Glass

So how does a film go from political coming-of-age drama to Dirty Dancing 2-- Havana Nights? Well, of course, it's an old Hollywood story. Peter writes his film. He turns it in. They ask him to make it more like-- oh, maybe could it be more like Dirty Dancing, innocent girl with a semi-dangerous guy.

Peter Sagal

And sometimes I think back on the experience, and I say, you know, I should have said to them, hey, if that's what you want, I'm really not the guy for it.

Ira Glass

He says each draft got worse and worse. Even he didn't like it. Finally, it was shelved.

Years later, the producer who actually owned the rights to the film Dirty Dancing teamed up with Lawrence Bender to make a sequel, and somebody thought of Peter's old script. All the politics of the film got reduced to this one moment where, really, unconnected to anything else in the film, somebody attempts to shoot some unidentified political figure at the climax of the dance contest. And then later, in a moment of obligatory foreshadowing, our couple talks about whether Castro would ever kick out Americans from Cuba.

Man

I'm just saying that--

Woman

What? That I might have to leave?

Man

It could happen.

Woman

But they wouldn't do that. Not if the whole idea is to give people their freedom.

Ira Glass

Can I ask you what it was like for you to watch the film? For you to sit in a theater and watch the film?

Peter Sagal

It was fine. It was really fine, because--

Ira Glass

Oh, honey.

Peter Sagal

No, no, no. I mean this. Let me put it this way. Before I got that call, this experience had been a failure.

I mean, I remember at that time just lying in bed going, well, I had my shot and I blew it. All I ever wanted was a shot, and I got my shot, and it failed. I did a bad job.

And so then when I got the phone call, it's like, oh, it's going to be made, and it's going to be Dirty Dancing 2, that's a happy ending. That's a much better ending than the ending I thought I had, which was that it was just a disaster.

Act Four: Bill Clinton's 7-Year-Old Brother

Ira Glass

Act Four, Bill Clinton's Seven-Year-Old Brother. So reporter Mary Wiltenburg spent a year writing about two boys-- brothers who were born in a Tanzanian refugee camp, and then resettled in Georgia in 2006. Many of her stories are focused on the older brother, nine-year-old Bill Clinton Hadam. His dad is a big fan of the former president. After a tough first year in the United States, Bill seemed to have settled in. But his little brother Igey was still struggling to understand his own origin story-- to get his seven-year-old brain around who he was and where he came from.

At this point, Mary has spent so much time with these two boys that she's more than a reporter. She's more like a member of the family. Anyway, here's Mary.

Mary Wiltenburg

Igey calls me on the phone almost every day. Sometimes he leaves messages.

Answering Machine

First unheard message.

Igey

Hi! Hello, Mary. This is me, Igey, and the good news is Bill is going to summer school, and I'm not going to summer school. OK, this is me, Igey. OK, bye.

Mary Wiltenburg

In between the messages, we have long chats. I tape most of our conversations, because I'm writing these articles about him and his family. And the conversations always seem to start with one of two questions. When can I come to your house, or when are you coming to my house?

Mary Wiltenburg

Hello?

Igey

Mary? Are you almost here?

Mary Wiltenburg

Oh, I'm going to be there soon. I'm in the car right now driving to you, and there's a little bit of traffic.

Igey

You're driving now?

Mary Wiltenburg

I'm driving right now.

Igey

You're coming to take us though, right?

Mary Wiltenburg

I am, yes.

So you know I'm crazy about this kid. He's sweet, nosy, funny. He's been to my house a bunch since I started doing these stories. But the first time he came over, six months ago, he announced to me and my husband and his brother, Bill Clinton, that from now on, the first grader formerly known as Igey, would be going by his middle name, John.

I'd already known something was up, because that afternoon, my husband took Igey to the park. Igey was up on the jungle gym when a girl about the same age called over from the swingset and asked his name. And he got all weird and wouldn't answer her. She thought he hadn't heard her, so she hopped off the swing, came over to the jungle gym, and asked him again, what's your name? Igey got this kind of cornered look and said, I don't know my name.

But by later that night, he seemed to have made a decision. He was now John. In our living room, he struggled to type his new name into a video game. J-O-- wait, was it J or G? Then Bill offered to help. Igey said, I know how to spell my own name.

Igey picked up English first and best of anyone in his family, but his teachers say Igey's more confused about where he's from and who he is than other seven year olds they've seen. And the charter school Igey and Bill attend is about half refugees. So you'd think they'd see a lot of this.

Teachers say no. Little kids usually realize pretty fast that most people who ask "where are you from," they don't want the whole story. And it doesn't really matter if you say you're from Burma, where your parents were from, or Thailand, where you lived in the camp. In first grade, you just pick one and get on with your day.

But for Igey, where are you from has never felt that simple. All winter, he seemed to be revising his story. First, he denied the camp he'd lived in his whole life. Hated the word refugee.

Then he started saying he wasn't from Congo, his nationality, or Tanzania, where he was born, or Africa at all. He'd say, I'm from here, or America. Watching TV, he'd point to rich white kids and say, that's me. At home, he threw tantrums.

At school, he sometimes seemed almost catatonic. He wouldn't answer questions, wouldn't meet people's eyes. His parents, his teachers, everyone felt helpless. They didn't know what set him off or how to reach him.

And he seemed to regress. If he were sitting on the couch, he'd snuggle up or take my hand. The slightest things made him cry. He seemed lost.

One night on the phone, I reminded him where he was born-- in Tanzania. I'm from Tanzania, he said?

Igey

I'm from Tanzania?

Mary Wiltenburg

Uh-huh.

Igey

I am?

Mary Wiltenburg

Well, that's where you were born.

Igey

No! But where am I from?

Mary Wiltenburg

Well, you were born in Tanzania, and you dad came from Congo.

Igey

I was?

Mary Wiltenburg

And your mom came from Rwanda. So your family has a lot of places where you're from.

Igey

OK. Bye.

Mary Wiltenburg

Bye.

Igey's parents didn't mind calling him John. They were just kind of puzzled. The idea that you could hate your name seemed like one more baffling thing about America. They just had no idea what Igey was going through, and it made Igey feel more distant from them.

A while back, I was riding with Igey and his parents in their car when he said to me, I don't want to live with my mom. I thought it was a setup for one of his jokes. So I said, you don't want to live with your mom? Why?

He said, I want to live with you. I said, no, you don't want to live with me. But then Igey got all serious and said, but what if I forget my language? I said, what do you mean? And he said, if I forget my language, I can't live with them, because they won't understand me. Later, on the phone, we talked about what it's like for him talking with his mom.

Mary Wiltenburg

When you speak English, does she understand you?

Igey

No.

Mary Wiltenburg

So maybe you're learning faster, huh?

Igey

I just forget it right now.

Mary Wiltenburg

Swahili?

Igey

Yes.

Mary Wiltenburg

Like, what do you forget?

Igey

Everything.

Mary Wiltenburg

And then at some point this spring, Igey just went back to being Igey. A lot of things happened for him at once. His green card arrived. His reading took off. It took me a while to notice that John had vanished.

His teachers don't remember, either, exactly when he stopped correcting them. But by the last month of school, he was taking his turn in the semicircle with everyone else. No drama. Just, my name is Igey, and I'm from Congo.

And suddenly, he was volunteering details about his life in the camp. Games he played, his mud brick house. Igey seemed to be making peace with his past and his name. And he moved on to other burning seven-year-old questions.

Igey

What's bingo night mean?

Mary Wiltenburg

Oh! [LAUGHING] You know how you play bingo at school?

Igey

Yeah.

Mary Wiltenburg

It's like a night when a bunch of adults get together. Maybe kids, too. And they play a game that's like that, only with numbers instead of words.

Igey

OK. I'm waiting for you, OK?

Mary Wiltenburg

OK. I'll see you soon.

Igey

OK. Bye.

Mary Wiltenburg

Bye bye.

And just when it seemed like Igey had finally accepted his own name, the other shoe dropped. The last week of school, Igey asked me, "Um, what does gay mean?" I told him gay can mean happy, or it could mean when a man loves another man.

Igey started sobbing. We were in his kitchen, and he just collapsed against the fridge. Finally, he choked out what was wrong, and it turned out that some second graders had been taunting him. "Igey, you're gay." And he told them, "That's not a word."

It was just one more strike against that name. But for now, John hasn't reappeared. Igey's sticking with Igey.

The other day, when we were riding in the car, I said some offhand thing about needing to call my mom. Igey said, "You have a mom?" I said, "Yeah, of course." He could not believe it. How had he not known about this before?

This year, it's been hard enough for Igey to put together his own story. The idea that I-- wait, everybody-- comes from somewhere? It kind of blew his mind.

Ira Glass

Mary Wiltenburg. She wrote about Igey, Bill Clinton, and their family for the Christian Science Monitor. You can read more of her reporting about them at littlebillclinton.csmonitor.com.

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Lisa Pollak and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Sean Cole, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from JP Dukes.

Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our office manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs the website. Music help from Jessica Hopper.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. Thanks today to Bob [? Folkenflik ?], Matt Holtzman, and Hank Rosenfeld. Pino Audia's research paper about garages and entrepreneurs that I talked about at the beginning of the show was done with Christopher Rider.

Dan Heath, who I also talked to at the top of the show, is the co-author of the book Made to Stick-- Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Torey Malatia, who hears himself quoted in these credits every single week and says--

Julian Koenig

I never said that. I would never say that.

Ira Glass

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