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594: My Summer Self

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Prologue

Ira Glass

My wife told me about this thing that-- honestly, this is news to me. You know when it's like the height of summer and you go out, and a feeling when the sun is just like really hot and hitting your skin and making you all warm? She likes that feeling. She likes the way that feels.

And I don't know what this says about me, but the notion that anybody would like that had never occurred to me. Totally eye opening because I have never been into that feeling at all. To me, the heat of summer is just something you had to get through. It was like rain, but less wet.

And since she said this, this summer I've been trying to practice it. I've been trying to reprogram my own experience of the summer. And so when I'm outside, I consciously tell myself, the sun's hitting me. I'm going to enjoy this, get into it. And I can kind of get myself there for a little while. And then I lose it. I can't hold onto it. I just think that some of us really love the summer. And it is not something that you can force.

A couple weeks ago here on our radio show, we all saw this article about somebody like that. He's a 66-year-old lifeguard who's suing New York State for age discrimination. And I just want to pause on that for a second, a 66-year-old lifeguard.

All of us here on our staff, we had no idea that could even exist. We all thought lifeguarding is something that you do when you're in high school, maybe a couple years after, into your 20s. Who is still lifeguarding at 66?

And then it was even more of a question when we realized the lifeguard in the story, he has another job. He's a lawyer. He's a working lawyer.

His name is Roy Lester. He's a bankruptcy attorney. He's got his own firm in Long Island. And then he lifeguards every weekend in the summer.

And today on our program, we have stories of people like him, people who love the summer, not people like me. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. We prepared today a program to listen to with the sun beating down on you, the humidity through the roof, a show of people embracing summer and everything about summer. And let's just get right to it with Act One.

Act One: Grapes of Wrath

Ira Glass

Act One, The Grapes of Wrath. So one of our producers, Dana Chivvis, she went out to Long Island and met that guy, Roy Lester, the 66-year-old attorney lifeguard who was suing New York State. Basically the deal is that they tried to make him wear a Speedo. He refused. He lost his job. Here's Dana.

Dana Chivvis

If you ask Roy, why are you still lifeguarding at 66, he barely understands the question. It's so self-evident to him. It's been his life since he was 16. He and his buddies were kings of the beach. He lived with other lifeguards. His best man at his wedding was a lifeguard. Their kids grew up playing together on the beach while they were on duty. He never wanted to leave this job. Even when he went to law school in California, he came back to lifeguard every summer.

Dana Chivvis

In law school, aren't you supposed to have an internship in a law firm or something like that?

Roy Lester

You're supposed to.

Dana Chivvis

Did you not do that?

Roy Lester

No, I did not do that. I never took it quite that seriously. The idea of giving up the summer was something I just couldn't do.

Dana Chivvis

He's not alone. At Jones Beach, where he worked for 40 years, there are dozens of guys-- teachers, firemen, police-- who stayed with it into their 60s. Lifeguarding at Jones Beach is such a thing that a former lifeguard made a film about it. It's called Jones Beach Boys.

Roy insisted I watch it. I did. It was awesome. Here's my favorite song from it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

"We're going for the rescue and getting to the victim." I never really appreciated how thrilling lifeguarding is until Roy talked about rescues. We were sitting in his law office.

Roy Lester

The exhilaration of a good rescue is unlike anything you've ever had. And you don't get that. I sit here, and I shuffle papers. I wouldn't call it exciting. I wouldn't call it rewarding.

But this is-- you're actually accomplishing something. You're up there, and all of a sudden you're going out in the water, and the rest of the world is behind you. There's nothing else except between you getting from your stand to that victim. That's the only thing. And it's great. It's a great feeling.

Dana Chivvis

How many people do you think you've rescued in your career?

Roy Lester

Over 1,000.

Dana Chivvis

1,000?

Roy Lester

Yeah. You have to remember. There were times we would have 40 rescues in an hour.

Dana Chivvis

What? Why? What? Who? Why?

Roy Lester

Because you have people that come down to Jones Beach who really don't know about swimming, especially when you have a current. And you can get a very strong current at Jones Beach.

Dana Chivvis

1,000 rescues-- that's way more rescues than David Hasselhoff did on Baywatch. I figure two rescues per episode, 10 years on the air, Roy would still beat him by 560 rescues.

Which is to say Roy is one of the lifeguardiest lifeguards there is. He had two wins at the national lifeguard competition. He served as an expert lifeguard witness in court cases. And all was well in his happy lifeguarding world until the Speedo mishegoss began in 2007.

Here's what happened. If you're a lifeguard at Jones Beach, you have to take a physical fitness test every year to prove that you're still able to do the job. It includes a speed test in a pool. You have to swim 100 yards in 1:20, which is actually pretty fast. A lot of these guys train all year for it.

For 15 years, Roy took the swim test in his preferred swimsuit, a pair of jammers. They look like bike shorts without the butt cushion. If you're watching the Olympics right now, all of the male swimmers are wearing them. They're tight, and they go down to just above the knee.

But when Roy showed up for the test in 2007, he was told no jammers. His bosses at the Office of Parks and Recreation said, you can only do the test in one of the official Jones Beach lifeguard swimsuits, which means you have three choices-- board shorts, trunks, or Speedo. Board shorts and trunks are loose, so nobody really takes a swim test in them because they create more drag and slow you down. So, in effect, state officials were saying to Roy, you have to take the test in the Speedo.

Roy said, no way. I won't do it. And he hasn't been a lifeguard at Jones Beach since.

Roy Lester

It was one of those feelings like, am I making the right decision? I'm throwing away a 40-year career over a principle. It was a difficult decision, a very difficult decision.

Dana Chivvis

How long did it take you to decide?

Roy Lester

A second.

Dana Chivvis

I really need to point out he would only have to wear the Speedo for the test, which lasts a minute and 20 seconds. On the job, he'd wear board shorts. Most of the lifeguards do, young and old.

Dana Chivvis

Why not just put it on for the test, though?

Roy Lester

Why didn't Rosa Parks just go to the back of the bus? There were plenty of seats.

Dana Chivvis

So it's just-- it's the principle of it.

Roy Lester

Yeah. Yes.

Dana Chivvis

The principle, in his mind, was standing up to age discrimination. When I read about all this in The New York Times, I really didn't understand. What's the connection between a Speedo and age discrimination? I've certainly seen older dudes in Speedos.

So I went out and met Roy on a beach not far from his house on Long Island. It was 6:45 in the morning. He was about to go for a mile swim before work.

Dana Chivvis

So, Roy, can you describe what you're wearing right now?

Roy Lester

Well, it's a wet suit. It's a short-sleeve wet suit. And I have my jammers on underneath.

Dana Chivvis

Roy brought one of his official Jones Beach Speedos to the beach to show me.

Dana Chivvis

Just describe it for me.

Roy Lester

It's an exaggerated thong for lack of a better word.

Dana Chivvis

But it's full coverage in the back. So it's not quite a thong, right?

Roy Lester

Not quite a thong, right.

Dana Chivvis

But to Roy and lots of guys, it might as well be a thong, which is why the Speedo has earned a stable of nicknames-- the weenie bikini, the dingaling sling, the speed don't, the banana hammock, the grape smuggler, the Miami meat tent, the Saint-Tropez truffle duffle, the scrote tote.

Dana Chivvis

The reason the jammer is preferred by older lifeguards is that you're saying it's more discreet.

Roy Lester

Modest.

Dana Chivvis

More modest?

Roy Lester

Yes.

Dana Chivvis

Than the Speedo.

Roy Lester

Yes.

Dana Chivvis

Because it covers your thighs.

Roy Lester

I don't want to get graphic, but your-- the word begins with B. Basically, you're hanging out with the Speedo.

Dana Chivvis

I get it now, I think.

Roy Lester

And you don't really-- with the jammers, it's not like that.

Dana Chivvis

There's like a little bit more of a roof over your house.

Roy Lester

Yes. Yes.

Dana Chivvis

I see.

This is the nut of his argument Roy says once he passed 50, he felt self-conscious in the Speedo. And nobody should have to feel self-conscious to get a job. So Roy refuses to put on the grape smuggler to take the swim test.

A few weeks later, there's another chance to take the test. He shows up. And this time, he is wearing the official Speedo. He's just got it on over his jammers.

He showed me a video of a conversation he recorded on the pool deck that day. It was a little windy, so the sound isn't great. But he's standing in front of Sue Giuliani who was the director of Jones Beach State Park at the time. And there he is in his jammers plus Speedo outfit, challenging her to turn him away.

Roy Lester

I've made a compromise.

Sue Giuliani

That's not going to be acceptable.

Roy Lester

You're not going to let me swim like this?

Sue Giuliani

No.

Roy Lester

How come?

Sue Giuliani

Because you still have jammers on. So that you cannot wear.

Roy Lester

All right. And is there any reason why they're not allowed?

Sue Giuliani

We're not going-- how many times do you want me to repeat it?

Roy Lester

What?

Sue Giuliani

You know why they're not allowed.

Roy Lester

No, no, I don't. I've never been able to--

Sue Giuliani

I've pretty much--

Dana Chivvis

Joe Scalise, the director of water safety for the state beaches, cuts in.

Joe Scalise

Are you going to comply or not?

Roy Lester

I am complying. I'm wearing my official suit.

Joe Scalise

Are you complying with what we want or not?

Roy Lester

I'm wearing my official suit.

Joe Scalise

So not swimming now?

Roy Lester

All right. Let's go.

Dana Chivvis

Did you just go home, then?

Roy Lester

Basically, I-- well, I stayed around. And I watched everybody take the test.

Dana Chivvis

Were there other people taking the test in jammers?

Roy Lester

No. No, nobody was allowed to take the test in jammers. So everybody else either put on a Speedo or put on the board shorts, something like that.

Dana Chivvis

Now, Roy said he could have worn board shorts or trunks and still pass the test. He says he could have dungarees and passed. The guy's in ridiculous shape. He does triathlons now, coaches a swim team. In 2012, he had a hip replaced. And seven weeks later, he came in first in his age group in Bermuda's Round the Sound swim race, a 1.2-mile open water swim. He was still using a cane to walk.

So the easy thing for Roy to do would be just take the test in board shorts or Speedo and keep the job he loved. Let bureaucrats be bureaucrats. Just get on with it.

That's not Roy. Roy does not back down from a fight. So he sued. He sued the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for $5 million.

Now, the easy thing for the state would have been to just let Jones Beach lifeguards wear jammers. Presumably, if they're good enough for the Olympic swim team, they're good enough for New York's lifeguards. But that's not New York State. It decided to fight.

The lawsuit has worked its way through the lower court, which dismissed it, to the appellate court, which ruled in May that it should go to trial. This has been going on for seven years-- seven years. Roy sent me a PDF of his exhibits in the case. It was 1,300 pages long.

And the thing I really want to know-- because I live in New York and pay taxes in New York-- is why is the state using taxpayer dollars to fight the Speedo suit? This could all been resolved very easily years ago if they just changed the rule, allowed the jammers. Why are Roy and the state fighting each other when they should unite against the real enemy, jellyfish.

Officials from the state of New York wouldn't talk to me for this story. The Attorney General's office wouldn't talk. Neither would Parks and Rec.

But they did send me the affidavit of a guy named George Gorman. He oversees all the parks in Long Island. And it lays out their side of the story.

Around 2006, some of the Jones Beach lifeguards started taking the test in full-body swimsuits. Management became concerned that those guys were only passing because they were wearing the full-body swimsuits. So they decided to change the rules.

Starting in 2007, lifeguards could only take the test in one of the three official Jones Beach uniform swimsuits. No more full body suits, and also no jammers because jammers aren't part of the uniform. In his deposition, George Gorman said, quote, "we determined it was best that the lifeguards wear the uniforms that they're assigned to wear while they're on duty."

Seems reasonable, right? Not if you're Roy. He points out, if jammers really are significantly faster, wouldn't you want your lifeguards to wear a faster suit? Get them out to drowning victims sooner?

And as it happens, New York Parks and Rec allows lifeguards to take their qualifying test in jammers in the rest of the state.

Roy Lester

Upstate. I went upstate to take the test. And I wore my jammers.

Dana Chivvis

You took the test upstate?

Roy Lester

Yes. And I wore my jammers. And people wore the jammers. And I have pictures of that. And it's part of the exhibit, of guys taking the test in their jammers.

Dana Chivvis

Upstate?

Roy Lester

Yes. The same employer. New York State Department of Recreation, the same employer, allows the jammers.

Dana Chivvis

So your theory about this is that they are targeting Long Island because why?

Roy Lester

Because 90% of the older, the over-50 lifeguards work on Long Island. It's the biggest group of older lifeguards anywhere.

Dana Chivvis

For what it's worth, the state told me that the rules are different on Long Island because it's a more strenuous job lifeguarding on the ocean-- upstate it's all lakes and pools.

Dana Chivvis

Why do you think it is that they don't want older lifeguards?

Roy Lester

Well, I think they don't like the fact that older lifeguards have influence over the younger guys. And when you're a member of management, you don't want anybody having influence over your employees except you. And when you have to deal with the union, and you have to deal with the offices of the unions who are all older guys, and they know the beach, you don't want that.

Dana Chivvis

Yep, there's a lifeguard union. Roy was the president of the union for years. And at that point in 2007, when he refused to wear the Speedo, he was the union's chief negotiator. When Sue Giuliani tells him to follow the rules--

Sue Giuliani

So that you cannot wear.

Dana Chivvis

--she knows him. He's the guy the union sends to argue its side. And these guys telling him he can't wear his jammers? They're management. This is a scantily clad labor dispute.

I asked some other older lifeguards about this. And three out of the four of them agreed. This is about the union, which actually has a history of fighting age discrimination. In 1966, they went on strike because the state tried to impose an age limit of 35 for Jones Beach lifeguards. So they walked off the beach. A week later, the state caved.

Knowing this-- that the suits and the swimsuits have a history with each other-- that helped me understand what Roy's fight was really about. Roy told me one reason he took a stand was that management was supposed to tell the union if they wanted to change a rule like this. And this time, they didn't.

Roy's got a weekend job now at a private beach club. But it's not the same.

Roy Lester

I like where I'm working now. I really do. But you get one rescue a year if you're lucky. And then it's what's called a puddle jumper.

Dana Chivvis

What is a puddle jumper?

Roy Lester

A puddle jumper is where you really don't even need to get your head wet. And at Jones Beach in the old days, we would have these tremendous rescues, just these great rescues.

Dana Chivvis

His friends from Jones Beach tease him that he's in exile now.

Dana Chivvis

How often do you go visit them?

Roy Lester

Not that often. I keep in touch with them constantly, but I don't go down there that often. To be honest, it does hurt. It hurts to go down there. That was my beach. It was my home for so many years.

Dana Chivvis

If Roy's theory is true, then the state is trying to get rid of the older lifeguards on Long Island by forcing them into Speedos. But if that's true, as far as I can tell, the only lifeguard they've managed to get rid of is Roy.

Ira Glass

Dana Chivvis is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "SPEEDO" BY THE CADILLACS]

Act Two: Say Yes to Summer

Ira Glass

Act Two, Say Yes to Summer. So I just finished making a movie with Mike Birbiglia, who is on our show sometimes. And the movie's about improv comedians. And I thought that it would be fun to invite some here on the show to do stuff about summer.

And we got some great ones-- John Lutz, Tami Sagher, Connor Ratliff, Gary Richardson, Kate Micucci, Shannon O'Neill, who's the artistic director of improv theater The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Mike Birbiglia came, too.

And they did this show at The Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York. And they did it in this style of improv where the way it works is that somebody tells a true story on stage. And then the performers make up scenes based on things in that real story. And then somebody else tells another true story which kicks off more improvised scenes, and so on.

And so, if you just want to picture this, the cast and I are on stage. There's an audience. And we started this show with a true story that I told.

Ira Glass

So when I was 13, my parents had enough money to take us on one of our very first family vacations. And we went to Florida. And one of the things that made this possible was we got a deal on the hotel.

My dad was an accountant. I grew up in Baltimore. And we got the deal because my dad was the accountant for the Baltimore branch franchise of the Playboy Club.

And I would just say now it's sort of hard to remember, if you're under 40, I think, there was a point where Playboy was cool. It's sort of unimaginable now. But if you imagine you couldn't get porn on your phone.

And so we were going to go down. Playboy owned hotels. And they had a hotel in Miami called the Playboy Plaza. So we were going to be at this hotel that seemed very glamorous. There were going to be Playboy bunnies at the hotel serving drinks at the bar and at the pool. I was a 13-year-old boy. This was incredible.

We were going to fly in an airplane. It was one of the very first times I ever did that-- also incredible. There would be the ocean, which being from Baltimore, we called (IN BALTIMORE ACCENT) the ocean. And so this had all the makings of a great vacation.

And then when we got to the hotel, it was everything we wanted. And in addition, The Jackson 5 was staying there. August of 1972, Michael Jackson and I are the same age. We were both 13.

And so you would see The Jackson 5 come out of the elevator for dinner, dressed all in completely matching gold suede suits with fringe. And you would see them at the pool just like playing in the pool like other kids, which was us.

And I should say, I remember goofing around in the pool with the youngest one, who was seven years old-- a girl-- because she seemed like the most approachable. I knew she wasn't actually famous. Later, of course, I learned she is Janet Jackson. I played Marco Polo with Janet Jackson.

And I have brought with me a photo of me and Michael Jackson from that vacation. I have it here. Now before I show this to you, I want to just-- I need to preface with some context, which is that while the Jacksons were becoming international superstars, I myself was working in the entertainment business. I had gone to the Baltimore County Public Library and taken out some books on how to do magic tricks. And I was doing birthday parties all over Baltimore County for fees as high as $10-- also animal balloonery.

And so here is the photo. And the audience here can see that my back is to the camera. What I'm doing-- you can't see my hands. I'm doing the disappearing coin trick. And the expression on Michael Jackson's face? He is literally rolling his eyes.

So just to explain to the radio audience, the cast is sitting on stools with microphones. And so you guys heard the opening story. It's on you.

Man 1

Marco.

Woman 1

Polo.

Man 1

Marco.

Man 2

(SINGING) Polo.

Man 1

Marco.

Woman 1

Polo.

Man 1

Polo.

Man 2

(SINGING) Polo.

Man 1

Marco.

Woman 1

You really don't know where we are?

Man 1

I love The Jackson 5.

Man 2

Well, what do you say, guys? Should we give them a show?

Woman 2

We have been workshopping a pool song.

Man 3

Hey, you're not going to sing the pool song without Tito.

Woman 3

Hey, guys. I heard we're singing the new pool song.

Woman 2

Uh, Michael, no one wants you here.

Woman 3

Hold on. Let me put on my swimming gloves. Oh, no. I lost one. So are we going to sing this pool song or what?

Man 3

Well, I've got my bass guitar right here. I'm could walk us on in with a--

[SCAT SINGING]

Woman 2

(SINGING) Dip that toe in the water. Dip that toe in the water.

Woman 3

(SINGING) I'm sliding down the slide. I'm sliding down the slide, splishy splash. Sliding down the slide. Sliding down the slide. Come on, everybody.

Woman 2

(SINGING) Welcome The Jackson 5 to your local hotel pool. Welcome us, the five of us. You can take this tale to school.

Woman 3

(SINGING) Sliding down the slide. Sliding down the slide.

Woman 2

Again, we're workshopping it.

Comedian

End scene.

Mother

Excuse me.

Waiter

Yes? How can I help you?

Mother

Yes, I'm here with my son. Perhaps you recognize him from birthday parties across Bernard County.

Waiter

I'm-- OK. I don't recognize him from that, but--

Mother

Joshy, introduce yourself.

Joshy

Hello. My name is Joshy the Magnificent.

Mother

And we've been waiting in this corner booth for five minutes. And no one has come to wait on us.

Waiter

Oh, I'm very sorry about that. I can take your order right now if you want. How about some drinks?

Mother

How can we order when the menus have disappeared?

Joshy

Ta-da!

Waiter

I'm going to get you guys some water. And I'll be back with some menus.

Mother

Joshy will have a glass of sour milk, please.

Waiter

All right. All right. I'll be right back.

Mother

Joshy.

Joshy

I love you, Mommy.

Mother

I love you so much. So much.

Joshy

So much.

Mother

So much.

Joshy

So much.

Comedian

End scene.

Mike Birbiglia

I think what's special about summer when you're a kid is that it doesn't even feel like the rest of your life. Like, you feel like there's life, and then there's summer. And then when you get older-- I'm embarrassed to admit this-- I'm barely aware that it's summer. And I'm like, OK, it's summer. Like, I'll just--

Comedian

I'll have that thing, too, when it starts getting hot where it's like, ugh, it's getting a little hot. I never had that as a kid. You'd be excited when it's hot because--

Comedian

I don't know as a kid, so often the family reunions were in hot ass Pensacola, Florida, like unbelievably hot and populated with 100% old people. So nobody was out-- it wasn't even like kids were out playing.

So I was acutely aware of how hot it was because I would get outside and just stand there. It would be me and my cousins just standing, looking around, hoping for something to inspire us to play. Like, these old people didn't have balls or anything to do, so we would just walk to get a juice and drink the whole juice on the way back home because we were dying. Ugh, Pensacola sucks. I hate-- I hate Pensacola, Florida.

Carl

Jane! Jane, come to the window.

Jane

What?

Carl

There's a bunch of children just standing.

John

We want your balls. Give us your toys.

Jane

That one sounded a little bit like John Lennon. What is this?

Carl

You're right. You're right. Jane, you're right.

John

Toys.

Carl

That was unmistakably a Liverpool accent.

John

I'm John Lennon. I'm visiting with these children.

Carl

Jane! What do we do, Jane?

Jane

Do we adopt them? I don't know, Carl.

Carl

We can't adopt a full-grown Brit.

Jane

Who says we can't?

Teacher 1

So class, we've got a new sixth grader who has just moved to town. So, John, why don't you tell the class a little bit about yourself?

John

I'm from Liverpool.

Teacher 1

All right, John. Why don't you have a seat over there by Shelley? And--

Shelley

Yeah, sit next to me.

Teacher 1

Oh, you don't seem to be fitting in that desk.

John

I'm a full-grown man.

Teacher 1

All right. Well, Terry, you were in the middle of your talk about what you did this summer.

Terry

Yes, this summer I went on a cruise to the Bahamas-- me, my mom, my dad, my younger brother Jason. We got on the cruise. And there was 100 bedrooms. 100 bedrooms. And in the morning, you get up and everybody has breakfast together. And sometimes there's different entertainers in the middle of the day. If you don't want to go to the entertainer, you can go swim or you can go lay on the deck.

And once we port-- that's what they call it when the boat stops in the city-- once you port, you and your family get together. Make sure you have your passport. Because if you don't, they might not let you back on the boat, no matter what. We do all this. Then we, uh-- oo, one time, my brother stepped on a jellyfish.

John

I have a story. I'm the biggest pop star in all the world.

Teacher 1

John, just one second, please. Terry is telling a very interesting story.

John

I made the biggest hits in all of America and also in Britain.

Teacher 1

Shh.

Terry

Oh, do you want me to tell you what happens when you get back on the boat?

Students

Yeah.

Terry

OK, you get back on the boat. And you go upstairs. And you have dinner. And the dinner can either be pork, or it can be chicken, or it can be just vegetables because some people don't even like meat stuff. They just want to eat vegetables. Can you believe it?

Student

Tell us about the toilets on the boat.

Terry

Oh, OK.

John

This is a rubbish.

Comedian

Scene.

Comedian

I stole once over a summer. I was 10 years old, I believe. And I was on a cruise, actually, in Cancun, Mexico. I was playing with some keychain that had a basketball on it because I was a huge basketball guy back then. I'm still a big basketball guy. I love the sport.

So I'm spinning it around on my finger. And we leave the store. And maybe 20 minutes later, I realize I've still got it. And I'm freaking out because this was a summer that when I was younger, I did taekwondo. And one year, I went to state and placed at state, was supposed to go to regionals-- oh no, not regionals. I went to state, then regionals. I was supposed to go to the national tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada. But I passed to go on this cruise.

And I found out that had I gone to Las Vegas, I would have been one of four people in my age and weight division. And I would have automatically been going to represent the United States of America in Korea. And I passed on that cruise around the Gulf of Mexico.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait wait. Are you bringing up the theft because you thought it was causal? Like the fact that you did this bad thing led to you not going to Korea?

Comedian

No. I thought that I can't believe that instead of being in Korea, I'm here stealing. I was freaking out because I saw two very different paths in my life. And I had chose the wrong one. I had picked the wrong path.

Teacher 2

Sam, you don't want to go on the class trip?

Sam

No, because I have a chance to go on this cruise. And it just sounds like way more fun. So have a good time on-- the trip sounds fun for some other people.

Teacher 2

I didn't want to mention this to the rest of the class, Sam--

Sam

Yeah--

Cooper

Then why am I still here? I'm leaving. No one ever tells me anything.

Teacher 2

You do not move. You are in punishment. That is why you are still here.

Cooper

OK.

Teacher 2

Maybe, Cooper, instead of asking me why you are still here, you should ask yourself why you're still here.

Cooper

Cooper, why am I still here? Cause I'm cool.

Teacher 2

Wrong answer, Cooper, wrong answer. So, Sam, honey--

Sam

Should I go on a trip? I mean, I feel like I don't think I'll be missing out.

Teacher 2

Sam OK, I didn't tell the rest of the class this.

Sam

Uh-huh.

Teacher 2

And I know the permission slip says we're just going to Great America to do physics calculations.

Sam

Yeah.

Teacher 2

But when we get there, there's a physics bowl that's going to happen.

Cooper

That's it?

Teacher 2

No, Cooper, that's not it.

Cooper

OK, because that was kind of lame. Hey, why are you here, Cooper? Because you're the best, man. Give me five! I can't because I'm me.

Sam

But I mean, I could go to the beach and be on the ocean.

Cooper

That sounds way better.

Sam

But I mean, if you really need--

Teacher 2

Cooper likes your idea, huh? Do you want to be like a Cooper?

Sam

Well, not really because he picks his nose a lot but--

Cooper

That's 'cause it's tasty!

Comedian

Scene.

Mike Birbiglia

I feel like there's something about summer when you're a kid where I have all these memories as a teenager where we'd walk around town late at night when we were probably like 13, 14 years old. And we wouldn't have a plan. But we had nowhere to be.

So we'd walk to one of our friend's houses. Then we'd walk to the White Hen Pantry. And we'd order sandwiches. And we'd just sit there on the corner. And we were like, this is pretty cool.

Teenager 1

Hey, listen, I know we don't normally plan this out, but I went ahead and made an itinerary. Here's yours.

Teenager 2

OK.

Teenager 1

Got enough for everybody. So, I mean, like right now, it says we meet up, pass out itineraries.

Teenager 2

Yeah, I feel like that that was an unnecessary step because--

Teenager 1

Now I can check it off.

Carl

Oh, OK.

Teenager 3

Kind of takes away the fun right? Isn't that what--

Samantha

Hey, Connor, I got this. It said I should show up at 7:52 and just reject you guys?

Teenager 1

Yeah.

Teenager 2

Hey, Samantha.

Teenager 1

Hi, Samantha.

Teenager 3

Hey, Samantha.

Samantha

Don't do that again.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Teenager 2

I mean, it's working. Yeah, it's working. I mean, that was--

Teenager 1

It's right on time. I think it didn't hurt as much because there was an inevitability to it that--

Comedian

Scene.

Comedian

I was always really bad at getting or finding summer jobs that weren't terrible. And--

Comedian

You're bad at finding real-life jobs that aren't terrible.

Comedian

Thanks, Tami. I'll have you know I'm going be dressed as a pretzel all next week.

Comedian

Is that real?

Comedian

Yeah.

Comedian

Not a joke.

Comedian

Not a joke.

Comedian

In what context?

Comedian

Honestly, I've said too much already.

Comedian

You can tell us, but you guys just can't tell anybody. Why will you be dressed like a pretzel next week?

Comedian

Nobody tweet this.

Comedian

National branded snack mix, internet only, ad content.

Comedian

Standing ovation.

Comedian

Yeah.

Comedian

I don't think anybody could fit that in a tweet.

Comedian

I think my favorite part is that you thought by saying it that we could ruin it.

Comedian

Yeah.

Comedian

We can't make it worse.

Comedian

All right. So anyway, one summer there was this local sandwich shop in my hometown. And the guy who owned the sandwich shop, he also owned these fireworks stands that would go up near the highway. And they needed someone to guard the fireworks stand at night.

And I heard about this job opportunity. And so I said, are you looking for someone? And he said, yeah, are you willing to do it? And I said, what do I need to do? And I was going to make $500 for the night. I would show up at 9:00 or 10:00 at night or something, whenever they were closing. And then I would just sit in the tent all night until morning.

Ira Glass

Wait, $500?

Comedian

That's so much money?

Comedian

For one night?

Comedian

Yeah. It was $400 or $500.

Comedian

That's significantly more than you're making to be a pretzel.

Comedian

That's not true, actually.

Comedian

Wait.

Comedian

I wouldn't be--

Comedian

Wait, Collin, you realize that was, for sure, guns or drugs.

Comedian

I don't know. All I know is I made up big plans. I had a black-and-white portable television I brought with myself. I'll just watch TV all night and read.

And so I showed up. And there were a bunch of people already there. And I said, hi, I'm supposed to guard the fireworks stand. And they said, no, you're not. And I said, what? And they were like, we're doing it.

And I was like, I was told I was hired to do this job. And it was supposed to be $500 for the night. And they're like, oh, there was a mix-up. And I was like, oh. And so they said come back next week and you can do next week. So I thought, oh, OK, well, that's good.

And so the next week I went to the fireworks stand on Saturday night to guard it. And the same bunch of guys were there. And they're like, nah, it was a mix-up. I think they just lied to me as a trick, just to see this teenager show up and just tell him to go away.

Milky Joe

So what you're going to do is you're going to guard this area right here.

Kid

OK, yeah.

Milky Joe

This is the beach.

Kid

Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool. So just get here--

Milky Joe

You're just going to guard the beach. If anyone walks down the beach, you're just going to give them the business.

Kid

OK. Yeah, I can do that. Be here at sundown? Hang out all night?

Milky Joe

You get here at sundown. You stay here all night.

Kid

Cool. Yeah.

Milky Joe

And if anything goes down--

Kid

And you're giving me $12,000?

Milky Joe

That's right.

Kid

OK.

Milky Joe

That's right.

Kid

Cool. Cool.

Milky Joe

I will cut you a cashier's check in the morning.

Kid

Awesome. Yeah, awesome.

Milky Joe

6:00 AM, I will be here with a cashier's check--

Kid

Awesome.

Milky Joe

--for $12,000.

Kid

Great. Great. That sounds awesome.

Comedian

Cut to sunset.

Kid

Yeah, I'm here to watch the beach.

Guy

No, you're not.

Kid

Yes. Yes, I am.

Guy

Oh, no, man. I'm watching the beach tonight, baby.

Kid

OK, well, I was told that this dude who makes milkshakes at the sandwich shop I go to--

Guy

Yeah, Milky Joe?

Kid

Yeah, yeah, Milky Joe.

Guy

Yeah, a mix-up with Milky Joe. Milky Joe told me I'm watching the beach tonight.

Kid

Gotcha. Milky Joe brought me here this afternoon.

Guy

Yeah, that was later than what happened with me on the other time that it did. So it was all fixed. It was so crazy. It was the other side of the time that you did it.

Kid

Oh, OK. Cool. Cool, cool.

Comedian

Cut to the next day. An office. There's a window out to the ocean.

Comedian

And there's a picture right here that says "we own the beach."

Boss

Hey, I want you to come look out this window, will you?

Milky Joe

All right.

Boss

So you see water there?

Milky Joe

Yeah.

Boss

You know what I'm not seeing? Any beach.

Milky Joe

Well, maybe someone--

Boss

I specifically told you to get someone to guard the beach last night--

Milky Joe

I hired--

Boss

--so that something like this wouldn't happen.

Milky Joe

I hired two guys. I hired two guys to watch the beach.

Boss

Did you tell them that they were to work together?

Milky Joe

No. Well, I hired them in opposition to one another.

Boss

Like, I don't know how they hire security guards where you come from, but where I come from you pay somebody $12,000, they watch the beach.

Comedian

Cut to a suburban home in the basement.

Cooper

Mom, don't come down here.

Mom

What? This is my house.

Cooper

Ma.

Mom

Don't tell me where I can and cannot go.

Cooper

Fine. Just--

Mom

What is all of this sand? Cooper!

Comedian

End scene.

Ira Glass

Mike Birbiglia, John Lutz, Kate Micucci, Shannon O'Neill, Connor Ratliff, Gary Richardson, and Tami Sagher. Mike, Kate, and Tami are three of the stars of the film that Mike and I just made called Don't Think Twice. It's not a documentary. It's a feature film. It's a comedy about a team of improv comedians and stuff that happens to them. It's in theaters now.

Coming up, a dad tries something he has never done before, one summer with his family. That's in a minute on Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Three: It Takes A Villa

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different stories on that theme. Today's show, My Summer Self, stories of who we are during the summer. We've arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three, It Takes a Villa.

So sometimes during the summer, people just decide they are going to try and do things they never do, go on some adventure, attempt something, and just see if it takes, see if this is who they are, see if they are the kind of summery person they have never been till now. One of our producers, Neil Drumming, witnessed his dad make an attempt like that.

Neil Drumming

In the summer of 1982, my dad did something unexpected, something that seemed unbelievably indulgent. He took me, my mom, and my brother, and the youngest of my three sisters on the most epic road trip any of us could have possibly imagined at the time. We piled into my dad's Buick Skylark and drove from Queens, New York to the World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, where a robot danced for us, and then down into Orlando, Florida.

This was a big deal. Before this, going away meant visiting relatives in South Carolina and sitting uncomfortably among aunts and second cousins whose names I would forget before we'd even pulled out of their dusty driveways. This trip was not country heat and sipping sugar water on some rickety porch while listening to the inscrutable conversation of grown folk. It was what going 1,000 miles from home should feel like.

We cruised down a brightly lit street called International Drive. We stayed at a Holiday Inn taller and more grand than any I'd ever seen. Sunlight streamed in through a hole in the ceiling, a hole that was supposed to be there.

Our parents took us to a building that looked like a pile of poached eggs, but was actually Xanadu, House of the Future. And everywhere, along every roadside, billboards promised that the most magical scene still awaited us, this place, Disney World. By all accounts, it was paradise for kids.

But between the gas and the hotels and the eating out, my dad quickly discovered how expensive taking even 60% of his brood on a Disney vacation could be. He was resigned to do it, but he wasn't above working the angles. He found out that you could get cheap tickets to the Magic Kingdom if you just signed up to sit through an hour or so spiel from someone pitching timeshares. He was in.

The hard sell went down at the Disney Village, a branded mini mall near the famous theme park. My mom, dad, and a handful of other determined parents stowed their kids in a room full of toys that had been conveniently provided by the salespeople. The parents set about the business of listening-- or not-- waiting patiently for the moment when the closers would stop shilling and start handing out the Disney discounts.

But while we kids were in another room throwing LEGOs at one another, something surprising happened. My dad bit. He went into a closed room to get three-day passes just so that I could eventually lose my glasses on Space Mountain. And he came out with a deed, the deed to something he and my mom were now calling our villa.

My father was a bold man, but in retrospect this is the most impetuous action that I have ever seen him take. It cost him about $5,000, which he paid in installments. In 1982, for a guy with five kids who never made more than $33,000 a year at his day job, it was a considerable investment.

For those unfamiliar with timeshares, it may be hard to wrap your head around buying a vacation home that you never really own. You pay upfront for it. There's an annual maintenance fee. But you only get to stay in it once a year or so, usually for a week at a time. It almost sounds like some sort of scam. And sometimes it is. But it didn't turn out that way for us. Instead, it became a fixture in my family.

My father had chosen as our week the first week in July. And so every year, during one of the hottest months of the year, we would head down I-95 as always. But now, when we pulled into South Carolina to see relatives, that was only a pit stop on the way to our true destination. We had transformed from people who went away to a family who went on vacation.

Our villa was number 317, a two-bedroom apartment with an enclosed back porch that looked out onto a small man-made lake complete with fish and ducks and another summer word that I learned, gazebo. My brother chased cicadas and lizards. For my sister, the only swimmer among my siblings, there was a pool. There were tennis courts and bikes to rent. The general store even offered a collection of the latest movies on laser disc.

That first trip, I was eight. As I got older, I moved from the gazebo to the game room and then the gym, trying to meet other kids my age. My mom busied herself in the kitchen making lunches or sat by the lake and watched the ducks. My dad shepherded us through It's a Small World and Epcot Center.

Our summers went on like this, pretty much exactly like this, probably until I finished high school. I honestly loved it. I looked forward to this trip every year. And even though it was only a week, it was almost always the highlight of my entire summer.

But when I think about it now, it occurs to me my dad pretty much orchestrated this thing that became so important to our lives. And I have no idea whether or not he ever enjoyed it himself. In fact, it didn't seem like he did. I can't recall actually seeing him happy.

Neither does my brother. He says dad was pretty much the same at the timeshare as he was at home. Sometimes he'd go for walks alone, but often he just sat on the couch and watched TV. I asked my sister. She said he must have been happy, but she doesn't remember witnessing it, either.

It seems like such a simple question, but I just wanted to know. Did he enjoy himself?

At the risk of embodying the most tired trope in all of modern masculinity, I will say my father and I never really got along. He was strict. His house had a lot of rules. And he believed in corporal punishment. And the sting of that conflict stayed with me as an adult. But since my mom passed away last year, I've been trying to connect with him more. I gave him a call.

[TELEPHONE RINGING]

Dad

Hello?

Neil Drumming

Hello?

Dad

Yes?

Neil Drumming

Hey, it's Neil.

Dad

Yes.

Neil Drumming

Is it a bad time?

Dad

It's about who?

Neil Drumming

I say, is it a bad time?

Dad

No. No, I was just playing solitaire. Yeah. I didn't know whether it was the drugstore or not.

Neil Drumming

Are you waiting for a call from the drugstore?

Dad

No. They'll call. They'll give me a call no matter when it is.

Neil Drumming

My dad is 83 years old now and living alone in Florida. Talking to him can be awkward and not just because his hearing is going. I asked him point blank if he liked going to the villa. He told me that when he was growing up, he barely ever left South Carolina.

Dad

I didn't know nothing about nothing else. You know, like, you saw things in magazines and stuff. The first time I knew about a dentist I was in the army. But I just thought it was a good idea that our kids see something other than their surroundings and where they were born.

Neil Drumming

Yeah.

My dad grew up poor on a farm, one of 12 children. He says he only finished high school because by the time he was old enough, he was the one driving the bus. Sometimes when there were athletic events at other schools, he'd get to drive the teams and learn what the nearby towns were like.

In 1953, he was drafted into the army, which had only recently been integrated. They sent him to Colorado and Indiana. And it wasn't great. He says the army was really not into black people back then.

So those were his travel experiences when he was young. I was hearing a lot of this for the first time. As it turns out, that's at least partially my own fault.

Dad

The reason why we never talk about it because it just wasn't the kind of thing that you guys seemed to be interested in.

Neil Drumming

Really? So we just didn't seem like we were interested as kids?

Dad

Yeah. Right.

Neil Drumming

Yeah, I probably wasn't so interested back then, back when the two of us were constantly challenging each other. I was always either afraid of him or angry at him, hiding from him or planting my feet to confront him. It never crossed my mind to try to understand him.

But nowadays my dad feels to me like some kind of living cold case, a million-page brief that is no longer redacted. Maybe it's because I'm now at the age he was when I was born, but I retroactively find his every decision fascinating, even the ones that aren't so surprising on the surface.

Neil Drumming

Why Florida?

Dad

It was advertised. And you get to hear something about Florida. And then this thing, Disney World. After we started going, they build Epcot. They build Animal Kingdom. And they advertise them a lot.

Not many people were going. We were probably the most vacationing people in our area. I don't know of any other family that went on vacation every year. We did.

Neil Drumming

My dad was obviously proud that he got the timeshare. But pride, strictly speaking, does not constitute joy. It didn't answer the question of whether or not he was actually happy spending those summer weeks with us at the villa. Instead, he kept trying to make me understand why he brought us there in the first place. And his explanation, his reasoning, reached back to memories and past experiences that not only had I never heard, but that kind of blew my mind.

Dad

Now, I tell you, probably where I got the whole idea, when we went to school, every summer you had to try to think of something that you could write about when you go back to school because you're going to have to write something about what you did this summer. Well, we never had anything to write about when I was going to school. And you didn't think plowing a mule, or picking peaches or stuff, that you had to normally do, you didn't think that was so exciting to write about. And so we made up lies about what we did.

Well, every summer you guys went on vacation, you could write about something that you did or saw or some place you went.

Neil Drumming

Yeah. What did you do during the summers?

Dad

When? This year?

Neil Drumming

No, no, when you were in school.

Dad

Worked. That's what I tried to tell you.

Neil Drumming

We talked for over an hour. It was one of the longest conversations that I can remember us ever having. Every now and then, I try to steer him back to the question I wanted him to answer.

Neil Drumming

So I know I asked you this a bunch of times. I keep asking you the same question. You can tell me to stop asking you if you want, but did you have fun yourself?

Dad

Yeah. See, I don't regret anything because it looked to me like I was doing what I was supposed to do. And to see your kids happy was to be happy, too. And you guys could always come in and do whatever it is and go back out to the pool or whatever. I remember you guys playing out there and hanging around the bushes and stuff. I thought it was great.

Neil Drumming

That's the kind of enjoyment I hadn't considered. I live more selfishly. Also, his answer was hard to take in, to reconcile with the distance I felt between us at the time, back when he would retire to the couch to watch TV while we went off to play on our own. Maybe he was watching me play in the bushes and getting a kick out of it. But I didn't know that.

Still, I was happy at the villa. And my dad says he was, too. I'm glad I know that.

Neil Drumming

All right. So I've been talking to you for an hour. I should probably let you go. But, hey, is it OK if I call back this week and just talk? I want to hear more stuff. Since I didn't seem interested when I was a kid, I didn't realize that was why you didn't tell us stuff. So now I'll just ask. Is that OK if I could--

Dad

The only thing I'd do is to get up and sometimes I'm outside just walking around. Sometimes I sit down and-- sometimes I go ride the bike. And I do this just to keep busy. You can call me anytime--

Neil Drumming

All right. I'm going to go back to work.

Dad

OK.

Neil Drumming

Bye, Dad.

Dad

Bye.

Ira Glass

Neil Drumming, one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH" BY AJ RAFAEL"]

Our program was produced today by Neil Drumming. Our production staff-- Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, David Kestenbaum, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike. Our editor's Joel Lovell. Editorial help from Julie Snyder and Elna Baker. Other staff-- Elise Bergerson, Emily Condon, Kimberly Henderson, and Seth Lind. Research help from Christopher Swetala Music help from Damien Graef from Rob Geddis. Special thanks today to Vicki and Dock Drumming, George Green and The Unchained Tour, and Brooklyn Loft Party. Our website, thisamericanlife.org.

We've revamped our e-mail newsletter. And if you sign up for it this week, we will send you the photo of me doing a magic trick for Michael Jackson in 1972. We were both 13 years old.

This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Thanks as always to a program's co-founder, Torey Malatia, or as we like to call him--

Dana Chivvis

--the grape smuggler, the Miami meat tent, the dingaling sling, Saint-Tropez truffle duffle.

Ira Glass

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