Radio · This American Life · Travel

This traveling life

(caveat: This is a shameless plug for radio, and for TAL)

Before I embarked on my trip, I dumped 130 This American Life radio episodes onto my iPod, cleared of anything else, to make space for the audible gems. I miss music sometimes, but I’ve never been one to listen to music all the time, so it’s a missing that is temporary and quickly fades with Ira’s voice. In the end that decision was a great one. My trip to Congo took four days, and many of those long hours on airport benches, chairs and lounges passed by swiftly with stories after stories. You can stream, buy, and sometimes even download for free all of the shows I talk about on the TAL site. I had ten minutes before I left the house to pick the shows, and I chose the ones whose titles intrigued me:

#70: Other People’s Mail

#99: I Enjoy Being a Girl, Sort Of

#127: Pimp Anthropology

 #137: The Book That Changed Your Life

#157: Secret Life of Daytime

#189: Hitler’s Yacht

#220: Testosterone

#260: The Facts Don’t Matter

#278: Spies Like US

#306: Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time

#319: And The Call Was Coming From The Basement

#359: Life After Death

#361: Fear of Sleep


I could explain for pages (and you know I mean that literally) the intensity of my love for this radio show. It’s one of the few things in life, like the photography of Elliott Erwitt, The Little Prince, the paitings of Hundertwasser, the spilling of Sabrina Ward Harisson, the poems of Billy Elliott, that reflect instances of my inner state, my interests, curiosities, loves, desires, fears, hatreds, obsessions and idiosyncracies. The things I hear on This American Life have such a profound effect on me that I sometimes write about them for days in my longhand notebooks until my hands feel like they are going to fall off. So far, I’ve only gotten through a few of them, but I wanted to take a few minutes and share what struck me in each of the stories I listened to.

#28: Detectives

An 11-year old girl reads from her detective journals. David Sedaris talks about his mom and sister’s obsession with detective shows, and goes off on a diatribe against women painting their toenails that is positively hysterical.

#30: Obsession

Ira Glass talks to a rabbi who compares and contrasts religious rituals and OCD disorders and how they connect to identity. Listen all the way to get through the guy who records people’s screams and the artist who beaded an entire kitchen. I love the story about the girl with the obsession with the number 2, and David Sedaris’s hilarious account of his OCD that compels him to conclude that he was born to smoke. Listen to the story to see how he makes this insane claim.

#33: A Night at the Wiener’s Circle

A night in Chicago’s mythical and insane restaurant. The byline of working at the restaurant would be, and this is a quote from the show “So, basically, if you couldn’t scream, it would just be another job). The place is haunted by David Schwimmer. Listen to the way the customers are identified: “two-ashtray Al” “the scone man” “the is-there- wheat-in-this lady” or the “mustard man”, named after orders that seemed ‘designed to have the server pay as much attention to him as possible.’ I particularly liked the section about the limo driver, “pursuing a new line of work, but, like a middle-aged man pursuing a spot on the Olympic decathlon team, a new line of work may be out of his reach.”

#35: Fall Clearance Sale

I think this is the one where David Sedaris goes to a nudist colony. I like the quote from this show where a woman says “I don’t like to think about it while I’m drinkin’ my cocoa.” Or when she says “We don’t lock our doors because we have nothing to hide.”

#42: Faustian Bargains

Do not miss the first story, a truly horrifying tale of what can go wrong when your book gets made into a movie, about the woman who wrote the book “My posse don’t do homework” which got turned first into the movie “Dangerous Minds” and then a TV show, owned by Disney, and where her entire persona as a teacher, her intent, her life’s work were completely obliterated.

#51: Animals Die, People Ponder

This one will blow you away. Each of the stories are gems. The short story The 400-pound CEO is a rare piece of literary work that is haunting, disturbing, but absolutely fascinating.

#52: Edge of Sanity

3 stories about the edge of sanity. An excerpt from the book “Girl, Interrupted”, the chronicles of a person working in a psychiatric hospital, entitled “You don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps.”

#55: Three Women and the Sex Industry

This one was so good, I don’t know what to say about it other than, listen to it. The gem is probably the third story, about a social worker/psychotherapist and her client.


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