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This American Life, 75: Kindness of Strangers (1)

75: Kindness of Strangers (1)

Prologue Ira Glass Brett was standing at a subway platform, afternoon rush hour. It was crowded. And he noticed this guy-- didn't seem homeless, decent clothes-- stopping in front of each person, looking into his or her eyes, saying something, and moving on to the next person. Turns out the guy was telling people-- Brett They could stay or they had to go. They were in or they were out. Ira Glass Literally, what would he say? Brett Well, literally, it would be, you, you're out. You're gone. You're gone. You're OK, you can stay. Ira Glass And then do people leave? Brett No, not at all. And no one argued with him. Ira Glass Brett wrote about the incident on his personal website, BRETTnews. Ira Glass Let me ask you to read a little bit of your account of this from your website. You write about who he decided to keep and who he decided to go. Brett Right. These are the last few people before he reaches me. The 50-ish woman in the business suit and thick glasses is summarily dismissed. The homey in the baggy shorts and Chicago Bulls jersey makes the cut. The young immigrant mother who seems not to grasp the import of this moment is given the OK. Ira Glass Oh, versus you who's grasping just how important this is. Brett Right. The bookish man in the maroon cardigan sweater with balding head and red face is cut loose with particular relish. Ira Glass There is something about the judgment of strangers. When the clerk in the record store seems unimpressed by your choice of CDs. When the one cute person on the bus gives you a look like, out of my way. It's as if, by their status as strangers, they have some special instantaneous insight into who we are. Their vision isn't clouded by our feeble attempts to charm our friends and the people we work with. The guy got closer to Brett. Brett And I'm starting to feel a little nervous and aware of the fact-- Ira Glass Will I make the cut? Brett It sounds so silly. We all like to think that we're evolved enough or mature enough. But when push comes to shove and a guy's going down the line rating, I found that you can't help but kind of hope that he gives you the thumbs up when your turn comes. Ira Glass But Brett, he's not choosing you for anything. Brett No, he's not. And he didn't even look like anyone I particularly wanted to hang with, as much as one can tell from someone's appearance. Ira Glass You didn't really feel any need to impress this guy. Brett No, no. Ira Glass To me, I think you're right, because this is the purest case I've ever heard of. Literally, he's picking you for nothing. Brett Right, right. Ira Glass And yet you want to be chosen. Brett Exactly. Ira Glass So the guy walks up to Brett, stands actually a little too close to him, looks in his eyes and says, you can stay. And Brett felt euphoria, a small euphoria sure. In his mind, he knew there's no reason to feel so good about this, but in his heart, it made him feel really, really happy. Brett It was like, all right. Ira Glass You wrote in your account of this, I find myself against my own better judgment, now looking with some disdain and perhaps a tinge of pity upon those who didn't make the cut. Brett Sure, If you can't make this guy's cut, come on. Ira Glass How terrible, you write, to be excluded, to be found unworthy. But no one has ever claimed life to be fair. Brett No, they haven't. Ira Glass In a sense, this guy on the subway was committing a perfect act of kindness. The people who he gave the thumbs up to felt good. People who he told to get lost simply ignored him. No one was hurt. It was a simple act of kindness from a stranger. Which brings us to today's radio program. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it is This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our show, stories of the kindness of strangers and what it leads to. And for the best perspective on the subject, all of our stories today take place in the city that has the reputation for being the unkindest city in America, New York City. Act One of our show, Tarzan Finds a Mate, in which a good deed is done with the hope of a small reward. Act Two, Runaway, in which a small good deed leads to much bigger things. Act Three, the Unkindness of Strangers, a story about a neighbor who tries to make life hell for the person next door. Act Four, Chairman of the Block, a story of 150 people who don't know each other, a tap dancer, New York cops, and Frank Sinatra. Stay with us. Act One: Tarzan Finds A Mate Ira Glass Act One, Tarzan Finds a Mate. This true story of a good deed someone tries to do for a stranger comes from Joel Kostman who is a locksmith in New York. Joel Kostman It's a little past midnight and I'd just returned home from dropping my girlfriend Deborah off at the airport. Late at night is the only time of day I like the way my block looks. There are no panhandlers. The parking lots are all empty. And the constant noise you hear in the daytime from the exiting Lincoln Tunnel traffic is minimized. It almost looks like a real street, a place where people live.

Remarkably, I find a parking space right in front of my building. I sit in the car with the motor running listening to the radio and thinking about Deborah. We live together. This morning, I thought we were in love. Tonight, I'm not sure if I'm ever going to see her again. The DJ plays a Freddie and the Dreamers tune, "I'm Telling You Now."

Suddenly I hear someone across the street yell something. I look up and a young woman is standing next to a red sports car, her head resting on the roof. "Damn, damn, damn," she moans, pounding an alternate fist down with each word. She steps back, her hands on her hips, and looks around as if for a lost child. She has straight blond hair which hangs down to her shoulders. She's wearing tight blue jeans, a yellow shirt unbuttoned down to her cleavage, and black spike heels. She's got on bright red lipstick and gold interlocking circles for earrings. They jangle when she turns her head.

"Oh damn," she says again, and throws her bag at the car. It's a Porsche. I shut off my engine and get out. I don't want to scare her so I call from across the street.

"Excuse me, you need some help?" She's bending down on the sidewalk, picking up some things that fell out of her bag. She looks up and for a second I think she's going to scream. Then she smiles.

"I locked my [BLEEP] keys in the car," she says as she stands up. "I can't believe I did this." Her hands do a kind of Betty Boop thing. I decide that she's Jersey, here for a concert at the Garden. She just has that Jersey feel.

"You're in luck," I say, still from across the street.

She purses her lips and nods. "Why, you going to take me out for a drink until the tow truck gets here?" She laughs but starts coughing in the middle. I go to my trunk and remove my car lockout stuff. A pretty, stranded Jersey girl with a sense of humor no less, I say to myself. There's something in her face that reminds me of a young Jessica Lange.

I cross the street with my slim jim in one hand. It's a thin, silvery piece of metal about two feet long with some notches cut out at the bottom used to open car doors. I carry it at my side like a sword, like a knight would. In my other hand I grasp my tool kit. In my shirt pocket is the little leather case that contains my picks, which I bring just in case I run into any trouble. I step up on the sidewalk next to her. "I'm a locksmith," I announce. I love these moments when I get to play the hero.

She has a loopy smile on her face which stays there even as her expression slowly changes. I can smell the alcohol on her breath. She looks at the slim jim and then back at my face. "No [BLEEP]," she says. "Well, I guess it's my lucky day." She lays a hand on my shoulder like we're old pals. She squeezes and then leans on me a little. Her head floats around in front of my face. "You open it up and the drinks are on me," she says in a kind of half growl.

I peer into the car window and see the keys dangling from the ignition. There are a couple of empty beer bottles on the floor on the passenger side. I look back at the woman. She's got a cigarette going now. At that moment, from behind us, we hear a long, clear Tarzan call. It's a perfect imitation, lasting about 10 seconds, complete with the jungle yodels in the middle. "What the hell was that," the woman asks.

She steps out toward the street and leans her head way back. She looks up at the parking structure that's a block north on 31st Street. I get a real good look at her then. "That's Tarzan," I say.

She tilts her head to the side, half closes her right eye, and raises her left eyebrow. "Friend of yours?" she asks.

"I think he works in the parking structure," I say.

"Oh," she says, with a look on her face that says that explains everything. She puts her hands behind her and leans back. I momentarily think about Deborah. The woman in front of me couldn't be more different in appearance. She's as tall as I am with an accent out of a Stallone movie. She looks like a wild, fun-loving gal, good working-class stock. I wonder what she's like when she's sober.

"So you going to do your thing, or what?" the woman asks.

I hold up my slim jim. "Action," she says. I dip my slim jim into the car door, feeling around. I try different angles, different depths. Nothing happens. she hops off the hood of the car and stands next to me. "No luck?" she asks.

"Not yet."

It's a hot night. She takes a tissue from her bag and says, "here, you're sweating buckets." I wipe my forehead. The tissue smells like perfume. She removes another one and dabs at her neck and chest. She flaps her hand in front of her face like a fan. "I've got air conditioning in there once you get it open," she says.

"I'll have it open in a minute," I say. I start thinking about her behind the wheel of the car and where we'll go. She rummages around in the bag again and produces a pack of cigarettes. She lights one up, takes a drag, and blows the smoke up toward the sky. I haven't smoked in 10 years, but it still resonates for me, how it feels, how sexy it looks, which is why I think people do it. She offers me one. "No thanks," I say.

"Sorry I don't have anything stronger." She smiles. I smile back.

She strikes a pose that smokers do, right arm bent at the elbow, forearm across the body.


75: Kindness of Strangers (1) 75: Freundlichkeit von Fremden (1)

Prologue Ira Glass Brett was standing at a subway platform, afternoon rush hour. Prologue Ira Glass Brett se tenait sur un quai de métro, à l'heure de pointe de l'après-midi. プロローグのIraGlass Brettは、午後のラッシュアワーに地下鉄のホームに立っていました。 Prólogo Ira Glass Brett estava em uma plataforma do metrô, hora do rush da tarde. It was crowded. And he noticed this guy-- didn't seem homeless, decent clothes-- stopping in front of each person, looking into his or her eyes, saying something, and moving on to the next person. Turns out the guy was telling people-- Brett They could stay or they had to go. Il s'est avéré que le gars disait aux gens... Brett Ils pouvaient rester ou ils devaient partir. They were in or they were out. Ils étaient dedans ou ils étaient dehors. Ira Glass Literally, what would he say? Brett Well, literally, it would be, you, you're out. Brett Bueno, literalmente, sería, tú, estás fuera. Brett Eh bien, littéralement, ce serait, toi, tu es sorti. You're gone. te has ido Tu es parti. You're gone. You're OK, you can stay. Ira Glass And then do people leave? Brett No, not at all. And no one argued with him. Et personne ne s'est disputé avec lui. Ira Glass Brett wrote about the incident on his personal website, BRETTnews. Ira Glass Brett a écrit sur l'incident sur son site Web personnel, BRETTnews. Ira Glass Let me ask you to read a little bit of your account of this from your website. Ira Glass Permettez-moi de vous demander de lire un peu de votre compte rendu à partir de votre site Web. You write about who he decided to keep and who he decided to go. Vous écrivez sur qui il a décidé de garder et qui il a décidé de partir. Brett Right. These are the last few people before he reaches me. Ce sont les dernières personnes avant qu'il ne m'atteigne. The 50-ish woman in the business suit and thick glasses is summarily dismissed. La mujer de 50 años con traje de negocios y anteojos gruesos es despedida sumariamente. La femme d'une cinquantaine d'années en tailleur et lunettes épaisses est sommairement licenciée. A mulher de 50 anos de terno e óculos de lentes grossas é sumariamente dispensada. The homey in the baggy shorts and Chicago Bulls jersey makes the cut. El hogareño en los pantalones cortos holgados y la camiseta de los Chicago Bulls hace el corte. Le homey dans le short baggy et le maillot des Chicago Bulls fait la coupe. O caseiro com shorts largos e camisa do Chicago Bulls faz o corte. The young immigrant mother who seems not to grasp the import of this moment is given the OK. La jeune mère immigrée qui semble ne pas saisir la portée de ce moment reçoit le OK. Ira Glass Oh, versus you who's grasping just how important this is. Ira Glass Oh, contre toi qui comprends à quel point c'est important. Ira Glass Oh, contra você que está percebendo o quão importante isso é. Brett Right. The bookish man in the maroon cardigan sweater with balding head and red face is cut loose with particular relish. L'homme livresque dans le pull cardigan marron avec la tête chauve et le visage rouge est coupé avec une délectation particulière. Ira Glass There is something about the judgment of strangers. Ira Glass Il y a quelque chose dans le jugement des étrangers. When the clerk in the record store seems unimpressed by your choice of CDs. When the one cute person on the bus gives you a look like, out of my way. Quand la seule personne mignonne dans le bus te regarde comme, hors de mon chemin. It's as if, by their status as strangers, they have some special instantaneous insight into who we are. Il est comme si, par leur statut comme des étrangers, ils ont une idée instantanée spéciale qui nous sommes. Their vision isn't clouded by our feeble attempts to charm our friends and the people we work with. Leur vision n'est pas brouillée par nos faibles tentatives pour charmer nos amis et les personnes avec qui nous travaillons. The guy got closer to Brett. Brett And I'm starting to feel a little nervous and aware of the fact-- Ira Glass Will I make the cut? Brett Et je commence à me sentir un peu nerveux et conscient du fait-- Ira Glass Vais-je réussir ? Brett It sounds so silly. We all like to think that we're evolved enough or mature enough. Nous aimons tous penser que nous sommes suffisamment évolués ou suffisamment matures. But when push comes to shove and a guy's going down the line rating, I found that you can't help but kind of hope that he gives you the thumbs up when your turn comes. Mais quand les choses se passent et qu'un gars baisse la note, j'ai découvert que vous ne pouvez pas vous empêcher d'espérer qu'il vous donne son feu vert lorsque votre tour viendra. Ira Glass But Brett, he's not choosing you for anything. Brett No, he's not. And he didn't even look like anyone I particularly wanted to hang with, as much as one can tell from someone's appearance. Ira Glass You didn't really feel any need to impress this guy. Brett No, no. Ira Glass To me, I think you're right, because this is the purest case I've ever heard of. Literally, he's picking you for nothing. Brett Right, right. Ira Glass And yet you want to be chosen. Brett Exactly. Ira Glass So the guy walks up to Brett, stands actually a little too close to him, looks in his eyes and says, you can stay. And Brett felt euphoria, a small euphoria sure. In his mind, he knew there's no reason to feel so good about this, but in his heart, it made him feel really, really happy. Brett It was like, all right. Ira Glass You wrote in your account of this, I find myself against my own better judgment, now looking with some disdain and perhaps a tinge of pity upon those who didn't make the cut. Brett Sure, If you can't make this guy's cut, come on. Ira Glass How terrible, you write, to be excluded, to be found unworthy. But no one has ever claimed life to be fair. Brett No, they haven't. Ira Glass In a sense, this guy on the subway was committing a perfect act of kindness. The people who he gave the thumbs up to felt good. People who he told to get lost simply ignored him. No one was hurt. It was a simple act of kindness from a stranger. Which brings us to today's radio program. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it is This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our show, stories of the kindness of strangers and what it leads to. And for the best perspective on the subject, all of our stories today take place in the city that has the reputation for being the unkindest city in America, New York City. Act One of our show, Tarzan Finds a Mate, in which a good deed is done with the hope of a small reward. Act Two, Runaway, in which a small good deed leads to much bigger things. Act Three, the Unkindness of Strangers, a story about a neighbor who tries to make life hell for the person next door. Act Four, Chairman of the Block, a story of 150 people who don't know each other, a tap dancer, New York cops, and Frank Sinatra. Stay with us. Act One: Tarzan Finds A Mate Ira Glass Act One, Tarzan Finds a Mate. This true story of a good deed someone tries to do for a stranger comes from Joel Kostman who is a locksmith in New York. Joel Kostman It's a little past midnight and I'd just returned home from dropping my girlfriend Deborah off at the airport. Late at night is the only time of day I like the way my block looks. Поздняя ночь - единственное время дня, когда мне нравится, как выглядит мой квартал. There are no panhandlers. The parking lots are all empty. And the constant noise you hear in the daytime from the exiting Lincoln Tunnel traffic is minimized. It almost looks like a real street, a place where people live.

Remarkably, I find a parking space right in front of my building. I sit in the car with the motor running listening to the radio and thinking about Deborah. We live together. This morning, I thought we were in love. Tonight, I'm not sure if I'm ever going to see her again. The DJ plays a Freddie and the Dreamers tune, "I'm Telling You Now."

Suddenly I hear someone across the street yell something. I look up and a young woman is standing next to a red sports car, her head resting on the roof. "Damn, damn, damn," she moans, pounding an alternate fist down with each word. She steps back, her hands on her hips, and looks around as if for a lost child. She has straight blond hair which hangs down to her shoulders. She's wearing tight blue jeans, a yellow shirt unbuttoned down to her cleavage, and black spike heels. She's got on bright red lipstick and gold interlocking circles for earrings. They jangle when she turns her head.

"Oh damn," she says again, and throws her bag at the car. It's a Porsche. I shut off my engine and get out. I don't want to scare her so I call from across the street.

"Excuse me, you need some help?" She's bending down on the sidewalk, picking up some things that fell out of her bag. She looks up and for a second I think she's going to scream. Then she smiles.

"I locked my [BLEEP] keys in the car," she says as she stands up. "I can't believe I did this." Her hands do a kind of Betty Boop thing. I decide that she's Jersey, here for a concert at the Garden. She just has that Jersey feel.

"You're in luck," I say, still from across the street.

She purses her lips and nods. "Why, you going to take me out for a drink until the tow truck gets here?" She laughs but starts coughing in the middle. I go to my trunk and remove my car lockout stuff. A pretty, stranded Jersey girl with a sense of humor no less, I say to myself. There's something in her face that reminds me of a young Jessica Lange.

I cross the street with my slim jim in one hand. It's a thin, silvery piece of metal about two feet long with some notches cut out at the bottom used to open car doors. I carry it at my side like a sword, like a knight would. In my other hand I grasp my tool kit. In my shirt pocket is the little leather case that contains my picks, which I bring just in case I run into any trouble. I step up on the sidewalk next to her. "I'm a locksmith," I announce. I love these moments when I get to play the hero.

She has a loopy smile on her face which stays there even as her expression slowly changes. I can smell the alcohol on her breath. She looks at the slim jim and then back at my face. "No [BLEEP]," she says. "Well, I guess it's my lucky day." She lays a hand on my shoulder like we're old pals. She squeezes and then leans on me a little. Her head floats around in front of my face. "You open it up and the drinks are on me," she says in a kind of half growl.

I peer into the car window and see the keys dangling from the ignition. There are a couple of empty beer bottles on the floor on the passenger side. I look back at the woman. She's got a cigarette going now. At that moment, from behind us, we hear a long, clear Tarzan call. It's a perfect imitation, lasting about 10 seconds, complete with the jungle yodels in the middle. "What the hell was that," the woman asks.

She steps out toward the street and leans her head way back. She looks up at the parking structure that's a block north on 31st Street. I get a real good look at her then. "That's Tarzan," I say.

She tilts her head to the side, half closes her right eye, and raises her left eyebrow. "Friend of yours?" she asks.

"I think he works in the parking structure," I say.

"Oh," she says, with a look on her face that says that explains everything. She puts her hands behind her and leans back. I momentarily think about Deborah. The woman in front of me couldn't be more different in appearance. She's as tall as I am with an accent out of a Stallone movie. She looks like a wild, fun-loving gal, good working-class stock. I wonder what she's like when she's sober.

"So you going to do your thing, or what?" the woman asks.

I hold up my slim jim. "Action," she says. I dip my slim jim into the car door, feeling around. I try different angles, different depths. Nothing happens. she hops off the hood of the car and stands next to me. "No luck?" she asks.

"Not yet."

It's a hot night. She takes a tissue from her bag and says, "here, you're sweating buckets." I wipe my forehead. The tissue smells like perfume. She removes another one and dabs at her neck and chest. She flaps her hand in front of her face like a fan. "I've got air conditioning in there once you get it open," she says.

"I'll have it open in a minute," I say. I start thinking about her behind the wheel of the car and where we'll go. She rummages around in the bag again and produces a pack of cigarettes. She lights one up, takes a drag, and blows the smoke up toward the sky. I haven't smoked in 10 years, but it still resonates for me, how it feels, how sexy it looks, which is why I think people do it. She offers me one. "No thanks," I say.

"Sorry I don't have anything stronger." She smiles. I smile back.

She strikes a pose that smokers do, right arm bent at the elbow, forearm across the body. Она принимает позу, которую делают курильщики, правая рука согнута в локте, предплечья поперек тела.