I do not consider myself to be a stalker. Nor do I think of myself as much of a sycophant. I am a bit of a starfucker though and at one time anyway a lover of anything and everyone associated with Ira Glass and the radio show This American Life.
It once seemed to me that my writing was perfect for the show, but you don’t have to take my word for it, many people told me so. No, you wouldn’t know them, but you can trust me.
It also seemed to me that under the right circumstances Ira Glass and I could be great friends, and I knew this in the same way that so many of my single female friends know that they are perfect for John Cusack.
How do they know this?
They just do.
But how does one get a piece on the show? Or even meet Ira Glass who I understand rests in a cryogenically sealed chamber between shows?
I imagine one could lurk outside the studio or Ira’s home, though again please note that I am not a stalker, and that the charges to that affect that may, or may not, have once been filed by NPR’s legal office here in Chicago did not stick.
One could also submit their work to the show, which I have done, but how well does one’s actual work reflect their wit, timing, and ability to move the public to tears, joy, and maybe even arousal in the space of one sentence?
Not well, not my work anyway.
I should probably mention, that all names in this piece have been changed to protect the innocent, but one, and if this bothers anyone referenced here please feel free to call me and we can talk about it, especially if you are Ira Glass, and by the way, if you are, I’m am absolutely waiting by my phone.
So, Jennifer is on a plane. Jennifer is sexy. Smart. And funny. Jennifer meets one of This American Life’s producers, let’s call him Steve, which is not his actual name, but I digress, because you know that already, and Steve invites her to watch a taping of the show any time she wants. Jennifer in turn invites a number of us from the office to join her, and its game on.
What to wear though?
Black t-shirt and a blazer, something corduroy?
Are we thinking more Rivers Cuomo or David Sedaris?
I settle on a rumpled blue v-neck sweater, a green hounds tooth dress shirt, and baggy jeans - confident, but casual, eye-catching, but not distracting.
I feel good, comfortable, Ira has no idea what’s coming.
Jennifer and I go to the studio on a Friday night and Steve is very friendly, showing us around and seating us for the taping.
Ira, of course, is majestic as he does his interlocutor thing.
Jon Langford from the Mekons shows up.
And people clap.
It’s all very cool, but Ira has to re-tape some sections of the show and so beyond a quick hello we fail to get any quality time with him.
Is this frustrating?
Sure it is, to be so close to your dream and see it slowly slipping between your fingers, it’s crushing really.
But then we are invited to join the staff for drinks and we are told that Ira may come by. My plan at this point is simple – when Ira arrives I will ply him with drinks and so charm him with my witty banter and storytelling that he will pray to all that is holy that I am a writer who can write for the show, and then when he finds out I am one it will be the beginning of a long, loving and fruitful relationship.
That’s the plan anyway.
As we await Ira’s presence I ask Steve some subtle, yet pointed questions about those who write for the show.
“So, how does someone like get a piece on the show?” I say. “What’s the secret?”
“Writing for the show is a lot different than just writing a story,” Steve says, “there’s a whole different rhythm.”
“Right,” I say, not clear what that means, “so, when does Ira get here?”
Steve doesn’t respond to that, but he doesn’t need to, Ira has entered the bar.
I linger on the periphery of the conversation Steve is having with Jennifer, and try to worm my way into Ira’s group.
“I’m just worried that I peaked way too soon,” Ira is saying, “that this is it for me, you know?”
The group stands there silently hanging on Ira’s every word.
I hope he will turn to me though, maybe the usual hangers-on have heard this lament before, but I haven’t and I want to be there for him.
I try to seize the moment, carpe diem and all that.
“Hey man,” I say, “let’s say you have peaked, it’s already quite a legacy, more than most people can hope to accomplish.”
Ira doesn’t respond, instead he just stares at me though through his clunky black glasses.
It doesn’t matter that he’s silent though, I can tell he needs me to be his anchor, steering him through this storm of self-doubt and questionable mixed metaphors.
“Fine,” I say, “let’s forget what I just said, but let’s not forget that there are a number of examples of people with a series of peaks, Jack Johnson, moving from hunky professional surfer to hunky singer, Jim Brown from football legend to legendary actor, and what of Jodie Foster, she went from the kid in the original Coppertone ad to child star to Oscar winning actress and sometime director.”
Ira is silent.
He runs his fingers through his magnificent wavy black hair.
I wish I were those fingers.
Let’s pause here for a moment.
When I later relate this story to my therapist he will say that I was showing-off here and that I was acting needy.
Okay, he didn’t call me needy, but he did use the phrase “showing-off,” which I interpreted at least in part as needy.
And I was both, hoping to make an impression, and wanting something so nakedly I was willing to embarrass myself, which sometimes works with the right person at the right time.
We can un-pause now.
“Jodie Foster was not the kid in the Coppertone ad,” Ira practically shouts at me.
This is tough. I fight my need to be a know-it-all one-day at time, it’s a lifelong battle, but I embrace it, I want to be a better person and the fact that I am pretty much always right is beside the point.
Still, as good a job as I do, it is hard to keep my composure in the face of those who choose not to fight the good fight themselves.
I want to push back, but part of my recovery is striving not to prove others wrong, and in this case, its Ira, who I don’t want to alienate, he is the gatekeeper of all I hold sacred.
“You know, you might be right,” I say, “I think I’ve heard otherwise, but who knows.”
That’s fairly polite I think. He will appreciate that. He’s Ira Glass.
It may be important to note here, that when I say things such as, “you may be right,” I probably don’t think you are, but I’m really trying not to be a dick, which may in fact make me a dick regardless.
Regardless, I really don’t want to sound like a know it all, and I am equally happy to avoid confrontation over things that carry such little import.
And sometimes that even works.
“You’re wrong,” Ira says, “and I will bet you all the money in my wallet that you’re wrong.”
Ira starts rifling through his wallet and comes up with seven dollars.
“I will bet you seven dollars,” he says.
“I don’t want to bet you dude,” I say. “It’s cool, really.”
At this point, Ira looks away and moves onto another conversation.
This is not going well.
Still, I have met Ira Glass and he certainly must appreciate how deftly I moved us out of this potentially dangerous situation, diffusing all tension between us, while remaining cordial and light on my feet. Don’t guests of the show need to possess such talents?
Ira turns back to me.
He looks somewhat intense.
“You’re wrong about Jodie Foster,” he says.
I have done all I can do to be cool and not care about this, but I can’t hold back any more, my chance at someday writing for This American Life, be damned.
“Sorry Ira,” I say, “but you’re wrong, totally wrong, deal with it.”
I think he wants to hit me.
I try to imagine what it’s like getting hit by Ira Glass.
Pretty cool that, right?
Over time people have asked me if I was disappointed by this exchange, and whether Ira becoming so unhinged about Jodie Foster and my sad attempt at hero worship has left me doubting my love for him and what he has built.
It’s quite the opposite really.
It turns he’s actually human and weird, and if I was never going to write for the show anyway, it’s a story now, and I want to tell stories regardless of the platform.
Still, was it weird? Of course it was.
Ira’s girlfriend suddenly materializes from the crowd, and she’s quite foxy.
“What’s going on,” she says fixing her eyes on him, “are you claiming yet again that you know something that isn’t actually true?”
“No,” Ira says sheepishly, “but this guy says Jodie Foster was the kid in the Coppertone ad and there’s no way.”
“Wrong, she was, everyone knows that,” the girlfriend says exhaustively.
She’s clearly done this before, maybe after every show there’s someone like me there, and every show, something goes awry because of it.
“Fine,” he says and then he hands me the seven dollars.
“Ira I don’t want your money,” I say even as I visualize it framed on my wall.
He turns away and we don’t speak again. I’ve lost my chance. I shift back to Steve.
“So, seriously man, how do you get something on the show?” I say.
“Just submit dude,” Steve says.
And so I do, again and again, all the while dreaming about the next time Ira and I are out together, drinking beers, talking about my growing role on the show and laughing about Jodie Foster and the things we are willing to do for the things we think we love.
This piece is an excerpt from Be Cool - a memoir (sort of) by Ben Tanzer.