Nobody knows what the Gatsby is. Most people forget about it most of the time. Nobody knows where the name came from. There are theories. Some think it’s an acronym, others think it comes from a long dead language. Others think it’s a title.
“Of course it’s a title.”
“I thought Great was the title.”
“No Great is an honorific, Gatsby is a title.”
“Maybe it’s just a name. Like George.”
“Or Jeff, or Susan”
People have been speculating for years. Hundreds, thousands, maybe more.
There are those who worship at the door. Leave offerings. But none of them know what it really is. They have as little to go on as the rest of us.
Most people don’t care; it doesn’t impact their lives. Except when it does. Fifty billion people. Fifty billion to one against. Those are pretty long odds. A pretty good chance it won’t matter to you.
There’s no consistency to how often someone gets the call. The longest recorded silence is thirty years. Most people thought they had stopped by then. The shortest time between calls, as far as anybody can tell is 45 seconds after the door closed. You may have heard of that one. It was a big deal at the time. The recipient didn’t think it was real she didn’t know the last one had gone in yet. “The Double” as it was called, spawned interest for a few news cycles, then it faded into the background again.
The cultists have been the best at keeping records. They research everybody who gets the call looking for a pattern. With a large enough pool of data patterns start to emerge. That’s not really true though. A better way of putting it is that people impose patterns on a large enough pool of data. And disagreements come from different ways to read those false patterns. That’s where most of the historical splits in the church came from.
I’ve looked at it myself and I can say confidently that the choices are about as predictable as the background radiation of the universe. Which is to say not at all. The only constant is the phone call.
Some cultists use this info constructively and surround themselves with telephones; paying for hundreds of lines and at home switchboards to keep track of them. All in hopes of being the next one to get the call. Others shun phones, wanting to keep their odds even lower. They don’t want to tempt fate.
The call itself is unremarkable. Someone answers a phone and a vice on the other end calls them by name and invites them to enter the door. The actual phrasing used varies from person to person, and whenever possible the church has a record of the ones that have been shared. They all seem tailored to the recipient. What’s more interesting to me is the quiet ones, the ones who prefer not to share.
As far as anybody knows there is never a tie constraint; no deadline. Some wait years between the call and going in; soaking up whatever endorsements or fame they can get while they can. Others book the next flight out. The door doesn’t open for anybody who hasn’t been invited and there is only one person invited at a time. So for most, there’s no rush.
The church keeps a close eye on the door, because not everybody who gets the call goes to the press. Not everybody wants to be famous. But the church wants to meet them first, wants to get as much information as they can about whoever is up next.
I got the call three months ago.
I’ve been keeping a low profile. I want to give them as little notice as possible.
I won’t tell you what the voice said, but I will tell you it worked. Just like with everybody else I will be going through that door. People always speculate that they just wouldn’t go if they got the call. I used to say that too. Then I got the call. I’m going.
I’ve been hitching as much as I can, but taking a circuitous route. Everybody I talk to knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who got the call. I don’t tell them where I’m going. I don’t tell them that their six degrees of separation has dwindled down to one. They’ll find out soon enough.
I was living under an overpass when the call came. Most of my days were spend wandering and panhandling. How I ended up there isn’t important. If you must know, ask the church historians when they finally figure out who I am. Or was.
I want them to work for it. I won’t talk to any of them before I go in, but they’ll get my picture. No real way of stopping that. Unless I got a mask. I might get a mask. Even if they see my face it’ll take a while to ID me. Fifteen years can do a lot to a person’s features and that’s the last time I had a public photo taken. When they do figure it out (and they will) the news will be big.
I don’t know why I’m putting all this down. Maybe to just straighten my head out. I want to get my thoughts in order. I have nothing to leave anybody and nobody who would want anything I have.
If you’re reading this, you must have found where I left it. I don’t know where that will be yet, but I think I want it to be found. If you decide to share it, get a good deal. The things I’ll leave with it should be providence enough that it’s really me writing.
I’m going in tonight. I don’t know what I’ll find. Maybe I’ll learn what Gatsby means, but my money (ha!) says the answer won’t be worth it.
Second episodes are tough. A great first episode can survive on premise and novelty alone, but when you settle down and realize that you have to do this every week (or something like that) it gets trickier. I should know, I’ve been podcasting semi-regularly for the last 4 years. Bad Philosophy (my show) has been a project that I’ve been making longer than anything else I’ve ever attempted. Our first episode was recorded off the cuff in a burrito restaurant of all places and I had no idea I would be with it as long as I have. Our second episode was where we had to actually figure out what we were. I think the second episode of Your Radio Playhouse (still the show’s name at this point) is doing the same thing. On to the segments:
EPISODE 2: Small Scale Sin
Air date: November 24, 1995
Prologue: Three Young Hackers are interviewed.
A surprisingly long prologue at 16 minutes, it is the story of three young “hackers” who try to steal credit card info from strangers despite coming from relative privilege. It’s almost quaint how much the idea of “hacking” is still new and interesting at this point in time. 1995 was the same year the wonderfully dreadful movie Hackers came out staring Angelina Jolie and a bunch of other people who have not become quite so famous. The stories of how these boys try to steal isn’t nearly as interesting as the latter half where they try to justify their actions, with promises of paying it all back someday and protests that their actions are literally keeping them from starving. Another theme for this show could have easily been “lies we tell ourselves” (wonder if they ever did that?)
ACT TWO: The Golden Peacock.
I don’t think This American Life does much fictional work anymore, but I like that idea. It is an original radio play inspired by the prologue and was surprisingly moving to me. I like my fiction more abstract than literal and I think this particular piece struck a perfect balance. The story was haunting in just the right ways. On a technical note, I found it a little confusing that the young boy and his grandmother were voiced by the same actress, their voices were too similar.
On the surface this seems like an act that I would be really interested in, but looking back on it a week later I had trouble remembering anything about it at all. I had to re-listen to it, to even make these comments. It does have a very 1995 moment when Ira mentions that the colorful Mac the poet brought with him makes him a very modern poet. The poem is ok, and made better through the performance, but I don’t know that I’ll remember it a week from now. I will remember the insight they gave me into Jehovah’s Witnesses. The audio clip played at the end was surprisingly powerful.
Another story on hacking? Really? I have to wonder if the world of hacking as I understood it in the mid-nineties was just as fascinating to Ira Glass as it was to me. Looking back on it now it seems almost a little silly. The story tries to cover it from a different angle than the prologue, but doesn’t quite put enough distance between the two.
I love the idea of “stories on a theme” which is at the core of the series, but can it be too limiting? I think maybe that happened with this episode. The two stories about hacking feel like they overwhelm the rest of the episode, and keep the show from aging well. Some of the best TAL episodes I’ve heard are much more relevant regardless of when they were recorded.* As a second episode it tries to lay out what the show will be like from week to week, but it clearly has a lot further up that it can go. No Torey Malatia quote this week. I wonder if they will start before or after the show changes it’s name.
*I almost used the word timeless in that last sentence, but all I think that word really means is that it resonates with the author who happens to be in a different time than when something was originally made.
I started listening to This American Life a few years ago, around the time I started grad school. I subscribed to the podcast and would listen to a new episdode each week as I walked to class. Every so often Ira Glass would chime in before the episode and let us podcast listeners that the show could use some financial support (from listeners like me) He was always somewhat apologetic about it, and eventually it got to me. I didn’t want to just throw some money at the show, so I decided to purchase some of my favorite episodes. So I could listen to them again.
Not long after I also subscribed to Audible for audiobooks. They were great when I was driving a lot (like when I had an hour commute during my substitute teacher days) but when I switched to a closer job I spent a lot less time in the car. I listened to a lot of podcasts and didn’t have enough time to delve into the books I was accruing. I decided that the $15 bucks a month could be better spent elsewhere and I can celled my subscription. This left me with a little space to fill in my listening time because the podcasts weren’t quite enough, but the audiobooks were too much. I decided I’d buy some more episodes of TAL and that’s what I’m doing. Furthermore I’m going to write a review of each one I listen to, so I’m at least writing more. Here’s the first review. (I also put it on Amazon, because I can.)
EPISODE 1: New Beginnings
Air date: November 17, 1995
First off the bat this show is called Your Radio Playhouse. Not a bad name all things considered (see what I did there?) but It’s a little jarring to hear a much younger Ira Glass say instead of what I know the show to be called. And Ira Glass does in fact sound much younger, although it’s hard to put an exact reason on why. Here’s a breakdown of the individual stories, with a summary of my thoughts on the show to follow.
PROLOGUE: Ira interviews Joe Franklin.
Ira talks about being new to the world and how Joe Franklin had no idea who he is. I find this amusing especially considering how much better known Ira is now. He also talks about how people remember “back in the day” when things were better. Back in the first 30 seconds of the show. The interview is kind of funny, but not the best of the show (which comes later.) He describes the theme of the show (different stories on a theme) and it is much less refined than what I’m used to hearing. I also find it a little weird that Joe Franklin is being interviewed since he is known for creating the talk show format, but Your Radio Playhouse is anything but a talk show. Joe also claims to have invented the saying “the biggest thing is sincerity, once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
ACT ONE: This is a story about a guy who comes to believe that he only has six months to live, despite any evidence to the contrary. It’s an interesting story in the vein of what I know This American Life stories are often about but I didn’t really think it was in fitting with the theme. He only gets to the part about his new beginning at the very end and while it is clearly emotionally powerful it was much more a story about preparing for death.
ACT TWO: The best interviews of the episode. Ira attempts to call his parents for advice. He can’t reach his father and his mother has already done a different interview earlier in the day. the bit also contains Ira’s mother comparing him to Hugh Grant.
ACT THREE: You can really hear the show experimenting with format here. As a mock screenplay is read with accompanying sound effects. The story itself is about the day the author was diagnosed with HIV. Also a very interesting story, but still feels like it doesn’t quite fit in with the theme. It is closer than Act One, however.
ACT FOUR: Ira begins by recapping the previous stories quite well. He says “Our stories so far have been about people whose futures were taken from them and were thrown into the present in one way or another,” which is a good recap, and a cool theme, but then again Doesn’t so much match the stated theme at the beginning. This act is an interview with a prisoner who was found to be innocent and released after years of confinement. He is a musician and talks about the differences between playing inside prison and outside. It ends with him singing and playing. Both sound amazing.
Overall the show is a little rocky to begin with, but I can see the bones of the show I know it will become. Ira’s humor is present and clear as he keeps going back to the eye contact he insists he is making (my favorite bit of the episode.) I’m still thrown by the title (and wonder exactly when it switches) and am interested in watching how the show will grow over the next seventeen years. When I started listening to the early episodes, I was expecting to really feel a difference in the time it was made, but all these stories could have more or less fit into an episode today. I was also disappointed that there wasn’t a Torey Malatia quote to end the episode. I’m sure it will come eventually.
So it’s hourly comics day. (see http://www.hourlycomic.com/hourlycomicday.html) I’ve been drawing a comic every hour I’ve been awake today. Each one is something that happened in that hour. I’m terrible at drawing things. Enjoy.
Who ate the cookies?
Who the heck is Parson Brown?
Are we merry yet?
“Do we have a sub?”
I want to say “here’s your sign”
But I just stand there