Starting From Scratch

When my house painting career began on Nantucket in 2005, I quickly learned that the most important tool for the monotonous hours was not a paintbrush, a caulk gun, or a lobotomy, but a trusty boom-box tuned to National Public Radio. Almost immediately I became hooked on WNAN 91.1 and, as is my temperament, I took this passion to the extreme.

I’d arrive at the job site for Morning Edition and work through a mid-morning double-dose of The Diane Rehm Show. I’d scarf down a turkey and provolone during Fresh Air with Terry Gross, commute home to the second hour of Talk of the Nation, and unwind to All Things Considered. Soon, along with liberal amounts of lead paint dust, I was ingesting a fanatical 50-55 hours of Cape and Island’s NPR per week. However, one fateful Saturday I heard a program that put all the others to shame: This American Life with Ira Glass.

Each week, This American Life features a specific theme and presents a few stories based on that theme, each with a musical score to complement the narratives. However, what makes Mr. Glass’ program so utterly brilliant is that its’ protagonists are ordinary Americans and each segment has a ubiquitous quality that allows the listener, regardless of the individual story, to empathize with the plight of these strangers. The average American, bogged down in economic hardship and facing an uncertain future, can easily find solace in the often sad, sometimes funny, but always relevant tales of people much like themselves.

Sadly, I am burdened with a rather addictive personality: in middle-school I idolized Kurt Cobain, in college I obsessed over Wes Anderson films, and these days, since I’m (mercifully) petrified of syringes, I’ve become a This American Life junkie. On that first Saturday, I heard episode # 287, Backed Into a Corner: Stories about people who end up making choices they’d rather not make. “Ha!” I’d cackled in commiseration, “That’s the story of my life!” and each week thereafter, I began to crave this weekend bliss like a dope-fiend lusts for heroin.

Before long, a single hour each week wasn’t nearly enough to support this growing habit, so like any true addict, I found a new way to score: www.thisamericanlife.org. The show’s official website is a shameless enabler, providing hundreds of free episodes to stream on your computer. Needless to say, I began devouring episodes like they were oxycontins. I’d listen to one before work, catch another while boiling four-cheese tortellini for dinner, and pop a final dose just before climbing into bed.

This questionable behavior continued for years until I finally decided to abide by the righteous lessons of episode # 258, Leaving the Fold: Stories of people leaving the situation they’re used to and striking off for something less familiar. I was going to ditch this one-horse island and the brainless tedium of painting and strike-off for something that would challenge my intellect before the rising level of lead in my bloodstream renders me stupid. I was going to apply for the This American Life internship.

After months of fastidious tweaking, I finally deemed my application worthy of Mr. Glass’ consideration and submitted it online. However, I didn’t receive the automatic notification of receipt guaranteed by the website and since it was the application’s deadline, I began to panic. To ensure this wasn’t a personal snub, I created a Yahoo! email account for a highly competent, but nonetheless fictitious applicant named Richard Rollins. When Dick’s bogus resume also failed to provoke an automatic reply, I nearly sank into hysterics. However, I was able to circumvent this electronic chaos by coercing an old friend into marching through Manhattan and hand delivering a hard copy to the show’s headquarters on W. 27th street. Six days later, I received the following email: “We have received your application for our fall internship. Thank you.” I tried checking Dick’s email for the same reply, but I couldn’t remember his password.

Last week, I went online to buy tickets to the upcoming simulcast of the This American Life stage show that will be beamed live from New York City to movie theaters across the country. Since Nantucket lacks any real cinema (among other things), I’m making the considerable effort to get off-island and over to Cape Cinemas in Dennis. Missing such a unique event is, quite simply, not an option.

As I printed the tickets, I recalled recently witnessing a horde of face-painted, leather-swaddled freaks outside a Boston movie theater screening “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I’d made some snide remark to my girlfriend about their absurd, cultish obsession, but I suddenly realized that I was quite similar to that gothic mob, the only real difference between us being that I won’t be loitering outside Cape Cinemas tricked out like David Bowie in 1987.

I, too, am attending an event that only diehard fiends would even consider, but is this really so bizarre? Does not every human being enjoy some innocent obsession that serves to enrich their lives? Am I not, as a warm-blooded American, completely within the realm of normalcy in my fierce passion for This American Life and the unrivaled genius of Ira Glass?

This comforting sentiment was short-lived. Before climbing into bed that evening, I streamed episode # 20, From a Distance: Stories of hero worship and trying to get closer to them. It didn’t take a giant leap in reason to conclude that my “innocent obsession” with Mr. Glass and his radio show can more aptly be described as unhinged idolatry. Or put bluntly: if Ira Glass had a Secret Service detail, I’d have a black Chevy Suburban permanently staked outside my house. I was a freak.

Three weeks have passed since my buddy, annoyed and offended, delivered the application and I’ve given up hope. I’m sure they hired a Richard Rollins type: someone uniquely impressive, extremely qualified, and for the sake of Mr. Glass’ safety, less fanatical than myself. I’m now living in a state of occupational limbo, forlorn and undecided about where to go from here. I scan www.thisamericanlife.org for a fresh episode and decide on # 233, Starting From Scratch: Stories of people starting over, sometimes because they want to, other times because they have to.

“Story of my life,” I mutter, and climb into bed.

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~ by Bryan Bourgault on April 20, 2009.

2 Responses to “Starting From Scratch”

  1. Hey, I applied too. I just got the e-mail saying they chose someone else. Fuck that Richard Rollins type.

  2. Yeah I applied too…guess there’s more of us out there than we had hoped?

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