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From WBEZ Chicago. It's this American life. I'm Nancy Updike, filling in for IRA Glass. Today's show is a rerun, a good one. And I'm going to start with this story that I want to share. It's a little personal. I was at Mac, the makeup store, not the computer store, and I was buying foundation, which I almost never wear. It's the makeup you put all over your face to give yourself the pretend perfect skin. And I asked the salesman for help finding the right color. And he looked at me and he said, almost like he was thinking out loud. He said, you're neck. It's so much more yellow than your face. And then he turned away to start looking for the impossible color that would solve this problem of the yellow, right next to the so much more yellow. And if you're thinking, oh, this was just a sales technique to invent a problem and then offer to fix it with more products, I wish that that had been the case.


But this was not an upsell. This was a crit occur. The man really just seemed to be expressing his frustration at this stumper of my mismatched face and neck. This sort of out of the blue, perfectly sharpened comment stops you cold because it's not an insult. It's an observation. That is true. You just hadn't thought of it before. It's shocking because you think, I know myself. I know what I've got, what I haven't got. No one's going to spot something about me that I haven't already seen. Not true. You can be among friends doing something you love. Feeling great.


We were backstage, you know, getting ready to go on preparing.


This is Dee Watson. She was in a play a while back.


And it was all black women. We were all some of us. Most of us were a little bit bigger than the average, you know. And it was. A supportive atmosphere and the subject of big behinds came up. And me having one, I know all about it. And one of the younger cast members, she's about 25, said, my mother thought your butt was so big it had to be a prop.


Oh my God.


And at that moment I didn't hear anything else anybody said I just was. That was echoing through my head and I could hear everybody laughing and oh my gosh, that's so funny. And I'm standing there about I wanted to cry. I really wanted to cry. And I really don't think this young girl really meant to hurt me.


Well, and maybe it's like, you know, we're all women. And so, you know, this is it's safe here to say anything.


Yeah. I think she thought I would think that was funny and I, I did not.


These are not statements that a human being forgets. The moment you hear the observation, it becomes part of how you see yourself, seemingly forever. Even something tiny, if it hits you right, can turn into this chirpy little voicemail that your brain is never able to erase. And it doesn't have to be about looks. It can be a comment on how you run or laugh or drive, how much money you make, what books you've read or haven't read, any outside assessment of you that you never saw coming and could not shake once it was uttered. One of our former producers, Jean Feltz, she's actually now Jane Murray, years ago dated a man who she later decided was a jerk. He wanted to make her feel insecure, but one night they were watching TV and her feet were sticking up out of the blanket, and he turned.


To me and he said, oh, you have juice box toes. And I was like, what? And he said, yeah, like Fred Flintstone feet. He's a caveman, literally a caveman. A cartoon of a cave. A chubby squat cartoon of a caveman. And I know it sounds so stupid because who cares what shape my toes are? But you do want the person that you're in love with to just think that every part of you is amazing and beautiful, or shut up about it, or shut up about it. Maybe they're ugly, I don't know. Now that I'm looking at them, I don't know. My big toe is definitely square.


When I get shy kids, one of the things I do with them is I try to give them permission to make fun of me.


This is a fifth grade teacher named Matthew Dix, who is either the bravest or the most foolhardy man in America, and.


They often come out of their shells by becoming the person who can taunt the teacher.


That sounds very dangerous.


No it is. I mean, you have to. You have to teach them where the line of and and sometimes I don't know where the line is either.


So a few years ago, there was a girl in his class very shy, and she got the nod that it was okay for her to make fun of Matthew if she wanted.


So one day she came in and she just walked in very casually, and she looked at me and she said, hi, Jerry. And I looked at her and I said, Jerry. And she said, never mind. And she just walked away. And I knew she was setting me up for some joke. And it went on for days. She would just every time she'd walk by me, she'd say, hey, Jerry, how's it going? And so finally, after about a week, I couldn't take it anymore. And she came in one morning and she said, how are you doing, Jerry? And I said, fine, who is Jerry? And she said, Jerry is your bald spot.




And I tried to play it off like I don't have a bald spot. Go sit down. Give me a break. Ha! That was like, the most ridiculous week long joke I've ever heard in my life. But as soon as my kids left the room to, like, go to gym, I ran to the bathroom and I leaned over the sink and at the very top of my head, I had a bald spot and I had no idea about.


Hey, can I ask a logistical question? How does a fifth grader spot the top of your head?


Oh, so in my classroom, I teach Shakespeare to my students and we have a stage in my classroom. I've built a stage with like, curtains and lighting and everything. So if you're standing on my stage in my classroom, you can look down on me.


Now, you can say that Matthew brought this on himself. He gives some students permission to make fun of him, and he built a stage where students can peer down at him in judgment. But even if he did none of that, he's still a sitting duck for this exact kind of critical gaze. You have 20 people. You have 20 students, you.


Say between 20 and 30 every year. Okay.


So between 20 and 30 people looking at you all day, every work day and just taking stock of you. Yes.


It's constant. I had pink eye a couple of weeks ago. The kids knew I had pink eye before I did, you know, because they just stare at you all day and they see any sort of minute change in you. You know, you're really the only thing they look at for a great majority of the day. So they notice these little things. You know, if I, if I get a new shirt, they immediately notice everything that changes about me. They notice right away.


Today on the radio show I. Nancy yellow neck Updike bring you stories about people facing the unexpected moment of realizing how other people see them. What that means and what in God's name to do about it. Today's show? Is that what I look like? Prepare to learn the truth. Plus a special guest appearance that will surprise and delight you. Stay with us. Act one. Blunt Force Domingo Martinez has this story about a vision in Brownsville, Texas. Here's Domingo.


When I was 16, I realized as far as my family went, school was considered my time, which meant I couldn't be pressed into labor by my father or grandmother. They were farm workers, and they made no claim on my time when I was supposed to be in school. So I learned to take advantage of this. I'd make it to school before 7:30 a.m., either by school bus or my mother's Taurus, and then wait out options for escape. By my sophomore year, this kid named Tony Garcia had become my primary friend. Tony was nearly 19 and only a junior, but he didn't seem all that bad because he had good parents and an even better little brother who was about to lap him at graduation. Together, Tony and I would find ways to while away the hours by doing anything other than attending class before we had to report home again. We were big fans of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and we believed we were continuing a long celebrated American tradition by ditching class and getting stoned, a fantasy combination of Mark Twain and Hunter S Thompson.


But really, we were just lazy and looking for a good time. The skipping itself was not a problem. The problem was taking care of our grades and absences on our report cards before they reached our parents. And it was actually Tony who initiated me into the trade that I eventually pursue graphic design. But in this early stage in high school, it was plain and simple forgery. There was no design in what we were doing. It was Tony who placed the first exacto knife I ever held in my hands, and immediately I felt an overwhelming sense of possibility holding that little pen knife. We'd intercept the report cards when they came in the mail, and then Tony took careful pains to explain this whole process to me. His flunky, a term that came uncomfortably close to becoming literal over the photocopier in the library, feeding dimes into the machine like he was playing slots in search of a copy that didn't blur or show the incisions in the original. Look, man, he said through his trendy and tinted John Lennon glasses, wanker style.


Even then, you just got to remove the two from the 23 absences and then lighten the reproduction. And now you got three absences in first period instead of 23. Now take the eight from the 48, move the four over and put the eight in front of that. And now you have a B in Spanish instead of an F. Oh, I said, in total understanding, a big smile growing on my face. Give them a ride. He skips for a day. Teach them how to forge. It was ridiculously shortsighted, sure, but at that age I never thought further than the immediate threat. Simply convincing my mother everything was quiet at school was enough for me. Dealing with school records and the larger consequences of robbing myself of even a substandard education. All that I would face at a later date and certainly have. Tony would usually borrow his mother's car for our expeditions. A blue Oldsmobile Delta 88. We'd leave school and drive to South Padre Island, a resort town, at the end of a 28 mile highway that felt much more cosmopolitan than Brownsville, Texas ever could.


We did that drive back and forth 3 or 4 times a day, listening to LED Zeppelin, nodding our heads in unison with whomever else was stoned or drunk in the car. My junior year and his senior year, Tony's parents bought him a Dodge Daytona. It was a year he would most assuredly graduate, they felt, and it was a chance for him to develop responsibility in the mornings. The minute my mother would drop me off at school and disappear around the corner. Tony would drive around and park right in front of the school to pick me up, right in front of everybody. Dude, you got to come skipping with me today, he'd say. But on one particular morning, late in 1988, I balk. Nah, Tony, I got to go back to class today, I protest. It's Thursday and I haven't been since last week. Look, he says, I got two sundry entry slips. I can get you back in tomorrow or next week. It's not a problem. And I found a new place to get killer weed.


Finding pot was always a problem. So when Tony said he found someone new. And it wasn't one of the morons who hung out by the tennis courts before school, I was intrigued. We first drive to a housing project east of school, where a woman sold $2 quarts of Budweiser out of her living room, from a cooler to anyone with money, no questions asked. We buy a couple of quarts and smoke the last half joint Tony has on the way to his new killer weed supplier. I was getting a bit high when I began to recognize the route he was taking, and was then thoroughly taken aback when he drove right into my grandmother's driveway. I couldn't understand why. It just didn't make sense. This was the same driveway my family Pontiac would regularly pull into after church on Sundays when I was growing up in the late 1970s. My mother's mother's house in downtown Brownsville. I was I think the term is unnerved. My two uncles, Johnny and Abel, were working on a 79 Camaro when Tony drives up in parks, hood to hood with their car.


The hood was up and they were both leaning into the guts of the engine. Their heads popped up like bearded biker prairie dogs. I sat frozen in the passenger seat, uncertain what to do next. Tony, noticing that I was startled, tells me to be cool, to chill out. These guys look mean, but they're all right anyways, he says as he's getting out of the driver's side. They're kind of dumb, but they got great weed. Didn't I know it? Abel and Johnny had a long history with local biker gangs, even a rumored affiliation with the Hells Angels. They could get drugs. Nobody else could in this town. And as a result, they were total burnouts, hardly capable of cogent speech patterns in either English or Spanish. They landed in jail as often as other people attended church. But what they lacked in brains, they certainly made up in brawn. Not that they tear apart a teenager like Tony or me. Not in the daylight, anyway. They had a code about that sort of thing, but if they felt cheated, they'd have taken a tire iron to my head long before they recognized me as their nephew.


They were that burned out. So I sit there paralyzed in the front seat side be of houses of the Holy playing on Tony's cassette deck. And because it's hot, the AC is blasting. So once Tony closes the door, I can't hear anything. I just watch as his terrifying pantomime plays out before me. Tony, half shaven in his preppy clothes, closes the door, inhales his greeting. My Uncle Abel, already braindead from years of sniffing paint, narrows his eyes and suspicion, and then noiselessly responds with a nodding hey, Tony averts eye contact, looking anywhere but directly at Abel for fear that Abel might charge like a gorilla. Abel gives him a suspicious, quick upward jut of the chin that says, did I sell to you before? Who told you I got weed? Tony lowers his head in quiet confidence, talking to Abel. Then my Uncle Johnny nods towards me in the car, says something to Tony. They all turn to look at me. My eyes go wide, a big smile on my face.


Nodding, Tony says something and then they all laugh together. LED Zeppelin still plays loudly in the car. Then my Uncle Abel slaps Tony on the back and leads him around to the back of the car, right where I am. Johnny stands there too, looking at me and smiling, makes his index finger and thumb into a mock roach and laughs. I mimicked the roach back. Even now, he doesn't recognize me. Then Tony and Abel emerge around the other side of the car with Tony's hand in his pocket, and both of them are laughing like they're suddenly old friends. Tony turns in waves, and both Johnny and Abel waved back. The door opens and Tony says, dude, we got a big joint for two bucks as he gets in the driver's seat. This has freaked me out to no end. Abel and Johnny are both waving, making the universal roach smoking signal as we drive off, and it leaves me feeling really, really conflicted. The car slips up the southernmost terminus at highway 77, and we head north from urban Brownsville to drive around as we smoke the joint.


Tony lights it and it starts burning purple. Purple haze, he says, and then follows it with his characteristic eye.


Hey, may I say.


I'm kind of scared about smoking this. I've never seen one burn this color. Oh, dude, says Tony, don't worry about it. Those guys got killer weed, man. They're like bikers or something. It's probably laced with something. That's why it was two bucks. This idea sounds appealing to Tony. It scares the shit out of me. We're both getting incredibly high. Hey, man, says Tony, wouldn't it be messed up if, like, when you were high, your hair went into like, a huge orange afro and the higher you were, the bigger your afro got. You can go anywhere because people would be like, man, that guy stoned. I sit there in Tony's car and think about my uncles, Johnny and Abel. Johnny had been stabbed in the back with a flathead screwdriver about a month earlier in a street fight. His lung had been punctured, and my grandmother said you could hear whistling every time he inhaled. He wouldn't go to the hospital to get a treated for three days.


We're halfway done with the joint. When I say to Tony, hey, man, I don't want to get stoned anymore. Ah, well, put it out, Tony says, nodding his head back and forth to Zepplin. Tony's left hand is fingering chords into the neck of an imaginary guitar as he's driving. I watch his fingers move for a few seconds, suspended and twisting around like they're an overturned king crab, and I can find no correlation with the chords in the song. Man, I mean, I don't want to smoke pot anymore. I say to him. I don't want to skip class anymore. I want to get back to school. Not today, but like in general. I don't want to feel like this anymore. Like I'm doing something bad. I feel like this all the time now. Dirty. Look at that really small house over there. We were on an overpass, and I just noticed a house beneath us in the Brunswick Country Club, about a quarter of the size of the houses surrounding it.


Tony starts laughing so hard I have to make him focus back on the driving. But then I laugh along with him. You're stoned, he tells me. Yeah, I say I'm way stoned. Hey man, I say a little later, we're driving back to South Padre Island now. You know those guys we bought weed from earlier today? The bikers. Tony says that was my grandmother's house. Man, those are my uncles. I say, even though I'm really embarrassed by it. Tony finds us befuddling. He can't figure out what the bikers were doing at my grandmother's house. Those dudes were my mom's brothers, man. My uncles, I explained. Tony is laughing so hard he has to pull over to the side of the road. His laughing is infectious and I find myself laughing right along with them, laughing harder than I have laughed in a really, really long time. But I'm feeling utterly beyond redemption on the inside. Like I just done something today that I couldn't take back. Like my course was now set.


Domingo Martinez, reading a story from his memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas. EC2. Not my first time at the rodeo. Parents and children are lifelong mirrors for each other. How do you see me? How do I see myself through my relationship with you? Even when you're not face to face with one of your parents, there are conversations between you that play back in your head your whole life. What they said, what you said. Sometimes you repeat those conversations to explain to someone else, or to yourself who you are or who your parents are. But what if you could rehear the actual dialogue decades later? Not your memory of it, but the words that were truly spoken between you and a parent. A while back, I did a story about someone who got that exact chance. Bill Leahy was in his early 20s and on the phone with his father in 1978, when he heard a faint pinging sound on the phone. He mentioned it, and his father said, when.


Did that start? It's been a while. I never heard it. No, that's been my bad ear. Just a ping like, every five seconds. That's funny. Yeah. Maybe we're being eavesdropped on. Monitored or something. Sir? Yeah. Sometimes I wonder if this phone is tapped.


Two decades later, after his father had died, Bill was at his dad's house in Ohio cleaning out the office.


And I opened up a file cabinet and found 30 or 40 cassette tapes with his unmistakable handwritten notations of names and dates. And I knew instantly what they were that he had been surreptitiously taping us.


Even at the time his father was recording, Bill had guessed what could be going on. It was the kind of thing his father might do, and he did. He recorded hours of calls with Bill and according to his own handwritten labels, he also taped his four other children his wife, his mother, other relatives, his priest. He recorded calls at home and in the car.


Boarding test number four. Road noise average to low. Speed 60 miles an hour.


From the dates on the cassettes, Bill figured they were an archive of his father trying to get the people around him onto his side. Bill's mother had left his father after 37 years of marriage. Bill remembered the gist and tone of those conversations pretty well. They were memorable, and he put off listening to the recordings of them. For 12 years, they sat in a black nylon duffel bag that he would move every time the family moved. This was a pile of information Bill wasn't sure he wanted from an era of his life he knew he didn't want to relive. He decided with his mom and the divorce. Even before the divorce. Since junior high, he'd been lobbying her to leave his dad. As Bill saw his father. He was smart, tenacious, and a tremendous bully with a bad, quick temper and huge blow ups. He got worse over time, and he's worse when he drank. What Bill remembered from the taped conversations were long calls where his father bullied him and he fought back hard.


He saw himself as his mother's advocate and protector.


I remember him trying to recruit me in his campaign to keep his marriage together. And and so my memory was me saying versions of she doesn't want to do that anymore. You guys have tried for a long time. Let it go. You know, some version of face facts. It's over.


So you remember pushing back, verbally arguing with him?


Yeah, yeah, all the time.


After those 12 years of holding on to the tapes, Bill finally reached just about the age his father had been when he'd made the recordings. And suddenly Bill wanted to hear them. He felt ready, but nervous.


Here was raw data about what I actually did in conversations with my dad, and I just took one of the tapes with me. His my name on it, and went into our car in the back of our house, partially because it was the only place that had a cassette tape recorder that I knew of. And the first thing that came on was his voice pretty aggressively questioning me about something, and his voice was as clear as the day I heard it.


So you got pretty involved there, didn't you? For somebody that didn't want to take sides. Yeah, I did. I certainly did.


His father was talking about the fact that Bill and his four siblings all sided with their mother in the divorce, in one way or another.


So why did you do it? What were you feeling? Sorry for your mother? No. For being oppressed. You think she was going around in a wheelchair? How would you feel, Bill? And have that kind of a situation where, you know, the mother hen is being protected from who? She's got a router believing that I'm a goddamn bully. She's so psychotic because she's got to believe in that. I'm a bastard. That's how psychotic she is. How would you feel if you were me, Bill?


And I listened for probably two minutes and I was like, okay, that's what they are. This is just really intense. I took out the tape out and went back and went into the house and told my wife about it and didn't listen to them again, for, I don't know, 3 or 4 months.


When Bill went back to listening for real, what he heard was his father pushing one main point with him hour after hour, which was, how about you talking your mother into trying again?


How do you feel about that assessment? You give it a try. Yeah. Well. Just from talking to mother over the months, I've seen really no sign of changing her mind. Or. Or has anybody really tried to bill forcibly, persuasively? Is it fair that she doesn't try? Whether she wants to or not. And the answer obviously is no, it isn't fair. They have to go down the drain and lose the war for a few battles without it, without trying is to me absurd. Yeah, well, I guess because I see it more than just a few battles. All right, so there was a bunch of them. What the hell is the difference? There were a lot of good times. Why do you look at the black part? Because I didn't see that time that things were worked. Well, not. I mean, maybe when I was very young. You mean you had no remember any? We had no happiness. No, I didn't see none. I mean, but you just said you never saw the times when we did a period.


I mean, when it appeared, when I'd say things were, you know, just generally. Oh, you have a short memory, though. I'm sorry to say that we used to go up to Lake Erie. We had a lot of good times. You know, I'm not saying we can't, but. Well, are you saying that there's no use trying? I'm not saying that I just. What's the bottom line? Let's get down to it. This is a lot of conversation. Let me tell me what your attitude is. Are you advocating that we don't try? I'm just. I'm just taking. No, I want to know. Why do you take so long to answer?


Kind of like say something like, you know, just don't sit there. I was less confrontational than I than I remember or expected, but I could remember that that thought process that I went through. If I say X, he's going to blow up. If I say why, I'm going to throw my mom under the bus.


I just I know what mother's at least from what she tells me, she's this has been something that she's obviously been thinking about a long time. Not no. Long time, maybe 4 or 5 years. Bill, do you know where their her mind might be affected? And she may not be herself psychologically for five years. Bill, do you realize that her mind might be affected? She may not be yourself psychologically, but for that long of time. Yes. Would you like to see it? See us happy if we can arrange to be together. Sure. Why don't you say that?


Where was, you know, the warrior in me? Where was the stand up person that was willing to call a lie? A lie, you know, willing to draw bright lines and say, I'm not, I'm not. I won't even put up with a, you know, having a conversation about this.


And some of these conversations go on so long. I mean, 45 minutes an hour. And he's just hammering away at you and and at the points he's making. Why did you stay on such a long time? Why why not just say, you know, dad, I got to go.


Yeah. No, I, I, I mean, I was so I was living in Wisconsin during a lot of this taping. I felt badly that my mom was back there basically by herself dealing with him. And, and I think I had some notion that by staying on the phone with him, you know, it's like a little bit of the rodeo clown. You know, the old rodeo clowns would be sent out the the cowboy would be bucked off the bull and rodeo. The bull would go out to distract the bull.


Bill wasn't crushed by the difference between what he heard on the tapes and the tough line he'd remembered taking with his dad, but it did throw him off balance. He really had seen himself from the time he was a kid as a warrior, standing up to the strong, protecting the weak, a sort of superhero when it came to arguing against his dad.


But it was less heroic. It was like I was more pragmatic. It was less of an epic struggle of right and wrong and more mundane than that.


I mean, what kid fantasizes about being a pragmatist?




Bill says his mother thrived after the divorce. His father, he says, stayed more or less the same. He married again. Divorced again. Bill kept up a relationship with him his whole life. That had been his other goal during these calls, besides protecting his mom, not losing his dad. He had thought about that even during the worst arguments, better along silence than words he couldn't take back. Bill saw his father once or twice a year, every year after the divorce, and he spoke to him by phone every few weeks until he died.


I'll call you back soon. Or you could call me in the evening. Your number is the same. Sure. All right.


And kind of want to chat. All right. Okay. So I will talk to you soon.


Okay. I'm glad you called. Yeah. Take care.


Okay, then. Thank goodness.


Coming up. What? The movie The Breakfast Club can teach you about parenting. If you were in The Breakfast Club. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues. It's This American Life. I'm Nancy Updike, sitting in for IRA Glass. Every week we choose a theme, you know that, and we present various stories on that theme. Today's show. Is that what I look like? Stories of seeing yourself through other people's eyes, whether you want to or not. And we're here at act three, which I think is going to be kind of a two parter. Act three. Ben, do you want to do that part? Sure.


Act three the blunder years.


I'm talking to Ben Calhoun, one of the producers here, and he's got a small story. He's embarrassed to tell it, but I'm making him so. Ben. Yeah. Take us back. It's eighth grade.


Eighth grade. And I should just say, like I played tuba, I was small. That was me. And definitely like zero attention from the girls in Roosevelt Middle School. I had this teacher, though, who her name was Miss Savage. She was the cool teacher, I bet. Yeah, she was younger than like pretty much every teacher in the school. She was like into Jane's Addiction and she was like the, the, the rock and roll teacher and all of the kids sort of, like, idolized her. Okay.


And we are going in a jRPG direction with this, right? Just checking.


Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Continue. So there was just this one day when I'm just, like, standing in the classroom and there was like a, there was a crowd of girls that were standing around Ms.. Savage and I don't I have no idea what they were talking about. And Miscavige is like saying something. And then out of the blue, she says, and she, like, points to me like I'm standing on the other side of the room and she says, look out for that, Ben Calhoun. He's going to be a heartbreaker.


And did the girls turn and look?


It was like a crowd of faces pivoted like satellites and like, looked at me and I was just like, I don't I don't totally know what happened, but but it feels like maybe my life might have changed just right then. And you mean like, what?


Did the change. Yeah, yeah. Did the girls kind of start to notice.


One girl in particular?


That's what you need? Yeah. And that really can be all you need to change your life when you're a teenager. Just one person who thinks you're great. Because chances are your own sense of yourself is way off. A friend of a friend. This is a woman in her 50s, came across an old photo of herself as a teenager, and it had been years since she'd seen any pictures of herself at that age. And she looked at them and thought, oh wait, I was pretty, I was pretty. It kind of floored her because, of course, the girl in the pictures looked nothing like the way she thought of herself at the time. She said she wished she'd known it back then. It would have made a difference. Lots of us have had that experience looking at old family pictures or yearbooks, seeing things we never saw at the time. This next story is a very specialized case of that kind of thing. It's about the actress Molly Ringwald, who of course, doesn't just have photos, but movies.


Beautifully shot, wide screen, full length Hollywood films of herself as a teenager. She's the redhead, the star in those three iconic 80s movies by John Hughes Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club. Recently, she revisited one of those movies, not exactly by choice, and she talked to IRA Glass. Here's IRA.


I suppose it's not a big surprise that Molly Ringwald does not sit around watching old Molly Ringwald films. You know, she's seen them. She needs a big reason to go back to them. And recently, her daughter gave her a reason. Her daughter, Matilda, is ten. And Matilda wanted to see The Breakfast Club because ten is a little young to see The Breakfast Club. But most of her friends had seen it.


So it was kind of weird that she was the only one that hadn't seen this movie, and she said that it was a conversation at slumber parties where that's a movie that some kids want to watch, and that she had always said, I don't want to watch it. Can we watch something else? Because she wanted to watch it with me, which I thought was really nice.


I wonder if if it's like she wants to watch it with you. Like, that's a nice thing to say to your mom. But but the truth could also be she just doesn't want to watch it with them. You know what I mean? Like like, can you imagine, like, watching your mom with a group of your friends, like. And you have no idea what's about to happen?


Yeah, I didn't even really think about that. But, yeah, I'm sure that had something to do with it. Matilda does not like surprises.


And the fact is, Molly Ringwald preferred to watch it with Matilda. It just seemed like it might be a nice experience to share together. And there were things in the film that she knew that she was going to want to talk to Matilda about. Like, for instance, there's a scene where she smokes pot in the film as a teenager. So. Molly showed her The Breakfast Club. Not sure at all how she was going to react. Not sure what it would be like to see the film through Matilda's eyes. We sent her a tape recorder to record what happened.




Which, by the way, Mottola loved the tape recorder.




So she'd love talking to the tape recorder. She got up to answering questions, though. She is not going to hear this radio story for a long time. That's the plan. The Breakfast Club, if you've never seen it, it's five kids. They're stuck together in school on a Saturday for all day detention. Their kids, who never would normally talk to each other in school. It's a jock, a brain, a tough kid, a popular girl and an outsider girl. And you know, it's a John Hughes movie. They bond talking about all these things that everybody feels in high school, and you can totally see why it still gets to kids and why it's the John Hughes film that Molly Ringwald looks back on as her favorite. So she. Matilda. They make popcorn, they futz around with the TV and, you know, stars are just like us. They do not know how to operate their video systems either. They cannot figure out how to turn it on. And is it DVD or HDMI?


HDMI one, TMI I mean, it sounds really silly. I mean, it's like it was almost like a date, you know, like, were you just you just want everything to go, okay. Yeah. You know, I didn't want her to. I didn't want her to not like it. You know? I didn't want her to get bored.


Okay, wait. Okay. It's fun to talk to you. Oh, my God, you.


Was there any point during the film where you had second thoughts about about watching it with her?


The sex stuff? I was I was a little I was cringing a little bit. Oh, are.


You medically frigid or is it psychological?


I didn't mean it that way.


You guys are putting words into my mouth.


You know, there's a whole part where everyone's saying, did you do it? Did you do it?


Why don't you just answer the question?


Be honest. No big deal. Yeah. Answer it. Answer the question. Claire, talk to us. Come on, answer that question.


So then I'm thinking she's going to ask me, what are they talking about? But then she just didn't ask. It was she was not all of that stuff. She just didn't want to know. And so I was trying to sort of ask her what she got out of that, what she thought we were talking about, but trying to ask her in such a way where I wouldn't tell her, where I wouldn't end up talking about sex if she didn't know. So all all the talk about like, did she do it? Did she not do it? All of that stuff. Kind of what.


The the what the what part.


Well, they were like did did you do it. Did you do it? Claire, just answer the question. Answer the question.


Wait, which part there were? What?


And my husband sitting there looking at me. Just stop. Stop. She doesn't get it.


So this is the first time that you saw the film as a parent. Did you see it differently?


Absolutely. I really did. Like I really kind of felt for the parents.


For people who haven't seen The Breakfast Club, a lot of it is about the kids being disappointed in the parents.




And how alone and isolated and frustrated you feel with your parents. And now I see the movie and I just, I think, oh, they're poor parents. And I think that when it was pointed out to me that the that the movie just talks about how all parents suck, you know, then I thought in my mind, well, actually that that might be kind of good because then she can see that, that she doesn't have parents like that and then she can, you know, appreciate us and.


You know.


But that can go another way.


Yeah. That was my focus, I guess.


Okay. So afterwards you're talking to her about the film, and there's this moment that gets surprisingly emotional. And let me play you that which character.


When the characters talk and you think like, oh, that's what I feel like. Are there any that you say like, yeah, that's like what I feel like.


Just a little bit of like, is he like Brian or something?


Yeah, yeah.


Brian, I should say, is the straight-A student whose parents pressure him to get good grades. Played by Anthony Michael Hall.


You kind of feel like Brian.


He do? He's really.


Sweet, isn't.


He? I know what you kind of like sometimes pressure me in school. Oh.


Wait, you think I pressure you?


Barely, like. Wow.


Really? No, not. No! Hey, wait, wait. No no no no. Tell me, tell me. Oh, hey. Hey. No. It's okay. I don't know, sweetie. It's okay.




It's okay. Okay. I'm just. I'm just surprised.


I told you, barely. Yeah.


Just. Just barely, like a little bit. Yeah. Okay, well, you know what? That's really good for me to know. I had no idea. Like, when did I make you feel like that?


You kept on saying like, I wish I did better in school.


Oh, because I said that. I wish I did better in.


School and like, you wanted me to do good.


I'm sorry I made you feel that way.


But you don't anymore.


Do you remember the things she's talking about, of you saying to her like, oh, I wish that I had done better in school.


I was really surprised. I was not expecting that at all. And the only thing that I can think of really is we have this homework battle, and it's incredibly frustrating and it's.


Frustrating to get her to do the work.


It's. Yeah, because it's really easy. I mean, and I'm not just saying that, you know, as an adult, I mean, it's easy, easy.


Work for her.


It's easy work for her. If she would just sit down, do it, it would it would take 15 minutes. 20 minutes. But she resents the fact that she has to do it so much. And it became such a battle that she would sort of lie sprawled out, you know, kind of barely. Right. You couldn't even read her writing. And I would just get so frustrated with her and, you know, and I would yell at her and say, you know, you can do better than this. You're smarter than this. You know all the things that parents say. And I think it it it must have affected her. And then she said, well, you, you know, you don't do it anymore, you know, and the reason why I don't do anymore, because I don't do her homework with her anymore because I can't. I find it too frustrating.


Oh, when she said that, I thought like, oh, is she just being protective of you? You know, I think.


She was being protective of me, too. I think the thing that I noticed the most was Matilda kind of wanting to. Make me feel okay. She really did not want to hurt my feelings or make me upset. And she wants to please me too. I can hear that when I. Yeah.


Well, the fact that the next thing that happens, she instantly goes to I have better parents than they do.


I know.


Like it's scripted, I know. So is there anything else that you got out of the movie that you.


Um. Like what? Well, I better parents than then.


You're just. You're just saying that to make me feel better. Come on. I mean, it was bizarre how she just said the thing that I hoped she would get out of it. She knows. I mean, she can intuit that she knew that that that I was hoping for that. Yeah. She was, like, giving me a little present wrapped in a bow.


But at a moment where it doesn't feel like that at all.




No, not at all.


The whole thing. I have to be wondering a lot about what happened when Matilda cried and how she handled it. And should she have to talk for longer and she should have asked her more questions or different questions. You know, you just can never know what things that you say to your kids are going to stay with them. And, you know, just little things said in a passing moment that are going to bounce around in their heads and lead them to conclusions that you don't intend or expect in any way.




I think there's always moments where you. You perceive things differently. I know it with my own mom and dad. I mean, you know, there are times where I'll tell a story that I've heard a million times over the years, you know, and my mom will just completely switch it up or she'll she'll see it completely differently.


It's a story from your childhood, like you're telling this story about something they did or. Yeah. And they're just like, no, no, no.


Well, yeah, I mean, there's one, you know, I come from a family where my sister was sort of designated as the great beauty in the family, and this was just like, no, my sister, I was the talented one. My brother was the smart one, and my sister was the beautiful one. And and I remember actually asking my mom at, you know, I must have been around Matilda's age, you know, if she thought that I was pretty. And she said, you're cute. And.




And that is really not what you want to hear when you're ten years. I mean, now it's okay. I would I would be okay with you. But you know, when when you're ten it was just devastating. And and she completely denies that now. And I mean something that would have such an impact on me. I mean, I just I wasn't making it up. It it really affected me.


And she says it didn't happen.


She says, I always knew that you were beautiful, you know, ask your father.


And obviously, like, if she had any idea how it would bounce around in your head, she would have never said it to. She didn't think like, oh, that's going to stick.


No, no, I don't think that she did.


I have a friend her mom would tell her and her sister, no, you girls are average.




No. No, like you guys are. You girls are average. Average. You know, like you're smart, but you're average smart. And I was like, wow, you were not raised by Jews, man.


Like that was.


Not the message you get. I mean, in my experience, there's a lot of, like, you're so special. You're the most special. You're so special. You know, like the boys and the girls. Yeah. You know, like like she's the most talented.


Well, I was always told that I was special. I mean, there there was no question that I was special and that I was destined for for greatness.


As a little kid.


As a little kid. Wow. From the time that I was, you know, really little, I mean, to the point where. This is kind of heavy, but I'll tell you anyway. My first brother died. He was. He was the first, and I was the last. So we never met. But my mom was, you know, understandably just devastated by this and was sort of suicidal for a while. I mean, didn't actually try anything, but she was considering and then was this makes her sound so hippy dippy and she's not at all. But she believes that she conversed with a spirit. And and what they said basically, and this is a story that I've heard since I was very small, that she was here for another reason for for someone else. Um. And as soon as I was born, she knew that it was me.


That's a lot to put on you.


Yeah. It's heavy. It's really.


She told you that when you were a little girl like that, she was put on this earth? Yeah. Because of you.


She believed that that that was why. Yeah. I mean, because she, she knew that there was there was some reason why she was supposed to stick around and.


And and.


Stay alive. And it was to have this little girl who was you who was such a special gift to the world.




So how strange that you would end up famous by the age of 15 or something.


Well, I kind of had to.


I mean, I kept my mom alive.


And so then when you actually did become a movie star as a teenager, did she take that as proof, like, oh, see, that was all true.




And did you at the time, like, did the whole story fit together for you too?


Yeah. I had.


To succeed. I had to be great.


What a lot of pressure on you.


I know. And then what do I do? I turn around and I pressure my daughter because I think she's so great. I know.




IRA Glass with Molly Ringwald. She's still acting and translating, and she's working on a new book about her Paris years and Matilda. She's in college now and just finished filming her first movie.


You see. So you just. You.


Our program was produced today by Jonathan McIver with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Shawn Cole, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sarah Koenig, Bryan Reid, Robyn Simeon, Alyssa Shipp, and IRA Glass. Our senior producer for this show was Julie Schneider. Production help from Simon Adler and Lilly Sullivan. Additional production help on today's rerun from James Bennett, the second Michael Committee, Katherine Raimondo Stowe Nelson and Matt Tierney. Our web site, This American Life. Org where you can stream over 800 of our episodes for absolutely free. Thanks, as always to our program's co-founder, Tori Malattia, and to our boss, Mr. IRA Glass. While he was hosting the show recently, he spent a little time moonlighting as a realtor. He's really got to work on his pitch.


Look at that really small house over there.


I'm Nancy Updike. IRA Glass will be back with more stories of This American life.