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A quick warning. There are curse words that are unbeaped in today's episode of the show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, thisamericanlife. Org. Kendra and her husband and their two kids moved back to Boston, and it wasn't going great for her. She's a teacher, but hadn't found a teaching job yet. So she did odd jobs. A little thing at the John F. Kennedy presidential library. She worked as an usher for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, can I say these are the Boston-specific jobs you would give a character who moved to Boston in a bad movie.


The only thing I wasn't doing is selling foam fingers at Fenway Park, and I made very little money.


She was actually pretty depressed, just dragging herself through the motions of living, not looking forward to anything. It wouldn't go away. She couldn't shake it.


I would wake up in the morning and feel irritated like, Oh, this again. I went to work, and I would have put a smile on my face, but I oftentimes would not hear anything anyone said to me.


She's four months into this new downer of her life, and she gets off work. It's April, one of the first bright sunny days after a long dark winter. She's excited to take her dog Skyler to Wallaston Beach near her house on this pretty day. Wallaston is good for a dog, she says, because she's big and a maniac.


And so this beach is perfect because really no one was out We started walking. I let her off leash because she really wanted to splash around, and she was just frollicking, and I saw her moving closer to the water, and I realized my feet were starting to sink.


Wait, what do you mean sink?


Sure. So my one foot started to really sink, and then And I was attempting to pull that foot out, and then my other foot started to sink, and I realized I was not hitting a hard bottom. So there was no one to call or cry, and it was really happening fast. I was really sinking quite fast. And I should note, Ira, I'm not a I'm a 4'10 woman. So for me to start sinking, I was practically up to my thighs in this muddy, sandy, watery mixture very quickly.


Very quickly? How quick?


I would say maybe the whole gravitational pull down into the sand was 30 seconds. It could have been three minutes for all I know because time just slowed down.


As she struggled to yank her feet up, she realized the mud and sand and water formed a seal around her boot, holding it down, making it too heavy to lift. So scary, right? She thought to herself, Am I about to break a bone? Pulling my leg out? Am I trapped? Am I just going to keep sinking?


I had no idea what to be afraid of. I just know that I was very afraid.


Did you think that you could sink all the way under and just go all the way down? Oh, yes.


That's 100% where I thought I was headed.


Quick stand, she thought. I'm in quicksand in Massachusetts. I thought this was interesting. Apparently, when you find yourself sinking in quicksand, not on a tropical island or a jungle, not when you're poking around some ancient ruins, raiding the lost tombs of dead pharos, in an old movie. But when it happens, just like a 10-minute drive from your own house on a beach in Quincy, Massachusetts, nine minutes from one Dunkin' Donuts and eight minutes from another, the thought that inevitably goes through your head in that situation is, seriously?


I said, This is bullshit. This is New England. You're telling me that quicksand? That's something out of Princess Bride. What is it doing at Walla Walla Beach Beach? And why aren't there signs to warn me about this? Yeah.


There's a bit that John Mulaney does, the comedian John Mulaney, that when I saw it, I feel like he was saying out loud something that I've always felt. He said that based on what he saw on TV as a kid, he thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger part of his adulthood than it actually turned out to be.


Because if you watch cartoons, quicksand is like the third biggest thing you have to worry about in adult life, behind real sticks of dynamite and giant anvils falling on you from in the sky. Now I've gotten older, not only have I never stepped in quicksand, I've never even heard about it.


I also was thinking about John Mulaney.


You knew that bit?


Oh, John Mulaney, he's on heavy rotation with my kids and me. And I remember thinking, eat your heart out, John Mulaney, if you could see me now.


Okay, so here she was, first to her ankles, then her knees, now up to her thighs, and still sinking. Her cell phone was in the car. The beach was déserted, except for her dog, who was romping around happily like a goddamn idiot. No one to save her or help out. And then this thing happened. Kendra says she's somebody who usually has a hard time expressing it when she's angry. She's somebody who cries rather than yelling. But now this wave of pure rage shot through her. Rage and outrage just erupting.


I was so pissed. You know what? I can't freaking believe this is how my day is going to go. Kick me while I'm down. I was like, Oh, hell no. You are not going to ruin my day, Sand. I have fought for this lovely spring day. I am not going down.


And with that burst of Hulk Lake fury, she moves into action. She's like, Quick, Sand? No problem. I will embrace the ridiculous awfulness of the situation, and I will make something happen right now. And she starts squirming around this way and that.


I started to lean backwards. And at that point, when I leaned back, I was still sinking, but I was hoping that I could just wiggle out of my boots, and that my boots would be the sacrificial lamb that I would just leave in the sand. But I realized if I just leaned back and shimmied, like like a drunk person getting onto a bar stool, I could lift my legs out of the sand little by little by little. The only impediment was that my dog Doug was looking at me like, This is a fun game. I just don't know how to play it. She was just darting around me, watching me move like this. So then I was getting really frustrated with her as well.


She wriggled her way out on solid ground. At that point, she said she's completely covered in sand, wet sand in her hair, all over her clothes. She collects her dog, climbs in a car, drives home, cleans up. A week or two passes, and then one morning, she wakes up and realizes she feels okay.


I remember so clearly sitting in bed and saying to my husband, Oh, my goodness, I think I'm good. I was filled with this content feeling that I can only describe as the depression fading. I didn't feel any of the heaviness, and I could only trace its disappearance to the quicksand.


Kendra thinks it has something to do with the anger she tapped into when she was stuck in the sand. As somebody who can't always express her anger, she thinks letting herself get so furious for once, it flipped something in her. That's the moment she was able to embrace just how bad things had gotten and fight her way out. Today on our program, we have other stories of people put in difficult, sometimes impossible situations, and the only way out is to put their arms around the badness, feel it for what it is, and then figure out some moves to wrestle the problem to the ground. From WBEZ Chicago, it's this American Life. I'm Eric Glass. Stay with us. Next one, Haley Mary Pass. It is the most magical week in American politics right now. Yes, it is. I'm speaking to you right now during the eight days between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary January. The way it works, the results in Iowa reset the political scores and possibilities, redeal all the cards. And so this week that we are in right now can be an enchanted eight days where underdogs tell themselves that anything is possible, anything can happen, no matter how unlikely it is to, in fact, happen.


And to witness this in person, one of our producers, Zoe Chase, went to New Hampshire this week to hang out with two people, two old friends, who've chosen to embrace hope in the face of long and difficult odds. They know very well That Donald Trump will probably be the Republican nominee for President, and they are not happy about it. These guys are Democrats. But they are embracing the likelihood of Donald Trump's rise with a giant bear hug, and they are trying to do something about it, and they are making a last stand to try to stop him this very week. Basically, what they're trying to do is they're trying to convince New Hampshire voters to get real about their options in this historic moment and vote not for who they actually want to be President, but vote for the only person these guys believe can stop Donald Trump from becoming the Republican nominee. And that person is Nikki Haley. That's right. These two Democrats are stumping day and night to elect a woman who stands for so many things they personally hate. Zoe caught up with them? One day before this enchanted week began, that is a day before the Iowa caucus.


These guys aren't even from New Hampshire. They're policy wonks from out of state, outside agitators. One's from DC and the other is from New York. They both work for do-goodery international interest type places they prefer not to name on the radio. Robert Schwartz has been living in New Hampshire for three months. He took a leave from his job, left his family, moved up here with his good friend, Kenny, Ken Scheffler, friends from college. I met up with them at a brewery in Keene, New Hampshire, and they're here this particular afternoon because a politician is on stage, someone running in the Democratic primary, which is happening, even though Joe Biden decided to skip New Hampshire this year. The guy on stage, congressman, Dean Phillips, is making a random run for the presidency. But Robert and Ken are not paying attention to Dean Phillips. They're here for the 40 or 50 voters in the room. Robert is irrepressive sensible, says all his thoughts as he has them, and starts whispering to me as soon as I get there.


Because a lot of the people here, I think a lot of people haven't really made up their mind yet. It's good for us to be here and just talk to them because it is a lot of people that are undeclared voters.


The way it works in New Hampshire, independent voters can vote in either primary, Democrat or Republican. And there's a ton of people like that, something like 40 20% of the electorate. And this year, with Joe Biden skipping New Hampshire, Robert and Ken's mission is more plausible. All these people who probably would have voted for Biden are free agents. Robert and Ken are here to pick off some of those people. Democratic leaning independent voters who might be willing to vote for Nikki Haley as a way to stop Trump.


I love you all.


As soon as the event ends, Robert walks up to a random voter he doesn't know anything about, who's someone all bundled up in a blue parka to see if he can convince her to cast a vote against everything she just heard on stage and throw in with the Republican primary instead. He has a very slow roll-up.


I'm just curious, what brings you to this event?


Well, I want to see a change in the presidency.


I don't like either one of them.


Biden is too old, and I certainly don't want Donald Trump.


Are you a registered Democrat or undeclared? I'm independent, purposely.


Boom. He's found his target. Independent voter leans to the left. You'd think he'd make his pitch, but he's learned this voter doesn't like it when you open with a hard sell on Nikki Haley because they don't like Nikki Haley, and he doesn't like Haley either, but he has to sell her on Haley. So it's a weird conversation. A lot of gymnastics.


Okay, so how are you thinking? Are you thinking you're definitely going to vote in the Democratic primary? Are you thinking about maybe voting against Trump in the Republican Party? I'm voting against Trump. Right. So have you thought, even though Nikki Haley is a little bit... She's got some rough positions on abortion and climate change and all that stuff. Have you thought about voting for... I'm not a Nikki Haley supporter. I'm a left of center person. But have you thought about voting? Well, she was the next best candidate until I came here to listen to Dean. Oh, so- So- So I'm thinking more positively with Dean.


About Dean? Oh, yes.


So I really like what Dean has to say. I respect Dean. And if you don't like Biden, I get that that gives you an option. But what I think is- I just feel he's just too old right now. Right. But my thinking is, if you're concerned about the threat that Trump brings to our democracy, It's even though I like Dean more than I like Nikki Haley, I think she's a better vote because he's asking you to damage Biden, and with a vote for Haley, you're damaging Trump. And so why vote Why? If you're an undeclared voter, and you hate Trump and think he's the biggest threat to the country, we need to embarrass Trump here. We need to show Trump losing.


That's a very long hunter circling around some prey to kill, and you're not sure if he took a shot or not, but he thinks this is the best way to talk about Nikki Haley. He has this cautious approach, partially because of this thing people keep saying around you all the time. New Hampshire voters have to make up their own mind. Don't pressure me. So it can be hard to tell how he's actually doing with this crowd, even though this woman says the most important thing to her is to stop Trump. But you still don't know what the right path is.


That's right.


I don't know. My pitch would be if you want to- The whole country feels that way.


We just don't know.


My pitch, I mean, I come from Maryland, and it's your decision, not mine. But my pitch would be if you want to stop Trump, you got to vote against the guy, even if it's for somebody you don't like.


I don't know. With that, the voter has to go. We move on. This strategy, getting people to hate vote for Nikki Haley. There's a word some people use for this thing, a technical term in politics for sneaking around and doing dirty tricks inside the other party's election. Here's Ken.


Someone tweeted that this is the most organized rap fucking operation of all time.


Are you familiar with that term?


Yes, I am. About you guys.


Yeah, but we don't see ourselves as rat fuckers.


Was it a compliment?


I believe it was a compliment.


I think it is.


This whole quest of Robert and Ken's began one night last summer. They met up in DC and got onto the subject of how they think Trump is an existential threat to democracy. Can we get off the road to autocracy? And Ken was like, You have done stuff in the past to help other countries in this situation. Maybe we should actually do something.


Ken, I think, given his consulting background, was like, Let's do a brainstorm, and this is how you do a brainstorm. Yeah, Robert rolled his eyes. Well, can I tell her about your other idea that weekend? Ken has some really good ideas and some not so really good ideas. And so the other idea he tried to pitch me on that weekend was that the National Football League is too dangerous. And so we need to have a- I've just lost half of America. It's fine. So we have, Let's create a seven on seven football league that is more safe.


Robert told him that was ridiculous. And here's the person Ken is.


And then he pulls out a PowerPoint showing his idea for a seven-on-7 football league. And I was like, This is giving me serious doubts that we should proceed along this front. But he still actually believes it's a good idea.


I did.


So anyway, after they got this idea for defeating Trump, they went out and raised money. And they say they raised $20,000 on their own, and then they got this big chunk of $650,000 from donors who wish to remain anonymous. That's real money. That could have an impact on a small but mighty election like this one. With that money, they bought targeted voter lists of undeclared left-leaning voters that they regularly message and send mailers out to. Mailers and messages that Ken has gotten focus grouped and tested with professionals. They got a lucky break when Nikki Haley started to poll within 10 points of Donald Trump in New Hampshire. And so right at this moment, going into the Iowa caucus, their her hope is she'd come in second in Iowa. That would give her the momentum to win New Hampshire outright, beat Trump, which would make her credible in South Carolina and beyond that. They even hired two people in South Carolina in case they have a shot there.


We always saw this as high risk, high reward.


If you looked at the polls, it has always looked like Trump will win the nomination. But if there's a 5% chance of stopping a potential dictator, it's worth putting a lot effort into that.


Yeah, for that 5% chance that Haley shocks Trump here, and there's an alternative in the Republic. It's worth it for our democracy.


Robert is really emotionally invested in this idea that maybe they, these two college friends, could actually do something to stop Donald Trump. He's intense about his work always, gets overly invested, it seems. At his day job, he was waking up having panic attacks about that on top of this work. I was like, Is this work helping?


No, this is not extremely healthy either. I tied myself into my career, and then rather than seek balance I can view myself as a father and a brother and a son, and instead of that, I have now identified myself as a part of this mission, and I'm wrapped up in that. My whole self-worth is is going to be determined on January 23rd, and that's not healthy at all. So I'm really worried from a mental health and all that perspective of what happens after January 23rd or what happens after the election in November. At some point, there's going to be a reckoning, and I'm really afraid of that, to be honest.


Robert's not alone, of course. They're not the only anti-Trump group trying to sway undeclared voters. And they're not big players, but they're real players. Still, they can go from sophisticated to bumbling very quickly. Like when we found ourselves screaching around Manchester in a car on a way to an MLK Day celebration, late. As usual, they were glomming on to someone else's event, hoping to meet people who know more people who might carry their message out to other New Hampshire-ins. They volunteered to bring the coffee and the drinks. Their friend Moises was supposed to do it, but he's stuck at UPS printing up flyers with a QR code. The event has already started. Robert's freaking out.


So we're right by there, so we're going to stop there. You get to the event and do damage control, please. They're upset with us. Okay. Get to the event. All right, I'm trying.


Okay, bye.




Robert thinks of himself as responsible, and when he's not seen that way, it kills him.


Because we're going to be 10 minutes late to an MLK event. It's just embarrassing in some ways.


How's your shame spiral?


Shame spiral is not in a good place right now.


When they get there, Robert jumps out with three boxes of coffee, two huge bags of creamers. He's running around in the cold, can't even find the door.


Can you call Moïse and ask how to get in the freaking building? Why don't they have signs? Thank Come on, Moises. Answer the phone. Did he not pick up? Just really frustrated.


Once they're in, it's apologies and taping their QR code flyers onto Duncan Donuts' boxes. Robert works the line of people tabling for various social justice he causes. Mostly white activists. New Hampshire is mostly white. Ken and Robert are white. I get to witness just how tired people are of this pitch. This is the third anybody but Trump election. You know what I mean? He talks with Deb O'Promala, who's Black.


Trump is not sophisticated enough to hide his white supremacy. Right, and Nikki Haley is more sophisticated at it. She's more... And the sad thing is she's a Brown woman lifting up white supremacy.


So she's just a more sophisticated Trump.


Well, but she also condends She said January sixth was a terrible day. She doesn't call her military veterans, Suckers and Losers. Would she launch a coup against our country? But she would pardon Trump. Well, would you rather vote for the criminal or the one who pardons the criminal?


I would prefer not to vote for either.


Right. I get that. But then you only have one vote in the primaries. And so the question is like, where can you... Yes, you'd prefer not to vote for either, but then are you just throwing away your vote and letting Trump win?


I saw this move a few times from Robert, talking about people's vote like it was a commodity, like it was Just a piece of currency that you could spend at this store or that store, and you just needed to squeeze the most value out of it that you could. That's a hard sell in New Hampshire. And it doesn't always seem so tuned in to how people might be thinking about their vote as theirs. Something between a personal statement and a moral obligation. Here's the problem with what you're saying to me is throwing away my vote.


Yeah. Right?


Is that Nikki Haley has yet really to address any problems.


She has not gone out of her way. Yeah, that's true. When the racism question came up in a very, actually simple question to answer, She ran. She gave a horrible answer.


No, she ran.


My vote is sacred.


Am I going to spend it on her? No.


Well, there's one person who will tell you what they're doing or what they're not doing. The Iowa caucuses were that night, Monday. We watched early returns in a bar. Again, Robert was really rooting for Nikki Haley to come second after Trump. Turned the primaries into a two-person race. That's not what happened. She came in third, just behind DeSantis and well behind Trump. It's a huge setback, and Robert's upset. Things feel like they're starting to slip away, and he spends the rest of the night scrolling and angrily tweeting. The next day, they have to regroup. The text messages they've been planning to send to the 80,000 voters they're targeting were built around Nikki Haley doing better in Iowa. Now they have to reframe things to make Iowa seem less important. Ken suggests a stock photo of a guy scratching his head with the words, Does anyone actually know what a caucus is? New Hampshire, Picks Presidents. Robert points out that he's butchering a famous New Hampshire saying, and they're both so stressed out. Here's how that conversation goes down.


The line that everyone here recognizes, the political line that shows we're plugged into New Hampshire, is that Why do you mean? I would pick corn, New Hampshire picks presidents. That's the line.


This is how it says, New Hampshire Picks Presidents.


Yeah, but you're changing Iowa as a caucus. Who's ever heard of a caucus? It's not a good line. I'm sorry. I don't like it. It's relatable. It's the famous line. It's John Sunnu's line. There's a history of it. People recognize it. Yeah, it's like a cliché here. Yeah, so?


It's not attention-grabbing.


I'm the one that's been in New Hampshire for three months. I understand how the elites are viewing this. I'm telling you, that's the line that people know. They don't want to say, What's a caucus? Give me credit for being here for three months and talking to every freaking person that I can. That's the line. Okay, I'm just saying the first thing the guy said at the meeting today was that line. Okay.


Robert wins out. They go with the famous line and a photo of a cornfield that Robert insisted is provocative. He told Ken, That's why I want to have the cornfields, but you don't want to have that.


It's edgy. It's insulting to Iowa.


I met my last voters in New Hampshire later that day. Robert brought me to meet this couple in a lovely house on a snowy street in Manchester. He wanted to run the cornfield text messages by George Bruno, former former Democratic Party Chair. George had volunteered to be a public champion of Robert's cause, and Robert had managed to convince this august New Hampshire to publicly change his party registration from Democrat to undeclared. Only problem was George still hadn't decided if he'll actually do the thing Robert was asking, vote for Nikki Haley.


I haven't decided.


I haven't decided.


I haven't made that clear. I am under-declared and undecided. I've been working on him for five months. And it will become more clear as we get closer to February 23rd. No, January 23rd. Don't miss that. Excuse me. January 23rd.


I found this to be an ominous tale for Robert's quixotic mission. If George Bruno, this advocate for Robert's cause, couldn't even commit to doing the thing. Crossing parties, voting to save America in the Republican primary. But then Robert turned to George's wife, Rona, who'd been in the kitchen while we'd been talking, offering tea and reading the New York Times. She changed her party registration to undeclared, too. Robert asked her what she was thinking. She said she'd never vote for someone who didn't believe in reproductive rights. Robert said, even though Trump killed off Roe versus Wade, she said, Well, that's a good point, actually. No.


My original intent in Crossing Over was to assure that Trump would not become president.


Very near and dear to my values is the ability for women to control their own bodies and their reproductive rights. So it would be hard for me to cast a vote for somebody who might not respect that.


On the other hand, the most important thing is to assure that he is not the candidate and not President.


You're still thinking.


I might have to compromise.


Would you vote for Nikki Haley? She's the one that, according to the polls, looks the most likely to beat Trump. Right.


Recently, I read some of her stances, and she was really waffling on reproductive rights, so it scared me.


On the other hand, I did this primarily to defeat Trump.


So if it meant voting for her, I might do it.


I have a little more time to decide. Your face is just all screwed up.


It's just because it's such an uncomfortable thought.


But I want to defeat Trump.


And if it takes voting for Nikki Haley to do that, I think I might do that.


I think she might really do it. When I left New Hampshire, it was halfway through America's magical eight-day period between Iowa's caucuses and New Hampshire's primaries. Robert seemed to swing from happily cherry-picking pulls that told him what he wanted to hear to despair and real fear that they had no chance, and Trump couldn't be stopped by anyone. He told me he woke up crying on Thursday morning. This might all be over in a few days, he said. The Alamo. Their project was a long shot from the start. They did their best. And now, since Trump's overwhelming win in Iowa, it had gotten way long shotier. So was it worth it?


If Trump wins by 15 or 20 points, I will view everything we've done as a failure. And I will consider myself a failure. I know that's not... We're doing everything we can, and it's not. I need to be... They tell you you have to be nicer to yourself and speak to you like a friend might speak to you. And a friend would say, Like, nice try. Good job. Way to go. Way to fight for it anyway. But I will look at like, I made all these sacrifices on this gamble. And if the gamble turned out to be a wrong gamble, and our country is not up to stopping Trump, then I made a huge miscalculation.


So that's Robert's anxiety. Here's Ken's. Do you feel like this is a referendum on yourself, too?


I don't. No, I just really want Donald Trump to lose.


There are 343,192 undeclared voters in New Hampshire. Robert and Ken had just a few more days left to catch some of them, tell them to vote against everything they care about, and hold back for just a little longer, what appears to be the inevitable course of history.


Zoe Chase is a producer on our show. Coming up, a baby gets in trouble with the law. That's in a minute from Chicago Bubble Radio when our program continues. This is American Life, Myra Glass. Today's show, Embrace the Suck. Apparently, that phrase started in the military and then moved into more general use, meaning you should just own how bad it is. Put your arms around it, hold it close to you. That is the only way you're going to get through it. Today, we have stories of people doing exactly that. We have arrived at act two of our program, act two, The Dream Police. It's hard getting a baby to go to sleep. Everybody knows that. Different parents get through it different ways. Not long ago, one of our producers, Ike Sreece Khandarajah and his wife, Emma, were struggling with this with her son, Leroy. At one and a half years old, Leroy could say a few words, and he was actually able to hold an umbrella and crudely pull off a few of Jean Kelly's moves from singing in the Rain while it played. I've seen a video of this. He wasn't great, but he was amazing for somebody under two feet tall wearing a diaper.


They have to say for all that accomplishment, Leroy was still not on a proper sleep schedule until his parents embraced the awfulness of the situation they were in and invented something. Here's Ike.


Leroy is the loudest guy I know. I'm pretty soft-spoken, so he didn't get that from me. One thing he did get, we both really prefer to be awake, but Leroy takes it a little too far. When he was about one, I tried to put him down for a nap in his crib. He had bags under his eyes, his eyelids were heavy, and his head was doing that thing where it falls and snaps back. Then I saw him slap himself in the face to stay awake, like a long haul trucker, fresh out of five hour energy. It's not just that he would fight sleep. When he did go to sleep, sometimes he'd wake up in absolute terror. But he needs to go to sleep. We all must. We tried everything. At five months, we tried sleep training. It didn't take. At one year, his soon-to-be daycare provider suggested the cry it out method, which, depending on what type of parent you are, is either the most efficient way to sleep train or the most barbaric. When they cry, it's your job not to comfort them. Don't go in, even if it sounds really bad, which it did.


We were a few weeks into this hellish ritual until one summer day. Leroy was looking sleepy, and it was time to attempt the 1:00 PM nap. I carried him to his room, drew the curtains, turned on the lullibis, gave him a fresh diaper, lowered him into his crib. Love you, Leroy. See you after your nap, and close the door. The crying started immediately, and I turned on the Timer. For the next 40 minutes, Emma and I were clenched and approaching the upper threshold of our tolerance. When she asked, Can I pick him up? Yes, please. She went into his room, and then I heard our doorbell. I went to answer, and on the other side were two NYPD officers, a man and a woman. The woman asked, Is that your baby crying? Yes. We're responding to a child endangerement call. My mind was slowly grasping what was happening. Leroy The loudest guy I know had been screaming so much that a neighbor called the cops on us. They thought we were abusing Leroy. We need to do a child welfare check, they said. I know these checks can turn into investigations. If you're poor, it can escalate fast.


And even if you're not, it can be terrifying. Does Leroy have a scratch or a bruise right now? Are there piles of laundry lying around? My adrenaline is pumping, and the voice in my is telling me to say, Fuck you, slam the door, and run with Leroy out the back. But don't listen to that voice. We don't have a back door. I steady myself. You really don't need to do that. My wife, she's feeding him right now. He's busy. The mail officer countered, either we go into his room or you bring him to us. We won't leave until we complete a visual inspection. Okay. I went to Leroy's room and told Emma, The cops are here. They need to see Leroy. But I'm breastfeeding. I told them that. She brought Leroy to the door. The woman officer asked, Are you making all that noise? Leroy was calm in Emma's arms. Emma said, Sleep training. It's hard. The woman officer nodded. She gave him a little half-baby wave and in a sweet voice said, Okay, you need to go to sleep. Before they went, I asked, Hey, just out of curiosity, can you tell me which neighbor called you guys?


No. Oh, okay. That makes sense. I started to hate all the neighbors who lived within earshot and didn't make eye contact. Our sleep training experiment was over. We were back to laying on the floor next to his crib and trying to tiptoe out of his room when the Coast was clear. Often, it was not. One night, Leroy passed the point of no return, crying whether I was there or not, and I got scared that the neighbor might call the cops again. Then, I heard a police siren going past our apartment, and I thought, I can work with this. Did you hear that? Leroy stopped crying and listened. The policeman, he's driving by to check if you're going to sleep, and you're crying so loud he can hear you. Leroy asked, What will he do? Now, there are moments in life that feel like they define what parent you are. Would I be the morally bankrupt parent that scares my child to sleep? I looked sweetly, Leroy, in his big, beautiful, brown eyes and told him, If the cops come back, they will take us away in different cars. He curled up under his blanket and closed his eyes tight.


I left the room, shut the door behind me, held my breath, and waited. Silence. Incredible. It worked. And? Oh, God, what have I done? I reported the news to Emma. Oh, no, she said. He must be so scared. Do you think I should go tell him they aren't coming? I don't know. Okay, well, let's never talk about this again. The next night, Leroy asked about the policeman. Is he coming back? I said, Yes. And Leroy Leroy went to sleep. Emma, I did it again. Please don't tell me that. Do you want me to stop? I don't know. I said, Well, now you're complicit. This became our new routine. Warm bath, cold milk. Emma would virtuosically perform all the voices in a stack of books. Then I would take Leroy to bed and threaten state violence, and we'd all go to After a while, it stopped working. He got wise that the police weren't actually coming to our apartment every night, and he started crying again when I would leave. Now, I think it was Shakespeare who once wrote, and I'm paraphrasing here, When you find yourself halfway in a river of blood, either way you go, you got to go through half a river of blood.


So I forged ahead. One night when Leroy was crying, I closed the door behind me, took a deep breath, and banged on his bedroom door. It's the police. Go to sleep. Just cancel me now. And yeah, it worked. We were living in an imaginary police state for what I'm sure child psychologists would agree was too long. Then one night, Leroy asked me a question I didn't see coming. Will the policeman take my nightmares away? Take his nightmares away? Not him. Somehow, in Leroy's cool, weird mind, he figured out that if the policeman was so scary, he could also scare whatever was haunting his dreams. I was stunned. Of course, I said. He will take your nightmares, he'll put them in the back of his squad car and take them to jail. Leroy had taken his fear and morphed it into something that could protect him. I tried to teach Leroy how to sleep and pass along a healthy fear of the police. He learned neither. Leroy is three now. Our bedtime routine is less violent. I lay down next to him in his big kid bed until he's asleep. The plan is to do this until he turns 18.


Okay, so what do we do at night?


Take a soapy bath and put on your pajamas when you're done, be in the party, loosen up, and read a book and go to bed. That's it?


Yeah. That sounds easy.


You just go to bed. No problem.


We just do all that tough.


Oh, you forgot one thing. What? You got to give a hug and a guess.


Yeah, yeah, yeah.


A hug.








That's a lick.


Alex Shree Skandarajah is a producer on our show, currently on parental leave with a new baby who sleeps and wakes it well on his own schedule. Act 3, notes on Cycling. We end today's show with one last story about things coming apart and somebody who just accepts it and in fact, embraces it. This comes from Bowen Wong, who made this story as a student for a podcasting class he was taking. He recorded his voice tracks into his iPhone. I have to say I really love Bowen's work whenever I have heard it because I feel like he is inventing a way to make radio stories that just have their own feeling and sound. Anyway, here he is.


Don't worry. There's no point. In the summer of 2015, I bought a bike from a guy on Craig's list. The bike was $40, so it was shitty, so it suited me. I met the guy outside his house. A woman, who was possibly his wife, hung around and made occasional interjections, which he seemed experienced and ignoring. I asked if I could try the bike before I bought it. Let's 'I'll give you the money first, ' he said. His words were slurred and his balance was wobbly. His possible wife told him to cut me a break, which he ignored. I just don't want you getting any ideas, ' he said. So I gave him my backpack as a security deposit, rode in a circle, got off, gave him the money, got my backpack, and rode away. It was downhill from there. Like video games and birding and heroine, people who are into cycling are really into cycling. As for me, I wasn't into anything. I was living in State College, Pennsylvania, and attending Penn State. I lived off campus, so on weekdays, I rode to school, and on weekends, I rode around aimlessly. I was changing my major from engineering to English, but I still remembered that total mechanical energy is equal to the sum of kinetic and potential energy.


Now that I had no use for this information, I realized that it's actually quite useful that you have to take into account how fast you're going as as well as how much faster you can go. The church I went to held monthly volunteer projects, usually at places far from campus. I never went before, because I didn't know anyone who would give me a ride. But now they had a bike, I signed up. One month, we painted a guy's house. His name was Tony, and he sat at the kitchen table and chain-smoked as we painted the walls. During a break, I chatted with him. He told me he had bronchitis, and I avoided pointing out the obvious. The next month, I cleaned out a dead woman's house. She had died of cancer. One of the volunteers there, Brian, said she lived alone and didn't have many friends. Her kids didn't call, so she would call Brian at midnight, and she wouldn't stop talking until 4:00 in the morning. He didn't seem too torn up about her death. Brian told me he did IT for Penn State. He went to school here in the '80s and stuck around for for a few decades.


He was her only friend, if you could call him that. There's a video game called Gone Home, where you wander around your family's empty house. It's dark and thundering outside, and you go room to room, turning on the lights and looking at different objects. Notes on the fridge, your sister's old journal, your mother's weekly salon receipt. The stuff is scattered about seemingly at random, but it's actually arranged in such a way so that a story emerges about the people who lived there. How your parents met and married and had kids and then drifted apart. How your dad may have been molested as a child. How your sister fell in love and ran away. The woman's house had no story because life is not a story. Life is boxes filled with yellowed magazines, empty printers, broken CRTs, stereo sets, couches, mattresses, chairs, sheets, lamps, a mountain of material with no through line. We started with the home office. It overlooked a dumpster in the driveway, so we threw stuff out the window. A girl from Germany helped me defenestrate. She was a high scholar who, through some exchange program, interned at the church. I asked her what responsibilities a church intern had, and she either didn't understand the question or chose to ignore it, and I didn't press the issue.


The hard part was the furniture. Brian and I tackled the heavy stuff, the drawers and dressers and cabinets. The dumpster was overflowing, so we had to break down the furniture before lifting it up and tipping it in. I felt a childlike satisfaction, turning the detritus of this stranger's life into ever smaller bits of torn wood and pop nails. Towards the end of the day, Brian and I moved two redwood book shelves onto the lawn. We'd thrown out the books beforehand. He brought hammers.


Instructions for smashing a redwood book shelf on a dead woman's lawn.


One, stand back.


Hold the hammer at your hip.


Two, move forward at a moderate speed, somewhere between walking and running.


Three. Make a sweeping motion with your arm, lifting the hammer directly above your head.




Impact. Repeat steps one through four until complete.


Ignore the church in turn looking at you.


At the end of the summer, I lost my best friend. Lost isn't the right word to use as it implies passivity on my part. Broke up is closer, except that seems to only apply to romantic relationships. Pushed away my best friend. Rejected her. Something like that. I spent the summer biking to her apartment downtown. I told her about the chain smoker and the dead woman and the weird scent of loneliness in their houses. We cooked dinner, played board games, watched movies. We did the things we always did, except now I didn't want to do them. I told her that I didn't like spending time with her, that I didn't like her, that I didn't want be her friend, that it wasn't her fault but mine, that I didn't understand it either, that I continued doing the things I did because I didn't know what else to do, and that therefore I should stop, and therefore we should stop being friends. It struck me even then as a pretty shitty explanation. Most of this came out in a conversation we had walking back to the house I was living at, my bike going as I felt a twist in my chest, like I was hiding a terrible secret.


Except when I revealed it, my heart twisted tighter. A few days A year later, she sent me a 988-word Facebook message, an excerpt of which read, If things are bad, can you just ask for a break instead of saying, I don't want to be friends anymore? And if you actually don't want to try anymore and you're certain you want to let this go, then you can decide to break up. But it's literally the most hurtful thing you can do when you do that. So only do it when you have really truly decided that you want to let me go. I will let go, which doesn't mean that I'll stop loving you or caring about you or praying for you. But in the end, I'll grow to be okay with not having you be a part of my life. You are more important than this relationship. I sent her a two-word response. Okay. Sure. Before the school year started, I saw her one more time. She told me that it didn't mean what I was doing, that self-loathing was warping my thinking, that pushing her away seemed like the right thing to do now, but wouldn't solve anything.


In retrospect, it was my last chance. She folded a piece of paper into a five-pointed star. She'd been on a church retreat the previous weekend and told me an illustration she heard about queer youths who come out in the church. When they start out, they have their family, friends, classmates, acquaintances, and the church. She pointed to a star's point for each category. When they come out in a conservative Christian setting, they usually lose their family first, she said, ripping off a piece of the star. She went through every category, tearing the star apart piece by piece, until all that was left was a jagged Pentagon. I don't remember if I said anything. I left, and didn't see her for a year. Let me tell you the point. These days, the breaks on my bike don't work, so I scrape my foot against the ground to stop. When I lie in bed, I think of near misses I've had, cruising down a long hill and almost hurtling into traffic, pressing back with both feet in a desperate attempt to stop. This keeps me up at night, among other things. The sole of my shoe is worn down, the rubber layer scraped away, and there's a smooth, gray surface beneath the hard black sole.


One of these days, I'll get the breaks fixed, but for now, use my foot. Eventually, I stop.


Bowen Wong. He's a writer and audio producer in Pittsburgh. The other voice you heard during the story was Grace Gilbert. To hear more of Bowen's work, visit his website, bowen. Cool. That's B-O-E-N. Cool.


Making friends with silence, sitting still with pain, I'm done too much running to do it again, do it again. Sorrows do not drown my friends.


They always learned to swim. And one way or another, they're going to find their way back here. The only way I All you need now is true, she said.


The only way out is true.


All you need now is you, she said.


All you need now is you.


World Programmer is produced today by Louise Spiegel and Ike Sreece Kandarajah. Laura Sturchesky was the editor. People who put together today's show include Jindai Bonds, Sean Cole, Michael Kamate, Emmanuel Joci, Stone Nelson, Katherine Raymando, Nadia Raymond, Safia Riddle, Ryan Rummery, Frances Swanson, Kyla Jones, Christopher Sertala, Matt Tierney, Julie Whitaker, and Diane Wu. Our managing editor is Sara Abderham, and our senior editor is David Kestenbaum. Our executive editor is Emmanuel Berry. This is our last show with our fellow James Bend at the Second. He is off to a job as one of the hosts of a podcast and radio show at GBH Boston called The Culture Show. We all wish him the best. Special thanks today to Isaac Arnstoff, James Pindle, Michael Graham, Katherine Dunn, and David Barbeau. Our website, thisamericanlife. Org, where you can listen to our archive of over 800 for absolutely free. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks as always to our program's co founder, Mr. Tori Maletia. He's the king of boggle. There is none higher, but he hates that little hour glass thingy. When the time starts running out, he always says, Oh, hell, no.


You are not going to ruin my day, Sand.


Did I mention how many points he got for Quagmire? I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of this American life.


The only way out is true, she said.


The only way out is true.


All you need now is you, she said. All you need now is you.