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551: Good Guys 2015

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Prologue

Ira Glass

OK, here's what intrigued Ben. His friend Sonari had told him that he'd come up with this thing. And there's no way to say this without sounding like an infomercial, but Sonari was doing this thing that was saving him lots of money.

And Sonari is exactly the kind of person who would know about this kind of thing. He's a business reporter. He's one of our colleagues at NPR News. Anyway, here's Ben.

Ben Calhoun

He told me he was just saving on everything. Like he used it for shoes, for clothes, big stuff like new tires.

Ira Glass

Ben, by the way, is This American Life producer Ben Calhoun. He and Sonari are buddies, and Ben says that Sonari came up with this new financial strategy one day when Sonari was shopping for shoes.

Ben Calhoun

And he realized that all the shoes that he wanted were the super expensive shoes.

Ira Glass

Oh.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah. Yeah. And he keeps coming back to this pair that's way too expensive. And he stays there for hours stressing about this decision, until finally he caved.

So he's like, I'm just gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. So he got up to the counter, and this is what he says happened.

Sonari Glinton

I remembered this thing a guy that I'd interviewed had talked about, about the good guy discount.

Ira Glass

The good guy discount?

Ben Calhoun

The good guy discount. This is the thing. Sonari, he'd interviewed this negotiations expert from Columbia University Business School.

And the guy told him about this technique where you say, can I get a good guy discount on that? You're a good guy. I'm a good guy. Come on, just a good guy discount.

Ira Glass

And this works for the professor?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah. It's supposed to be like a thing.

Ira Glass

Wow.

Ben Calhoun

So Sonari remembered this when he was about to buy these shoes. And honestly, he didn't think it was going to work.

Sonari Glinton

And I go, hey you know, is there a good guy discount? And he goes, what? It's like, you know, you've seen me here all day. You know I want these shoes. It's tough for me, blah, blah, blah.

And he looks at me and he goes, I tell you what, brother. And he swiped the card--

Ben Calhoun

Like his little authorization card?

Sonari Glinton

Yeah. And he goes, I'll give you 25% off.

Ira Glass

25% off!

Ben Calhoun

Mm hmm.

Sonari Glinton

[LAUGHING] It was the most positive reinforcement you could ever get.

Ben Calhoun

[LAUGHS]

Sonari Glinton

Like, I was so happy.

Ira Glass

So Sonari told Ben all this because Sonari had started doing this all the time, asking for the good guy discount. And he thought that Ben should try it too. And Ben suggested this might be a good radio story for our show.

And all of us here at the ratio show, we all said great. And we all told him, of course, as part of the story you're gonna have to go out and try to get the discount yourself. And Ben turned red and started to squirm, but he said sure.

And we put it into our story list, and it sat there. And a month went by, and then a second month, and a third-- six months, nine months, 11 months.

And now and then, one of us would remember this at a story meeting and say, whatever happened to that good guy discount thing? And Ben would get all embarrassed. And it was clear he was just hating the idea that he was going to actually have to go out in the world and do this thing. He could not bring himself to.

Ben Calhoun

I just could not get over the pitch itself. It's so cheesy.

Ira Glass

To say, I'm a good guy, you're a good guy.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah. I think it's kinda smarmy. Like, I love Sonari. I love Sonari. I think that Sonari is a wonderful person. But it traffics in this term of good guy when it's nonsense.

It's me saying, I'm a good guy, which I feel like it's the kind of thing of saying like, I'm so humble. The second part of it is you're saying, and the thing I'm going to do as a good guy is I'm going to ask you to do me a favor and cost yourself money. That's what a good guy I am. And I don't know. I find it to be not the behavior of a good guy.

Ira Glass

A good guy, Ben said, would not make somebody else uncomfortable on purpose. And he was convinced that asking for a good guy discount, it puts the sales person on the spot.

Ben Calhoun

You're asking them to break the rules for you for absolutely no reason. And I hate making other people feel uncomfortable.

Ira Glass

I have a different take on it than you do. I think it shows moxie.

Ben Calhoun

[LAUGHS]

Ira Glass

And the good guy discount is part of what makes this country great, even if Sonari's the only one who's doing it. That impulse of just like, I'm just going to go for it. I'm going to say something that's ridiculous and corny and just see if it works.

I mean, you know, in the movies, that's what gets the girl. In the movies, that's what makes you a hero.

Ben Calhoun

If I were to try this three times, how many times do you think it would work?

Ira Glass

One.

Ben Calhoun

So here's one question before I go in. Is it important that I do the whole, I'm a good guy, you're a good guy?

Ira Glass

You gotta say something. What else are you gonna say?

Well, today on our radio program, good guys. We have four stories including I go with Ben as he tries to find out whether or not he has what it takes to get free stuff by claiming to be a good guy, even though he worries that doing that, trying the entire exercise, means that he is not a good guy at all, because friends, it is a struggle sometimes to know what a good guy would and would not do. And in each of our stories today, we have guys trying to find that line, trying to stay on one side of the line, trying to stay good guys in a world where we all know, that can be very, very difficult.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: Takes One To Know One

Ira Glass

Act One, "Takes One to Know One." So after 11 months of stalling, Ben finally headed out to get himself the good guy discount wearing a microphone hidden underneath his shirt. I went with him.

Ben Calhoun

First place we go, a baby store. It's a big national chain. I've bought stuff at this particular store before.

And for our test, I chose one of these baby items that's mind blowingly expensive, so much so that it's hard to imagine anyone actually buying it. It's a blanket for a stroller. It cost $190.

My thought in doing this is that the markup is probably so insane that it'd make it easier to give a discount. Anyway, so I grab one and I get in line.

Ben Calhoun

Now I feel nervous.

The whole pitch still makes me queasy. But I'm committed to selling it as best I can. There's one cashier working.

Ben Calhoun

Hey, how you doing today?

Cashier 1

I'm good, and you?

Ben Calhoun

Oh, good.

Ben Calhoun

What's the total on that?

Cashier 1

$206.85.

Ben Calhoun

Is there any way I could get a good guy discount on that?

Cashier 1

Good guy discount? I don't think we do those.

Ben Calhoun

[LAUGHS]

It's hard to hear. But when I ask for the discount, she cracks a smile and kind of laughs and says, "Good guy discount? We don't do those."

Ben Calhoun

Are there any promotions coming up? Or is this going to go on sale any time soon or anything? No, nothing?

I leave the thing on the counter. So first attempt, we're 0 for one.

Ira felt like I should have tried harder. And for the next one, I should keep the thing going longer, lean harder on the schtick. I'm a good guy, you're a good guy. What do you say?

I am not so sure. So next stop.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah, I guess I'll try the nine first. Do they run a little big?

This item? Winter boots. We go to a big, big sporting goods store, though not a chain, just in case some strict corporate policy had been the problem at the baby store.

Cashier 2

The following customer can step down.

Ben Calhoun

At the registers, I get called up. There's a woman, maybe late 20s. She's got a lot of makeup. She looks fed up with something. My thought is, I'll smile a little more, be a little more friendly.

Ben Calhoun

And I know this is going to sound silly. Is there any way-- is there any kind of good guy discount I can get on those?

Cashier 2

No. We don't offer-- it's just whatever the vendor sells it for.

Ben Calhoun

So there's no promotions that I'm missing out on?

Cashier 2

No.

Ben Calhoun

0 for two. She sends me on my way.

Cashier 2

There you go. Have a good one.

Ben Calhoun

Have a good one. It's like have a nice day with all the friendly burned off. So Ira and I head outside.

Ira Glass

You didn't push it very far. You still just kept it to one sentence before you caved.

Ben Calhoun

No, but I came back with, so there's not any sales or promotions that I'm missing out on? And she was like--

Ira Glass

But that's different than selling her the good guy discount.

Ben Calhoun

You mean being like, come on, I'm a good guy.

Ira Glass

Uh huh. Yeah, you still haven't said that.

Ben Calhoun

Oh, that feels-- but you know what? I feel like I could tell that she was going to say no.

Ira Glass

No. No, I couldn't tell.

Ben Calhoun

And at that point, all you're getting is humiliated.

We go around and around, until we remember, oh right, we can just find out. Ira goes back in.

Ira Glass

My friend was just in here and he tried to get a discount from you? He asked you for a good guy discount?

Cashier 2

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Like five minutes ago?

Cashier 2

Yes. Yes, I recall.

Ira Glass

Yeah. If he had pushed harder, could he have gotten a discount?

Cashier 2

No.

Ira Glass

If he had been more charming, do you get an employee discount that you could have swiped a card and given him? Do you have any kind of discount at all? Do you have any kind of power to give him?

Cashier 2

No. It's just the store policy.

Ira Glass

So if your sister came in here or something, could you give he discount?

Cashier 2

No.

Ira Glass

But you get a discount.

Cashier 2

Right, which I'm rung up by another fellow manager or associate.

Ben Calhoun

See? All of this brings us to attempt number three, record store. Yeah, they do still exist.

I grab what should amount to $70 worth of records. I go to the counter. Behind it, there's a serious record store guy-- black hoodie, black wool hat, hair sticking out of the front.

Cashier 3

How you doing?

Ben Calhoun

Hey, is there any way I could get a good guy discount on those?

Cashier 3

No. No.

Ben Calhoun

Not like a bulk?

Cashier 3

No. Not for new stuff.

Ben Calhoun

No?

Cashier 3

No. 'Cause we barely make a profit on that stuff. Yeah, so I'm afraid not.

Ben Calhoun

I mean, so many noes in such a tiny, tiny answer. I counted them. Five nos in 8.7 seconds. It's like a Russian nesting doll of no.

And really, I would argue it's hard to say no that thoroughly, unless you actually want to say no. Unless you think you're being asked for something stupid by someone stupid. This is what I believed would happen.

And this one, it makes me 0 for three. And I gotta say, it felt bad. And it raises the obvious question, what does Sonari have that I don't?

As we headed back to the office, Ira said, maybe he's just more charming and better looking. So I called Sonari, and I asked him something that I probably should have asked him before, which is exactly how often does this work for him?

Sonari Glinton

I would say 15% to 20% of the time.

Ben Calhoun

20%? That's actually a lot of noes.

He only gets one out of five. I tried three times. So I needed two more tries. Fine.

Ben Calhoun

Hey.

Cashier 4

Hey.

Ben Calhoun

So here we are, number four. The item is a clock. And here we go.

Ben Calhoun

Is there any way that you guys would give a good guy discount on that?

Cashier 4

No, I'm sorry.

Ben Calhoun

No, not at all?

0 for four. I head to a small cookware shop. And if Sonari's stats are one in five, this is the big game. Do or die time. If the good guy discount is real for me, then this is it.

Ben Calhoun

Can I ask you, this All-Clad--

Cashier 4

Mm hmm?

Ben Calhoun

Pot up here, would you guys ever give a good guy discount on this?

Cashier 4

On All-Clad?

Ben Calhoun

Yeah.

Cashier 4

You know, it's hard. I could probably do about 5%.

Ben Calhoun

Like the sword from the stone, my friend. Behold, the good guy discount. Apparently, it can work for anybody. It'll work for you.

But can we just stop for a second? Just stop. And I know that this is going to sound super earnest, and I'm real sorry about that. But I believe it, so I gotta say it.

I don't think that you should try it. I'm not gonna try it again. Sorry, Sonari. I just don't think that we should go throwing around the term good guy like it's some kind of coupon. I think that good guy means something.

Just the other day, I was with my son and my dad, and my kid is eating cake. He's two. He loves cakes. And he's got one bite left. And I say, can I have a bite?

And he looks up at me and he holds out his hand, offers me his last bite. And my dad says, what a good guy. When I was a kid, he used to say that to me too. I like the way the world looks during those moments. I think I'd rather have whatever that is than a discount.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun.

Act Two: The Heels On The Bus

Ira Glass

Act Two, "The Heels on the Bus." So a test of whether or not you are a good guy, it can happen anywhere, as Mike Birbiglia well knows. He's a comedian and told this story onstage in New York.

Mike Birbiglia

Last week I was meeting my wife in the city for dinner. And I went down to take the subway. And one of the unfortunate things about living in New York with the subway-- and you guys probably know this-- is sometimes on the weekends the subway is just off.

[LAUGHTER]

And there'll just be a sign. There's just like, there isn't the subway. You know, and it'll say, you could take the bus. You know, it's written in pencil and there's an ellipsis, you know.

And so last weekend that happened. And so I walked up to the bus and I said to the bus driver, hey, the subway's off. But it said that I could take the bus to the subway. Do you know where I can get off? And the bus driver said to me-- and I quote-- he goes, I don't know anything about the subway.

[LAUGHTER]

I was like, you don't know anything about the subway? You're wearing the same outfit as the man running the subway.

If someone said to me, you see that guy walking down the street with the khaki shorts and the Kings of Leon t-shirt? You know anything about that guy? I'd be like, yeah, I'll tell you a few things about that guy. I know that he could use somebody.

[LAUGHTER]

There was only one other person on the bus. And it was this guy. And he looked up at me and he goes, I'm taking the subway. You can follow me.

So now I'm in action film. I'm like, got it. I sit down, and I'm following this guy.

And then we go a few stops and this lady walks on to the bus. And she was a pretty lady. And she wasn't just bus pretty. She was pretty for the world.

And I did this thing that I sometimes do when I see a pretty lady, which is I looked at her long enough to realize that she was pretty, and then I looked at the floor. And then I never looked up again. That's my move.

And so I'm looking at the floor. And then I'm looking up at this guy I'm about to follow, 'cause he's like my ride. But then he was staring at the lady.

And you know, I know we're all guilty of staring at some point or another. I think we've all done it. But I think that there's an etiquette to staring. I think that you can use your peripheral position if you want to look at somebody. You can stare at someone like you're inside of a spooky painting in Scooby-Doo where your face doesn't move, but then your eyes pan side to side like you're living in the walls of a mansion.

But this guy was not doing the spooky painting. He was just full on staring at this lady, like a gargoyle.

And I was so mad. I was just like, we all want to stare at the lady. But we don't, because we are decent people. We have decided as a group that we are not going to stare at the pretty lady.

But that's the difference between decent people and creepy people. Creepy people do the things that decent people want to do but have decided are probably not a great idea.

Decent people are like, I would like to stare at that pretty lady, but it will make her feel uncomfortable. Creepy people are like, look. I'm going for it.

We go a few more stops and the creepy guy stands up, looks at me, and says, let's go. I was like, oh great. Now she thinks I'm with you.

This pretty lady and I have built up a rapport where we have an understanding that she is pretty and I am decent. And when I am in her presence, I stare at the floor. And now she thinks I am with you, a creepy man?

And so as I walk by this woman, I try to convey all of this with my eyes. Like, I am not with this guy. And that look takes so long to convey that the look itself becomes creepy. And I know it, and so I say, sorry, which were the first words uttered in a conversation we were not having.

As this woman understands her bus ride, she walked onto a bus, a creepy man stared at her for 10 minutes and then left the bus. And then another man, who she did not know was on the bus, approached her and apologized, which means what he did is worse.

[APPLAUSE]

And I'm so frustrated about the unfairness of the situation that when I get to the dinner with my wife, I'm explaining this whole thing in detail. And I'm like, it's not fair because I am not creepy. I am decent.

And my wife says, wait. Is the moral of the story that you want credit for just not being creepy? And I was like, exactly.

Because I think that decent people are undervalued. I think that decent people should be treated like firemen. We should get a day and a calendar.

One month there'd just be a guy carrying in porch furniture for the winter. One month there'd just be a guy grilling a veggie burger with an apron that says "Meatless in Seattle." My month, it'd just be me checking out at a pharmacy with tampons and a yogurt.

And my wife says, but you do get credit. I married you.

Audience

Aww.

Mike Birbiglia

And I said, I want more than that.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

Ira Glass

Mike Birbiglia. His comedy special, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, is on Netflix.

Coming up, proving that you're a good guy to somebody who never, ever, ever will know what you did. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, good guys. Stories of people trying to be good guys and not always sure if they're succeeding.

Act Three: No Man Left Behind

Ira Glass

We've arrived at Act Three of our program. Act Three, "No Man Left Behind." We now turn to a kind of classic story of a buddy who's trying to do a solid for another guy from Julia DeWitt.

Julia Dewitt

Out in the desert scrub lands of northern South Africa, in a place called the Karoo, there's nothing, no trees, no water, for as far as you can see.

Don Shirley

You're in a primeval landscape.

Julia Dewitt

This is Don Shirley. Why he knows this place so well will become clear in a minute.

Don Shirley

See a little rise. And when you get to the little hill, there's actually a big hollow where the ground's collapsed. At the bottom of a very steep slope, you actually have a sheer face in front of you. And at the bottom of this sheer face is a puddle.

And so you think, oh, this is just a little puddle that doesn't go anywhere. But when you take the duckweed off the top, it's actually clear water.

Julia Dewitt

Which means that this isn't just standing water. This water is filtering down to somewhere.

Don Shirley

And if you go into this puddle, there's a small slot that goes through, which is just wide enough for a man's body to go through. After 20 foot, you're now starting to enter the cave. And gradually the cave gets wider.

Julia Dewitt

Down below you is 900 feet of water. This is Bushman's Cave.

Don Shirley

It's a huge cave. Now, if you take the Eiffel Tower and stand it on the floor of the Bushman's Cave, the top of the tower would be just about coming out of the water.

Julia Dewitt

The cave is almost 1,000 feet deep and two and a half football fields wide. The main thing that lives in the pitch darkness is a species of strange little blind white cave shrimp. Otherwise, the cave is dark, deep, and dead.

This cave is a dangerous place for humans. And it's basically totally inaccessible to almost all of us. But for deep water divers, this is heaven.

There are only a very few divers on the planet that have ever been anywhere near the bottom of this cave. And only about a dozen recreational divers ever dive to these kinds of depths, period.

Don is one of these extreme divers. He met another of these deep water divers, a guy named Dave Shaw, back in 2002. They were immediately friends, and a couple of years later, Don took Dave to dive Bushman's.

On dive day, they got to the puddle and Dave went in first. Dave swam down through the slot, and the cave opened up below him.

While he was going down, he was doing something called laying a shot line. Basically, he was leaving a trail of rope in the total darkness. This is the only way he knew how to get out of the cave.

Don Shirley

You're in pitch black, absolute pitch black. So if you shine a light in any direction, it will disappear. The darkness will eat the light.

Basically, being 900 foot in a cave, you might as well be on the moon. In fact, I think more people have walked on the moon than have actually been to those sort of depths in caves.

Julia Dewitt

This sounds unbelievable, but it's true. More people have been on the moon than have been to the depths that these guys have.

Now Dave was exploring on the bare floor of the cavern. There's nothing to see but his light in the black and the white rope that he dragged with him. Then suddenly--

Don Shirley

His torch caught the remains of Deon Dreyer.

Julia Dewitt

No one knows exactly what happened to Deon Dreyer. But a decade earlier, Deon was diving with a team in Bushman's. When they stopped to take a headcount, Deon was gone. People had been looking for his body ever since.

Don Shirley

He was still in his wetsuit, still wearing his cylinders-- a collection of bones inside a wetsuit. And at the time, he tried to move the body, but the body was stuck in the silt. He was panting and he said, I shouldn't work hard at this depth. It wasn't in the plan, so I needed to leave the body there.

Julia Dewitt

Deon was 20 when he was lost in Bushman's. Dave didn't take finding Deon lightly.

Don Shirley

He thought of it more of a mission to actually-- his task to bring this body back.

Julia Dewitt

So when Dave came up, he told Don he was going to come back and get Deon's body.

Don Shirley

He phoned up Deon's parents and said, I'm going to retrieve your son's body.

Julia Dewitt

The thing is that a dive like this is a major operation. It took them months to plan.

Don Shirley

You're at 900 foot under the water. There's a lot of risk involved in that. Every 33 foot that you go down effectively doubles the risk. When you're down at those depths, anything that goes wrong is an issue.

Julia Dewitt

Combining extreme depths with the hard work that Dave had to do to get Deon's body into a body bag came with a lot of risk. At depth, too much nitrogen is kind of like a narcotic. Basically it feels suddenly like you drank five martinis in a row.

Too much helium can give you twitching fits. If you breathe too heavily, like Dave might have to while he's moving around Deon's body-- you pass out. And then of course, there's the bends.

Don Shirley

If you come up too quickly, it's like opening a Coke bottle once you've shook it up and it fizzes. And then you would have problems with bubbles in your blood.

Julia Dewitt

To prevent the bends, Dave would take several hours to come up to the surface. So they recruited a team of support divers that would go into the water at intervals to check on Dave at various depths while he came up.

Don Shirley

And the rule was no one will go deeper than the depth where we actually plan for them to be.

Julia Dewitt

Don would go the deepest.

Don Shirley

But as far as Dave and I were concerned, basically what we said is if Dave has a problem, he would signal me. And in caving, when you flash a light, you wave a light around, that's a distress signal.

We got to the day that we were actually planning to do the main dive. And we went down early in the morning. It was still dark. The sun was not quite up yet.

And at 6:15, Dave went under the water. I followed 14 minutes later.

Julia Dewitt

Don followed the shot line down through the slot and into the cave.

Don Shirley

So whilst I was going down, falling through this black space, I was expecting to see some rising bubbles as I was going down. Also, I would see Dave's light where he was coming back.

When I was going down, I didn't actually see any bubbles coming back. What I did see in the area where I thought he would actually be, I did see a light. It was one light, a solid light just shining.

Julia Dewitt

But the light wasn't moving.

Don Shirley

Something's not quite right. And he's spending longer doing something. And then I knew that I would probably be going down to the bottom.

Julia Dewitt

Don dove past 800 feet, deeper than he had ever been before.

Don Shirley

Now I went past my target depth. But the problem was, as I got to 833 foot, I actually had my own personal problems go on then.

Julia Dewitt

He heard a sharp crack.

[CRACK]

Don Shirley

My re-breather controller actually imploded.

Julia Dewitt

This just means a piece of his breathing apparatus broke. Don trained constantly for moments like this. So he knew exactly what to do. He would just add oxygen to his gas mixture manually.

Don Shirley

But at that sort of depth, any oxygen that you add makes a hell of a difference. And I pushed my oxygen pressure much too high inadvertently. Now that's very unhealthy at that depth-- very unhealthy. And I was liable to actually pass out very quickly.

Julia Dewitt

Don knew then that this was it. It was the end of the line. He had to turn around and go back.

Don Shirley

The surface is not somewhere that you can actually go to solve a problem. When you have a problem, you have to solve that problem there where you are. And if you don't solve that problem, you don't come back. You have to put the brakes on, as it were, at that point.

And I was thinking, OK, Dave might come back. He's either dead or he's working his way back. But all I could deal with was what was in front of me.

Julia Dewitt

Don knew that he now had over 10 hours in the water ahead of him. Don slowly ascended up to the roof of the cave. At this point, he started to pass out. And then he got a helium bubble in his ear.

Don Shirley

And that made me lose balance completely. I'm over this extreme depth of water. You then have absolutely no sense of up, down, sideways, or anything. And I didn't really have any sense of really where I was.

Julia Dewitt

Don lost grip on the shot line. And as he was passing out, reviving again, and passing out, he started swimming in these little circles, spinning around, looking for the line. Remember, this line is the only way Don knows how to get out of the cave.

Don Shirley

And I'm in this void, the black. I have an extremely bright light in my hand. And where the light was going into the black, I was seeing black. And where the light was hitting the roof, I was seeing light, white. And then I'd keep spinning around like that.

So I was seeing black, white, black, white, black, white. And then I caught the line, the white line, in my torch. And the next time I spun round, I grabbed hold of the line.

The trouble was now I had vertigo and that makes you vomit. So now I was vomiting under water as well. Vomiting in between breaths, effectively. As time went on, I couldn't breathe anymore.

Julia Dewitt

Don eventually stabilized himself and he started his ascent again towards the surface. He met a support diver, and using a waterproof pencil and one of these slates the divers use to communicate underwater, Don wrote him a message.

Don Shirley

I said, I'm OK and Dave's not coming back. But still in my mind, I had a hope that he would. From that point on, the guys had a task, which was to support me.

Julia Dewitt

For hours, the team up above waited to see if he would make it out alive. His only job was to breathe. Dave's light down below had disappeared.

Don Shirley

If you see the videos of me coming up, you'd think this guy's half dead. You know, it had been just over 12 hours in the water. I couldn't actually really do much for myself other than breathe. My head was like a marshmallow.

Julia Dewitt

Don was put into a decompression chamber and then taken in the morning for more treatment at a hospital in Johannesburg. Dave did not come up that night. Dave was dead. And then a week later, Don got some news.

Don Shirley

I actually was told that Dave's body had come up. During that week, there'd been lots of speculation as to what had happened.

Dave was carrying a camera on his head. In retrieving the camera, then we could piece together really what happened.

Julia Dewitt

As the camera rolls, you see Dave trying to get Deon's body into a body bag.

Don Shirley

One of his lights had actually got tangled up in the line and smashed. So now, bearing in mind you're in the pitch black, his main light had actually been broken. So he couldn't really see so well.

Julia Dewitt

Then Dave also gets tangled. He pulls away, but now he's tied to Deon's body.

Don Shirley

And you could see that he was working trying to get himself out of this line. He was cutting with the scissors. But his scissors weren't even getting anywhere near the line.

Julia Dewitt

Listening to the video, you can hear Dave's breathing start to get shallower and shallower as he starts working harder and harder.

Don Shirley

Dave passed out from too much carbon dioxide. You know, he worked right up, right up to the very last breath that he ever took trying to get out. And then the camera just carries on recording until the batteries run out.

There's barely a day goes by where I don't think of Dave. And really, there are a lot of times I turn round-- I do a fantastic dive and I just want to say, did you see that?

And Dave very much did die nobly doing what he did. He did everything that he should do. And he died, as they'd say in the military, with his boots on.

When Dave's body had come up, hanging underneath Dave's body, cocooned in the line that Dave originally had laid, was Deon Dreyer's body. So Dave actually achieved what he wanted to do.

Ira Glass

This story came from Julia DeWitt. It was first broadcast on the public radio show Snap Judgment. If you want to hear more stories like that one, Snap Judgment is on many public radio stations. And it's also a podcast, which you can find at snapjudgment.org or the iTunes store or wherever it is that you get your podcasts.

Act Four: The Test

Ira Glass

Act Four, "The Test." So all this hour, we've been hearing about guys trying to be good guys and being tested and trying to do the right thing.

But of course, sometimes that is really hard. Sometimes you're not up to it. You look around at your life and you realize things are not exactly right, and it's not clear how to fix them and how to be a good guy. And so you just take a step forward on whatever path appears right then in front of you, whatever that path is.

Scott Carrier

I was hired to interview men and women in the state of Utah who receive Medicaid support for treatment of mental illnesses generally diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Ira Glass

That's Scott Carrier, who took that job after working on and off as a radio reporter out of Salt Lake City. He was hired for the interviewing job because the director of this research project heard some of Scott's radio stories and thought he was a good interviewer, somebody who knew how to listen.

The researchers taught Scott how to administer this test, which measured mental health. It was 100 questions, each of which was scored on a scale of one to seven.

Took an hour to give the test. Scott was paid $30 for each test he gave. The people he gave the test to got $5.

Scott Carrier

I had little understanding of schizophrenia before I began, and I have little more understanding now. I took the job because I had no other. I took the job because I'd just quit my steady job, my professional job, after realizing that what I wanted more than anything was to put my boss on the floor and stand on his throat and watch him gag.

Then my wife moved out, took the kids and everything. She said, I've thought about it, and I really think it's the best thing for me at this time in my life.

And so I took the job interviewing schizophrenics because it was offered to me and because it was all there seemed to be. And it seemed somehow predestined, a karmic response that could not be avoided.

It would only be temporary, something to get through the summer. And I was told that they needed someone willing to drive around the state through the small towns, searching out individuals who are often transient and prone to hiding. I like to drive. I like to travel. And I like the idea of pursuit. So I took the job, and did the job, and my life will never be the same.

The patient is 21 years old and has lived with his parents since his discharge from the Army. He has no friends, no recreational activities, and no social life. He spends his time writing and reading, but these activities do not give him any pleasure.

He has lost weight, has general anxiety and loss of libido, and occasional feelings of unreality. He is worried about his unpredictable behavior, for example, getting down on all fours and chewing the grass because he was thinking what it would be like to be a cow.

The patient is 25 years old and believes that she is the devil and therefore responsible for all the evil in the world. She's not been out of her house for seven days, and only comes down from her room for meals.

A few days ago, her mother walked into her room and found her crying. She asked her mother what was the most painful punishment that one human being could inflict upon another. The mother tried to get the reason for this question and her daughter mumbled something about the devil having to be punished for the benefit of humanity, something about having to die for his sins.

When the mother asked her if she still thought she was the devil, she answered, let's not get into that again. It only upsets you and you don't believe me anyway, even when the evidence is all around you, plain for you to see.

The people I interview are all so sad, so lonely with such thin souls, like ghosts and demons have invaded their hearts and are sucking their souls dry. A person's soul should be like an ocean. But a schizophrenic's soul is like a pool of rain in a parking lot. They suffer and they are completely alone in their suffering, and there's nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do to bring them back.

I come home at night and cry. I sob like a three-year-old.

Today, halfway through an interview with a man in Tooele, he says, I have a crystal in my pouch. Do you want to see it?

I say OK and he takes it out, a normal crystal the size of a large paper clip. And he says, I can look through this, and it will tell me whether you're a good person or a bad person. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to look through it or not?

My first thought is to say, do you want to go on with the interview? Maybe when we're done, you can look through the crystal. But then I realize that he's really asking me to take his test, just like I'm asking him to take mine.

I come into his house. I ask him very personal questions, and I expect him to answer honestly. And why should he?

So I say, OK, go ahead. And he puts the crystal up to his eye, turns it clockwise and counterclockwise, back and forth, squinting, looking me up and down.

And he says, I can't tell for sure. I'm going to have to read your mind. Here, take my hand.

He holds out his right hand with the crystal resting in the palm. I take his hand, and he puts his left hand over mine and squeezes it tight and shakes it and goes into a small spasm.

Then he lets go and sort of sits back like he's exhausted. He asks me if I felt anything. And I say, maybe a little.

And he says, I sent you a message. I put it in your mind. I told you what is wrong with me.

I'm not supposed to figure out what's wrong with these people. I'm just supposed to ask the questions and score the answers from one to seven. This is partly because I'm not a doctor, and might get something going that I wouldn't know how to contain. But it's mainly because my supervisors want clean data. They want all the people asking the questions to be doing it in the same way.

I'm not supposed to get emotional. I'm not supposed to let the patient get emotional.

The therapy part of the county mental health system is in another department. I wouldn't even know what number to call. And I've been told more than once not to worry about it. I should never have let him take the crystal out of his pouch.

I drove around all day trying to find a Navajo man. He lives very close to the Four Corners, the cross where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet.

It's all dirt roads, a house every five miles or so. No addresses, no phones. I stop at every house and knock on the door. But either nobody's home or nobody will answer.

I flag down every car that passes and ask directions, and the people offer complicated directions that I follow as best as possible, sometimes driving for 20 or 30 miles. But it's always the wrong place or nobody's home or there just isn't a house there at all.

Driving around, I think about how I have some of the same problems as the people I interview. I'm angry, depressed, prone to paranoid delusions, and I worry a lot.

Up to now, I thought these were common problems and that I was more or less able to control them. But now I don't know. I feel like I'm just faking it.

Eventually, late in the afternoon, I find the man, or at least I think he's the man. I'm a third of the way through the test before I realize he's not the right guy.

When was your last visit to a mental health clinic? I don't go to a clinic. When did you last see a doctor? I don't have a doctor.

Do you blame yourself for anything you've done or not done? No. Have you felt more self-confident than usual? No.

Have you heard voices or other things that weren't there or that other people couldn't hear or seen things that weren't there? And he says, I think you want to talk to my son. And I ask him what his son's name is, and he says, same as mine.

I come back the next morning and interview the son in the kitchen. They make coffee for me on a propane camp stove as the house has no electricity.

The son is 19 years old, a good looking kid, tall, healthy. Says used to run cross country in high school. He seems to be fine.

But as I go through the questions, he starts to fix his eyes on mine, a direct, almost hypnotic stare straight into my head, like he's trying to pull me in and trap me. I try to look back, to look just as deeply into his mind. But it's like looking into a cave.

He says he hears voices, satanic voices, and that he worries a lot about his shoes, that they're not the right kind, not the kind he sees on MTV. I can't tell if he's sick or if he's just trying to torture me.

And I drive away thinking I don't know anything about this disease, that I know even less than when I started. I spent two days driving around, and I made $30. And I feel really, really tired.

The house is dark, as all the windows have heavy curtains pulled nearly shut. The curtains over the big picture window in the living room are open just a bit, and the light cuts through like a laser beam and hits the red shag carpet, throwing up small dust particles and cigarette ash.

Two feet away from the light, near the television, is a slice of pizza lying upside down in the carpet. I'm interviewing the woman-- a mother-- and her teenage daughter's on the phone talking to her boyfriend, or rather a series of boyfriends who call and call. And all of them want her to go out right now, but her mother won't let her.

She's trying to answer my questions, trying to concentrate and be polite. But she's mainly listening to what her daughter is saying on the phone and will suddenly switch from saying, no, no, I've been feeling fine, I haven't had a relapse in months, to screaming out, is that John? I told you never to talk to him again.

Or, who is it? Is it a boy? You can't go out. Tell him he has to come over here.

I can't stop looking at the slice of pizza on the carpet. I keep looking at the slice of pizza because it's the only clue that the woman is sick. I mean, she has a teenage daughter and a dirty house. And maybe she shouldn't try to wear makeup to bed. But these are not necessarily symptoms of schizophrenia.

She seems to be fine, just worn out, until I get to the question have you been worrying a lot? And she says yes, she has. She's been worrying a lot that the elders of the church-- the Mormon church-- will take her daughter away from her.

And I ask her why, and she says, because she stopped taking her medication. And I ask her why did you stop taking your medication? And she says that the only reason she takes it is because she told her bishop that she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and that she'd had sex with him. And then she was also visited by the Archangel Michael and that she'd had sex with both of them at once and that they'd ravished her almost every night.

So her bishop made her go to a doctor. And the doctor gave her some pills, and she took the pills, and the angels stopped coming. The bishop and the elders had told her that if she had sex with any more angels, they'd take her daughter away.

So I ask her again why she stopped taking her medication, and she says, I'm lonely. I miss them. I want them to come back.

Today in a restaurant, eating lunch between interviews, I decided to take the test. I answered the questions and scored myself appropriately. And at some point, I realized I wasn't doing so well.

I decided not to even add up the points, because then I'd be left with a score and I'd never forget it. If I were to write a report on myself, it would sound something like this.

The patient is 36 years old and lives alone since his wife left him three weeks ago. She took the kids and all the silverware, except for a large knife and a bowl and a coffee cup.

The patient admits that her leaving may have had something to do with the fact that, without warning, he completely gutted the house, tore out all the walls and ceilings, all the lathe and plaster right down to the studs. He says he did this in order to live like a primitive. When asked if he was successful, he says it was the first step in the right direction.

The patient is a 36-year-old male who lives alone since his wife and children left him two months ago. He says there's a darkness that separates him from other people, a heavy darkness, like looking at a person from the bottom of a well.

He believes that if he could say the right words, then the darkness would go away. He says he sometimes knows the right words, but cannot say them. Other times, he can't even think of the words to say.

The patient is 36 years old and lives alone since his wife and children left him three months ago. Last week, he went fishing in the San Juans and now believes that there's no better fisherman than himself.

He says, I can't tell you about it, because talking about fishing is silly, like farting and tap dancing at the same time. All I can say is I walk around in the water and I know the instant the fish will jump for the fly. I cut open their stomachs and squeeze out the bugs in my hand, study what they eat, how it all gets digested, even the exoskeleton and wings.

He says he was sick before, but now he's OK, and that it was the fly rod, just holding the rod in his hand, that cured him. His house is clean. The electricity is on. The walls have been sheet rocked and painted white. He says, I'll have to ask her, beg her, and maybe she'll come back.

Ira Glass

Scott Carrier. We first broadcast this story years ago.

Scott recently has just started a new podcast. It's called Home of the Brave. If you've heard him on our radio show over the years, you know he is really like nobody else on the radio. He's just a complete original, an amazing writer, great interviewer in stories where he does interviews. I, and many of us in public radio are like, super fans, and so it's exciting to see him finally have his own show.

Again the name, Home of the Brave. It's free. You can find it at homebrave.com or at the iTunes store or Stitcher, or like we say here on the show, wherever you get your podcasts.

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Brian Reed and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Simon Adler.

Seth Lind is our operations director. Emily Condon's our production manager. Elise Bergerson's our office manager. Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website.

Music help today from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis. Mike Birbiglia was recorded at UCB East in Manhattan and Littlefield in Brooklyn.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. 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. Torey Malatia. You know, his new plastic surgery is, I don't know. It's just at that awkward phase.

Mike Birbiglia

Where your face doesn't move, but then your eyes pan side to side.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.