For WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.
I know how it is to beat somebody. I know how it is to pull the trigger, like drive by [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. I know what it is to pull the trigger. I know what it is to stand in the middle of the street, like a stop sign, throwing out gang signs and expecting a bullet to come to you or somebody to just whack you in the head or something.
From the time he was 13 until the time he was 17, Arnie's life was organized around one thing, the Latin Kings, a huge street gang here in Chicago. Then when he was 17, some kids dragged him to youth group and church services until one day, he felt the presence of the lord and he believed. And Arnie quit his gang. He still organized his life around one thing, but now the one thing was God.
But when you quit a street gang, one of the problems that you face is that your former enemies do not know that you've quit. They see you on the street and they come after you. And you don't have your old gang to protect you anymore. There's no way to let everybody know. You can't just publish a notice in the federal register in the classified ads of your local paper. And so guys kept coming up to Arnie on the street trying to fight him or shoot him.
Once, for example, some gang kids came up and Arnie happened to be walking with a guy who was a friend of theirs.
So he jumped in front of me before they were going to shoot me and he goes, no, he's a Christian now. He's a man of God. He's not a King anymore. That's the [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]. And the guy was like, no way, I know him. He ain't no Christian. He was like move and then he was going to hit me, right? I was ready to start hitting people and just run. You know just elbow him here, punch him here, and make so I can get out. It's like my mind was ready, boom, take control. Just start fighting. But I just like, wait a minute. No, I'm not going to do that. God has changed me. I'm a new creation like it says in the bible. Therefore, anybody who's in Christ a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. And I am the new that has come.
I just looked around. I was just like, hey. I just said, look, I'm a man of God now. You do what you got to do. You know what I'm saying? But I don't gang bang no more. And soon I hope to see you in our church praise the lord together. So he was like, man. So he got mad, real mad. He just said, forget you, man. And he walked away and all his boys walked back to the car and they didn't do nothing to me.
Arnie told me a lot of these stories. And they're all like stories from the Bible. The stories where Paul goes out among the non-believers and they want to hurt him and he's filled with the holy spirit, the bible says. And then for some reason, because I guess he's filled with the holy spirit, they do not hurt him. Sometimes Arnie think his life is lot like those stories.
The one I like the best is Stephen in the Book of Acts when he got stoned. I love that story because I feel like Stephen is me. Yeah, like I'm Stephen. I'm not, but like we got the same spirits, which we do. How they have him ready to persecute him and he's like, he's not afraid to tell the truth. In other words, he's down for his. He's willing to live and die for what he believes in. Just like when you're willing to live and die for gang bang. Like me, I was a Latin King. You know what I'm saying? You got to live and die for that crown, right? And that's what he was dying for. He was dying for God. You know, our lord. He's there, he's been done. He's standing up firm. He's like, I don't care about anybody. Just like when you're on the street. I don't care. I'm a Latin King. What's up? You know, I don't care. What's up? They beat their chests with their gang sign. You know, what's up? What's up? I'm this and this and that. They're not afraid or ashamed to say who they are.
There are people for whom everything in the world comes down to one thing. One idea, one belief, and they organize their whole understanding of the world around that belief. The belief might be God, or free market economics, or animal rights, or the ozone layer. And some people structure their lives around collecting old records, or around sex, or theater, or politics, or Star Trek, or basketball.
I've been a one thing person. Maybe you've been a one thing person too. Arnie certainly was. And his new one thing, the lord, filled the same place in his life that the old one thing, the gang, used to.
You know, sometimes I want to give it all, just like I give it all to my gang. I want to give it all to him. Even double, you know. I want to die for the lord. I don't care if I get crucified. I don't care if they shoot me.
You feel the same way about Christianity as you did about the gang?
Yeah, exactly. It's like I have the same mentality and the same heart, but now it's for a different reason and a different person.
Well, today on our program, One Thing People. People who organize their lives around just one idea and the price they pay for that.
Act One, when your one thing is your ex-girlfriend.
Act Two, Inescapable Logic. What happens when you take a utopian vision of nudism, yes, nudism, to its logical end as your one thing. This is the true story of a nude presidential candidate.
Act Three, more than one thing. How journalist Philip Weiss came to agree with some Clinton conspiracy theorists, but decided not to follow their cause.
Act Four, Quitting Quitting. Regrets from a former one-thinger. Stay with us.
Act One: Life Without Leanne
Act One, Life Without Leanne.
Well, let's start our show with the kind of one thing behavior most people at some point or another have gone through themselves. Taken, perhaps just a step or two further than most of us have taken it.
Good evening and welcome to Life Without Leanne. I'm Larry and this is day 683. That's nearly 98 weeks since Leanne and I broke up.
We're going to start out, as always, with our Leanne watcher of the week. My kudos go out to Mike of Evanston, Illinois, who called in with this eloquent report on a brief encounter he had with Leanne on April 28.
Hey, Larry. I love the show. Listen, I ran into Leanne last week. She lost some weight, but she's still beautiful. She said she's been exercising, taking classes, doing this, doing that. But it appeared to me that she was struggling to fill some void. Your name didn't come up, but it wasn't so much what she said as what she didn't say.
Thanks, Mike. I think we all know what she was trying to say.
I wish it all could be such good news. But unfortunately, Operation Terrible Mistake has not been the success that we anticipated and I'm afraid we may have to rethink our strategy. As you may recall from our April 20 program, the objectives of Operation Terrible Mistake were to one, apply societal pressure. Two, foster emotional uncertainty. Three, precipitate reevaluation. And ideally, four, achieve reconciliation.
When I brought up this plan, I suggested the following conversation starter when you would run into Leanne on the street or something. I suggested that you say something like, "Leanne, I was so sorry to hear about you and Larry. You make such a wonderful couple, so I don't mind telling you I think you are making a terrible mistake. This is my own personal opinion on the matter."
Now unfortunately, a number of well meaning individuals took this suggestion rather more literally than I intended and repeated it verbatim to Leanne. And some of it sounds like you were practicing it and it created an effect other than the one I desired. I've now received word through an intermediary that Leanne request that I quote, "Call off the zombies," unquote. We will honor her wishes as always. But I must emphasize, I cannot be held responsible for the behavior of individuals acting on their own initiative.
When Leanne was Little, number 36 in the series.
At our regular Monday lunch, Leanne's mother told me a cute story. She says that when Leanne was seven, she fell while roller skating and badly skinned her knee. There was no permanent scarring fortunately. In an effort to console her, Leanne's mother recalls telling Leanne, if you don't stop crying, your boo-boo is going to think you don't like him. And that's why, to this day, Leanne endearingly refers to minor cuts and scrapes as Mr. Boo.
I've got the minutes to the most recent Leanne Anonymous Meeting, which I'll read to you now. It was our first meeting at Gatsby's. The bartender, Mark, graciously accommodated us by closing off the back room and supplying extra folding chairs. All in attendance praised the wisdom of moving these meetings from my apartment, which some of them had complained was not in neutral territory and it was getting kind of cramped in any case.
On a related matter, Mark told me privately after the meeting that he appreciates our patronage, but he asks that in the future we try not to monopolize the jukebox. Or at least try to play a variety of songs. He's threatening to remove all the Hank Williams selections if he doesn't see some improvement. So let's all try to work some Patsy Cline in there or something, OK?
Meeting started out. We ordered a first round and at Tom's suggestion, we dispensed with the reading of the minutes. We proceeded immediately to old business. The continuing debate on Leanne's eyes and whether they are turbulent sea green or sand fleck moon blue. They are, by the way, a sand fleck moon blue.
But when it appeared there could be no middle ground on the issue, Dick stood up and announced, hey, you know, like Elton John says, who cares if they're blue or they're green. Those are the sweetest eyes I've ever seen.
The motion to adopt Dick's language carried unanimously and we collected more change for the jukebox.
We ordered another round and conversation turned naturally to the rest of Leanne. Her quirky, perky nose, her funny, sunny smile, the perfect curve or her neck. Her soft shoulders and so on. Until petty jealousies precluded further discussion.
Soon thereafter, we took a break to order some more refreshments, and then it was time to welcome new members. This stubby and not particularly attractive man who had been spotted with Leanne as recently as mid January stood up and he said, My name's Harry and I love Leanne.
Harry then related his long, sad tale. The details of which we are all too familiar with. He ended with that same old refrain, she met this guy. She says she's deliriously happy. That prompted Gunther, who really doesn't speak very often to speak up.
She's deliriously happy, eh?, he said, staring into his beer. That guy is doomed. Those who could still laugh about it, did.
Really, Harry said. So you think then, there's a chance I could win her back? This question prompted extensive debate, leading to the inevitable threats of violence. It only ceased when Quentin moved that we change the name of the group from Lovers of Leanne to Victims of Leanne. That motion was soundly defeated of course, and we voted to adjourn.
Elmo closed the meeting by singing "Oh, Leanne." Including this new verse that had recently come to him in a dream. I have a recording.
[SINGING] Oh, Leanne. I love you. Love you. Still. I love you. I love you. I love you. Still. I always will.
It's about Leanne.
OK, a Leanne announcement. My special friend, Jane, who has been so supportive during this difficult time has suggested that there might be a need for a group addressing the concerns of the lovers of the lovers of Leanne. Anybody who knows somebody who might be interested in such a group should have them write LeanneANON in care of this station.
We all know what that music means. It's time for this week's Leanne challenge. Leanne is what she eats, but how well do you know what she eats? Everybody knows Leanne likes horseradish on her hamburgers. But what kind of horseradish?
OK, here's a hint. She received a case of it last Christmas. The answer to last week's challenge was, you guessed it, from left to right. I know a lot of people thought there was a trick to that question, but there wasn't.
Time for the mail. The mail ran heavy this week with entries to the Candid Leanne Photo Contest. I think I need to remind everybody that the rules clearly state that Leanne must be the only person shown in the photograph. In case any of you want to resubmit, I'm going to extend the deadline for two weeks until May 23. Please remember entries can't be returned.
OK, first letter. One of our far-flung correspondents, Myles, writes from Lexington, Kentucky.
I'm going to be in town in the near future and I was hoping to finally meet this Leanne I've heard so much about. Do you have her phone number and address where I can write her directly?
Well, Myles, there's really no need for that. Why don't you just send your correspondence to Leanne in care of me and I'll make sure she gets it.
And we also have a letter here from Reggie of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, who writes in. I think this is very interesting. We've gotten a number of letters like this.
He writes, Larry, isn't it time you got on with your life? It's been nearly two years since Leanne broke up with you.
Actually, we're a couple weeks short of that, but anyway.
He says, it's been actually two years since Leanne broke up with you and I hate to tell you, pal, but it's over. O-V-E-R. But listen, he says, there are a lot of other chicks in the sea, my friend. And they're yours for the picking. Go for it.
Well, Reggie. I don't know quite how to answer that. It's difficult to determine exactly what it is you're driving at. I mean, I'm afraid I don't share your bitter perspective and I don't really get all of your playground aphorisms. But please understand when I suggest this. You know nothing about love. But thanks for the letter, Regg. Your Larry Loves Leanne t-shirt is in the mail. That's it for Life Without Leanne this week. And let's hope it's the last week. I'm Larry and I love Leanne.
Larry Doyle writes for The Simpsons and wishes it known that he now loves Becky.
Act Two: Inescapable Logic
Act Two, Inescapable Logic. When you're seized by one idea, by one thing, it's not like you choose it. It's like it chooses you. And often the one thing has a logic to it that seems inescapable. These are perfectly logical consistent systems once you get inside them. Macrobiotics, Mormonism, the JFK assassination theories.
This is a story of someone who found the logic of his one thing irresistible and he followed that logic to its logical end. And it's the story of what happened to him as a result. This is a true story set in 1976. Chicago playwright, Beau O'Reilly, tells this story.
Before we begin, a quick parental advisory. There is nudity in this story. No sex, nothing very explicit, but there is nudity.
Eddie Hickock Collins taught high school English in Baldwin, Long Island. Remedial readers whose attention spans kept them far away from Herman Melville or Nathaniel Hawthorne. Holden Caulfield in Catcher in The Rye, those seemed just right to Eddie, despite the fact that Catcher in The Rye was on the banned bookshelf of the school library.
The library didn't like the use of the F word on page 201 of Catcher in The Rye. But page 201 was Eddie Collins' favorite page. And he figured his remedial readers would love it too. His young hooligans who all wanted and needed to get naked and needed page 201 thought Eddie.
The school soon gave notice though. Under no circumstances was he to teach that dirty Catcher in The Rye. The F word, beloved page 201. They were deemed questionable and inappropriate.
Eddie began reading the book aloud to his remedial class that day. And the remedial readers all took notice. They nodded and they grunted at all the good parts. And running their long, adolescent fingers over and over through their greasy pompadours as good, old Holden Caulfield rolled along. And cheering and chanting out the F word when Eddie tore into page 201.
Edward Hickock Collins was fired from teaching high school English in Baldwin, Long Island. And he spent the rest of that year pacing in front of the fireplace at his mother's house.
It was a cold winter, but Eddie was already heated up from his recent battle with censorship, so Eddie pulled off more and more of his clothes. His shirt, his shoes, his pants. And he flung them in all directions. Eddie built up the fire and he sweated aloud. If he couldn't teach the F word, how could he live free? That he demanded of himself. The F word, the sex act. That had to be naked and lovely. That felt right and right felt natural. And why hide that, Eddie thought. And that's when he first thought it. He would never dress again.
You know how an idea catches and grabs a hold of you? Maybe you've had that. An idea that speaks to your most private imaginings and your deepest hurt feelings, your most secret strange joys. And that idea says, here I am. Change everything because I'm here. I'm perfect. I'm enlightened by sexuality. I'm the new laughing cure for cancer. I am my body and shape and in perfect yoga pose. And these ideas fuel so crucial that the access of your world turns to embrace them.
Eddie's idea felt like that. And Eddie's idea was naked and it was obvious. It was without guilt or second thought. Nudity. Nudity now.
Eddie ran naked all the way to the high school. It was his first nude run. His body was flapping like a ship that has come free of its moorings and is now spinning and reckless in the surf.
And at the high school, all his former students, the remedial readers, they were playing manic playground basketball. And Eddie happily ran out on the court. He wanted to dunk a few in the glorious springtime. Dunk a few and then tell the smart guys of his new vision of freedom.
And Eddie yelled in his joy as he hit the court, but his remedial readers weren't glad to see him. They turned away, laughing, embarrassed by Eddie's nakedness. And they refused to pass him the ball.
And when Eddie persisted, he leaped at each one of the boys in turn. One of them grabbed the ball and smacked it into Eddie's face hard. So hard the ball flip stung and bled and Eddie's eyes filled with tears.
Eddie was lost then. The remedial readers surrounded and hounded him. Oh, they flicked popsicle sticks and clouds of dirt at his exposed penis and his poor back side.
And Eddie slammed the door of his mother's house. He was crying and he was shaking. And all the remedial readers, they gathered in a pack outside. They were flushed and they talked themselves into a deeper hatred. And one of them grabbed a brick and threw it through Eddie's mother's picture window and shattered it. And then there was such a roar of rage and hurt and it just ripped through Eddie's brain and he grabbed the same brick and he threw it back through the same window. The remaining glass just flying. And then, Eddie jumped through the now open window, falling and gashing his poor hands and his poor feet.
The remedial readers running in all directions. Eddie landing on a lawn of glass. And when he looked up in the sky, written in huge letters of flaming black and red six feet high were the words, "Why? Don't ask why. Live."
And right then, something deep exploded in Eddie. And his face and his heart, his whole being, flushed with joy.
Shock treatments are serious and they're undermining. And in Eddie, they led him to a decade of quiet years. Years in which he memorized D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love from cover to cover. But his body, his naked body, lay in waiting. Impatient for the day when the clothes would come off and his body could go public again.
Eddie Hickock Collins came to Dekalb, Illinois, to work on the railroad. And he grew a huge, red beard that shouted out a fanfare wherever he went.
The Palace was our vegetarian restaurant theater and coffeehouse. It was work and it was home for we young anti-war hippies. It was a workshop for our ideas on how to change the troubled world that we'd been given by our parents. But it was also a refuge. And a magnet, a magnet for people who were obsessed with one idea. And for the odd.
If your father was a mason and now you'd lost your chi and you were doomed to wander the five room universe of The Palace looking for it. If you were hopelessly shy and allergic to the 20th century, and everything that made it tick. If you were a closet arsonist who just needed a place to rest and battle the flames inside you. If you were a bottom pincher who drank too much schnapps and read only 17th century literature, you were welcome at The Palace.
You could bring your dogs and your books and your bare feet. And as long as you didn't drink Coca-Cola there and at least considered not paying your war taxes, you were welcome. And we would never call the police.
Eddie set up outside The Palace, smiling and silent at first, and he offered his own newsletter, The Beast of Revelation. A passionate, journalistic banner that proclaims the beauty of the human body. The penis is glorious and the vagina is magical. They have to be seen to be believed argued The Beast of Revelations. And after Eddie had figured most of us, the hippie community of The Palace, had a grasp of his basic message, Eddie came in off the sidewalk and he began to talk to us.
He was a public speaker. Could he speak there? Eddie we had a voice and his eyes were wide awake and the title of this first talk was, "Nudity. Nudity Now."
He quoted liberally from the D.H Lawrence's Women in Love. Lawrence is big. Oh, he's big. Nudity and orgasm equals freedom. That's what D.H Lawrence sees. And Lawrence sees me, Eddie. Lawrence agrees with Collins. Nudity, sexuality, they form a square knot of human perfection.
Until the Catholic church and public education get ahold of you. Oh, they'll twist you and they'll shame you. And that's bad. It's bad. Read Lawrence. He knows. He's big. Nudity. Nudity now.
We all laughed not knowing why. And at the end of each performance, we followed Eddie out on the sidewalk. Eddie tossing his clothes in all directions before running off, naked into the night. Dekalb was a small place, but by the next week when Eddie spoke there was a real crowd that followed him outside for his personal unveiling.
Edward Hickock Collins blossomed with nudity and attention. And by the fourth week, with the crowd urging him on, the clothes came off on stage and Eddie became the nude public speaker. Speaking out, but speaking nude, he shouted.
And Eddie now began his talks naked and he hung around naked. He could be found at The Palace at all hours naked. Sometimes we politely asked him to dress for an occasion like when someone's parents came to town and then Eddie would put on this kilt. A kilt he made out of a pair of cut-off jeans slashed free at the legs.
Once my mom came to visit me at The Palace. And I don't know what mom expected, but what she got was Eddie, naked and relaxed. Eddie reading the New York Times book review section. It made me very nervous when Eddie sat down with my mother, but my mom loved the New York Times book reviews and Eddie must have sensed that because he offered it to her. And the two of them were soon chatting about books they would never have time to read. And quickly, they seemed comfortable together. And that was amazing to me, my mother fully clothed and Eddie not clothed at all.
It was only when Eddie leaned over and asked something so private that my mother never told me what it was. That my mom flushed and stormed away from the table.
And that's the thing about Eddie. As much as he could win you over, and I liked him, he would always find a way to push things just too far. As if any boundary or border was a foreign thing and it was to be disposed of and gotten through, no matter how you felt about it.
Eddie moved into our house and invited some of The Palace women to sleep with him. And some of them were happy to do it until the most private details of their intimacy started showing up in his speeches, surrounded by big, blinking exclamation points. Look at this.
The police came two months into Eddie's talks. Eddie was arrested. And soon now, this nude messiah would stand trial. And he felt that, messianic and alone and full of a vision of the world where the pants come down in simultaneous synchronization and whole nations freed from the shackles of clothing, walk freely and hang out in peace.
And Eddie spent the weeks prior to his trial alternating phone calls to Brezhnev and the Kremlin and Jimmy Carter's White House. Eddie made his calls from the corner laundry mat, urging long distance operators to support his new strategy. International nudity day July 4. Disarm now. The pants come off in simultaneous synchronization for world peace. That's the hook. If you're naked, how can you take yourself seriously holding a tank or fondling a nuclear war head? You'd have to set them down.
Someone at the Kremlin actually answered one of Eddie's calls and Eddie just poured it on over the phone, his whole platform. But at the White House, they just put him on hold and left him there. Eddie hardly noticed. His campaign was heating up.
Eddie's trial for indecency and his presidential campaign, which takes him to the 1976 Republican National Convention. That's in a minute, when our program continues.
It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme and bring you a wide variety of stories, different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, One Thing. People who are obsessed with one thing.
We are in the middle of act two. Beau O'Reilly's story continues. His friend, Eddie, is a one-thinger who believes in a kind of utopian nudity and is coming up on trial for indecent exposure. Again, a parental advisory. There's nudity in this story.
There was a large crowd at Eddie's trial for indecent exposure. When the judge walked solemnly in and the clerk called out, all please rise, Eddie slipped out of his kilt and his t-shirt and he did rise. The judge found him in contempt and the cops dragged him handcuffed and kilted from the courtroom. Eddie meaning to go willingly, but the crowd was too good to waste. So Eddie shouted over his shoulder, pulling away from the cops to urge them to join him for international nudity day. And the cops moved Edward Hickock Collins from the county jail to the county hospital.
Now Eddie was a lamb at the hospital. He was polite and he was cooperative. He'd had shock treatments before and he didn't wish to have them again. He needed his mind. But the doctors gave him Nembutals and Thorazine, large amounts. And his tongue thickened and his bright eyes grew heavily lidded. And he stumbled of his quotations of good old page 201. And after some weeks, all Eddie was really sure of was that the world would be better off naked. And he was the man to strip it bare. He hung onto that.
Eddie got out on a deep, blue day and he wept because it was June and he was free with International Nudity Day just around the corner.
Over the month, Eddie's plan spread and took wing. International Nudity Day, that's only a beginning. It's a great beginning. It's a campaign launcher. The Republican Convention, that's set for Kansas City, mere months away.
The Republicans need to disarm now. The pants come down in simultaneous synchronization candidate. I'm nude run messiah. That's the perfect choice for Kansas City. I'm running. And I'm running nude.
And on the fourth of July, 200 of us gathered in the center of downtown. It was a place marked by the crossing of two lines of railroad tracks. Eddie arrived late, running up in his kilt and t-shirt and shaking hands and passing out campaign literature. Someone pulled a baby from the crowd for Eddie to kiss and the crowd cheered.
And Eddie spoke, he was poignant in his wonder at the beauty of the human body. And then in simultaneous synchronization, the pants came down. I was there and it was great. We all pulled off our clothes. Really only about 30 of us did it, but we were all standing in the front so it felt like a crowd, a naked crowd. And Eddie was ecstatic. He beamed with joy and leaping about, his own clothes flew in all directions with an extra zip that day. The police moved in with paddy wagons, arresting the naked crowd. But they saved Eddie til last.
And before they could reach him, a long freight train raced up the track, just as the cops were moving towards Eddie. He timed it perfectly. Waving and nodding he jumped over the tracks right in front of the engine, leaving the cop on the other side. And by the time the freight train had passed, Eddie was gone. He was already running and he was running nude.
Eddie ran all the way to Kansas City, mostly at night. And Playboy magazine picked up his story and sent a reporter and a photographer to follow him. The pictures were all of Eddie naked eating banana splits with a bunch of old farm boys at a Stuckey's or posed on the seat of a big, hog Harley at a rest stop surrounded by big, hairy biker guys. Naked except for a McDonald's cap giving out free french fries and nudity now buttons under the shadow of the golden arches. Playboy magazine bailed him out each time he was arrested.
But when he got to Kansas City, Eddie got cagey. This was the big time and he covered himself, his nude body, his kilt, and his t-shirt in a black three-piece suit he bought at the Salvation Army. He borrowed the Playboy writer's press ID and Eddie boldly moved behind Republican lines, making it to the front steps of the convention center. That was close enough.
And the next day, Eddie found a fruit crate and he wrote soap all over it in black magic marker. And he returned to the convention steps, standing up high on the soap box above the crowd. His whole being overwhelmed with the moment, the power, of his big idea. Blurting out verbiage and joy, his clothes flying and hysterical in all directions. And there were brief looks of childlike wonder across Republican faces in the crowd, but then they were replaced with this all to adult frown of disgust and censor.
The Kansas City cops, hard men who had been put on kook alert, knocked him from the soap box and they slammed him into the cement steps. And they dragged him bodily away. Eddie's anxious cry of nudity now drowned out by police radios and the charging march of police boots.
And Eddie stayed in jail for the rest of the convention. His name would never appear on the Republican list of nominees that year. And like so many presidential candidates-- Jesse Jackson, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, Ross Perot-- the early days of his campaign would prove to be the most memorable.
Edward Hickock Collins had peaked too soon. He returned home to The Palace, but he was never quite the same. Eddie's confidence dropped after Kansas City. He had other big moments. Like attending his Yale class reunion football game and dropping his pants and dashing along the sidelines when Yale scored against Harvard. But each one of these episodes led to jail and more hospitals. Or a stream of Nembutals and shock treatments left Eddie struggling to keep a hold on his mind.
It's strange when you think about it. That nudity would exact this kind of retribution from our society. Nudity. But Eddie stuck to his vision of the world, his one big idea. That a naked man is a free man and should be allowed to be free.
The last I heard of him, he had moved back home to Baldwin, Long Island. Eddie began liberating the neighborhood cats and dogs of their leashes, their choke chains, and their flea collars. That's the thing about a messianic vision, about one big idea. If you follow it to its logical conclusion, you don't know where you'll end up.
Eddie ended up reading to his cats and dogs, good old page 201 Cather in The Rye. The dogs and cats listened. They were animals. They had no problem with the F word. Nudity came naturally to them.
Chicago playwright Beau O'Reilly.
Act Three: More Than One Thing
Act Three, More Than One Thing.
Well, up until now on our program, we've been hearing about eager, full-hearted one-thingers. In this part of the show we turn to reluctant one-thingers. Our first witness, journalist Philip Weiss.
Philip Weiss writes for the New York Observer and other publications, and he has spent a lot of time with the Clinton conspiracy theorists. These are the people who see a sinister force, who see one thing behind these events. The death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster in 1993, the raiding of Foster's office after his death, Travelgate, Web Hubbell and whether he was paid off to keep him from cooperating with prosecutors. Some also include on the list drug and gun running through the Mena airport in Arkansas during Bill Clinton's years as governor, various murders and deaths too numerous to list here.
Well, as he did his reporting, Philip Weiss became persuaded by some of the one-thingers. He saw their logic, but he did not become a one-thinger himself. He spoke with This American Life senior producer Paul Tough. Philip Weiss says that before he first went out to meet the Clinton one-thingers, his year with him was fairly unambiguous.
I thought they were really out to lunch. I thought they were nuts and hung up and obsessed. And had nothing really intelligent to say.
So tell me a bit about when you first entered their world in the early weeks or months that you really started dealing with these people. What are they like? What are they like as a group?
Well, some of these people meet the Hollywood casting version of an unhappy obsessive. Some of them do. They're very unpleasant. They have weird idiosyncrasies. They're insistent. They're shrill. And you just think, this is one unhappy camper and I want to get out of his personal space as quickly as possible. Having said that, I've met a number of people who are involved in the Clinton scandals who are very happy people, who are engaging their talents fully.
For most of the conspiracy theorists, the main event of the Clinton presidency is the death of Vince Foster. The official version of the facts of Foster's death concludes that on July 20, 1993, Vince Foster drove himself to Fort Marcy Park in suburban Virginia, parked his car, walked to a secluded spot, and shot himself. But as Philip Weiss found out, there's another version of the facts, meticulously cataloged in another document, an unofficial one.
The most important event for me was reading the Sprunt report, which is a classic of sort of call it conspiratorial literature. But it's a study by Hugh Sprunt of Texas, Farmers Branch, Texas, outside Dallas, of the record in the Foster case. And it's brilliant. And when I read that, I realized that the questions that these people have raised about the events in Fort Marcy Park are not trivial and not nuts. They are serious, good, investigative questions.
The most convincing evidence that Philip Weiss found in the Sprunt report had to do with the possibility that Vince Foster died somewhere other than Fort Marcy Park and that his body was moved there by someone.
The report points out that there was no dirt on Foster's shoes, despite the fact that he was supposed to have walked through the park. There were no car keys found in his pocket despite the fact that he was supposed to have driven himself there. There was a missing briefcase, a misquoted witness, eyeglasses too far from the body, and contradictory accounts of what kind of gun was found in Foster's hand.
And at this point, I don't have any conclusions beyond the strong feeling that there were shenanigans in Fort Marcy Park that his body was brought there, I feel. He may have shot himself somewhere else. I think he probably did shoot himself. The evidence is, to my mind, pretty strong. But there seemed to have been shenanigans.
I went to Arkansas a few times. And many reporters have gone to Arkansas and come back shocked. I came back shocked. I felt like the top of my head was blown off. I just felt that things were different down there and that they explained who our president is politically in a way that was not apparent to people on the East Coast who saw the Rhodes scholar and the Yale law school graduate.
I thought for a little while that that would be-- as a journalist and writer, that would be my story. And I was in it for a little while and now I'm not in it. And I don't fully understand why I'm not in it and I was a few months ago. I guess that I believe-- again, while I buy their story about this administration more than I buy the mainstream story, there's a level of alienation in some of the stuff I've read just cruising the 'net that I just wasn't ready for. I just feared what I might become.
When one announces in respectable company that one no longer accepts the official version of events with respect to Vince Foster's death, people look at you funny.
I remember one conversation with an editor and finally this editor just said, look, Vince Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park, OK? And you know, what can you say?
When your wife is saying to you you're a nut or you've lost perspective. You know, maybe I'm making the wrong call, but that scares me. That threw me.
It's just a question of how much you want to invest yourself in this position, I think. And you pay a price. Your skin is flayed. And that's the traditional price of a heretic. I'm not trying to be self-dramatizing. It's the ancient bargain that society makes with these people. And I don't know if I want to make that investment.
One of my first meetings with a person in this community, a guy I've actually become a little friendly with and whom I have a great deal of respect for. And I'm going to call him Patrick because he uses an alias. This is a guy with a very Jimmy Stewart manner and a very casual manner, and he walked me through Fort Marcy Park with great patience, telling me his understanding of what happened on July 20, 1993 when Vince Foster's body was found. And Patrick's story is a very logical one. He had hundreds and thousands of facts at his fingertips that I was and am in no position really to challenge. He's done more research on this than I have.
And at the end of our trip through Fort Marcy Park I said to him, you know, you've given me a very logical story, Patrick. I'm willing to believe what you're saying. You know, it's very logical. But I might just walk on. What do you think of that?
And what did he say?
Well he just would say, and accept that-- in this Jimmy Stewart way. Gosh, Phil, and just accept that your government is telling you these lies about the most important death in high office since the Kennedy-- that kind of thing. I said, yeah. Yeah. Given my understanding of how the world works, I'm willing to accept that they have lied to me about this and that I got other things to do now. And I think he just kind of shook his head at that because that understanding is too central to his worldview to go move onto something else.
Philip Weiss is a novelist and columnist for the New York Observer. He spoke with This American Life producer Paul Tough.
Act Four: Quitting Quitting
Act Five, Quitting Quitting. Back in 1994, Evan Harris quit everything in her life. Job her, boyfriend, her city. And she started to think about quitting as an abstract idea in and of itself. She started to develop a theory about quitting. She wanted to name the parts of quitting. And she started to publish a zine about quiting with a friend of hers. She's also published a book about quitting called, The Quit.
The more Evan Harris looked around, the more it seemed like everything in the world was made up of quits and quitting. History seemed like a series of violent, elaborate quits by nations and peoples. People's personal lives seemed driven by a series of endings. Quitting became the lens, the one thing through which Evan Harris saw the world.
The point of quitting is to move in the world and to get bigger and bigger as a person. See, God damn. Sometimes I just start to sound like a nut basically about this. Just what am I talking about? You know, what am I talking about? You have to understand, this is so on my mind. You know, I mean I think about this all the time. I think about this all the time. I'm thinking about getting up and walking out of this room right now. You know, I really am.
That tape if from when I interviewed Evan Harris back in 1994. This is back when she made her big sets of quits. She was at the height of her quitting frenzy and her thinking about quitting. At the time she was trying to catalog still all the parts of quitting, the euphoria of the quit, the euphoria that you feel when you get a quit.
Well now, Evan Harris has quit quitting. Three years after that. Or it quit her. She no longer is in the throes of one thing. I talked to her about it last week.
It was really horrible. It was very, very horrible. And it actually happened in a very, very dramatic way. I was taking this cross country trip and I stopped traveling with the person with whom I was traveling, which was a very big deal. And I was sitting on a bus, a Greyhound bus, traveling from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I could no longer think about the trip in terms of quitting because a quit of sorts had occurred and the person with whom I was splitting was too important to funnel into the quitting stream.
Because the quitting streaming includes the idea of that when you quit you will feel good? That's almost like one of your definitions of quitting from back then.
There's that on one level, but then there's an even more serious level, which was that it was not possible to think of this as anything but what it was. That this was a relationship with a person who I love.
Right. And it wasn't just this theoretical quit.
Right. There was nothing theoretical about it. I was on a Greyhound bus.
And so then the fever broke?
Then the fever broke.
When quitting was all you thought about, back when quitting was all you thought about, what was that like now that you look back on it?
Oh, it was great. It was great. My mind was jumping all the time. And everything was fitting in. It was like a puzzle. It was like figuring out a puzzle. A big, jigsaw puzzle. And I would fit a piece in and then things would start to fit around it.
When I hear this, I just picture you just sitting down and just pouring these pages out, page after page, like in a dream. Like in a seizure.
Yes, it was automatic writing, Ira. It was automatic writing. It was like someone turned on a faucet.
See, but what in your life today can compete with that?
Nothing. Oh, what? Say again.
No, no, you were saying nothing.
I know, but I wanted to think about it more before I said that.
Well, you know, like do you miss having that faucet going full force all the time?
Yeah, I do. I really do. Because there was electricity that was very exciting and I think I was much more interesting then. I mean, I think I'm a little bit of a bore sometimes now.
And now you don't organize your thinking about the world that way. Now everything doesn't come down to one thing. Everything is kind of everything?
Yes, everything is everything.
Do you think that you lost something by now seeing everything in the world as everything and not just boiling everything down to one thing?
I am no longer unified. I was unified and now I'm not unified anymore.
Unified, you mean everything added up to one idea?
Right. I was able to navigate inside of me in terms of that one thing. So I was a unified person. And I actually had an identity.
Can I ask you what else what else have you lost by giving up that phase of your life when you really believed?
Looking at it that way makes it seem like I sacrificed something by moving away from it. But I didn't pick to move away from it. I mean, it abandoned me, Ira. It abandoned me. Really, it did.
You mean it stopped seeming so interesting?
No, it stopped being available to me. It's not that I decided to stop thinking about it, it's that it decided to stop visiting me. It stopped calling me. It was terrible. It was horrible.
There was a time actually, where I was very angry with the one thing. Because it had abandoned me and it was not available to me. It was like the quit and I had been friends, and then something happened and I didn't know what and I had done something terrible and the quit didn't come to my birthday party for no reason. And yeah, wouldn't call me and wouldn't write to me. And just disappeared, vanished, evaporated, abandoned me.
And so you used to see quitting as being the engine behind everything around us. Do you feel like that is the best explanatory framework with which to understand your life?
Yes and no. Yes and no. The sad thing is that I don't really have a scheme. I attempted to embrace another framework.
What was that?
Picking anything. See, I'm a big picker. I'm a picker. And also, I like picking. For example, I once had a job as a strawberry picker, which I enjoyed very much. But then, that kind of picking. But also, the kind of picking, picking and choosing.
Well, I mean as you say that, I mean it occurs to me that this whole scheme is just the mirror opposite of quitting, really. I mean, it's just somebody picking stuff instead of somebody quitting stuff, right?
Right, I guess so.
Our program was produced today by Nancy Updike and myself with Paul Tough, Alix Spiegel, Julie Snyder, and special guest producer Kitty Eisley. Contributing editors Sarah Vowell, Jack Hitt and Margy Rockland.
If you want to buy a tape of this program call us at WBEZ in Chicago 312-832-3380. 312-832-3380.
Our email address [email protected]
WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who describes This American Life staff this way--
Very unpleasant. They have weird idiosyncrasies. They're insistent.
I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.
They're shrill and you just think, this is one unhappy camper.