Earlier this week, I listened to Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory, an episode of This American Life that aired a few weeks ago. I caught myself staring off in a distance deep in thought as Daisey gave a grim portrayal of Apple factories.
When I leave the factory, as I can feel myself being rewritten from the inside out, the way I see everything is starting to change. I keep thinking, how often do we wish more things were handmade? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don’t we? “I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch.” But that’s not true. There are more handmade things now than there have ever been in the history of the world.
Everything is handmade. I know. I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair. One after another after another. Everything is handmade.
I was furious. I was sad. I was remembering why I’ve love This American Life.
For those of you who’ve never listened before, This American Life is a weekly radio show produced by Public Radio International, and in the United States you can usually find it on your local National Public Radio station during the weekend. If you’re not in the U.S., you can listen to podcasts of each episode.
I got hooked back in 2007, after I read a blog post by a friend who said she was painting her apartment while listening to hours of This American Life. Shortly after, another friend encouraged me to listen to the show. The first episode I ever heard was The Super, which chronicled several New York City building supers. I’ve listened to this episode close to thirty times and it remains one of my favorites.
There were nasty rumblings, hot chemical reactions were happening somewhere in the walls. I was very scared. And suddenly, the doors below the sink where I kept my cleaning stuff, they blew open with an explosion. And this unspeakable, oily sludge poured out across the kitchen floor. Bob was so much more than just a bad handyman.
I love This American Life because it truly chronicles stories that are impossible to hear anywhere else. There’s shows on everything from breaking up with boyfriends to the housing crisis. The stories are real. They make me laugh, cry and feel incredibly lucky, and, yes, sometimes a bit jealous.
I don’t always see eye to eye with the perspective of those who tell the stories, and I often find myself ranting that the show has run its course. That it’s getting old and tired. That I’m over it. And then episodes like Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory air and I remember why I turned on this show for the first time five years ago.
If you’ve never listened, here’s my short list of my personal favorite episodes. This American Life also keeps a list of favorites.
The Cruelty of Children: “After an hour, he began calling again, but for some reason, we didn’t want to answer. We got up and began running, filling up with panic as we moved, until we were racing across the ruts of the old field.”
Toxie: “Now we have an answer to that big question, what are toxic assets worth?”
24 Hours at the Golden Apple: “There were dressed-up people who’d come in from the church across the street and young couples who had stumbled in with the paper and were working on the crossword together.”
#1 Party School: “I don’t know how many street signs you need to hear dragged through your neighborhood before you can recognize the sound it makes from all the way around the corner, but apparently my colleague Sarah has seen whatever that number is.”
Return to the Scene of the Crime: “If I were the kind of person who could believe, I would believe. But I’m not that kind of person.”
The Audacity of Government: I only listened to this episode once and it made me so angry that I couldn’t sleep. (That’s good storytelling.)
No Body’s Family is Going to Change: “Emma realizes that her parents will never change. Her dad will always be harsh, will never treat her or her brother like he cares about them, and that she can’t change him and shouldn’t try. And the best she can do is change herself.”
The Wrong Side of History: “You start an insurance man talking, you’re out of luck.”
Christmas and Commerce: “Congratulations, Mr. Sedaris. You’re an elf.”
Have you ever listened to This American Life? What’s your favorite radio program?
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