JULY 2008

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Ira Glass Wants to Hit Me
By Ben Tanzer, May 04, 2008

I do not consider myself a stalker. Nor do I think of myself as much of a sycophant. I am a bit of a starfucker though and at one time anyway a lover of anything and everyone associated with Ira Glass and the radio show This American Life.

It once seemed to me that my writing was perfect for the show, but you don’t have take my word for it, many people told me so. No, you wouldn’t know them, but you can trust me. It also seemed to me that under the right circumstances Ira Glass and I could be great friends, and I knew this in the same way that so many of my single female friends know that they are perfect for John Cusack. How do they know this? They just do.

But how does one get a piece on the show? Or even meet Ira Glass who I understand rests in a cryogenically sealed chamber between shows? I imagine one could lurk outside the studio or Ira’s home, though again please note that I am not a stalker, and that the charges to that effect filed by NPR’s legal office here in Chicago did not stick. One could also submit their work, which I have done, but how well does one’s actual work reflect their wit, timing, and ability to move the public to tears, joy, and maybe even arousal in the space of one sentence? Not well my friend, not my work anyway.

Enter Michelle. I should probably mention that no names in this piece have been changed to protect the innocent and if this bothers anyone referenced here please feel free to call me and we can talk about it, especially if you are Ira Glass, and by the way, if you are, I’m waiting by my phone.

So, Michelle is on a plane. Michelle is sexy. Smart. And funny. Michelle meets one of This American Life’s producers, let’s call him Alex, which is his actual name, but I digress, and he invites her to watch a taping of the show any time she wants. Michelle in turn invites a number of us from the office to join her, and it’s game on.

What to wear though? Black T-shirt and a blazer, something corduroy? What? Are we thinking more Rivers Cuomo or David Sedaris? Tricky. Tricky. I settle on a rumpled blue v-neck sweater, a green hounds tooth shirt, and baggy jeans—confident, but casual, eye-catching, but not distracting. I feel good. Comfortable. Ira has no idea what’s coming.

Michelle and I go to the studio on a Friday night and Alex is very friendly, showing us around and seating us for the taping. Ira, of course, is majestic, as he does his interlocutor thing. Jon Langford from the Mekons shows up. And people clap. It’s all very cool, but Ira has to re-tape some sections of the show and so beyond a quick hello we fail to get any quality time with him.

Is this frustrating? Sure it is, to be so close to your dream and see it slowly slipping between your fingers. It’s crushing really. But then we are invited to join the staff for drinks and are told that Ira may come by. My plan at this point is simple—when Ira arrives, I will ply him with drinks and so charm him with my witty banter and storytelling that he will pray to all that is holy that I am a writer who can work for the show, and then when he finds out I am one it will be the beginning of a long, loving, and fruitful relationship.

As we await Ira’s presence I ask Alex some subtle, yet pointed questions about those who write for the show.

“So, how does someone get a piece on the show?” I say. “What’s the secret?”

“Writing for the show is a lot different then just writing a story,” Alex says, “there’s a whole different rhythm.”

“Right,” I say, not clear what that means, “so, when does Ira get here?”

Alex doesn’t respond to that, but he doesn’t need to, Ira has entered the bar. I linger on the periphery of the conversation Alex is having with Michelle, and try to worm my way into Ira’s group.

“I’m just worried that I peaked way too soon,” Ira is saying, “that this is the top for me you know?”

The group stands there silently hanging on Ira’s every word. I hope he will turn to me though, maybe the usual hangers-on have heard this lament before, but I haven’t and I want to be there for him. I try to seize the moment, carpe diem and all that.

“Hey man,” I say, “let’s say you have peaked, it’s already quite a legacy, more than most people can hope to accomplish.”

Ira isn’t feeling that. He is staring at me though through his clunky black glasses. He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell he needs me to be his anchor, steering him through this storm of self-doubt and questionable mixed metaphors.

“Fine,” I say, “let’s forget what I just said, but let’s not forget there are a number of examples of people with a series of peaks, Jack Johnson, moving from hunky professional surfer to hunky singer, Jim Brown from football legend to legendary actor, and what of Jodie Foster, she went from the kid in the original Coppertone ad to child star to Oscar-winning actress and some time director.”

Ira is still silent. He runs his fingers through his magnificent wavy black hair. I wish I were those fingers.

“Jodie Foster was not the kid in the Coppertone ad,” he practically shouts at me.

This is tough. I fight my need to be a know-it-all one day at time, it’s a lifelong battle, but I embrace it, I want to be a better person and the fact that I am pretty much always right is beside the point. Still, as good a job as I do, it is hard to keep my composure in the face of those who choose not to fight the good fight themselves. I want to push back, but part of my recovery is striving not to prove others wrong, and in this case, it’s Ira, who I don’t want to alienate, he is the gatekeeper of all I hold sacred.

“You know, you might be right,” I say, “I think I’ve heard otherwise, but who knows.”

That’s fairly polite I think. He will appreciate that. He’s Ira Glass.

“You’re wrong,” he says, “and I will bet you all the money in my wallet that you’re wrong.”

Ira starts rifling through his wallet and comes up with seven dollars.

“I will bet you seven dollars,” he says.

“I don’t want to bet you dude,” I say, “it’s cool, really.”

He looks away and moves to another conversation. This is not going well. Still, I have met Ira Glass and he certainly must appreciate how deftly I moved us out of this potentially dangerous situation, diffusing all tension between us, while remaining cordial and light on my feet. Don’t guests of the show need to possess such talents?

Ira turns back to me. He looks very intense.

“You’re wrong about Jodie Foster,” he says.

I have done all I can do, but I can’t do any more, my chance at some day writing for This American Life, be damned.

“Maybe I am wrong,” I say, “but I don’t think so, anyone who claims to know anything about the kind of trivial nonsense we’re discussing, kind of knows this to be true.”

Ira pauses. I think he wants to hit me. I try to imagine what it’s like getting hit by Ira Glass. Pretty cool. His girlfriend suddenly materializes from the crowd. She’s quite foxy.

“What’s going on,” she says fixing her dark hypnotic eyes on him, “are you claiming yet again that you know something that isn’t actually true?”

“No,” Ira says sheepishly, “but this guy says Jodie Foster was the kid in the Coppertone ad and there’s no way.”

“Wrong, she was,” the girlfriend says exhaustively, she’s done this before, “everyone knows that.”

“Fine,” he says and then he hands me the seven dollars.

“Ira I don’t want your money,” I say even as I visualize it framed on my wall.

He turns away and we don’t speak again. I’ve lost my chance. I shift back to Alex.

“So, seriously man, how do you get something on the show?” I say.

“Just submit dude,” Alex says.

And so I do, again and again, all the while dreaming about the next time Ira and I are out together, drinking beers, talking about my growing role on the show, and laughing about Jodie Foster.

Ben Tanzer is the author of the novels Lucky Man (Manx Media, 2007) and Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine (Orange Alert Press, 2008). He blogs at This Blog Will Change Your Life, which is the centerpiece of his vast, albeit faux, media empire, and edits This Zine Will Change Your Life, which you should totally submit to.

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