The first This American Life of 2012 brought two ostensibly new stories, held together by a tenuous yet rich theme and took us to places of hope, fear, courage and well, poo. Neighborhood Watch was the theme of this week’s audio adventure and although none of the stories focused on an actual neighborhood watch association, themes have a tendency to be to overrated. If held strictly to the themes of their choosing, Jeopardy categories, tourist restaurants and even Pee Wee’s Playhouse may have never had the chance to flourish to the best of their ability.
In this week’s intro a postal worker stumbles upon a stabbing. The incident is observed by numerous onlookers who had yet to call the cops in classic Kitty Genovese-style sociology and it’s left to up to the mailman to intervene. For saving the bleeding victim, the postal worker is honored and the incident, though acknowledged, turns out to be rather ordinary in the scheme of things, so much so that the Letter Carriers Association Newsletter has a monthly feature on like-incidents. The point being that mailmen, on top of having been deemed the sworn nemeses of the entire canine population for no apparent reason, constantly under the threat becoming obsolete, and the butt of numerous “murderous rampage jokes” are also expected to be something like the unarmed policeman of their assigned routes. Think of that next time you write an email that could have easily been re-imagined as an impassioned hand-written missive.
In Act I we revisit aging woman seeking volunteers to “watch over” her fully-grown autistic son, a contingency plan in case of her death. Unfortunately, this woman has quite a few in the way of this endeavor, namely the bleakness of it all. Imagine being approached with, “Hello, I’m quite worried about my own death and the eventual fate of my mentally handicapped son. Would you making me one of those unbreakable deathbed promises to look after him always?” Eventually a kind soul from Craiglist steps up, but doesn’t quite click with the young man, and things seem bleak until everything just sort of works out. The young man finds his own friends to watch after him and begins doing more and more on his own, like we all do. A year after the story was broadcast, a check in with the family shows that the young man now, “does everything himself,” one of the many happy endings in this Magical Kingdom that is This American Life.
Act II is among the more emotional stories TAL has put out there in quite awhile: a blind man’s first-person account of trying to stroll around New York city with his infant daughter in toe, fearing the wrath of poorly chained pitbulls and careless drivers, only to find himself and his baby nearly mowed over by an SUV come story’s end. Not unlike watching Dancer in the Dark, there’s not much to analyze here, its all quite sad, save for the “perseverance of the human spirit bit,” a theme that continues in the next act.
It should become law that New York City dog owners must have to submit their dogs to cheek swabs upon registration so that they can be fined for not picking up after them. That’s what the owner of the dog-friendly apartment complex which was the focus of Act III did, catching the culprits via DNA found in the little presents they left behind. Certainly this applies in Bushwick where Alligator Bloodline pitbulls are being bred by the pack, to be feared by the seeing impaired and mail carriers alike. The feces of these dogs have come to line the sidewalks to the point of unmanageability. Unless we are prepared for Brooklyn to become like Venice, with excrement substituted for water, something has to be done. Is DNA testing dog poo to Big Brother-y for you? Just remember that IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, IRA IS LOVE, SIDEWALK IS POO. Until next time, look out for your fellow man, and watch out him also.