This American Life

Built around the innovative vision of Ira Glass, this program documents and describes contemporary America. Using radio monologues, mini-documentaries, “found tape,” and unusual music, it is radio storytelling at its best.


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Saturday, May 31, 2014 Permalink

This American Life: Kindness Of Strangers


Prologue: Brett Leveridge was standing on the subway. A guy comes walking down the platform, stopping in front of each passenger and delivering a quiet verdict: "You're in. You're out. You, you can stay. You — gotta go." Most people ignored the guy. But Brett found himself, against his will, hoping the guy would give him the thumbs up, and when the guy does, it's thrilling in a very small way: a tiny kindness from a stranger. Brett's story also appears on his website Brettnews, and you can see a graphic recreation of it in our comic book How to Make Radio.

Act 1- Tarzan Finds A Mate: New York City locksmith Joel Kostman tells the story of an act of kindess he committed, hoping for a small reward. From his book: Keys to the City: Tales of a New York City Locksmith.

Act 2 - Runaway: In 1940, Jack Geiger, at the age of fourteen, left his middle-class Jewish home and knocked on the door of a black actor named Canada Lee. He asked Lee if he could move in with him. Lee said yes, and in Lee's Harlem apartment, Geiger spent a year with many of the great figures of the Harlem renaissance: Langston Hughes, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Wright, Adam Clayton Powell. This is what Geiger ended up doing because of that experience.

A side note: It turns out there's a movie in which Canada Lee takes a white teenager under his wing and counsels him, as he did for Jack Geiger in real life. The film is called Lost Boundaries

Act 3 - Unkindness Of Strangers: How two next-door neighbors start treating each other badly, and how, once they start, they become obsessed with each other.

Act 4 - Chairman Of The Block: An odd occurrence at 124 East Fourth Street in Manhattan's East Village. For the last five weeks, a singer named Nick Drakides has stood on the stoop singing Sinatra songs late at night to the delight of his neighbors. The cops don't bust them; the crowds behave. It's his gift to New York. Blake Eskin tells the story.