A tale of two t-shirts

A short homage to This American Life, the best of all broadcast journalism.

Ahem…(prep radio voice)

M was one of my two friends in high school. She was the kind of friend who would sit for two hours on the floor of the children’s section of Barnes and Noble on a Saturday night, watch me cry into a tepid latte and not make judgments about my sanity. High school and I didn’t get along well.

We were four hundred miles apart for college, and over a thousand after we graduated. For a few years life was pretty exhausting for both us; M was learning the ropes as a junior publicist and I was at the end of mine teaching eight classes of freshman English a day. Then suddenly in 2007 I found myself living in New York on M’s couch and starting a new job in the big city.

We spent a whirlwind summer reconnecting: I attended glamorous parties as her “plus one,” saw sneak movie previews, and found an apartment a few subway stops away. Life seemed to have reached an idyllic point—we were as close as we’d been ten years before, but I didn’t hate the world and This American Life started regular podcasts. What could be better?

The honeymoon ended that spring. Months passed without us talking. When we did talk, it broke my heart that it was hard to find common ground to start a conversation. I don’t own a TV and spend most of my days focused on 10-year-olds. M has to clip tabloids every morning and know who on the Grey’s Anatomy cast is sleeping together. Luckily our nerdy streak runs strong: a safe starter was always this week’s TAL.

Things improved when her company’s office moved to midtown, 4 blocks away from mine. Last Friday we were supposed to grab a bite to exchange Christmas presents. We’d been trying to meet since New Year’s, but as usual scheduling was difficult.

I called her at noon feeling peckish, and we settled on Grand Central as a destination. I wrapped up the morning’s work and waited for the signal that M’s conference call was over. An hour later I get a text: “call still on—longer than expected. sorry!” By now accustomed to the last-minute celebrity crisis, I reply “No worries,” and killed some office time on the internet looking up a song I’d heard on the “Scenes from a Mall” episode. http://www.thisamericanlife.org. Click.

Ooh! TAL t-shirts. Definitely necessary. Click, click. Type. Credit Card? Confirmation. Sweet.

My phone rings, and she’s ready.

“Hey, guess what I just bought? This American Life has t-shirts!”
Dead silence on the other end.
I try again: “Have you seen them? They’re cool…”
“I’m starved—ready to eat?”
“Uh, yeah. See you in 10.”

I walked up to the counter at Oyster Bar and grabbed a stool between my oldest friend and a grey-haired man in an overcoat and tweed cap. I hugged her hello and she slid a small cube across the bar. “You’re gonna laugh your ass off,” she sighed despondently. Puzzled, I removed the festive paper and popped the box top. I blinked for a moment at the grey shirt nestled the box until the guy next to me peered over and asked “What’d you get?”

Indeed, I couldn’t stop laughing to answer him. A full minute later I explained to him, our waiter, and the six other people staring that the t-shirt was from our favorite radio show, and I’d bought it ten minutes ago online. The old guy made a joke about amazing developments in technology and I smiled politely. “Must be some great show then?” he asked. “Yeah.”

I’m going to keep both shirts. One means that M loves me and still knows what I like, and the other reminds me of the struggle to stay friends in a city of casual acquaintances and demanding bosses. She knows me in a way that few people will ever know me, but friendship is hard work—sometimes harder to maintain than a romantic relationship. It’s good to know that I’ve got you guys helping us stay connected. That is some great show.

Thanks TAL, for doing what you do.


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