#28 Shipped to Timbuktu
June 22, 2017
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PJ: So I’ve got this friend, let’s call him Dale. Dale has a gmail address that’s pretty generic, like firstname.lastname@example.org. And people who have email addresses like these get a lot of emails that aren’t meant for them, like email wrong numbers. And this happens to Dale all the time. Last time I saw him, he’d just gotten an email written completely in Spanish from a kid somewhere asking if he can turn in an assignment late. Another time, he got a letter congratulating him on the low insurance rate for his two-door Chevy Cobalt. He doesn’t have one. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Dale’s a nice guy but he likes to mess with people. He likes to play pranks. So Dale answers the emails. Here’s one he got a while back.
DALE: I think it started off, “Hey Ladies, to all Calgary area district commissioners and district cookie advisors:” and then it it started talking about how they had a bunch of stale cookies that they didn’t know what to do with, and we gotta move them off the shelves, if they’re past the expiration date then we can’t use them in the next cookie campaign.
PJ: The emails continue and Dale learns that the world of professional cookie advising is surprisingly bureaucratic. At the top, there’s a national cookie advisor, and then beneath her there are provincial cookie advisors who report up, and then beneath them, there are district cookie advisors. He was picturing a corporate office building with a lot of people in fancy business clothes talking about cookies all day. And Dale decides that what he should do is send an intentionally stupid email detailing all these asinine solutions to their stale cookie problem. He says the advisors should sharpie over the expiration dates on the packages. Or he says they could just eat all the stale cookies themselves.
DALE: In my mind I was thinking no one’s gonna believe this, what a stupid email to write to somebody. Who would hire a person with suggestions like these?
PJ: Instead, Cynthia, who’s the Calgary area cookie advisor, responds to Dale’s email with complete polite cheerfulness. She sends him a cookie freshness calculator to help him sort his stale cookies from fresh cookies. So Dale responds with even stupider responses. He was trying to make it more obvious that he was just kidding.
DALE: I said, “What’s the status on the cookies? Yarr, me so hungry” with a picture of cookie monster. and I think she responded with something along the lines of, “Those orders were supposed to go in a month ago, or did I misunderstand your question?”
PJ: Rather than clarifying, Dale asks her, why are we even in the cookie advising business? He said his clients, they’re all about chocolate bars now.
DALE: And Cynthia responded, “Chocolate bars,” question mark, question mark, question mark, question mark. All of my other suggestions were met with like, “Oh maybe I misunderstood or something,” but this one was very emphatic, it was like, “Chocolate bars?!!!”
PJ: It actually seemed like Dale had touched a nerve, because after that cookie advisor world went quiet.
DALE: There was radio silence after that. I felt bad. I felt like I was in a little bit too deep maybe.
PJ: The original email he’d gotten had been meant for a woman named Debbie. What if he’d gotten Debbie in trouble, or even just made her look bad.
DALE: I’m a little afraid. I’d like to think that, oh they just got it sorted out and now it’s funny and Debbie is in on the joke and everybody can laugh at me and I hope that they’re not laughing at poor Debbie. They’re just people trying to do their cookie job.
PJ: Hi Cynthia?
CYNTHIA: Yes, it’s me.
PJ: Hi it’s PJ. How are you doing?
PJ: I wanted to find out if Dale’s prank had hurt anybody, so I tracked down Cynthia. She lives in Calgary. Cynthia has multiple sclerosis, so it can be hard for her to talk. Her friend Sheila volunteered to help out and I read them the emails.
PJ: “And of course the obvious solution is to eat them during our next member meeting. Please discuss with the rest of area and I will forward your decision on to national. Thanks so much.” Do you remember getting that?
CYNTHIA: You know, I don’t but-
SHEILA: We get a lot of questions all across Alberta at cookie time. Often they have suggestions that don’t always fly. So we find a way to respond to them as best we can.
PJ: Cynthia and Sheila explained that they were part of Girl Guides. In the US, we have Girl Scouts. Most everywhere else they call them Girl Guides. Like the Girl Scouts, they wear uniforms, collect merit badges, and sell cookies to their parents’ friends. Coordinating the thousands of underage cookie salespeople can be a logistical headache, and so some adults volunteer as cookie advisors. Those advisors frequently field confused emails. And they’re used to handling them diplomatically. That’s why Cynthia was so patient with Dale. It was her job. But she was very patient with me. Even as, for reasons unclear even to me, I explained to them the whole pattern of events that had led Dale to email her.
PJ: Yeah I guess the email was meant for a Debbie but it went to a Dale.
CYNTHIA AND SHEILA: Ohhhhhhh.
CYNTHIA: Now it’s starting to make a little bit of sense.
PJ: The thing about talking to Cynthia and Sheila on the phone, is that they had this tone of voice. It had been in the emails too. And I was starting to think of it as girl guide voice. Girl guide voice is cheerful and patient, unrelentingly so.
PJ: Is there like a cookie general?
CYNTHIA: Cookie general?
SHEILA: No. We have advisors and commissioners but that’s about the extent of the military terms.
PJ: And when I started reading about Girl Guides, I found out that that helpful, sunny tone is hardwired into their original mission statement, which reads, “A girl smiles and sings under all difficulties.” So, all difficulties. When I first read this I’m thinking that this is hyperbole.
JANIE HAMPTON: Hello.
PJ: Hi, can you hear me okay?
JANIE: I can hear you. Can you hear me?
PJ: It’s not. I talked to this woman named Janie Hampton. And she told me about this thing that happened that I literally found unbelievable. So a few years ago, Janie decided to write a book making fun of the Girl Guides.
JANIE: I have to admit that when I started writing the book I thought, you know I’m gonna make this a bit of a satire, and laugh at them.
PJ: Honestly it was sort of a Dale thing to do. And Janie says most people think about girl guides the way she did. They’re not considered cool.
JANIE: What we call naff nowadays.
PJ: What’s naff?
JANIE: Sort of unfashionable. Nerdy. Do you use the word nerd?
PJ: Oh we absolutely use the word nerd. I’ve had it applied to me.
PJ: So, Janie sets out to tease some nerds. But then she starts researching and one day she’s deep in the girl guides archive in their London headquarters. And she finds this old notebook. It’s small. Seven by ten. And the book is a handwritten log of everything one Girl Guide troop did, years ago.
JANIE: And it said, we did skipping and we did knots and we did all sorts of jolly things. And then I came across this song that they’d written. And it said, “we sang our song yesterday, and it went: ‘we might have been shipped to Timbuktu, we might have been shipped to Kalamazoo. It’s not repatriation. Nor is it yet starvation. It’s simply concentration in Chefoo.’” And I thought, what on earth does that mean? Concentration in Chefoo?
PJ: Janie doesn’t know where Chefoo is, but she’s sure it’s not in England. So she looks it up. Chefoo is – was – a place in China. A coastal city. It’s a good seven thousand miles from London. According to the guides’ logbook, the song had been written and performed by a group of girl guides for a concert on Christmas Day, 1942. This Christmas concert, Janie discovers, was held in Chefoo. But not at a school. The girl guides sang their song in a concentration camp. Janie was baffled. Why would a concentration camp in China have a singing girl guide Troop? So Janie starts digging, and she finds another, more complete log of what happened to these girl guides. It’s a website, run by an an old Belgian man named Leopold.
LEOPOLD PANDER: Leopold Pander. I’m seventy four years old.
PJ: So, the good news: Leopold was an actual witness, he was born in China, ended up in the same camp as these Girl Guides. The bad news:
LEOPOLD: I try to remember something but nothing comes back to me.
PJ: He has absolutely no memories, except for this nightmare he used to have when he was a kid. At the time it hadn’t made sense to him, but later he thought it must’ve taken place at the camp.
PJ: What was the dream that you would have?
LEOPOLD: Well, I’m there in the hot sun, the blue sky, it’s a brown slope, it’s a brown earth and there are big stones next to myself. Dirty earth and people running all over the place.
PJ: Are there sounds?
LEOPOLD: No sound. Absolutely no sound. Somebody picks me up and then I wake up. That’s all I remember. But the problem is, the curiosity is that that dream came back very often!
PJ: Leopold grows up, and as an adult, he wants to know about this place that he used to dream about. And so he builds a website. He invites people to write in with memories of the camp. And the story he learns is pretty crazy.
NEWS: Japan’s latest invasion of China which has already lasted two years is war on a huge scale.
So I did not know this, but during World War Two, when Japan occupied China, they built concentration camps that were filled with American and British and other European civilians…
NEWS: Japanese put their prisoners of war to work.
PJ: …civilians who’d been living in China. One of those camps was called Weihsien. That was Leopold’s camp. And among the inmates at Weihsien were a group of children. They were American and British. They were mostly the kids of missionaries. And they’d been studying at a boarding school called Chefoo. Japanese troops invaded Chefoo and captured the kids and eventually brought them to Weishen.
JANIE: With their teachers but no parents. So about a hundred and fifty children, who for four years were in this camp. And the teachers had very sensibly taken with them books, paper, musical instruments…
PJ: And, of course one more thing:
JANIE: Brownie uniforms, guide uniforms, all the things they thought, we’re going to need this sort of thing to keep the kids occupied.
PJ: In the Japanese camps, there was very little food. Prisoners died of starvation. Take Weixen, imprisoned monks would smuggle in eggs and then everyone would share them, and then they’d also have the kids eat the ground up eggshells just to get some extra calcium. And the camp had almost no infrastructure. The prisoners had to build their little world from nothing, their own kitchens, their own lavatories, their own hospitals and their own Girl Guide Unit. The logbook Janie had found was the record kept by one of the girl guide’s leaders. The leaders were called Brown Owls.This one was a woman in her twenties. And the tone of her writing was the exact same cheerful, impervious to bad news tone that Dale’s Cookie Advisor email thread had had. This is the entry from the day they were marched into the camp: “Hullo. What’s this? Behind bars? Yes. It’s Weihsien camp! Well I guess there’s a good deal of fun to be got out of this. Just the place to earn some badges.” According to the logbook, The Brown Owl ran the troop as if it were any other girl guide unit. Concentration camp or not.
JANIE: They were all told: It doesn’t matter how disgusting the food is, we still want good table manners. It doesn’t matter how hungry you are, you’re not going to steal. You’re still going to do a good deed every day and help other people.
PJ: Obviously, the grim sadness of life in a concentration camp should have overpowered this miniature world that the Brown Owls were trying to build for their young girls. But according to Janie, that’s not what happened. Instead, it was the girl guides who started to exert an influence on the adults around them. They led by example.
JANIE: It made a difference to all the adults in this camp and kept them going. The whole atmosphere was better because they had this very strong promise that they wouldn’t stop smiling. They wouldn’t give up. They would carry on singing songs. They would insist on everybody washing.
PJ: This is the point where I wondered, was this true? I didn’t think that anyone was necessarily lying to me, I just thought probably the Brown Owl had left the bad stuff out of her log book. I figured she’d put the best possible spin on an awful situation. That’s what girl guides do, right?
PHIA BENNIN: Oh and the door’s open? Oh, hello!
MARY PREVITE: C’mon in!
PJ: Fortunately, there’s a woman who’s still alive and remembers Weihsien.
PJ: It’s the first time I think I’ve been right on time.
MARY: You timed that out. I mean from New York!
PJ: Her name is Mary Previte. She lives in New Jersey. I visited her with my producer Phia Bennin.
MARY: Oh by the way, can I pour you some tea? I am so bad about this.
PJ: Mary Previte is a small, beautiful eighty-two year old woman. She’s one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. I don’t know if anybody I’ve interviewed has ever fully broken into song, unprompted. Mary did. Seven times. She’s like a real-life Mary Poppins or Maria Von Trapp. Also, unlike Leopold, Mary has a phenomenal memory. She told me about the day that Japanese troops arrived at her boarding school.
MARY: The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Japanese showed up on the doorstep of our school. They put seals with Japanese writing on everything, the tables, the chairs, the pianos, the desks, everything belonged to the great Emperor of Japan. And then they put armbands on us, everyone had to wear an armband, A for American, B for British, whatever our nationality was.
PJ: The girls were eventually transferred into Weihsien. And Mary became a concentration camp girl guide. This was over seventy years ago, but when Mary talks about the camp, it sounds like she’s still there, like she’s twelve years old again. She said the story about the Brown owls insisting on good table manners, absolutely true.
MARY: So you’re eating some kind of glop, out of maybe boiled animal grain cause goulain is a broomcorn that the Chinese feed to their animals, was often what they fed us, and you’re eating it out of a soap dish or a tin can, and here comes Miss Stark up behind us, one of our teachers: “Mary Taylor, do not slouch over your food while you are eating! Do not talk while you have food in your mouth! And there are not two sets of manners, one set of manners for the princesses in Buckingham Palace and another set of manners for the Weishen concentration camp!”
PJ: Mary was separated from her parents, unsure of when she’d be released, surrounded by attack dogs and men with guns. She says that she spent a lot of her time just thinking about earning merit badges. In the winter, it would get cold, freezing. But no heat was provided to the prisoners by the guards. Instead, Mary and her friends had to go collect left over coal shavings from the guard’s quarters.
MARY: I remember now the ritual of going to Japanese quarters to get the coal dust and carry it back.
PJ: Like making a new pencil from pencil shavings. Except the coal was heavy, and it had to be passed bucket by bucket in a line of girl guides. Then the shavings had to be mixed with dust and water and dried into balls of coal. It was long hard work. And then at the end of it, you still had to go use the recycled coal in a pot bellied stove, and keep the stove lit so that everybody would be warm. It sounded horrible. Like a childhood from a Charles Dickens novel. Except Mary remembers it as being surprisingly fun. A game she could win.
MARY: I and my partner Marjorie Harrison, we won the competition in our dormitory of which stove lighting team made the pot bellied stove in the winter turn red hot more times than any other girl in the camp. Well, you know here I am eighty-two years old and what do I choose to tell you? I won the pot belly turn red more times with me and Marjorie Harrison than any other girl in our dorm!
PJ: When you describe it it sounds like you’re describing summer camp instead of describing like a concentration camp. Did it feel like summer camp?
MARY: Well I never was in a summer camp so I can’t give you a, no. No, no. Absolutely, not. When you had guard dogs, bayonet drills, electrified wires, barrier walls, pill boxes with guards, armed guards in them, you know, you weren’t in a summer camp. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying this was fun city. I’m telling you we lived a miracle where grownups preserved our childhood.
PJ: There’s reference in the logbook to the trouble the adults were having keeping it together, but you’d have to know to look for it. A scout leader writes one entry that reads “Dear me! What a tragedy! Brown owl had an attack of neuralgia — let’s hope she better for our meeting.” Neuralgia is a nerve disease, but what that actually meant was that the Brown Owl was having a nervous breakdown. Years later, Mary went and tracked down one of the grown ups.
MARY: I said Miss Carr, what were you feeling when we were in a concentration camp? Well, all the grown ups in the camp knew about The Rape of Nanking.The atrocities the guards, the soldiers had done when they came to the southern city of Nanking.
PJ: Japanese soldiers went door to door systematically raping and killing tens of thousands of Chinese civilians.
Mary: So they knew what could happen. The teachers knew what could happen. So I said to Miss Carr, What were you feeling? She said, Well I would pray to God, that when they lined us up along the death trenches, and they were outside the camp, when they lined us up to shoot us so our bodies would fall into the death pits, that I would be one of the first, so I didn’t have to see it.
PJ: So there were two sets of prayers. At night, the grown-ups, many of them not much older than the kids themselves, prayed grimly for a fast death. And then they woke up in the morning and they sung psalms with the kids, set to bouncy camp melodies.
MARY: It was like you weren’t going to be afraid if you could sing about it. We would sing, “day is done, gone the sun, from the sea, from the hills, from the sky, all is well, safely rest, god is nigh.” How can you be afraid when you’re singing about “all is well, safely rest, god is nigh?” How could you be afraid of that? So we were constantly putting things into music. Often, there was a little bit of a twist of fun to it. One of the songs that we sang was, “We might have been shipped to Timbuktu, we might have been shipped to Kalamazoo, It’s not repatriation, nor is it yet stagnation, it’s only concentration in Chefoo.
PJ: There probably aren’t many places on earth where you have less reason to be cheerful than a concentration camp. But it turns out in a place like that, being able to be cheerful, to have a positive outlook, it’s not dopey or silly. It’s how you survive. How you tell the story matters.
MARY: I can still, for example, one of the things that we sang when the Japanese were marching us into concentration camp was the first verse of Psalm forty-six: “God is our refuge, our refuge and our strength” and on it goes, “in trouble we will not be afraid,” all of these words, just sung into our hearts, that sticks. It’s like you’ve got a groove, sticking in the gramophone record. I am safe, I am safe, I am safe. That was just profound.
PJ: The first Chefoo brownies warded off despair for four years. Until finally, on August 17, 1945, they were rescued.
MARY: It was a windy day.
PJ: Mary remembers the American plane flying low over the camp.
MARY: Then the parachutes falling from the sky. All I knew was I was running to find whoever it was that was dropping out of the sky beyond the barrier walls.
LEOPOLD: I’m there in the hot sun, the blue sky, it’s a brown slope. It’s a brown earth.
MARY: And the people went berserk.
LEOPOLD: People running all over the place.
MARY: People were crying, screaming, dancing.
LEOPOLD: Somebody picks me up and then I wake up.
PJ: Leopold says the nightmare that used to haunt him is just his memory of that day, of being a four year old, lost and wandering around a riot of freed concentration camp survivors. Most of the people who were there on liberation day are now dead. One of the dormitories at Weihshen’s a memorial, but mostly, the place exists as a footnote in some books, on a website designed by a Belgian man, and in the memories of the remaining survivors. It’s a half disappeared world with a strong pull on the people who do still remember it. A couple weeks ago, at the grocery store, I watched a gang of brownie scouts rush down the pet food aisle. They had their uniforms on, covered in merit badges for public speaking and backyard astronomy. They were happy and safe in their own world, well-fed and rich and a million miles from Weishen. I wondered if they knew what they might be capable of.
Coming up after the break: The Riddler.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Welcome once again to “Yes Yes No,” the segment on the show where our boss, Alex Blumberg, comes to us with stuff that he finds on the internet that he doesn’t understand and we explain it to him. And then afterwards he’s like, “That’s it?”
PJ: Okay, so this is like, this is not typical in that this is a thing that I found on the internet that I don’t understand.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Mixin’ it up.
ALEX: Go for it.
PJ: I don’t want to be agist or whatever, but I did look at it and I was like, “Maybe this is a thing that’s like a reference Alex knows that I don’t know.
PJ: Because of agism.
ALEX: Which Alex?
BLUMBERG: Happy to help you out, sonny.
PJ: That one. Okay.
BLUMBERG: This is a tweet that you don’t know.
PJ: It’s not only do I not know, but like a lot of people are reacting to it so it means something. So you guys know who Adam West is.
PJ: He played Batman on the old campy Batman.
PJ: So I was looking up his Twitter account for other reasons and. . .
ALEX: Hold on, can we just like have a break out session here? What does other reasons mean?
PJ: It’s not like embarrassing or anything. It just feels like a long story. There’s this Twitter account that just tweets that Batman, like from the 60’s or whatever. They just tweet the labels from that show. It’s called like Batman Labels and it’s so funny, cuz they’re really specific. It’s like, “Anti-theft Joker spray” or whatever. Like they’re, they’re, they were clearly the sign designer on that show was having a lot of fun.
PJ: So they tweet that so I’ve just been like
BLUMBERG: : by the way i used to watch that show i had no idea it was comedy.
PJ: Me ,too!
BLUMBERG: Yeah, yeah.
PJ: So Adam West, that Batman, I was looking at his Twitter cuz I’ve been like thinking about it a lot and having weird Batman dreams because of it. And this tweet, like he tweets stuff and people like are whatever. This tweet like went crazy and it makes no sense to me. So, he says, “At my age I try not to let myself get bored. No nincompoopery allowed.” And then there’s a picture of him and he looks kind of plaintive. And in one hand he’s holding a bunch of grapes and the other hand he’s holding a garlic head.
What does that mean? Like I’ve never felt more profoundly “no” in my life. Like the old grapes and garlic joke? There,. . .you don’t look in @ replies and get more. . .
PJ: No, cuz it’s all people who are just responding to a famous person. “You sure aren’t a nincompoop in my book. You look great for your age!?” Like he didn’t ask that question. Like, that sorta thing.
BLUMBERG: What’s crazy is like how much, how many people are coming on to him in his @ mentions.
PJ: What did they say?
BLUMBERG: “Are you modeling for a still life Mr. West? You’re still such a fine figure of a man.” And then there’s another one, like, “Wow, you’re a real hottie.” Stuff like tha. . .it’s just weird.
PJ: It’s not the the point of the thing.
BLUMBERG: “No nincompoopery allowed.” I have no idea.
PJ: But here’s what I wonder is if this actually a pure “No No No” tweet? Like if this was something like a joke he had with his wife or like his kid and he was like, “Brawp, put it on Twitter. People will just tell me I look hot. It doesn’t matter.”
PJ: Like, did anyone ever get this?
ALEX: I wonder if it’s somehow a joke about like a classic painting featuring a still life.
PJ: Called like “The Nincompoop”?
ALEX: Called like, “Still Life with Nincompoop, Grape, and Garlic.”
PJ: I looked up the definition of “nincompoop” to make sure it didn’t mean something I didn’t know about. It means exactly what you think it means. This is one where like I want. . .if we don’t know, I want to call Adam West.
ALEX: All right. So we have to call Adam West.
BLUMBERG: Bring me back here when you find out.
PJ: Hold on a second. Okay. Alex. So it’s been 24 hours and I have news. So, Phia was able to get contact information for Adam West in under an hour. And I called him to find out what his tweet meant.
BLUMBERG: Huh . .
BLUMBERG: : What?
BLUMBERG: : Shut up.
BLUMBERG: : That’s why you brought me back into the studio?
BLUMBERG: : Oh my god.
PJ: And I am now at a “yes” for this.
ALEX: I’m dying to know what it means.
PJ: You said that sarcastically but I know you mean it.
ALEX: No, I, I was not being sarcastic. I so desperately want to know what this means. Now more than ever because I just don’t like you having info. . .having knowledge that I don’t have.
PJ: Oh, get used to it. Anyway, so I called him.
ADAM WEST: Desert bat cave.
PJ: Hi, is this Adam West?
ADAM: It is.
PJ: Hey, it’s PJ. How’s it going?
ADAM: It’s going great.
PJ: Did you just say “desert bat cave?”
ADAM: Well it’s – you’re, you’re calling me in Palm Springs.
PJ: Oh, I’ve been there once, it is a beautiful beautiful place. It is not like New York in spring which is gray and cold and horrible.
ADAM: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I like New York in … what, what was the old song? “I like New York in June?”
PJ: What song is that?
ADAM: That was an old Cole Porter song, I believe. You see. . .
PJ: He sounded like the most normal nice man in the world. We talked for, like, probably 35 minutes and then at the end I was like, I hung up and I was like, “Wait I never really asked him about the tweet.” And then I called him back and was like, “Hey Adam West. I’m so sorry to bother you again.”
So…okay. So the tweet. . .the deal is, it’s a joke about vampires. The reason he’s holding garlic and grapes, is the joke is like, “Oh what if you’re such a nincompoop you that didn’t know like which of these things warded off vampires, garlic or grapes.”
ADAM: What if you were such a nincompoop you didn’t know and you thought it would be grapes and not garlic.
PJ: That makes sense to me. And So it was almost like a skit, but then the caption is being like, you’re saying like, “Oh, I don’t mess around.” But obviously you’re messing around.
ADAM: Yeah, I think was too obtuse.
ALEX: He’s like describing a joke that he made to himself.
PJ: Yes. It’s an Alex Goldman tweet.
ALEX: Oh, it’s totally an Alex Goldman tweet.
BLUMBERG: : I still don’t get it. He’s describing a joke that he made to himself about vampires? What?
ALEX: All right, all right. Here’s the scenario.
ALEX: Imagine a guy. A guy who is so old and dumb, he doesn’t know whether grapes or garlic ward off vampires. And he thinks to himself, “It’d be super funny to tweet this, but not give people the vampire reference, so they have no idea what I’m talking about.”
PJ: It took me 40 minutes to get where Alex just got in half a second.
ALEX: Except vampires were never mentioned in the tweet, so .
BLUMBERG: : But then, “At my age I try not to get bored.” What is that, what’s that, so I come up with amusing scenarios to amuse myself and take pictures of them?
PJ: I think exactly.
BLUMBERG: : Ok – Alex Goldman, so you’ve, you’ve sent tweets like this?
ALEX: On April 12th, I was just looking through my Twitter feed.
PJ: I’m sorry.
ALEX: On April 12th I tweeted the words “Elk Neck”.
BLUMBERG: : … So anyway, PJ
PJ: Yeah yeah yeah.
ALEX: It got 8 favorites.
PJ: Yeah, and similarly, if people really liked you like they like Adam West, like, that got like 100 retweets. There’s a, there’s a, a point where people were just like, “Adam West is just goofing around. I don’t need to full. . .I don’t need understand this on a 1-1 level. I like him and he’s goofin’ around and I support it.”
BLUMBERG: Well that’s what, so that was so confusing. So it was like sort of like, so like, you’re looking at that tweet and looking at all the, all the responses to that tweet. Like we were sort of looking for meaning.
BLUMBERG: And there was no meaning to be gotten.
PJ: The meaning was –
BLUMBERG: Like what percentage of the people commenting understood what his joke was?
PJ: I’m gonna say like maybe zero.
BLUMBERG: There’s no signal in that whole thing.
PJ: It was all noise.
BLUMBERG: It’s all noise.
ALEX: I love this tweet so much.
PJ: I think I mentioned, but like, we talked for a very long time. Like longer than I talk to most people.
ADAM: The. . .a podcast is like a radio show isn’t it?
PJ: Yeah, exactly.
ADAM: I started in radio.
PJ: You did?
PJ: What kind of radio?
ADAM: Well, it was AM at that time and I. . .
BLUMBERG: He has a beautiful voice.
PJ: He really does.
ALEX: Yeah, he really does.
PJ: And he said that his like big breakout hit was Batman. And that role actually created a lot of problems for him. So the thing that everybody already knows about Adam West’s Batman is it was like a very goofy version of Batman.
VILLAIN: Ho ho, ha ha. Remember me old chum.
BATMAN: You jolly devil. Harm one hair of that boys head.
THE RIDDLER: Riddle me twice Batman. What kind of pins are used in soup?
ROBIN: Terrapins, Batman.
THE RIDDLER: Very good.
PJ: And this was supposed to be funny. Like, Adam West thought it was funny. The people making the show thought it was funny. But some of the viewers thought that Adam himself was not in on the joke. That he was trying and failing to play a very serious Batman. And that he was a dope. And so when Batman was over it was hard for him to get other jobs. Like other, particularly serious acting jobs.
ADAM: You know, there were times when I was so poor and desperate to work that I was shot out of a cannon.
ADAM: With my cape flying behind me.
PJ: Wait, not really though. Not really. I. . .
ADAM: Yes, once. In order to survive and take care of family and so on, I had to do a lot of stuff I didn’t want to do.
PJ: So he kept trying out for all these serious roles, but he couldn’t get them because nobody took him seriously. And then finally he was just like, “You know what? Fine. I will just embrace the joke that everybody’s making about me.”
ADAM: I realized that everybody loves Batman so why the hell shouldn’t I love Batman. I am Batman.
PJ: So he started allowing himself to be typecast as Adam West, the guy who used to play Batman and used to make us all laugh.
PJ: And he credits that with saving him.
BLUMBERG: : I still don’t quite get the “no-nincompoopery allowed.”
PJ: Yeah, and everytime I asked him about that he, he, he’d be like, “Oh, well, a nincompoop. . . ” And I was like, “No, I know what a nincompoop is. . .” But I feel like. . .Erase that sentence in your mind, and just hear it as, like, “JK,” or like, “Here’s a joke.” Or like, “Smiley face emoji.” Like, you know what I mean? It’s like. . .
BLUMBERG: Oh, right. “No nincompoopery allowed” is like a smiley face emoji.
ADAM: Anyway I better, I better run and not take too much. . .
PJ: Thanks so much. And, yeah, just thank you for existing in the world. You are a very wonderful person.
ADAM: Well you sound like a great guy, and my best to all your pals and fellow workers there.
PJ: I’ll pass it on.
ADAM: Ok, Kiddo.
PJ: Alright, have a good one.
ADAM: You, too . Thank you.
PJ. That conversation you just heard was originally recorded last year. This month, Adam West died. We feel very lucky to have gotten to talk to him.
You can find more episodes of the show at itunes.com/replyall. You can also find us on Google Play as of this week. Our website is replyall.fail.
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.
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