Starlee: When I was a kid, my little sister and I found an old safe in our grandparent’s garage. This was in Palm Springs, California, so picture palm trees, swimming pools, desert heat so hot you can see it swirling in the air. The safe was free standing, taller than my sister. We spent the afternoon pressing a plastic stethoscope from a toy medical kit against its door, listening to the clicks, trying to crack the code. My grandmother couldn’t remember what was inside but we felt confident it was valuable. Probably a pouch of diamonds that she had forgotten about. Or a treasure map... that would lead us to the pouch of diamonds. It grew dark. We kept at it. Our mom brought us out grilled cheese sandwiches, flashlights and sweaters. Click click click, we were sure we were making progress, but the door wouldn't budge. Finally our grandmother came out waving a scrap of paper. She’d found the combination. With pounding hearts, my sister and I took turns rotating the dial... first I did a number... then her...and then back to me. Our whole lives were about to change. Our mom would come searching for us and we’d have to say, mom! mom! We’re right here! You just don’t recognize us now that we have all the answers.We reached the end of the paper. Together, we grabbed hold of the handle and turned. We could barely breathe.
We felt the lock catch. We peered inside and saw... Nothing. Nothing.
Not one single thing.
Someone had gotten there first.
But never again.
I’ve been obsessed with mysteries ever since. What happened to Amelia Earhart? What was the real name of the man known as DB Cooper who boarded a plane in 1971 wearing a neatly pressed suit and mother of pearl tie pin, ordered a bourbon and soda and then successfully demanded 200,000 in ransom before parachuting to an unknown fate? Why is that one girl in the dog park every afternoon at the same time except Wednesday? Why didn’t he call back?
Here’s a mystery.
S: This is my friend Laura.
L: I was living in New York. It was 2005. I was walking my dog in the wintertime. I'm not sure of the exact date. I remember it was the winter time, because it was dark, really really, that crazy city dark. I saw this movie rental place and I went in, and I rented a movie. So none of this sounds very mysterious.
L: Here's where the mystery comes in. The next day, I went to return this movie and the place was gone. The store was gone.
Kind of weird right? I thought so too. Laura thought so too. She said it's the second biggest mystery of her life. I wanted to help her figure out what had happened. Oh, because that is what I do now. On this show. Every week. I have decided to spend my life unraveling mysteries. I do not have a head full of encyclopedic knowledge. I am neither autistic, nor addicted to morphine. I can only remember two jokes. But that won't stop me. I will be talking to friends and strangers about their mysteries, big and small, and trying to solve them. My methods might be unorthodox but there’s one rule that will always apply: the mystery can’t be solved by just clicking around the internet. If the answer is online, I can’t be on the case. I’m hoping to work my way up to D.B. Cooper eventually, but for now let’s start with Laura.
L: Here’s what I think it was weird about the whole thing. The store did not look like it was going to be gone... There were other people there. There were movies on all the shelves.
The way Laura tells it, the next night it was as though the video store never existed. The building itself was still there but the windows were covered with brown craft paper and behind them Laura could see that inside the store had been completely emptied out. Even the shelving units were gone. What had been a thriving business had overnight become a shuttered storefront. I asked Laura if she had any relevant clues Laura: I remember the woman who helped me had a moustache, a very strong moustache.
S: In a way that was working or wasn’t working?
L: It’s very rare that I think it works on a lady. Frida Kahlo rocks it. Breznev’s wife, I think I recall having a moustache.. Usually it’s a touch call.
S: So the moustache girl said nothing?
L: Nothing! I filled out a card to rent. I became a member.
S: The day before it closed?
L: The day before it closed, and she didn't say anything like "why don't you write this in person? Why don't you sign it in the air?"
S: How do you remember it was the next day?
L: Because I remember which movie it was, and I can tell you why I remembered to return it the next day.
S: Go for it.
L: Must Love Dogs.
L: I rented Must Love Dogs. The reason I know that is the movie because I now own Must Love Dogs, and I did not love dogs. I must not must love dogs.
S: And you don't return movies late? L: No, never.
S: You see. If I was telling the story, it could have been a year later.
L: No, no. That is so against my nature.
S: Did they ever call you? Or contact you? Or send you a letter?
L: No, they didn't say, "we shut our doors. The bank would like to know what happened to 'Must Love Dogs.' Do you have it Laura? And can you believe that Christopher Plummer asked his daughter out on a date? Did you get creeped out by that part?"
S: Disappearing video store. Curious facial hair. Underwhelming romantic comedy with inexplicable plot line. It seemed we had a proper mystery on our hands. I was officially on my first case.
But before we get to that, let's take a quick break. We're back.
If you remember... from two minutes ago... I was about to start work on my first case: Video Store. All I had to work with were my notebook and a pair of meager leads. The mystery occurred in the fall of 2005. And it took place in lower Manhattan. Laura couldn’t remember the exact address but knew it was in Tribeca, at somewhere near the intersection of Franklin and West Broadway.So I took a train to that neighborhood. It was pouring rain out. Right away I spotted an old diner.
May I ask you a quick question? I'm looking for this video store?
Why don't you come inside?
There were pictures of people from Law & Order on the walls, which I took as a good sign. Unlike police detective work, though, where you have to find the most recent eyewitness, I needed to reach back through history. Who has been around the longest, whose memory stretches back the farthest. The diner directed me to the parking garage on the corner....
Hi, do you remember a video store? No?
The parking garage led me to the hotel down the street Hi.
A little wet out there huh?
... where I met a concierge, Ariel, who had only been around for a year. I asked him if I could talk to someone who’d been around longer and together we left the hotel and walked several blocks to the oldest place in the neighborhood he could think of, a bar called Walker’s. Walker’s is old but not divey. There’s tin ceilings and soft lighting that’s just bright enough to see who you’re talking to but just dark enough to not mind seeing yourself in the mirror behind the bar. It'spacked. I talked to a waitress named Linda.
Hi, do you remember a video store that used to exist in this neighborhood?
L: I been here since 1976, before it was called Tribeca. It Flooded out. They had a basement flood and all the videos got ruined.
It was a mom and pop video store.
S: Did they close up really fast, after the storm, like an immediate?
L: Oh yeah, it was pronto. And nice guys. If you didn't have money to pay, you could always pay the next day.
Then there was the old guy, the old guy who didn’t have two fingers. Remember him? Saddest thing in the whole neighborhood that they closed up. It broke everybodys' heart.
We still have that one video store. He's more porno.
Yeah it is.
This seemed promising. My first case and already an appearance by a threefingered man. I pulled out my notebook and wrote: Flood. Man with three fingers.
LINDA: Tom, what was the name of the original video story down on Greenwich.
TOM: What was the name of it? I was a member.
LINDA: Remember the old man who worked there missing two fingers?
TOM: You know I saw Madonna in there once. I’ll think of the name in a second. What was it called? I was a member. I’ve been here 30 years.
They had good foreign films which I liked. STARLEE: What was your favorite foreign film?
TOM: La Strada. It was very touching with me. Because I identified with the character. I know he was a bad guy. But I thought the love affair with Jesamina...He saw the light, but it was too late. The last scene of him crying on the beach. I was so sad.
STARLEE: Could you relate to that part, seeing the light too late? TOM: I put this shell around me,and I'm living with it. I put walls in front of me. It’s not good, but that’s the way I lived.
STARLEE: You have kids?
TOM: No. I never married. Close. A few times. The last time was a few years ago, '92. She was few years older than me and she didn't want to have kids. My whole point of marriage why get married if you're not going to have kids? Believe me, I'm lamenting.
STARLEE: Like La Strada.
TOM: It's too true.
STARLEE: It’s never too late to knock those walls down.
TOM: Yeah, yeah. I've seen that film hundreds of times, and I have it on tape.
STARLEE: Do you watch it a lot?
TOM: I might watch it tonight actually...What the hell was the name with that video store?
STARLEE: In my attempt to find one answer, I had happened upon another question. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we make the choices that we make? There’s a documentary about Fellini called “I’m a Born Liar” where he says that for him, the things that are most real are the ones he invented. My favorite part is where he talks about constructing an artificial sea. The actual sea was right there, he could have easily filmed it, but to him it felt less true than the one that he built out of plastic and light. I added "Fellini. Lament" to my list of clues. At least the video store case was closed. Or so I thought until Linda told me this:
LINDA: If I got here in '76, it's almost 20 years ago.
Twenty years ago? That was before "Must Love Dogs" even came out. The math didn't work out. Suddenly, nothing was making sense. Unless, Laura wasn't telling me the whole story.
STARLEE: Let me ask you, did you fall into any kind of deep sleep. Is it the kind of period where you think it's conceivable you lost three months of your life and you didn't realize it?
LAURA: I will say on the way home, I met an old crone who asked me to help chop down a tree, and I said "no grandmother, for I am going to go home and watch this movie." The next thing I knew...
STARLEE: You don't think it's conceivable that everyone in your life could have built a stimulation of your world and just left out this one detail of the video store?
LAURA: Oh sure. That's conceivable. A parallel universe constructed and everyone is in on it except me. That is conceivable. Because a lot of the time I think everyone is planning a surprise birthday party for me, so it doesn't seem like that much of a bigger leap for them to actually plot to hide this movie rental place.
STARLEE: What I wanted to do was disregard what Linda said at Walker's. Pretend like I hadn't even heard it. But with real mysteries, even if you want the answer to be one thing, you have to follow the facts. I reluctantly reopened the case. I decided to turn my attention to the one clue I hadn't yet explored: Must Love Dogs. I found a double feature DVD of Must Love Dogs with You’ve Got Mail in a store on 14th street. I watched both movies, looking for anything that might help the case.
This is the plot of Must Love Dogs: Diane Lane and John Cusack hate each other for most of the movie until the end when they realize they actually love each other. She's a preschool teacher. He builds his own boats and lives for the sea. This is the plot of You’ve Got Mail: Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks hate each other for most of the movie until the end when they realize they actually love each other. Tom Hanks builds big chain stores. Meg Ryans works in a beloved children’s bookshop.
There weren’t any preschools, shipyards or even chain stores on that block. There was, however, a children’s clothing store. It sold tiny little wool coats and hand knit mittens with the connecting string. Out of ideas, I limped in and asked the girl behind the register if she remembered Laura’s video store.
TAPE: yeah and I was their first customer.
I can’t believe that worked.
TAPE: Literally the first dollar that they got. I knew every single person that worked there because I was on their block.
STARLEE: Like how many doors down?
50 feet away. Five doors down.
STARLEE: And then it just packed up one day and was gone?
The way I remember it, probably they stopped getting as many new releases and then one day it was gone.
STARLEE: Was there a notice?
No. There was no notice. I should introduce you to the owner.
STARLEE: Where does he live?
Above the store. He's right there.
STARLEE: Can you say your name?
J: Sure, my name is Jon Rosenmiller.
S: And where are we right now?
J: We are at 116 Franklin Street in Lower Manhattan.
S: And what used to be beneath us?
J: The first floor here, for several years, was a store called Tribeca video.
At long last, I’d cracked the case. Jonathan owned this building in Tribeca. In the early 2000’s, he’d ran his own video store out of the first floor. Then the internet happened. The video store became a money pit just like in that movie Money Pit, which is probably exactly the kind of movie that the store had multiple VHS copies of and there the snake goes eating its tail again.
I returned Must Love dogs to him, and threw in You’ve Got mail as a late fee. There was just one more question and we’d be all done here.
STARLEE: did it close abruptly?
J: I guess it depends what you would describe as 'abruptly.' Three months, I think.
S: My friend who rented the video says she remembers going to the video store on a Sunday night, renting the video, coming back the next day to return it, and the store was closed. Is that possible?
J: It is possible. But she would have ignored numerous weeks of signs. And we sold most of our inventory.
S: So you're saying the shelves were pretty empty by the time she would have had to come in for it to close the next day?
S: Laura, here's what I want you to know. I solved your mystery. L: You solved it?
S: Yes. The video store where you rented Must Love Dogs and then went missing was called "Tribeca Video," it was on Franklin and West Broadway.
L: I knew it was there!
S: You vaguely knew it was there.
L: I vaguely knew. Everything I know in life is just vaguely. I don't think I've ever gone deeper than vaguely.
S: I went to the home of the owner of the video store. His name is Jonathan Rosenmiller. I returned Must Love Dogs to him.
L: You did?
S: He said he has never seen it but John Cusak was wonderful.
L: Yeah, he does a nice job in it.
S: So I found it. I solved it. I returned your video.
L: Thank you.
S: You're welcome. I like being appreciated. There are just a couple of details I would like to follow up on with you.
S: The only thing is that otherwise John Rosenmiller disputes your whole story?
I told Laura about John’s version of events. The empty shelves, the going out of business signs, all those movies for sale . She was shocked, then despondent. So I tried to bring the conversation back to the happier times when she was thanking me for helping her.
L: Great, great. Now you've left me with this huge mystery which is: is anything as I see it in the world? So great, off I go into the rest of my life.
S: Do you feel relief that I returned your video?
L: I do. I feel relief about that. And I feel relief that you found the store.
S: You do?
S: I did.
L: Because it stopped existing, and I was crazy, and now I'm just a liar. So huzzah. I guess he was probably right. He is the one who has all the paperwork and stuff.
S: Well he didn't show me the paperwork. This is just a man that I met
L: Ah, he didn’t show you the paperwork.
This detail perked Laura up. She started defending her side.
L: I just know myself so well, that I am actually a very practical person and there is no reason that I would take the time to fill out the membership. Also I love a good deal, so if he was selling things for cheap, I would have bought a bunch of them. Ok, here is other thing, why wouldn't I have rented a ton of movies and been like, "goodbye." I love watching movies! Oh, and this is before I had cable! So then I really watched movies a ton. And terrible movies, which are the kind they always sell at going out of business sales.
STARLEE: What it came down to was either John had a terrible memory or my friend Laura was a liar. Just like Fellini.
L: I'm not a liar though. know I'm not a liar. This is the weirdest lie.
S: This is the perfect lie. This is exactly what liars lie about, they lie about these small lies, where you're like "why did they even bother?"
L: yeah, you know what I call that? The harp lie. S: Why?
L: It's like the kind of thing, if someone says they can play the harp. Unless you pull a harp out, you'll never know. You know what I mean? Hey Starlee, I play the harp. Really well. But I don't like to do it in front of people.
S: Do you tell harp lies?
L: No. But I do play the harp really well.
S: And there you have it. My first case was solved. I moved Laura’s folder from the empty cereal box marked open to the empty shoe box marked closed. Eventually I’ll have to get myself a proper filing system but for now onto the next case.
Keep listening til the very end to hear a clue about next week's mystery. Mystery Show is produced by myself, Alex Blumberg, Melinda Shopsin and Eric Mennel. Producing help from Chris Neary and Wendy Dorr. Wendy also mixed this episode. Thank you also to John Delore. Eli Horowitz is contributing editor. Mystery Show is a production of Gimlet, which I’m very glad Alex and Matt Lieber started.
Original Score and Original Closing song by Emmy the Great. Opening song by Sparks. Additional original scoring by the band White Dove and Nick Thorburn. Thank you Arthur Jones for giving me the gift of our logo. Thank you Al for being so nice to my dog.
Tune in next week, same day, roughly same time. Give or take 8 to 10 hours. Here's your clue about next week's mystery: oops.