EMMANUEL DZOTSI: Today’s episode is brought to you by that last sliver of deodorant on the stick. Somehow it’s managed to last a couple of months. But today is Judgment Day. Will it be enough to handle that “I wore one too many layers today” kind of sweat, or not? Only time will tell. Okay. Now for the real ads.
EMMANUEL: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Emmanuel Dzotsi.
CARLOS BARKSDALE: Emmanuel!
EMMANUEL: Mr. Barksdale, how we doing?
CARLOS: I’m good! Cheerio, old chap!
EMMANUEL: [laughing] So, I gotta tell you from the jump, uh, I'm recording this phone call ‘cause I’m doing a work project right now.
CARLOS: Oh man, thank you for telling me.
EMMANUEL: Of course. And, uh, the—so the thing I'm doing for my podcast that I host is, is an experiment. Uh, I decided I was gonna call everyone in my contacts and just see what's up.
CARLOS: Oh, okay. That’s, that’s, that’s interesting. That's interesting. [beeping noise]
EMMANUEL: Yeah. So, I’m—
CARLOS:You’re gonna call everybody?
EMMANUEL: I’m calling everybody.
CARLOS: You a damn liar.
EMMANUEL: No, I’m serious.
CARLOS: You a damn liar. You a damn liar. There is no way in the hell I would call everybody on my phone.
EMMANUEL: Right now, I’m in the B’s.
CARLOS: Okay. Yo, you know what you should do? You, you should, you should do it like, the first 10—
CARLOS: … and last 10 of, of every, of every letter. Like, you know what I’m saying? [EMMANUEL laughing] So you can like, feel good. Do a good number.
EMMANUEL: I'm gonna try and stay as true to it as possible, uh, just ‘cause. It’s fun.
CARLOS: Yeah. Well, all right, what's up, world? You know what I’m saying? It’s your boy Los, aka Carlos, you know, aka Que Loso, [unintelligble] way, Carlito’s way. You know what I’m saying? [EMMANUEL laughing] Loso’s practice. All that. Yeah.
EMMANUEL: Hey man, you gotta represent.
CARLOS: Yeah, bro, what should we talk about, if anything?
EMMANUEL: So, yeah. A while ago, I heard about this thing an artist named Soraya Perry did. A couple years ago, she decided she was gonna call all the people in her phone and record those calls for a project.
Which, for obvious reasons, felt terrifying to me, right? (When I would tell people about this idea, they’d have this visceral reaction to it.)
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I actually needed to do this.
You see, I used to spend whole Sunday afternoons walking around my apartment catching up with my friends on the phone. It used to bring me just so much joy to know what was going on with people. But for a while now, it’s been hard to get on the phone without bracing myself to hear bad news.
It’s felt like I’m constantly having the same “the world still sucks for you too, right?” kind of conversation over and over again, which sucks.
So, I’ve kind of stopped making as many calls. And I hate that, because I feel my world getting smaller and smaller.
So a while ago I opened up my phone, looked at my contact list. It’s roughly 1,500 people long. I wasn’t sure if it was even humanly possible to get through all of them, but I started working my way down the pile. I asked people about who they were, who they thought I was, and also got into some questions I was not totally prepared to have to answer.
ROBOT: Hi, the person you've reached is using a screening service from Google and will get a transcript of this call. Go ahead [EMMANUEL: Oh, my god.] and say your name and why you're calling.
EMMANUEL: Mmkay. Emmanuel Dzotsi. Uh, I'm a reporter of a podcast called Reply All, and I'm calling everybody in my phone for a story. And I've gotten to your name, and I will admit I do not quite know who you are.
ROBOT: Thanks. Connecting you now. [EMMANUEL laughs]
CHINUA: Hello, good afternoon?
EMMANUEL: Hi, um, is this Chinua? Am I pronouncing it correctly?
CHINUA: Yes, this is he.
EMMANUEL: Hi, Chinua, um, this is Emmanuel Dzotsi. Uh, do you remember me at all?
CHINUA: Um, frankly, I don't. I don't.
EMMANUEL: Can I ask, just to narrow it down, like, where are you from?
CHINUA: I see. So, um, I was born in Jamaica…
WOMAN 1: [gasps] Hello?
WOMAN 2: Hello?
MR. HARPER: Hello?
EMMANUEL: Hello. How you doing, Mr. Harper?
MR. HARPER: I am fine, and you? [laughs]
EMMANUEL: [laughs] I’m good, I’m good. So…
EMMANUEL: Okay. So we probably met in New York, is my guess.
EMMANUEL: Um, I’m just gonna start saying names.
EMMANUEL: And I want to see if maybe you know anybody? Do you know anybody named, uh, Winston?
CHINUA: No, I don’t know a Winston.
EMMANUEL: Okay. Do you know anyone named Mario?
CHINUA: Uh, I do know a Mario.
EMMANUEL: Is his last name Rasa?
CHINUA: No, no.
EMMANUEL: Hm. Sorry. I asked that because…
EMMANUEL: Hey, Ali, can you hear me?
ALI: Yeah. I’m on a Stairmaster. Let me slow my, my speed down. [laughs]
EMMANUEL: [Fades down] Wait, you’re at the gym right now?
EMMANUEL: You, uh, you showed me an apartment last year. Um—
MALE 1: Okay. Which one? Which one?
EMMANUEL: Oh, it was, uh—I think it was 260 Ocean Parkway.
MALE 1: Right. Did you find an apartment? Of course.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, I’m living in there now. Um, yeah. It’s a nice place. [fades down] It’s a nice place…
MALE 2: You still need to come into my bar sometime.
EMMANUEL: I do. I do need to come into your bar sometime. Uh, although I’ve given up drinking for Lent. That, that’s part—that’s partly why.
MALE 2: Fair trade.
EMMANUEL: But I could still come. You have nonalcoholic things I could drink, right?
MALE 2: : Yeah, mate. Just some, uh, soda and bitters.
EMMANUEL: [fading out] Ok, I’ll do that I’ll do that
EMMANUEL: Are you back now?
BIM: I am. Uh, I’m back. I'm back from England. And I am, yeah, back from Plague Island. [laughs] Formerly known as Knife Crime Island. No, I’m back, back in New York. And I am frigid. Just like, the temperatures are aggressive and racist. [fade down] Just, I've never been so cold
EMMANUEL: Okay, this is the last, this is—this one’s a deep cut. You ready?
EMMANUEL: Anybody named Roxana and Maury?
CHINUA: Yes, I do.
CHINUA: Yes. Um, was there a, a, a film screening?
EMMANUEL: Maybe. What was the movie?
CHINUA: It was, um, jeez. One of the, the, the, the, the great Spike Lee joints. Why, why am I forgetting?
EMMANUEL: Do the Right Thing?
CHINUA: Do the Right Thing.
EMMANUEL: Oh my gosh, I know. I totally- it was the summer of 2018?
EMMANUEL: Yes, I fucking remember that day. Yes, I fucking remember. [CHINUA laughs] I don’t remember you at all, but I remember that day.
EMMANUEL: Hey. I’m sorry to be interrupting you at work, especially when you hear exactly why I’m interrupting you at work. [laughs]
GABBY: Um, is it fun?
EMMANUEL: It is fun.
GABBY: Good. Then it’s fine. Interrupt away.
EMMANUEL: I decided I was gonna call every person in my phone and say hello.
GABBY: [laughs] Hello.
EMMANUEL: [laughs] Hello. But you’re, you’re really great, because it’s—you’re the last friendly face before I get into some pretty murky waters, honestly.
GABBY: Oh, yeah. I mean, I guess I’m curious, like, how many ex-girlfriends come after me?
EMMANUEL: Well, the problem right after you is, is not so much ex-girlfriends as much as it is people I dated on Bumble five years ago.
GABBY: I hate that for you. Did you—do you have them in there as full names, or are they just like, Sarah Bumble? [Crosstalk] [EMMANUEL laughs] You know? ‘Cause I used to do that sometimes. Like, if they were lucky, if I saved their number, it wasn’t their real last name.
EMMANUEL: So, no, it’s, it’s—I have Claire Bumble. Kirsten Bumble. Maggie Bumble. Sofia Bumble. Sidney Bumble. [GABBY laughs]
EMMANUEL: Hi, Courtney. Uh, my name’s Emmanuel Dzotsi, and I’m a reporter with a podcast called Reply All. Uh, I’m like, working on a story and doing a weird experiment for it. And, uh, I reached your name and realized that whenever we would have met, I didn’t really include your last name. I just have “Courtney B,” and I, I—that could be a lot of people. So, anyways, I hope you are well, uh, and doing okay. All right, have a good weekend. Bye.
EMMANUEL: Hey, Courtney, how you doing?
COURTNEY: Hello, I'm good, how are you?
EMMANUEL: I'm good. I'm good. So, I guess, do you know who I am? Or did I show up in your phone as like, like, under a name?
COURTNEY: No, I didn't have your number saved, but I know who you are. I remember the conversation we had, but I don't know why we exchanged phone numbers. Um, but we were talking about Serial, and I'm obsessed with Serial, Serial. And I guess at one point, you were working on Serial or working with Serial?
EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
COURTNEY: Did I make the—
EMMANUEL: Right, right. You're—oh, okay. [laughs] I don't—oh dear. Okay. Um, we met at the cookout years ago in Harlem.
COURTNEY: The cookout! Yes, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
EMMANUEL: Um, I remember why we exchanged—so, yeah. I worked for Serial. [COURTNEY: Mm-hmm.] Uh, like, I co-hosted that—the third season of that show? Um—
COURTNEY: Oh, I stopped listening after the first season.
EMMANUEL: Oh, you’re fine. [laughs] A lot of—most—a lot of people did. Uh, I remember talking to you at the cookout, and you seemed cool. And so, I, I DMed you on Twitter, I think. Uh, and I was like, “Oh, we should grab a drink sometime.” And you were like, “Sure,” and so you gave me your number. I think that's how I got your number.
COURTNEY: Oh. Okay, well, you never called. We could have gotten that drink. Why didn't you call?
EMMANUEL: Well, well, so, [laughing] I'm—this is so—I, I did text you.
COURTNEY: Oh. I didn't text you back?
EMMANUEL: [laughs] No, I think you did. You—it was weird. I texted you, and you were like, “Hey, what's up?” And I was like,” Not much.” Uh, and I think I asked what you were doing that weekend or something. And yeah, you, you didn't respond.
COURTNEY: Oh my gosh.
EMMANUEL: Which is fine. [COURTNEY: Well—] Like, that's, that's life, you know what I mean? [laughing] I promise you I have not been—like, it's just one of those things where I—when you said, “Why did we exchange numbers?” I was like, oh, I, I remember this story, actually. [laughs]
COURTNEY: Oh my gosh, that's so funny. Well, sorry I like, ghosted you, sort of.
EMMANUEL: I mean, that's, that's nice [laughs] of you to say. I mean, I—this is—I don't know. Okay, I'll just say this. I don't ghost people very often. But I feel like when it's happened, it’s happened for a reason, which is that I probably wasn't into it. And you probably weren't into it.
COURTNEY: I don't know. I feel like I'm into a lot of things, and I would have probably been into getting a drink with you, because I remember being fascinated by how a British man lands in Ohio. And we talked about that for a little bit, I think. Um, [EMMANUEL laughs] so, I don't know. Uh, we could—you know, my life is a little bit weird right now, but I'm not working, and like, we could get a drink as long as you buy it. I'm down. [laughs]
EMMANUEL: This is [laughs]—sorry, this, this…
After the break…1400 contacts left to go.
[AFTER THE BREAK SOUND]
EMMANUEL: Okay. [laughs] Now I’ve got to start this, this next day of calls off right.
MUM: Oh, good morning, Emmanuel.
EMMANUEL: Morning, Mummy. How you doing?
MUM: I’m fine, thanks. How are you?
EMMANUEL: I’m good. I’m good. Uh, do you have a second to chat? Is it okay if I record?
MUM: Uh, yeah. Go ahead, you’re good. We’ve done it before. We can do it again, yeah?
MUM: You calling this morning, I was thinking, oh, but I, I—you know, we spoke just, what, the other day?
EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah. Yesterday, yeah.
MUM: Oh, some—and so I knew something definitely had come up, because you wouldn’t just be calling me just because.
MUM: You know. Whereas if it’d be one of your sisters, it would just be, well, this is the morning call. No doubt, I will get the afternoon and evening call as well.
EMMANUEL: Wait, the girls call you every day, a couple times a day?
MUM: Yes. Yes.
EMMANUEL: I didn’t know that.
MUM: Ah, well, now you know. So, you know, you’re slacking. [laughing]
EMMANUEL: Oh boy. [laughing]
MUM: But don’t worry, Emmanuel. You know, it’s sort of like, you know, you’re not—you—well, well, if that’s speaking to your sisters, they too sort of say, “Oh, we never hear from Emmanuel,” you know, so like, “Oh, he’s always, he’s always busy,” blah, blah, blah, blah. So, you know, every- everybody knows that sort of like, definitely during the working day, there’s no chance of getting hold of you, so forget that. Uh, yeah. So, you know. [EMMANUEL laughs] [Crosstalk] for expectation of you. [laughs]
EMMANUEL: Oh. Oy. Oy, oy, oy, oy. [laughing] No. I feel like, um, I don’t know, this whole experience has been really, really quite strange. In a, in a good way, I think, so far, at least.
MUM: Well, well, what’s your experience been?
EMMANUEL: I don’t know. I feel like, uh—well, one, some people just don’t pick up. [laughs] Right? [Crosstalk]
EMMANUEL: Which is something that I knew would happen, right?
EMMANUEL: But I think, uh, as I’ve been doing this, I think it’s been, uh, sometimes wearing on me a little, because, you know, obviously, there are people who you reach, you leave a message for, and, you know, whenever they see it, they get back to you at some point, or they just even just say, “Hey, I saw it, and like, uh, you know, I’ll give you a call at some point,” or “I’m busy,” or just, “Hey,” you know what I mean? You know, something.
EMMANUEL: There have been quite a few people from back in the day that you leave a message for and you get nothing, which is fine. You know, I mean, it could mean any number of things. I might—it might not even be their number anymore, blah, blah, blah. But it’s making me go through my mind, [laughs] my memory, you know what I mean?
MUM: [laughs] Oh, you won’t be thinking, “Did we, when we last, when we last spoke, were we—did we end things on good terms, or?” [laughs]
MUM: Or am I the sort of person they never want to hear from again, you know?
EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um.
MUM: [sighs] Yeah. But anyway, I’m sure you’ve got stuff to be getting on with.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, I gotta, I gotta—
MUM: I saw this call’s gone on longer than you wanted it to, so.
EMMANUEL: What? [laughs] What do you mean, you saw this call’s gone on longer than I wanted it to?
MUM: Well, you know, well obviously, if you’re—if this is work, and you’re—you’ve got to make calls, you’ve got to zip through them, so.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, I have, I have a lot more to go. I, I thought I had done a lot, and I have. But so far, I, I think I’m somewhere in like, the like, 300s.
MUM: Yes. But how many, how many do you have? How many contacts do you have?
EMMANUEL: I don’t think I’m gonna finish. I—it’s just not possible. [laughing] It will take me years. [laughing]
MUM: All right, then. Well, I’ll leave you to it.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah.
MUM: And, uh, well, good luck with the, uh, remaining 1,200. [laughs]
EMMANUEL: Thank you, Mummy. Bye.
EMMANUEL: Love you.
MUM: Bye, dear. Love you. Bye.
OPERATOR: Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice message system. At the tone, please record your message.
EMMANUEL: Hi, Margaret. Um, I have no idea if you remember me. Um, my name’s Emmanuel. Uh, we matched on Bumble…
EMMANUEL: I don’t know if you remember me. I am the, the English bloke you met once years and years and years and years ago outside of that bar in Chicago. Um, I was trying to unsuccessfully get a giant love sack out of, um, one of those, um, like, mini cars, what are they called? Um…
ROBOT: Welcome to Verizon Wireless. The number you dialed has been changed, disconnected, or is no longer in service.
EMMANUEL: [laughs] Okay. Whoever Jenna is, that is not her number anymore.
EMMANUEL: Oh my god, I am so tired. Oh god. Okay. Let’s do more, let’s do more, let’s do more.
EMMANUEL: Hi, is this Denver?
DENVER: Yes, it is.
EMMANUEL: Hey, Denver. I don't know if you remember me. It's been years. Um, but it's Emmanuel, uh, from Ohio State. Uh—
DENVER: Hey, buddy!
EMMANUEL: Wow, you do remember me!
DENVER: Yes, I do.
EMMANUEL: [laughs] Do you have a sec to chat?
DENVER: Yeah, that's, that's fine.
EMMANUEL: What's happened in the last nine years of your life? [laughs]
DENVER: Oh, [laughs] oh, man. That is a loaded question, my friend. Um, so, uh, at the time you met me, I was a heavy equipment operator for a landfill.
DENVER: All right? And, uh, um, and in about 2013—
DENVER: …um, uh, they, they let me go.
EMMANUEL: Oh no.
DENVER: Um, so, uh, I went from that to—
EMMANUEL: What was the—what was the disagreement?
DENVER: There- there’s things that I wasn't supposed to run over that I ran over.
DENVER: And, and I ended up going to a company for construction.
DENVER: And I've been there since.
EMMANUEL: So, I, sorry, I—so, I almost don't— it's like, it's been so long, I don't know where to begin. Like, we met the first night of my college experience.
DENVER: Yes. I never had a college experience.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, I just remember, like, you, you would sometimes come around and be like, “Yo, I'm around, what are you up to?” It would be a Saturday or something. And I- I never had money to go to football games. So like, I feel like you would pick me up and we'd go somewhere, eat or whatever. And—
EMMANUEL: I don't know.
DENVER: And that was—hey, I, I enjoyed that, just because I was able to—I, I was still living at home at the time—
DENVER: … and ma- making more money than I have ever made before in my life.
DENVER: And, and I just enjoyed spending it.
EMMANUEL: [laughing] But to me, it was just like, right, like, my random pseudo big brother dude [DENVER laughs] who is not like me at all. Like, I'm like, this Black English kid, [laughs] and like, you know, here's this guy, like, who was gonna drive into town every once in a while and be like, “Yo, I'll take you out!” And like you would just always be like, “Oh, I got, I got lunch. I got whatever.” Um. [Denver laughing] I don't know, I always used to appreciate it.
But it's funny, because when I saw your name in the—in my contacts when I was going through, I was just like, oh, I never—I never ever asked you back then the question that I actually think I sometimes wondered, which was like, does he have a lot of friends, or are we kinda it? And I, I, I always want—like, I don't know, was that year lo—was that time in your life, was it lonely for you?
DENVER: Um, I- I don't know if it was lonely.
DENVER: It- it was a transition time for me, in, in all honesty, because in school, and, and fresh out of school, I, I didn't run around with the best kind of people.
DENVER: And, and, and to improve my own mental self-esteem, I needed to be around people that wanted to better themselves.
EMMANUEL: Right. Right.
DENVER: And that, that’s kind of what I found with you guys.
EMMANUEL: I don't know. I'm just realizing as I talk to you a little bit that like, um, I was such a stupid 19-year-old. [laughs]
EMMANUEL: Like, I, I think—
DENVER: I, I—you, you probably could tell a story and I can have six on top of it, [EMMANUEL laughs] with stupidity with young age.
EMMANUEL: I know, but I guess also just emotionally stupid. Like, I think after a while, those Saturdays with you that felt really fun and great, I began to sort of be like, “Oh, well, Denver's an adult. Why does he have to be hanging out with me? I'm like, just a kid.” And so, I can't believe I did this. I remember you called—I remember specifically one day you calling. And it was like, maybe the first time that I just didn't pick up because I was like, “Oh, I'm just gonna go hang out with my friends.” And I just like, never called ever to make plans with you or anything again. Like, I'm, I'm sorry for that.
EMMANUEL: I mean, I guess…did you notice when we stopped hanging out?
DENVER: Um, a little bit. But at the, at the same time, I understand the aspect of, uh, somebody in their 20s, for lack there of, uh, the verbiage I need to describe it—uh, have you seen Cobra Kai?
EMMANUEL: I, I haven't seen Cobra Kai. [laughs]
DENVER: Oh, okay. There, there's one older guy in there that wants to take the Kung Fu classes with all the other kids.
DENVER: And he's like, a, a teacher in the, the school. And he's running around with a bunch of kids. And, and I, I didn't really see it that way. So, it, it was, it was an interesting perspective of what you guys seen in me, just oh, maybe kinda lonely, not—couldn’t make friends back home kind of mantra. Which, I mean, it was, it was—it wasn’t that I couldn’t make friends. It, it was a, a new beginning for me. We were all adults and, and fre—just tasting the first taste of freedom.
EMMANUEL: Totally. Totally. One thing I'm curious about, I, I realized when I called you, I was like, oh, I, I had to get a new phone number the last time—since the last time I spoke to you. What did you—when I said it was Emmanuel, what was the first thing that came to mind?
DENVER: Um, uh, stories. Uh, uh, just different times when we hung out.
DENVER: Uh, like the, the time that, for some reason, out of nowhere, uh, BLEEP said that bad word that we don't say, and how, how bad he felt. Like, and, and he had no reason—and to this day, I can't figure out why. But it just came out. And I don't know if it's our area or what have you, ‘cause he doesn't ever say that.
EMMANUEL: Wait, BLEEP said the N-word?
DENVER: Yeah, you don't remember that?
EMMANUEL: I don't remember that.
DENVER: It was just—it was something said in passing. And, and he just shriveled up and felt like death the rest of the day.
EMMANUEL: I have so—I—it’s—sorry. That is so—I do not remember that. Wow. But I do remember meeting you guys for the first time and being like, these are the sorts of people that I feel like I've been brought up to believe are gonna be racist. [laughing] And in my experience, are, kind of. You know what I mean?
DENVER: Yeah. And, and I wish you wouldn't. Because I mean, I get—I thought of you as one of the guys. Like, man.
EMMANUEL: And I, I remember being so, like, wow, okay, like, these folks from this small town. Like I am—I'm the worst. You know what I mean? I'm, I'm totally painting these people with such a broad brush. These folks are so nice, whatever. And I don't—I, I'm honestly thinking back to that. I cannot remember that incident at all. I must have like—I must have honestly felt so kind of like, weirded out and maybe betrayed by the whole thing that I was just like, you know, what, it's easier if I just forget about it?
EMMANUEL: Because I didn't want to think about—like, I don't, I don't remember this, but I imagine that I wouldn't have wanted to have thought about why it was so random like that, you know?
EMMANUEL: I don’t know, I mean, I think there was a stage in- in like, I think my sophomore year of college where you know, I think I- my freshman year I had been so open with people, you know? [DENVER: Yeah] Um, and then I think by the time I got to my sophomore year I was sort of already tightening up. ‘Cause I don't remember that one. But, you know, I remember other small little things, you know, like that in college, you know, just ‘cause you have all these kids from all these different places, who—
EMMANUEL: … didn't grow up with Black people. [laughing] They just didn't. And so, I think I probably just naturally went to the spaces where like, yeah, I, I felt, I felt more comfortable, you know? Um.
EMMANUEL: Wow, sorry. You've made me think about a lot. Laughing] A lot of things I haven't thought about in a very long time.
DENVER: Well, is that a good thing to assess? Or is it bad memories coming up?
EMMANUEL: I mean, it's who I am, right? It's my life. [laughs]
DENVER: Yeah. [laughs]
EMMANUEL: I don't know. I think—I lived my life and I have this memory of it. But other people—it’s not like I'm some main character of some movie. Like, everyone has their own vantage point and what they see that rounds out the picture.
EMMANUEL: Next time you call, I might not pick up right away, but I promise I won’t not just call back without any explanation again.
DENVER: Okay. Well, it, it’s been a really refreshing conversation for me as well. I—I’ve a—I’ve appreciated it deeply.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, of course, man. And, uh, yeah, I hope you have a good rest of your day.
DENVER: Hey, you too. Talk to you later.
KHALID: Emmanuel, how you doing?
EMMANUEL: How you doing, Khalid?
KHALID: So good to hear from you.
EMMANUEL: I know, it's so good to talk. It's been so long, man. Um…
EMMANUEL: I've had some weird calls, bro.
KHALID: [laughs] Oh man, I wish I can hear this.
EMMANUEL: I mean, [sighs] I talked to a guy who at first I thought was really, um—at first, I thought it was like, a really good call, and I guess it, it kind of was, in some ways. It was good to talk to him, you know?
EMMANUEL: But then he reminded me of this thing that I had—I still don't really remember, but like, uh, he kind of constructed it for me, which is that basically, my mutual friend had used the N-word once…
KHALID: Oh shit.
EMMANUEL: … in front of me. And I just, uh—
EMMANUEL: … I don't know, I must have repressed it.
KHALID: Whoo! This gets me hot right now, dude. Not gonna lie.
EMMANUEL: Yeah. Um, but anyways, I don't want to say—[laughs] I mean, I’m, I’m—
KHALID: Man, this gets me hot. No, dude, like, there's so many mo—like, I, I, I also have one good friend who dropped it before. Like, we were good friends, man. But as, as soon as that happened? As soon as those, like, words came out of his mouth? It just like—it kind of like, just destroyed everything.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, bro.
KHALID: You know? It's like, you don't, you don't see—like, you don't see each other the same anymore.
KHALID: What, because it was like—[scoffs] like, how dare you? Like, he—like, you know this stuff, you know? But anyways.
EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Dude, I’ll, I’ll talk more with other people and do some therapy about it. But, uh—
KHALID: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EMMANUEL: I did not call you, uh, to talk about white people, so.
KHALID: Yeah, yeah, I know.
EMMANUEL: Um, but—
KHALID: [?It’s amazing].
EMMANUEL: … anyways, uh, how are you, bro? We haven't really talked in a couple years.
KHALID: Life has been good, man. I—oh, I am—I'm getting married this summer, man.
KHALID: I'm getting married this summer. [laughing]
EMMANUEL: That's wild.
KHALID: Yeah, man. This really sweet girl, dude, who I've, I've like, been dating for two years. And, um, I'm about to do this weird thing where I never thought I'd move back to Minneapolis, but that’s where I’m moving back to after our wedding. And, um, I never knew—when I moved, came back home, I never, ever knew that I loved Somali food as much as I do.
EMMANUEL: Wait, really?
KHALID: Yeah, man.
EMMANUEL: But you grew up with Somali food.
KHALID: I grew—exactly! Now, all that—like, every single day, like no joke, I—like, I, I have Somali food. I have to have Somali food. And the amazing thing is like, you know, I'm staying with my mom, and she's always cooking, man. And, uh, like, I—lowkey, I'm kind of happy. Like, I gained weight, but I'm so okay with it. It's crazy, because I'm eating the food I like and I'm with the people I like.
EMMANUEL: That's what up. [laughing]
KHALID: You know?
EMMANUEL: I don't know, it just sounds like you've reconnected with your family.
KHALID: I know, man. And I love that so much.
EMMANUEL: I mean, that makes sense, ‘cause I remember, right, like, you, you and your family have been through a lot together
KHALID: Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
EMMANUEL: Like I don’t even know all the places you’ve lived. You were in Saudi Arabia for a bit?
KHALID: Yeah, I was born in Saudi Arabia. I was a refugee in Egypt up until I was like 7 or 8. And then um, and then we finally got the call to go to the states…under two years man. Under two years our application went through and we were on a plane to the states.
KHALID: Man, we were actually talking about this with my mom not long ago. Man. My mom traveled with under $300 when we came to the States.
KHALID: And I'm like, how like, how did we—like, how did we survive? [laughs] Like, how did we survive, you know? Thankfully, though, you know, strangers and people in the community were like, just chipping in.
KHALID: It's like, I, I—my first grade teacher, Ms. Riley, ‘cause I was, I was mute for like, a week or two when I started school. And I remember her. She like, called my mom out of concern. And that weekend, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment, bro, across a gas station on Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis. I remember this place to this day. Our property manager brought us a VCR and uh, two tapes. One was Rush Hour. And, um, the other one was, uh, Walker, like Texas Ranger from back in the day.
EMMANUEL: Yeah. Yeah.
KHALID: And uh, I went back to school that week, and all I kept repeating was that line from Rush Hour, “Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?” And, uh, [EMMANUEL laughs] you know, Ms. Riley was frantic. She was just so happy, man. She was like, “Oh my gosh, he's speaking,” like. And then from like, you know, like, after school, she'd sometimes like, just take me to the zoo or, or to a play, or sometimes even to her house to like, watch different cartoons and movies. Like, she put in such extra effort for me to like, learn English. You know?
KHALID: Um, she was wonderful, dude. Ms. Riley. Um, Pillsbury Elementary School. First and second grade teacher. Who I've been trying to reconnect with, man, but I just don't know where to start. But, um—
EMMANUEL: Where to start, like, you don't know how to reach her?
KHALID: Yeah. You know, I tried—I called the school district in Minneapolis. Um, they couldn't get me in touch with her. I even got like, my transcripts from the—from freaking first, second grade, or whatever. [laughing]
EMMANUEL: Oh, really?
KHALID: Yeah, man, just so I could get like, the full name and see if she has like, a LinkedIn or something, or some random…
EMMANUEL: Wow. Thanks for telling me about her, man.
KHALID: Yeah, dude. This is a great conversation. I, I appreciate you calling, man. I'm gonna text you some stuff about the wedding.
EMMANUEL: I would love to come to your wedding.
KHALID: Of course.
EMMANUEL: You do not have to invite me now just because you told me you're getting married. You know that, right?
KHALID: It doesn't matter, bro. Like, sometimes I think people put so much pressure on friendships.
But also, like, those friendships where like people speak in like, those long spurts once in a while—
KHALID: …are also so refreshing.
EMMANUEL: Do you feel like we would be really good friends if we talked all the time? Or do you feel like [KHALID: Hm.] part of the reason why we're so close is because we talk once every two years and do this big dump?
KHALID: I think the latter, because it's working! [laughs]
MS. RILEY: Oh, hello, can you hear me?
EMMANUEL: I can, I can. Um, [laughs] Ms. Riley, like, I have someone here for you.
MS. RILEY: Uh-huh.
EMMANUEL: Uh, Khalid, do you want to say hello?
MS. RILEY: Hi, how are you? [laughs]
KHALID: I’m doing good. [laughs] How are you doing? It's so—it's so good to talk to you. I've been looking for you for so long. [laughs]
MS. RILEY: Oh, that's amazing. It's such a blessing to me just to reconnect. I think I’ve been teaching 32 years. And this year has been so, so hard. Yesterday, there was a big fight at school with a bunch of kids. I just had to take a day off just to chill, ‘cause it’s been so stressful. And so, I was feeling like such a terrible teacher and such a ter—you know, when you can just get down on yourself?
MS. RILEY: So it just really made my day to have Emmanuel reach me.
MS. RILEY: And I have a pic—I have your class picture. And I have a little picture of you smiling, and you're missing your bottom tooth in the middle. And you always—your smile was so bright, [KHALID laughs] and your eyes just kind of squinted up. And, um, yeah. I remember, I think, one time, taking you to like, a little festival at the nearby park over here. You know, and now that I’m remembering your apartment, because there was an [?assay] right on Bloomington…[fades out]
EMMANUEL: Today’s episode of Reply All was produced by Kim Nederveen Pieterse and Sam Gebauer. It was edited by Damiano Marchetti and Anna Foley, with additional editing help from Tim Howard, Ashley Ford, and Soraya Perry, the artist whose work inspired this piece you just heard. We’ll leave the link to her website where you can see more of her work as a filmmaker, musician, and visual artist in our show notes.
This episode also wouldn’t have happened without the rest of the Reply All production team—Phia Bennin, Lisa Wang, Sanya Dosani, and Bethel Habte. The show is hosted by Alex Goldman and me, Emmanuel Dzotsi. This episode was mixed by Rick Kwan, with fact-checking by Isabel Cristo, and music and sound design by Luke Williams. Additional music by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and Mariana Romano.
Special thanks this week to Bailey at the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Joelle [?Francoix], [?Syed Tijean Thomas], Pam [?Costain], Reyhan Harmanci, Aaron Edwards, and everyone who picked up my call. Thank you so much for listening, folks. We’ll see you next week.