PJ VOGT: OK, so Alex.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes?
PJ: We do this thing ... on the podcast ... which is that we talk to people and we get them to tell us stories. And we talk to them, often times, when something's happening in their lives that's, like, completely unusual, that will never happen again ... And we talk to them, and at some point, their story ends and we move on and that is — generally speaking — it.
ALEX: And if you think about it, it's kinda weird.
PJ: It's super weird! It's like, "Tell me about this, tell me about that, oh my god, thank you so much! Goodbye."
PJ: I actually do feel very weird about it often.
ALEX: Me too.
ALEX: Um, our normal curiosity as human beings sometimes gets the better of us.
PJ: It happens once a year.
PJ: And it starts with our anthem by Matt Farley.
MATT FARLEY, IN SONG: Through the winter and the spring and the summer and the fall, so much good stuff happened on Reply All. Now it’s time to look back, check in, and get a few updates.
PJ: So we are here we are at our “Past, Present, Future” episode. We’re gonna look at the past, find out what’s going on in the present and eventually look at what the future holds. It is I guess now officially an annual tradition.
ALEX: Yeah. And it's dope. I love it.
PJ: Um, and there's someone here to help us with the updates episode.
DAMIANO MARCHETTI: Hey, guys.
ALEX: This is Damiano Marchetti, Reply All producer.
PJ: Very smiley today! (laughing) He's just —
ALEX: Yeah, he's —
PJ: (laughing) — silently smiling!
ALEX: He's - he's, like, sort of - he's sort of hugging himself with excitement.
PJ: Are you feeling nervous?
DAMIANO: Um, I wasn't until you guys started to point out every move that I was making.
PJ: You walk into this room, you get noticed real hard.
ALEX: Mhmm. (crusty dude voice) Welcome to hot seat, bud.
PJ: Welcome to the hot seat.
DAMIANO: It feels very hot.
PJ: So, from the —
PJ AND ALEX: (laugh)
PJ: OK, so from your position in the hot seat, you are going to guide us through this, uh, this day of time travel.
DAMIANO: Yes, exactly.
ALEX AND PJ: Uh.
PJ: So where're we going?
DAMIANO: So today, we are updating six episodes. And there will probably be some exciting bonuses along the way.
PJ: Uh, I actually know about one of these excited bonuses, which is that we asked Matt Lubchansky, our favorite artist, to make a Reply All 2016 poster, and so he did this like enormous, colorful poster with all these different characters from stories we did this year. It is awesome. If you wanna buy it, or even if you just want to see it, you you should go see it. It’s at replyall.ventures. We have a few for sale but it’s gonna sell out, so if you want one, just go get it.
ALEX: And before we start the episode, I just have one disclaimer, which is that if you haven’t heard any of the stories we are updating, you are going to wanna go back and listen to them, otherwise this episode is going to be very confusing to you and why would you even listen to it. So, uh, go listen to those and then come back. Uh, alright, Damiano, what do we got?
DM: OK, first up, episode 56.
ALEX: Uh, so, PJ.
ALEX: Couple weeks ago, on a dark and stormy night —
ALEX: Truly a dark and stormy night.
ALEX: I received a visitor at the Gimlet offices.
ALEX: A picture was taken. (slight laugh)
[rustling sound of Alex pulling out phone]
PJ: Oh my god!
PJ: Zardulu! Wow, in the flesh.
ALEX: Yeah. So episode 56 was about this anonymous, masked woman who goes by the name Zardulu. And she does these elaborate public hoaxes, I guess? The most famous example of something she has taken credit for was there was this very popular viral video called “Pizza Rat” in the fall of 2015 which was a rat that was dragging a slice of pizza down a flight of subway steps. She later claimed responsibility for having organized the entire thing and, um —
PJ: She was like, she said she trained the rat, she like, yeah. She’s … (sighs) yes.
ALEX: PJ is skeptical of her —
PJ: I’m a Zardulu skeptic. Because anytime something weird happens, in theory she can say that she orchestrated it and it’s very hard to disprove.
ALEX: And I am a Zardulu fanatic. Um, and for the original episode she wouldn’t talk to us. I tried a number of ways to lure her (laughing) into actually talking to us.
ALEX: But, after —
PJ: But since then you guys have become internet buddies.
ALEX: Yeah, after the episode came out Zardulu got in touch with me, on Twitter, in my Twitter DMs, and basically we’ve be in contact off-and-on ever since.
PJ: It’s the weirdest buddy comedy.
ALEX: I know. And it’s like, she goes back and forth between sort of being like, “Yeah, this is what my day was like,” and like, (deep voice) “The power of mythology will be un- unveiled —”
ALEX: (deep voice) “— to you.”
ALEX: It’s like a bit - it’s a bit of both.
ALEX: So I asked her to come in to do an interview … and she agreed. And she texted me to tell me she was outside and I open the door and I, like, look to my left and then I look to my right and standing right in front of me was a person wearing a death mask with a billy goat beard!
PJ: Oh my god!
ALEX: And a cloak and a turban. And it literally — it seriously made me jump.
PJ: Well, yeah.
ALEX: So Zardulu did the entire interview without ever taking off the mask. And one of the conditions of doing this interview was that we mask her voice. So, instead of hearing Zardulu’s voice, you’re gonna hear the voice of 12-year-old Owen Clowney, the son of our friend and former colleague Peter Clowney, instead of Zardulu. But I can tell you what it’s like to talk to Zardulu.
ALEX: It is weird. She speaks in these very halting, short sentences. It kind of feels like every sentence is being read off a fortune cookie. So I begged her, I was like, “Can I please just play like a snippet, like just like a sentence in your actual voice?” And she said OK. So what you’re gonna hear is a sentence of Zardulu, but then, for the rest of the conversation, her voice is going to transform into the voice of a 12-year-old boy.
ALEX: This is going to be so much fun, I am so excited. I can — (laughs) You legitimately scared the crap out of me when you - when you walked up.
ZARDULU: Oh, well I don’t mean to cause fear.
ALEX: (laughs) Um ...
ZARDULU: But I figured this might be more what you’re looking for than my normal hideous visage.
ALEX: How would you describe the mask? What is it made of? (pause) Dreams?
ZARDULU: What’s any mask made of? It’s what you want people to see instead of seeing you. This one happens to be wire.
ALEX: Is it uncomfortable?
ZARDULU: You get used to it.
PJ: What was the most normal thing she did in front of you?
ALEX: I could see her blinking behind her mask.
PJ: That’s pretty normal.
PJ: Did she have weird eyes?
ALEX: I couldn’t tell because there were fake, dead, wide-open eyes in front of them, on the mask, so it was very hard to —
PJ: So you would just see a little eyelash or whatever?
PJ: So what was she able to tell you?
ALEX: Um, so I asked her, like, why she was willing to talk to us now. She was like, “Well I wanted to talk in defense of the kind of fake news that I create. ‘Cause what I create is fake news.”
ALEX: “But the fake news that I create is not the, sort of, nasty, politically-deceptive stuff that’s out there right now.”
ZARDULU: What I produce is pearls of merriment for the world to enjoy. I don’t think anyone who saw “Pizza Rat” was going to incorporate that into their down-ticket vote. But of course I can’t be sure.
ALEX: And the thing that I didn’t realize — and was explained to me during the course of our interview — is that she is not just working in New York City. It is … it is worldwide. She’s doing stuff all over the world. But, um —
PJ: But, so, what’s, like, an international Zardulu heist?
ALEX: So … she is very cagey about what she has and hasn’t done.
PJ: Kind of the source of her power.
ALEX: What she was willing to tell me were a couple things that she did that didn’t … play. Like they didn’t get picked up by the news. They weren’t, like —
PJ: Like she made, like, a dead bigfoot and dropped it off and nobody saw it.
ALEX: These were much more subtle than (laughs) that.
PJ: Like what?
ALEX: She was, like, very fascinated by, like, the white and black splotches in bird poop?
PJ: Who hasn’t —
PJ: — been fascinated by that?
ALEX: So she decided to make something out of it.
ZARDULU: I studied the contents, the composition, I collected the appropriate materials — including white acrylic paint to keep it simple — and I created a work of art out of what appeared to be bird poop. I created the image of Donald Trump on a car.
ZARDULU: I stood back and waited and, indeed, people noticed. And, indeed, people took photos.
ALEX: When you say you made the head of Donald Trump —
ZARDULU: A likeness.
ALEX: Was it like a silhouette? What was it? Was it, um ... did it have, like, features? How did it look?
ZARDULU: Well at the time that I set it up, it had features. But I fear that by the time anyone noticed, it had run together more.
ALEX: Right. That’s the difficulty when you’re working in the bird poop medium.
ZARDULU: Or faux bird poop. If I’m being totally honest, I think real bird poop has much better staying power.
ALEX: Huh. I guess that’s something that you learn (laughs) —
ZARDULU: On the job.
PJ: I think what I like about that, it’s not even like, “Oh, great critique of Donald Trump,” or whatever. It’s just like … it’s so much work for such a subtle miniature.
PJ: Like you really need someone to get on their hands and knees and stare at bird poop for anyone to ever know that you’ve done this careful thing.
ALEX: Well, the deal is that a lot of times she will have, like, a collaborator who will be the person who notices it, and —
ALEX: — that collaborator will shop it to the news.
PJ: So she had somebody who was, like, emailing the news being like, “Look at this bird poop I saw,” and people were like, “Yeah, we got stuff today.”
ALEX: (laughs) Basically. And then the other thing that she was attempting to do that she didn’t pull off, is that … she — are you familiar with the rapper Belly?
ALEX: He’s a rapper, he’s a songwriter, he’s written songs for Beyoncé. He’s like a friend of the Weeknd?
ALEX: He and Zardulu (laughing) collaborated on a project.
PJ: What’s the project?
ALEX: The premise of the project was Zardulu made a … a sort of, like, animatronic … fake chicken.
ZARDULU: A chicken smoking marijuana!
ZARDULU: I had taxidermied a chicken and, drawing inspiration from one of my favorite pieces of machinery, the lit reindeer that raise and lower their heads for Christmas, you know?
ALEX: Mhm. Yeah yeah yeah.
ZARDULU: So I set the chicken up, basically, like that. We went out to Sacramento, California — where there happened to be a large number of wild chickens. Went to the side of the road, drew some wild chickens near — which is not too difficult — and I placed my chicken among the others, put a roach in it’s mouth and lit it up. And Belly’s role was to say that he had been walking, threw his roach, and a chicken picked it up and got lit.
PJ: (laughs) So it’d be like, the next day, it would be like, TMZ, like, “Rapper Belly Throws Blunt, Chicken Smokes It.”
PJ: That’s great.
ALEX: But I guess that, uh, Belly got cold feet on the project, so —
ALEX: — like, they - she ended up having to abandon it. But she showed me some pictures of the chicken, they’re really spectacular. And so, she actually told me during the course of that interview that she had performed illusions over the course of the year that I had seen ...
PJ: But not known about?
ALEX: But not known about.
PJ: Wait, so she’s done things on — like, literally to you in the world?
PJ: Like what?
ALEX: She wouldn’t tell me.
PJ: (clicks tongue) I’m not sure I believe this.
ALEX: (clicks tongue) I know - I knew you wouldn’t.
PJ: If she was on cable news, her chyron would be like, “Noted liar and fabulist.”
PJ: And she’s saying something that’s completely unprovable and, like, there isn’t even circumstantial evidence for.
ALEX: I know, but … I think that’s - that’s sort of her power. Is that everything could — she could be responsible for everything, she could be responsible for nothing.
PJ: Yeah, I know.
ALEX: So I asked Zardulu, like, what’s in store — like, what do you have in store for us for the future?
ALEX: OK. So here’s what I know. Your operation is global, you are working on dozens of illusions at a time. Um, Eric Yearwood, who appeared on our original episode, described a person who was, like, poised to reshape the world in a beautiful and exciting new way. Is that something that we can expect? Should we, like, live in anticipation of new delights all the time?
ZARDULU: Why would you live in anticipation when you can have a hand in its creation?
ALEX: Are you imploring all of our listeners to become Zardulists?
ZARDULU: I’m imploring all of your listeners — our listeners, if I may be so bold.
ALEX: You may.
ZARDULU: To not take for granted that someone else is going to make the magic happen for you. You know we are perhaps, not at a turning point, but we’re at a point where we could turn, toward the better.
ALEX: So we did the interview. She was - she was very kind, pretty coy. And then I walked her to the door. Just to remind you she is still wearing her death mask.
ALEX: Right before she leaves the building she says, “Alex,” and she hands me a piece of paper. And then she (laughing) walks away.
PJ: What was the piece of paper?
ALEX; It was folded up. I opened it, and written on it was, “Nothing is as it seems.” (laughing)
PJ: (whispering) Wow.
ALEX: She’s good, man.
ALEX: Since we broadcast our story, we heard from a cell of junior high school Zardulu adherents. Confidential to the Zardulists of Centennial Middle School in Provo, Utah: The strength of the pack is the rat. The strength of the rat is the pack.
DM: So, next up, our friend Breakmaster Cylinder, who produces a lot of the music for our show, we asked them to send up an update, and this is what we got.
[Breakmaster Cylinder song begins: a combination of found noises and glitchy bits of music]
BREAKMASTER CYLINDER [THROUGH VOCODER]: Hey, it's me, I'm here way up on a mountain. Harvesting beats to play on your show, so far from my home.
Bah-bah-bah, I can't talk long 'cause this area's heavily-guarded. Harvesting beats.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
[Song turns into explosions and industrial noises]
PJ: Breakmaster Cylinder.
ALEX: Very mysterious. Oh, hey PJ?
ALEX: Did you know that we have an update from Smeagol?
ALEX: Yeah, you know, Gollum from Lord of the Rings?
PJ: Uhh ... this is a ... cool joke.
ALEX: (doing Smeagol imitation) I had a very good year this year.
ALEX: (as Smeagol) Aside from filthy Hobbitses!
PJ: (laughs) Is this your Comedy Bang! Bang! audition reel?
ALEX: (as Smeagol) Fuck you, PJ.
PJ: (mildly-startled laugh) OK, what else have we got?
PJ: Sruthi Pinnamaneni.
SRUTHI: Hey guys.
PJ: Welcome to the present.
SRUTHI: (laughs) Um … alright. It’s nice being inside this gift.
ALEX: Do you have an update for us?
SRUTHI: Um, yeah, I do. About Paul Modrowski —
PJ: Wait, did you say, “It’s nice being inside this gift,” you mean in the sense that the present is a gift?
SRUTHI: It was such a bad joke that I was happy you didn’t even notice it.
PJ: (laughing) No, let’s take some time to really think about it.
SRUTHI: It was terrible, terrible.
ALEX: I didn’t get it until PJ just explained it.
PJ: (laughing) It sounds like a password that a spy would say on a bench.
ALEX: I thought you were calling this episode a gift and I was like, well that’s really sweet of you.
SRUTHI: It was a multi-layered bad joke.
ALEX: Ah, it was ... OK.
SRUTHI: So yeah, I have an update about the “On the Inside” story that I worked on. Um … specifically an update about Paul Modrowski’s case.
SRUTHI: Alright? So, the smallest, quickest version of, uh, the summary of that story was … it’s about a guy in prison who has a blog who says that, um, he’s innocent of this crime that he’s in prison for. Um, so the big update is that if you remember in the story, his codefendant was a man named Bob Feraci, there’s a scene in the story where I’m in a car with Bob asking him questions. Um, and Bob, you know, he was tried alongside Paul, but he was acquitted, right?
SRUTHI: There was a patch of blood found in his car at the time of his arrest.
PJ: Bob’s car?
SRUTHI: In Bob’s car, exactly. They tested it, but they didn’t find anything, like this was back in the 90s, and so the technology just wasn’t there. Paul’s lawyers have managed to find this sample of carpet and they’re getting it tested. It’s in a lab right now, and if the DNA results come back and say that this is the blood of the victim, um, then there could be grounds for Paul to get a new trial.
PJ: This is what happened with Adnan Syed in the Serial case.
PJ: It's like, if you get it, they vacate the conviction, they're like, "We are starting from scratch," basically.
SRUTHI: Exactly. Yeah.
SRUTHI: Yeah. It's exciting.
PJ: Thanks, Sruthi.
ALEX: Will you keep us apprised of, uh, what happens on the show?
SRUTHI: I promise, Alex.
PJ: Reply All producer Phia Bennin!
ALEX: Hi Phia!
PHIA: Hi. So ... we are gonna do a speed round, where you guys compete. One of you will exit the winner ... of this competition.
PJ: Is that true?
PHIA: I think so.
PHIA: I'm gonna judge you guys.
PHIA AND PJ: (laugh)
PHIA: One of you's gonna be the winner and it's gonna be who I think wins.
ALEX: So are you putting a minute on the clock?
PHIA: Yes, I - I have my cell phone right here.
PHIA: I'm gonna put 60 seconds. PJ's going first. Ready?
PHIA: On your mark ... get set ... PJ, begin.
PJ: OK, remember I got scammed by the fake Delta Airlines thing?
PJ: Turns out they are suing a bunch of those people for trademark infringement. They're, like, actually solving the problem.
ALEX: Good for them! Pizzagate — which, uh, we talked about just a couple episodes ago — has now embroiled, uh, Linda Tripp, the woman who tipped off —
ALEX: — the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Because because of codes that are embedded in her Christmas tchotchke website, and they want John and Tony Podesta investigated for the disappearance of a child named Madeleine McCann about a decade ago.
PJ: Wait, but they think Linda Tripp's part of it?
ALEX: Ay, this is the 60 seconds. You got to keep going.
PJ: OK! Ummm, you remember ... that guy Matt who was trying to get service with Verizon, he wanted Verizon FiOS and it was really hard, 'n we did a big story about why it was really hard?
PJ: Still doesn't have Verizon FiOS.
ALEX: Animation Factory, the website that had a bunch of animated GIFs, uh, briefly became very popular again when a frog on a unicycle GIF became the basis for a meme called "Dat Boi" this summer. It was huge.
PJ: Uh, I went to the Latex Ball. It was super fun. I just wore jeans and a button-up shirt. Everybody was really nice to me. And I saw incredible, beautiful stuff.
ALEX: Google has a pilot program in San Diego that is going to require both plumbers AND locksmiths to give them additional information before they, uh, can advertise with Google AdWords.
PJ: Uh —
ALEX: Who won? [pause] Phia?
PHIA: [pause] I mean, you both fulfilled the requirements. (deep breath) Let's do it again next year.
PJ: (laughs) Good deal.
ALEX: Good answer.
PHIA: Thanks for having me.
PJ: Coming up after the break, we visit possibly the most haunted place in America.
DAMIANO: Next up, episode 53.
ALEX: "In the Desert," right? About the —
ALEX: It was a story about some people who, um, started getting knocks on their door from folks who were saying that they had stolen their cell phones. And, um, it started happening over and over again and no one could really figure out why everybody's lost phone pointed to this particular residence.
PJ: Right. So basically, all these people who used Find My Phone were being sent to Mike and Christina’s house. Here’s a clip from the story, it’s just one of the more upsetting encounters they ended up having.
MIKE: So I had fallen asleep on the couch watching, uh, Star Trek Voyager — as Christina will tell you, I - I fall asleep to Star Trek, on the reg, from TNG, to Deep Space Nine, and now Voyager. Um ...
MIKE: Anyway, so I had fallen asleep on the sleep on the couch, woke up immediately. And, uh, ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong!
PJ: And someone’s pounding on the door.
MIKE: I go to open the door. We had like two, three dudes standing up on the little stoop, and then another dude behind them who had, like, his hands in his jacket, like, which I was like, “Ooooh.”
PJ: Mike was worried the guy might have a gun.
MIKE: And as soon I opened the door, you know, just immediately they started yelling in my face, “Where is he? Where is he? Where is he? Where is he? Our friend’s here! Where is he? Where is he?”
PJ: OK. So, I went down to Atlanta to figure out why this was happening. We — and we just really didn’t know. Like it was something to do with WiFi, maybe? Like, I didn't know what.
ALEX: And what I remember is that, um, this was not something — this was a little over your head technically, so you brought in a ringer?
PJ: Yeah! I brought in Dave Maynor, he’s a … technical wizard.
PJ: So what — what is this?
DAVE MAYNOR: Uh, this is a software to find radio.
PJ: And what’s this?
DAVE: This is a spectrum analyzer.
PJ: So basically … Dave was able to figure out that the problem had to do with IP addresses. Like, there are these database companies that keep track of everybody’s IP addresses. And the companies are supposed to know, like, “Your IP address corresponds to this spot on a map.”
PJ: So they know where you live.
PJ: But what was happening is sometimes they would have an IP address but they wouldn’t know where on the map to put it, and so they’d just pick, like, a random location nearby.
ALEX: And that random location for many of these IP addresses just happened to be these people’s house?
PJ: Yes. And so we'd originally found this story because, um, one of our friends-slash-peers, Kashmir Hill, who reports on technology for Fusion, she had - she had learned about this problem and was trying to solve it.
PJ: And so after we reported our little of chunk of the story, Kashmir kept reporting the story with Dave. And so a week ago, I gave her a call to get the latest update.
PJ: Can you hear me now? Hello.
KASHMIR HILL: I can hear you. Can you hear me?
PJ: I can hear you. Where are you?
KASHMIR: Um, well, right now I'm trying to make my way back to a quieter spot, um, but I'm in Golden Gate Park. Um.
PJ: In, like, actively in the park?
KASHMIR: I'm actively (laughing) in the park —
KASHMIR: — walking around. Trying to … encourage my baby to come out. (laughs)
PJ: How close are you to ... baby-coming-out time?
KASHMIR: Um. My due date is tomorrow.
PJ: OK so, Kashmir says when she and Dave started looking into this, Dave’s reasoning was basically, if we know that we have this one house … in this one place that’s having this problem, that means there’s probably all these other houses that are also having it that just haven’t, you know, like, talked to a reporter and turned it into a national news story.
PJ: So they looked into it, and what they were able to learn is that as bad as Mike and Christina have this problem, there are tons of people who have it way worse than them in America. Basically, if you take the top thousand places in America where people get erroneously sent because of IP glitches, Mike and Christina’s house is like 800-something out of a thousand.
KASHMIR: And at the top of the list was this geographic location in the middle of Kansas that had 660 million IP addresses associated with it.
KASHMIR: And they had it really bad. They had people showing up to their house, like, looking for identity, uh, thieves and scammers and spammers and, uh, child pornographers, uh ... all - all kinds of crazy things.
PJ: Why? Like, why was that happening?
KASHMIR: So ... what - what had happened was that all these IP addresses, um, were IP addresses that the company that wrote this database, MaxMind, they didn't know exactly where the IP addresses were, they only knew that they were in the US.
And so they said, "OK, well, when they're in the US, we'll just map them to a default location in the middle of the country."
KASHMIR: And that happened to be (laughing) the front yard of this farmhouse. And it’s like, you know, the people who live there, like, live there to get away from everything. Um, this farmhouse has been, uh, the woman who owns it, it's been in her family for over 100 years. You know, it's, like, completely in the middle of nowhere. Uh, and yet, it became ... became, kind of, the center of the American internet.
PJ: So … knowing that they are the worst off, but also knowing now ... you know, like, who's responsible, like, is there any sign that this could lead to things getting better?
KASHMIR: Yeah! So, you know, I - I contacted the company MaxMind, and I said, “Hey, um, I - I have - I have some questions for you.” Like, “You have 660 million IP addresses associated with this house, could you tell me why?” And, you know, “Number two, did you realize that this is causing huge problems for the people who live there?”
And, uh, the - the founder of the company was like, “Oh my gosh!” Like, “I had no idea!” Like, “What should we do?” (laughs) And I was like, "Well ... you might wanna change it somewhere else." Uhh.
KASHMIR: And so, you know, he back got to me and was like, "Hey we moved it to a lake, do you think that's a good solution?" (laughing) And I was like, "When did I become the internet infrastructure expert?"
PJ AND KASHMIR: (laugh)
PJ: So Alex.
PJ: Kashmir told me that the company, MaxMind, they did change the default location away from the farmhouse. They’ve chosen a new location where something like 600 million lost IP addresses are all going to point. Do you want to see that location?
ALEX: Of course I do!
PJ: OK, here’s a video.
[wilderness sounds from video]
PJ: Here we go.
PJ: So it’s called Cheney Reservoir, right outside Wichita. Kashmir says it’s a nice, lots of people go fishing and boating.
PJ: This is a video of a guy just catching a fish there. A five-pound fish, apparently.
ALEX: I can’t tell that they’ve buried 600 million cell phones … at the bottom of that lake.
PJ: It is weird that, like … I don’t know. It’s just weird that there’s … it’s like seeing a cursed place. Even though it’s like — do you know what I mean?
ALEX: Right. Like any moment you expect some kind of great cybernetic hand to reach out of the water and —
PJ: And just like —
ALEX: — pull that guy in?
PJ: — grab the fishing kid and pull him in. Yeah. Anyway. That’s the lake.
DAMIANO: And now, “Vampire Rules.” Episode 68.
PJ: OK. Um, ta-ta-ta-ta teh-ta-teh-teh-ta-ta. OK, Alex. You remember our episode, "Vampire Rules"?
PJ: OK, so a lot happened in that episode, uh, but the thing that is important to remember right now is that you and I got into an argument.
ALEX: (laughs) Yes we did.
PJ: Basically the argument was, if you're allowed into someone's house — if someone willing lets you in their home — what are you allowed to do if you’re alone in their home. Like, what is ... fair?
ALEX: Right. And I said that the sort of outer limits of it were, like, playing their Nintendo, and you were like, (grainy voice) "Dress up in all their clothes and pretend to be them for a week!"
PJ: That is not what I said. But I did endorse, like, a line of … being more comfortable generally with snooping —
PJ: — basically. Like, like —
PJ: — I believe that … vampire rules apply. Like, the same way that a vampire is only allowed into your home if you invite them over the threshold, but once you invite them in, they’re allowed to kill you? I believe that once you’re in somebody’s house … and you’ve been invited in, you’re allowed to snoop a little bit.
PJ: OK. So, a listener wrote in, and they were like, just so you know, there's another person ... kind of, uh, somebody that a lot of people consider an ethical person — who also abides by mine, PJ's, uh, view of vampire rules.
PJ: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Alex.
ALEX: (worried light laugh) What are you talking about?
PJ: I'll tell you what I'm talking about. The Dalai Lama wrote a book.
ALEX: And it was like - it was a book that was like, “Etiquette when you're staying at another person's home.”
PJ: Basically. Hold on. OK, here it is. (deep breath) So he's making this point about whether rich people are happier than poor people. And he writes, “I remember well on occasion on one of my early trips to the West. I was the guest of a very wealthy family who lived in a large, well-appointed house." A guest, Alex.
"Everyone was very charming and polite. There were servants to cater to one's every need, and I began to think that here, perhaps, was proof positive that wealth could be a source of happiness. My hosts definitely had an air of relaxed confidence. But when I saw in the bathroom, through a cupboard door which was slightly open, an array of tranquilizers and sleeping pills, I was reminded forcefully that there’s often a big gap between outward appearances and inner reality."
The point being, the Dali Lama snooped in somebody's medicine cabinet.
ALEX: (laughs) OK, I'm of two minds on this one.
PJ: I'd like to hear both of them.
ALEX: On the one hand, it's like ... if your significant other leaves their Facebook up and there's, like, a chat window open and you walk by it and you see a word that's like —
ALEX: Yeah! You see a word that's like, “affair!” Or “tryst!” It's kind of fair to be like, “OK, I noticed that.” And he noticed something that was, like, a cupboard that was cracked open a little bit. It doesn't say that he cracked the thing open and took an inventory of all of this person's tranquilizers and sedatives.
And on the other hand, I mean, I don’t — this is not a thing that I particularly want to say, because this is a lot of people's spiritual leader — but I think that's a little creepy.
PJ: Well, I don't think it's creepy, because I do think you can do this stuff, but also recognizing that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a lot of people's spiritual leader, I do not believe him that it was “slightly ajar,” and he just happened to peer through it. Like (laughing) I think he looked through their medicine cabinet! I think that — even, like, the way he writes it, it feels like … maybe I'm imagining this, but like, I feel like I can hear a big wink throughout this paragraph. "Slightly ajar"?
ALEX: Look, I - I get it. People are curious, even His Holiness the Dalai Lama. OK? I take your point. My personal opinion is that it's just not — it's not great. You shouldn't do it. And I’ll tell you —
PJ: I think it's cool you've found someone so eminent to feel “holier than thou” about. I'm glad you feel holier than the Dalai Lama. I hope it's worth it to you.
ALEX: Oh, boy. Oh — I feel like this was just an elaborately-laid trap that I just stepped right into.
PJ: You mean the last two minutes, or this entire show?
ALEX: The last two minutes.
PJ: Well, then you’re not on to me yet. OK, uh — I got another—
ALEX: What's next?
PJ: — update. Another —
ALEX: Can we move on from this —
ALEX: — and never look back please?
PJ: Yes! Never look back!
DAMIANO: OK. Episode 57, "Milk Wanted."
PJ: Hey Phia Bennin.
ALEX: How's it going?
PHIA: Good, how are you?
PJ: “Chillin’.” Hm.
ALEX: (under breath) Oh my god, fuck you. (loud) What —
ALEX: Why?! Every - you - you evaluate everything I say.
ALEX: You have … see?
ALEX: You have this idea that, like, somewhere along the line you became, like, the official Alex Goldman … like the equivalent of a food taster, but you're, like a word taster.
ALEX: And you have to, like, hear every one of my words and be like, "Doesn't taste great."
PJ: I don't know if I'd call it a word taster. (laughs)
ALEX: Sorry — Phia's here.
PJ: Hey, Phia Bennin!
PHIA: I’m here! This is not what I came for.
PJ: Do you have an update?
PHIA: I do.
PJ: What's your update?
PHIA: OK so, um, remember early in the year, I did an episode about breast milk? And how there are families that are, like, really, really desperate for breast milk and they’re trying to, um, buy it or find ways to get it for their children and then there are other people who are over-producing it and, usually, when there’s, like, a demand and a supply, there’s a place online where it’s, like, really easy to go get the thing?
PHIA: And how breast milk, like, there isn’t somewhere really (laughing) easy to do that?
PJ: Yes, I do remember this.
PHIA: Yes. And one of the solutions for that was, um, places called “milk banks,” where people could donate their milk and then you could buy it — or your insurance might cover it — but it’s, like, really expensive and a hard way to get it still.
ALEX: And —
PHIA: And —
ALEX: — at the time, there were only a couple that were open, right?
PHIA: Yeah. Um, at the time, there were less than 20 milk banks in all of North America and, um —
PJ: And there was none in New York.
PHIA: Right. But! Since I reported that piece, actually, New York now has a milk bank.
PHIA: Yeah! So, in September, the New York Milk Bank opened. And they say they’re doing really well, the demand has been really high, a lot of people are donating. Like, it’s like off to the races, immediately successful. But, one of the things about their system is that they have depots, milk depots. There’s like over 20 of them in the state and you can drop off your milk there if you’re a mom who’s overproducing and they’ll take it from those depots, bring it to the main location, pasteurize it and then redistribute it.
PHIA: So, over the weekend, I went to one of the depots and what I haven’t told you that is crazy about the New York Milk Bank system is that they are partnering with a motorcycle club.
ALEX AND PJ: What?!
PHIA: Yeah. So this motorcycle club is going to the depots, picking up the milk, and then driving it — or biking it — to the main milk bank. So, like, they are the messengers. And the logic behind it is, like, they can move through traffic agilely and they can park outside of places easily —
PJ: Oh god, I used to commute around New York on a Vespa, it was like — it’s like having a cheat code.
PHIA: So it’s a women’s motorcycle club here in New York.
PJ: This is the coolest thing.
PHIA: They're the coolest people.
PJ: OK. What are they called?
PHIA: They're the Sirens Motorcycle Club of New York City.
PJ: (whispers appreciatively) Damn.
PHIA: And, um … over the weekend, when I was at that depot, I met three of the Sirens. Uh, the first one was Molly, she is a pledge in the Motorcycle Club. She is a welder. She wears beautiful red lipstick.
MOLLY: I work in a metal shop and I'm the only woman at work, so —
MOLLY: — like, all the men (laughs) they were unfamiliar with milk banking. And —
PHIA: Then there is AJ, who, before she found the Sirens, she was riding on Long Island with a group of New York cops.
AJ: I started riding in — when I was 18 ‘cause my boyfriend had a bike. And I got on the back of his bike and I rode it a couple times and I thought, “Why am I riding on his bike?” So I got my own bike and I’ve been riding ever since, on and off.
PHIA: She's a lawyer. She has five children. She is amazing.
PJ: (whispers appreciatively) That is so cool.
PHIA: And then, the last one is a founding member. Her name is Cheryl. She’s very petite and blonde and just has, like, absolutely no fear.
CHERYL: You know those people who lean over all the way and they drag their knee on the ground —
CHERYL: — and then they drag their knee the other way?
CHERYL: I do that! And I have —
PHIA: Oh my god!
CHERYL: — a bike just to do that on. (laughs)
PHIA: Oh, that is SCARY.
CHERYL: It's really fun! (laughs)
PHIA: Oh, we have such different definitions of fun, you and me (laughing).
PHIA: So, I was there on a Saturday. The Friday night before, a hospital in the Bronx had run out of breast milk, and so they did an emergency breast milk run from upstate to that location on Friday night, and they could do it, like, so fast.
ALEX: They sound great. They're like a —
ALEX: They're like a pack of benevolent badasses.
PJ: OK. Knowing that you have … a deep phobia (laughing) of motorcycles —
PJ: Did you ride?
PHIA: So here's what happened when I asked.
PHIA: So I have one more question that you should say no to, which is just whether one of you would be willing to bike me around the block once, but —
CHERYL: Um, I'd be happy to, but, uh, you sound terrified.
PHIA: I know!
PHIA: I am!
AJ: It's like riding a bicycle.
PHIA: It is?
AJ: Yeah. It's not that scary. Once you're on it and get used to the idea.
PHIA: I actually love bicycles.
[sound of motorcycle starting and idling]
PJ: There it goes!
PHIA: Oh, man.
PJ AND ALEX: (laugh)
[sound of motorcycle driving]
PHIA: Ugh! Oh man.
PHIA: That’s me getting on.
CHERYL: OK, go and put your hands around my waist.
CHERYL: There you go.
PHIA: (laughing) Oh man!
CHERYL: All set?
PHIA: Yeah. (laugh-gasp)
PJ: I just heard a gasp.
PHIA: This is all me squealing. I am squealing for the entire time around the block.
[sound of motorcycle riding, Phia exclaiming, dips back under narration]
PHIA: And, just to clarify why this tape sounds absolutely so terrible is, like, I’m … grabbing on to Cheryl for dear life, my microphone is inside my jacket, and all I’m trying to do is not fall off the back of the motorcycle.
[motorcycle sounds, cuts out abruptly]
PHIA: And that's my whole update.
PJ: That's a good update!
ALEX: Thank you.
PJ: I think every year you end up doing something dangerous on the show.
PHIA AND PJ: (laugh)
PHIA: It's a good question whether acid or motorcycles is more dangerous. Motorcycles.
ALEX: Definitely motorcycles.
PHIA: It's increasing. Yeah. OK, thank you!
ALEX: Thanks Phia!
PJ: Thanks Phia.
PJ: Alright, so we are at the final part of the show, the part where we talk about the future.
[Matt Farley “What’s Gonna Happen in the Future?” song]
PJ: Obviously a lot of people are not feeling great about whatever’s gonna happen next year. But we wanted to know what people are looking forward to, what people feel optimistic about. And so we gave out our phone number again, and we asked people to call in, and we asked them to tell us, what are you looking forward to in 2017.
We sat down Friday afternoon to take calls, the phone system immediately broke. We came back Monday afternoon and took more phone calls in the studio, and here’s what we heard.
ALEX: Here they come! Calls are pouring in. There it is.
JOE: Hi, this is Joe from Wisconsin.
ALEX: Hey, Joe. Please tell us what you're looking forward to in 2017.
PJ: People were excited because their horses were about to have foals.
JOE: It's a lot cleaner, I guess, than a - than when a human's born? Uh, but they're very, very gangly, they're all legs.
PJ: They were excited because their kids might finally start eating their school lunches.
WOMAN: My daughter goes to a Jewish preschool, and all she likes is sausage.
PJ: They were excited because they were gonna turn 25 on the day of a solar eclipse.
MAN: The path of the shadow of the eclipse passes right over my parents' home — like, where I grew up.
ALEX: Wow, that's dope. That's dope.
MAN: I know, it's so dope. I - I'm gonna get super powers. That's what I'm bankin' on.
PJ: Overwhelmingly, what we heard is that this year sucked but that people are looking forward to a chance to try again. Uh, we wanted to just play you one of the calls we got in its entirety.
ALEX: This is Alex.
PJ: And PJ.
SUSAN BRACKNEY: Oh my god! No way.
ALEX: Yep, it's —
SUSAN: Am I really talking to you guys?
ALEX: It's really happening. Who are we talking to?
SUSAN: Oh, right. Well, this is Susan.
ALEX: Hi, Susan.
SUSAN: Uh, Brackney from Bloomington, Indiana. And, uh, home of - home of Indiana University and really crappy winter weather.
SUSAN: Um, 2016 was easily the worst year of my life.
SUSAN: And I am ready for 2017.
ALEX: And —
SUSAN: Um, and you wanted to know what I'm excited or looking forward to?
ALEX AND PJ: Yes!
SUSAN: Uh ... so. How to say this. Uh, I have three dear, uh, friends who have a soap company. Um, they're - they're, each of them are Muslim-Americans and I'm kinda scared for them in this age of Trump and all that.
SUSAN: Uh, and I'm doing my very best to help them. And one of the things that we have just started to do and will have a hard launch in 2017 is, um, DesignMySoap.com. It is the world's first and only online soapmaking studio and —
ALEX: I like this!
SUSAN: — you can —
ALEX: So you get to choose the ingredients and stuff?
SUSAN: You choose the ingredients and the thing is that they've invented this special way of making soap that not even, like, Procter & Gamble knows how to do.
PJ: What's the special way of making soap?
SUSAN: Oh, it's a little bit a secret, but I'll tell you they call it "The Volcano Method."
PJ: We usually charge people money to do ads on the show, but this feels good to me. This feels OK.
ALEX: Yeah, I'm into it.
PJ: I'm very happy to support this volcanic secret soap technology.
ALEX: It sounds really intense. "The Volcano Method."
SUSAN: It's awesome! Uh, and these guys, they just broke the mold. It makes me cry when I think about ... I'm just very proud to know them.
PJ: How do you know them?
SUSAN: Um, my parents are customers of theirs, and they were always buying their soap and giving me their soap, uh, to kinda cheer me up. Uh, 'cause like I said, I had a really bad year.
PJ: Why was your year so bad?
SUSAN: Um, I got a divorce.
PJ: Oh, I'm sorry.
SUSAN: And I, uh, found myself living in a 133-square-foot Airstream trailer.
SUSAN: And I have rheumatoid arthritis. (laughs) So.
PJ: Oh, I —
SUSAN: Those things all happened in the same year. And those things are not designed for winter-time, let me tell you.
PJ: Ohhhhh no.
PJ: That is a - that is a bad year. That is, like, a year to box up and put away. How come you're so proud of these, um, soap guys? Like, what - what about them makes you so proud?
SUSAN: Well, they are, like, they've been at this for four years. They have this one soap for poison ivy and they actually — one of them got poison ivy on purpose to —
SUSAN: — test their soap.
SUSAN: To make sure it works. Like, they don't want to put out shit. And they - they only want to put out the best stuff and — and their profit margin is terrible and they're barely getting by. And I just — I love 'em. I just want them to be OK.
PJ: Hm. And are they, like, it is, like, when — I feel this way sometimes when you hang out with people who love a thing — is it, like, all they'll talk about is soap all the time forever?
SUSAN: All the goddamn time!
ALEX AND PJ: (laugh)
PJ: And —
SUSAN: All they talk about!
PJ: What is soap talk like?
SUSAN: Ugh! Well, like, they'll - they'll argue about which base is better, how to make something sudsier, Anthony made one called "Anthony's Spice," and he's, like, really super-proud of it.
ALEX: Um, I'm curious — I feel like i- a lot of people, if they'd had such a bad year, they would probably just be like, "All I want is for better things to happen for me next year." But all you want is (laughs) is for better things to happen to your friends with the soap company next year!
SUSAN: Pretty much. I love - I love coming here — I'm in their little factory right now — and it smells so good, just being in here makes me feel better. With all these smells and they're just such nice people. They're like the opposite of the person I was with for the last ten years. It was a very abusive relationship and these guys have, like — they bought me a little heater for my trailer and they - one of them made me an eye doctor appointment today 'cause he knows I really need to get my eyes looked at and ... they just been looking out for me and they're just the sweetest people ever. It just makes me want to cry. I just want them to be OK.
PJ: Ugh. I'm glad you found a good place.
SUSAN: So, anyway.
PJ: Yeah. But anyway, people should go design their own soaps.
SUSAN: Yeah. Just DesignMySoap.com.
ALEX: Alright, thanks so much for calling.
SUSAN: Thank you! And, um, that is all. Bye.
PJ: There’s actually — there’s one more person who I talked to who I wanted to tell you about. Somebody who I was really looking forward to hearing from this year.
ALEX: Alright, who is it?
PJ: This is a story that we actually officially broadcast at the end of 2015. But ... whatever.
ALEX: OK, lay it on me.
PJ: Um, you remember the story "Quit Already!"?
ALEX: Yes. It was about a very kind woman named Lucia who was a grandmother who lived in Guatemala and had so much disgust at the sort of the corruption of the political system, she started a Facebook, uh, event that basically was like, "Let's go protest at the, um, presidential palace."
PJ: Yeah, although it wasn’t even an event. It was actually just a Facebook post. I asked her to read it to me back then.
LUCIA: Yeah, if you give me one minute I will search it.
LUCIA: (Begins reading post in Spanish)
PJ: I asked Lucia to translate her note in real time for me, and she gave it a shot.
LUCIA: If ever in Guatemala needed that everyone go out to the streets for the return of the millions that they have stolen, it is now. Hah! I wrote that like I was Yoda.
ALEX: So Lucia posts this Facebook event, doesn’t imagine that anything is really gonna come of it, and one thing leads to another, and it balloons into a protest so big that it results in the president of Guatemala stepping down.
PJ: Um, basically, yeah. This is what Lucia said about it when we first talked.
LUCIA: For the very first time in my life (smile-sigh), finally, justice had been served.
PJ: Did that ever seem possible?
LUCIA: No, actually, it didn’t. That’s why I was so happy. Every single one of the Congress that worked that day at the Congress and had to make the decision voted yes. (surprised and contented sigh)
PJ: So I caught up with her over Skype, uh, last week, and found out about what is going on in Guatemala and what is going on with Lucia. Um, what do you want to hear about first?
ALEX: I am very interested in how Lucia's doing, because, um, it was hard not to … really love her, based on your interview with her.
PJ: So she is now working for this, um, political nonprofit called Citizen's Action. They're basically the Guatemalan chapter of Transparency International. So she's doing ... she's fighting corruption in a, like, organized way. And she’s their —
PJ: Yeah! And she's their chief financial officer/administrator, so she's, like, doing the day job she used to do, which she's really good at, but she's doing it in the service of the, like, large-scale political change that she thinks is important. So she's happy.
ALEX: That's amazing!
ALEX: God, the paths that - that lives take. It’s so wild.
PJ: Yeah. [long pause] Are you just sitting there, like, contemplating the fullness of the universe?
ALEX: Kind of, I'm a little overwhelmed. It's just like, “Hey, I'm gonna post this thing.”
ALEX: “15 of my friends are going to show up at it.” Um. And then now it's like, her life — it's changed her life … her life is completely different, and it's totally informed by this one tiny, seemingly insignificant action.
PJ: Yeah. Alright now do you want to feel bad?
ALEX: (slight laugh) Well, no, but, I mean, in order to encapsulate the fullness of the story, yes.
PJ: So ... here's what happened. Um, one of the questions was just like, “Who’s going to be president of Guatemala now?” And … what happened was that there was an election. And this guy ran, whose name was, uh, Jimmy Morales.
PJ: He was a guy who had almost no political experience whatsoever. He was actually famous as kind of like a buffoonish TV personality.
ALEX: Um, are you trying to set this up to sound very familiar to me?
PJ: I don't know why it would. He ran against a former first lady, who had a lot of political experience but who was seen as part of the corrupt establishment.
ALEX: Get outta here!
PJ: Yeah. And he won. (pause) And —
PJ: — he's been a kind of absentee president. He's not — he’s actually not in the country very much. But he's, like, impulsive, he just, like, starts fights with other countries for no reason. He's super right-wing and he's backed by the military, and so under him progress has slowed in places and reversed in others.
ALEX: Ugh. How does she feel about that?
PJ: She was like, “Yes, our president sucks. But … politics isn't just about the president. Like, the person who was the President of Congress this year was kind of — his nickname was “Cabra Loca.”
LUCIA: Cabra Loca. It’s, uh, um … “wild” no, not wild. “Crazy,” um, “Crazy Ram.” Cabra Loca. Yeah.
PJ: And what does it mean he's a crazy ram?
LUCIA: Like, he published all the names of the people that work in Congress, with the salaries that they received.
LUCIA: Yes! (laughs)
LUCIA: ‘Cause it's public information and everybody was asking. And it turned out that we had, like, janitors that were earning as much as a CEO in a — in a company.
PJ: And Lucia had a bunch of other examples of places where there were signs of progress happening in Guatemala even if they weren't coming from the president. Like, for instance, there was a big crack-down this year on citizens who made illegal political donations. Which, in the past, was something, like, everybody got away with. And there were actual arrests.
Like, Lucia knew somebody who was arrested and she felt bad for them because they were one of the first people to get in trouble for something that everybody used to do and not get in trouble for. But she looks at something like that and she's like, "Things are changing. Even if they're not changing very quickly all the time."
PJ: And that sort of made me realize, like, I think … why I'd wanted to check back in with Lucia in the first place, which really was ... I wanted to know how she continues to be hopeful despite the fact that ... progress in Guatemala is not always a straight line.
PJ: I think a thing that I hadn't known when we talked that I know now is, like, I don't know how — this is a - this is dumb — but like … to care about your country, to like really care, to like pay attention and to think you can affect it, like, to care about your country the way you care about your family or your neighborhood, it really hurts. Like it hurts all the time because it's this, like, massive … boat, and you can barely move it, like even with a lot of people you just nudge it. I don't know how you did it. Like, I don't know how you … continue to care. Because it actually really hurts.
LUCIA: Ugh. How, how? Um ... You know,when I was really young — perhaps when I was even a teenager, I don't know, um … I always ... thought ... that, uh, civilizations on Star Trek and all these sci-fi movies were really possible, where all humanity was joined together and blah blah.
LUCIA: And again ... focusing on the small things, you know? Um ... focusing on - on the one guy that ... works for years on end on the SETI Institution, searching for intelligent life outside the planet. And ... and I think, “Oh, this is people that really care!” You know? And —
LUCIA: — and we still (laughs) —
LUCIA: — we have ... that little (laughing) flame of hope for humanity. I don’t know!
PJ: (laughing) I'm surprised that your example is a person who’s hoping that the aliens come save us (laughing).
LUCIA: (laughing) Yeah, but you know, there's some really good people in the world doing … things that nobody else noticed. And that gives me hope every day.
ALEX: She's the best.
PJ: I know. She's actually just the best.
PJ: Yeah, for me like, the fact that she exists is, like ... the thing the SETI guy’s existence makes her feel, I feel because of her.
LUCIA: Have a great afternoon and thousands of kisses (kisses noise).
PJ: Thank you, Lucia! Have a great afternoon. Thousands of kisses. Bye.
LUCIA: OK, bye.
PJ: That’s it for us, that’s it for this year. Just a reminder, if you want to see our year-end poster, and believe me, you do want to see our year-end poster, the URL again is replyall.ventures.
And thank you to everybody who listened this year, Everybody who wrote in, or called us, or browbeat their friends into checking out our weird podcast. Thank you even to the people who keep sending us emails saying we say “like” too much. We will see all of you in January.
ALEX: Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman.
We were produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Chloe Prasinos, and Damiano Marchetti. Our executive producer is Tim Howard.
We were edited by Jorge Just. Production assistance from Thane Fay. We were mixed by David Herman. Special thanks this week to Adam Quinn, Felix Biederman, Virgil Texas, Karen Duffin, Felina Rakowski-Gallagher, and Stephanie Foo.
Matt Lieber is launching your sled off a killer jump.
Our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, our ad music is by Build Buildings, and our logo is by Matt Lubchansky.
You can find more episodes of the show at iTunes.com/ReplyAll or wherever else you get your podcasts. Our website is replyall.soy.
We’re gonna be taking a couple weeks off for the holidays, so our next episode will be on January 11th. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in a couple weeks.