October 25, 2018

#129 Autumn

by Reply All

A 13-year-old girl builds a tiny world that she has complete, perfect control over. And then one day, that world forces her to make an impossible decision.

Episodes of The Nod you should check out:

Cowboy of the West Village
Peak Reality
The Paradise Garage
Knuck if you Buck

Transcript

[REPLY ALL THEME]


PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I'm PJ Vogt. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman. And today, we have, uh, Wallace Mack in the studio. 


MACK: What’s up, y’all?


PJ: Hey, Mack. You have a story for us today. 


MACK: I do, I do.


PJ: So you wanna talk about it?


MACK: Yeah, let me tell you about it real quick. So a couple months ago, I was doing this thing where I got really fascinated by this idea of finding black utopias, like, utopias for black people. Um, and so I started searching, and my first thought was to look back in history. So like maybe something like a black Wall Street, but not quite a utopia. Um, and then I was like, alright, physical places that exist now. Maybe like a cult or an independent city, and in the research, I just didn’t see it. Like, I even tried looking online, the internet, I couldn’t really find anything. 


But what I did find was this woman who tries to build a sort of utopia for herself and ends up with a lot of power, like so much power that she has to make a decision that’s kinda crazy and that’s what I wanted to know more about. 


PJ: The story you ended up finding is like, I have never heard a story like this before. It’s really, i dunno, I really like it. Do you wanna just take it away? 


MACK: Yeah, I got it.


ALEX: Alright. 


MACK: So, the story’s about a woman named Autumn. She’s 27, and she lives in L.A.


MACK: What do–what do you do?


AUTUMN: Oh, I work as a special education aid in a special day class. So I work primarily with third, fourth and fifth graders with special needs.


MACK: That sounds like a, a really like rewarding job. 


AUTUMN: (whispers) Yes! It really is. 


MACK: And so what makes you happy? 


AUTUMN: Wow, that's a deep question (laughs).


MACK: (laughs) I mean, it can be as deep or lighthearted as you want it to be.


AUTUMN: Um, what makes me happy is making other people happy. Like, that's the honest truth, I guess.


MACK: So the story starts when Autumn’s 8 or 9, and her mom drags her to this baby shower—’cause, you know, sometimes your mom drags you to stuff that you really don't want to be at. And she's not alone because there's this other girl there that doesn't want to be there either, and the girl is like, "Hey! Like, come to my room. I have something I want to show you." And so they go. And the girl like boots up this computer. And there it is, this tiny world that Autumn’s never seen before. The Sims.


MUSIC — (dorian)


AUTUMN: And I watched her build a house and make these people and the people were talking and cooking and I was like, "Woah! It's like a dollhouse on a computer!"


MACK: And so like, what did you like about the game when you first saw it? What was intriguing about it to you?


AUTUMN: I liked that you could control little tiny people. She was kind of cruel, I guess, with them, like drowning them on purpose. But I, I liked the thought of being able to make all these little tiny people and they all live their own individual tiny lives. 


MACK: OK. And- and- around–around the time that you first started playing the game, how much time would you say you spent playing?


AUTUMN: All the time. If I was not at school, I was playing. 


MACK: So you'd go to school–


AUTUMN: Mhm.


MACK: And then as soon as you–


AUTUMN: Come home–


MACK: Mhm.


AUTUMN: Yup. I got home and the second I got home the shoes were off, run upstairs, play the computer, get yelled at, do my homework, and then turn right around and keep playing. 


MACK: Autumn told me that she would, for the most part, do anything to avoid life at home. Because like, her relationship with her mom was hard.


AUTUMN: Um, my mom worked as a teacher but she was for like upper grades. She was a teacher so she worked with kids all day and then she came home, and I guess coming home to a kid was a lot too. 


MACK: Mhm.


AUTUMN: Um, so if she wasn't, um, I guess, disciplining, then she was off by herself. Um, and there was no other parent in the equation. 


I know growing up I was really angry and resentful that everyone else seemed to have at least one parent that loved them, and I didn't. 


MACK: So Autumn spends a lot of time at home by herself. And when she gets to school, things still feel like trash. 


AUTUMN: When I went to school, it was in an area that was rough, right?

 Like, we would fight over like who could have the juice instead of having bad milk.


And um, I was naively nice to the point where I was letting fifth graders kick me in the shins because they said it was a game. Um, and I would get bruises.


MACK: But there was one bright spot in her life, a person that loved her fiercely—her grandma.  


[MUSIC]


AUTUMN: I would get out of school early and she would pick me up. I lived like right around the corner. I lived a block away from the school, but she refused to let me walk….


MACK: Her grandma would do stuff for her, like take her to museums, spend days with her at the library and like cook her favourite foods. 


MACK: What did your grandma look like?


AUTUMN: She was a chunky, let's say, 5-foot-6? 5-foot-6 1/2 woman. Um, lighter skin. She always kept her hair pressed. Every single day she'd put the pressing comb on the stove and press her hair, even though that's not good for your hair. You don't press dirty hair.


And she had an amazing smile. Like she had an episode, I guess, and then like one side of her face–like her mouth drooped, and she was really self-conscious about it. But she would still smile, and it was just the most beautiful smile in the world. 


MACK: And Autumn knew no matter how bad her day was, her grandma would still be happy to listen to her.


MACK:  Why do you think she cared so much? 


AUTUMN: I have no idea. Like, my brain want to say because she was my grandmother, but it's like people aren't nice just because someone's family. I guess she just wanted to let me have a really enriching and fulfilled life maybe, which is really good of her, but that's all I can think of.


[MUSIC- The Size of Grace (Instrumental)]


MACK: So Autumn’s grandma is just being kind to her. Like she’s showing somebody, who really needs some love, some love and that’s kind of what Autumn did when it came to her Sims. 


AUTUMN: Logically, I knew it was a game, but at the same time, I was so invested in these people, and in what they did, it was like, "I can do this. I can be happy. I can do something. I can change things." And it gave me a sense of power that I guess I didn't have otherwise. 


MACK: And so, in Autumn's Sims world like, her house would have white picket fences, grass that's just green and like manicured to hell, and a fridge full of food and there's a dad there. And like, it really takes a lot of work to do this shit. Like, I don't–I remember playing The Sims and not giving my Sims nearly this level of like attention to detail. But at 13, Autumn’s like a pro at this. 


And having this kind of generic, happy family life is what she needs. Like, yeah it’s boring, but, like, inside this, like, house that she built for her Sims, there’s a lot of love and support. And for a while that’s the perfect escape. 


But then something happens in Autumn’s life that kind of changes everything. When Autumn’s 15, her grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer, and they put her on hospice care.


AUTUMN: She was, like, you know, deteriorating. And we went to see her one more time and then we left. And I remember a couple of days after I told my mom, I really felt like I needed to see her, and my mom said, "No, we already said goodbye. We're not going back." 


MACK: And then one day, her mom comes home from work and is basically just like, “Hey, Grandma died today.”


[MUSIC — RAINBOW PUGS]


AUTUMN: It was just kind of really casual almost. It felt so dry, how she told me.

 

MACK: So this is like, actually really traumatic for Autumn. Like, in her mind now, she's forced to kind of conjure up this idea of her grandma dying in this hospital, sad and like alone. And, to top it all off, her mom won't even really talk to her about it. And at this point, all she really has is The Sims. That's like her thing, right? 


But now The Sims feels different. I kind of understand that, right? Like, have you ever just been doing something and then suddenly forget why you're doing it? Like, it just kind of starts to feel dumb? Yeah. Autumn had no idea what she was doing with The Sims, like, kind of playing with this like fake-ass family. So, she dumps it, like, fuck that. And she decides to replace it with a world that looks like her own, before her grandma died. 


AUTUMN: I was like, “OK, well I just want to make my house again. I want to my actual real house that I live in. I want to make my family and all that stuff." And so I was building. And then, as I was building it, I made myself, and I made my mom, it's like "Well, I want my grandmother to be here. Because I miss her. And I don't have anything to really remember her by because we don't have a lot of pictures of her really either."


MACK: Mhm.


AUTUMN: So, for me it was like, "OK, well, let me have her back. 


[MUSIC — “HAVE HER BACK”]


I want her back. Let me make her be back.”


MACK: And what's the first step in making her?


AUTUMN: Oh, let me think. The first step was making sure that I got her face looking as close as possible. 


MACK: Mhm–


AUTUMN: I like got rid of the hair. I made her bald, so I could see what I was doing. But I made sure that like I took a gross amount of time, like, shaping her eyes, her nose, her fac–like at best that I could remember. 


MACK: Got it. And then, and then like what were some of–like what were some of the other steps that you went through, after you got the face to a place that you felt comfortable with?


AUTUMN: I made sure to give her her pearl earrings. 


MACK: Mhm. 


AUTUMN: I gave her loves the outdoors. I gave her neat. I gave her hot headed. I can't– 


MACK: And what're these things that you're–


AUTUMN: I think I gave her family oriented–


MACK: What're these things that you're describing, the neat–


AUTUMN: Oh, I'm sorry. They're traits. 


MACK: Mhm. 


AUTUMN: So like they're things that are like part of your Sims’ personality. 


MACK: Mhm. 


AUTUMN: So it's like, if they're neat, then they will reflexively want to like clean up messes that they see, or they'll get freaked out if there's a mess. And I made her a natural cook --- that’s what it was--because she made some good food. 


MACK: (chuckles) What kind of things did she make?


AUTUMN: Oh my god! She would make bacon, like so much bacon. And like toast and eggs and it was all really good. She made yams. She made–(deep breath) god! She made greens, she made like black-eyed peas. She made so many things! She made cornbread–she made so much. I can't list everything that she made.


MACK: Mhm. 


AUTUMN: She made really good food (laughs).


MACK: (laughs) I love how excited that you get about the food that she made. That lets me know that it was actually really good. 


AUTUMN: Oh her food was so good. Oh my god.


MACK: So, Autumn is doing all this work to kind of make this Sim feel and behave as realistically as possible. But it gets to a point where it's like, what's the point?  Because the defaults that she's working with it’s just, to be frank … just white as hell. You know it’s like it’s the same five hairstyles that white people think all Black people have. 


And so, Autumn really wants to make this thing real, but it's not real enough. But, Autumn being Autumn, she's not gonna settle until she gets it right. And then one day she finds this website called, The Black Simmer. 


MUSIC (WANDER)


YOUTUBER 1: I’m using a custom skin tone in my game, and this is the one right here. She also has--


YOUTUBER 2: Look at the, look, the hair, look at these earrings. Like what? Like look at, look! What is this!? Like, yo. 


MACK: The Black Simmer is basically a place where black people who love The Sims come together and, I don’t know, essentially modify the game. Like, they draw style inspiration from their own lives, like things they would actually wear, or like use, and then they upload it so other people can use it in the game. 


YOUTUBER: If you can get it while you can, grab it, you guys. Like, I’m telling you, it’s mad cute, so.


AUTUMN: Like before, The Black Simmer, like, there was no real custom content that I knew of that fit people that look like me, right? And my grandmother. Like it was just you deal with what you get, and if it doesn't fit, sucks. And then I found The Black Simmer. 


I'm like, "Wait a minute that skin color is my grandmother's skin color. Those glasses are my grandmother's glasses. That hair." 


They have church now. Like, people have made churches like with actual church events, and like the tin that's supposed to have butter cookies and it has sewing things in it instead. Or the, like big, I think it's Country Crock Butter thing, that has no butter. It has like leftovers from something else, like little touches like that. Or like a clock, a clock that is apparently not sold anymore but every single black household has had it before. Or like, this pan, like little things that are so culturally poignant. These things I could take and put in my grandmother's house and put it in her life and put on her and make her feel more solidified. 


So it's not just this casual memory of maybe my grandmother's house and maybe my grandmother. It's my grandmother. It's my grandmother's house. It's her memory that I can keep. 


MACK: And so, Autumn needs to make one final tweak now. It's like this crazy tweak that you can only do in The Sims. But it's a tweak that makes sure that Autumn's grandma never gets any older.


AUTUMN: I turned off aging. Like I didn't want her to age. I left her be. And in my mind I was thinking, "OK, I can't actually have her back, but I can play through her still existing here. I'm not ready to let go yet, so I'm going to have her here and she's gonna be here until I'm ready."


MACK: Mhm. So you have your grandma in the game now. And now it's like not possible for her to get older–


AUTUMN: Right–


MACK: It's not possible for her to pass away. 


AUTUMN: I can just have her. She's there for me. She's there. 


[MUSIC — Groove Instrumental — starts on “every single day”]


MACK: Every single day after school, Autumn is on a mission. And that mission is to get home as fast as she can to hang out with her grandma. So, she gets home. She probably flings that book bag off. And she's up the stairs to get into The Sims.


And there in the game, from the moment she logs in, the phone starts ringing.


See, Autumn had programmed her grandma to be family-oriented, so her grandma called all the time. And so like, she's watching her Sim on the phone with her grandma. She can see her Sim like smiling and like getting comfortable, sitting on the couch, kicking her legs up. You know, all the things you do when you're having a really good phone conversation. 


And Autumn can’t actually understand the conversation they’re having because in the game Sims speak a made up language called Simlish. But for Autumn, it's like kind of therapeutic to be able to fill in the lines, and in her mind she’s imagining her grandma's asking things like, "Hey, how was your day?" You know, "How's it going? I miss you."


MACK: And so, who did you tell that- did you–or did you tell anyone at all that you were recreating her in the game–?


AUTUMN: I didn't tell. 


MACK: You didn't tell. 


AUTUMN: That was for me. It was specifically my thing for me. It was my—mine. Like that was one thing of her that was mine. I did not share it with anyone. I didn't show anyone, it was for me. It was mine.


MACK: And like, for a year, that felt good. Like, she could walk around in this Sims universe and just randomly run into her grandma in the park. Or she could like go visit her grandma at home where they could sit on this big wooden swing she had and just chill. Like, this is great, it's like perfect because like everything Autumn wants, right? 


Well, Autumn started to notice that after a while she'd go into the game and it wasn't working as well as it used to. Like it just–it didn't make her happy anymore. And she starts to realize the problem. She just created a world where her grandma could never die, which meant she can't grieve. Which is like, what's the point? Like, this is already her reality. 


And so that’s what leads her to her big decision. She decides to go back into the settings of The Sims, and she turns time back on. 


AUTUMN: I turned aging back on, and it was absolutely miserable. Like I felt awful because it was like you would see, like, the little–at 6 o'clock every day in the game, like the little age meter would move up a little bit. And it's like, well, we're that much closer to the end, that upset me because in my mind it's like, I don't want to lose her again.


MACK: Mhm. OK. And so, you turn aging on in the game, you're playing with her and as you're continuing to play you're looking at the meter and it's, it's ticking.


AUTUMN: Ticking. Yup.


MACK: So- do–do you change the way that you play now that aging is turned on?


[MUSIC]


AUTUMN: Yeah, (sighs) by that time my Sim had grown up and had kids of her own, so then she was a great grandmother (sniffles) excuse me. And so I'd let, like, my kids go to her house, and I would go to visit her. It was like a big thing because now that I couldn't depend on just maybe seeing at–her in the park, like, two or three Sim weeks from then. It's like every moment was precious. 


MACK: Mhm. 


AUTUMN: So like (sniffle), there was a thing that happened where my Sim had a toddler, right? And my grandmother was teaching my toddler how to walk, and so in the game you can like record–like they have home videos basically, but in games. You can record things that happen in the game and then still play them while you're in game, like on a TV. 


MACK: Mhm–


AUTUMN: Like a regular home video. I know those don't really exist too much anymore but, you know. And so I recorded my grandmother teaching my toddler to walk and for me that was, it was wild. Because it's something that I know that I'll never have. But it was so wild to see it happening. Like I wish, you know, I wish that she could be around to see things that. Or to like be around to see the birth of my first child, things like that. But I can't have that. So it was just, it was really good to be able to have it happen in a game, if anything. 


MACK: Why didn't you just decide to keep it off? You know, that would've been so much easier. Why did the–why did that realization make you feel like you had to like turn it on, wher–rather than just kind of continue to live in the fantasy?


AUTUMN: I think that it was important for me to, like, see that life can continue past someone so important passing on. Does that make sense? I know it's like really convoluted and weird.  


MACK: Mhm.


AUTUMN: But that's not how life works, and I can't deny that that's not how life works. That's not healthy. 


MACK: Yeah. Could you tell me about the night or the day that your grandmother passes in The Sims?


AUTUMN: It was hard. I signed in, like I got on the game, (sniffles) excuse me. And things were going pretty normally. I couldn't see her life thing because I was playing as me, but I could see mine moving, and it's like, "OK well if my life is progressing I know hers is too." And then eventually I got a notification in the top corner of my screen that said that her name, Grace, was going to pass soon, and if I had any business left to take care of it now (sniffles). 


I was terrified. Because it's like I can't- like- it–it wasn't initial shock of, I can't lose her again. I don't want to lose her. I want to turn off aging. I'm not ready. I'm–I can't do this. I want to keep her. I don't want to lose her again. 


But I had to pause the game, kind of walk away and think, it's like, well this is, this is life. This is what happens. And at least it's peaceful, and you're getting a warning, so go ahead and keep playing and just let what hap–what's going to happen, happen. So, I unpaused the game, and I moved her Sim out of her house into my house, so I could keep an eye on her. She got to be really comfortable in her last end game days. I let her go out and sit in the garden. We sat and we talked and then I saw that it was the very end of her life thing, like it was at the very end. 


There was no time left. It was going to be that day. So I didn't let my Sim go to work. I didn't let the kids go to school. No one went anywhere. Everyone stayed home with her. And then right on time, she just kind of, like, the, the camera like shot to her so you have to see it. And she just laid down and she–like it was kind of peace–it was really peaceful, like she just- she–she passed. Like there's this big, fancy luau-looking thing, like the Grim Reaper comes, and (sniffles) they just like nod in acceptance that it's their time. And they go, and it left behind, because it was inside, it left behind an urn. And all of my Sims start crying. And they're all bawling. And I'm crying (sniffles). I'm sorry. 


MACK: No, it's fine. It's fine. 


AUTUMN: (crying) Like I couldn't stop crying. But it still felt better for me, like as a person. It felt better to watch her pass in luxury knowing that she lived a long fulfilling life doing the things that she loved (sniffles). And there was no suffering and no pain. I could be there for her and would–gave her like hugs and kisses and everything. 


She wasn't by herself. Or she wasn't with some nurse that didn't really, like, get attached to her or anything. Like she was with family (crying). Like I spent a long time, like while I'm crying, this is my grieving process. I took the urn and put it outside to make sure it was a gravestone. And I put like so many flowers and trees around her, her grave. 


MACK: In the weeks that come after this, Autumn keeps watching her Sims kind of process this, and she's seeing like her two kids they're like hugging and weeping and holding each other's faces and holding her. And she could log in and really see her family visiting her grandma's grave.

MACK: Do you think you could've processed this grief that you had associated like with the passing of your grandma in the same way without The Sims?


AUTUMN: Heavens no, not a chance. I would still be sitting and thinking to myself, "My grandmother is sitting in the living room in her house." 


MACK: Mhm.


AUTUMN: I know that's not true, but that's what I grasped to, to like keep myself from melting, to like breaking down, was, "No, she's not actually gone. She's just sitting on the couch in her house, and she's just having a time and she doesn't have phone connection, and that's why she hasn't called. That's all it is."


[MUSIC]  


MACK: It’s been 10 years since the funeral. And in that time, a lot of the things in Autumn’s real life that made her need the Sims before don’t really exist anymore. She’s not in school being bullied by kids, she doesn’t live with her mom anymore, and in fact, she like has a job and she has a partner. She has like actual power over her life.

 

She still sometimes misses her grandma, and when she does, she can’t really bring herself to visit the actual grave. Like, she knows it’s gonna be a mess, and it’s possible she’ll be the first person to ever visit it. And to Autumn, that’s not the right way to remember her grandma. 


So instead, she goes back to the game. And there, in the backyard of the house, one of the first things you’ll see is this big wooden swing, and it’s the swing that Autumn and her grandma used to hang out on. Then, exact opposite of the swing, you’ll see this like huge plot of grass, and it’s this really nice white slab of marble that’s just like hanging in the shadows of a huge maple tree. And every year around her grandma’s birthday or special holidays, that’s where you’ll find Autumn, crouched down, laying flowers at the head of her grandma’s grave.


[MUSIC]

PJ: Reporter Wallace Mack. A version of the story you just heard originally appeared on The Nod. If you like our show and you haven’t checked out The Nod, you’re cheating yourself out of a lot of free joy, and I think that’s a very strange choice. 


We’ve talked about them on the show before, but like, The Nod, they’re also at Gimlet. We love them. It’s like our show in that it’s sort of weird and hard to explain to people who aren’t already listening, but I wanna give it a shot. 


They cover black culture, like that’s what they’re interested in, and the show that they make, it’s just like every week it is something entirely different and weird and fun and surprising. So like they’ll have a story like the one you just heard, but then the next episode, they have this one, Peak Reality, where it’s just Eric, one of the hosts, making this extremely funny and weirdly like kind of persuasive argument that 2016 was the absolute high water mark for reality TV. 


And then you get an episode, they have one, Paradise Garage, where all the stories are set in this 1970s New York nightclub that was hidden in an old parking garage. They have this story called the Cowboy of the West Village, which is like I literally do not want to say a thing about it because it’s just one of those things you just have to listen to. It’s a complete surprise from the beginning to the end. Um, yeah, go check them out. They’re on iTunes, The Nod. 


OK, we’ll have more of our show after the break. 


BREAK


PJ: Welcome back to the show. 


Uh, Alex? 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes? 


PJ: Can I tell you this thing I've been thinking about? 


ALEX: Sure. 


PJ: You remember when we did the call-in show? Where we took calls for 48 hours? I mean one of us did–


ALEX: Yeah I was about to correct you–


PJ: The other one slept a little it–


ALEX: Yes, I remember that. 


PJ: Um, do you remember–so like the second night you actually did go to sleep and I stayed up.


ALEX: Yes. 


PJ: And there was this one phone call I ended up having with a guy, I think he was from New Zealand. And like, by the time he called, I dunno it was like 4 o’clock in the morn-- it was really late. And I, like, I started to feel this, like, weird, like, abandoned on the moon astronaut feeling. Like I just felt very, even though like we were taking all these phone calls, it felt very isolated and bad. 


ALEX: Totally, you’re in like a tiny sealed box in an empty office--


PJ: And your co-host is asleep. But the thing about the New Zealand call was the way he described where he was, it felt like he was literally standing on the edge of the world. 


ALEX: OK.


PJ: Like he just described the place he was as like so pretty and remote and like, and it felt nice to be talking to someone from the farthest possible point. 


ALEX: Yeah, I mean that's sort of like, if I were to think of the utop–the utopian version of the Internet, that's it. It's like you get to talk to people who have, who are like at the literal furthest point from you with like the most diametrically opposed life that you, you can never touch. But then suddenly it–all distance is collapsed by this wonderful technology.


PJ: All right, Carl Sagan.


ALEX: (laughs) And in the beauty of the night sky.


PJ: No. Like I guess my question is just like, is there a point in your past, where you like, what’s the time where you most remember that feeling of just being remote and isolated and just having a very thin line back to where life was? 


ALEX: What you're describing sounds like the time I was committed to a mental hospital.


PJ: (laughs) That is an example of feeling isolated. Is it, is it okay if I ask you what happened?


ALEX: So this was like 15 years ago. Um--


PJ: This was when you were in Texas?


ALEX: This was when I was in Massachusetts. And um, I was just a person who was deeply chemically imbalanced and needed a lot of help, which I have since gotten. So like, I’m in good shape. 


But being in a mental hospital feels remote because, um, you’re trapped in a place with people you don't like. You have to sleep in a room with people you don't like because you don't, you don't get a room to yourself. You have no autonomy, can't shut a door. 


And they have a phone. You can use it as much as you want. But they do this thing where they–this cruel thing—where they're like, "Listen, you know, if–what it tells us when you do this." Because like all you–all anybody wants in this position, which is like, you have no privacy, you're totally exposed. The–you're doing group therapy fifteen times a day to tear yourself apart and rebuild yourself as something that is like stable enough to walk out the doors. 


PJ: (sighs)


ALEX: So you can use the phone whenever you want but what they say is like, "Listen what you're telling us when you use the phone all the time is that you're not ready to leave here."


PJ: (breathes) Oh!


ALEX: That's the most isolated I've ever felt, I guess. 


PJ: What did you–what was your little straw to see the world through? Like was it the phone?


ALEX: Basically. Um, I was like trying to–I was just like trying to find–those moments when you're like desperately alone, and you need someone who understands what you're going through. 


And so you just keep like, so, I feel like this was a very common experience in college, where you're just–where I was just like calling and calling and calling people from my dorm room being like, "I just need you to understand me. I just need you to understand me." 


Just magnify that a hundred times when you're in the mental hospital. And it also happened to be the weekend of my grandmother on my mom's side's funeral. And I called my mom and I was like, "Hey, I can't come I'm in a mental hospital. I need you to understand me."


PJ: What did she say?


ALEX: She was like, "I can't believe you'd fucking do this."


PJ: (laughs)


ALEX: And I was like, "Well, I didn't exactly–I did get committed so."


PJ: I bet your mom feels so bad about that. 


ALEX: She's going to when she hears this!


PJ: (laughs) So like, I don't know, this is like weird, and I don't know if it'll work but like, it’s like every once in awhile there have been these moments where actually it’s like instead of us just yammering forever, it’s like we’ll hear from people who normally have to listen. 


Like, with the call-in show it happened a bunch of times, where it would be like, all of a sudden it was like on a dock under some stars in the Midwest, you know what I mean? Or like we were like in a dorm room in a weird dorm room fight. I guess I just want, I just, I want that feeling, like--basically like the dream version is somebody's like, um, "I'm on an oil rig in deep space. And this is where I'm recording from."


ALEX: I'm sorry. An oil rig in deep space?


PJ: Isn't that a thing in some sci-fi movie? I don't know. What do they mine in space?


ALEX: Unobtainium.


PJ: OK. I'm in an unobtainium mine in deep space. And I listen to the podcast, and this is my like mining hole. 


ALEX: You want like the, the John Cage four minutes and thirty-three seconds–


PJ: No, it doesn't have to be silent. Like, I actually would be totally happy if people were like, "Here's why it feels like how it feels out here." But I just want to feel the sense of like, you like send audio out and like it usually doesn't come back. And I want to see the farthest places it comes back from. 


ALEX: I like that idea. 


PJ: Basically I just want clips where it’s like people saying like where they are, what they’re seeing there and how it feels to be there. And maybe like actually like a minute of the sound of that place. 


ALEX: Mhm. Just to be clear, unobtainium is really only on the planet of Pandora. 


PJ: What is unobtainium from? Avatar?


ALEX: Avatar.


PJ: How are you pulling Avatar references?


ALEX: I gotta be honest. Today I was thinking about how after that movie came out there were all those articles about people who saw the movie and then became depressed because Pandora seemed so utopian (PJ laughs) that they like got in forums and were just like, "God I wish I could just be one of those blue guys."


PJ: That was a thing?


ALEX: I mean, I don't think it was a real–I think like one person said it on a forum, and it became an, an article on a hundred different news outlets.


PJ: That's such a sweet expression of being very depressed. 


ALEX: (laughs)


[MUSIC]


PJ: OK, if people have stuff. What's the email address that we tell people to send emails to?


ALEX: Well, there's replyall@gimletmedia.com. Is that what we want to use?


PJ: What's your personal one though?


ALEX: (laughs) Ok. So send your recordings — just about a minute or so — to replyall@gimletmedia.com subject line: Unobtainium.


[MUSIC]


[REPLY ALL THEME]


PJ: Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. Our show is produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley and Jessica Yung. The show’s edited by Tim Howard. This week we had more editing help from Emanuele Berry. Our intern is Heather Schröering. And the show is mixed by Rick Kwan, fact-checking by Michelle Harris. 


Special thanks Amira Virgil, founder of The Black Simmer, and to The Nod. Again go check them out. We have links to all the episodes that I mentioned in our show notes. You can go right from there. 


Our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. There are actually a lot of additional music credits for this episode. You can find them on our website, replyall.limo. 


Matt Lieber is a long drive at night.


You can find more episodes of the show on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in two weeks.