Transcript : Lost in Translation - Part 1
[00:00:00] Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast. I’m Marc Moss. We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us something storytelling event. The theme is The Kindness of Strangers. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 4 0 6 2 0 3 4 6 8 3. You have three minutes to leave your pitch.
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com This week on the podcast I
[00:01:33] Chris Hallberg: hear dr. Steve before I see dr. Steve his His loud American accented Spanish is echoing off the clinic walls He looks to be in his mid to late 50s like kind of washed up surfer vibe about him
[00:01:49] Philippa Crawford: I really tried to avoid him next thing. I know we’re paired up in an exercise that we do with our eyes closed Touching each other’s hands getting to know each other with just [00:02:00] our hands
[00:02:01] Richard Thornton: And the boy just smiles real big and he, and he nods his head and then he looks at me and in English he says, how much?
[00:02:10] Nita Maddox: And this effervescent thing kind of rose to the surface and I thought, I’m going to organize a naked bike ride.
[00:02:18] Marc Moss: Four Storytellers shared their true personal story on the theme, Lost in Translation. Their stories were recorded live in person in front of a packed house on September 28th, 2023. At the George and Jane Dennison Theater at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana.
Telesomething acknowledges that we are on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Pendlay, Salish, and Kootenai peoples. We honor their resilience and strength in the face of colonization and displacement. We recognize that the land upon which we stand is sacred to them and we are committed to working towards a more just and equitable future for all.
We take this moment to honor the land and its native people and the stories they [00:03:00] share with us.
Our first story comes to us from Chris Hallberg. who shares his story in which Dr. Steve, an American doctor, gives a Salvadorian patient a pizza cutter as a gift. Chris calls his story Pizza Cutter Medicine.
Thanks for listening.
[00:03:26] Chris Hallberg: So it’s about six in the morning and the sun is just coming up. I’m on a bus in rural El Salvador headed out of Chalatanango into Nueva Trinidad. And even though it’s just break of dawn, the bus drivers got reggaeton music on full blast. And the bus that we’re on is this old repurposed school bus. I’m wedged into my seat.
My knees are pressed tightly up against the vinyl of the seat back in front of me. There’s diesel smoke that’s blowing through the cabin as the bus driver just [00:04:00] tears around
It’s about 15 years ago, and I’ve been living in El Salvador for about a year now, working on a few different, um, health related projects with some grassroots organizations there. And although I have a U. S. passport and know that I can leave at any time, I really try to do everything that I can to live as an average Salvadoran would.
So I shop at local Marcets and avoid touristy areas. I wash my clothes by hand. Um, I eat the street food. I drink the water. Um, And when we, uh, when the, or I guess the bus that I’m on is headed out to this rural country area, um, there’s a group of U. S. doctors that’s, that’s, uh, volunteered to come down and, um, myself along, and along with a few other people we’ve been asked to, um, help interpret for the doctors.
So we, um, we pull up at the clinic and there’s already a line of Salvadorans outside the tall whitewashed [00:05:00] walls of the clinic compound and I kind of go to make my way inside and the tile floors of the clinic are just spotless, there’s white floors, they’ve been freshly cleaned, this is the sweet smell of fabulosa, this cleaning product is kind of lingering in the air for those of you that know fabulosa.
The staff is all standing in a large circle, kind of at attention. The, uh, nurses are there, and the community health workers are there, and the janitors are there. And, uh, uh, everyone is just dressed immaculately, even though the staff lives in near poverty themselves. So the women are all wearing these like white pressed dresses.
Men are wearing, uh, dress shirts and slacks. And everybody has got on these, um, dress shoes that are polished and totally clean even though there’s, um, dirt, muddy streets, uh, throughout the town. Uh, and then off in one corner, the, the U. S. physicians are kind of mingling amongst each other. And I’m trying to size them up because I’ve, uh, volunteered to interpret for these groups before.
And some of the doctors are definitely a little bit more culturally sensitive [00:06:00] than other ones. And from the looks of it. This group seems to be pretty appropriate. They’re, you know, talking in gentle tones. They’re all professionally dressed. Except for one.
Now I, I hear Dr. Steve before I see Dr.
Steve. His, his loud American accented Spanish is echoing off the clinic walls. He looks to be in his mid to late 50s. Um, like kind of washed up surfer vibe about him. He looks like he was born in Southern California and had never left. He’s got, uh, shoulder length, uh, curly, graying hair. Um, he’s wearing an old faded t shirt.
He’s got on gym shorts and flip flops. Um, and his, his, uh, he kind of reminds me of that one wild uncle that we all have that just talks a little too loudly and has no sense of personal space. So the clinic manager gets us all together and she starts Um, making pairings, assigning each of us interpreters with one of the physicians, and I start to get nervous, because I [00:07:00] just do not want to get stuck with this joker all day.
And so she starts calling off names, and she says, you know, Jen and Dr. Anderson. And I feel my knees get a little bit weak, because I just, I know what’s coming. And then she says, Nadia and Dr. Garrett, and I just know it’s happening, I can feel that the pit in my stomach is getting tighter and tighter. And she proceeds through all of the, the pairings until, um, uh, in a moment that feels a lot like middle school gym class to me, there’s only two of us left.
And she says, Chris and Dr. Steve. So Dr. Steve makes his way across the, uh, clinic waiting area to me and he’s got this giant clear plastic. Garbage bag in hand and there’s these brightly colored plastic objects in it. He kind of looks like a beach bum Santa. And so he makes his way over and as he gets closer he holds his hand up in the air and says, what is up my dude?[00:08:00]
I brought plastic pizza cutters from a pizzeria in my hometown back in Southern California to give out to the people here. Um, uh, they don’t cut too good, but I feel like the people could use them to cut their tortillas. Like, fantastic. You brought injection molded plastic. Pizza cutters to give out to subsistence farmers who have absolutely no use for them whatsoever.
This is, this is great. And so we start our clinic day together and uh, uh, Dr. Steve tells me really early on that he won’t be needing my interpreting assistance because he dated a Spanish woman a couple decades ago and is basically fluent.
Dr. Steve’s clinical skills are fine but his Spanish language skills, on a good day, I’d put somewhere in the neighborhood of, could competently order off of the Taco Bell [00:09:00] menu. Yeah, anything beyond Chalupa is really going to challenge this guy. So I try to do my best to jump in when things really get off the rails, but the Salvadoran staff cue into what’s going on pretty quickly and um, just direct, you know, really straightforward cases to us.
Um, coughs, colds, rashes, stuff like that. Every single patient that sees us leaves with a plastic pizza cutter in hand and a very confused look on their
There is one patient that was particularly confused by the plastic pizza cutter. This patient came in and he was having abdominal pain and diarrhea and he left with a bottle of Imodium and a pizza cutter. And we thought that was going to be the last we’d see of him. But about ten minutes later, he comes shuffling back into the clinic, and he’s clearly kind of nervous, he has this sheepish air about him.
He shuffles in, gives Dr. Steve this black plastic bag, and then kind of shuffles out. And Dr. Steve’s really [00:10:00] confused. He’s like, what is this? Is this a gift for the expert medical attention that I’ve been providing? And so he slowly starts to peel back the corners of the bag. And the most horrendous, putrid smell comes pouring out of the bag.
And he keeps peeling it back and peeling it back. And eventually this neon pink pizza cutter emerges and it’s absolutely covered in poop.
Now at this point I should say, GI issues are really common in El Salvador and it’s not unusual for doctors to request that their patients bring in stool samples to help aid in diagnosis. And best we can piece together, what had happened was the patient thought that the pizza cutter was this sophisticated tool from the U.
S. that should be used to collect a stool sample. So, he took the pizza cutter out to the pit toilet behind the clinic, and like, delicately and expertly, and in a manner that totally defies all Newtonian physics, pooped all over the [00:11:00] pizza cutter.
Now, at this point, the Salvadoran staff is really struggling to keep their composure. I, I, I’m just laughing, I’ve like totally lost it. And Dr. Steve is just… Totally, totally dumbfounded.
In that moment, in that small clinic, in that small Central American country, through the hands of a farmer, the universe served up an epic dose of cosmic justice to all the Dr. Steves of the world. It is an absolute honor to be there to bear
Now, some 15 years later, I think about Dr. Steve on occasion. Dr. Steve was a, uh, was a fine clinician, but he missed some major, major cultural miscues. He makes me wonder about my own cultural ineptitudes, [00:12:00] um, both as a physician and as a human. Makes me wonder about what pizza cutters I’ve given out over the years.
Makes me wonder, um, You know, about for all of us how our unconscious biases shape the way that we understand ourselves and those around us. And ultimately, it reminds me that we need each other as a community to help us recognize our own individual and collective blind spots to help us all, um, recognize our own inner Dr.
Steeves. And for that lesson, I have to say, thanks, my dude.
[00:12:49] Marc Moss: Thanks, Chris. Chris Hallberg is a family medicine doctor who’s worked with patients in rural Alaska, Montana, the Caribbean, and Central America. He enjoys cooking, making music with [00:13:00] friends, and poking around remote corners of Montana with his girlfriend Charlotte and their dog Sydney. Our next storyteller is Philippa Crawford, who leaves her busy life working at an ad agency in San Francisco.
When she falls in love with the man of her dreams. Philippa calls her story, Love Found
Home. Thanks for listening. Yes.
[00:13:26] Philippa Crawford: What? Fire? I scrambled across to get to the bay, running down in my heels on California Street, getting to the ad agency. The fire was small, but I had to make sure that the mechanicals and the artwork were in good condition so that I, as print production manager, could get them to the printer and satisfy the client’s deadlines.
The cortisol was palpable. It was high energy. It was crazy. It was fun. We were adrenaline junkies. I was standing on the corner one day, and a bus whooshed through. [00:14:00] And I was taken back to New Hampshire as a child and remembering being mesmerized by how the ants would take dirty, I mean dirty dry soil and turn them into these beautiful sandy mounds.
And then remembering the glistening dirt in the dust in the sliver of sunshine coming through the barn after I’d climbed around on the hay bales. I wanted to get back to the country.
agency was crazy. And over time it just really wasn’t as fun as it seemed to be. I wondered who I really was. It seemed so superficial.
I felt superficial. I wanted more from life. I wanted to discover my heart. I was pretty bound up. And my marriage was sliding downhill. I felt lost. Um, so I went on the adventure to find what I could do about that. And I came across Lifespring. [00:15:00] I joined the course, courses, and it was that human, experiential human empowerment course.
It was provocative, it was intense with these creative exercises that get you to look deep and to see who you were and who, what the possibilities were to be something else. Um, on the last course. I walk into the room and get to find my seat and I feel this gentle presence walk in and I look and there’s this man with dark, dark curly hair that tickles the collar of his outdated jacket and as he walks across the room, I just feel the sensitivity and this humbleness.
Oh no, we’re not going to go there. I really tried to avoid him. Next thing I know, we’re paired up in an exercise that we do with our eyes closed. touching each other’s hands, getting to know each other with just our hands.[00:16:00]
hands were not soft, but they had a kind and an intensity about them that said, let me get to know you and I’ll let you get to know me. Sort of like a namaste moment. It was really very moving. The course, uh, was three months, and so we, uh, groups were formed, and there was Lori laughing. Lori, who was just outrageous, vivacious with her, her heart and her laugh, and then there was Handsome Hands.
His name, his name was Scott with a single T. We all hung out together as we were supposed to deepen our experience, but he and I spent a lot of nights, late night in cafes, drinking old coffee, talking Philosophy, spirituality, trying to figure out life, you know, where can we find meaning? Uh, he talked about Sweet, his dog, and Simon and Duncan, his boys, he loved [00:17:00] his boys.
And he was from Montana. The course ended, we went on, my marriage dissolved, I changed jobs. And, um, but a couple months later, I get a call laughing, Lori, wouldn’t it be a blast if we went to Montana and saw Scott? Sure. I didn’t even know where Montana was. We get on the road, and we chitchat, and then she says, I’m a Jack Mormon.
I grab the door handle, my buttcheeks clench, I don’t know what that means, but it terrified me. And she said, it’s okay, it just means that I’m a Mormon, but that I can’t live with all the tenets of the religion. And as she shared her heart, my hand slipped and I relaxed. And I am so grateful because that wall of…
of judgment and ignorance crumbled away and, um, she opened her heart and she’s still my dear friend today. We arrive at this, [00:18:00] um, weathered old law cabin, greeted by Sweet, who’s a great Dane Lab Cross. And as we enter what I would define as a, the coyote den, um, there’s Scott and his beautiful smile and his deep embrace for both of us.
And I think she had a crush on him, pretty sure. The next day we pick up the boys, um, from their mom and we go to this beautiful reservoir and these jewels shoot out into the sky. They were called the mission mountains and it was stunning and a little creepy because no one else was there but us. I couldn’t.
I get that. On the last night, Laurie, Scott, and I stood on the back porch, and um, as only Big Sky can deliver, there was this kaleidoscope sunset with colors and textures as far as the eye could see, and then also were these dark clouds shocked white with [00:19:00] lightning and rolling thunder, both happening at the same time?
And I knew at that moment, my life was forever changed. We got back to our lives a couple years past and Scott and I would, um, talk on the phone for hours, sharing our stories and how we’d grown or not grown. And, um, he had such a, uh, kind humor and, uh, fun wit, so I really felt comfortable and our friendship just continued to deepen.
One New Year’s evening, I had a feeling he would call. And he did. Hi. Hi. Do you want to come up for a visit? Sure. I was so excited. So I arrive a month later, and again, we just deepen our friendship and something else. And we share where we are, and just again, just have these great deep talks. I [00:20:00] could feel my heart opening, and it was just lovely to be there.
And as I was getting ready to leave, he said, you know, I really love my life with my boys. I said, yeah, they are amazing and wonderful. And I see how you respect who they are, letting them be who they are and the love that you share. Oh, and I love being a single San Francisco woman.
Cried on the way to the airport. And when I got back to the apartment, I looked around and there was a picture of Scott. On the wall. And then in my book by my bedside table, he was the bookMarc. And I realized I really had deep, deep feelings for this man. I didn’t know what to do about it, but I was feeling things for sure.
Oh, and I forgot to tell you, he was handsome. Damn handsome
um, a month later I received this [00:21:00] handwritten letter. By Duncan and Simon, Duncan’s 14 and Simon’s 18. And it reads, Dearest Flipout, This is supposedly going to be a very convincing letter. You must marry our
He is the best man in the world and the most loving man I know. And he loves one woman, you, Filippa Learned.
I read on, This leads to you being a happy, proud, married mom of two awesome young men who love you very much. I, my breath, I I felt so many feelings, I was excited my hairs were on end I, I was thrilled and also really confused. I call up Scott and I said, you know about this? Yeah? You wanna do something about this?
[00:22:00] Yes. Will you move up here and be with me? Yes, yes, yes! I love you Scott. I love you too. Four months later, I move into the Coyote Den in Arlie on the flooded Indian Reservation. And it was a transition. Um, Um, The dogs helped me by leaving slimy things that my feet would step on that would be a deer leg.
And this other dog that we got, uh, puppy Jackpot, thought she had won the lottery by chewing up all my Italian leather heels. Except one memento. A pink toe cleavage. leather stiletto CFM. Come
fuck me, bum. And I said, have at it. I am done with that life. And, um, three years later, in the yard, Duncan and Jack pawed his Masters of Ceremony. [00:23:00] Uh, I became a mail order bride. And three years after that, we welcomed our son, Nicholas. Yes. And I was embraced by this beautiful, eclectic community, and this beautiful, loving, loving, blended family.
And two brave boys with big hearts, open hearts, and two dogs, and this most… Loving man, uh, my heart found home. Thank you.
[00:23:36] Marc Moss: Thanks Filippa. Filippa Crawford is East coast born. She thrived for eight years in London, enjoyed 10 years in the Bay Area and found home in delicious Montana 35 years ago. She is a tapping practitioner and an intuitive coach. These days, she dares new experiences outside her comfort zone. She enjoys finding peace and fascination in nature, animals, including reptiles [00:24:00] and insects.
Dancing is her go to along with her big, loving, extraordinary family. Coming up after the
[00:24:06] Richard Thornton: break. And the boy just smiles real big and he nods his head and then he looks at me and in English he says, how much?
[00:24:15] Nita Maddox: And this effervescent thing kind of rose to the surface and I thought, I’m going to organize a naked bike ride.
[00:24:22] Marc Moss: Stay with us. Remember that the next tell us something event is December 6th. You can learn how to pitch your story and get [email protected]. Thanks again to our title sponsor, Blackfoot Communications, helping us with the heavy lifting of the expense of producing our evening. Thanks to our stewardship sponsor, Jana Lundquist Consulting, helping us to provide free tickets to populations.
That might otherwise be unable to attend tell us something events. Thank you to our story sponsor parkside credit union helping us to pay our storytellers Thank you to our accessibility sponsors the kettle house allowing us to hire american sign language interpreters at the events In order to be a more inclusive [00:25:00] experience and thanks to our artist sponsor crowley fleck attorneys pllp You are listening to the tell us something podcast I’m your host, Marc Moss.
Our stories in this episode are recorded live in person in front of a packed house on September 28th, 2023 at the George and Jane Denison Theater at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. In our next story, Richard Thornton hires a kid to capture an anteater, but the kid comes back with an unknown monster.
Richard calls his story, I get a pet. Thanks for listening.
[00:25:39] Richard Thornton: Many years ago, I was a surveyor with an outfit called the Ethiopia U. S. Mapping Mission. They, uh, they had a treaty to make topographic maps of the whole country. I was surveying in the Agadon Desert region, and the Agadon is pretty much what you think of as a high desert, mostly dirt and gravel, and it was filled [00:26:00] with like half, half alive Akasha trees, and it had this Vine that was called the camel thorn nothing had thorns as long as your fingers and they were so sharp and strong that they could puncture a car tire.
I’d even seen birds impaled on the ends of these things. They also had these termite mounds, giant termite mounds. They were tall and symmetrical. Actually, I thought of more as termite towers because things went up like 20, 25 feet and they were all over the place. Well, once, while we were driving some trucks on this long, straight stretch of dirt road on the way to a little village to set up a temporary camp, I saw what I thought was an anteater cross the road way up ahead and It was a stranger looking animal, but it just ran into the camel thorns that lined the road.
It was gone by the time we got to that place where I’d seen it. I was kind of excited to stop the truck, but even [00:27:00] standing on the hood, I couldn’t see it because of all the brush and termite mounds. I felt a little disappointed and got back in the truck and went on driving towards the village. But I couldn’t get that animal out of my head.
I kept thinking about it. And somewhere along the line, I got, I got the idea that it would be really cool to have an anteater as a pet.
I mean, an anteater would be much better than our half wild camp dogs to live with us. And, you know, what better animal than, than that to show off my manliness, you know, and you know how I could train animals and, you know, I even thought, envisioned myself walking my eater on a leash across the camp over to a nearby anthill or a termite mound where he’d eat his fill.
Now, I didn’t say anything about this to the guys in the truck with me. In fact, I didn’t even know if there were anteaters in that part of Ethiopia. We’re all Africa [00:28:00] for that matter, but I wanted one as a pet anyway, so I was going to see if I could try to get one. When we pulled into the village, the center of the village, excuse me, now the village was basically a bunch of, uh, Uh, rectangular mud buildings with, uh, big wooden doors and wooden shutters in the windows.
And as soon as we stopped, all, all these, all the kids in town all just came running around our trucks and they were jumping up and down and laughing and, and smiling at us and, you know, all except… All except for the littlest of them. And those guys just sit there and stared at us in amazement. Cause we’d be the first people with white skin they’d ever seen.
But anyway, pretty quick, they, they, uh, you know, got brave and came over and touched us on the hands or on the legs, you know, and they started jumping up and down and welcoming us too. Now, the adults weren’t so [00:29:00] excited to see us, but they did send a couple men over to talk about where we could set up a safe place for camp, and, but I wasn’t part of those talks, so I kind of drifted off to the side to some kids, and I saw a boy, he was about 10 years old, And I went over to him and I asked him if he, if he knew about anteaters, you know.
Well, first I had to ask him, first I asked him if he knew any English and he did say yes, a little. You know, but then it turned out that as soon as he, as I started asking the question if he could catch me one, it became quite obvious that he had no idea what I was talking about. Well, so what I had to do is I got G’Day, one of our Ethiopian surveyors, To try to explain to the kid what I wanted.
Now, that turned out to be pretty tough too, because Gday had never heard that term and he did it before. So I had to kind of try to describe this thing [00:30:00] to him. and , of course, that took a lot of gyrations and sounds on my part, you know, when I started talking about it’s a big tale and how it had really funny hair and a beaty little eyes, you know?
And oh, it had these big claws that dug in the ground and sed. Ants and termites and Well anyway, by then all the kids are just laughing like crazy and And G’day, G’day says something to the kid for a few seconds And the boy just smiles real big and he, and he nods his head And then he looks at me and in English he says, how much?
So I dug into my pocket, and I pulled out some, some money, and it was about two dollars, Ethiopian. And his eyes just lit up, and he took off running, and he just ran around one of the buildings, and he was gone. G’day said that he told the boy to catch the animal that eats [00:31:00] termites. Well, Uh, you know, G’day and the boy might have been a little confused as to what I wanted the animal for.
Cause nobody in Nogginon kept any kind of animal as a pet. I mean, there were goats, but they were for milk and meat. And there were always lots of dogs around, but they were for warning of strangers and, you know, mainly keeping hyenas away. We had dogs keep hyenas away too. And some of us did try to treat some of our dogs as pets, but that was always a risky business.
Well anyway, at that point I went out to our camp, excuse me, I went out to our camp area, and just to see if it was clear of these big camel spiders and scorpions and deadly snakes, and set up our tents. And after a while I went back to the village. And maybe I was looking to see if they had a bar, and I wasn’t there very long, [00:32:00] and I heard a commotion.
And that kid that I’d sent off for the antutu came around the corner of one of the buildings, and he had a, he had a blanket in his arms. And that blanket was making a growling, screechy kind of noise. And, yeah, and it was moving around, you know, like it was, something was punching and pushing and scrolling around, you know, like a mad monster trying to get out.
And this kid was just… Coming at me, you know, with the, this staggering over towards me, trying to hold this thing down. But what happened about that time, the adult all yelled, screamed, and they grabbed up all the children, and they ran them all into all the buildings, and they shut the door. Suddenly I was all alone, with this, with this kid coming at me, with, just grim faced, and, and.
He was, anyway, I got lost here for a second, I’m sorry.[00:33:00]
Laughter Anyway, he was still, he was staggering on towards me and I’m thinking, Dear God, if this is an anteater, I want no part of it.
Well, about that, he stops right in front of me, and just then he reached up to try to hand it to me, and the whole thing went just wild and crazy, and the blanket flew out of his hand, and, and a real, a monster did fly out.
Now, all I saw was a blur, but this thing just ran across and it leaped up onto one of the doors of the building, and it scratched at it and bit at it. And it jumped down and unbelievably it ran to the second door and jumped up on it and screeched and then it jumped down and ran off, off into the brush and it was gone.
Now, I, I still didn’t, never found out what that thing[00:34:00]
was. I suspect it was a mongoose of some sort.
Anyway, the boy who was just standing there, looking kind of dejected at the blanket at his feet, and, you know, maybe he thought he had failed me for losing the animal, so I praised him for his bravery, you know, and I told, I told him he’d really earned his money, and I gave it to him, and that cheered him up a little.
Now he’d come out of it with a, just a few scratches. And now he’s looking pretty pleased with himself. But about that time, the adults came out of hiding. And they all came over at us. And they just, they just warmed around this kid. And they just, and they started yelling at him. And the women started slapping him all over the place.
And, you know, I don’t think they, I didn’t think [00:35:00] they were really trying to hurt him. But, I took that chance to beat it back to camp
and hide out. Yeah, I wanted to
hide out in case they decided to find out who caused all this. And wanted to smack me around, too. After that, I, I decided it would be much better to make friends with Chichu, our least, our least wild camp dog.
It was a long time, though, before I found out that I, I had terrorized an entire village and traumatized a poor kid for nothing. Because there are no anteaters in Ethiopia.
of Africa, for that matter.
[00:35:53] Marc Moss: Thanks, Richard. Richard Thornton grew up in Southern California. 40 years in the TV and motion picture business. [00:36:00] Mainly as a sound boom man, he is an army veteran who served as a topographic surveyor, making maps in Ethiopia and the Great Southwest of New Mexico and Arizona. During the after strike of 1980 Richard and his wife came to Montana looking for a home during one of those idyllic September weeks.
He bought a lousy log house and stayed. Richard retired to Kettlespell in 2005, where he lived the carefree life of a 63 year old with three school age daughters at home to raise. Our final storyteller in this episode of the podcast is Nita Maddox, who organized for a mass naked bike ride in Missoula, Montana, and received death threats because of it.
It was, she says, quite a lot. Nita calls her story, Bear as you dare. Thanks for listening.
[00:36:49] Nita Maddox: Breathing deeply. This is the only tool I have right now to deal with the pain. I’ve never been in pain this bad. I’m on a beach in the [00:37:00] Philippines that’s been absolutely destroyed by a hurricane and my body is wracked with malaria. Somewhere in the fever and all of it. The Spanish paramedics show up and they’re with the someone from the aid agency that I’m working for.
This is 2014, and I’ve gone to the Philippines to work at a for an international aid agency and now I’m sick and they’re saying to me, we’re sending you home. I’ve been traveling for about three years and in this kind of fevered pain, I’m not really sure where home is. And then it kind of rises to the surface.
Oh, I’m going back to Montana. The place where I’d been born and raised, generations of my family. The land that holds so many ancestors, ancestors buried here longer than it’s even been the United States. On the way home, there are a few stops along the way because I have to get medical treatment and I’m [00:38:00] exhausted.
One of those stops is in Portland, Oregon. And I’m visiting one of my oldest friends since we were teenagers. When I show up, he and his wife are a little surprised at the condition I’m in. Not only am I physically recovering from the malaria, but I have just worked at the very first… super typhoon that had ever occurred and the human devastation I had seen was weighing really heavy on me.
So these friends have the idea that I should go to the world naked bike ride with them. They think this is, this is a great idea and I don’t think this is a great idea. If I could describe it, I’d say I’m not necessarily the first person naked at a party. Like I’m, comfortable with nudity, but I don’t, I’m a little cautious with it.
But they explain that the world naked bike ride and the biggest ride happens to be in Portland, but it happens all over the country in the world is really about [00:39:00] bike activism. It’s about getting people to see bicyclists because it’s hard to miss thousands of naked bicyclists. I really appreciate this idea having just seen the effects of global climate change.
And when my daughter was nine and my son was six, we were hit in a crosswalk on Higgins by a truck. And I painfully intimately knew what a motor vehicle could do when it hit a basically naked human body. So I thought, I’m down with this. Let’s go do it. And it was interesting because it didn’t feel awkward, the nudity.
It actually felt Playful and innocent and radically inclusive. There were older folks. There were people with mastectomies. There were transgendered people. It was this act of human beauty and it was all this [00:40:00] spectrum of people and it was stunning and no one looked like the cover of a magazine. Then I was back in Montana, and I was sitting with some friends and they were talking about all the struggles they’d been having trying to organize a pride parade.
And I kind of jokingly said, you should shoot for the moon and do a naked pride parade. They were like, yeah, you know, good luck with that. And this effervescent thing kind of rose to the surface. And I thought. I’m going to organize a naked bike ride. So the next day I went to John Ingram’s office and I said, Hey, what do you think about this?
And he’s like, I think it’s a great idea. That sounds like a total Missoula thing. He laid out this grocery list of all the different things that I was going to have to do to do it completely above board. So I go down the list. I mean, the. The downtown council, I meet with the city engineer to plan the route, and I’m finally at the last [00:41:00] thing on the list, which is I’ve got to get the police department to sign off.
And I decide to go to the city attorney and say, Hey, this is what I’m doing. If you want to come and make an appointment and meet with me and one of the police officers, I can answer any questions. Said an appointment for about three days later. During that time, I compiled together kind of a list of all the legal challenges that have happened to these naked bike rides around the country so I can show up prepared.
And I know I’m going to be talking to people so I’ll just put together a few of these sheets and just carry them around in my bag. Day of the meeting happens, I put on my little black suit, I ride my bike down to the city chambers. I’m expecting to meet with the city attorney and maybe an officer. There are about five officers.
there. There’s a sheriff’s department, all these folks, and at the moment I felt really little and they seemed really big. We sit down, and at first, [00:42:00] it felt like they were coming at me with questions kind of aggressively, but then I began to realize, well, these are really genuinely good questions. And I begin to address each question one at a time, the temperature, the room seems to go down a bit.
I remember I have my little sheets and I hand them all out and everyone’s starting to kind of be like, okay, all right, we’re kind of good with this. And they start to stand up and there’s one sheriff’s deputy who’s sitting directly across from me and he’s just staring at me with these really angry eyes.
And he says, What are you going to do if you’re naked and then there’s a big angry naked man? How are you going to handle that situation?
knew exactly what to say to him. I stared him in the eyes. I didn’t break eye contact. And I said, I used to be a professional dominatrix, and I know exactly how to handle that [00:43:00] situation.
They sign the paper, I leave the room. I’m thinking to myself, wow, I know some feminist thea thea uh. Feminist philosophers that could do a lot with what just happened in that room. I’m heading back home. I’m walking my bike across Higgins street bridge when it used to be about this big and I run into Kayla Spaler.
She’s one of my oldest friends and she’s like, Oh, you’re back in town. What are you doing? And I tell her about this weird exchange I’ve just had and about the naked bike ride. And she’s like, Hey, I’m the political writer for the Missoulian. Now you mind if I write about this? And I was like, sure. That’s a great idea.
I just told the officers we would publicize. the route and the time so people would know. Well, that was the beginning of a biblical level shitstorm. On that parade permit, I had to have all of my contact information and I [00:44:00] proceeded to receive thousands of death threats. of graphic sexual violence. It was crazy what came at me.
Now some of it was actually kind of funny. There was a letter to the editor that said, What? Now Missoula’s going to become this place where everybody’s just going to naked garden and hula hoop? And I was like, I don’t know, it doesn’t sound so bad. There were a couple of really bewildering moments. I’d been camping with friends and on the way back into town, and Here we were in the majesty of Montana nature and on the way back in on the radio we heard about a city council meeting that had just blown up with criticism.
So we rush over there and I’m all messy from camping, got flowers in my hair still, and I’m confronted with questions from the press that kind of involve discussions of. Genitals. And you know, I [00:45:00] understand that exposure to genitals at the wrong time could be something that could be kind of challenging, but I kind of think we all have some sort of a configuration of genitals.
The thing that was the most bewildering for me was that this didn’t jive with my Montana. And for an example of what my perceptual bias of Montana was, my grandfather is a good example. Gone to Butte to work in the mines during the depression era when he was 14 and he told me stories about when Missoula was this place where the international workers of the world, the wobblies were here, labor organizing, talking about the rights of working people there were on every street corner for a while, these free speech places, and he had always believed in the rights of people to just be who they were.
Yeah. And so things were a little confusing for me, but in the end, on the [00:46:00] actual day of the bike ride, it was a wonderful day. There was Chuck with his long gray dreadlocks being ridden in a rickshaw with his oxygen tank. There were older people, younger people, trans people. It was a wildly, beautifully playful, diverse day, and there were no protesters.
And nobody gave me any death threats on that day. So in the end, it ended up being a day that was really good for people who showed up with curiosity instead of contempt. And in the end, I think it was a good day for kind of a, a wild ride. For those who dared to bear.
[00:46:51] Marc Moss: It’s Nita. Nita Maddox is an adventurer in the world. She is born and raised Montanan who lives a bit of a feral life on this planet Earth. She currently works as a [00:47:00] social worker and hopes one day to be a published author. Thanks for listening to the tell us something podcast and thanks to our media sponsors, Missoula events.
net, Montana public radio and Missoula Broadcasting company including the family of ESPN radio the trail 103. 3 Jack FM and Missoula’s source for modern hits U one of 4.5. Thanks to float Missoula. Learn [email protected] and Joyce of tile. Learn more [email protected]. Remember that the next tell us something event is December 6th.
You can learn about how to pitch your story and get [email protected]. Tune in next week to hear the concluding stories from the Lost in Translation live storytelling event. La
[00:47:44] Ben Catton: Buela will come out and startle me. And it’s like, is she suspicious of
me? What’s going on?
[00:47:49] Ren Parker: I ask him what he’s doing on the train.
And, uh, he says, oh yeah, I take this train and I go, um, over the border and I get whiskey and cigarettes and things I shouldn’t have in [00:48:00] Thailand. And then I get back on the train and bring it back to Thailand.
[00:48:04] Abe Kurien: But my dad still kept that van because he worked really hard for it. and was really proud
[00:48:08] Richard Thornton: of it.
But if any of you know, in the eighties,
a lot of the manufacturers for vehicles, they
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[00:48:16] Linda Grinde: and the girl in the next bed says to me, stay do dancing. I realized she’s asking me if I want to go dancing.
[00:48:27] Marc Moss: Listen for those stories at tellusomething. org or wherever you get your