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I don't remember exactly when I started having sexual fantasies about Ira Glass, but I do remember when I realized I felt a little different about him. I was listening to This American Life on my iPod, walking around Manhattan, when Ira mentioned something about his wife. It was one of those moments meant to charm, when interviewer bonds with subject over some silly, common experience. "Ha, you too? My wife does that." But that's not what I was thinking. I was thinking: Wife? What fucking wife?
him talk about his wife that day, I felt the same queasy pang that struck when I was twelve, discovering that Rob Lowe had a girlfriend, that Duran Duran's keyboardist was engaged. Except those crushes were based on pinups stapled in the centerfold of a teen mag, on haircuts engineered to appeal to the greatest possible number of suburban teens. What I felt for Ira Glass had absolutely nothing to do with the photos I occasionally glimpsed of him, and everything to do with the bizarre, singular intimacy of his voice in my ear.
I spend most Sundays walking across the bridge from my apartment in Brooklyn into Manhattan. Even after a year and a half in New York, I get lost all the time, and so I was hoping to reconcile the tidy subway grid in my backpack to the stuttering, sprawling one in my mind. It was a lonely, lovely way to kill the afternoon, and Glass' show was a natural soundtrack: geographic discovery complemented by intellectual discovery. Over the course of these afternoons, I not only became more familiar with the city but also with the particulars of his voice. The calculated clip. The choreographed intake of breath. I heard things I'd never caught before — a click, a sigh, a tongue passing across the lips.
I'd been listening to This American Life for years, but it wasn't until I heard it in my earphones, hours at a stretch, that his voice took hold. The streets of New York honked and spat as Glass traced out another neat narrative arc
over the course of an hour. And after he had passed the microphone to another correspondent, it would sometimes be minutes on end before I realized I hadn't heard a word anyone else was saying. That I had been in some kind of lusty trance. That I had been in a darkened sound booth somewhere, tugging off the trousers of Ira Glass. But wait, no, I never saw the sex. This fantasy was purely auditory. A scrape of the sheets, a zip, a violent clatter. And then I would come to somewhere near Canal Street, no idea how I'd gotten there or what the hell I was listening to.
The amazing thing about NPR personalities is how close you can feel to them without ever knowing what they look like. Even authors, with their glossy black-and-white photos on the cover flap, aren't allowed such anonymity. Lately, there have been a lot of pictures of Ira Glass — banner ads and commercials for This American Life's new television show — and this has been agonizing for me. It punctures all the daydreams I've been spinning: Ira looks too skinny, for one thing, and I hate to say this, but also too old. In my daydreams he's still a chubby, nerdy twentysomething. My fantasy, however faceless, has no room for gray hairs. (Not that I mind a few, in general.)