PERSONAL ESSAYS
Heart of Glass
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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?

Until that moment, I hadn't realized how proprietary I had become about Ira Glass. I didn't know anything had changed in our relationship, which, for years, could be summed up like this: I loved his radio show. But hearing

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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

The amazing thing about NPR personalities is how close you can feel to them without ever knowing what they look like. Even authors aren't allowed such anonymity.

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.

Like I said, I get lost all the time.

Act I: Room at the Inskeep

At 9 a.m., the phone rings. "I think I have a crush on Steve Inskeep."

This is my best friend, and I should mention that she spends a great deal of time in her car. The only time she calls, in fact, is while she's driving, which doesn't seem like a good idea to me, either, but I'll take what I can get.

When she calls, she is listening to Morning Edition on her way to work, and Steve Inskeep has just done something endearing and off-color. He drank his first mojito with a rock band and pronounced it quite delicious. He sounded off on a story about Texas cheerleaders by offering his own sideline cheer. Nine a.m. is still early for me.

"Are you awake?" she asks.

"Of course I'm awake," I say, barely awake.

She goes on to explain that she hasn't always been a Steve Inskeep woman. Because she was a Bob Edwards woman, and at first, in the shaky transition phase, she scoffed that Steve was perhaps not bringing as much to the Morning Edition table. His voice wasn't even that interesting. But what can I say? She has a thing for earnest nerds.

"Have you seen a picture of him?" I ask.

She sounds disappointed when I ask this. "He just looks like a dad."

On second thought, let's not talk about pictures. Let's pretend they don't exist.


Steve Inskeep could probably explain what's happening in Iraq, in which case I'd totally get wet.

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.)

Let's take Steve Inskeep, for instance. He has a different sonic appeal than Ira's hipster nerdiness; his baritone is more anchor chic. He's the kind of guy who might buy me a few martinis, loosen his tie over some tapas, and get a throbbing boner for Mozart's concertos. This has its own sordid appeal; he could probably explain what's happening in Iraq, in which case I'd totally get wet. I like to envision an erotic evening in which he merely pronounces the names of Al-Qaeda operatives as if it were some kind of Salome striptease — Abu Masab Al-Zarqawi, Saif al-Adel, Abu Mohammed al-Masri. By the time he got to the third "Abu," I'd be ready to jump across the table and rip off his sensible button-down.

     

  

Commentarium (29 Comments)

Mar 23 07 - 12:09pm
AD

Fantastic, and creepily true.

Mar 24 07 - 12:45am
AQD

good to keep you company and maintain the allusion.

yes we can pronounce those far-away names and places, work the voice, collect the sounds and induce people to spill their vices and wants. all to carry you to a place and bring you back home. after deadline and when we're off air, alas, your real thrill rather than meeting us in person, perhaps would be playing with our battered re-50 ball mike or sleak sennheiser.

having woken many from a dream. ~ an on-air veteran.

Mar 23 07 - 1:58pm
SR

I wholeheartedly identify with your sentiment. Great articulation of it! I am so enamoured of TAL that my personals handle has been ThisAmericanLife and my headline "Sarah Vowell seeks Ira Glass" since 2001.

Mar 23 07 - 3:21pm
LKS

So it's not just me!

All this time I thought it a little weird that my secret celebrity crush was on Weekend Edition's Scott Simon.

Mar 23 07 - 4:01pm
AC

I LOVE this. I've had a crush on Terry Gross for years.

Mar 23 07 - 7:03pm
PS

You managed to invoke the sexiness of Michele Norris, Terry Gross, and Amanda Palmer (just mentioning her name invokes her sexiness, in my mind) all in one Nerve article. Nerve + NPR was enough to get me to read the piece. Nerve + NPR + the Dresden Dolls made my fucking week.

Thank you.

PS: This totally makes up for Scanner dropping the ball on Nathan Fillion.

Mar 24 07 - 1:42am
cj

great piece! voice is really the most underrated sexual element.

Mar 24 07 - 9:52am
slr

I thought I was the only one derailed by Ira's mention of his WIFE! Why did I think Terry came out in a Mother Jones interview????

Mar 24 07 - 11:11pm
B

who is this woman that wrote this?
i love her writing.

Mar 25 07 - 11:02pm
ac

Hepola tapped into my skull and managed to enunciate what was only a vague idea before. Wonderful.

Mar 26 07 - 11:59am
bz

Renee Montagne is pretty good but Melissa Block really does it for me. :)

Mar 26 07 - 2:07pm
RMW

I shreik a little happy noise when I hear Roy Blount Jr. and P.J. O'Rourke's names called as panalists on Wait Wait! Man NPR gets my motor running.

Mar 26 07 - 3:36pm
kgs

I love Ira. Also: Starlee Kine.

Mar 26 07 - 5:03pm
KsZ

Heh.. My first thought when I heard Ira mention his wife was, "What? He's straight?"

Also, I'd like to nominate StarDate's Sandy Wood for bringing more sex appeal to background gamma radiation than any human being should be capable of.

Mar 26 07 - 6:52pm
wh

I totally get what you're talking about -- although I find the photos of the real Ira Glass very appealing. But perhaps I am older than you. I think you mean "Neil Conan," however, although I may be spelling it wrong, too.

Mar 26 07 - 11:50pm
JL

This entire article is so right and true! I love Ira Glass and Peter Sagal! I've been avoiding their pictures, too. Great story!

Mar 27 07 - 11:00am
LL

Another NPR junkie. I love the way you write...

Mar 27 07 - 1:36pm
jw

you left out the most crush-worthy of them all: scott simon.

Mar 27 07 - 9:40pm
kcs

Sarah, I enjoyed your essay immensely. I met Terry Gross during her book tour. She played a recording of the interview with Gene Simmons, with a few choice ad-libs of her own. My favorite is hearing the deep timbre of Sylvia Poggioli sign off from Rome on NPR. That is raw radio sex.

Apr 16 07 - 11:30pm
AGB

I agree with someone above: Scott Simon does it for me every time. Something so knowing and casual about his voice. Kinda Harrison Ford. I don't want to see a picture, either.

You know, of course, about the theory about women being audio-triggered and men being image-triggered? In my experience it's so true. All I want online is guys who can write me lusty, intelligent, witty, engaged prose, and all guys want are pictures, pictures, pictures.

Apr 20 07 - 11:55am
hf

Ah, Ira...a thousand hearts are breaking. We could have been so good.

May 13 07 - 5:05pm
SAM

I myself am totally obsessed with Kai Risdall... is that even how you spell his name? He gives me Money Market figures and economic forecasts and all I want to do is invest.

Dec 23 08 - 2:04pm

Oh, my god, am I the only one who melts for Robin Young, from "Here and Now?" The little tiny, throaty "mmm" that is her favorite response to some insightful, poignant, or puzzling utterance by one of her guests. Rrrrowrr.

Dec 14 10 - 1:05am
Free from hormones

No surprise that Liberals spend their time masturbating and having homosexual fantasies about one another

Jan 29 11 - 2:07am
CB

Good to know that other people have inappropriate thoughts when listening to N-P-aruh! (That's the way I say it to make it seem a bit more thugged out). I think the lewd thoughts about members of the sex of your choice is fairly obvious, I mean they all have nice voices. My local station is WABE (Atlanta) and any long time listener will tell you that Wanda Yang-Temko and Lois Reitzes have the hottest voices - the guy who does the Jazz show on Saturday night even did a skit where a guy pervs out on Lois' voice - even though she's probably somebody's grandma.

There is also the aspect that so much on NPR is of the deep conversational type of thing which is quite intimate - I've often fantasized about being interviewed by Terry Gross just for the deep conversation... and even though it seems wrong (after all she's Speaking of Faith) don't we all visualize Krista Tippett as the hot altar girl? Even the guys become your radio bros. You give them nicknames like K. Rizzla and David Brown-Cocky-O.

Sep 07 11 - 7:26am
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OKPz3K Well, actually, a lot of what you write is not quite true ... well, okay, it does not matter:)))

Sep 27 11 - 7:49pm
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aIOjvz Heartfelt thanks..!

Mar 27 12 - 9:12pm
Reporting from...

My personal favourite is Silvia Poggioli (pronounced like what I imagine to be a bossomy, slightly pear-shaped Soviet Intourist guide wearing 1980s school teacher vogue outfits including the "one size fits all" glasses with large frames). She has this VEry UPTEmpo VO-ice that goes up and down and rises and falls like one's stomach while they breathe. "Fore Enne-Pee-Arrre, dees es Sofya(up)Pojoli (down, sounding kind of like she's humphing and overweight) een Bel-grah-dey".

For me, she was the voice of my own isolated young life in Sarajevo, capturing the day-to-day of the muck-making-ity-mucks like Radovan Karadzic, Aija Izetbegovic, Slobodan Milosevic (all pronounced with the up-down putter like a Yugo shifting gears) and wondering if/when the bombardment would stop. Later on, she became a trusted voice in anything about my family's native land, Albania, only an hour by plane from Rome but mentally, psychologically and visually 85 years.

Jun 06 12 - 12:12am
JGR

No discussion on this topic is complete until Supreme Court reporter and ultimate mind-blower Nina Totenberg is mentioned...mmm...umm. I mean mmm...UMMM!!! Her rapid fire, "blow-by-blow" recounting of the proceedings keeps me absolutely spellbound - "Justice Scalia: ... Justice Thomas: ... Justice Scalia:...". Oh, the things we could do together......