Tag Archives: “This American Life

Hillary Frank’s “Longest, Shortest Time”

Most radio producers don’t get jobs by recording interviews on their parents’ answering machine, then feeding clips into a boombox.

Then again, most radio producers are not vying for Ira Glass’ attention.

But the quirky “This American Life” personality liked what he heard from Hillary Frank. In 2000 he hired her for his Chicago staff.

Hillary Frank

Hillary Frank

It was a great career move. The Westport native — who had left Staples 7 years earlier as a junior, heading straight to Tufts — learned plenty at the popular, offbeat, interview-driven radio show.

She began freelaning for “Studio 360,” “”Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” She wrote 3 novels.

Then, in 2010, Hillary had a baby. Childbirth and recovery were rough. She’d just moved to New Jersey. She had no other moms to talk to.

“After all those years as a radio producer, I knew I could ask anyone anything by sticking a microphone in their face,” Hillary says.

It worked. Asking questions was cathartic. She felt better — and the women she talked with did too.

Working irregularly (“during naptimes”), she produced 20 shows in 3 years. All were about early parenthood. She called it “The Longest Shortest Time.”

The topics were typical Hillary. “The Emperor’s New Onesie” covered a toddler who refused to wear clothing. After 2 stark naked months, she was diagnosed with a sensory disorder. The girl’s mother told the story in a funny, relatable way.

For a piece on natural childbirth, Hillary revisited her own experience. She interviewed her midwife and others, wondering whether she could have done anything differently. The answer: probably not.

Hillary Frank logo

Hillary’s stories ranged from ridiculous to serious. Topics included miscarriages, the NICU, and a lifelong vegetarian who thought her son’s digestive problem came from her breast milk, and began eating meat.

Hillary started by emailing 300 colleagues and friends. Slowly — through word of mouth, and a shoutout on “This American Life”‘s Facebook page — her audience grew. Strangers submitted their own stories.

Last fall, Hillary realized she needed to start making money from her podcasts. Kickstarter provided donors and sponsors.

Now WNYC has picked up her podcasts. They air it on their website, through their iTunes channel, and via their app. She’s promoted it on the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows too.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 17, 3 p.m.) she hosts a Google hangout called “What’s Up With Your Boobs?” (It’s about lactation.)

Hillary Frank podcast

Hillary just completed her 32nd episode. A father is surprised to feel indifferent — at times miserable — after his child is born. His wife, meanwhile, is thrilled.

Hillary approaches the story the same way she does every other one: with a twist. She doesn’t probe the feelings themselves; instead, she examines spousal conflict in parenthood.

“The Longest Shortest Time” is well worth all of yours.

Dusty And Honey

I haven’t seen them in a few years — the 2 small, elderly women who always dressed alike. They probably lived in Canal Park; that’s where I saw them the most.

They must have been twins, I thought.  They always dressed alike — from their hats to their shoes.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed.  Over the years, people suggested I write about them.

Or they asked me who they were, and why they always dressed the same.  As if I — a longtime Westporter and journalist — knew.

Apparently, someone did.  Their story drew the attention of Hillary Frank, a Staples graduate who is now an independent radio producer.

In 2000 she interviewed the 2 women for a story on “This American Life,” Ira Glass’s quirky weekly public radio show, which explores the many hidden nooks and crannies of our country and its people.

The show — whose theme was “what happens if our relationship with our loved ones never changes?” — was rebroadcast last month.

The women’s chapter is called “Matching Outfits Not Included.”

In it, listeners — and curious Westporters — learn the women’s names: Dusty and Honey.

We hear — surprisingly — that they are not twins. They’re sisters born 3 years apart; the 2 youngest in a family of 6.

Raised during the Depression, their father died when they were young. From an early age, they depended on each other.

Later, after their siblings married, Dusty and Honey cared for their ailing mother.

One day when they were both in their early 20s, they picked the same outfit.

They dressed alike ever since.

They wore the same wigs, glasses and jewelry. They carried the same purses.

They lived together, in rooms with matching chairs. Their twin beds — in the same room — had the same stuffed animals. Over each bad was a crucifix. In between was a photo of Frank Sinatra.

Dusty and Honey ate the same food — and in the same portions.

Dusty and Honey shared a fondness for Frank Sinatra and Ricky Martin.

They loved soap operas together — when they were younger, listening together on radio. As they got older, they watched soaps together on TV.

When Hillary interviewed them in 2000 for the show, they were enjoying a Ricky Martin special.

The women worked together all their lives: first in sweatshops, then in a home for the elderly, finally as housekeepers for a priest.

Dressing differently, they told Hillary, would mean “betraying each other.”

They said of their lives, “this is what was meant to be.”

The sisters seemed to acknowledge that their lives — lived so similarly, together, for so long — was considered odd.

“As long as we don’t hurt anyone, or break a commandment, it’s fine,” they said.

“This American Life” ended with Hillary’s description of the sisters lying in their beds each night. They would make plans for the next day. Always, they talked about what they would wear.

Dusty and Honey had a special relationship. They were, Hillary said, “like best friends on a sleepover that never ends.”

Except it must have.

I have not seen Dusty and Honey for several years.

I hope — wherever they are — they are together still.

(To hear Dusty and Honey’s “This American Life” story, click here.)

This Westport Life

If you’ve ever listened to “This American Life” — the quirky, insightful, thought-provoking, loosely themed hour-long radio show/podcast/cult classic that explores the oddest corners of human nature — you’ve no doubt wondered:  “Who are these people?  Where do they come from?”

For 2 consecutive weeks this month, this answer was:  Westport.

First up was a story by writer Rosie Schaap.  According to Westport Patch, in 1986 — at age 15 — she got on Metro-North in Westport and “discovered the bar car.”  It was “a dingy, crowded, badly ventilated chamber where commuters drank enough to get a decent buzz going, told dirty jokes and chain smoked.”

They were, Rosie says, “my kind of people.”

She quickly learned to read tarot cards for riders.  In exchange, they bought her beers.  It was a great life, until one day…

Marilyn Monroe

Just a week later, This American Life told the tale of John Reznikoff.  The owner of Westport-based University Archives — a buyer and seller of rare documents, manuscripts and Barack Obama’s old Jeep Grand Cherokee —  stumbled across documents linking 3 American icons:  President Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and the mob.  The story took an interesting turn when the material turned out to be forged — by Reznikoff’s best friend.

(In that weird, 6-degrees way of the world, back in the day Marilyn Monroe was one of Westport’s most famous summer residents.)

A half century ago, Rod Serling produced amazing stories for TV’s  “Twilight Zone”  — some of which were written in, or described, the Westport where he lived.

Today Ira Glass presents a different, but equally compelling, series of tales on radio.  For 2 straight weeks, they’ve had a Westport connection.

DEE-DEE dee-dee DEE-DEE dee-dee…

(To hear Rosie Schaap’s story on This American Life, click here.  For John Reznikoff’s episode, click here.