The Portable Humanist Podcast Series

Listen to Vermont Humanities talks while you’re on the go.

Making Rumble Strip in My Closet

Erica Heilman’s podcast Rumble Strip covers a range of Vermont-related topics, from mental health, hunger, and homelessness to deer hunting, cheerleading, and donut shops. In this talk, Heilman discusses the interview process and shares stories from her podcast, which she describes as “extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. Or that’s the goal.”

The talk was recorded at the Norwich Congregational Church on December 4, 2019 for our First Wednesdays program.

Episode Transcript

Erica Heilman: It’s a lot of walking around. It’s pretty much 80 percent confusion and desperation and a feeling of existential dismay. What does it all mean? Who cares? And then you just keep going.

Erica:  My only faith that I have is making things. That if you start something, you actually can finish it and then you can actually start something else and finish it again. And you will get better.

Welcome to the Portable Humanist, the podcast where you can listen to Vermont Humanities talks and learn when you’re on the go. I’m Ryan Newswanger.

Erica Heilman’s podcast Rumble Strip covers a range of Vermont-related topics, from mental health, hunger, and homelessness to deer hunting, cheerleading, and donut shops. In this talk, Heilman discusses the interview process and shares stories from her podcast, which she describes as “extraordinary conversations with ordinary people.”

Erica’s talk was recorded at the Norwich Congregational Church on December 4, 2019 for our First Wednesdays program. Here’s Erica.

Erica: So I figured we would start by listening to something. I brought a short piece of a story about a farmer in Springfield, Vermont, Peter Dunning. This aired…I don’t know. I made this a few years ago. So we’ll start with that.

Peter Dunning: I was a slave here. This has been my existence for 40 years, and I can’t imagine not being here. I don’t know, I’d say I’m up here, I’m cut off and I like it. People say, “Well, what are you going to do now? Now that I’m not farming.” I don’t know.

Erica Heilman (voiceover): Peter Dunning’s farm is a Vermont hill farm. One hundred and thirty six acres of forest and orchards and wet spots and steep rocky pasture picked over by farmers for hundreds of years. The kind of place that does not lend itself to the industrial production of anything. Instead, it lends itself to the production of everything.

Erica Heilman (voiceover): Peter has farmed here, mostly alone, for nearly 40 years. Wives have come and gone. Children have come and gone. And now he’s getting done. The animals are gone and the farm is growing up around him. Here’s Peter Dunning.

Peter: I’d grown up on a farm, for whatever that is worth. I was used to animals and dairy cows. And then there was a big cultural change, and I really got into the back to the land movement. I was a Scott Nearing admirer and my other hero is Wendell Berry. So it was back to the land, and this was the perfect place.

Peter: I just wanted to get out of the system. I didn’t want to just go to work and do a meaningless job, make money and hand it over to somebody for wood and food and cars and God knows what.

Peter: And the diversity is what spoke to me. It has many different kinds of other animals or plants that occupy me and the farm in as many diverse ways at time of the year as possible. So you got sheep dogs and sheep. You got cows and pigs, chickens. My wife and I slaughtered twenty five chickens every Friday that we sold at the farmer’s market the next day. I mean, I sold everything down there. I sold honey. I even sold black walnuts. I could take a sheep out of the barn, shoot it in the head, hang it, gut it, cut it up in my kitchen, cook it at the farmer’s market and sell lamb shish kabobs that no inspector had even heard of.

Peter: I made a living at that. I’d make three, four, five thousand dollars a year doing sheepdog demonstrations and lamb shish kabob cookouts. Then more and more restrictions came in. I had to be a federally-inspected slaughterhouse. Now you have to have the weight, and when it was slaughtered, and where. I never was much of a cooperator.

Peter: I remember I was out there one night and I had pigs being born, and the sow was eating each one of them as they came out because she was terrified. It was about two o’clock in the morning in the middle of winter, and I was out there in my underwear with barn boots on and trying to separate these baby pigs that hit the ground and run from the time they are capable of moving, trying to save them from the sow, who was determined to eat each one. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, I had an ewe having triplets. That was really hectic. This was two or three o’clock in the morning. I got my barn boots on, period. There was some other disaster that same night, I can’t remember what it was. A chimney fire or something. It was awful. So you wonder why you drink.

Peter: I was aware that this was coming to an end, yet I no longer had the market. I had given up the farmer’s market. I was getting older and older and older and I just couldn’t keep up with all the work that the farm required.

Peter: And it was Labor Day, it was September 6, and I just was going down the stairs to just use the bathroom. And I can’t tell you how, I just fell. Hit my head at the bottom. I was up at the VA hospital for the winter, I had brain surgery and lost my right eye and spent the winter off of the farm, you know. And with this eye, I know I can’t farm. And what do I do with a hundred and thirty six acres of farm that I have loved for my whole life that I now physically can’t take care of the way I have? It takes an enormous amount of detail and knowledge of every little aspect of farming that takes a lifetime to accumulate. It’s not worth much anymore.

Peter: But I feel like I’ve really lived my life as thoroughly as one can live. Just completely involved in the land. With all of it, I mean, the woods, the barns. My last job, what I’m doing right now is cleaning out the sheep shit for the last time. I even sold my manure spreader to my friend and have to borrow it back for this last job. And I’m finding myself really uninterested in doing it. It’s an end of something that I don’t know how to grasp. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the farm.  I just can’t keep up with it. You can see it’s all just overgrowing.

Erica: So I had actually meant to start with something funny. Sorry about that. So that’s a story that’s not very important. He’s not very important. It’s not an important story. And I guess that’s the story I like, those are the stories I like. I like to make stories about the things that happen between the important parts. I think that’s what I like to do.

Erica: And so podcasts are essentially radio shows with no FCC guidelines. You know, you get to do what you want. And because of digital technology, the way that it is now, you can do it. You can afford to do it in your own bathroom by yourself. And you can afford to make these things, and there’s no station manager guarding the door. So it’s a great time to be alive in audio.

Erica: You know, it’s what’s different about podcasting, too. At least how it started, it’s kind of become a tsunami of programing now and a lot of programs now are sort of made by committee. But when it began way back in the ancient days of, I don’t know, 2005 or whatever, they were small things and they developed cult followings. And what’s beautiful about a community of people who listen to a podcast is they seem to be invested in the whole venture. So it’s very personal. It’s not like I’m turning on the radio and whatever comes out comes out. You’re choosing to listen to it. You make a decision that you want to do it. You get on the train. And what that means for me is that I’m allowed to fail, which is really important to me. I can make crappy shows every now and then, and by and large, the listeners who listen to the show will stay on the train. Like, “I wonder what that was about. Wonder why she did that.”

Erica: And I like that. It makes it seem like they’re committed to the larger arc of what I’m trying to do as I’m figuring it out. So anyway. That was Peter Dunning. He’s not important, but you are invited to climb into his life to get into the front seat with him and to feel yourself in him, too. That’s the hope.

Erica: I’ve always thought that everybody knows something, that if I knew it, I could do life better. Like I could figure out how to get through my day better. Everybody’s an expert in their own life and they all know something that if I knew it, I’d be better for it. So finally, it’s a pretty selfish venture, this thing that I’m doing.

Erica: The other thing is that when I started the show, I think it’s changing now, but I wasn’t hearing Vermont on the radio. And I wanted to. I’m from here. I was born here. And it’s a cellular experience of a place. And I wanted to hear this place on the radio. And I hate this place. I mean, I love Vermont and I hate Vermont, which is sort of like a marriage. I’ve never been married. But my guess is that it’s sort of all of those things. And so I wanted to get at the dark places and also the confusing places. I just wanted to hear the sound of the place on the radio, or on the podcast.

Erica: And, in fact, you know, when you say, well, you go to your podcast, whatever, to hear the show. Go to the website and click play and you can hear it that way, too. So it can be very simple to do. We’re getting better with the whole podcast thing, but it’s taking a while. People still say, “So when are we going to watch your podcast?” How many years? How many years?

Erica: So I guess I think that if I interview enough people in the world that I live in, maybe the confluence of all these voices will start to feel like this place. All told, altogether, it’ll sound like where we live. That’s what I’m hoping to do.

Erica: I’m now going to play something that is less serious. This is a show that I made in a fit of desperation a few years ago. We had that horrible winter. We had a couple consecutive awful winters. But this was a bad one. And it was just went on and on. It was cold. And then there was endless snow and it was March. And I was depressed. I get seasonal depression, and I just had to get out and go find people to talk to. It occurred to me that in the winter, a lot of us spend, you know, how many months does winter go on? Five months. A lot of months, like almost a half a year, we spend our whole lives within 10 feet of our wood stoves. You know what I mean? So it’s this weird thing that people who don’t live here, they wouldn’t have like, what the hell are you doing? Like, there’s this object in our house that we tend and we huddle around for months.

Erica: So anyway, I thought that’s a good excuse. I’ll just go out and I’ll talk to people about their wood stoves, how they do it, what they do. And so I drove around and went to my kid’s school. And I live in Calais, Vermont. I’m living in St. J., but my main home, where my place is, is Calais. Anyway, I drove around and interviewed a bunch of people about their wood stoves. And this is what came out. This is just a tiny piece of it. So this is two and a half minutes just so you don’t feel anxious.

Erica: The thing about audio is you don’t know where to put your eyes. And in a way, that’s what makes it better than video, because with video, it’s kind of like this. It’s out there. And you look at it and you kind of give yourself over to it. But with audio, you have to actually join it. So it’s very intimate and it’s kind of weird to do it with other people. So I’ve never really known how to make that easier for people. So good luck with that. All right. Here’s “woodstove.”

Interviewee: I don’t know, I kind of keep a little bit of kindling wood on hand. I just live in a house trailer so I don’t need it really that hot. Now I’ve got dry wood, I’m on top of it now, instead of the green wood. I don’t like that, you just don’t warm up enough. I work outside all winter, so when I get home I want it to be about Florida weather. 80, 90. Then I’ll turn the stove down a little bit, after I get thawed out.

Interviewee: So with the farm in the summertime I’m haying and stuff. I try to cut a little bit when I have time, but most of it’s in the fall.

Erica: Did you ever not make it, didn’t get there?

Interviewee: Oh yeah. Well, every year I get low and then I got to go cut some. Me and him went and cut some before we got the last snowstorm, so it’s sitting in the yard, all we gotta do is cut it up. Split that up and put it in. I should have enough to last me until, hopefully May.

Interviewee: When I go out and I look at my wood pile and it’s buried under four feet of snow and I’ve shoveled it out and shoveled it out and I’m getting down there and the kindling is frozen in and I have to go down to my buddy’s house because my ax broke, to borrow the ax to split some wood to get the wood stove going, the propane looks like a better alternative. Although I’ve got to say the heat is different. You know that bone-chilling cold you get. It just feels so nice. It’s like it’s like eating soup on a cold day.

Interviewee: The default moments of the day when you like, you’re between activities. You’re standing right in front of the thing. You know, you got your phone and you’re checking your e-mail and you’re standing right in front of it. The funny thing is a number of people have this same plan. And it’s not a big stove, you know. So people are jockeying for position sometimes. You end up with a line of people like large and small people in front of the stove just standing there with their backs to the stove. I can’t believe that we’re the only ones who experience this phenomenon.

Erica: It’s like a bus stop.

Interviewee: That’s right. We’re queuing up for nothing at all, just staying warm. Yes.

Erica: So that’s a little piece from “Woodstove.”

Erica: I think that that the show basically asks the existential question, you know, what’s going on? I think that’s all I’m ever trying to figure out is what’s going on? But the idea of things not being important, or of the stories not being important stories.

Erica: I think about that, the important stories in the news, right? The things that we read about when we go to VTDigger and we read about, you know, the mental health care crisis. Right, that we don’t have enough beds. And with these systemic problems that we have in the state, we read about them. You know, we care about them…You know, my mom cares about them, but she doesn’t care that much. I mean, she cares, but she doesn’t care every day.

Erica: And I think to myself, Who is that? Who is the problem? If we don’t understand what it is, it’s really hard to care about it. So very often we hear news, but we don’t understand who all the people involved are. We hear from experts a lot of the time. Important that we hear from them, but we never hear from the people who are actually doing the work every day so that we can climb into this problem, that is, in fact, our problem that involves people we see every day at the grocery store and at school. And so I think that there’s a role for more documentary style work to complement the news that we see in the news.

Erica: I made a story a few years ago. I have a friend who’s a nurse who told me that there was an elderly gentleman with dementia who was living in her hospital and had been living in her hospital for, I think three years. And I was shocked, you know, and that he was living in the hospital because they had nowhere to place him. There was nowhere for him to go. And then I learned that this…I mean, I didn’t know because I wasn’t reading the news about the E.R. crisis, which is a crisis and has been ongoing for a long time. But I didn’t know and I knew if I don’t know, my mother definitely doesn’t know. And, you know, she’d want to know.

Erica: So how do you tell that story in a way that is going to get my mom to know? I mean, my mom was a really smart, thoughtful person. I’m not running my mom down at all. Just people who are busy with a lot of laundry and jobs and stuff to do. How do we find each other in the news somehow in these stories? So anyway, I made a story about the emergency room problem that led to a series that I made on the mental health care system just in general in the state of Vermont. What is it? Who is that? Where do all these people work?

Erica: What’s it like at 2 o’clock in the afternoon in the Brattleboro Retreat? You know, what is it like to live with schizophrenia in Burlington? So that we all can begin to understand, oh, this is us. This is all of us. And I just feel as though if we can get that, if we can get underneath and inside of, it’s easier to then read the news and feel invested in it.

Erica: So anyway, this is a small cut from the ER show, and I think that it features nurses and also maybe a cop or a sheriff.

Interviewee: I did have an evening once where I was taking care of somebody with an unstable, unstable psychiatric condition and a family in end of life whose family member was dying. So I was going back and forth between the family whose family member was dying and who was in hospice care in our facility and the patient who was having but a behavioral manifestation of their mental health issue that needed to be addressed. And having to make that transition from one person to the other. Both of them were patients I was taking care of. It was a real challenge to be what I needed to be where I needed to be for that patient in the span of just walking across the unit. I mean, we do the best we can, but you just feel quite depleted.

Interviewee: I’m with the sheriff’s department, the Caledonia sheriff’s department. I’m in the room a lot of the times when they’re being told, you wait here for mental health to come here. We’re going to medically clear you. But you may be here for weeks, because you’re going to be warehoused here until mental health comes in every day, and calls these hospitals to see if there is a room available for you to go to.

Interviewee: You’re spending million plus dollars a year, paying sheriff’s departments to watch mental health people in hospitals. It’s given out to sheriff’s departments to come in and stand guard at the door. They cannot leave the room. They have the bathroom there and their meals brought in and whatnot. So basically there is a prisoner in those rooms.

Interviewee: Yesterday, for instance, I had to sit at the door in the ER of one of the rooms to make sure this guy didn’t come out of the room. He was kind of “ramping up,” they call it. Some ramp up out of frustration. Some ramp up because they’re sitting in the room for six days, and you and I would do the same thing, with no mental health issues. We would probably have a mental health issue, after sitting in the room for five or six days not being able to come out. So even people with acute or semi-acute mental illness, they realize that they’re in a room and not being helped, and they’re told to be in this room and not come out.

Interviewee: We had a gentleman recently, he was here for three weeks, at least three weeks. He was voluntary. He was depressed and they though he needed to be hospitalized. And he was willing to be hospitalized. But most of the hopsitals didn’t feel like he met criteria for hospitalization, and they get to decide that. We can present them to Brattleboro and Rutland and every place else. But those hospitals decide if they meet criteria for hospitalization, and they didn’t really feel that he met criteria. But he didn’t feel safe going home. And so he was just here. Day after day after day after day.

Interviewee: That’s really frustrating. So day after day after day. This person’s here. Where am I going? How come nobody wants me? Why can’t I get help? They’re not getting it here. They aren’t getting therapy, they aren’t having groups. They see the psychiatrist but it’s once, maybe twice a day for a few moments. They aren’t getting any of the other things that they’d be getting from an inpatient hospitalization. So it’s no better than if we had a stall for horses. They have food, water and shelter…and there you go. 

Erica: I’ll talk now a little bit about how how I make this show. It’s really two things. It’s interviewing and it’s editing, right? It’s getting collecting sound and then sticking it in this computer and then figuring out what it is.

Erica: Interviewing is…I can’t say it in a church. That’s how I feel about interviewing. It’s a very special thing to do. It’s a great feeling when it goes well. Interviewing is essentially a conversation between two people, but it’s much more than that. When you have a microphone, it condenses the energy. Somehow it changes things. It’s not just a regular conversation. I’m not there in an interview to tell you my life story.  I’m there to get good tape. And in order that might happen, something needs to happen between us somehow. So the interviews are two things. There’s content. There’s yada, yada, yada, yak, yak. You know what we say to each other. But then there’s also dynamic between people, which is just as interesting. So if you’re at a party, you’re talking with a person as a mammal. You are as interested in Who is this person? What is this person about? What did he mean by that? What was that gesture about? You’re animals figuring each other out. That’s dynamic that’s happening. And when you listen,our ears are so smart. If you listen to the sound of that conversation, you can hear all that dynamic. And it’s as interesting to you as what is being said. Not always. Like, again, if you’re reading the news or you’re hearing the news you’re not listening to dynamic. But good audio is as much about dynamic between people as it is about content. It’s about what is happening between people. Because we’re interested in that. We’re human.

Erica: I think too that the goal is to find a third place with a person. So it’s me and you and we’re talking with each other and at a certain point you’ve forgotten the microphone, but the microphone is still charging the room, but you’ve forgotten the actual object. And at a certain point, if things go really well, then we’re in some third place together. It’s not me and it’s not you, but we’re in some other place together. It’s the third place. I can’t explain it, but it’s almost the point where I’m saying, I don’t know. And you’re saying I don’t know. That’s what it is. We’ve combined, that’s what it is. We’re both back to that question of what’s going on together. And that’s a really remarkable thing to have happen with another person, a stranger. And it’s a really good thing to record. It’s an interesting thing to record.

Erica Heilman: In an interview, you can, just on a practical level, start easily. If I’m holding a microphone it is my job to make you feel comfortable. I’ve never arrived to an interview without clammy hands. I’m always nervous and I’m always partly hoping that it will be canceled. You know what I mean? It’s like I just need a snow day. I’m always hoping for a snow day. And it’s just because I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I dread it. I don’t want to do it because it matters to me. And I don’t want to do it because it costs a lot, it feels very high risk because you’re walking into the home or the office or the street bench of a person who you’re going to try to find, somehow. And that’s a very tall order. And so I’m always very, very nervous going into an interview. But it is a sublime experience when it goes well.

Erica: So then there’s the editing. And the editing is just for me anyway, the editing is me in a little area – I now live in an apartment in St. Johnsbury – and it’s just a little table. And it’s a lot of walking around. It’s pretty much 80 percent confusion and desperation and a feeling of existential just dismay. What does it all mean? Who cares? No one cares. No one’s waiting for this. Nobody even knows I did this and nobody cares. That’s about 80 percent of making things in my experience.

Erica: And then you just keep going. I don’t have a religion, but I the only faith that I have is really the faith in making things. That if you start something, you actually can finish it and then you can actually start something else and finish it again. And you will get better.

Erica: And there’s every reason to not finish, all the reasons in the world not to finish. Right? But if you finish, you will have this feeling of God. You’ll have this feeling of deep satisfaction. And it might be terrible. You know, it could be terrible for a really long time. In fact, it will be terrible for a really long time. But it won’t be terrible to you. And if you keep going, you will certainly get better. And to me, that is the closest thing I have to religion is that.

Erica: People are always saying like, I want to start a podcast. I’m like, “start a podcast,” you know. But you just have to actually just do it. Do all the things. The only difference between a podcast producer or a writer is a writer writes, that’s it. So it’s more like I don’t usually have a plan when I start a story. And I think I wouldn’t have the nerve to start a story if I had a plan. So if I see a defense attorney. I used to work as a private investigator, and I know a lot of really interesting defense attorneys. Such difficult, funny, fascinating, good people, but hard.

Erica: Anyway, I thought I want to talk to defense attorneys. So I went out and did a bunch of interviews with defense attorneys and then I had that horrible reality of I have a lot of tape and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with it. So thus begins the 80 percent of the dismay. And you just sculpt. It’s like sculpting it. So you just learn and learn the material. You fall in love with the material. You get close to the material and closer and closer. And then suddenly you think, oh, I wonder what that would sound like with that, or even the way it’s tonal also, it’s like, oh, I love the way that voice lifted there. And I bet it would land nicely when she says that over there. So it’s like putting a puzzle together completely at random, though. It often will group thematically, but I don’t ever really have a plan when I’m starting an edit and I don’t know how long it will be, if it’s gonna be like three minutes or an hour. I don’t know how long things will be.

Erica: I make it sound like I know nothing. And I mean, I think at this point, I know some things. I mean, I do know it’s not like I’m starting from absolute scratch, but there is a scratch-like feeling at the beginning of everything. And the other thing is, there’s the what’s being said and then there’s how good is it being said? You know, good tape is good tape. Bad tape is bad tape. You know the difference, you know, is it interesting or is it boring? I’m making entertainment. If it’s not entertaining, who would listen? Why would I even listen? It needs to be entertaining. So you’re looking for good tape. And I do notice that sometimes people are like “But he’s saying this important thing.” I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s really boring the way he’s saying it.” So that matters.

Erica: So I’m going to finish now. And just by saying that, I don’t really know what the word story means. I think people talk about stories all the time. And, you know, if you talk to Ira Glass and then you’d hear that a story is. A very effective story is, this happened, then this happened and that happened and then this happened in the end. And this is what it all means. And I think that’s a really good way to tell a story. I just think there are a lot of other good ways to tell stories that don’t need to follow that pattern. And I think what’s beautiful about podcasting is people are finding ways, their own ways to do that.

Erica: I often worry that what I’m doing makes any difference. I like doing it. I enjoy doing it. I don’t know that it matters really in the scheme of things. But I guess my only hope is that people, especially now when people when we’re in such divided times that if people can find each other, that’s got to be inherently useful, you know? And that’s what I’m hoping. I want you to fall in love. I fall in love with all of these people. And I want you to fall in love with them, too.

Erica: I’m going to play one more thing. This is about the Special Olympics and it was made a few years ago, my son and I volunteered at the fall Special Olympics in Northfield. And it was, you know, all kinds, soccer mostly, but it was really fun. So this is a piece from that.

Interviewee: I’d like to welcome to the stage Sean Fahey, who will be leading us in the Athlete’s Oath today.

Interviewee: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

Erica: You do not look very nervous.

Interviewee: No.

Erica: Not even a little?

Interviewee: No.

Erica: Why?

Interviewee: Because playing sports is something I enjoy to do. I go out to have fun. At my age and 41 years old. My skill level is so high. I just love everybody comes back. Oh, no, Herb’s here.

Interviewee: I’m feeling kind of nervous but good. I guess that goes with every other game.

Erica: What position are you going to play?

Interviewee: I’m hoping to be goalie, but I’m not sure.

Erica: Why would you ever hope to be goalie? It sounds like a terrifying position.

Interviewee: Well, it is, but I see it on TV and I just want to try it out, see how good I am. Because I like chasing the ball around, punching it.

Interviewee: I plan in the future to be on a professional team, and this is a step closer.

Erica: Are you guys in school?

Interviewee: I graduated last year.

Interviewee I had a hard time in school. Because people that are in the higher function call us all retards or slow or ridiculous. I used to always get picked on in the lunchroom because of the way I ate, because I was big.

Interviewee: People think the people on Special Olympics oh they’re not going to get anywhere or you’re not going to do anything.

Interviewee: We got just as much…

Interviewee: It’s a big step coming here. Playing teams we wouldn’t normally play. So this is a big step.

Interviewee: I’m playing very awesome. It’s an awesome experience, I did amazing out there. Final ten seconds I finally got a shot for the goal. I was surprised when I finally kicked that one.

Interviewee: Well, my school life is all right, normal. But it’s hard to get used to fitting in with the other kids because they’re different. You know, saying other words against us. But I’m different from them, OK? I’m just a positive kid.

Erica: So how do you manage that?

Interviewee: I don’t know. Sometimes I try to ignore them. But I have a little anger thing since I was a kid.

Erica: And how do you manage that?

Interviewee: I don’t know. I calm down a little bit I think.

Erica: Is this is your first time?

Interviewee: No, sir.

Erica: What do you love?

Interviewee: Being around all of my friends.

Erica: What do you think people don’t understand, if they’ve never been before, what would you tell them about it?

Interviewee: You’re not allowed to do it in school, because in school you’re not fast enough. Here you can do it.

Erica: At school you’re not allowed to?

Interviewee: No, you’re not allowed to, but that was years ago when I was in high school. Because you’re not fast enough or you can’t kick it right. Here you can just do whatever and enjoy it. I love it. You don’t get picked on in Special Olympics. And in other sports you do.

Erica: That was your experience in school?

Interviewee: Yeah.

Erica: And how did you manage that?

Interviewee: Tears. And here it’s fun. It’s not all about winning, it’s about having fun. I love it.

Erica: Why do you do it?

Interviewee: I do it because when I was younger, I played high school basketball for one year. I was on the JV basketball team. They found out I had an intellectual disability and they kicked me off the team. Now, today, when you’re in high school, if you keep your grades up, they allow you to play.

Interviewee: And I wish I could be in high school today and be out playing high school basketball and have more games. But when I was younger, I couldn’t play. Because they didn’t know that people with disabilities were sometimes better than the Junior High guy down the hall who had the hot girlfriend on the cheerleading team.

Erica: Would you say that the Special Olympics games play a pretty big role in your life?

Interviewee: It plays a big, big role in my life. I’m 41, 42 years old but you know what? I felt like a little teenager out here. You know, I feel like, ha, ha, high school coaches, you could have had a good player. I would be on my knees right now, kissing the Kennedy girl’s feet. Saying thank you for creating the foundation. You know. We’re humans. We all bleed red.

Erica: So that’s all I got. Anybody have questions?

Thanks for listening to The Portable Humanist. Visit our website at vermonthumanities.org/podcasts for a transcript of this episode, and for more information about Vermont Humanities.