Editor’s note: First Person, which began its run in the Magazine in 2000, concludes today. A new feature
takes its place next week.
It was just my mom and me growing up. Way out in the country. I used to write notes across the couch begging my mom to go to the mall. And I would put: “Not so I can buy anything. I just want to be around people.” I felt so isolated in that house in the middle of nowhere, and I wanted to see people and talk to them. I feel a lot better when I feel like we can all know each other. I just want to connect. I don’t want to be alone; I don’t want other people to be alone.
I think I’ve done 250, 225 [First Persons]. My favorite thing about doing First Persons was hearing people realize something about themselves for the first time when they were talking to me. You know, they would say something about why they did what they did, and they would realize why that kind of fits with who they are. The first person I did was an improv guy. The improv guy was a performer, so he spent the first hour of this interview entertaining me and telling funny anecdotes. And that was great, but I kept asking him, “Why is this what you want to do?” He’s, like, 35 years old, and he’s dressing up as a fish. And he still hadn’t really told me. So we got off on family, and he said, “Yeah, my dad died when he was really young.” And I said, “My dad died when he was really young.” And I saw him kind of change. And then he was talking to me versus at me. He said, “As a matter of fact, all the men in my family have died before they were 50, or 40.” And he said, “I’ve never really thought about what I was going to be when I grew up because I don’t think I’m going to grow up.” First of all, I just wanted to react to him as another human being. But that whole other reporter side of me was like, “You’ve got it. This is the part, the juice.” He just opened up and showed me who he was. He was a kid — he got to play. His job was playing.
So I got to see a lot of people do that — things that they kind of know in their gut or in their heart or in their head but they’ve never said out loud. So when people are comfortable enough with you and trust you enough to tell you that kind of stuff, that’s a big deal. Which is probably the part I’m going to miss the most about this. That people can just look at me and tell me the essential truth about themselves. And then after the story has run, they say, “I can’t believe you got that out of me.” You know, everybody wants to be got. Everybody wants people to say, “I get you.”