Everything is Alive

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Ian Chillag is a radio producer. You might recognize his name from the end credits of the NPR quiz show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, or as the co-host the now-defunct podcast, “How to do Everything”, which I just loved. It was such a good show. He has a new podcast out right now launching this week, and it’s delightfully weird.

Ian Chillag:
Well, the show is called “Everything is Alive”, and it’s an interview show in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. So… I talked to things.

Roman Mars:
(laughs) So, what made you want to do a show like this?

Ian Chillag:
Well, a couple things. One, I think it’s just like, I would just sort of think this way. I’d get up from a chair and think about what a terrible job the chair had and how the chair must feel about being sat on all the time. Then also I think producing for so long, you’re always trying to get to the primary source, you know? You’re always looking for experts. I thought it would be really fun if you’re putting together a piece about rainbows or whatever, and rather than talk to the physicist who understands rainbows if you could actually talk to the rainbow. So, that’s kind of the idea.

Roman Mars:
I know that listeners to 99% Invisible are fully capable of accepting that even the most mundane objects are infused with great meaning and can say something about us as humans, but you may not be prepared for that object to actually talk. So, I asked Ian for a primer on how to listen to “Everything is Alive”.

Ian Chillag:
If I was talking to a candle, say a bedroom candle, it’s not every candle. It’s not speaking for every candle. It is one candle that has sat on one nightstand forever and been blown out by one person forever and has a relationship with that person. But they’re kind of aware of their object communities. It knows more about candles than we do. It also has a very distinct lifetime of experiences.

Roman Mars:
But the things that it says are all factual. I think I was surprised by that when I first heard the episodes that I’ve… the samples that I’ve heard.

Ian Chillag:
Yeah. They know things. They know real things about their world. For the most part, they’re the inanimate object version of the person at the party who always has an anecdote for everything. They’re very aware of history and of stories of what they are.

Roman Mars:
So even though this situation is quite absurd on the face, when you hear a fact, it’s a true fact.

Ian Chillag:
Yeah. There is so much about the kind of personal life of the object that you know isn’t exactly real. But when I’m telling a story about something real, I don’t cite it. I don’t tell you where I heard it. And so, we’re just letting the objects behave in the same way. There’s probably … there’s going to be some mystery, and hopefully people will Google and figure out if things are real or not.

Roman Mars:
This is, “Everything is Alive” hosted by Ian Chillag.

Ian Chillag:
Well, let’s just start, settle in, have you introduced yourself for us?

Louis:
My name is Louis, and I am a can of Go2 Cola.

Ian Chillag:
That’s a store brand?

Louis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Go2, G-O, 2, Cola.

Ian Chillag:
So it’s similar to Coca-Cola?

Louis:
Similar. People call it a knock-off. I’ve been called the best of the worst. If you wanted to get my honest opinion, I believe in a blind taste test, your average person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between me and a can of regular Coca-Cola. But yeah, bottom shelf. We can describe it comfortably as bottom shelf. I’m at peace with that.

Ian Chillag:
Literally on the …

Louis:
Most of the time. Yeah.

Ian Chillag:
Okay. Well, there’s a lot I want to talk to you about today. Do you need any … do you need water or anything?

Louis:
No, no, no. I’m completely self-contained.

Ian Chillag:
I want to ask you about your time before you ended up in the fridge you’re in now. So you, I take it, were … you were in a supermarket.

Louis:
Yup.

Ian Chillag:
And where were you?

Louis:
I was in a Safeway. I was bought as a case, so there were 24 of us. We were all purchased together, and actually, our next residence was a bowling alley for a 12-year-old’s birthday party. I saw most of the rest of my case drunk at that party. I was not drunk. I was saved for later and brought home, and put into a refrigerator and then forgotten about for a few months, placed in the back of the fridge. I froze in the fridge. I was in the very back and the temperature got very cold. I didn’t freeze all the way through, but I had a frozen couple of weeks.

Ian Chillag:
You were slushy inside?

Louis:
I was slushy inside. Yeah. I had a brief adventure when they realized I was still in the fridge and they took me out for a road trip. I got to sit in the front seat cup holder, you know?

Ian Chillag:
Yeah.

Louis:
And I took a little fun road trip down to Florida and then back again. They never got around to drinking me on that trip, and they put me back in the fridge and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

Ian Chillag:
It sounds like you were almost chosen so many times.

Louis:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ian Chillag:
What does it feel like when you’re, say at this birthday party, and you’re waiting for your moment?

Louis:
Have you ever seen the movie “Jaws”?

Ian Chillag:
Yeah.

Louis:
So you know the story that Robert Shaw tells to Roy Scheider and the other guy. Anyway, you know the story about the USS Indianapolis, where he’s in the water and the sharks are coming, and he’s waiting to be picked off and he’s waiting and having that long, dark night, and one by one he’s seeing his friends go. That’s kind of what it was like for me. It was terrifying. And on the one hand, I was very angry at human beings for being in this position to consume us. And then, on the other hand, I was also very angry. How come you didn’t want to consume me?

Ian Chillag:
Mm-hmm, yeah. When you think about being consumed by a human, do you think about the human that you want to be in?

Louis:
If and when I’m finally consumed, I hope I’m consumed by someone who enjoys it. But I like to imagine that if you’re drunk immediately, that instead of being a painful process, there’s the sort of first moment of relief. The can is cracked open, all of this internal fizzing that I have going on finally has somewhere to go. Just sort of drowned out from your external can, and you have that last moment where you’re fulfilling your purpose and beginning to blend in with this human being, and you become part of their story.

Louis:
Truthfully, here’s how I expect to go. Assuming that I am consumed, I’m expecting it’s going to happen in the middle of the night when I’m not waiting for it, and someone’s going to open the fridge and pull me out, and that’ll be that. It would be nice to be poured into a nice big pint glass. A frosty mug would be a pretty good way to go. That’d be pleasant, you know? I doubt that’s going to happen though. They don’t reserve frosty mugs for Go2 Colas. That’s just another one of those facts of life.

Ian Chillag:
How did you see “Jaws”?

Louis:
Oh, the human being who lives in my house was watching “Jaws”. They took me out of the fridge and kept me on the table. I thought, this is it, this is my big moment. Kind of part of me … There was the Robert Shaw scene where he’s telling the story of the Indianapolis and I was thinking, boy, this is just too perfect. This would be amazing. He was reaching for me, he was going to go for me, and then at the last minute, another human being came into the house and scolded him on not drinking soft drinks, so he put me back in the fridge.

Ian Chillag:
Wow.

Louis:
Yeah. That would have been perfect, huh? Yeah.

Ian Chillag:
I should ask you, there’s a lot of talk right now about the health effects of soft drinks. People tend to think of them as very unhealthy. I was wondering, do you feel unhealthy?

Louis:
Do I feel unhealthy? It’s hard to say because I think if you were feeling the way I feel, you would feel unhealthy. But I feel like me. I can’t say that that means I feel good, but to go back to your question, unhealthy drinks are not a new thing by any means. Have you ever heard of Radithor?

Ian Chillag:
Radithor?

Louis:
Radithor. All right, so back in the 20s, there was an energy drink with radium called Radithor, okay? The idea was it was just radioactive material in water. They claimed Radithor gave you energy and cured a bunch of things. They also implied that Radithor increased male virility. Radithor also killed, you know, people.

Ian Chillag:
So people would just drink radioactive material dissolved in water?

Louis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ian Chillag:
I’m just looking it up here. There’s actually … there’s an eBay ad. There’s a bottle of Radithor for sale.

Louis:
Oh, come on now.

Ian Chillag:
It’s currently $659.

Louis:
You’ve got to be kidding me.

Ian Chillag:
It says here, “This certified radioactive water was advertised as a ‘cure for the living dead’ and ‘perpetual sunshine’.'” It goes on. “One guy who used it Eben Byers died from radiation poisoning and they had to bury him in a lead-lined coffin.”

Louis:
Yeah, and that’s what you get when you drink a radioactive material.

Ian Chillag:
So they made a beverage, which not only killed a man, but his dead body would have, had they not taken precautions, killed all life around him.

Louis:
Yes. Presumably, his dead body is still radiating the poisons that he drank from Radithor.

Ian Chillag:
In fact, the ad goes on, they exhumed him for study in 1965 and his remains were still quite radioactive. It then mentions that the developer of Radithor was not an actual medical doctor.

Louis:
Yeah. That sounds about right to me too.

Ian Chillag:
Also, the bottle is in very good condition.

Louis:
So there’s your original power drink for you. That says to me more about human beings than it does about soft drinks, to be perfectly honest.

Ian Chillag:
Our willingness, our eagerness to find something to…

Louis:
Your chronic search for potency. That’s my evaluation of humanity. The chronic search for potency.

Jeff:
(phone ringing) Hello?

Ian Chillag:
Hey, I’m calling for Jeff.

Jeff:
Yep.

Ian Chillag:
Hey, Jeff. You’re the man behind the “Bygone Times Vintage”, right?

Jeff:
(hearty laugh) Yeah, I’m guilty.

Ian Chillag:
I noticed one of your eBay listings. So, you put up the Radithor?

Jeff:
Radithor? Yeah.

Ian Chillag:
Yeah. Is that for real?

Jeff:
Oh yeah. What happened was I was at a flea market and I found a set of about 20, 25 of these things. There was a shipping crate or something. And so yeah, I have sold a few of those.

Ian Chillag:
Is it a reproduction or is it an original bottle?

Jeff:
No, these are original. Yeah. Original.

Ian Chillag:
Did you check them with a Geiger counter?

Jeff:
I have not. I just assumed they wouldn’t have any … there’s no contents in them, obviously, but I haven’t … no, I didn’t check them with the Geiger counter. I suspect that since it’s from the 1920s, it would be done and gone.

Ian Chillag:
I wouldn’t be gone.

Jeff:
Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe they wouldn’t. I don’t know. (laughs) Can I put them under a black light or something? I hope it’s not still active. That raises an interesting question, sir.

Ian Chillag:
Did you know much about Radithor when you…

Jeff:
No, no, no. Fortunately, now we have the internet and Google was quite helpful. It’s really an interesting story. I don’t know if you’ve taken the time to look into it, but it’s fascinating.

Ian Chillag:
Yeah. Well, I just heard about it. It’s crazy that we humans did that.

Jeff:
I know. I liked the story about the guy who died from it, and then they dug them up in the 60s in his lead-lined coffin and he was still radioactive.

Ian Chillag:
That’s why where I feel like you should maybe get checked out.

Jeff:
I think I will. Yeah, I think I will now that you said that, because I didn’t really think that the glass would hold any of that, but I guess it’s possible.

Ian Chillag:
Radiation you don’t want to mess around with, I guess when it comes down to it.

Jeff:
No. No, I hear you. Hey, I have to .. I’m driving and I don’t want to … I’m getting onto a busy road now so I need to, unfortunately, hang up on you.

Ian Chillag:
Got it. Yeah. Be safe.

Jeff:
Okay. Bye.

Ian Chillag:
Louis, one quick thing I want to ask you about. I have, in my life, occasionally dropped a can of soda. Has that ever happened to you?

Louis:
Oh, it’s a awful experience. You feel, I mean, obviously very shaken. There’s a rush … I guess in human being terms, it would be like a rush of adrenaline, and for a while you’re feeling just very hyper after the shakeup. Then you start to sort of resettle back to a neutral state, but you have this awful kind of nauseous, sicky, sleepy feeling after the fact, and you feel kind of dumb. The shakeup kind of like rattles you a little bit and it takes a little bit of time for your intelligence to kind of come back to you. It’s an awful experience.

Ian Chillag:
Hey, I imagine too, like we often, after that happens, we will tap on what would be your head.

Louis:
Don’t. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t. Don’t. There’s no reason to do it. It doesn’t do anything to the carbonation. All it does is annoy us in a very sensitive moment. Yeah, don’t do that.

Roman Mars:
You’re listening to “Everything is Alive” on 99% Invisible.

Ian Chillag:
So, Louis, this might be awkward to talk about, but I feel like there’s a hierarchy to sodas, at least in terms of how humans think about them.

Louis:
Sure.

Ian Chillag:
At the top, there’s, you know, Coke and Pepsi, and then there’s 7UP and Sprite, and then there’s these… like your Sunkist and grape soda Fanta that are kind of at the bottom. I wonder if that … does that hierarchy, does it mean the same thing to you?

Louis:
Well, let me tell you something about Fanta. I mean, sure, here in the U.S. it’s not the most sophisticated soft drink, but overseas it’s huge. Like Japan. Huge.

Ian Chillag:
Fanta?

Louis:
Fanta. In Thailand, it’s all over the place. If you walk down the street there, you’ll see half open bottles of Fanta everywhere. Strawberry Fanta in particular, everywhere. Just hanging out.

Ian Chillag:
Just sitting on this street?

Louis:
Yeah, just on the street, because humans there you strawberry Fanta as an offering to ghosts.

Ian Chillag:
So, they leave it out on the street because they’re giving it to ghosts?

Louis:
Yes. Friendly ghosts, according to local custom, love sweet red soda. So if you leave it out, it attracts them, and they hang out around your house and protect you from I guess whatever unfriendly ghost might come around, who I guess don’t love sweet red soda.

Ian Chillag:
Right. Do you know what it is about strawberry Fanta in particular?

Louis:
Because of the color. There’s a theory that it’s because they can’t do blood offerings anymore. And so, strawberry Fanta, which is another red, viscous liquid, would be the next best thing.

Ian Chillag:
Strawberry Fanta, among the sodas available to us, looks the most like blood.

Louis:
Yeah. Which I personally don’t see, but it’s a Thailand thing.

Ian Chillag:
We humans, we think a lot about spirits, or at least you know what might happen to us after we die. Do you, as a cola, do you think about that?

Louis:
The afterlife?

Ian Chillag:
Yeah.

Louis:
Oh yeah. How do you not? I think about it all the time because I’m reaching that age myself where I’m probably not going to be around that much longer.

Ian Chillag:
I mean, you are recyclable.

Louis:
Yeah, which opens up a whole other conversation. My body, my can, will almost certainly be repurposed. Then that leads me to ask questions of like, well have I already been repurposed? I don’t know.

Ian Chillag:
You could have been any number of sodas or…

Louis:
Or anything else.

Ian Chillag:
An airplane.

Louis:
I could have been. I actually … when I was younger, I used to have a recurring nightmare that I was … there was a plane crashing. There was an ocean and a beach, and it was nighttime and it was raining, and there was a plane crashing on the beach. I used to like to think that in a previous existence I was part of an airplane, and this was some sort of a memory that had traveled with me. Maybe I was part of … I don’t know, ventilation system on board of a 747 or something.

Ian Chillag:
You referred to your can as your body or your body as your can. Is there an equivalency between … you know, humans talk about body and soul. I’m sorry.

Louis:
(Sighs) No, no, no, no. I’m only sighing because I wish I had the answer to this question. Is there an equivalence? Yes. Yes. The body-mind problem that human beings have been dealing with since the days of Descartes is something all too familiar to us cans of soda. Am I just a can? Am I soda? What does it mean to be soda? Am I part of the larger ocean of soda out there? Am I just the individuated soda? Am I soda interacting with a can, and my can being slowly eaten away by the soda inside me? I’ve thought about this a lot. Yeah. I don’t have an answer, but it’s something I wrestle with all the time. What am I fundamentally? Once the soda’s gone, the can remains, but bye-bye me, I think.

Ian Chillag:
Yeah. Who knows?

Louis:
Who knows? These are the mysteries that permeate every level of existence, as far as I know.

Ian Chillag:
I have to say, I think about the type of can you are, with the pull tab, and then I think about other cans in the kitchen. You know, like a soup can. I don’t know if you know any soup cans.

Louis:
I know a couple of soup cans.

Ian Chillag:
And it occurs to me, you are so lucky because you think about the way a soup can gets opened. A can opener, to me, seems like a torture device.

Louis:
It is. And let me tell you something else too, I thank God every day of my life that I was not born a can of minestrone soup. I at least have lived a life. I know where I’ve been. Not all of my dreams may have necessarily come true, I may have taken a couple of bad turns here and there, but at least at the end of the day, I’ve been witness to my own life. These poor bastards who are stuck in these soup cans, I mean, talk about hermetically sealed. They lose all sense of time and perspective.

Louis:
When you open a can of soup, when they wake up, they have no idea how much time has passed. They’re like astronauts coming out of cryogenic freeze, and they’re all spaced out and they’re completely disoriented. They don’t know what’s going on, and their wake up call is being torn open by these damn can openers. What are nightmare of an existence. Their flesh is literally busted open only to wake up into a world that they don’t know anything about. All the rest of us stay away from the cans of soup. And I’ll be honest with you, I feel awful about it, but whenever I tried to talk to a can of soup, well, they are weird.

Ian Chillag:
You’ve mentioned that you’re feeling like you’re nearing the end of your life. Do you feel old or…

Louis:
Oh yeah. Oh, very much so. I know for a fact I’m old. I can look at my expiration date.

Ian Chillag:
Okay. And can I ask how close you are?

Louis:
T-minus two weeks to go, my friend.

Ian Chillag:
Wow. But you could keep going on after that.

Louis:
I could. It’s not recommended, but I could.

Ian Chillag:
Does it seem … I mean, I think about this with you because … and I’m sorry if I have … this isn’t the right way to put it, but it seems like your purpose is to be consumed by a human. And so, we all want to serve our purpose, we all want to be useful. Yet for you, the moment of your use is the moment where you are no more. I wonder if that’s something you anticipate with optimism or if it feels like approaching the end.

Louis:
That’s a paradox, isn’t it?

Ian Chillag:
It is. Yeah.

Louis:
I guess on the one hand, I do sort of dread the idea of being consumed. You know, all beings endeavor to persist in their own being. Spinosa said that. I heard about that from a cup of coffee. But on the other hand, I guess on some level I still hope that I will kind of fulfill myself by being consumed. I think that dream is still very much alive. Though if I’m being perfectly honest with you, I do sometimes fear that that moment has passed.

Ian Chillag:
I feel weird saying this, but I could drink you.

Louis:
Right now?

Ian Chillag:
Yeah. I mean I want you … I am thirsty, but I also … I want this to be a good moment for you. I want you to be … I don’t want you to do it if you’re not ready.

Louis:
Well, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ve always said I wanted to go with my eyes wide open. I’m prepared to end it here if you promise me that even if you’re disgusted by how I taste, you will finish the can.

Ian Chillag:
I will make you that promise. Is there anything you want to say to the humans you’ve encountered, the cans you’ve encountered, the countertops you’ve known?

Louis:
I think overall, I would say life is a gift and a blessing. I don’t believe anything ends, but everything simply transforms into the next thing. I would say if I can be a little bit softhearted and sentimental for a moment or two, it’s a gift to get to be anything at all.

Ian Chillag:
Well maybe what we’ll do in the, just in the interest of journalism, is I’ll drink about half, and then we’ll check in again.

Louis:
Great.

Ian Chillag:
Do you want to talk while I’m drinking you? I don’t know.

Louis:
No, I want to have the full experience.

Ian Chillag:
Okay.

Louis:
But I’ll check in with you at the halfway mark.

Ian Chillag:
All right. So, I’m picking you up.

Louis:
(Takes a deep breath) Give me one second. (Takes another deep breath) Okay.

Ian Chillag:
Are you ready?

Louis:
Mm-hmm. (Sound of can opening) This, I have to say, feels delightful.

Ian Chillag:
All right, well I guess, cheers. Cheers to you with you.

Louis:
Here’s hoping for the best.

Ian Chillag:
I mean, you are delicious.

Louis:
Thank you. You’re very gentle. This is a trippy feeling. I’m not gonna lie. All right. My first report, feeling very spacious inside right now. I’m feeling like I got room to be. But I’m also, I’m feeling the warmth of the tummy. Very strange thing. I’m in two places at once. Spacious in my own body, but feeling warm and secure in your own tummy. Wow.

Ian Chillag:
All of a sudden I find myself thinking about my body. I’m thinking about my body and I’m hoping that my body is a good place for you.

Louis:
I think so. I don’t mind telling you, my first impression of the inside of your own tummy, you seem to be taking pretty good care of yourself.

Ian Chillag:
Thank you.

Louis:
Yeah. (Takes a deep breath)

Ian Chillag:
I am seeing some … are you sweating? I’m seeing some…

Louis:
With joy.

Ian Chillag:
Alright, I’m gonna I’m going to have a little more.

Louis:
You go ahead and finish me off.

Ian Chillag:
Okay. Are you … are you still there…?

Roman Mars:
“Everything is Alive” is produced by Jennifer Mills and Ian Chillag. This episode had reporting from Patrick Wynn and Timothy Jurgensen. In the piece, we heard the song “Sheets Two”, by the band Mountains off their album “Coral”. Louis, the can of generic cola, was played by Louis Kornfeld. Find out more at www.everythingisalive.com.

Comments (26)

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  1. acorben

    Super meta: Interview a copy of “Skinny Legs and All”, by Tom Robbins, in which a number of inanimate objects are awakened by a sexual act performed in their vicinity, and so embark on a journey to Jerusalem.

  2. Jon

    I absolutely loved this. When Roman Mars introduced it on the latest 99pi, at first I was confused and more than a little skeptical, but was soon gleefully chuckling right alongside him. The acting, deadpan voicework, and the tone struck (a mixture of absurd humor and earnest exploration of the psyche) were all spot on for me. I’ve always enjoyed radio dramas like the The Truth, and Secrets, Crimes and Audiotape, and this seems to combine that with something akin to Maron, which somehow works in a delightfully weird way. Hope it has longevity.

  3. Zoe

    I’ll make sure to let all my vore friends know they’re in for a treat at the end of this episode.

  4. Samuel lai

    This really took a very interesting turn i really like this if you ask me personally i havent heard anything like this having to know about japan with fanta or thailand with strawberry and blood or even to imagine having a conversation with another soup or even learn anything around the world i must really say thank you for making my day love to listen more of this hopefully there be more media attention for this kind of art best wishes on this new podcast series and hope to learn more too goodluck

  5. Casey Monahan

    Outstanding. He should get H. Jon Benjamin on the program to reprise his can of vegetables role from Wet Hot American Summer

  6. Beth

    I thought this was delightful…. I might listen to a few more and see if I want to subscribe.

  7. Nathan

    Just now listen this episode. I feel kinda of awkwardly interesting idea. Anyways its cool.

  8. Oscar

    This was without a doubt the BEST new podcast I’ve listen to in years! I can’t wait for more episodes.

  9. Repalereti

    I’m really sorry to say that it left me cringing the entire time. Good luck with the new show though, there will be an audience for it, just not sure if the audience of 99PI is that same one.

  10. Sanjay

    I will now be saving a frosty mug for my poor soda. It’s a silly show, but it’s like a child’s imagination at an age when that’s hard to recapture.
    Also, objects do not become radioactive. The glass bottles should be safe as long as all traces of the radium have been removed. People are radioactive after an incident because they get some of the radioactive particles into their lungs, stomach, or on their clothes, skin, and hair.

  11. Peg Farrell

    I really loved this: the concept, the deadpan delivery, the goofy humor, etc, etc. I have to admit, though, that the idea of things having a name and personality is not new to me. Some years back I had a car that ‘told’ me in no uncertain terms that she was Zelda; never had that happen before or since. Looking forward to the rest of the issues. [Note to Ian: you need to have a comment section on the show’s website.]

  12. Lucie

    I loved this! At I certain point, it became truly poignant as it dealt with the universal experience of questioning death, the afterlife, and existence itself. Parts were hilarious!

  13. Eric

    What a bizarre concept. Made for an interesting listen but definitely not what I expect from a 99pi episode. Glad that Roman continues to work with artists to push the boundaries of what a podcast can be, even if every one isn’t necessarily for me :)

    I must say that the actor that played the cola was pretty impressive.

  14. Kebabsoup

    Haha I liked very much the perspective offered by this podcast, I can’t wait for an episode about toilet paper!

  15. Guru

    I am a dildo, I live in a drawer under old musty clothes that rarely used. I enjoy my life most when I am used which occurs only a few times each month. I feel at home inside of the tight, cavernous, and wet innards of my female owner. I hope to someday be used in a group setting so that I can experience what the rest of the world might have in store for me.

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