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Other segments from the episode on January 22, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 22, 2003: Interview with Christian Bauman; Commentary on reality television shows; Review of Cody Chesnutt's new music album "The Headphone Masterpiece."

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DATE January 22, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 NETWORK NPR
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Christian Bauman discusses his experiences in the US
Army, as reflected in his book "The Ice Beneath You"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Christian Bauman, has written a novel about what it's like to be a
soldier called "The Ice Beneath You." It's based on his experiences enlisting
after the Gulf War, then serving on US Army boats with tours of duty in
Somalia and Haiti. He describes the humiliations of basic training, what it's
like to learn to carry a gun and to make split-second decisions about whether
to pull the trigger, the difficulty of distinguishing between the people
you're protecting and the ones you're fighting, and he writes about
relationships in the military--friendships and romances. The action shifts
between the main character's service in the military and his return to
civilian life, when he has trouble finding a place for himself and is haunted
by an incident in Somalia he was responsible for.

Since leaving the Army, Christian Bauman has worked as a cook, painter, clerk
and editor. He's also toured the country playing folk music. "The Ice
Beneath You" is his first book. Let's start with a short reading.

(Soundbite of reading from "The Ice Beneath You")

Mr. CHRISTIAN BAUMAN (Author, "The Ice Beneath You"): I quit my job the day
the 100-hour war started. I remember sitting in the Holiday Inn's break room,
in cook whites and Timberlands, nursing my coffee, transfixed by what was
happening on the TV screen in front of me. The head chef walked in, walked
out, then walked back in. He looked at me, twisting the ends of his
moustache. He said, `Jones, if you're not back at the salad station in one
minute, you can kiss your employment goodbye.' Then he walked back out again.

I remember sitting there, still watching CNN. When a commercial finally come
on, I stood, lit a cigarette, dug my keys from my pocket and went home. I
spent the next three days on the couch, not moving, just watching the live
feeds from the Persian Gulf, watching it all unfold in front of me. I
enlisted three months later, about the time they started sending the troops
home. The recruiter said my scores were high, and I could pretty much have
any job I wanted. When the options came across the computer screen, he tapped
his finger on the third one down. `Boats,' he said. `Army's got boats. I
seen 'em, down in Virginia. Take that one. Slack life.' I did, and he said
I wouldn't regret it. He also said I wouldn't ship out until October or
November. I said that was unfortunate, but fine. I borrowed his pen, and
without looking up, signed the contract for US Army, E-1, 88-LIMA 10
Waterborne, Private Benjamin F. Jones. I sat back, waiting to feel
different, waiting to feel something. Nothing came. That was fine, too. I
shook the recruiter's sweaty hand and walked home.

I didn't see the need to get another job to fill the intervening months. My
three memories of that summer are the unchanging look of disgust on my wife's
face, the unchanging scenes of smoke and destruction broadcast from Iraq, and
the unchanging nagging feeling I was missing out on something, something
important, something necessary. I turned 21; I got two cards in the mail, one
from my mother, instructing me to trust in Jesus, and one from my recruiter,
instructing me to start doing push-ups.

GROSS: That's Christian Bauman, reading from his new novel, "The Ice Beneath
You."

Christian, why did you enlist in the Army?

Mr. BAUMAN: Oh, that's such a complicated question. The easy answer is that
I was young and poor with a family to support, and there were not a lot of
jobs in the greater Philadelphia-New Jersey area for uneducated poor young
guys at the time, and the few jobs there were, I had pretty much worked my way
through all of them. Also, my daughter, who was two at the time, I think, two
or three, needing an operation, and the recruiter, who I'd been sort of
flirting with for a number of months, said, `Oh, you know, we'll pay for
that,' and that was really the deal-clincher for me.

The real truth is, is it was something I had been looking at I think a lot
longer than anyone knew, maybe even myself. When I joined it seemed to be a
very large surprise to people who knew me and to my family, like, you know,
Bauman was the last guy who would join the Army, and the funny thing was,
never really saw it that way.

GROSS: Did you see the Army as a way out, which your character seems to?

Mr. BAUMAN: I had a number--I definitely wanted a way out. I mean, I was in
a marriage that was not working out. I was in a place where I did not want to
be, but at the same time, it was very, very important to me--I came from--you
know, I was the product of a broken marriage, you know, and it was very, very
important to me that I support my child and what needed to happen in that
regard with her. So there was a little bit of escape, there was a little bit
of it needed to happen. There was also this thing of, you know, I need to
take care of family, and by being in the Army, this will force me to get out
of bed in the morning and go to work, because I won't have any choice in the
matter.

GROSS: In your novel, the recruiting sergeant suggests `try boats.' Were you
on a boat?

Mr. BAUMAN: I was on a boat, and it kind of happened in the way I described
it. I didn't plan on that. It wasn't something I found out about till the
last minute. The Army boat field is so small that recruiters never even
mention it as an option. I mean, there's only--at the time that I was in,
there was only 2,000 guys, active duty, who do this. It's such a small field.
So what happens is, you kind of pick the things you think you want to do, and
then you go in on your actual day of enlistment to what they call the MEP
station, and you sit down and there's a computer, and on the computer screen
come the jobs that are available that day. `This is what we've got,' you
know, and hopefully you've done your research and you can go, `Oh, I want to
do that,' and they say, `OK,' and then that's your job.

And the jobs were coming down the screen, and I saw a couple that I thought I
wanted to do, and as what happens in the book, my recruiter said, `Take that
one, right there. I wouldn't steer you wrong. That's the one you want.' And
I trusted him, even though I hadn't heard of it before.

Mr. BAUMAN: Now your character isn't very fit when he joins the Army and
he's pretty confident that he'll fail to be able to perform the minimum number
of push-ups required for basic training. He's got skinny arms. Did you have
problems like that?

Mr. BAUMAN: I had fears, you know. It's a very scary thing, going to basic
training. I can't remember ever being so afraid of something. I was not so
afraid going to Somalia, I was not so afraid going to Haiti later. I was
terrified to go to basic training, which makes sense. I mean, you know, I was
20, born in 1970, and I saw "Full Metal Jacket" and I know what basic training
is like, and I was scared. And so I had fears that I was not going to be able
to cut it, and that's actually what propelled me through it, what forced me to
get through it.

GROSS: Did your drill sergeant toy with your self-esteem, and what was the
impact of that?

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes, they do, and sometimes as obvious as you would imagine from
watching the movies, and sometimes not. I was OK with that. I was a little
bit older than your average recruit. I was 21, which sounds like nothing, but
when you're in the Army, it's a big difference. There's a big difference
between 19 and 21. And my recruiter had prepared me fairly well. He had kind
of told me what it was, and basically what he told me was, `You know, it is
just a mind game. They're going to be right in your face and they're going to
be yelling at you. Just ignore it. Don't worry about it and, you know, it'll
all go away.' And so that's what I did.

GROSS: You character writes, `I was brought up in the New Jersey suburbs.
I'd never fired a gun in my life. Our first day at the range with an M16
rifle was a lesson in sheer humiliation.' What was hard about learning to
fire an M16?

Mr. BAUMAN: Well, you don't think much about shooting to someone who's never
done it before. You read books, and they pull out a gun and they shoot, or
you watch a movie or you watch TV, they pull out a gun and they shoot, and I
never really gave it much thought, and so they gave me my M16 and I lay down
and I shot, and it didn't go anywhere near where it was supposed to go, and
that didn't make any sense to me, and a lot of the guys, it went exactly where
they wanted it to go, and I said, `Oh, jeez, there's something wrong with me.'
And there wasn't; I'd just never shot before I got there.

GROSS: How long did it take before you felt comfortable with a gun?

Mr. BAUMAN: I felt very comfortable, if it's possible to feel very
comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. There were times when I knew
exactly what I was doing with this thing, but I didn't want to have to be the
one who might have to do it, if you know what I mean. I got comfortable with
my ability to shoot it, and I never got comfortable with the thought that I
would have to shoot it.

GROSS: And did you have to shoot it?

Mr. BAUMAN: No. No.

GROSS: That's amazing. You went through Somalia and Haiti without ever
having to shoot your gun.

Mr. BAUMAN: Yeah, I think it's--I'm very fortunate.

GROSS: Ever come close?

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: Tell me one of those stories.

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes, there was a time we took two Army Mike boats--Mike boats
are LCMs, they're the landing craft, basically, is what they are. But we
filled their well decks with grain and we had a nurse, medicine and a platoon
of Belgian infantry. And we were going to a village to make a delivery, I
guess, for the UN. And we were supposed to go in and come back out. And we
ended up having to spend the night kind of anchored off of this village. And
it was tense at the time. It was at a time in Somalia--this was almost a year
before the incident described in "Black Hawk Down," almost a year before the
battle of Mogadishu. It was not necessarily--there was open conflict going on
but not necessarily directed at Americans. But it was getting very tense. We
were getting very tense and we were a little unsure of the intentions of the
Somalis, and especially in this part of the country. We weren't particularly
familiar with it.

So we anchored off a couple hundred yards off the beach one night with the
instructions for the local villagers to keep their vessels on the beach all
night, nothing in the water. And overnight on watch was myself and my squad
leader, who was a sergeant. And we were in the wheelhouse of the boat and we
were up all night and, you know, got to talking and this and that. But we
didn't expect any trouble. And all of a sudden out of the window was the mast
of this boat and they approached the vessel and we didn't hear them. And all
of a sudden there they were and they were right next to us. And we thought
that they were coming at us, and both of us had our rifles up and pressure on
the trigger and seconds away from committing this horrible act which would
have been shooting a very misguided but very innocent person. And it was a
horrible, horrible experience realizing how close we had come to killing this
man, who really was not threatening us in any way. He just was coming out to,
you know, say hi.

GROSS: Was this the kind of thing that haunted you when you were in the
military, the fact that you came that close or in the future you could
accidentally kill somebody who was innocent?

Mr. BAUMAN: Yeah, because I hadn't given it much thought before, before that
incident. I really hadn't, you know? And then all of a sudden, you know, it
was a thing, it was like, `Oh, my God, I almost killed somebody,' you know?
And...

GROSS: How come you didn't? I mean, what prevented you from pulling the
trigger?

Mr. BAUMAN: That's a very interesting thing. I don't know. I mean, we were
almost within rights to do it, not quite but almost.

GROSS: Because the person in the boat was violating an order.

Mr. BAUMAN: Because the order had been given to the villagers to, you know,
etc. It was really just chance. I mean, we were both there. I mean, I can't
speak for John, the guy who was with me, but I know that there was a certain
amount of pounds of pressure on the trigger. And this is one of the things
that so haunted me and led me to the writing of this book. And this is such a
common thing and, I think, becoming more and more common with modern
deployments. I mean, I think it's always the case with war, and civilians
don't see that. You see the good guys shoot the bad guys and the bad guys
die. Sometimes the bad guys shoot the good guys and that's sad and then they
die. But what you don't see when you're watching the movie is all the other
people on the sidelines who are also getting shot, you know, by accident or on
purpose. And as we're getting more and more of these urban conflicts and
these other things, it's a much larger thing.

GROSS: So after this incident in which you nearly but didn't shoot someone
who was actually innocent and who wasn't threatening you, did you feel like,
`I don't have the stomach to do this anymore'? I mean, what...

Mr. BAUMAN: No, it wasn't that. I mean, I stayed in. I mean, you know, I
was in Somalia and I went on to go to Haiti, and I almost re-enlisted. So it
wasn't so much the stomach as it was I am very aware now that these things can
happen to me and I need to be on my guard. When we went into Haiti, we went
in the first wave. And at the time, we thought we were invading the country.
We fully expected combat when we went into Port-au-Prince that morning. And
as we know, it turned out differently. But the going in was very tense, and
that's what I had in my head was remembering that night. And it wasn't that I
lost my stomach for it. I really wanted to go to Haiti. It was, `Bauman,
watch what you're doing. Stay on your toes,' you know?

GROSS: My guest is Christian Bauman. His new novel is called "The Ice
Beneath You." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Christian Bauman, and he's just
completed his first novel. It's called "The Ice Beneath You." It's based on
his experiences serving in the military in Somalia in the early '90s.

What was it like for you the night before you went to Haiti when you were
expecting conflict?

Mr. BAUMAN: It was very scary. That was a very scary situation. It was
funny, it was so the reverse of Somalia. We went into Somalia, the first wave
of troops went into Somalia, we went in thinking there was going to be no
conflict and then it ended up--that whole thing just ended up going
completely, you know, out of control. Haiti was the exact opposite. You
know, Haiti ended up being this fairly non-violent deployment, but the
beginning was very, very tense. And it wasn't until the very last second that
Cedras agreed to stand down and let the troops come in. And even then, from
the ground soldiers' point of view, we didn't trust that. I mean, we knew, I
think, a couple of hours before we got to the port that Carter had done what
he needed to do. I always say Jimmy Carter saved my life. Thank you, Jimmy.

And so we knew that had happened, that Cedras was going to back away, but we
didn't trust that and we didn't trust that everybody knew that, so it was
still very tense. It was very scary. And we were going right into the
middle, the port. And Port-au-Prince is right in the middle of town. When
you talk about, you know, urban warfare, I mean, that's what that would have
been right there.

GROSS: There's a sentence in your novel that I think describes the feelings
that you're expressing that happened to you that day that that boat came into
sight and you weren't sure whether you should fire or not. Your character
says, `I am an American fighting man and I have no idea what the hell I'm
shooting at.'

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes, or why. Yeah. Yeah, that's--Somalia was a case study in
that, you know? I mean, here we were. I think it was a different thing. By
the time when you were leading up to the battle of Mogadishu, it was a
different scenario. You had the Rangers and Task Force Ranger. And these
guys were sent in to fight; you know, they were sent in for a mission. By
that point there was a combat mission. When we were there, it was not that.
And what it was, was this slow build of, `Oh, someone's shooting at us,' and,
`Oh, I'm not sure why. And now we're shooting back, but I'm not exactly--what
we're shooting at or why they're shooting at us,' and just this very large
confusion about what the larger mission was, who these people were, whether it
was the Somali people as a whole or different factions who felt different
ways. It was very, very confusing from the private's point of view.

GROSS: Did you know any, like, Somalia history? Did you have a sense of what
had gone on recently in the country?

Mr. BAUMAN: No, I didn't. And as privates go, I considered myself kind of
worldly. I mean, I had lived in India for a year as a kid and, I mean, I knew
my way around a map. And Somalia was a blank page even to me. So, no, it was
very--you know, I knew a little bit. We knew that there had been a war with
Ethiopia before and that was about it. Yeah.

GROSS: Well, what does the Army do in an attempt to prepare you for the
culture that you're going to see and for the conflict you're going to be a
part of?

Mr. BAUMAN: In that case, nothing. Nothing.

GROSS: Mistake, do you think? I mean, would it be better to know that or is
it irrelevant once you're assigned to your duties?

Mr. BAUMAN: I don't think it's irrelevant. I don't see how it could be
irrelevant. I mean, I think that there is a certain amount of truth in you
only need to know so much. And knowing too much could actually impede your
job as a soldier. But I think you have to know a certain amount. You have to
know who these people are. Again, you're in these situations, especially with
this face-to-face, no-front-line kind of situation we keep running into, where
you're looking not at necessarily always a people in uniform. You're looking
at people in civilian clothing and having to make a decision of whether or not
you're going to shoot them. So you ought to have a good idea of who these
people are. And I don't feel that the Army always does a good job of letting
you know that.

GROSS: A lot of people who have been in the military say that, you know, some
of the time you're under fire and it's terrifying, the adrenalin's pumping.
There's a lot of periods of boredom.

Mr. BAUMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And your character--you know, in the novel your character talks about
these long, like three-day shifts and he's always reminded that his drill
sergeant used to say, `He who sleeps dies.' What did you do to try to keep
awake and alert during long, uneventful shifts?

Mr. BAUMAN: You know, it's interesting; I never really had a problem with
it. There was this part of me--even when things were weird, I wanted to be
there. I really did. And it might just be my personality, but I wanted to
see what was going on. So I just felt like I was always awake, and I didn't
particularly have a problem with that. And I had a drink that I concocted to
help me out of this; actually, everyone in my squad had this drink. Every
morning we would--if we had slept, we would wake up. We had our bottled
water, and we would throw in three packs of Taster's Choice into this cold
water, two aspirin and three vitamin, shake, mix and drink. And that pretty
much fueled us through the day.

Yeah, I would get tired--in my point of view, it was like I'm on the deck of
this Mike boat in a foreign country and I'm not sure what's going on, I had no
trouble staying awake. I was either nervous or I was curious. And both of
those things are better than caffeine.

GROSS: Christian Bauman is the author of the new novel "The Ice Beneath You."
He'll be back in the second half of the show. Bauman is also a songwriter and
singer. Here's an original song called "Blues for Willie Parker," about one
of his roommates in the barracks.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Blues for Willie Parker")

Mr. BAUMAN: (Singing) You've got this shotgun shaking hands with my back.
I've got a cold beer in my hot Cadillac. You've got a warrant, give me some
reason to move. I've got a headache, I've got a bad attitude. How's that for
an answer, chief of mine? Talking too fast, doing the first (unintelligible)
in my life. Well, it won't be the last. And I know, and I know, and I know
but I've never been taught how to blast ...(Unintelligible) I'm
(unintelligible) stepping out or stepping in, saying `Fire' to the men again.

My name is Willie, that's Mr. Parker to you...

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: It seems like every network has its own reality show. Coming up, TV
critic David Bianculli considers why. Ken Tucker reviews Cody Chestnutt's new
CD, "The Headphone Masterpiece." And we continue our conversation with
Christian Bauman, author of "The Ice Beneath You," his autobiographical novel
about a young soldier.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Christian Bauman, has written a novel about what it's like to be a
soldier called "The Ice Beneath You." It's based on his experiences enlisting
after the Gulf War, then serving on US Army boats with tours of duty in
Somalia and Haiti. He describes the humiliations of basic training, what it's
like to learn to carry a gun and to make split-second decisions about whether
to pull the trigger, the difficulty of distinguishing between the people
you're protecting and the ones you're fighting, and he writes about
relationships in the military--friendships and romances. The action shifts
between the main character's service in the military and his return to
civilian life, when he has trouble finding a place for himself and is haunted
by an incident in Somalia he was responsible for.

Since leaving the Army, Christian Bauman has worked as a cook, painter, clerk
and editor. He's also toured the country playing folk music. "The Ice
Beneath You" is his first book. Let's start with a short reading.

(Soundbite of reading from "The Ice Beneath You")

Mr. BAUMAN: I quit my job the day the 100-hour war started. I remember
sitting in the Holiday Inn's break room, in cook whites and Timberlands,
nursing my coffee, transfixed by what was happening on the TV screen in front
of me. The head chef walked in, walked out, then walked back in. He looked
at me, twisting the ends of his moustache. He said, `Jones, if you're not
back at the salad station in one minute, you can kiss your employment
goodbye.' Then he walked back out again.

I remember sitting there, still watching CNN. When a commercial finally come
on, I stood, lit a cigarette, dug my keys from my pocket and went home. I
spent the next three days on the couch, not moving, just watching the live
feeds from the Persian Gulf, watching it all unfold in front of me. I
enlisted three months later, about the time they started sending the troops
home. The recruiter said my scores were high, and I could pretty much have
any job I wanted. When the options came across the computer screen, he tapped
his finger on the third one down. `Boats,' he said. `Army's got boats. I
seen 'em, down in Virginia. Take that one. Slack life.' I did, and he said
I wouldn't regret it. He also said I wouldn't ship out until October or
November. I said that was unfortunate, but fine. I borrowed his pen, and
without looking up, signed the contract for US Army, E-1, 88-LIMA 10
Waterborne, Private Benjamin F. Jones. I sat back, waiting to feel
different, waiting to feel something. Nothing came. That was fine, too. I
shook the recruiter's sweaty hand and walked home.

I didn't see the need to get another job to fill the intervening months. My
three memories of that summer are the unchanging look of disgust on my wife's
face, the unchanging scenes of smoke and destruction broadcast from Iraq, and
the unchanging nagging feeling I was missing out on something, something
important, something necessary. I turned 21; I got two cards in the mail, one
from my mother, instructing me to trust in Jesus, and one from my recruiter,
instructing me to start doing push-ups.

GROSS: That's Christian Bauman, reading from his new novel, "The Ice Beneath
You."

Christian, why did you enlist in the Army?

Mr. BAUMAN: Oh, that's such a complicated question. The easy answer is that
I was young and poor with a family to support, and there were not a lot of
jobs in the greater Philadelphia-New Jersey area for uneducated poor young
guys at the time, and the few jobs there were, I had pretty much worked my way
through all of them. Also, my daughter, who was two at the time, I think, two
or three, needing an operation, and the recruiter, who I'd been sort of
flirting with for a number of months, said, `Oh, you know, we'll pay for
that,' and that was really the deal-clincher for me.

The real truth is, is it was something I had been looking at I think a lot
longer than anyone knew, maybe even myself. When I joined it seemed to be a
very large surprise to people who knew me and to my family, like, you know,
Bauman was the last guy who would join the Army, and the funny thing was,
never really saw it that way.

GROSS: Did you see the Army as a way out, which your character seems to?

Mr. BAUMAN: I had a number--I definitely wanted a way out. I mean, I was in
a marriage that was not working out. I was in a place where I did not want to
be, but at the same time, it was very, very important to me--I came from--you
know, I was the product of a broken marriage, you know, and it was very, very
important to me that I support my child and what needed to happen in that
regard with her. So there was a little bit of escape, there was a little bit
of it needed to happen. There was also this thing of, you know, I need to
take care of family, and by being in the Army, this will force me to get out
of bed in the morning and go to work, because I won't have any choice in the
matter.

GROSS: In your novel, the recruiting sergeant suggests `try boats.' Were you
on a boat?

Mr. BAUMAN: I was on a boat, and it kind of happened in the way I described
it. I didn't plan on that. It wasn't something I found out about till the
last minute. The Army boat field is so small that recruiters never even
mention it as an option. I mean, there's only--at the time that I was in,
there was only 2,000 guys, active duty, who do this. It's such a small field.
So what happens is, you kind of pick the things you think you want to do, and
then you go in on your actual day of enlistment to what they call the MEP
station, and you sit down and there's a computer, and on the computer screen
come the jobs that are available that day. `This is what we've got,' you
know, and hopefully you've done your research and you can go, `Oh, I want to
do that,' and they say, `OK,' and then that's your job.

And the jobs were coming down the screen, and I saw a couple that I thought I
wanted to do, and as what happens in the book, my recruiter said, `Take that
one, right there. I wouldn't steer you wrong. That's the one you want.' And
I trusted him, even though I hadn't heard of it before.

Mr. BAUMAN: Now your character isn't very fit when he joins the Army and
he's pretty confident that he'll fail to be able to perform the minimum number
of push-ups required for basic training. He's got skinny arms. Did you have
problems like that?

Mr. BAUMAN: I had fears, you know. It's a very scary thing, going to basic
training. I can't remember ever being so afraid of something. I was not so
afraid going to Somalia, I was not so afraid going to Haiti later. I was
terrified to go to basic training, which makes sense. I mean, you know, I was
20, born in 1970, and I saw "Full Metal Jacket" and I know what basic training
is like, and I was scared. And so I had fears that I was not going to be able
to cut it, and that's actually what propelled me through it, what forced me to
get through it.

GROSS: Did your drill sergeant toy with your self-esteem, and what was the
impact of that?

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes, they do, and sometimes as obvious as you would imagine from
watching the movies, and sometimes not. I was OK with that. I was a little
bit older than your average recruit. I was 21, which sounds like nothing, but
when you're in the Army, it's a big difference. There's a big difference
between 19 and 21. And my recruiter had prepared me fairly well. He had kind
of told me what it was, and basically what he told me was, `You know, it is
just a mind game. They're going to be right in your face and they're going to
be yelling at you. Just ignore it. Don't worry about it and, you know, it'll
all go away.' And so that's what I did.

GROSS: You character writes, `I was brought up in the New Jersey suburbs.
I'd never fired a gun in my life. Our first day at the range with an M16
rifle was a lesson in sheer humiliation.' What was hard about learning to
fire an M16?

Mr. BAUMAN: Well, you don't think much about shooting to someone who's never
done it before. You read books, and they pull out a gun and they shoot, or
you watch a movie or you watch TV, they pull out a gun and they shoot, and I
never really gave it much thought, and so they gave me my M16 and I lay down
and I shot, and it didn't go anywhere near where it was supposed to go, and
that didn't make any sense to me, and a lot of the guys, it went exactly where
they wanted it to go, and I said, `Oh, jeez, there's something wrong with me.'
And there wasn't; I'd just never shot before I got there.

GROSS: How long did it take before you felt comfortable with a gun?

Mr. BAUMAN: I felt very comfortable, if it's possible to feel very
comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. There were times when I knew
exactly what I was doing with this thing, but I didn't want to have to be the
one who might have to do it, if you know what I mean. I got comfortable with
my ability to shoot it, and I never got comfortable with the thought that I
would have to shoot it.

GROSS: And did you have to shoot it?

Mr. BAUMAN: No. No.

GROSS: That's amazing. You went through Somalia and Haiti without ever
having to shoot your gun.

Mr. BAUMAN: Yeah, I think it's--I'm very fortunate.

GROSS: Ever come close?

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: Tell me one of those stories.

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes, there was a time we took two Army Mike boats--Mike boats
are LCMs, they're the landing craft, basically, is what they are. But we
filled their well decks with grain and we had a nurse, medicine and a platoon
of Belgian infantry. And we were going to a village to make a delivery, I
guess, for the UN. And we were supposed to go in and come back out. And we
ended up having to spend the night kind of anchored off of this village. And
it was tense at the time. It was at a time in Somalia--this was almost a year
before the incident described in "Black Hawk Down," almost a year before the
battle of Mogadishu. It was not necessarily--there was open conflict going on
but not necessarily directed at Americans. But it was getting very tense. We
were getting very tense and we were a little unsure of the intentions of the
Somalis, and especially in this part of the country. We weren't particularly
familiar with it.

So we anchored off a couple hundred yards off the beach one night with the
instructions for the local villagers to keep their vessels on the beach all
night, nothing in the water. And overnight on watch was myself and my squad
leader, who was a sergeant. And we were in the wheelhouse of the boat and we
were up all night and, you know, got to talking and this and that. But we
didn't expect any trouble. And all of a sudden out of the window was the mast
of this boat and they approached the vessel and we didn't hear them. And all
of a sudden there they were and they were right next to us. And we thought
that they were coming at us, and both of us had our rifles up and pressure on
the trigger and seconds away from committing this horrible act which would
have been shooting a very misguided but very innocent person. And it was a
horrible, horrible experience realizing how close we had come to killing this
man, who really was not threatening us in any way. He just was coming out to,
you know, say hi.

GROSS: Was this the kind of thing that haunted you when you were in the
military, the fact that you came that close or in the future you could
accidentally kill somebody who was innocent?

Mr. BAUMAN: Yeah, because I hadn't given it much thought before, before that
incident. I really hadn't, you know? And then all of a sudden, you know, it
was a thing, it was like, `Oh, my God, I almost killed somebody,' you know?
And...

GROSS: How come you didn't? I mean, what prevented you from pulling the
trigger?

Mr. BAUMAN: That's a very interesting thing. I don't know. I mean, we were
almost within rights to do it, not quite but almost.

GROSS: Because the person in the boat was violating an order.

Mr. BAUMAN: Because the order had been given to the villagers to, you know,
etc. It was really just chance. I mean, we were both there. I mean, I can't
speak for John, the guy who was with me, but I know that there was a certain
amount of pounds of pressure on the trigger. And this is one of the things
that so haunted me and led me to the writing of this book. And this is such a
common thing and, I think, becoming more and more common with modern
deployments. I mean, I think it's always the case with war, and civilians
don't see that. You see the good guys shoot the bad guys and the bad guys
die. Sometimes the bad guys shoot the good guys and that's sad and then they
die. But what you don't see when you're watching the movie is all the other
people on the sidelines who are also getting shot, you know, by accident or on
purpose. And as we're getting more and more of these urban conflicts and
these other things, it's a much larger thing.

GROSS: So after this incident in which you nearly but didn't shoot someone
who was actually innocent and who wasn't threatening you, did you feel like,
`I don't have the stomach to do this anymore'? I mean, what...

Mr. BAUMAN: No, it wasn't that. I mean, I stayed in. I mean, you know, I
was in Somalia and I went on to go to Haiti, and I almost re-enlisted. So it
wasn't so much the stomach as it was I am very aware now that these things can
happen to me and I need to be on my guard. When we went into Haiti, we went
in the first wave. And at the time, we thought we were invading the country.
We fully expected combat when we went into Port-au-Prince that morning. And
as we know, it turned out differently. But the going in was very tense, and
that's what I had in my head was remembering that night. And it wasn't that I
lost my stomach for it. I really wanted to go to Haiti. It was, `Bauman,
watch what you're doing. Stay on your toes,' you know?

GROSS: My guest is Christian Bauman. His new novel is called "The Ice
Beneath You." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Christian Bauman, and he's just
completed his first novel. It's called "The Ice Beneath You." It's based on
his experiences serving in the military in Somalia in the early '90s.

What was it like for you the night before you went to Haiti when you were
expecting conflict?

Mr. BAUMAN: It was very scary. That was a very scary situation. It was
funny, it was so the reverse of Somalia. We went into Somalia, the first wave
of troops went into Somalia, we went in thinking there was going to be no
conflict and then it ended up--that whole thing just ended up going
completely, you know, out of control. Haiti was the exact opposite. You
know, Haiti ended up being this fairly non-violent deployment, but the
beginning was very, very tense. And it wasn't until the very last second that
Cedras agreed to stand down and let the troops come in. And even then, from
the ground soldiers' point of view, we didn't trust that. I mean, we knew, I
think, a couple of hours before we got to the port that Carter had done what
he needed to do. I always say Jimmy Carter saved my life. Thank you, Jimmy.

And so we knew that had happened, that Cedras was going to back away, but we
didn't trust that and we didn't trust that everybody knew that, so it was
still very tense. It was very scary. And we were going right into the
middle, the port. And Port-au-Prince is right in the middle of town. When
you talk about, you know, urban warfare, I mean, that's what that would have
been right there.

GROSS: There's a sentence in your novel that I think describes the feelings
that you're expressing that happened to you that day that that boat came into
sight and you weren't sure whether you should fire or not. Your character
says, `I am an American fighting man and I have no idea what the hell I'm
shooting at.'

Mr. BAUMAN: Yes, or why. Yeah. Yeah, that's--Somalia was a case study in
that, you know? I mean, here we were. I think it was a different thing. By
the time when you were leading up to the battle of Mogadishu, it was a
different scenario. You had the Rangers and Task Force Ranger. And these
guys were sent in to fight; you know, they were sent in for a mission. By
that point there was a combat mission. When we were there, it was not that.
And what it was, was this slow build of, `Oh, someone's shooting at us,' and,
`Oh, I'm not sure why. And now we're shooting back, but I'm not exactly--what
we're shooting at or why they're shooting at us,' and just this very large
confusion about what the larger mission was, who these people were, whether it
was the Somali people as a whole or different factions who felt different
ways. It was very, very confusing from the private's point of view.

GROSS: Did you know any, like, Somalia history? Did you have a sense of what
had gone on recently in the country?

Mr. BAUMAN: No, I didn't. And as privates go, I considered myself kind of
worldly. I mean, I had lived in India for a year as a kid and, I mean, I knew
my way around a map. And Somalia was a blank page even to me. So, no, it was
very--you know, I knew a little bit. We knew that there had been a war with
Ethiopia before and that was about it. Yeah.

GROSS: Well, what does the Army do in an attempt to prepare you for the
culture that you're going to see and for the conflict you're going to be a
part of?

Mr. BAUMAN: In that case, nothing. Nothing.

GROSS: Mistake, do you think? I mean, would it be better to know that or is
it irrelevant once you're assigned to your duties?

Mr. BAUMAN: I don't think it's irrelevant. I don't see how it could be
irrelevant. I mean, I think that there is a certain amount of truth in you
only need to know so much. And knowing too much could actually impede your
job as a soldier. But I think you have to know a certain amount. You have to
know who these people are. Again, you're in these situations, especially with
this face-to-face, no-front-line kind of situation we keep running into, where
you're looking not at necessarily always a people in uniform. You're looking
at people in civilian clothing and having to make a decision of whether or not
you're going to shoot them. So you ought to have a good idea of who these
people are. And I don't feel that the Army always does a good job of letting
you know that.

GROSS: A lot of people who have been in the military say that, you know, some
of the time you're under fire and it's terrifying, the adrenalin's pumping.
There's a lot of periods of boredom.

Mr. BAUMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And your character--you know, in the novel your character talks about
these long, like three-day shifts and he's always reminded that his drill
sergeant used to say, `He who sleeps dies.' What did you do to try to keep
awake and alert during long, uneventful shifts?

Mr. BAUMAN: You know, it's interesting; I never really had a problem with
it. There was this part of me--even when things were weird, I wanted to be
there. I really did. And it might just be my personality, but I wanted to
see what was going on. So I just felt like I was always awake, and I didn't
particularly have a problem with that. And I had a drink that I concocted to
help me out of this; actually, everyone in my squad had this drink. Every
morning we would--if we had slept, we would wake up. We had our bottled
water, and we would throw in three packs of Taster's Choice into this cold
water, two aspirin and three vitamin, shake, mix and drink. And that pretty
much fueled us through the day.

Yeah, I would get tired--in my point of view, it was like I'm on the deck of
this Mike boat in a foreign country and I'm not sure what's going on, I had no
trouble staying awake. I was either nervous or I was curious. And both of
those things are better than caffeine.

GROSS: Christian Bauman is the author of the new novel "The Ice Beneath You."
He'll be back in the second half of the show. Bauman is also a songwriter and
singer. Here's an original song called "Blues for Willie Parker," about one
of his roommates in the barracks.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Blues for Willie Parker")

Mr. BAUMAN: (Singing) You've got this shotgun shaking hands with my back.
I've got a cold beer in my hot Cadillac. You've got a warrant, give me some
reason to move. I've got a headache, I've got a bad attitude. How's that for
an answer, chief of mine? Talking too fast, doing the first (unintelligible)
in my life. Well, it won't be the last. And I know, and I know, and I know
but I've never been taught how to blast ...(Unintelligible) I'm
(unintelligible) stepping out or stepping in, saying `Fire' to the men again.

My name is Willie, that's Mr. Parker to you...

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: It seems like every network has its own reality show. Coming up, TV
critic David Bianculli considers why. Ken Tucker reviews Cody Chestnutt's new
CD, "The Headphone Masterpiece." And we continue our conversation with
Christian Bauman, author of "The Ice Beneath You," his autobiographical novel
about a young soldier.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Christian Bauman. His
new novel, "The Ice Beneath You," is based on his experiences enlisting in the
Army after the Gulf War, then doing tours of duty in Somalia and Haiti. "The
Ice Beneath You" is Bauman's first book. He's also worked as a cook, painter,
clerk, editor and performer.

One of the things you did when you got out the Army was play folk music and
tour, record a little bit. Were your songs influenced by your experiences in
the Army?

Mr. BAUMAN: A lot of them were. Some of them were drawn exactly from it,
exactly from those experiences, and others were just influenced in one way or
another. I had--before I was in the Army, I used to hang out in--I would take
the bus in once a week, the bus or drive or take the train into Greenwich
Village from New Jersey and hang out with this group of songwriters. It was a
weekly thing at the apartment of Jack Hardy, and that little meeting has kind
of become legendary in its own right. That's--you know, John Gorka and
Suzanne Vega and Christine Lavin and folks like that came out of that
songwriters group. And at the time that I was there, some of them were still
around. Richard Shindelle was going there a lot, Richard Julian, Wendy
Beckerman, Linda Sharar, people of that age.

And so that's when I started writing songs, and I was hanging out with these
people. The thing was was that when I was in Somalia, I started sending
lyrics back. So instead of writing letters to people, or whatever soldiers
usually do, I was writing lyrics about what I was seeing in country and then
sending them home to New York to the Songwriters Exchange, which is what it
was called, which is Jack's apartment. And some of them were bad and some of
them where whatever. Some of them were good. There's actually a fast-book
recording somewhere of Jack singing a song called "Kismayo" at The Bottom
Line. I always found that be a funny juxtaposition of me, you know, this
young kid in Somalia and sending this stuff back to Greenwich Village, where
it gets kind of turned into a functioning folk song, you know, about what's
going on the world.

GROSS: You know, it's funny, you are a folk singer and songwriter in addition
to now being a novelist, and I think we associate folk singers with, like,
protest music, anti-war music. And--I mean, you enlisted and served and were
glad to be serving. I mean, that was the right thing for you at that time.
So you're kind of not from that, you know, more predictable...

Mr. BAUMAN: Well, that's not such an easy--you have to see where I come from
with folk and what my influences are.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAUMAN: Big fan of the '60s folk, but that's not where folk started, and
that's not where my heros are. My biggest hero is Woody Guthrie and, you
know, Pete Seeger and people like that. And, you know, is there some protest
there? You bet. But you know, Woody enlisted, you know. It's what's going
on at the time, you know, and what you need to do to get by in your life as
well, you know. There's lots of contradictions out there.

GROSS: What are some of the things you did to make a living after you got out
of the military?

Mr. BAUMAN: I did a lot. I did more before I was in the military. You know,
I've worked as a painter, as a contractor. I've worked as a cook. I've
worked as an editor. My problem has always been, both professionally and most
frustrating of all artistically, is that my education stopped when I was 17.
My...

GROSS: Formal education.

Mr. BAUMAN: My formal education stopped when I was 17. It's very, very
difficult to get anybody to take you seriously when your education stopped at
the age of 17, and it doesn't matter how smart or articulate you might be
anyway. So it was always hard for me to find some good way to support my
family, and it was certainly hard for me to ever be taken seriously as a
writer. Most people who have novels published have an MFA and a nice
bachelor's degree, and so it's very difficult to get anyone in New York to pay
any attention to you without a college degree.

GROSS: Your new novel is based on your experiences in the Army while you were
in Somalia in the early '90s. Now we're facing war with Iraq. Is there a
part of you that wishes you were in the military now and would be serving your
country in this war?

Mr. BAUMAN: That's one of those that's `yes and no.' I mean, the easy answer
is no. I did what I did and I'm out and don't need to do that again. But I
think if you've been a soldier, there's that--yet, you know, there's no
question when I see them going out, when I see them deploying, you get that
thing of, `Jeez, I ought to be there.' It's less now. It was very difficult
right after I got out when guys I had served with were still in and were
deploying places. That was very, very difficult, because you really felt that
you really ought to be there, you know. I felt that way anyway, that, you
know, `Oh, without me they're sunk,' you know. And, you know, it's just a
very silly thing, but you feel that way, you know, `The guys are going and
I've got to go, too.' I feel less that way now, but you do. I feel that.
When you watch the news and see them going out, you think, you know, `I ought
to get into shape.' But really no, I don't ever need to do that again.

GROSS: My guest is Christian Bauman. His new novel is called "The Ice
Beneath You." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Christian Bauman. His new novel, "The Ice Beneath You,"
is based on his experiences enlisting in the Army after the Gulf War, then
doing tours of duty in Somalia and Haiti.

Christian, you're a writer. You're very reflective. It seems to me you're
pretty introspective, also. I think a lot of people in the military aren't
necessarily that introspective, and introspection isn't necessarily a really
good trait to have when you're in the military, because the more introspective
you are the more doubts you're likely to have as you think something through
and think it through again; the more ambiguity you might see. And I don't
know that the military's a great place to be caught up in ambiguity and fear,
also. The more you think something through, the more you see the
possibilities for getting hurt. You don't want to be thinking about that a
lot, either. So I'm wondering if your introspection and your imagination ever
got in the way in the military?

Mr. BAUMAN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I thought way too much. It is
not--yeah, I think introspection is probably not a great trait for a soldier.
A certain amount of it, I think, is necessary, otherwise you're a robot, you
know...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BAUMAN: ...and, you know, nobody wants a robot with a rifle in their
hand, you know. But you don't want to have to think about it too much. You
know, `This is the job, this is the mission, this is what I do,' and you don't
question it. And that's important. It's very important that you have that.
So if you're thinking too hard, you can lose that and you do start
questioning. You know, you don't want to think about the bigger picture. You
don't want to think about your commander in chief and what you feel about him.
You know, those things are not important. So I think it can be difficult for
a writer to be, you know, in the military, or if you have the personality of a
writer, because you are looking and you are thinking, and maybe you're looking
too hard and thinking too hard. And I really felt that way about myself when
I was in.

I mean, I didn't know what direction I was going with my writing when I
joined. I didn't know where I was going to go. I didn't know whether it was
as a lyricist or a novelist or whatever. I just knew that I wrote, and that's
what I wanted to do. And from the day I joined, I viewed myself as a writer
in the Army and I watched things in that way. And I based very much on the
model--though maybe unintentional with him of--I always felt this thing with
like very specifically like Hemingway in Italy and being in this situation
that's not a front-line combat job--he was an ambulance driver. I had a very
similar kind of job when I was in the Army. It was not this front-line,
combat, all-encompassing thing. Yet at the same time, by the nature of the
job I did, you're not exactly in the rear echelon, either. You see the front
line. So it's this observer role, and just very much wanting to be the
witness to the event. And I knew that going in. I knew that I wanted there
to be an event and that I wanted to be at the event and to be witness to the
event. And I got it and I got it twice.

But what you said is very interesting because it's very true. In the same
time, I had a job to do, and my job was not being a writer, my job was being a
soldier. And if I thought too much, I was not going to be a very good
soldier.

GROSS: So it sounds like there were times when you think that reflection did
get in the way.

Mr. BAUMAN: There were times I think reflection could have gotten in the way.
I think I managed to get through.

GROSS: Can you describe one of those times?

Mr. BAUMAN: I had difficulty in Haiti. Somalia was a little different
because by the nature of what we did, we were frequently very removed from the
civilian population. We had some interaction. We would drive through the
city. And--oh, and the boats, I certainly saw people--we would go to a
village. But for the most part, we were very separate from the Somali
population; my group of guys was anyway.

In Haiti, there were times where it was much more in your face. I remember
going to Jacmel, which is this southern town in Haiti, and we had a couple of
days there with not much to do. And there was no greater American military
presence there at the time, so we kind of just wondered and really had some
very real interaction with the people. And I remember having a difficult time
sometimes trying to grasp what it was we were doing there, why were were there
and how the mission was being executed. And I very distinctly remember
thinking, `You better stop thinking about this, or you're going to be in
trouble.'

GROSS: One of the things that imagination can lead to is imagining worst
outcomes, imagining getting hurt, imagining getting killed, imagining the
pain, and that's something you really shouldn't be thinking about a lot if
you're in the military. I'm wondering if that dark side of the imagination
ever kept you awake at night or got in your way of functioning in the way that
you need to function as a soldier.

Mr. BAUMAN: No, not in that way. I mean, I think I--and I do have a very
vivid imagination and a very vivid imagination about pain. I think that you
have to make a decision; you're either going to just block that out or your
not, because otherwise, there's no way to function. I remember when I left
the Mike boats and went on the ship for my last year and a half in the
Army--and I remember, for instance, sailing to Haiti, or sailing wherever we
were sailing, I have in my imagination--I've got this thing where you stand on
the rail and you wonder about jumping in and nobody would find me and I would
drown and how would that feel? I mean, these are very morbid, sick--you know,
the whole people stand on a bridge and, you know, feel the urge to jump thing.
I used to get that, and I would think the thing through and stuff like that.
And that's no good.

But you could have a thing where--yeah, I know you could think and imagine,
`What would it be like to step on a claymore mine?' You know, `What would it
be like to get shot in this place or this place or this place? How would that
feel?' And you just have to cut that off, because I think if you--or at least
that's what I did. I mean, I just didn't go down that road. I didn't think
about it, because I knew I had a very vivid imagination, and if I started down
that road, I would be useless.

GROSS: And has that part of your imagination opened up again because now
you're writing and you have to imagine that kind of thing?

Mr. BAUMAN: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

GROSS: Christian Bauman, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. BAUMAN: Oh, the pleasure was all mine, Terry. Thank you very much.

GROSS: Christian Bauman is the author of the new novel "The Ice Beneath You."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Why reality shows are so popular among television
viewers and network programmers
TERRY GROSS, host:

If you watch a lot of TV, this week may leave you wondering, `Why are there so
many reality shows on TV, and why are so many of them so popular?' TV critic
David Bianculli says there are reasons why the genre began and continues to
grow that generally are overlooked.

DAVID BIANCULLI:

Consider one particular block of prime time in the middle of this week. On
CBS, there's the last half-hour of the live, recently revived talent contest
"Star Search." On Fox, there's the first half-hour of the recently returned
talent contest "American Idol." And on ABC, there's the first half-hour of an
expanded edition of that voyeuristic dating contest, "The Bachelorette." Why
are there so many of these? And why are almost all of them attracting enough
viewers to succeed?

The obvious answer is that all of these shows exist because of the huge
popularity of "Survivor," which in turn existed because of "Who Wants to be a
Millionaire." Another big factor is that reality shows are a lot cheaper to
produce than scripted comedies and dramas, and many more of them catch on
quickly.

But the real reason we have so much reality on TV now is because a few years
ago, Hollywood was threatened with a writers' strike. It didn't happen, it
was called off at the last minute, but by then, TV executives had geared up
with their emergency plan B, which was to order a lot of series that didn't
require writers. They were unscripted shows, reality shows, and when they
showed up, viewers ate them up. So TV, as it always has done, went into
overdrive trying to copy that success.

Now that "Joe Millionaire" is a big hit for Fox, that network will continue to
use the Monday time slot for other reality shows once Joe is unmasked as a
thousandaire. Coming up on Fox--and I'm not kidding here--is a show where
perfect strangers will agree to be married based on the votes from Fox
viewers.

Right now in prime time, we have the dating shows like "Joe Millionaire," "The
Bachelorette" and "Meet My Folks." We have "The Real World"-type enforced
cohabitation shows like "The Surreal Life" and "High School Reunion." We have
talent shows like "Star Search" and "American Idol." And we have ultra-tacky
reality specials like "Man vs. Beast" and ultra-tacky competitions like "Fear
Factor."

One sociological explanation for the success of these shows is that they all
do symbolically what "High School Reunion" does literally: they throw us back
into those unforgettable Darwinistic days of high school. When those guys
are standing there waiting to get a rose from the Bachelorette, or those women
are waiting to get a necklace from Joe Millionaire, they're standing there
just like, at one time or another, we all stood there in gym class while teams
were being chosen. Outside, they're saying nothing; inside, they're all
screaming, `Pick me. Pick me.'

The shows themselves are doing the same thing, and viewers are picking a lot
of them. These aren't long-term romances, though. These are quick flings.
One of the reasons it's so easy to get involved in "The Bachelorette" or "Joe
Millionaire" is because viewers know up front they're not risking any
long-term emotional commitment or time investment. From the time we first
meet Joe Millionaire until the time we watch the show's duplicitous payoff,
little more than a month will have passed. And when we listen along with the
judges during the first open auditions for "American Idol," we know the winner
of that contest will be revealed in a mere four months. Meanwhile, we get to
look for possible winners and hear some definite losers

(Soundbite of "American Idol")

Mr. SIMON COWELL: How are you?

CYNTHIA: Pretty good. I'm so happy to meet you, Simon. I'm psyched.

Mr. COWELL: What, just me?

CYNTHIA: And Paula and Randy.

Mr. COWELL: But who would you rather meet?

CYNTHIA: You.

Mr. COWELL: OK.

Mr. RANDY JACKSON: Oh, God, you're in trouble.

CYNTHIA: I was telling everybody, the whole reason I, like, got an audition,
I got a bracelet was so I could meet you and audition for you. So you've got
me to this point. You're--thinking about you.

Mr. JACKSON: Oh, my God.

Mr. COWELL: What are you going to sing?

CYNTHIA: Pink, "Don't Let Me Get Me."

Mr. COWELL: Are you a good singer?

CYNTHIA : Yes, I'm great. I'm not dreadful. I'm not horrible. OK, ready?

Mr. COWELL: All right. I'm ready.

CYNTHIA: OK.

(Singing) Never win first place. I don't support the team. I can't take
direction and my socks are never clean.

Wait, I know the whole song. Don't--wait. Sorry.

Mr. COWELL: I'm going to stop you there, Cynthia...

CYNTHIA: OK.

Mr. COWELL: ...because you're right, that wasn't dreadful and it was
horrible. It was absolutely ghastly.

CYNTHIA: I know. I'm sorry.

Mr. COWELL: It was terrible.

CYNTHIA: Can I redo it?

Mr. COWELL: There's no point. You can't sing.

CYNTHIA: Wait. One more time, please.

Ms. PAULA ABDUL: Cynthia, when really deep down inside, when you ask
yourself, `Am I really a good singer?' would you really, in your soul, think
that you are?

CYNTHIA: I do. I think I have talent. But you really think I stunk because
I forgot the words or anything? It's really because you don't think I can
sing?

Mr. COWELL: That was the only good part of your audition.

Mr. JACKSON: You can't sing.

Mr. COWELL: I'm serious. Randy, yes or no to the next round?

Mr. JACKSON: Definitely, definitely not.

Mr. COWELL: Paula?

Ms. ABDUL: I'm sorry, Cynthia, no.

Mr. COWELL: Cynthia, it's a no.

CYNTHIA: Oh, no!

Mr. COWELL: Yes.

Mr. JACKSON: No, yeah.

Mr. COWELL: Yeah.

CYNTHIA: It was really that bad?

Mr. COWELL: Worse than you think.

CYNTHIA: Can I do it one more time?

Mr. JACKSON: No, no please.

CYNTHIA: Please!

Mr. COWELL: Cynthia, listen to me. There's only so much punishment a human
being can take.

Ms. ABDUL: Oh, God.

CYNTHIA: No, I can take a lot more.

Mr. COWELL: I can't. I can't.

Mr. JACKSON: No, not you, us.

Ms. ABDUL: Cynthia, you are funny.

Mr. COWELL: I can't take anymore.

CYNTHIA: Please, one more time.

Mr. COWELL: No.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you, Cynthia. Thank you.

Mr. COWELL: Nice to meet you.

Mr. JACKSON: Thank you.

CYNTHIA: Nice to meet you anyway, Simon.

Mr. COWELL: Take care.

CYNTHIA: Bye.

Mr. COWELL: Likewise.

BIANCULLI: Compared to a regular weekly series like "NYPD Blue," which
presents an ongoing story line stretching over more than 20 episodes in nine
months, one month, even four months, is nothing. It's a summer beach book,
not "War and Peace." For the networks, short orders of such quick-hit ideas
make perfect sense. If they tank, the networks have risked little. If they
hit fast--as "The Bachelor" did--well, there's always a follow-up to be
generated. The market won't be oversaturated until viewers start rejecting
these shows wholesale, and that's not happening yet. The ease of viewing and
the lack of commitment required is no small part of it.

Look at what HBO has managed to do Sunday nights at 9 with "The Sopranos,"
"Sex and the City," "Six Feet Under" and now "Oz" rotating in the same time
slot. That's less than an evening of prime time in total, and they're not
even shown at the same time. Yet HBO has built the reputation, using this one
hour of Sunday viewing, as the best in the business. Part of that is that
viewers are seeing less and enjoying it more. Having only 13 episodes of "Theâ

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