Stories from the Stage

S3 E2 | FULL EPISODE

What We Wear

Putting on, or taking something off, is not about the clothes itself but how they represent who you are. Nina takes a leap and joins NYC's No Pants Subway Ride; as a new immigrant, Sufian learns that culture shock extends even to footwear; and after her son finds an expensive necklace, Isabel faces a moral dilemma. Three storytellers, three interpretations of WHAT WE WEAR, hosted by Wes Hazard.

AIRED: November 04, 2019 | 0:26:59
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TRANSCRIPT

SUFIAN ZHEMUKHOV: I was asking my friends,

"Do I need different communication skills?"

And one of my friends said,

"You need different shoes."

(laughter)

ISABEL STOVER: I have been carrying around

a $24,000 diamond necklace

in a Ziploc.

(laughter)

NINA LESIGA: I saw the invitation

for the No Pants riders.

I said yes. (crowd laughs)

WES HAZARD: Tonight's theme is "What We Wear."

ANNOUNCER: This program is made possible in part

by contributions from viewers like you-- thank you.

HAZARD: What we wear

is a lot like storytelling, in the sense that

we all have something on,

but it means something different to most people.

So, for example,

some of us wear what we wear

because we want to distinguish ourselves.

some because we want to disguise ourselves.

Maybe it's just protection from the elements,

maybe it's armor in a psychological sense.

Maybe it's to attract someone,

to show rank, to show what you stand for.

Whatever it happens to be, you're all draped in something,

and it means something to you.

LESIGA: My name is Nina Lesiga,

and I currently live in Stratford, Connecticut,

but most of my life, I lived in Brooklyn, New York.

I'm an artist,

I'm a storyteller, and I'm a ukelist.

And for 30 years, I was a corporate chemist.

And at age 57, I retired and redesigned my life.

How did that happen?

Well, I was always an artist,

but it was in the after hours and on the weekends.

So it was... it more of the moonlighting phase.

HAZARD: Mm. LESIGA: And when I had

the opportunity to retire, I just brought it to the front.

So chemistry is now only in the kitchen.

What does storytelling do for you?

Storytelling helps me

make sense of myself and other people

and the world.

I realized how special certain moments were.

And so storytelling helped me

take a look back at my life, see what makes me happy,

see where my strengths are,

see what I need to work on, and help me create my future.

I'd heard about

the New York City No Pants Subway Ride.

It's an international day of silliness

where you board a train

and take off your pants.

In January.

(laughter)

I saw all kinds of photos and videos,

but there was never a plus-size person.

It looked like so much fun,

but I didn't think I'd ever do it.

I was afraid of the public's reaction.

Now, I'm an adventurer, I'm a solo traveler.

And when I was in Vietnam,

I tell you, I hesitated big time

because of my size.

My tour guide came to my hotel

on her motor scooter and told me to hop right on.

At 57,

I had never been on a scooter.

And I'll be honest with you,

I was concerned that we would tip over.

I wasn't going to do it, but she said with confidence,

"I can handle you."

(laughter)

I got on.

(laughing): I loved it.

And I realized

that I was being overly cautious,

and it was time to bring bigger and better adventures

into my life.

On social media,

I saw the invitation for the No Pants riders.

I said yes.

But before I could change my mind,

I called all my family and friends

and invited them to come ride along.

(laughter)

One by one, they said the same thing:

"You're on your own."

(laughter)

I needed to look good.

I started putting together an outfit.

I went to my panty drawer

to assess its contents.

There wasn't one pair suitable for this purpose.

I needed to go shopping,

and I brought home a few different pairs

and I stood at home in front of a full-length mirror

with a digital camera in my hand

to take photos, because I wanted to be certain

I knew what other people were seeing.

And I wanted it to be a quality experience for me

and the unsuspecting riders.

I chose leopard silky panties with wide-leg black pants.

I was ready.

I took the railroad from my home in Connecticut

to New York City

to a public meeting point in a park.

People welcomed me with open arms.

They said, "You can do this,"

and I thought to myself,

"I just spent three hours getting here,

I am taking off my pants."

(laughter)

During orientation, I learned all about the event.

It wasn't haphazard; you form teams,

and each team was assigned to a subway car,

and you were to go into that car and take off your pants

like it's the most natural thing in the world.

We were each assigned a particular station to get off

in our hat, our scarfs, our gloves, our coat,

and our underpants.

If anybody was to challenge me

why I had no pants,

I was supposed to say something like,

"I forgot mine."

(laughter)

My team walked together to the Houston Street station,

and there I met Bunny Man.

He was tall, handsome, bearded,

and he wore the most spectacular pair of bunny ears.

He was wearing a kilt,

and in his arms was a brown paper bag,

which he pulled out a bottle of pink champagne,

which he expertly uncorked, took a big slug,

and then passed the bottle to me.

Not wanting to offend his kind act of hospitality,

I drank, too.

And Sunday is notorious

in New York City for train delays

because of constructions and rerouting,

and this was no exception.

When the train pulled up, it was horribly crowded,

and I couldn't imagine how I was going to manage

taking off my pants in such a space.

Then I thought to myself,

with my heart really beating fast,

my mother, some time during my life,

told me not to get on a crowded train

and take off my pants.

(laughter)

My team members, I watched them in awe.

They just like, pushed themselves into the car

and the doors closed.

And as the train pulled out,

I was by myself on the station,

and I thought,

you need to abort this mission now.

Because, you know, I was going to

board the next train and take off the pants.

I would be the only one doing it.

You know, the train came right away

and there was lots of room.

I stepped in, and I walked to the pole

and I grasp it tightly.

And as the train jolted,

I glanced around, and then I took my thumb,

I stretched the elastic waistband on my pants,

pull them down low enough

so I could step out of them with my leg,

held back onto the pole, released the other hand,

and finished. (laughter)

To my left, seated was an elderly Asian gentleman

with shopping bags.

The expression on his face read,

"Now I've seen everything."

(laughter)

I looked around, and no one was watching,

no one was looking.

I was so surprised and relieved.

After all these weeks of worry,

I felt this bliss move on.

As I continued wearing my leopard print panties,

they got lost in the sea of everything unusual

on a New York City subway car.

I rode until Union Square,

where I met up with hundreds of No Pants riders,

where we took Instagram photos and we celebrated.

On the New York City No Pants Ride,

irregardless of your size, you belong.

The only roadblocks were those that were in my head.

Thank you.

(applause)

STOVER: My name is Isabel Stover.

I am a jazz singer.

I perform all over New England,

and I have two kids,

15-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.

And I am also a architectural designer.

And as a singer, you have mastered rhythm

and improvisational flow.

Are you able to use any of those qualities

in your storytelling?

Yeah, I mean, the phrasing of how you speak,

the words in time, you know,

is very similar, and how you, how you craft the sentences

really has an effect on how people receive the story.

And that's very similar to singing.

When you're performing as a storyteller,

um, or as a singer, how do you know that

the audience is hearing it

like you want them to hear it? Or are they?

I can't know if they're hearing it the way I want,

but I can tell when something strikes them,

and it's the same as when I'm singing.

And sometimes I can kind of pick people out and,

and, um... sort of focus my energy on,

on somebody in particular.

And I-I like... I kind of like doing that.

(laughs)

It shined like a beacon

among the beat-up toys on my kids' play room floor.

It was a necklace, a medallion shaped like a flower

made out of little diamond-like stones.

I ask my son about it, and he said,

"Oh, yeah, I found it on the sidewalk

"when I was with my friend Robert

and his babysitter, and I took it for you, Mommy."

I thought it had been at least two weeks

since my son was out and about

with his friend and his babysitter,

and somehow,

this necklace had survived unscathed

inside a six-year-old's pocket

and the clumsy carelessness of kids' feet

and the washing machine.

My son knew me well.

You see, I am a jewelry person.

I've always loved it

and collected it throughout my life's travels,

and I even sold costume jewelry at one point.

So, I figured myself an expert,

and this necklace was definitely a fake.

I mean, it was just too huge,

and the flower was too unrefined to be real.

So I did what any mom would do:

I put it inside a Ziploc bag,

I threw it in my purse, and I forgot about it.

A couple weeks later,

I happen to be at a jewelry store

getting my watch battery repaired,

when all of a sudden it hits me.

I go in my purse, I dig out the Ziploc,

and I show the necklace to the saleswoman.

She takes out her little magnifying glass

and takes one look at it, and she says,

"This is a Van Cleef."

Oh my God, that is not what I was expecting.

So, we go on

the Van Cleef and Arpel website

and there's the necklace.

$24,000.

I am like, "You have got to be kidding me."

I have been carrying around

a $24,000 diamond necklace

in a Ziploc.

(laughter)

I live in a rich town.

My son has two classmates

with indoor basketball courts in their houses,

and meanwhile, I am struggling just to maintain a baseline.

This woman, she probably has

five more necklaces just like it.

She probably doesn't even know it's missing.

"What should I do with it?"

I ask the saleswoman.

"Well, that's up to you," she says.

"But I wouldn't bring it to the police station.

It'll just wind up sitting in a drawer."

Huh.

So I put it back in the Ziploc bag,

back in my purse,

and I decided to forget about it.

But I couldn't really forget about it--

I mean, do you know what I could do with $24,000?

This necklace was gonna solve all of my problems.

"I could take it to New York and sell it.

"No one knows me there.

"No, I know.

I'll take it to San Francisco next time I visit."

But there was just one problem.

This was someone's necklace.

And the longer I held on to it, the more I felt like a thief.

Eventually, I decided what my due diligence would be.

One day I hung up flyers on telephone poles along the block

my son, the six-year-old,

thought he had found the necklace.

"If you lost something of value in October, call" and my number.

I thought, "This is so stupid,

leaving my cell phone number up on a flyer."

Well, the next day, my phone rang.

She has an accent.

"I saw your flyers."

Her voice is trembling and out of breath.

"I lost something very valuable in town in October, a necklace,"

and she describes it perfectly.

"Yeah, I have it."

She could sense the disappointment in my voice.

"I know it's very expensive, obviously,

"but-but that's not it.

It is so meaningful to me, you have no idea."

And then she tells me that her husband and her daughters

had given her the necklace as a gift

when she was going through breast cancer treatment,

and that she had worn it that day back in October,

when she was getting her hair cut,

and her hairdresser had asked to try it on,

and she must not have clasped it properly

when she was putting it back on her own neck.

She said, when she discovered it was missing,

that she and her daughters had come back

and done laps and laps around the block

trying to find it.

"I can't believe you put up flyers,"

she said to me.

"I can't believe you did that."

The next day, she came over to my house.

She's tall, thin, elegant, and French.

Her name is Miriam.

She tells me her breast cancer story,

shows me her scar.

It's legit.

We chat about our kids for a few minutes

and the joys and challenges of motherhood.

And then she puts on her necklace.

It takes my breath away.

This is her necklace, clearly.

"I wore it one day," I tell her.

"Great," she says, and we laugh about it.

I had felt really self-conscious,

running around town, doing errands,

wearing a diamond head lamp shaped like a daisy,

but mostly because it wasn't mine.

As she's getting ready to leave, she says,

"You know, I haven't been in town at all

"for the last few weeks.

"I've been in France, visiting family.

"I haven't been here since that day in October,

"when I lost my necklace.

Until yesterday, when I came to go to the bank."

"Yesterday? The day I put up flyers?"

And then she says,

"I am Jewish, and there's a Hebrew word:

"'beshert.'

"It means it was meant to be from a spiritual perspective,

or things happen for a reason."

And I've thought about this since.

But what reason?

So that I could feel good about myself?

Proud that I was able to track Miriam down

without the help of the police?

So that I could fill my karma bank?

And what does it mean to do the right thing?

I mean, I am not a perfect person.

I have found things before, which don't belong to me,

and kept them.

But I can tell you one thing:

Finders keepers wouldn't have solved all of my problems.

Just like the necklace Miriam's family gave her

couldn't cure her breast cancer

if she should ever relapse.

So, what does it mean to do the right thing?

If you find the answer,

I'd recommend that you put it inside a Ziploc bag,

put in your purse, and forget about it.

Thank you.

(applause)

ZHEMUKHOV: My name is Sufian Zhemukhov,

and I'm from Washington, D.C.

I'm associate research professor at George Washington University.

I grew up

and came from Russia in 2011,

when I was 40 years old.

How have audiences responded to, you know,

stories about you talking about your past

and the challenges of, you know, emigrating?

The attitude toward immigrants,

especially in the Washington, D.C., area,

is the most wonderful thing

that the United States has.

Because it's very diverse.

And people accept you

in spite of your accent,

in spite of your strange behavior.

What kind of stories do you enjoy telling most?

ZHEMUKHOV: What I most like

is developing a character.

It's very hard

within five, six minutes, to create a character

and to change it,

because one of my challenges as a storyteller

is that I speak slowly; I speak a hundred words per minute.

And so when I'm telling

five-minute story, I have 500 words,

and those 500 words need to count.

And when within 500 words,

you create a character,

and then you change it,

it is the most beautiful thing I can imagine.

You probably can guess

by my accent that I spent some time

outside of the United States.

And when I came here in my 40s,

I knew that I needed to fit in.

And I was asking my friends,

"Do I need to develop different communication skills?

Do I need a different dream?"

And one of my friends said, "You need different shoes."

(laughter)

Nobody's wearing pointed-toe shoes in town.

So I went to DSW shoe store.

And I found myself nice, rounded-toe American shoes.

And I was trying shoes,

I saw this man.

He was a little bit older,

kind of looking over his shoulder.

And we made an eye contact,

and he approached me.

And he said, "I have a message."

I said, "Okay. (crowd laughter)

What is it?"

He said, "Jesus is coming."

(laughter)

I said, "That's great news.

But how do you know?"

He said, "He told me Himself."

I said, "Thank you very much for letting me know.

I'll be looking forward to it."

(laughter)

And he went away.

So, I'm a Muslim,

from Russia.

And where I'm from, I never met people

who communicated with Jesus directly.

(laughter)

And those people always fascinated me here.

Earlier, I met a homeless man

who was listening to music on his portable stereo,

and I asked him about the song,

and the song was, "Are you ready for Jesus?

Are you ready for the day of the Lord?"

But instead of telling me about the song right away,

he told me the story of his life.

He said, "Several years ago,

"I was so depressed I wanted to kill people.

"And then I prayed to Jesus, and Jesus told me,

"'Instead of killing people,

go and collect all Bob Dylan songs.'"

(laughter)

So this is a Bob Dylan song.

I thought, "That's a great advice, actually."

(laughter)

So while I was thinking about it,

this man came back.

I'm still at DSW.

(laughter)

We already kind of knew each other,

and he approached me again, and he said,

"I didn't deliver the whole message."

I said, "Okay, what's the rest of it?"

He said, "Since Jesus is coming,

"you've gotta get rid of

everything named after Devil and Hell."

I said, "Actually, I have this vacuum cleaner

called Dirt Devil."

(laughter)

He said, "I was sent to you on purpose."

He was so nice that I decided to confess,

and I said, "Actually, I'm a Muslim,

"and I never could understand

"why Americans name things after Devil or Hell,

"like Hell Burgers, or Heluva cheese.

Or devil's eggs."

I said, "Muslims never do that."

And that's when he amazed me.

He said, "That's because Muslims are better believers."

And he left me speechless and went away.

I thought, "How can this even be?"

This man who thinks he speaks to Jesus,

he's so tolerant that he can say

that Muslims are better believers

just to make me feel good?

And it reminded me,

another cultural shock that I had

when I first arrived in the United States.

It was not long after 9/11.

At the airport, I saw a Muslim woman wearing a hijab,

and I thought, "Oh, my God,

she's wearing a hijab after 9/11."

And I was keeping my eye on her,

wondering if the airport security

is going to double-check her, triple-check her.

And then I realized that she was working there.

And another woman who checked my passport

turned out to be a Jewish Russian

from the former Soviet Union.

And I thought,

did they put a Muslim and a Russian Jewish woman there

just to make me feel good and welcomed

in the United States?

(laughter)

And back then, I couldn't decide.

Was it too kind?

Or was it too smart?

Because if I were a Muslim terrorist

or a KGB agent, these two women

would be the best qualified to identify me.

But after meeting this man who spoke to Jesus,

I realized that it was about being kind.

And when I was leaving DSW

with my new brown rounded-toe American shoes

instead of black pointed Russian shoes,

I knew two things for sure.

One, I knew I was going to fit in here

among these wonderful and tolerant people,

and they can resolve any challenges facing their country.

And two, I knew that I was going to get rid of my vacuum cleaner.

(laughter)

(applause)

ANNOUNCER: This program is made possible in part

by contributions from viewers like you-- thank you.

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