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Not My Job: Author Daniel Handler Gets Quizzed On Baggage Handlers

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Not My Job: Author Daniel Handler Gets Quizzed On Baggage Handlers

Not My Job: Author Daniel Handler Gets Quizzed On Baggage Handlers

Not My Job: Author Daniel Handler Gets Quizzed On Baggage Handlers

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/510650563/510948331" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Katy Winn/Katy Winn/Invision/AP
Daniel Handler speaks at the LA Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California campus in April 2013.
Katy Winn/Katy Winn/Invision/AP

Back in 1999, a writer named Daniel Handler decided that kids books were too cheerful. So he adopted the pen name Lemony Snicket, and authored "A Series of Unfortunate Events" — now also a series on Netflix.

We've invited Handler to play a game called "What the hell happened to my Louis Vuitton valise, you monster?" Three questions about baggage handlers.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Back in the late '90s, a writer named Daniel Handler decided that kids books were too cheerful. I mean, all the "Harry Potter" series did was occasionally kill off major characters. Thus was born "A Series Of Unfortunate Events" and its mysterious author, Lemony Snicket. "A Series Of Unfortunate Events" is now a great new series on Netflix. It is written by Mr. Handler himself, and we are delighted to have him with us. Daniel Handler, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

DANIEL HANDLER: Oh, thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Like a lot of people whose children were small in the 2000s, I read your books out loud and I loved them. Is it true? Did you decide that kid's lit was just too bright and cheerful for your taste?

HANDLER: I decided that it might be interesting to have terrible things happen to orphans over and over again.

SAGAL: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And when you first submit - I don't know how it worked - but when you first submitted the manuscript for the first book, "A Bad Beginning," did people go, this is a little dark for kids?

HANDLER: I first told the idea to an editor I had met who, after reading one of my novels for adults that was set in a high school, had an idea that I might write something for children. And I had this idea about terrible things happening to orphans, and I knew it was such a horrible idea that the idea of writing it down and then submitting it professionally was obviously absurd.

SAGAL: Yes.

HANDLER: And so I met her in a bar where alcoholic beverages are served and I bought her one and I told her the idea. And she said that she liked it very much, which embarrassed me because I thought it meant that she was a lightweight and that in the morning, as so many women say to so many men, what seems like a good idea, you know, turns out not to be.

SAGAL: Yes. Funny how that happens.

HANDLER: But it turns out she is Canadian, my editor, and so she drinks like a fish. So she wasn't a lightweight at all. And in the morning, she said that the idea still seemed like a good one, and here we are.

SAGAL: Lemony Snicket - where did Lemony come from?

HANDLER: When I was researching my very first novel, "The Basic Eight," I was calling right-wing political and religious organizations and asking them to mail me their material so that I could mock them in my novels.

(LAUGHTER)

HANDLER: And I was on the phone with one such organization, and they said, so what is your name so we can mail you these materials? And I thought, oh, you better not say your real name. And so I opened my mouth and what came out was the phrase Lemony Snicket, and then there was a pause.

(LAUGHTER)

HANDLER: And then the woman said, is that spelled how it sounds?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So there you are.

HANDLER: Yeah.

SAGAL: So Lemony Snicket. Now, I'm told - the books, of course, starting from the very first one, became hugely popular, selling millions and millions. And I understand that when you used to go around to talk to your very young fans, you would appear as Lemony Snicket's representative or agent.

HANDLER: Yes, that's still what I tell everyone. I announce that Lemony Snicket can't make it after all, for a reason that sounds fraudulent. And slowly the young people figure out that I'm somebody pretending to be somebody pretending to be somebody.

SAGAL: Yeah, that's very confusing to them.

HANDLER: Yeah, well, they're used - you know, they're often in schools, so they're used to adults saying completely dishonest things so...

(LAUGHTER)

HANDLER: It's not really - it doesn't deviate that much from what they've been led to expect in life.

SAGAL: Right. And (laughter) - so now the books have become, and I will say this based on just seeing the first two episodes, a really excellent television series on Netflix.

HANDLER: Oh, thank you.

SAGAL: And it was great. You got a second bite at the apple because a film was made of your books back when, and now it's a TV series. We've talked about dealing with editors and children. What was it like dealing with TV executives?

PETER GROSZ: Worse than children?

HANDLER: You know, I would say about the same.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And you have kids now?

HANDLER: I have one son, yes.

SAGAL: And how old is he?

HANDLER: He's 13.

SAGAL: Right. And did he read the "Series Of Unfortunate Events?"

HANDLER: He's actually reading them now. He was quite reluctant to read them for a long time. And for many years, about every six months, he would say to me, what are these books about again? And I would say, they're about three children whose parents are killed in a terrible fire and then they're forced to live with a monstrous villain. And he and I would, you know, have that sad look that passes between children and their parents a lot about the inheritance of a confusing and brutal world. And then he would go read something else.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Daniel Handler, we are delighted to talk to you. And we have asked you here this time to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: What the hell happened to my Louis Vitton valise, you monster?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You're Daniel Handler, which we assume...

HANDLER: Yes.

SAGAL: ...Here means handling a Daniel.

HANDLER: Oh.

SAGAL: So we thought we'd ask you about baggage handlers.

HANDLER: Fair enough.

SAGAL: Answer three questions about baggage handling, you will win our prize - Carl Kasell's voice for one of our listeners. Bill, who is author Daniel Handler playing for?

KURTIS: Lauren Beal of Portland, Ore.

SAGAL: All right then. Here is your first question. In 2013, an anonymous baggage handler revealed a deeply held secret of the trade. What was it? A, every Friday night, the baggage handlers stage a fashion show with the best gowns they've stolen from luggage; B, they often travel for free by checking themselves into the cargo hold; or C, the baggage handlers hold informal competitions to see how hard they can throw bags at each other.

HANDLER: I would guess C.

SAGAL: C, you are correct.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: That's what they do.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The anonymous handler said, quote, "we make a game out of it. In the hold of the plane, we would throw the suitcases to each other from the belt to stacking them up. We throw them to each other as hard as we can. We don't want to break the bags or cases, but you can imagine it's not exactly beneficial to the bag."

HANDLER: No. This is why I never travel with my priceless collection of Hummel porcelain figures.

SAGAL: Yes. Second question - some people just don't want to deal with baggage handlers at all, as in which of these cases? A, guy who handcuffed his suitcase to his arm and refused to unlock it unless he could place the bag in the cargo hold himself; B, a man in China who wore 60 shirts and nine pairs of jeans to the airport to avoid having to check a bag; or C, the guy who bought three extra first-class seats just for his luggage.

HANDLER: Well, I'm eliminating B for some reason, and I'm torn between espionage and entitlement. But I think given...

SAGAL: Aren't we all?

HANDLER: ...Today's inauguration, I'll go with entitlement and guess C.

SAGAL: You're going to guess C, entitlement, the guy who bought three extra seats in first class for his luggage. No, it was actually B, the guy in China who wore all of his clothes to the airport. All right, this is exciting because now it's all come down to this last question. If you get this right, you win.

Last question - a Houston airport dealt with persistent complaints about the long wait to retrieve bags with what innovative solution? A, they arranged to have the airplanes actually drop the bags onto a large net as they came in for a landing; B, they hired competitive collegiate sprinters to run the bags to the terminal; or C, they just made the walk to the baggage claim six times longer so people wouldn't be standing there waiting so long.

HANDLER: I would guess C.

SAGAL: And you would be right, Daniel.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: That's what happened.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: It's very clever. What people objected to was standing there for eight minutes or so waiting for their bags, so they just made the walk to the baggage claim about 10 minutes long. So when they got there, their bags were there and they were like, oh, how quick.

HANDLER: I bet that improves familiar relations as well because you always see people reuniting at the airport and then they walk to baggage claim, and while waiting for their bags, you watch them slowly run out of things to say to one another.

SAGAL: You really do have a knack for noticing the darker things in life.

HANDLER: My God, you're back. You're back from your long tour of duty or I haven't seen you in years. We've been estranged, but now we're together. It's so wonderful. Where is the bag?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bill, how did Daniel Handler do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Well, in this case it was a fortunate event. He got 2 out of 3. That's a win for us.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Daniel Handler's a writer, musician and the author of, among other things, the "Series Of Unfortunate Events" books. He also wrote the TV version of the books that is available now on Netflix. As said, I recommend both media for this story. Enjoy it. Daniel Handler, thank you so much for joining us.

HANDLER: Thank you so much for having me.

SAGAL: Thank you. Take care. Give our best to Lemony.

HANDLER: Shalom. Arrivederci.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WORLD IS A VERY SCARY PLACE")

THE GOTHIC ARCHIES: (Singing) The world is a very scary place, my dear. It's hurled and it's twirled through outer space, I fear. So many ways to lose your skin in it.

SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill asks, why is this Buffalo Wild Wings different from all other Buffalo Wild Wings? Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

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