MIKE PESCA, host:
Welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are always online at npr.org/bryantpark. This is the longest day of the year, which means that people should be out gallivanting, but instead, according to the statistics I've seen, they're at home emailing each other wacky stories from the Internet. So, we're just going by what the public says and we present to you this collection of wackiness known as The Most.
(Soundbite of music)
PESCA: So, the most-emailed, viewed stories on the Internet. We've got birds, bees and teenage pregnancies. Let's start with Ian.
IAN CHILLAG: Hey, this is - I'm just going to do a headline real quick. This was a most-popular on the Charleston Daily Mail. Headline, quote, "Man Attacked Bus, Tried to Rob 7/11, Stripped, Fought Dog, and Withstood Taser."
DAN PASHMAN: Wow.
PATRICIA MCKINNEY: That's all?
CHILLAG: No, it isn't all.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHILLAG: They omitted from the headline the fact that he walked through a glass door and tried to steal a police car. Anyway, that's my hometown.
PESCA: Good job. Good job, guy.
CHILLAG: Yeah, good man.
PASHMAN: Good job, Mr. Chillag.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: Anything else, Ian?
CHILLAG: Yeah, I have a most-popular from Action News Philadelphia.
PESCA: Action News. Dun-dun-dun! Are they on your side as well?
CHILLAG: They are, they are. Yeah.
PESCA: I like it when the action news is also on your side.
CHILLAG: So, New Jersey is actually part of Philadelphia, if you've ever been to Philadelphia, and this story concerns New Jersey. You know, the bees, they've been missing their bees. The bees were gone. Colony collapse disorder. For years, bee populations had been declining. Turns out from the observations of some beekeepers there, they are on their way back. They've been seeing swarms everywhere. One beekeeper says, when you see a swarm, that's nature - Mother Nature's way of telling you that they are doing well, so this is good news for the bees.
PASHMAN: And run.
PESCA: Yeah, exactly.
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CHILLAG: Bad news for one reverend at Christ Episcopal Church whose church has been overtaken by the bees.
PESCA: No, that's Mother Nature's sign of saying they're very holy bees.
CHILLAG: Apparently, the hives are behind the walls in the parish, honey literally dripping down the walls. The reverend says, I like to think of this as a place where people can enjoy the sweetness of the Lord.
CHILLAG: But that was supposed to be more theological and figurative, than literal.
PESCA: I thought he would - he might claim a honey stigmata, so he kind of pulled back from there. Dan.
PASHMAN: I've got a most-viewed here from the Los Angeles times. Middle schools tone down graduation ceremonies. Kind of an interesting story, and Tricia was saying she could sympathize with this. I know that a lot of parents feel like nowadays these grade-school graduations are even, what? Pre-K, in your daughter's case?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, my daughter had a pre-preschool graduation. She got a diploma. She's got two more years in school.
PESCA: And she stays in the same school?
PESCA: That's ridiculous.
PASHMAN: And these graduation ceremonies - this article focuses on eighth-grade graduations, which have become a bigger and bigger deal. And a lot of school officials, especially in L.A. and in places where graduation - high-school graduation rates are not so good, they are worried that if you make too big a deal about eighth-grade graduation, students will think, like, OK, there it is. All done. So they are starting to actually shy away from using the word "graduation" and they are using words like "promotion" instead.
PASHMAN: Yeah, things like that. So they are trying to tone down those celebrations to encourage kids to move on to high school.
PESCA: I mean, just get the eighth-grade chorus to sing "The Body Electric" and move on, people. Move on. Tricia.
MCKINNEY: OK, so I have one of the most-viewed, most-emailed stories, really, where isn't it a Most? This is a story about a teen-pregnancy pact - so-called pregnancy pact in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Seventeen girls in Gloucester High School are expecting babies. It's a little baby boom up there, and it made health-clinic officials suspicious.
And so really this story's been - they've been looking at this story for awhile, but this week, Time Magazine Online broke the news that, according to the principal of the high school, the girls had a pact to all get pregnant together. And that was actually confirmed by the superintendent of the school on a local television station overnight. So, the officials at the school are saying the girls had an agreement to get pregnant.
The superintendent described the girls as girls who, quote, "lack self-esteem and have a lack of love in their life," which could explain maybe why they wanted to do this. Apparently, officials in the city are now investigating the incident and they may - they are looking to see if they can bring statutory-rape charges against some of the fathers, one of whom is reported to be a 24-year-old homeless man. So it's got people, you know, really digging into some issues of why these girls - if it's true that these girls had a pact, what drove them to do that? And it's raised the whole controversy over contraception and its availability in school and it's a big stink right now.
PESCA: Big stink up in Gloucester. Normally reserved for other causes of stink. A lot of fisheries in Gloucester. Yes, Matt, what do you got?
MATT MARTINEZ: I have one of the most-emailed at Reuters right now. It is about Gordon Ramsey, the celebrity chef. He has many shows all over the place, in Britain, in the United States, he has "Hell's Kitchen." And the headline is, Swearing Chef Prompts Tighter - blank - Rules. But it's actually a pound sign, a star, an ampersand and percentage.
PESCA: Oh, there's an interrobang?
PESCA: No, no. There's another word for that.
MARTIN: Yes, that's the international, you know, thing, you know, for bad language.
PESCA: It's not interrobang.
MARTIN: Anyway, so, lawmakers are stopped just short of a law to pretty much, you know, ban this guy from Australian TV, and it's after a huge campaign by the Catholic Church to call for his shows to be scrapped or shown at a later time. And in an inquiry by the Senate, Australia's upper house, has basically said, we want just better warnings on programs where Gordon Ramsey talks like this.
(Soundbite of TV show "Hell's Kitchen")
Mr. GORDON RAMSEY (Chef): What the (beep) were you thinking about putting apricots inside mashed potatoes?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man: I actually took the recipe from the Good Food Magazine.
Mr. RAMSEY: The Good Food magazine?
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
Mr. RAMSEY: That's the (beep) answer. What were you thinking about putting it together?
Unidentified Man: Well, why not? It's (unintelligible).
Mr. RAMSEY: You've got every right to be slightly (beep) off about it. Because I would be if I cooked that (beep).
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Mr. RAMSEY: And here we are, in our current situation, on our arse, and chef over there wants to (beep) laugh about it.
MARTIN: So there you go, Gordon Ramsey. I personally love the Gordon Ramsey. He has a restaurant here in New York.
PASHMAN: I thought you were going to say, I personally love the apricots in chicken.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MCKINNEY: Mashed potatoes.
MARTIN: He really had a point there.
PESCA: Yeah, seriously. I wasn't on his side when I heard he was a potty mouth, but when he got to the apricots, I with you. All right, thanks, everyone. That is our collection of The Most. You want to do a piece? Let's take it to a piece.
PASHMAN: We'll do the old NPR Most piece here. It's from our friend of the BPP, Margot Adler. She did it a story about a recent study about aging artists in New York and how they managed to survive on incomes around 30,000 dollars a year. Here's Margot's piece.
(Soundbite of NPR's All Things Considered, June 18, 2008)
MARGOT ADLER: It was as if I had entered a very Zen place. The artists I talked to ranged from their late 70s to their mid-80s. All seemed to need little outside of some food, a place over their head and their art. I visited Hank Virgona, who is 78, in his tiny studio at the edge of Union Square. His paintings and drawings are on the wall, stacked in rows. He opened several drawers.
Mr. HANK VIRGONA (Artist, New York): Now, these are filled with drawings that I've done.
Mr. VIRGONA: These are all new.
ADLER: Virgona has had more than 30 one-man shows. His drawings of satirical public figures have been published worldwide. But last year, he only made 17,000 dollars from his art. He averaged 25 to 30,000 dollars a year. His studio has fabulous light, but it's only 300 square feet. His first studio in 1960 rented for 35 dollars a month.
Mr. VIRGONA: I don't want to tell you what it is now.
ADLER: You've got to tell me what it is now.
Mr. VIRGONA: Well, it's 1,635.70.
ADLER: That's a lot.
Mr. VIRGONA: That's a lot of money, yes. And next year, they already told us it's going to be another 20 percent.
ADLER: Can you afford to stay?
Mr. VIRGONA: Well, this is my life.
ADLER: If he has to, he says, he'll get an even smaller studio in the building. Virgona lives with his brother in Queens in a two-family house that was bought for 16,000 dollars many, many years ago. He cooks for himself. He says he manages to spend about 30 dollars a week on food and nothing on entertainment.
Mr. VIRGONA: The last movie I saw was "Fahrenheit 9/11." Before that, it was "Shakespeare in Love." When was that? Fifteen years ago? Maybe more than that, you know? The last vacation was 1980.
ADLER: But when you talk to Virgona, his is a world where money has very little meaning.
Mr. VIRGONA: No one has ever heard me say, well, listen, I'd like to buy this. I never do that. I talk about art. I talk about my love for it. I talk about like what you can get from it, you know? That a walk down a quiet street, especially towards like dusk, is as good as going to Caracas or Venezuela or anywhere. You know what I mean? It's nourishing. That's what art - that's part of its purpose.
ADLER: And you feel he means it. Joan Jeffri is the director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Teachers College Columbia University. The center interviewed 213 visual artists between the ages of 62 and 97 about their life, their work, and their income. Jeffri says 44 percent live in rent-controlled housing. Most of the rest, the majority, own their own homes or apartments. That's one reason they can live on so little. Jeffri says, for most of them, being an artist is an identity that transcends everything else.
Ms. JOAN JEFFRI (Director, Arts and Culture, Teachers College Columbia University): They don't ever think of giving up being artists. They simply, if they get arthritis, change their art form. And that they don't retire. So, there are lessons here.
ADLER: What I saw in the artists I interviewed, their health may not be perfect. They don't have lots of money, but they are often joyous about life.
Ms. PAT DILLARD (Artist, New York): You don't stop, and there's no depression if you don't stop.
ADLER: Pat Dillard lives in a third-floor walk-up. She does wood blocks and illustration. Her small apartment rents for about 700 dollars a month. Her income is 29,000 dollars a year. Despite being 81, she supplements social security by caring for people's pets.
Ms. DILLARD: Mostly cats now.
ADLER: And what do you get paid for taking care of the...
Ms. DILLARD: I get 10 dollars, which is good.
ADLER: Ten dollars an hour. Yeah, right.
Ms. DILLARD: You can make like 50 dollars on the weekend and that's good.
ADLER: As for living cheaply, she says, buy stuff at the 99-cent store.
Ms. DILLARD: Sometime, I make chili for the week. It only gets better. If you want to have a pizza, you don't tip. You go pick it up.
ADLER: And she has more advice on being happy.
Ms. DILLARD: The first thing, I come out of the building, I look at the sky, white clouds and a blue sky. Oh, my heart goes pitter-pat.
ADLER: Hank Virgona says something similar. Seeing the light fall on something, and then perhaps you can get part of that into a piece of work, that's miraculous.
Mr. VIRGONA: To feel that you're part of what it really means, you're part of the light.
ADLER: You might think getting older with relatively little money in a city so focused on wealth and consumption, would create bitterness and depression. Joan Jeffri says these artists show how lifetime engagement and passion is a model for health and well-being.
PESCA: That's NPR correspondent and solstice enthusiast Margot Adler. For a link to this and all the stories on The Most, visit our website npr.org/bryantpark.