Not My Job: Author Daniel Handler Gets Quizzed On Baggage Handlers
BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT.... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR News quiz. I'm legendary anchorman Bill Kurtis. And here is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Bill. Thanks, everybody.
SAGAL: So we have found that the Trump era is a little like serving in a foreign combat zone. Every now and then, you just need to be sent home for some R & R.
KURTIS: So while we're hanging in this reputable bars and refusing to talk about what we've seen, we thought we'd share some memories of happier times.
SAGAL: Let's start by cheering everybody up with somebody who enjoys telling uncheerful stories. Daniel Handler is better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the books "A Series Of Unfortunate Events." When he joined us in January of last year, I asked him how he came up with the idea for that project.
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DANIEL HANDLER: I decided that it might be interesting to have terrible things happen to orphans over and over again.
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 submitting it professionally was obviously absurd.
HANDLER: And so I met her in a bar where alcoholic beverages are served.
HANDLER: 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: Well, tell me about 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.
HANDLER: I was on the phone with one such organization, and they said, so what is your name? 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.
HANDLER: And then the woman said, is that spelled how it sounds?
SAGAL: 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...
HANDLER: It's not really - it doesn't deviate that much from what they've been led to expect in life.
SAGAL: Right. 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.
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...
KURTIS: What the hell happened to my Louis Vuitton valise, you monster? [empty]
SAGAL: Your Daniel Handler, which we assume...
SAGAL: ...Here means handling a Daniel.
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.
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SAGAL: That's what they do.
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.
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SAGAL: That's what happened.
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?
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.
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.
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