'The Average American' In 2003, author Kevin O'Keefe set out to find the "most-average" American. He talks about his path from overachievement to self-acceptance and what it means to be ordinary in the United States.

'The Average American'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The 2000 Census tells us that the typical Americans live in the suburbs, are parents and go to bed by midnight. We eat an average of 25 pounds of candy per year and own at least one pet. Now we've all become accustomed to that kind of statistical norm, but is there a person who actually measures up to all of those standards? Who would it be? How would you find him or her? Writer Kevin O'Keefe pored over statistics to identify characteristics and neighborhoods and struck up conversations with potential candidates. His two-year search for the average American also included a lot of thought about whether average is a good thing, something to look down or something to aspire to. We'll meed his nominee as the nation's most ordinary citizen later.

And further on in the program, we'll talk with mystery writer Brad Meltzer, whose latest cast of cops and criminals wear tights and capes in a graphic novel called "Identity Crisis."

But first, the average American. How would you measure John or Jane Q. Public? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org. Joining us from our bureau in New York is author Kevin O'Keefe. His book is "The Average American."

Nice to have you on the program.

Mr. KEVIN O'KEEFE (Author, "The Average American"): Thanks, Neal. Greetings from New York.

CONAN: How did you start this search?

Mr. O'KEEFE: I started at the Census Bureau. I figured there's not a better place to start with brilliant statisticians than the US Census Bureau. And I really got a feel for them on what type of statistics they had, but it was important for me to go across the country and really see what resonated in the lives of most Americans. And those are the categories that I chose, and based on those categories, I found statistics. At the end of the journey, I had 140 different criteria.

CONAN: Hmm. And they included?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Everything from the fact that you need snow on the ground in your neighborhood on an annual basis--pretty much wiped out southern Florida--to the fact that you needed to have at least one pet in your home. But certain things, too, like, if you have more than one house, you're immediately disqualified. So I kept going and eliminating millions of people along the way, and I really literally started with the entire population of the United States. It was a reality contest that everybody was a contestant in.

CONAN: And you do have to point out that I think the reality show "Average Joe"--their guy, I think, was a millionaire and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes, absolutely. He--Manhattan and younger than most--certainly younger than the average American age and many other criteria that would not have qualified him. He would've been gone pretty much my first week.

CONAN: We want to, of course, hear from out listeners, as well. (800) 989-8255. How do you measure the average American? What standard do you think is important? And is average a good thing or not? Let's talk with Raymond. Raymond's calling us from Waynesboro, North Carolina.

RAYMOND (Caller): Well, hi, Neal. Actually, that's Wadesboro...

CONAN: Oh, excuse me.

RAYMOND: ...but everybody mispronounces it, so--that's fine. I would contend that there really isn't such a thing as an average American.

Mr. O'KEEFE: I would agree with you. I would agree with you. Everyone is certainly different. There's not a perfect average American, but I would certainly argue that there's a definitive average American. But absolutely, we are all very different.

RAYMOND: Well, I'm going to try to read your book. OK? But at this point, I would tend to disagree because there are so many disparate groups. I mean, we have a wide, wide variety of groups and in a lot of things, we're very, very polarized. For example, you can't have, oh, say, an average or a central tendency when you're looking at, say, religion because there is so much variety. I mean, you can't do an average statistically of, say, an atheist and a Protestant.

CONAN: Well, the average--there are many more Protestants than there are atheists.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes. Actually, it's quite easy because I looked at average as the majority, meaning the majority of the country. Most Americans are Christian. That's a qualification. That's a hard statistic. Most Americans are Christian. The average American is Christian.

RAYMOND: You're just simply looking at a mode that...

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes, I'm looking a majority. Really, more than a mode; I'm looking at a majority.

CONAN: Thank--Raymond, thank--do you have another point that you wanted to make?

RAYMOND: Well, I just think it's a little bit tough. I think also you find that people that are average in one way are not going to be average in another way.

CONAN: Yeah, it's going to be tough to...

Mr. O'KEEFE: That's why we eliminated more than 280 million people.

CONAN: Raymond, thanks very much for the call.

But I think Raymond's point goes on to, you know, say, `Why were you looking for the average American?'

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, we've heard so much about the average American. There were so many myths out there. On a personal note, it was really important for me to take this journey because, honestly, I had a incredible fear of being ordinary. I chased being number one in everything that I did. But once I took the journey, I realized that so many myths about the average American are untrue. We're not as big in, you know, girth, for example as a lot of people lead us to believe.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. O'KEEFE: We're not this polarized nation that we're lead us to believe. We're a lot happier than we're led to believe. You know, the average American is better off financially than 99 percent of the people who ever lived on this Earth. We're in a lot better shape than I think a lot--a lot--of pundits give us credit for.

CONAN: So average American, you're saying, is--well, it's got a lot of positive qualities, it's not, you know, the guy with the bear belly and the can of--and, you know, a six-pack watching TV.

Mr. O'KEEFE: No. No, not at all. And I hope that's the one message people really do get from the book, is that that creature, which has been invented, certainly by the media but also other avenues, is really incorrect. What we have in the average American is somebody who believes he or she is living the American Dream. It's a very positive value. All the values and morals that the average American have are actually quite celebratory, and that's the way we need to look at this person.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Carrie, Carrie calling us from Buffalo, New York.

CARRIE (Caller): Hi.


CARRIE: My husband, I think, is an excellent example of the average American. And I don't want to disparage him in any way because I love him.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

CARRIE: But he has got a little bit of a belly, he does watch football, he loves his chili during halftime, you know, he went through most of college but not all of it, he's got a pretty average job at a bank and, you know, he's fun-loving and loves America and he's a Christian and a Republican.

CONAN: Hmm. Do those descriptions all track with your statistical averages, Kevin O'Keefe?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, the Republican actually would give him less of a chance of being the average American because there are actually more registered Democrats in this country than registered Republicans. But...

CARRIE: Is it close?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Excuse me?

CARRIE: Is it close, the number?

Mr. O'KEEFE: There's actually a few million people difference, so it's pretty significant.


Mr. O'KEEFE: But let's keep in mind that the Democrats are also not in the majority, so I could not make being a registered Democrat or a registered Republican a true criterion.

CARRIE: Right.

Mr. O'KEEFE: But the chances of the average American being a registered Democrat were higher, obviously, and he ends up being a registered Democrat.

CONAN: Huh. We're going to meet him later.

CARRIE: Well, thank you.

CONAN: And, Carrie--but I did want to get back to that point you were making. This is your husband. Average American is something to look up to.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yeah, you know...

CARRIE: I think so. Yes, I think. He's great with his kids, he's averagely happy person. But you know, again, that sort of stigma that he does love football, TV and falls asleep watching TV at least twice a week, you know...

Mr. O'KEEFE: And football is certainly one of the--being a fan of both football and baseball were two of the criteria. But you know, Carrie, it's interesting. You use the word--you don't want to disparage your husband, but you know, I make the argument that it's not disparaging. He should be proud of being an average American. You should feel that's a compliment you're giving.

CARRIE: Well, I'm sure he would. If he heard me, he would know it was a compliment.

CONAN: OK, Carrie.

CARRIE: Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much.


CONAN: Bye-bye.

And that really--you were talking just a minute ago, Kevin, about the search in your own life, the flight from being the average guy. You're--you know, we're told in a zillion advertising campaigns that--you know, get out of the ordinary. You really tried to return to some values in your own life as you went through this search.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Absolutely. You know, I got married in my 40s for the first time and so did my wife just a couple years ago. And we really started to understand pretty quickly that not just marriage but a lot of things in the lives of average Americans are things that we should aspire to. My wife and I are looking at housing in the suburbs. That's something that we certainly wouldn't have taken under consideration before I took this journey. We want a front yard, which most Americans have. We want a vehicle which we don't have and most Americans have. We want a backyard deck. We want a grill. These are all positive things in the lives of average Americans. I happen to live in Midtown Manhattan. I don't have a lot of these things, and I hope I do by the time I'm 50.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Larry's with us from Portland, Oregon.

LARRY (Caller): I just wanted to make a comment--thanks for taking my call--that...

CONAN: Sure.

LARRY: ...I think the word `average' is what misleads people, because what--your previous caller talked about how do you average an atheist and a Protestant. And I think a better term would be the middle American or the median or the mean, not...

Mr. O'KEEFE: Or the middle majority, certainly. The reason I used the `average American' phrase is because that phrase is out there a lot. And when I started the journey, that's who I was looking for. And it wasn't until I got to the Census Bureau that I came up with, I thought, a better definition of average. And you're right, that was the middle majority.

CONAN: So...

Mr. O'KEEFE: But the fact is, my journey was to find--from the very start, to find the average American.

LARRY: So I guess all I'm saying is that use of the word `average,' which I understand why you did that, is actually what misleads people about what you're doing.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Hmm. Yeah, I think the book pretty much from the very beginning explains all the differences in average. So I certainly don't mean to mislead. It's just that that phrase is such a common phrase, it was important that somebody break it down.

LARRY: Right.

CONAN: But it doesn't mean that if you're black or Jewish, you're not living that American Dream and, in that respect, an average American?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, you know, it's funny about race--we don't know what our true racial heritage is. You know, Gallup did a survey a few years ago; `Do we know anything about our great-great-grandparents?' was one of the questions. Now the vast majority of us don't know anything. And, of course, a lot of studies have shown that we all--our race goes back to Africa for each one of us, so I purposely did not make race a criterion.

CONAN: Well, if you're talking race going back to Lucy and the Olduvai Gorge?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yeah, there's just too many conflicting studies out there about what our true racial heritage is, if we keep going back generations. So I don't think it would've been fair to make race a criterion.

CONAN: OK. Larry, thanks very much for the call.

LARRY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about the search for the average American. Our guest is the author of the book of the same name, Kevin O'Keefe. We're going to take more of your calls when we get back from a break. (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. We're also going to meet Kevin's nominee as the average American. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking today about the search for the average American. Later this hour, graphic novelist Brad Meltzer joins us to talk about his latest book, "Identity Crisis."

But first, we're talking with Kevin O'Keefe, the author of "The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Ordinary Citizen." The man O'Keefe identifies as the best example of this average person will join us shortly. Of course, you're invited to join us now at (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And Maura(ph), Maura joins us on the line from Tucson, Arizona.

MAURA (Caller): Hi. I believe that statistically there are more women than men, so I'm wondering why the average American isn't a woman.

Mr. O'KEEFE: That's a great question. Most Americans certainly are female, and I really wanted to take the criteria that resonated with most Americans. And I asked about gender quite a lot, and no one seemed to think that it was that important in their life to make it a criterion. But it was a tiebreaker. And as I explain in the book, if there was a tie, the most average American certainly would've been a woman. That's a great question.

CONAN: Why not an Adam and Eve, one of each?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, I just specifically wanted to find the average American. I guess another journey is in my future to find the most average American woman.

CONAN: Hmm. OK. Maura, thanks very much. So you're still open for nomination?

MAURA: I'm well above average. Thanks.


Well, that's again one of the points you make. She's, of course, referring to, I think, that line in Garrison Keillor's program, `Lake Woebegone, where all the kids are above average,' of course, meant mockingly.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Bernadette(ph), Bernadette's calling us from Purchell, Oklahoma.

BERNADETTE: (Caller): How knowledgeable is the average American politically?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, he's a registered Democrat, and it's certainly something that we can ask him when he comes on. So certainly he--just for the fact that he's registered and he made the decision that he should go a little bit left and not a little bit right means that he's involved in issues. He understands his community's issues, and I would make the argument that the average American is certainly more into what's going on in their community than on a national level. And that's certainly the case with the most average American.

CONAN: Does the average American read newspapers and books?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes, that was one of the criterion that you do read the newspaper, at least a little bit of it, on a daily basis. The most average American reads his local newspaper as soon as he gets it. His wife was joking that the days that it's not delivered, he rushes to the local store because he doesn't want to miss the local news. And again, this goes back to community. You know, one of the criterion that I was surprised was not offered to me at all was airplane travel. And I realize it's because so many people are into being in their community, they don't want to escape anywhere. And so there's a lot of talk about community news and community issues when it comes to politics, but maybe not as much national as we would be led to believe.

CONAN: And one of the criteria, in fact, earlier in the book that you use is the average American lives in the state in which he or she was born and grew up.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes. In fact--and another qualification was that, as most Americans do, you live within 50 miles of where you spent the most time growing up. The average American actually was born in the same town where he still lives.

CONAN: Hmm. Bernadette, thanks very much for the call.

BERNADETTE: Thank you.

CONAN: And it also turns out that the average American grew up and lives in the same town that Kevin O'Keefe grew up in, and that is Windham, Connecticut. Joining us now on the line is Bob Burns. He works indoors, is married, does not aspire to fame or fortune and he's been nominated by Kevin O'Keefe as the average American.

Kevin--Bob Burns, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. BOB BURNS (Average American): Thank you, Neal. Thank you. It's a pleasure.

CONAN: Do you consider yourself an average American?

Mr. BURNS: Yes, I do. I'm very patriotic. I'm happy of what I have, the American Dream, and family values are very important.

CONAN: Can you tell us a little bit about what your life is like and what you do for a living?

Mr. BURNS: I'm a maintenance supervisor at a local technical high school, Windham Technical High School in Willimantic, Connecticut. We're one of 17 vocational technical schools. And I'm also an alumnus of that school; I'm a graduate of 1971.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BURNS: And now I am working there and winding down my career there.

CONAN: And how old are you?

Mr. BURNS: I'm 53 years of age. I have three children: my oldest son, David, who is going to be 30 in December; my daughter Nicole(ph), 27, with a granddaughter on the way and--a second one; and my son Jared(ph) just recently--is from the Air Force Academy in Pensacola, Florida, and just recently got married.

CONAN: And we take it from the earlier descriptions that you have a house with a front yard and all that sort of thing?

Mr. BURNS: Yes, I have a very modest house, a ranch, a deck with a barbecue...

Mr. O'KEEFE: Grill.

Mr. BURNS: Yeah. And with a garage attached to it, two cars, a nice split-rail fence, and it's very modest and average.

Mr. O'KEEFE: And in Windham, Connecticut, are you a football fan? And I assume if you are, you would be a fan of the world champion New England Patriots.

Mr. BURNS: Yes, I am. But unfortunately, I'm a Cheesehead.


Mr. BURNS: I'm a Green Bay Packer fan, but I do support the New England Patriots highly. And those are my--I watch their football.

Mr. O'KEEFE: And big University of Connecticut football and basketball fan, as well.

Mr. BURNS: Oh, yes. I am. I support the colleges here, a season ticket holder, and we're very, very proud of them.

CONAN: Well, of late, the Huskies doing a lot better in basketball than they have in football. But, hey, things will come around. I think they just joined 1A in football not all that long ago.

Let's get a caller on the line. This is Lisa, Lisa calling us from Flagstaff, Arizona.

LISA (Caller): Hi. I'm wondering, through your research, how conscious is the average American on environmental issues--i.e., Do they recycle? What kind of car do they drive?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Great question.

LISA: How active are they in their community?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Great question. This is Kevin. I'll answer that. It was one of the criterion, actually, that they needed to recycle and that they did think that we needed stronger environmental laws, as do most Americans. And Bob certainly qualifies there.

CONAN: You recycle, Bob?

Mr. BURNS: Yes, I do. I have an American car, Oldsmobile. Also a GMC truck, pickup truck. And we recycle daily newspapers, bottles and the whole works. I'm very conscious about that.

LISA: Well, that's encouraging.

Mr. BURNS: Yes, I am part of the ecosystem. I work at a school where we recycle constantly, and I am for that.

LISA: Well, I appreciate that that was part of the conversation. Thank you.

Mr. BURNS: You're welcome.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Lisa.

And, Bob Burns, it turns out you also knew the author, Kevin O'Keefe.

Mr. BURNS: Yes. As a custodian back in the early, I think, '70s, '80s, I worked at his school. It was a university high school, Eaglesmith High School, and it was one of few that was left across the nation. And I started my career on campus and then transferred to the high school to further my advancement. But I got there--I was only supposed to spend a short time, 12 and a half years later. I did know Kevin. He was an outstanding cross-country--the whole family, and it was really nice--really nice to meet him again.

CONAN: When you said he was outstanding cross-country--athlete, I assume, is what you mean, not that...

Mr. BURNS: Yeah.

CONAN: ...he moved a lot, which he also did, but...

Mr. BURNS: Yeah. Outstanding athlete. He was really very--I know he'd be modest, but he was tops in the state. He was excellent, excellent.

CONAN: Uh-huh. Kevin O'Keefe, is the average American a jogger?

Mr. O'KEEFE: The average American exercises moderately each week, so that certainly was a qualification. But no, most Americans do not jog, so that was not a qualification, unfortunately.

CONAN: Ah. Let's get another caller on the line. Carl joins us, Carl calling from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

CARL (Caller): Yeah, I'm interested in military service. Certainly, this is something that changed over the years, depending on what generation you're from; it's going to change in the future, also. How much military service does the average American have?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, most Americans don't have military service, of course, because we're not 20, 30 years ago when that was the case. But I think Bob should talk about the military. His son happens to be a graduate of the Air Force Academy and is now in training.

Bob, what are your feelings on the military?

Mr. BURNS: Well, I wish I could've served my country, but due to the fact that, you know, cutting back in the war back in the early '60s and '70s when Nixon was coming back, I was declared 4-F. I really felt bad about it 'cause I wanted to serve my country. And my father was a World War II veteran of the Coral Sea, and he told me, `You can serve your country in other ways.' He says, `You don't necessarily have to be in war. I have been in it, and it's not a pretty picture.' And I give my son a lot of credit, Jared, for carrying on the tradition.

I do my patriotic--in the voting booth and in other ways, supporting the troops, even though sometimes I don't agree that we should be there, but I have to support the troops.

CONAN: Carl, thanks very much for the call.

CARL: All right. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Let's talk with Randy, and Randy is calling us from Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

RANDY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hello, you're on the air, Randy.

RANDY (Caller): Hello. I'm going to have to pull off the road. My question was--I heard the comment before about the average American marriage. What would the average age be at marriage for Americans?

Mr. O'KEEFE: It's growing each year. I think it's at 27 now, and, of course, that's jumped considerably over the past few decades.

You know what's interesting is the average American is 36; Bob happens to fall in the middle majority. But in 1790, when the first Census was done, the average American age was 16.

CONAN: Hmm. Interesting. Randy, thanks very much for the call. Drive safely, will you?

RANDY: Thank you.

CONAN: All right.

Let's talk now with Greg, and Greg is calling us from Rochester, New York.

GREG (Caller): Yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi, there.

GREG: I've been listening to this show shortly here. I do have some questions that have arised in all surveys that I find is--your typical survey--is where does the average American live? Does he live in Harlem? Does he live in urban? Is he suburban? Is he rural? Does he live in New York or in Texas?

CONAN: Or our most populous state, California. Kevin O'Keefe.

Mr. O'KEEFE: In 2000, for the first time, the majority of the country became suburbanites. And we really look at Americans as suburbanites or residents of the central city of those who live in rural America. So because I went with majorities, the average American needed to be a suburbanite, and Bob lives in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut.

CONAN: And how is it that you managed to find the ordinary American--well, the average American in the town in which you grew up?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, actually just a town over. I grew up in Mansfield, which borders Windham. Believe me, Neal, I did not want to end up there. When I started this journey, I thought I was going down a yellow brick road to some magical place that we've never been before, because no one, as far as I know, has ever found the average American or the average American community. It was a lot of things. You know, being close to an ocean was important to so many people because they can go there in the summer and because, as we know from recent tragedies, being near an ocean does have an effect on the way you live. So most Americans live within 100 miles of an ocean, and that was a criterion. Most Americans are represented by a Republican US House representative. That--Rob Simmons is the representative in Connecticut. That qualified Windham. As I kept putting these criterion on top of each other, Windham community was the only one standing.

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much for the call.

GREG: Thank you.

CONAN: And we're talking today with Kevin O'Keefe, who's the author of a book "The Average American," and with Bob Burns, who was selected by Kevin O'Keefe as the average American.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's another caller. This is Adam. Adam's calling us from Budapest in Hungary.

ADAM (Caller): That's right. Hi there.

CONAN: Hi there.

ADAMS: Well, being an American abroad, you get a lot of questions from people who have kind of an image of the average American. Most of them are pretty easy to correct them about, like the average American doesn't own a gun. But one question I do have: Does the average American own a passport? Has the average American been outside America? And if so, where?

Mr. O'KEEFE: The average American does not own a passport. I mentioned earlier that for some reason, airline travel just didn't resonate enough from the people that I spoke with to make it a criterion. But you're right. Most Americans do not have passports.

ADAM: And have they traveled abroad--or I mean, another...

CONAN: Hard to do, without a passport, Adam.

ADAM: ...rude Europeans would. Can they locate Europe on the map?

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes, they can locate Europe on a map. But no, they're not as traveled, maybe, as, of course, Europeans, but Europeans, of course, being a landlocked area--it's so much easier to travel.

CONAN: Well, let's ask...

Mr. O'KEEFE: And I make the argument that a lot of Americans say--there's so many wonderful things in America, I just don't see a reason to leave right away. I'm happy with the type of benefits we have here.

CONAN: Bob Burns, have you ever been drawn to Paris or Rome?

Mr. BURNS: I went to a wedding last year in France. We were invited and we went there for a wedding. It was an exchange student that we used to have years ago.

CONAN: So you have been overseas. Did you enjoy the trip?

Mr. BURNS: Yes, I did. But I was anxious to get home. There's a lot in our country to see.


Mr. BURNS: Believe me.

CONAN: Adam, thanks for the call.

ADAM: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's go to Ted, and Ted's calling us from Buffalo, New York.

TED (Caller): Hi. Hi, Neal. I was wondering. You know, Warhol had said that every American in the future would have their 15 minutes of fame, so I guess I'm curious. Has that happened, and if so, does that automatically take you away from being able to be the average American?

CONAN: Oh, this is the Heisenberg principle call of once observed...

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes.

CONAN: ...does the average American change.

TED: Oh.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, you know, the average American that I was finding I wanted to be for the first five years of this century were past that point, so, you know, Bob certainly still qualifies for those first five years.

CONAN: But it is a moving target, nonetheless. But even so, Bob Burns, let me ask you. I know that you were on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" yesterday?

Mr. BURNS: Martha Stewart.

CONAN: Martha Stewart--one of those.

Mr. BURNS: Yeah.

CONAN: Forgive me. But anyway, now that you've been identified as the average American, does it make you think of yourself a little bit differently? You're certainly not average in the number of talk shows you've been on.

Mr. BURNS: I still consider myself average. You know, I know--you have your 15 minutes of fame, especially on the "Martha" show, and it's all to help Kevin in his book. I'm just the end--the result of his search. It's his journey across America to find the average person. I still like to keep my simple lifestyle, the way I live, and keep on going in my average day of life. Limelight--I'm not--you know, take it or leave it, but to me, it's the type of person I am, and it's just--I'm average. I just, you know, get up in the morning. Tomorrow's another day--the same day as it was. You know, yesterday at the school they greeted me and were happy about this and saw on the TV at the school, and showed their appreciation, and today was just another day--average, like nothing happened. And that's the way I liked it.

CONAN: Well, it rained, which is certainly average for October.

Mr. BURNS: It sure is.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Neal, you know what's interesting is that Bob, who doesn't--did not want to become famous, and most Americans are not trying to become nationally known--he said it's important to get out the right message about the average American. Once he saw in the book that I made the conclusion the average American is someone we should aspire to, he said, `Well, maybe I should go out there and talk about it because it gives a very positive outlook at the average American.'

CONAN: Well, Bob Burns, if you're the average American you've advertised--you've done a very good job of extolling the values of it.

Mr. BURNS: Well, thank you, Neal. It's been quite a trip. Been very--quite a trip.

CONAN: It's not over yet. You may get offers to do advertisements before it's all over.

Mr. BURNS: Right.

CONAN: Bob Burns, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. BURNS: Thank you.

CONAN: Bob Burns joining us from his home in Windham, Connecticut.

We're going to take a couple of more calls about the average American when we come back from a short break. We'll also be talking about an author who writes about superheroes. Brad Meltzer joins us on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. Many residents in south Florida may be without electricity for at least a month. The airport in Miami remains closed following Hurricane Wilma, and citrus growers have reported crop losses from the high winds the hurricane packed. And the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq says the country's new constitution has been approved; the announcement came today after 10 days of ballot counting. You can hear more on those stories coming up later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, biographer Edmund Morris joins us to consider the life of Ludwig can Beethoven, the universal composer. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today we're talking about the average American. Kevin O'Keefe is the author of a new book by that name, and he joins us from our bureau in New York. In a few minutes, we're going to be talking with mystery writer Brad Meltzer about his latest book, which is a graphic novel.

But we wanted to continue talking about the average American for just a bit, and let's talk with Bridget. Bridget calling us from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

BRIDGET (Caller): Hi there. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

BRIDGET: I'm very interested in this topic. My husband and I, I guess, disqualified ourselves an average American because we went to Italy, which means we did have a passport.

CONAN: OK, so you're out of the running already.

BRIDGET: I'm out of the running already, but that's OK because Kevin and I also grew up sort of wanting never to be average, so when we were sitting in this tiny little restaurant in Venice, the couple next to us struck up this conversation and they were from Norway, and a little while into the conversation they said, `Well, where are you from?' and I thought it was crystal clear, and I said, `Well, we're from the United States,' and they said, `Oh, well, gosh. We wouldn't have known that. You're not the average Americans.' And our first reaction was sort of like, `Oh, thank goodness,' and then I thought, well, that's not true. We're very proud and we're very patriotic and we believe that we live in the very best country on the face of the Earth. So I just think--I'd love to hear why do you think even we average Americans or not so average Americans bridle against that descriptions.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yeah, it's interesting that there is that feeling out there, and I think again the message of the book is that average America is amazing and there's so many positive, wonderful things that we need to focus on. The newsmakers, I'm convinced, don't have the most interesting stories. The average Americans actually have more interesting stories because they're authentic. They're not giving you soundbites and prepared message points. And I really do think that, that they're a lot more interesting.

CONAN: Ah, well...

BRIDGET: I agree with you, and I can hardly wait to read the book.

CONAN: OK, Bridget. Thanks very much for the call. Isn't reality television in a way an effort to get to the authentic stories of com...

Mr. O'KEEFE: Come on, Neal. How oxymoronic do we need to get with reality television? You know, it's--I don't even want to go there. It's not reality. I guess it is television, but it's not reality.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question from Andrew in Portland, Oregon. `How about criminal petty activity? I can't recall a single friend from childhood who could escape an underage drinking, trespassing, loitering incident, etc. I consider myself clean and yet I was charged with underage drinking when I was 18. Does the average American have a petty record of youthful indiscretions?'

Mr. O'KEEFE: Oh, great question. Yes. Most Americans feel that they've had either a sex or alcohol or drug issue in the past that they regret.

CONAN: Mmm. And here's another e-mail question from Juan Carlos(ph) in Wichita, Kansas. `Do you expect that the average American would be speaking Spanish in the future?'

Mr. O'KEEFE: Well, I don't know--is Bob still on the line?

CONAN: No, Bob's, I think, left.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Bob's daughter is married to a Hispanic man, and, you know, we're seeing more of a certainly Hispanic culture in the United States, and starting in 2060 the Census Bureau predicts that non-Hispanic whites will be in the minority for the first time, and that's obviously because of the Latino-Hispanic influence.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for being with us today, Kevin O'Keefe, and I expect you're hoping for better-than-average sales.

Mr. O'KEEFE: Yes. Thank you, Neal. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Kevin O'Keefe's book is "The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen." And he joined us from our bureau in New York.

Coming up next, "Identity Crisis."

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