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Mike McGee - "The Birds And The Bees"

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Snappers, I am so excited for you to hear this. Last week, we gave you a taste - a taste of SNAP Live! storytelling magic. But this week, dinner is served. From PRX and NPR, we proudly present SNAP JUDGMENT - the finale. Ushers are standing by making sure the aisles are clear.

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WASHINGTON: We join SNAP Live! - already in progress.

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WASHINGTON: Now next up, we've got a guy who travels the world telling poems. He's a poet. But I asked him none of that.

(LAUGHTER)

WASHINGTON: Today, come tell us a story poetically. I proudly introduce "Mighty" Mike McGee.

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MIKE MCGEE: When I was nine years old, I believed in magic. Not a kids cartoon utopia were Muppets, Smurfs, autobots, unicorns all live in a hidden castle made of Legos - although that sounds awesome.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: No, I was a realist.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: I longed for a more natural magic, one in which all the knowledge of the universe could be revealed if all of the right elements were put in place in the proper setting. Now, I had heard in school about two things that sounded very magical - one was Halley's Comet and the other was the birds and the bees.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: All my friends were itching to ask their dads about that one. I figured maybe this was the magic I was looking for.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Suddenly, I was sent to live with my father - my Army father on an Army base in Fort Lee, Virginia. The decision to send me to live with my father gutted my mother. But it had been decided through the courts that I should stay with him for a year. Plus living on an Army base would save us a bit of money in medical bills because of my condition. My condition is spina bifida. It's a spinal birth defect that usually comes with a variety of complications. And I figured living with my dad could be kind of cool. And maybe he would be able to clue me in on even a part of the magic that is the birds and/or the bees.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: In Virginia, I met my new stepmother and baby brother and immediately launched into a campaign to find out more about the birds and the bees. The first real father-to-son conversation I thought I was about to have with my dad, I asked him to tell me about it. He vetoed it immediately...

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: ...Saying that I was just a little too young for that topic. This just further mystified the subject for me.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: My father being a military policeman worked very long hours at the police station. So I just sort of hid out in my bedroom, watched the sky for Halley's Comet, listened to the radio. Fort Lee left very little for me to believe in.

One morning, I woke up and I went to tie my shoes. And when I bent over, an electric jolt of pure pain shot through my spine to my brain, becoming an instant migraine. I asked my stepmother for aspirin. Then I did again the next day and the day after.

She grew concerned and alerted my father. The local Army clinic decided that I needed more advanced treatment, three hours north in Washington, D.C. Because my appointments were very early in the morning, this created an opportunity for my father and I to take long road trips together overnight, so that he could get back in time to report for duty in the afternoons at Fort Lee.

The first real conversation I finally had with my father was on our first drive to D.C. - him looking ahead down the road, me looking easterly out the window for Halley's Comet.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Dad, have you ever seen a comment? I don't think so son. But I'm pretty sure I saw a UFO once.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: What?

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: No way. My dad smiled, cracked the window, lit an unfiltered Camel cigarette and launched into a long explanation on UFOs. Then he launched into another great story. Then I told him a story. We traded into the night.

I couldn't understand though why comets weren't these giant unavoidable obvious fireballs of death zig-zagging across the sky scaring the crap out of everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: That would have made my job a lot easier. CAT scans, MRIs, spinal taps, overnight stays - my father took every chance he could to sleep in a cot next to my hospital bed. The doctors would check me out and then ask my dad to come speak with them very seriously in the hallway while I got dressed. On the way home - one of the last drives home - my father explained to me that I had a tethered spinal cord. It was fusing to my vertebrae. If I moved in the wrong way or had a growth spurt, it could tear and I would most definitely be paralyzed. So they had to operate very soon. I could still be paralyzed but I could also die.

So my father and I made that last drive to D.C. for my operation. He was scared. And he became overly sentimental. And he mistakenly offered me an opportunity to ask him anything I wanted to know about life.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Anything? Anything. The birds and the bees?

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: I only paused so I wouldn't sound as eager as I actually was. The dude left his guard down. Right? So...

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: OK, son. Well, when a man and a woman love each other very very much - well, OK, let's go back a little bit.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: You know that men have a penis, obviously. And women have the vagina. It's like a glove.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: It's - it's glove-like.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: And when a man loves her very very much and only when he loves her, he places his - wait, dad. Yes? Is this about sex?

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Yes. The birds and the bees is about sex?

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Oh. Well, mom told me all about that when I was five.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Well, now why'd she go and do that? Because I asked her where babies come from. And she said sex. And then she told me exactly how to do sex. And now I know everything about sex.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Well, now hold on - not everything. It gets more complicated as you get older. So if there are any details you need filled, go ahead and ask me.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: The car grew very quiet and awkward...

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: ...For a long moment. Wait, son, what was it exactly you thought the birds and the bees was about?

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: I don't know. I just kind of hoped it was about magic.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Like, every kid gets an opportunity to go on a journey by themself all alone. Their dad hands them a bird and their mom hands them a bee.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: And then they drop them off at the forest with a snack.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: And then the kid goes in the forest alone. And they look for an ancient log. And then they stand on the log. And then they introduce the bird to the bee. And if they kiss, then the clouds part and the sky opens up. And all of the knowledge of the universe rains down on the log.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: They don't have to stay on the log. But they're allowed to catch however much knowledge they can carry. And that's why there's smart people and that's why there's dumb people.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: That's a way better reason, son.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: Now, son, I need you to understand this - this surgery you're about to go and have is pretty dangerous. There's a lot of risk involved. And I think you're pretty brave for going through with it.

And I want you to know that I love you so much. And that no matter what happens to you, I'm going to be there for you all the way through it. Dad, could I die?

Hold on, Michael. And he pointed to the needle on the gas gauge. We pulled off the highway into a gas station where he refilled the tank, his coffee and his cigarettes. This was the event of a lifetime for me right then and there. Instead of watching the sky for a deadbeat that only comes around every 76 years...

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: I watched my 28-year-old father step out of that gas station, light a cigarette, sip his coffee and stare at the sky in a very familiar way. Halley should have been nearby. But my father was right there for me, sacrificing sleep, his career, his paycheck for me, searching the sky for a promise that I would live. Spoiler alert - I totally did.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGEE: But he also looked for a guarantee that I wouldn't be paralyzed. But I was. I was paralyzed for a while after the operation. But back at that moment at that gas station under the stars in the middle of nowhere, my father had no idea when my comet would come and if I would even live to see it.

So he put out his cigarette, came back to the car, got inside and he looked right at me. Michael, it's going to be OK. Really? Yeah, it is. My father didn't get any hard answers from the stars that night. But what he did get was hope. And apparently, hope is just a word grownups use for magic. So I did the only thing I could do - the one thing we both needed me to do. I believed him.

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WASHINGTON: "Mighty" Michael McGee.

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WASHINGTON: Yes, for a short time only, you can see this performance in all of its majesty for free at snapjudgment.org. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies because you're cool like that. Now, when SNAP JUDGMENT returns, a powerful story from a young girl standing on the edge of a very high cliff. Don't go anywhere - SNAP JUDGMENT Live!

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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