'Misery Loves Company' | Ep. 168

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Ever heard the saying, “Misery loves company”?

Some say it means that unhappy people like sharing their troubles with other unhappy people – they “commiserate.” But others say it means that unhappy people want everyone else to be unhappy too, so they can feel better about themselves.

In today’s story we’ll find a whole new meaning for this expression – when Misery comes to life!

Our story is called “Misery Loves Company.” It’s inspired by tales told in the Eastern European countries of Poland and Ukraine.

Voices in this episode include Hrishikesh Hirway, Joshua Malina, and Samin Nosrat. Hrishikesh Hirway is a singer-songwriter whose latest album is Rooms I Used To Call My Own. He’s also the host and creator of the podcast and Netflix original series, Song Exploder. He loved keeping Samin Nosrat company as co-host of their podcast, Home Cooking, and he loved keeping Joshua Malina company as co-host of their podcast, The West Wing Weekly.

Joshua Malina is an actor whose TV credits include The West Wing and Scandal; he currently co-hosts the podcast, Chutzpod. Samin Nosrat is the author of Salt Fat Acid Heat and hosts the Netflix series by the same name.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Circle Round’s supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes we feel amazing; sometimes we feel downright miserable!

When we’re feeling sad and blue it can be hard to think about all the good things in life. To help you remember, you can make your very own Good Things Jar!

1. Find a jar.

2. Cut out some strips of paper.

3. On each strip, write down one good thing in your life. It could be your favorite food, your favorite animal, a treasured friend, a treasured memory.

4. Use as many strips as you can to write as many Good Things as you can.

5. Next time you’re having a rough go of it, pick a strip of paper from your Good Things Jar and read it. If you’re feeling down, it may very well help cheer you up!

Musical Spotlight: The Accordion 

Composer Eric Shimelonis playing the accordion, an instrument thought to originate in Germany, though you can hear its music in many places, including Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Europe, the US, and Canada. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)
Composer Eric Shimelonis playing the accordion, an instrument thought to originate in Germany, though you can hear its music in many places, including Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Europe, the US, and Canada. (courtesy of Rebecca Sheir)

This week’s instrument is sometimes referred to as a “squeezebox.” Why? Because to make music with it, you do a lot of squeezing!

The accordion is a box-shaped instrument with pleated bellows in the middle. You push (or compress) and pull (or expand) the bellows while pressing buttons or keys. The reeds inside the accordion then vibrate to produce sound.

The accordion is popular in many parts of the world. In Europe, many conservatories actually have classical-accordion departments, and in the United States, the piano accordion (i.e. the particular type of accordion we used in this week’s story) is the official city instrument of San Francisco, CA!


NARRATOR: On a winding lane in a quiet village there lived two neighboring farmers: Olek and Oleksandra. Olek and Oleksandra both had apple trees in their front yards and vegetable gardens in the back. Both had barns for cows and coops for chickens.

But that is where the similarities ended.

You see, the apple trees in Olek’s yard produced bushels of shiny red fruit.

OLEK: Look at all these apples! I’ll be baking pies for months!

NARRATOR: But the apples on Oleksandra’s trees were meager and pale.

OLEKSANDRA: Uch! One measly apple and it’s as sour as a lemon!

NARRATOR: Olek’s garden was bursting with massive pumpkins and cabbages.

OLEK: Good golly! This one’s as big as a wash basin!

NARRATOR: Yet Oleksandra’s garden wouldn’t grow a thing.

OLEKSANDRA: For pete’s sake! Not even a sprout today? Not one?

NARRATOR: Olek’s cows were plump and healthy.

OLEK: My word! With the milk these cows produce, I could open an ice-cream parlor!

NARRATOR: Oleksandra’s cows, meanwhile, were skinny as a beanpole.

OLEKSANDRA: Heavens to betsy! I haven’t seen a drop of milk in weeks. Weeks!

NARRATOR: Olek’s chickens laid more eggs than he could count.

OLEK: …Sixty-three, sixty-four, sixty-five! Oh! Make that sixty-six!

NARRATOR: But Oleksandra was lucky if she collected a dozen eggs a month.

OLEKSANDRA: Not one egg today, Rosie? Nor you, Ruby? Nothing?!??

NARRATOR: In short, it was as if Olek had all the good luck… and Oleksandra had all the bad. And it nearly brought the poor farmer to tears.

OLEKSANDRA: Ugh! No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to catch a break! With everything on my farm failing, I have nothing to eat, nothing to sell at market… unlike my neighbor Olek, who seems to possess more good fortune than I could ever dream of! Maybe I’ll ask him for advice!

NARRATOR: But when Oleksandra went down the lane and paid Olek a visit…

OLEK: So let me get this straight, Oleksandra. You want me to give you… advice?!?

OLEKSANDRA: That’s what I was hoping! Just a little guidance! Neighbor to neighbor… farmer to farmer…

OLEK: (Sigh.) Look, Oleksandra. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t give advice to someone like you!


OLEK: Well, look at you, neighbor! Look at your pathetic apple trees! Your dismal garden! Your bony cows! Your eggless chickens! It’s clear that misery follows you wherever you go! And I suspect it always will! But hey! With misery always hanging around, at least you’ll never be lonely, right? After all, you know what they say: misery loves company!

OLEKSANDRA: (Big sigh.) So it seems. Thanks for your time, neighbor.

NARRATOR: Oleksandra’s heart was heavy as she trudged away from Olek’s house and headed back toward her farm.

OLEKSANDRA: Well that didn’t do a bit of good! Not only did Olek refuse to help me – he flat-out made fun of me! But maybe he’s right. Maybe misery will always follow me wherever I go!

MISERY: Oh, not “maybe,” Oleksandra! Definitely!

NARRATOR: Oleksandra stopped in her tracks.

OLEKSANDRA: What?!? Who said that??

MISERY: I did! Look behind you!

NARRATOR: Slowly, Oleksandra turned her head. Standing behind her was a man dressed all in black. Black jacket, black boots, black cape, black hat. He even had a bushy black mustache.

OLEKSANDRA: I’m sorry, but do I know you?

MISERY: Do you know me? Do you know me?!?? Of course you know me, Oleksandra!

OLEKSANDRA: But I’ve never seen your face before!

MISERY: Perhaps not, but you’ve certainly seen my handiwork! Your pathetic apple trees… your dismal garden… your bony cows… your eggless chickens! You have me to thank for all of them! Why, I’ve been keeping you company for years! And if there’s one thing I love… it’s company!

NARRATOR: Upon hearing those words, Oleksandra’s blood ran cold.

OLEKSANDRA: Wait a minute! You’re not…?!?

MISERY: …Misery?!? That’s precisely who I am!

NARRATOR: Oleksandra’s heart hammered in her chest.

OLEKSANDRA: So you’re Misery?! The one who’s been ruining my life?! And making me utterly, absolutely, downright –

MISERY: …Miserable? Yes, that’s me. I’m very good at my job!

OLEKSANDRA: But haven’t you had enough already? My farm is in shambles! My life is in shambles!

MISERY: Oh, I’ll never have enough, Oleksandra! Wherever you go, I will follow. I plan on staying with you forever and ever!

NARRATOR: In a panic, Oleksandra took off down the road at a full sprint, but within seconds…

MISERY: You can’t run away from me!

NARRATOR: …Misery was by her side.

So Oleksandra raced into a field and climbed up a tree. But just as she reached the top…

MISERY: You can’t climb away from me!

NARRATOR: …Misery was by her side again!

Oleksandra tried swimming across a stream...

MISERY: You can’t swim away from me!

NARRATOR: …Jumping over a hedgerow…

MISERY: You can’t jump away from me!

NARRATOR: 'Til finally, she found herself in a clearing in the forest, right next to a deep cave. Oleksandra plopped down on a fallen log. Misery plopped down beside her.

MISERY: That was an admirable chase, Oleksandra. But I told you: I’m staying with you forever! Wherever you go, I will follow.

NARRATOR: Oleksandra’s heart was racing. But so was her mind. She knew she must find a way to get rid of Misery, once and for all.

And suddenly, as she glanced around the forest, she knew exactly what that way would be!

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think Oleksandra’s big idea is?

Will she find a way for Misery to no longer keep her company?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “Misery Loves Company.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, Misery was – quite literally – keeping Oleksandra company. But after Misery chased Oleksandra to a clearing beside a cave, the farmer suddenly knew how she would get rid of Misery once and for all.

OLEKSANDRA: (Hatching her scheme) So, Misery… you said before that wherever I go, you will follow?

MISERY: Absolutely! I plan on keeping you company forever!

OLEKSANDRA: In that case, I might as well lock myself up in this deep, dark cave here! I can’t think of anything more miserable than that!

MISERY: Oh, living out your days in a deep, dark cave would be miserable indeed! The deeper and darker, the better!

NARRATOR: Oleksandra smiled.

OLEKSANDRA: How right you are! Given that you’re the expert on all things miserable, would you mind stepping inside the cave and checking it out? You know, make sure it’s as deep and dark as possible?

MISERY: I wouldn’t mind at all!

NARRATOR: With a flick of his cape, Misery sprang into the cave. The moment he did, do you know what Oleksandra did? She grabbed a great big stone and pushed it over the cave’s entrance!

MISERY: Oleksandra! What are you doing?

NARRATOR: Then Oleksandra grabbed another stone…

MISERY: Oleksandra??

NARRATOR: …And another…

MISERY: Oleksandra!!

NARRATOR: …Until the cave’s mouth was blocked off completely.


OLEKSANDRA: Ha! You see that, Misery? With these stones covering the cave’s entrance, there’s no way you can keep me company again! Now my fortune is bound to change!

NARRATOR: And wouldn't you know it… it did!

And right away!

When Oleksandra got back to her house, the first thing she noticed was how her apple trees were loaded with shiny red apples.


NARRATOR: The next thing she noticed was how her vegetable garden was teeming with massive pumpkins and cabbages.


NARRATOR: The next thing she noticed was how full her cows’ udders were.


NARRATOR: And the last thing she noticed was the great big pile of eggs each of her chickens was sitting on!


NARRATOR: Now that Oleksandra’s farm was thriving, she had plenty to eat, and plenty to sell at the market. Soon she made enough money to plant an orchard of apple trees, to add corn and potato plants to her garden, to buy another handful of cows, and to build her chickens a brand new coop!

But every morning, before she went to market, she’d make her way to the clearing beside the deep, dark cave, to make sure the entrance was still blocked with stones.

OLEKSANDRA: Thank goodness – everything is where it should be! What’s in this cave will stay in this cave! And my good fortune will continue!

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, down the lane from Oleksandra’s farm, Olek noticed his neighbor’s newfound prosperity… and was burning with curiosity – and confusion.

OLEK: What on earth has become of Oleksandra’s pathetic apple trees? And her dismal garden? Her bony cows! Her eggless chickens! Somehow Misery is keeping her company no longer! I must investigate!

NARRATOR: The next morning, Olek hid behind a fence as Oleksandra started off for the market. Olek followed close behind as Oleksandra made an unexpected detour and headed into the forest.

OLEK: The forest?!? Why is Oleksandra going into the forest? No matter! I will follow!

NARRATOR: When Oleksandra reached the clearing, Olek jumped behind a bush. He watched as Oleksandra walked up to the cave and inspected the stones.

OLEKSANDRA: Wonderful! The stones are still stacked as tight as can be. What’s in this cave will remain in this cave, and my good fortune will continue!

NARRATOR: As Oleksandra turned and left the forest, Olek stayed behind… and clapped his hands with glee.

OLEK: Now I get it! Oleksandra has stumbled upon a trove of treasure! And she’s hiding it inside that cave! She put the stones in front of the entrance so that nobody will go inside and steal her gold! Well, neighbor, your “good fortune” is about to be mine!

NARRATOR: Once Olek was certain Oleksandra was gone, he jumped out from behind the bush. He ran to the cave’s entrance and began removing the stones, one by one.

OLEK: (Exertion as he moves heavy stones.) There you go… and now this one… and this one…

NARRATOR: And the moment he removed the final stone…

OLEK: There!

NARRATOR: …Who should come leaping out of the cave…

MISERY: Why, hello!

NARRATOR: …but Misery!

Olek was dumbfounded.

OLEK: Who are you?!?

MISERY: Oh, don’t you know?!? Now that you’ve freed me from this cave, I’m your new best friend! Or new worst friend, perhaps. Either way, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

NARRATOR: And thus it was that Misery moved in with Olek. He poisoned his apple trees, he dried up his garden, he cursed his cows and put a spell on his chickens.

Wherever Olek went, Misery followed.

Because after all, if there’s one thing Misery loves… it’s company.

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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