Early Days

John losing his worked leather wallet (RL253)

One time while John's mom was dating Bobby in the early to mid 1970:s, he was running towards Bobby's boat in the dock. His worked leather wallet with a horse on it (a worked horse, done with a little leather stamping tool), a zipper and some very important things that a 7-year old would carry in his wallet, slipped out of his pants pocket and plopped into the water. All he could do was to watch how his wallet slowly sank into the deep! It was very hard to console him in moments like that. John is not a bawler, he doesn't outwardly rend his hair and he doesn't ululate, but he just sits there and slowly sinks with the wallet into the ocean. He remembered that wallet with the horse his whole life and in the 1990:s he wrote a song about it for The Bun Family Players (it was not "Teaspoon" as Merlin suggested, because that was about a teaspoon and a girl and about other things). John wants to know when that happened on a calendar timeline and his mom should be able to give him some information. It had to have been summertime, but what grade was he in?

He loves me, he loves me not (RL158)

John got a Valentine's card in 3rd grade, showing a little girl crying and holding a flower. She had obviously been playing the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not game, plucking the petals off the flower. It was clear from the unwritten narrative that, as she had arrived at the last petal, it was ”he loves me not” and she was crying, unable to pluck it, holding the flower and imagining an alternate reality where the last petal would be that ”he loves me”. The cartoon was saying ”I will be so lonely if you won’t be my Valentine”. Even as a 3rd-grader John understood the story that was being told and it destroyed him! It was so fraught that he openly cried upon receiving it! John felt acutely for this little cartoon girl who had started off plucking those little petals full of excitement, hope and fun, but as she was running out of petals her feelings started to get darker. John wanted to do everything in the world to be able to change this story and put an extra petal on this fucking flower. He kept this Valentine, tucked it away and would take it out sometimes to look at it like it was pornography, because it will put him in this place of absolute emotional rawness. He would even do drawings of it, trying to unlock the story or change it in some way. John still has it today and probably even some of the drawings. He can picture everything about it and he still feels about this little girl when thinking about it.

The preamble of the constitution: "We, the people" (RL109)

Merlin and John can recite the preamble to the constitution thanks to the TV-program Schoolhouse Rock!. For John this had played a very important role in a pivotal moment of his education. In 7th grade of Junior High back in Anchorage, John was a program called "PACT": "Program for academically and creatively talented" to segregate the smart kids off. Merlin was in a similar project called "DEO": "Differentiated Educational Opportunities", which sounds more like the helmet class. In Seattle they were pioneering a program called "DIG!": "Differentiated Interest Group". But no matter the name: When you came back from those classes, you were hated by everyone, because you had glue in your hair and and had clearly been building rocket ships.

In Junior High your schedule transitions to hour-long classes where you move around the school and go to different teachers, yet they were able to maintain a PACT program in 7th and 8th grade. They put it over a system that already had honors classes and PACT was considered higher than the honors classes, turning it into a three-tier system. Honors were the harder classes and felt like being on a college track. You got into PACT if you were a hot-shot and a nose-picker with bowl hair that tested well. In the late 1970:s, the idea was that our children would all become baby Einsteins if we only activated their creativity, because all they needed to do in 7th grade was to draw and build Eiffel towers out of popsicle sticks. When John entered Junior High he was put in all the PACT classes, although he wasn't even ready to be in school in general. He was not ready to be with other people. In grade school he had been able to negotiate an arrangement with his 5th and 6th grade teachers to not do assignments, but instead independently read books the teachers gave him and write book reports. Otherwise he would repeat everything they said in a sing-sang voice and put sticks in his first wart.

But in Junior High, nobody was interested in making those kind of arrangements, because John had six teachers instead of one. By the end of the year he had failed all of his PACT classes and so the administrators said that he doesn't belong in PACT, because it is too advanced for him. In the next semester he therefore sat in these regular classes with these normal kids and he was mortified. One day they talked about the constitution and John would stand up and recite the preamble to the constitution that he knew from the TV-program. Nobody from the class knew what he was doing. Halfway through he was orating Abraham Lincoln and the Hawley Smoot tariff act. The teacher hightailed down to the office that he doesn't need this kid in his class, because not even he himself knows the preamble to the constitution and so they didn't know what class to put him in. They surely couldn't put him in the honors class, because that was for serious students, and they didn't want to put him back in the PACT class, because he got all Fs the year before. But in the regular class he would just throw grenades all day, so for a time John went to a different class every day and finally they put him back into the PACT class.

John says that he has now figured out the vehicle (is it a custom white van?) that he is going to use as a mobile Junior High school for his daughter when he takes her out of school. The original plan was to drive a Jeep to Tierra del Fuego, but he cannot navigate the Darian Gap, right there between Panama and Colombia. His first choice would be to spearhead a project building a road through the Darién Gap. What else would teach a child more than that? But since that seems slightly unfeasible in this day and age, his new project is to buy a GMC RV.

John’s IntelliVision video game (RW83)

When John was a kid, he didn't have any video games besides those portable Matell Football games. They were rudimentary at best, but were still so much fun! It felt like you had just enough control that it was a real game, but there was also enough randomness in it to make it really frustrating, just like that wall of lights in the relaxation room at the old SeaTac. When it became time for Christmas, John wanted an Atari 2600, because his friend across the street had one and John really liked the Combat game.

What he got was an IntelliVision with that little disc on the controller, which was still the one instance of his dad impulse-buying a toy for John that some people could argue was a good gift, rather than showing up with something that was either clearly made for younger kids or was clearly the cheaper imitation of a superior game. There was a lot going on with the IntelliVision: There was a Star Wars game and there was a module called an IntelliVoice that would talk to you in war games. The problem for John was that video gaming is very social and you are supposed to invite a friend over to play. You don’t want to just sit and play against the game. Everybody had an Atari 2600 and everybody knew how to play those games, which was one of the reasons John wanted one. Whenever he went to a friend’s houses to play, they would be good at it and John would be bad, so his friends would waste him which was fun for them. He knew nobody in Anchorage with an IntelliVision and during his whole life he only met a couple of people who said they had one, too. When he would invite people over, they would try and familiarize themselves with the disc controller, but even if they had a fun time playing, it never really turned into a thing.

There was something about the IntelliVision that made it into more of an intellectualist’s game console. There was more attention to detail in the animations of the characters running on screen and in the sprites moving around. It was a much higher end system than the Atari 2600. For Dan, it always felt a little bit janky, which is hard to explain, because the quality was clearly there, but all the Atari games, especially the Activision games like Pitfall! or Chopper Command were on a whole other level and all other games sucked compared to them. There was something on the Atari that made those games just fun to play, even though Dan knew that the Intellivision was better. The graphics were better, but there was something missing, it was the Betamax problem all over again. John’s family did have a Betamax which quite soon became useless. The argument people made in the video game magazines was that the IntelliVision had some potential for the future of gaming. John is sure that somewhere in a suburb of Chicago there were neighborhoods where six kids had IntelliVisions and they were using all that technology spearheading gaming in a new direction, but all John wanted was have some friends come over to play. He never used the term ”we” when talking about his IntelliVision, but it was a thing that had an ”I” pronoun associated with it. Neither his sister nor anybody else in the house played it.

A lot of the technology things that John would buy over the years would end up sitting on the shelf staring at him with a low hum, saying that they were gradually going obsolete and he knew it! One day they would not be useful at all anymore and you would be leaving them there alone to wither. That blood is on you! John would look at the IntelliVision and he would turn it on out of some feeling of obligation to it. There were some games he played enough to develop a callus on his thumb from using the disc, his little IntelliVision blister. Immediately after that, while new titles were still introduced for the Atari 2600, smarty pantses with TRS-80s and Apple IIes were stepping forward and said that you won’t need a game console anymore because all the gaming was now going to happen on computers. Dan’s recollection of this era is about the TI99 home computer that had a cartridge port very much like the Atari or the other devices, but he doesn’t know if a single game had ever been made for it. These things were very expensive and they plugged into your TV, jumping past the C64 / VIC-20 time period. Dan never had as much fun playing computer games than he had with the C64. It took cartridges, but if you were lucky enough you could get games on floppy discs as well. It looked like games would happen on computers from now on, but then the Nintendo dropped. It was the next iteration of home gaming and it reintroduced the idea of gaming on a standalone console, which soon became the standard way of thinking about gaming. John never asked for a Nintendo in 1985, partly because he felt burned by the IntelliVision.

When John was a Junior in High School, he felt too grown-up for video games. It was something a ten-year-old would do, but not a 16-year-old. Only two years later, gaming had become an acceptable thing for people to continue to do as they grew up. There were plenty of people of John’s age who made that transition and who did game, but he was on his way to college and he felt he should be reading books with dusty leather covers instead of letting Mario jump over barrels. Even in the 1990s this generational gap was still there when he went over to his pot-dealer’s house and everybody was sitting around getting high and playing the Nintendo, which was job number 1 for most of those people. John would sit there and watch the Nintendo getting played while doing the age-old dance where he had to hang out at this house for a while because he could not just show up, buy some pot and leave, because he didn’t have enough money. Instead he had to be like ”Ey man, I only have 8 dollars”, sitting on the couch for a while and play video games.

Extra content

During the extra content for Patreon, they continue to talk about Dan’s ColecoVision. Dan had only two games total: Smurf (possibly the worst game ever made) and Spy Hunter (where you just shot things). He didn’t even have Donkey Kong on it! At school, they would trade games for the Atari 2600. Dan traded a game once and the other kid opened up his Combat, a game that came with the Atari, and swapped the internals of the cartridge with Dan’s game. To him it was just a joke because he was one of the richest kids in the school. He had a Movado watch while Dan had a Casio. It bothers Dan to this day. ”Craig, you are a dick!” While they were talking, Dan found him on the internet and he is a dentist and a pilot and there is a picture of him out on the beach with his wife and their two kids. Dan wonders if he still has that cartridge.

John finds it to be an intellectual bummer that he is part of the last generation that did not make it onto the internet en masse. If you go to High School reunion pages, John's class of 1986 had 85 people online. By the class of 1988, their page has 450 people on it. John will always be a member of the generation that didn’t fully get online. When he looks for the people of his childhood, like for his best friend Aaron Kinneman or the girl that he lost track of or the guy who would torment him, he usually doesn’t get anything, because they had kids young and now they are grandparents and they think of the Internet as a thing for kids or something they missed the boat on. Their grand-kid showed them how to use Facebook.

Hickeys and suction cup marks (RL48)

When Merlin was about 13 or 14, at an age when this was entirely inappropriate, he went to Disneyland with his best friend John, two awkward guys with matching airbrushed shirts with the cover of Wolverine #1 on it. They went to the magic shop, bought a plastic faucet with a suction cup on it and wore it on their forehead for the rest of the day. John had one of those, but he has never worn it on his forehead. If you wear a very powerful suction cup on your forehead, it will make an exact circle of purple on your head for the next three days and you will look like somebody hit you on the head with extreme precision.

When he was the exact same age, John sat in a lunchroom, put a plastic cup around his mouth and sucked all the air out of it to create a vacuum. Afterwards he had a black and blue circle around his face that was the equivalent to sticking your tongue to a frozen pole. He felt like such a tool for the next four days and there is nothing he could do, because he couldn't just stay home from school! If somebody gave you a hickey, you could hide it by running a comb over it. Merlin was a pretty good hickey-giver and might not even always have noticed that he was doing it. He might have been possessed or something. John has never given a hickey and he wouldn’t allow anybody to give him one! To this day, if somebody starts sucking on his neck he will stop them immediately.

John's two-week military camp at Eielson Air Force Base (RL48)

Around 1981, John was at a two-week co-ed Civil Air Patrol encampment at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, staying in the old barracks that were built during WWII. John learned how to short-sheet beds at that camp. Their fatigue uniform had bloused boots even for PT. They weren’t kidding around in the Alaska Civil Air Patrol! There were not that many girls, but there were some. At one point, one of the guys got a hickey from one of the girls and it looked like a terrible purple welt. There was no disguising it because they were wearing their dress-blue uniforms that you couldn't simply accessorize with a scarf, because they weren’t in Queen Elizabeth I camp. At inspection, the guy had to stand there in his fatigues with this giant pulsating mess on his neck and the sergeant, who of course also was 13 years old, dressed him down in front of everybody because he was unprofessional and out of uniform.

Realizing that you are out of uniform if you have a hickey left a lasting impression on John. They don’t let you get neck-tattoos in the Navy, because that would put you out of uniform as well. It is a distraction to esprit de corps and that rule stuck with John to this day. John doesn’t like to be out of uniform and he has an innate sense of what the uniform of the day is. He listens to the uniform of the day announcement every day. Sometimes it says Space Cowboy, sometimes it says Preppy Asshole, and sometimes it says Coke Fiend.

The Cotillion Club (RL177)

In High school during the 80:s in Anchorage, John was a member of the Cotillion club (so was Merlin in 7th grade). A group of adults would choose which kids were the right kids to invite to this club with a special set of dances that only the chosen kids could attend. The grown-ups were the moms and dads and chose each other for future generations as well. His mom was absolutely not one of the right moms and he was definitely not one of the right kids, so when that selection happened, John was not invited. He was probably the bad element, his parents were divorced, his mother was a single mother who lived in an inappropriately large house and all the neighbors were afraid she would steal all their husbands or something. John's friends who were in the club rebelled and staged a protest in order to get John invited, a bit like their march on Selma. A week later his invitation arrived and the moms were mad because he would ruin it. Obviously very few if any people of color were invited, but that was before anybody noticed that there was problem with that.

And so they had these dances down at the Hilton hotel where members of the club, the right kids from all the schools from the whole town would congregate. That sounds like something from the 30:s, but was actually Anchorage in the 80:s The club had nothing to do with school, but was funded and run by parents who wanted the best for their kids. There was this super-class hierarchy in Anchorage at the time. People who had settled Alaska in the 50:s and 60:s came from the Northeast and moved directly to Alaska, for example directly from New Haven. They brought their old culture and implanted it in Anchorage, things like a carving station, where a person in a chef's hat would carve the meat for you. John was already a persona-non-grata with the Chaperones and he played it up: Polyester suits and bad attitude. He was the one to wear a Toga when it was time to wear a Toga, stared the Conga line, but he would also put on a tie and go to the meeting with dean Wormer. John would talk to adults and he had actually a mother say to him "You are such a bullshit artist", which he took it as the highest compliment, because this mother was driven to such frustration that she would swear to a teen.

He felt he belonged there, but as the person who was trying to make it super-fun and in the process ruin it for all time for everybody else. Over the course of a couple of years he was expelled and then allowed back in, he wrote a letter of apology and all was just a big farce. Then there was college Cotillion when you went back from college to Anchorage at Christmas break. There would be a big dance for all the college kids to talk about their fancy colleges and he would destroy that dance. There was projectile vomiting and there was spiking the punch bowl as though it was 1950.

The end-game of the Cotillion club was to let the best and the brightest understand the bond they had with one another, to begin the process of creating an old boy network already during their the youth. You were meeting one another at a time when some had already decided to become doctors, and some had decided to become lawyers, but the ones who were going to run real estate empires or owned the bank didn't quite know what they are going to do yet. Once you were all 30 years down the road and needed to take a loan in order to start a newspaper or something, you would sit down in the bank president's office and you already knew each other. That's how old boy networks get created. In Alaska, they didn't have family names like in the East, so you couldn't just say "I'm a Roosevelt".

Building pipe bombs (RW84)

There were two schools in John's High School. There was East Anchorage High, a big school with 2800 students and then there was an experimental ”school within a school”, or SWS with its own building, its own principal, teachers who taught exclusively in SWS and you had to apply to be in SWS. There were couches in the halls and it was one of those old-style hippie ideas that would allow certain students who wouldn’t fit into a normal school to learn at their own pace. Of course John thought he belonged in SWS because that was where the newspaper was. He spent his freshman year there, but afterwards they agreed that John didn’t belong in SWS, because learning at his own pace meant for him that he just did whatever he wanted. At the end of the year he was caught by Don Shackelford with a locker full of black powder, cannon fuse, blasting caps and all the makings of pipe bombs, which John was making and selling to other students. He had learned the craft through the Anarchist Cookbook and various other sources. At that time in the early 1980s, you could buy black powder at Fred Meyer and it wasn’t even behind the counter. There was a whole row devoted to hunting with things like ball shots, wadding and 30 different kinds of black powder like smokeless powder. They were selling this shit to 14 year olds, together with a bunch of pipes with end-caps from the plumbing section. Then you had to go to a gun store across town to buy cannon fuse which you would buy in 100-foot-rolls.

Later John's friend Jim McNeal discovered that you could buy solar igniters at the model rocketry store, tiny little blasting cap type things that you would stick into the rocket motors for big model rockets in order to launch them from a distance. Jim McNeal bought a whole bunch of those solar igniters, a 6-volt battery and a plunger, allowing them not only to build pipe bombs that you would light with a fuse and run, but pipe bombs that you could place at the end of 200 feet of wire and then set off with this plunger. It was great except that they were such morons, the wire wasn’t long enough and shrapnel went everywhere. They could have killed themselves if they had been a bit less lucky. As young teenagers they also had confused political believes and thought they were anarchists or Marxist/Leninist. They thought America was on the verge of a revolution or the Russians were going to invade and they were going be ready to Red Dawn them, but of course they were just kids with explosives! Dan made bombs, too. He used Hydrochloric Acid from the swimming pool and Aluminum foil, which would make a Coke bottle explode, spraying all the acid. Building bombs at that time was a normal thing to do, especially in Alaska where a lot of people were doing mining. If you would do that today, you would be in juvenile jail. At one time they set off a bomb in a municipal steel garbage can that got totally shredded and they were lucky not to get killed by this claymore. They were three of them: John, Jim McNeal and maybe Tony Hyne.

As Don Shackelford discovered that John was selling pipe bombs out of his locker, he was put on emergency suspension at the end of his 9th grade year, which was a very infrequently activated ability on the part of the school to immediately suspend a kid with no process. John had to see some outside psychologists who were trying to find out if John wanted to harm himself or harm other people. He was out of school for 9 school days at the end of freshman year before they let him back in. They wouldn’t let him back into SWS, because he couldn’t handle it, but he was allowed to go down to SWS to take classes. Don Shackelford had been promoted from English teacher to principle of SWS and he had the big office down there.

John being a trouble-maker in High School (RW84)

John had two bad teachers during his entire time as a student. One was his 4th grade teacher and the other one was his newspaper teacher. The rest of the teachers were either great or fine. In High School there were some teachers who were kind of phoning it in, but at the time he didn’t know how bad it was to teach thirty 15-year-olds about the US government. Today he can understand why they seemed a little fried. John's 4th grade teacher was a former librarian who all of a sudden became was a teacher, either because she aspired to be one or because there was a shortage, but she didn’t know how to do it. At the time John was used to being left alone, because he was a good reader and good worker, but he worked independently. All teachers prior to her understood that and when he indicated that he knew that lesson already, the teacher would give him another book to work on and it was great. But the 4th grade teacher insisted on everybody doing the assignments all together and this was the beginning of him not trusting teachers. At the end of 3rd grade when he didn’t get all the money he had earned for doing homework, that was when he learned not to trust adults, but 4th grade really cemented it. In hindsight, John should have started school a year later and he would have been a healthier, happier student if he had been one of the older students instead of being the youngest.

One of John’s favorite teachers in his whole history of school was a man named Don Shackelford and he was one of those teachers who would call bullshit on John, which a lot of the other teachers wouldn’t do. He would also call John in and tell him that this latest thing he was doing was not cool at all and John should stop doing it because it was not reading the way John though it was reading. Wearing a gardening hat with a big fake flower in it was hilarious, but walking up behind people reading the punch lines from Garfield cartoons in a very low voice was actually freaking people out. It was one of the examples that John was trying out. He wasn’t one of those teenagers who was just having sex with other teenagers, but he was reading comic books and was trying to be the editor of the paper.

In his Senior John had made himself a press pass with the lamination machine - it was the only one anyone had ever seen. Obviously the security guards, the principal, the teachers and the administrative people knew that this press pass was just something John had made, but in a way they all honored it. At the time you needed a pass if you wanted to go to the bathroom, you couldn’t just walk around the hall during class, but the security guards nodded at John’s press pass and let him go. Also the teachers let him be on official newspaper business, because they didn’t want him in class. His official business was either going to the darkroom developing pictures or going to the band room listening to the band rehearse or going down to SWS anyway although he wasn’t in it. By the end of his senior year John had quit everything except for just wandering the halls. He had quit classes that he had signed up for, he had even quit newspaper and everybody knew it, but he still had his press pass. He had been a bad homework-doer and a disruptive influence in school, but he was in it, he loved it.

In the first half of his Senior year John was in debate, newspaper, radio & television production, but then he stopped taking any kind of class. He just put together a day that was meeting almost no requirements, but it kept him off the street. He would press-pass his way out of these classes and would sit in Don Shackelford’s office. Don knew that the best place for John to be was just sitting in his office, because he didn’t get in any trouble and he would be mentoring him and pedagoging him. After a while he was giving John things to read and synopsize, things about principaling and schooling. At one point Shackelford was asked to judge a state-wide essay writing contest and was given 55-page essays by students around the state. He asked John to read them and separate them into piles, good, kind of good and bad. Don was keeping John out of trouble. High School could have ended so grandly had John become editor in chief of the newspaper, but it ended just Blah. John wouldn’t have bought a Fedora, but he also wouldn’t have started to wear a bathrobe.

As John started to come to school in a bathrobe, the teachers called him down to the office. They told him that they were concerned about him, as they always are, but this was a new level of concern. This was the type of thing where the school would stage a little intervention and tell him he can’t keep doing this. He got told he could not wear a bathrobe to school. John had always been fashion-adjacent and at that point he felt that a bathrobe expressed how he felt inside. He managed to convince them at the conference that the bathrobe was closer to a coat than it was to a bathrobe. John argued that fashion is a thing like pornography, you know it when you see it. His bathrobe was a forward thinking thing and he was just ahead of the game. However it went, John was walking out of this discussion in his bathrobe and kept wearing it.

Dan had mentioned the movie The Big Lebowski to John multiple times. The main character, the dude, frequently wears just a bathrobe out and around and Dan had suggested to John on multiple occasions that he was an embodiment of the dude, which John had rejected many times. Now Dan found out that John in fact would go out and around in just a bathrobe and maybe there is something there they should explore. The key difference is that the dude wore a raddy old bathroom made out of towel material whereas John found a beautiful Pendleton bathrobe from the 1950s that was made out of Pendleton wool with a dark green and blue pattern and a shawl collar, which worked terribly as a bathrobe because it was itchy scratchy wool, but it worked pretty well as an overcoat.

John aspiring to be the Editor in chief (RW84)

John’s instinct is to keep a copy of any newspaper or magazine that contains articles he has written or articles written about him. He could make a digital copy, but a yellow edged Alternative Weekly from 1998 is something in and of itself! John has a big bin with copies of every issue of the East High School Zaffer that was published while he wrote for the paper and while he was the entertainment editor. Then their newspaper teacher Dough Blankenship decided that he was done teaching newspapers, which was a bad decision because he was a great newspaper teacher and had it in his blood. The school hired a young gal in his place and John went down to the school during the summer when the teachers were first congregating and introduced himself as the entertainment editor and he told her that by acclamation and mutual agreement, he had become the editor in chief this year. He can’t imagine how diplomatically he had presented this idea at the age of 17, but what he remembers was that she wanted to be the editor herself.

John told her that she was the teacher and she would probably want a student to do that job. He had spent all his 3 years in High School aspiring to be the editor, which was a thing he wanted even before he entered High School. He didn’t want to work on the yearbook, because that was a completely different class. The work John wanted to do at the school was to MC all of the pep assemblies, which was a job he got by going down to the school office every day and asking when he would be starting doing the pep assemblies. He started doing it in his Junior year although this was typically a job for a Senior. Editing the paper was the number one thing he wanted to do. The teacher told him that she wanted to choose the editor herself and not just have a student come in and tell her that they are the editor. John countered that the newspaper here had a culture and institutional memory long before he joined and there was no student who was on the paper for longer or who was more dedicated to it. He used to write four articles an issue and there was no reason why it shouldn’t be him. It didn’t seem like an idea she had formulated in advance, but she was just reacting to him. John left that day bewildered and crushed, because you would think that a student who would come down to the school in the middle of the summer showing some real engagement would be something she would encourage. She didn’t end up having a successful career as a teacher.

When school started for John's senior year, he couldn’t not be on the newspaper and there were a bunch of kids, some of whom had been on the newspaper before, some of them new. His High School girlfriend Kelly Keefer had also joined the newspaper, but she didn’t really care about it. As they started the school year, John was the only one who knew how to lay out a newspaper and he was the only one who knew how to get all those articles in on time and put together. He was devoted to this craft! The teacher didn’t know how to do it, or where they needed to send it and on what day. John effectively was the editor without the honorific or the benefit of the title and she was putting her name on the masthead. She was a young teacher who didn’t know what she was doing, she had her go-get-her-boy in this class and she wanted to kick his knee out somehow. After the first quarter, she said that a student needed to be the editor and she appointed John’s girlfriend as editor in chief. He didn’t break up with her right away, but they had their issues and they ended up separating.

Kelly loved being the editor, loured it over John like he wouldn’t believe, but she didn’t know how to put out a newspaper at all. She couldn’t be less interested in it. Because she was a high achieving person, she learned quickly and learned what she needed to learn, but she was only able to put out the newspaper because John was there until 9pm, laying out the paper and figuring out where everything went. He couldn’t quit the newspaper, it was so important to him! John got D:s and F:s in every other class, he was an abject failure as a student all through High School, but he was very engaged in the newspaper. He liked going to school and being a member of the school community. He was on the student congress, he was the MC and he wanted to be the editor of the paper. Good grades didn’t matter to him, but he always got an A in newspaper.

By Christmas break he couldn’t handle the indignity anymore. It was such a profound defeat, because he had made any case he could, had gone to the teacher after school pleading, but she just had this smirk for him, she was just a bad teacher! Starting in January of 1986, John quit newspaper, because he just couldn’t do it, bleeding onto the newspaper every week and have Kelly swan around as the editor and have this teacher walk across the paper with her dirty shoes as John was laying it out on the floor. As John left, the newspaper immediately became half the size it was and had no longer any humor articles or funny cartoons in it. All the other people were just like ”This week at East High, there is a food drive, bring your canned goods to the gym”. At that point John disengaged from school in a way he had never done during his whole life from the first day of Kindergaten.

Pink leopard spots at the High school prom (RL240)

During John's senior year in High school in 1985, the Anchorage Daily News had a reporter and a photographer document the class all through the year. They picked half a dozen seniors and John was one of them. His prom date was his first girlfriend and her mom had made them matching outfits with pink leopard spot satin. At the night of the prom they went to the dance, they partied, and they kissed under the mistletoe. At 2am John had to go to work at his job as a VJ at the Catch 22 music television station and it felt very baller for him to bail out because he had to go to work. There is a photo of him in his tuxedo clocking into his job at the TV station. It was quadruply cool because they handed over the whole station to a 17-year old who ran it all by himself during the night.

In March of 2017, John's prom date asked him if he still had the prom suit because her son was about to go to Junior prom and she wanted him to wear it. John not only still had it, but he could still wear it and he had worn it to Sean Nelson's wedding. John packed it up together with all its accouterments and sent it up to her, assuming to get it back afterwards. When his daughter will be old enough, John will ask his prom date for the matching dress in return. Of course, as soon as her son is in his middle ages and needs a suit for going correct to a wedding, John will transfer it to him, but he first needs to show a little sign that he can handle the story of his grandfather's wedding suit and John's and his own prom suit. Until then John wants the suit back, because a 16-year old is not yet sentimental enough to think of it as his prom suit, which is a suit he is not going to bleed in. John has suits where he doesn't mind bleeding in, but this is not one of them. Some of the suits he bled in could not be recovered. Normally if you get home in a bloody suit, you had a pre-ammunition of it and didn't wear your best suit that night.

Another kid who was followed by the reporters at the prom was the head cheerleader, dressed in a thing from the top of a wedding cake, bleached completely white, maybe even with tiara. Her mother had told the reporters that prom night was the most important day of her life, only after her wedding day, and they wanted to make everything perfect. That was such an odd thing to say, just like people say that High school years are the best years of your life, which they are clearly not. The girl was a figure of fascination to John, because she was the head cheerleader with huge hair and a name suggesting a bubbly vivacious go-get-her person. At one time, John stole her personalized license plate and she came with her gang of 7 girls trying to get it back.

At the end of the year, John was going to leave Alaska and he settled all the bets and he was making amends. He gave her the license plate back and today he is good friends with her. She lives in Seattle, her husband works at Microsoft, and she comes to The Long Winters shows and is genuinely interested in what John does. Another guy got $200 back in $1-notes, put into a VHS-case. John also spackled a hole in the wall of one's living room. Even today, whenever John posts a picture of him in High school, everybody remembers what a pain in the ass he was at that time.

John's history of bicycle mistakes (RW66)

John's good friend Ben recently bought a vintage Schwinn bicycle with a banana seat. It has a gear shift, but otherwise it is just like the one John once had. John remembers the transition to BMX when banana seats became the bell bottoms of bike seats. John's old blue Schwinn had a flag on it, a siren from the drug store that sounded like a police siren and a microphone where he could say Breaker 1/9 into. He had a playing card in the spokes so it sounded like a motorcycle. All the kids at the time made the transition to BMX bikes, but John found that regressive, because they looked like they were for kids. He ditched his Schwinn and jumped right up to a 10-speed. As he hung out with 5 friends on BMX bikes, being they guy on the 10-speed was lame and made him a nerd. Dan interjects that all you have to do is to put the handlebars up in reverse and you would be alright. John disagrees, because handle bars up is for people with a top hat. As Dan was a kid in Philadelphia, everybody was riding around with their high water pants, their afros and having their handlebars backwards. Dan had a lot of fun while crashing with BMX-bikes on ramps.

In 9th grade John made a fatal mistake: After spending 2 years of leaving his Schwinn in the garage and riding around on that awkward 10-speed while everybody else was BMX-ing, he bought a Schwinn BMX bike for $50 from the classified ads. It was pretty knackered, but it was cool with 6-spoke integrated wheels. He was rolling up with it just at the point when everyone else was making the transition to road bikes, so now his friends are hauling ass on 10-speeds or even 12-speeds and John has to stand up on his pedals to catch up on this BMX that he had no pedigree on. He couldn't bunny hop, he couldn't do anything on it, he was just chasing after his friends who were already on some other bike adventure. John made yet another bike mistake when he got a Centurion racing bike with aluminum rims and tires as wide as a piece of chalk. As John was standing up to crank up a hill one time, he bent both the rims, just from the force of cranking up this hill side-to-side. After that he wasn't riding bikes for a couple of years.

Then mountain bikes came in - the worst idea ever, except if you are in a mountain. Mountain bikes are like BMX for grownups. John got a mountain bike from the classified ads, which actually was not a real mountain bike. It was not a stumpjumper, but a bump jumper. Something about the frame geometry told everybody it was a dad bike. At this time the bike designers could not decide about the best frame geometry for a mountain bike. A low seat was great for going downhill, but you wouldn't have the power of sitting on your seat and cranking when going uphill. At the other end of the spectrum, Haro built a mountain bike frame with an extra triangle that put the seat way up high above the handle bar and you could just motor uphill, but on downhills you were so far out over your handle bars, that it was almost dangerous. The point of mountain biking is having fun going downhill, nobody wants to go uphill. John bought one of those Haro high-seat bikes from his friend John Barnhart and was riding around on this Frankenstein praying mantis bike frame for some time. That bike got stolen, thank God!

Dan agrees that mountain bikes are terrible. He has a great 10-speed, but hasn't touched it for the last 8 or 9 years. When he was in High School, he had a Nishiki racing bike, but instead of bike shoes he had toe clips and once it turned out the grass on the side of the bike path was misleading, he fell over and couldn't stop the crash because he couldn't get his feet out. He even had to go to the college clinic and get some stitches. Now you almost can't see the scar anymore. John asks how many scars Dan has and it is not that many. His wounds are deeply internal, emotional scars from childhood that he can hide. Dan abandoned bike riding at one point around 2007 when he had those lower back issues.

John is not going to buy some wheely board and he doesn't have a skateboard, mostly because he doesn't mind walking from place to place. It never felt like an inconvenience. Last year he spent a lot of time in Venice with his millennial girlfriend where it is very flat and everybody rides their bikes. John made yet another bike transition and bought a 1958 Raleigh out of a classified ad, which he liked because it was old and cool, but it also was old. It was too small for him and they didn't make big frames back them. At one point John walked past a newfangled bike store in Seattle where they are making their own brand of bikes. They had a bike with only one speed, but it has a free wheel and is not a fixie. The challenge with it is going fast on the flat as you only can go as fast as this one gear. All of a sudden bicycling became some kind of zen exercise as he was not able to hustle. John went on the latest bike trend almost by accident: The cruiser bike. You sit upright with curved back flat handlebars, a basket on the front, almost like the Schwinn suburban that his dad had in the 70:s. You should have a loaf of French bread in there.

In 2013, the Filson company released a bicycle in conjunction with Shinola from Detroit, the Bixby bike. It has Bamboo fenders, leather seats, and as many parts as possible made out of copper with leather over it. It is an adorable, but expensive 3-speed that John got as part of his Filson sponsorship. Unfortunately, riding a Filson bike around Seattle is like wearing your own band T-shirt to your own show or wearing a Seattle T-Shirt. Riding it around New York or Iowa or Venice on the other hand is fine. It is a lot of work to ride a bike in Seattle because it is a very hilly town. John's friend and former mayor Mike McGinn commutes on his bike everywhere. The valet guy at a fancy hotel where John attended an event recently didn't find it funny that Mike had asked them to valet-park his bike. John finds his Filson bike too nice to put it in his barn and therefore he stores it right now in his house, where he has to go around it every day. He feels that he has to ride it during the upcoming summer. He also wants to teach his daughter how to ride a bike, and he is going to put it in the truck and drive somewhere to ride a bike, which feels a bit like driving to the gym.

It always feels dumb to drive somewhere to work out and it feels really dumb to drive somewhere to ride a bike. But that is the situation in Seattle unless you are one of those commuter bikers who go into cafés with their clop clop shoes and ride their bike all year long. There are commuter bike lanes, but if you venture on there with your little ding-ding-bike there will be people with helmets, little rear-view mirrors and spandex-outfits, except it is Gore-Tex, zooming past you on their way from work. They are presumably all lawyers and they give you the "Oh, isn't that nice you're on a bike"-look, just like an F18 fighter pilot looks at somebody in an ultralight, like "isn't that nice, you have a 5 HP motor on a hang glider while I could shoot you down in 400 ways". To culminate the story of all of John's bike mistakes: John has this bike in the middle of his house that is too nice to use and too nice to sit in the barn and get covered with spiders, meaning he has to look at this really nice bike every day, but he doesn't have the room for a bike in the middle of the house, really.

John pitching a tent on a garbage dump (RL25)

At the age of 17, shortly after John ever hopped a freight train for the first time, he got off in Vancouver, Washington because he didn't understand that freight trains sometimes stop and then keep going. As soon as he hopped off it went away and left him between all the tracks in the middle of the night. He was tired and stupid and he crossed a giant railroad bridge over the Columbia River looking for a place to sleep. After having been walking over rough ground he quickly found this big beautiful open area and set up his tent.

In the morning John woke up at 07:30 to the sound of bulldozers all around him. He had pitched his tent in the middle of the former St. John's Landfill in the Columbia Slough on a very thin layer of dirt they had put over the garbage. The guys in the garbage loader trucks never laughed so hard as when John went out in his underwear, got dressed and folded up his tent.

He was 17 and he was dumber than rocks. Even when you are just 18, you might have held on for a minute and asked yourself what this place was, or caught a whiff of it. It was right next to a river with a strong breeze that had covered the dump smell. It was quite a dangerous situation, because the guys in their dump trucks could just have thought that there was a piece of tent trash that didn't get mushed down and the first thing they could have done in the morning was to see who can roll over the raddy tent first, like a game of Quoits.

Between the river and the railroad they were dealing with a lot of hobos in a tent, but most of them were seasoned enough to not pitch their tent in the middle of a garbage dump and John was in the decided minority here. This story was clearly part of his list of the top 50 rookie mistakes he has made. Many garbage dumps have been cupped and turned into parks and picnic grounds and people pitch their tents there all the time. All those places will become trash mines in a future that is mining trash. It is going to be the cheapest way to get petroleum products.

John trying to adapt to other people's accents (RL25)

John had been prowling through America's underbelly, America's undercarriage, America's lady basement, and at one time at the age of 19 he was talking to someone at Cornell in Upstate New York, one of those street smart kids from the Bronx. John was telling him about all those places in West Virginia, Alabama or Tuscaloosa where he had been and he was telling him that he will always try to speak in the people's accent when he is going around the country to show them that he is a local. John would try and adopt their local mannerisms, because he thought that was how you greased the wheels, but the guy told him that he always just speaks normally, because you won't fool anybody. You just talk like you talk and they know who you are. This blew John's mind! This was a heavy lesson he learned form this kid and he stopped making the rookie mistake of going into places and trying to figure out how they do it. The guy had a comically Bronx accent and people were fine with it everywhere. He was a wise man while John was kind of a turkey by going around and mimicking people's accents back to them in a fake patois and thinking that he was really getting inside. John sees America as if it was a foreign country, but not only one foreign country, put multiple foreign countries in a big continent.

John's rugby group picture at Gonzaga University (RL48)

Junior High is disgusting! Some of the kids look like retirees and others look like toddlers. 6th-graders belong in Elementary School! Merlin didn’t have Middle School (because he was in military school?), but it gave him the shakes when he learned about it. Some of the girls in 6th grade looked like supermodels, other ones looked like they probably still needed to change their nappy. There are real stinky guys with weird mustaches in 7th grade who don't know how awkward they are. Poor bastards! Some guys grow really fast and are really uncoordinated.

When John was playing Rugby for Gonzaga University (he was there for two years before he was escorted off the campus for the last time), professional rugby shirts were very expensive and John had to come to college with his own selection of rugby shirts. It was the 1980s and rugby shirts were what guys like him wore. Gonzaga’s colors were navy blue and white and John had a sky blue and pale yellow rugby shirt, which was off by more than a quarter tone, or his G-string was just a little bit flat. The other guys did not approve and looked askance at it.

John's eternal shame results from him showing up in this shirt for their group picture. There is still a picture hanging in the hallway of the main building of Gonzaga University of that 1987 Gonzaga Rugby Squad with John in an off-color light-yellow shirt. It was a real Billy Corgan move! John will be dead 100 years and somebody will be walking through Gonzaga University, looking at the dusty photographs and wondering who this jackass was. The picture is an accurate record of the moment, because John was a jackass. And Trotsky was never in any photos! The beauty part of Supertrain should be making things right retroactively, just like he beauty part of Stalin was that he was able, capable and willing to change things over and over.

You need to look no further than our friend Mao: He was always changing his mind and when he changed his mind, everybody changed their mind with him. It was like the captain in Wall-E who woke up late and made it be breakfast time again, same deal! Stalin would paint a guy out of the picture and three years later he would paint another guy out of the picture and pretty soon he had painted all the guys out of the picture and somebody had to paint a horizon line in it. That’s the problem with tattoos: You have to live with that shit forever, you put Trotsky on your ass and you have to spend the rest of your life sitting on Leon.

John feels that when he and Merlin are starting to talk about tattoos, they are always alienating a great number of their listeners who are right now looking at their tattoos and feeling very proud of the choices that they have made, particularly when they got a My Little Pony tattoo or a tattoo of themselves as a civil war reenactor. By being so critical about tattoos, somebody who is two days away from getting a tattoo might think twice about it and that is why it is still worth saying. If Merlin can make you feel bad about your tattoo, then it should be a T-shirt. You can wear it for one year and not take it off even if you are going to a wedding. If you still like it after a year, maybe you get a tattoo then!

The Opening of the Berlin Wall (RL238)

At the age of 20, two months before the fall of the Berlin wall in September 1989, John was on a ferry boat from Tangier to Marseille on his way to meet some college friends in Florence. He struck a conversation with a guy in his mid-to-late 40:s. The guy was an American who was very comfortable on this ferry boat and had obviously done this over-night trip many times. They were smoking kief and drinking garbage beer. They really hit it off and John felt that they were so similar, just as if the guy was an older time-travel version of John himself. The guy told him he should not go back to America, but he belonged on the open ocean. John had already cut his cord and was on the way, there was nothing waiting for him back in America, no money, no friends. The guy was talking about Prague that was basically non-existent during the cold war, but just 4 months later would be on the map and John could be one of the first western students who would realize the possibilities that would open up for them. This conversation really blew Johns mind. It felt like the guy was a mentor or a teacher, a moment like the universe was trying to tell him something. The guy had already done it, had already cut his cords and was a citizen of the world.

After this conversation, John vagabonded around Europe (This encounter was exactly a decade before The Big Walk). He went to the University on Florence as planned, but when things started to fall apart in East Europe, John took a night train to Berlin on November 11, 1989 and was there when the Berlin Wall opened up. He spent 10 days with a hammer and chisel, chipping away on the wall. He unfortunately never found a photo of him from this adventure. John talks a bit about the history of the era, how he visited East Germany just a few months prior and what the procedure was, and when the East Germans went to the West through Checkpoint Charley in their Trabants and how they were received.

When Christmas time came along, he was invited by someone to Christmas dinner in Garmisch Partenkirchen. John got sentimental and thought back of his mom and became scared of being a citizen of the world. After he called his mom, he went home to Alaska for Christmas (train to Paris and flight from there), but wanted to go back to Europe, end up in Prague and explore the world - just like going home for winter break.

But as it turned out, when he was home, he "collapsed in a heap", smoked pod for 5 months and got a job at The Red Robin.

How John wanted to be a ski instructor, but ended up settling in Seattle (RW67)

There was a short period of time where John could have ended up moving to New York. He was 21 years old and he could have tried to join a literary scene. That would have created an entirely different life for him.

His plan at the time was to move to Telluride, Colorado (which is the abbreviation of "To Hell you Ride") and be a ski instructor. He went to the ski instructor office in mid October 1990 and they told him that they don't hire until late November, which was a big problem for John who had imagined he would be there early and be first in line. He had hitchhiked there and didn't even have a car to live in, so he was going to hang out in bars until somebody would offer him to sleep in their shed. Then somebody offered him to go to Boulder for Halloween. Boulder is a long way from Telluride and it is famously fun on Halloween. It used to be insane, a freaking police riot, and in 1990 Boulder was actually a tear gas police gang bang. It was high LSD time and all the kids were tripping. Immediately after Halloween, his dad called him because his aunt had died and they were having a funeral in Seattle. He offered John to fly him from Denver to Seattle, if he wanted to come to the funeral. After the funeral John realized that his dad bought him a one-way ticket to Seattle, not a round-trip ticket. It was at a time when one-way tickets were not unusual, while nowadays you have to go out of your way to get a one-way ticket.

After the funeral, John didn't have any money or reason to get back to Colorado. He stuck out his thumb to head east and couldn't get a ride, so he took the Seattle city bus as far east as it would go (which at the time was Issaquah), in the hope to at least get as far as Spokane. It was pouring down freezing rain and John was standing on an on-ramp to I90 East at 8pm with his thumb out. He could have stood there until he turned into a pillar of salt. Every single car that drove by splashed him with cold water and he spent several terrible hours standing next to this Denny's. He just was bedraggled. He felt pretty desperate, because he had taken this bus out to the commercial area and he couldn't curl up somewhere out here, meaning it was starting to look like he was going to spend the night in a Denny's. He schlepped himself over there and called his friend Brian from the pay phone. Brian was overjoyed and invited him to come over and party. It was such a great relief and so he went back on the bus and met his friend in Murphy's Irish Pub. John was offered to sleep in Brian's mom's Volkswagen Vanagon behind her house, so that was his first home in Seattle. From there the rest was history.

After Brian's mom no longer wanted to have him in her van, John ended up crashing at Eric Singleterry's house. Eric was a guy from Anchorage who let him stay because he thought he was on his way somewhere, but John just started living there for several months. He slept on a papasan in the living room which is not a very comfortable place to sleep. Then Eric and his room mate told him they were about to move to a different house and part of the reason was to move away from John. He found out where the new house was, stopped by to bring them something, ended up crashing there that night and was living there for several weeks until they finally had a house meeting where they told him that he has to stop living with them. They would go up in the morning to go to work, but John didn't have any work. At one time when they were gone, the phone rang and someone was asking for Eric because he needed to work at a show that night and as John told them Eric was not there, they asked him if he could work the show instead. So he did. It was a show by Agent Orange at the OK Hotel at 7pm and John was delegated to work on the stage. They had a couple of people who would crouch on the stage while the band played, because so many people in the audience would try to get on the stage to stage dive or rampage and dance on the stage. John's job was to prevent people from getting on the stage or if they got on the stage, throw them off, which turned into a thing because that was what they wanted to do anyway. This was the moment when John was converted to Seattle.

He would not become a ski instructor in Telluride and he would not move to New York and become a member of a literary club, but he is going to be this, whatever it was, however long this lasted. And everything he ended up doing was a product of this fateful decision. At the time he had thoughts of becoming a stage actor at a local alternative theater scene, or a writer. Musician was pretty far down. He didn't have a calling and he didn't think he had a talent for it. He was 21 years old and it felt like the people who wanted to be rock musicians had known that since they were 13. With 20 he already felt like he was too old to chose to be a rock musician. Most of the people he knew were already pretty good at music when they came out of High School. John knew 5 notes on the guitar and had written a couple of songs, but mostly jokey acoustic guitar songs. Learning the guitar was was for him just something you spend a little bit of time on in order to learn 5 chords.

Not having any pictures from age 17-22 (RL58)

There are no pictures of John between the ages of 17 and 22. Maybe the King County Sheriff’s Office or people at Gonzaga have pictures, or there are pictures taken at parties where John is walking through the room as a blur in the distance, like that picture of Lincoln at the Gettysburg address where you have to really zoom in. There are no pictures of John hopping a freight train because none of those things were documented.

There were certainly people taking pictures back then and John knew girls in college who had 25 albums with photos of white people at a party with red eyeballs, smiling and holding a drink up to the camera. A lot of people back then did not think of themselves as photographers and John’s instinct was to do, not to document, an instinct he preserved until not very long ago. He had profound experiences with many people on the side of the road somewhere and none of them exist anywhere else than in his memory.

His whole life John had been a really picky eater until a pivotal moment in the middle of the night at a little restaurant in Innsbruck, Austria. He got served asparagus for the first time and this woman and her little restaurant are a flag planted in his imagination. When his daughter is old enough to hear that story, she is probably going to hear it 1000 times. He will be sitting in a rocking chair at 85 years old and when somebody will offer him some asparagus he will say ”Funny story! I never used to have asparagus until this one time…”

If John had documented that restaurant, checked in to that restaurant, blogged about it, written it down or Yelped it, then it would not be a flag in his imagination in the same way. It would be a place he had pictures of that might still exist and that he might have tried to go back to at some point.

Instead his memories are like fairy tales or nursery rhymes. That version of Innsbruck, Austria exists in his mind as something out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. John has no scrapbook about it and he doesn’t want one either. He would look at a picture of this woman and she would have White Power tattoos on her knuckles that he hadn't noticed at the time because he was so excited about eating asparagus.

One of Merlin’s favorite photos of his mom and dad is of them hugging. It is a great moment, but he always notices the very old can of Coke from 1972 in the background. Merlin treasures that photo and, not to be all fucking Susan Sontag or whatever, but a photograph and the act of photographing changes the whole experience.

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