OM245 - Mesoamerican Ball Game

This week, Ken and John talk about:

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School breaks in America (OM245)

Kids in Seattle get a full week off school for Presidents' Day, which is called mid-winter break. There is also a winter break, but that often already begins in late autumn around solstice. According to John there should be a Thanksgiving break of a week, a Christmas/New Year’s break that is two weeks, a mid-winter break, a spring break, and school should get out on June 1st and never start before late August. Ken agreed with that when he was a kid, but as a parent his interests are a little different on the matter.

Ken finds it hilarious that it is called Presidents' Day break when it lasts 9 days because that means 5 presidents per day. Saturday is for Washington through Madison, Sunday for Monroe and so on 5 days per American president and two days for Grover Cleveland. Ken initially said ”5 days per president”, but that would be a 225 day break and this week we would think about Millard Fillmore. John celebrates his entire catalog. In some parts of the country this break is essentially a ski break, but that is not what people do in Seattle.

By the time you get to mid-February the weather in Seattle has been bleak for at least two months and the school district knows that people are just going to bail and go to Disney Land or Bend, Oregon. Ken and John think of that time as a wonderful time to go to a sunny climate, but most Seattleites cannot leave for a week to go to the Azores, but they just spend a week without their kids being in school in the cold dark rain while they are still sad at work at Amazon and they have to send their kids to the YMCA day camp.

Ken knows plenty of people who prioritize to take a week off in February. All of the people he knows are upper-middle-class computer programmers, but that is also a high percentage of Seattle at this point. We don’t have to worry about privilege in Seattle because everybody has the same awful, equal privilege. Ken and John both went on vacation for President’s Day weekend this year.

Valentine’s day in school, John’s box of chocolates for Laurie Basler (OM245)

We really want a week off for Valentine’s Day, but everyone is embarrassed to admit it. Ken thinks that Valentine’s Day is only fun at school when you get to decorate little box with a slot in the top. His earliest sexual memory is cutting a slot into a box for girls to slide their valentines into. Valentine’s Day was always totally dramatic for John because he always had one valentine for a special girl and it was the one valentine he never delivered. He was such a Charlie Brown!

You were meant to give a valentine to every single kid in the class because they didn’t want you to play favoritism, but John’s version of favoritism was that he never gave the valentine to his special girl. He bought 29 Dukes of Hazzard valentines and he handcrafted a special one with lace and red construction paper for his special girl, but he never gave it to her.

Later she would go through her bag of valentines, wondering where the one from John Roderick was because she had a huge crush on him, but there was none because John had spent a week and a half making one and then all those valentines collected at the bottom of his locker. John still has all of them today!

In 5th grade he bought a box of Brach’s Chocolate for a girl and he obviously didn’t give it to her on Valentine’s Day, so it sat in his locker until May, at which point his dad stopped by the school to look for a missing sociology book and he opened John’s locker, asked: ”What is this box of chocolates in here?” and John’s valentines for Laurie Basler, the little red-headed girl, got eaten by David Roderick, a pattern that still exists in John’s life today.

John going to Hawaii to visit his uncle Jack (OM245)

Around President’s Day John spent 10 days on Maui where he goes every year to visit his uncle Jack. In the late 1960s his aunt Julia Lee and her husband C. Calvert Knudsen together with 3 other couple friends bought an acre across the street from the beach in Kihei they built 4 identical houses around a tennis court in 1970. Their last names all started with a K: the Kitchells, the Ketchums, the Knudsens, and John forgot was the 4th one was.

There were no other houses around, it was just surrounded by dunes, and they would fly down on a 727 to spend their weeks in Hawaii. That side of the family was from the South and aunt Julia’s daughter’s first name is Page, John’s cousin Page, after their ancestor Colonial Governor of Virginia John Page.

This mid-century compound remains in the families and is now surrounded by $20 million mansions, but it is still surprisingly humble given that the bungalow across the street is on sale right now for $12 million despite it being a one-bedroom shack and a total teardown with the value just being in the property. Ken once stayed in a condo just a few blocks away from there. When John was a kid they would vacation there.

John’s uncle Jack is now 94 years old and lives in Alaska and cannot be in Alaska January through March because it is just too hard to be 94 there. You step out of the house and it is instant trudgery. He spends those three months every year in Maui instead and John is on a short list of cousins who needs to go spend a week or two with him because he needs a little bit of help and he needs somebody to make Macaroni and Cheese for him and to butter his bread.

John does not put spam in the Mac & Cheese because his uncle is not trying to have a legit Hawaiian cultural experience. He just is there because it is warm and he is working on his autobiography, while John is working on his Aloha. Last year John had a wonderful experience finding Aloha there, but this year he struggled to find Aloha and he realized that when other people are involved it is harder to find Aloha. Aloha is not other people. Ohana is other people (it means ”family”). You need to find Alohana, a balance.

John going from Morocco to Algeria (OM245)

In the late 1980s John went from Morocco to Algeria and the number of different offices and photographs and stamped documents and things stapled into his passport that he had to go through was astonishing. He had to go to Rabat just to get somebody to stamp and write on a piece of paper and take it back to Ourrzazate of wherever he was.

When John finally got to the border Algerian guards told him he couldn’t come into Algeria: "Don’t be ridiculous!" and John only crossed the border to talk to the guy in the kiosk. The week before 7 French tourists had been tied to a pole and burned alive and John was not safe there, which was a bummer because he had been all excited.

Ken’s vacation in Belize and Guatemala (OM245)

Around Presidents' Day 2020 Ken went on vacation because they needed some sun, if nothing else for the Vitamin D. It is really brutal in Seattle and there was a record of number of days of consecutive rain before it finally broke over 40 days. Sadly not everyone died like in the Bible, which was what Ken was hoping for. The seas rose up, but only to knee-high. Ken went to Belize and the airport was full of T-shirts with Belize/Believe puns. They really embraced it because it is the only Central-American country where you can make those puns because English is the official language and the US Dollar is kind of the official dollar.

Belizean Dollars sound like a huge amount of money and they are pegged to the US, but confusingly not 1:1, but 2:1, so 2 Belizean Dollars is one American Dollar. Both are in circulation all the time because when Belize, the former British Honduras, got independent in 1981 they embraced eco-tourism with a beautiful coral reef and a rainforest.

Ken spent a few days in San Pedro, which is Madonna’s La Isla Bonita, but it is no longer quite as bonita because it is full of large Midwestern men in golf carts. Everyone there, like Madonna, speaks in a strange quasi-British accent. Prices are always just listed in dollars and you have to ask. Ken had a great time in this beautiful country.

John has never been to Central America. He has been to the Yucatán, but he has not gone across the blood-brain-barrier, which is the Mexican border, not the Darian gap. Ken had been to Costa Rica once before because the kids wanted to see Sloths. They loved it and wanted to go back, but Ken wanted to go somewhere different and the compromise was Belize.

Ken visiting an Aztec excavation site in Guatemala (OM245)

They rented a car and drove across the border into Guatemala. It turns out that driving across the border between two Central-American nations is something you have to allot an hour for. They are stamp-happy, but they also want you to do a dotted line like one of The Family Circus kids (Bill Keane’s Dotted Line). They want to give you a stamp, send you to a different line to show the stamp, and that guy over there will ask you where your photocopy is and send you to a little Bodega across the way where a guy gives you a thing and there is a price for his photocopy, which seems like a con, but what are you going to do?

Ken's family had to do this whole song and dance with two different currencies, four different gentlemen of two different nationalities, and two different car disinfecting things which looked bogus and seemed to be just a car wash. They also had to change Belizean Dollars to Guatemalan Quetzals, named for the beautiful green bird, and Ken wished that the American Dollar also would be named for a beautiful American bird. Then they would be spending American Eagles, Whooping Cranes, or Wild Turkeys. How many California Condors will you give me for a Wild Turkey?

These people are not incentivized to make the process easy for affluent Westerners to get across because it is a chance for them to extract as many Quetzals as they can. They know you need them for this time only, while for decades they needed those awful white people. They don’t expect you to be fluent in Spanish either, which Ken is. If John was surveying a group of any 20 people on the street, even in Norway, Ken would be the last one he would expect to speak Spanish.

Maybe Ken made the mistake of speaking to them in Spanish because they then did the rest of the thing in Spanish, and maybe he should have kept it under his hat because then he could have overheard their sidebar conversation. 80% of the advantage of learning a second language is that you can gaslight people for 20 minutes while they are working an angle on you.

The reason Ken visited Guatemala was to visit Tikal, the largest archeological excavation in North America. It is a huge Mayan city, bigger than Chichen Itza. Tikal is the base from which the Rebel Alliance destroys the Death Star at the end of the first Star Wars movie and John has memorized every inch of it during 700 consecutive watchings of Star Wars!

John loves a Star War or a Star Track, and he used to pause his bootleg VHS tape to examine those Mesoamerican pyramids. Ken remembers the time when you could only get Star Wars on bootleg VHS and he had Jedi on bootleg VHS. It was in Korea, so who knows where it came from, but it may have been an early example of being shot in the theater.

John has been to Chichen Itza and it is astonishing! The jungle there has been cleared away now, but so many Aztec sites are still undiscovered because they are covered with wines and forest and people aren’t even aware they are there. Tikal is still surrounded by rainforests. Some of the temples have been half excavated, but some of them are not.

You walk through the jungle and see a suspiciously pyramidal mountain and you realize that this is on your map as Temple Complex B, a massive stone-and-mortar building that has not been excavated and has trees growing out of it. Some of them have been cleared and you can climb up several of them. In Star Wars you see massive stone pyramids rising from the trees where they put in the X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon.

John has a friend from Mexico, her mother is Mexican and her father is English, and she did a DNA test and discovered that she was half Aztec and through all of the years of Spanish incursion her mother had retained complete indigenous DNS. There was no Spanish DNA in her, which is astonishing after 400 years.

Ken and Mindy visiting to Cambodia (OM245)

One time Ken and Mindy took a bus from Thailand to Cambodia, just to got to Angkor for a couple of days, and they really had to follow detailed instructions on the Internet about all the people who were going to cheat them and what they kept saying to them as they drove you around on their little motorcycle. You just have to say: ”No, this is not the border, this is just your uncle’s con-job office! Please take us to the actual border!” and after doing that 5 times they eventually reached the actual border.

Neighborhood stick fights (OM245)

There is room for a violent outlet in human society and there should be a sport of violence where the violence is truly concentrated, called Neighborhood Stick Fight. Every neighborhood should have a stick fight team and a city would have 25 neighborhood stick fight teams and they would meet on the field of battle, which is a street in the neighborhood. In this game death is not counted out and your city-wide stick fight champion would go up against the neighboring city, all the way up to national stick-fighting teams. Someone could potentially die in every match, and there is going to be a lot of scarring.

There should be a sport where the possibility of death looms larger than in Football or Baseball. The problem with Football is that we pretend it is safe, while in Neighborhood Stick Fights there would be no pretense and that is important to the game. The Mesoamerican ballgame was used by the Mayans as a proxy for war. The same is true today with the NFL: We must defend our city by sending squadrons of kids from marginalized backgrounds to let them get beat up and risk head injury on our behalf so we can say that we have defeated the squadron from Huston, Texas. This is an innate tribalistic desire.

Stick Fighters are going to be self-selecting and we are not just going to send poor kids to stick fight academy because if you would tell the people in your neighborhood that we were going to have a stick fight to defend Finney Rich, there would be guys volunteering for that. John doesn’t think this can be trained out of the human race and with every attempt we make to do that the violence just reappears in places where we don’t want it.

The real solution for countries wanting to go to war is for the two crusty old people who are their leaders fight each other in a Wrestling situation. It is like a Franky Goes To Hollywood video, but with Regan and Gorbachov in Wrestling costumes. We would have strong men as leaders again because they would have to literally be budding heads with one another. Somebody would have to get Putin off his horse. John could do that!


Ken went to the first game of the Seattle Dragons, their new XFL team, which is: ”What if football didn’t have good players and some weird rules?”

John just took Twitter off his phone and is not going on Twitter because it is bad for him, which he had known for a long time, but now he is committed to not taking this terrible drug that makes him unhappy.

John has visited the new Discord server and he finds it really cool and interesting.

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