OM99 - The Doomsday Flight

John’s mom’s boyfriend in 1977 (OM99)

Around 1977 John's mom had a new boyfriend, it was not Rod Serling, but an engineer with four kids who's wife had died. He was such a throwback to an earlier time when he sat in his den smoking a pipe and his kids came in and gave him reports on their day. Other than that he tried not to interact with his kids. John was thrown in with these four siblings.

One of the boys was his age, but no-one in the whole group liked him very much because he was just sort of a wormy kid. His older brother, the mother of the family, took John under his wings as his new little brother and they would stay up late and watch the Twilight Zone when the marathons were on. Every aspect of it felt very forbidden, like if John had been tapped into some adult world. It had a powerful effect on him.

John is not a fan of things (OM99)

Ken and John have discovered while being friends over time that John is not a fan. He doesn’t have that fan culture in him. Not only did he not have the lunch box, but he didn’t have any favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone. He doesn’t catalog things the way that nerd-culture catalogs things. He can’t make a Simpsons reference and doesn’t have any action figures.

The Twilight Zone (OM99)

Both Ken and John watched the Twilight Zone when they grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. In one of the episodes somebody got a gun on the plane, but before 9/11 that was nothing unusual and there were a couple of times when John had so many box cutters in his suitcases he could barely get them into the overhead container.

In September of 2018 a prominent creep who was about to get advanced to high government office claimed that the allegations made against him were crazy things from the Twilight Zone, which means that the name of that show has entered our culture as a way of saying weird stuff. It only resonates with people past a certain age, though. Someone who is 35 would use a different reference even if they would get a Twilight Zone reference. John hears a lot of Black Mirror references now for example.

The term Twilight Zones comes from Aviation when you come in on an approach but you can’t see the horizon anymore, which is a difficult stage in the landing of a plane, and military aviators called that the twilight zone. In skiing and in a lot of other situations in varying terrain where light plays a big factor, as the sunlight changes into twilight you get what is called flat light because it flattens out all the geographical bumps and ruts and stuff.

Snow doesn’t stand out against snow in that horizontal light which is incredibly dangerous because the ground could drop away right in front of you and you wouldn’t be able to perceive it. Skiers don’t call it Twilight Zone, but they call it flat light. They typically don’t think that they are in a 5th dimension beyond what is known to man, but they do think about the 5th dimension in terms of getting crazy air, or the band 5th Dimension.

John’s first walkman (OM99)

Ken assumes that once Walkmen were invented skiing must have gotten so much better. While people do love to ski with earbuds in John never got that into it because he refused to spend that much money on batteries. It was also why Ken’s Discman was always sitting on the shelf, because after playing two CDs you had to replace 6 AA batteries. John had a really early Walkman with an AM/FM radio and little orange headphones.

One time he put it on at the top of a ski mountain with Exile on Main Street in it, he skied to the bottom and it was the greatest experience in his life. Life will never be the same! This was back at a time when he would light a cigarette after he got off the chair and would ski with a cigarette dang hanging out of his mouth because he was such a sleaze. As the batteries ran out on the thing, John just threw it in a drawer.

Hollywood and RomComs (OM99)

In the early days of television they were still trying to figure out what people wanted. Was it Vaudeville, was it books on tape, what was it? People wanted to see movies because they didn’t want to go to that movie house three times a week like they used to do. Instead they wanted to sit at home and to watch that new Western. It was supposed to be the death of Hollywood, or the first time that Hollywood was threatened by a new medium and people weren’t going to see movies anymore, but Hollywood keeps figuring out how to make huge amounts of money from huge budget films. The answer today is oddly to only make adaptations of 1960s comic books and spend $200-300 million on a big movie about some 1960s comic book which will keep the industry afloat.

John misses smart, big-hearted RomComs and he is not sure if they still make them. At the time of their recording there is one about rich Asians (called Crazy Rich Asians) which is a Megahit and suggests that there is an audience for RomComs, but they are just not being made. You would not think that John was the target audience for RomComs and he wouldn’t think he was either, but when he feels nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s in Hollywood he is thinking about Harry Met Sally and films like that where the actors were not necessarily the most beautiful people. You don’t look at Tom Hanks and think: ”Romantic lead!”, but if you put Meg Ryan in a film, she can make any middle-aged dumpy guy seem charming thanks to her reflected love.

It is a double-standard: There is always a beautiful woman, but the guy can be dumpy. On the other hand, the beautiful women in these RomComs always suffer from a ton of anxiety and strange personal issues, like she levels down to Billy Crystal level because she just can’t get ahold of her crazy cat-lady-insides. It is also a male screenwriter trope that she is beautiful, but she doesn’t know how beautiful she is. She is a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl for sure! She just needs to put a pair of glasses on and all of a sudden she is very homely.

Plane crashes and FDR’s ghost (OM99)

Hijacking planes seemingly started in the late 1960s when plane crashes used to be extremely common, a lot more common than they are now. They were part of public anxiety in the 1960s as we entered the jet age and as it got more and more exciting. It was a bad scary thing that could actually happen to you or someone you love. We don’t remember them all, but they used to happen a lot. As a kid, Ken used to know all the flight numbers like TW800 or the Lockerbie one (Pan Am 103), Korean Air 007 or the DC-10 when an engine would fall off a wing or there would be some jack screw. A lot of that stuff got into the popular vernacular and John wouldn’t know otherwise what a jack screw was.

In 1967 Robert Serling wrote his mega bestseller The President’s Plane is Missing, an ”airplane in danger” novel about a geopolitical Air Force One event. It later became a Buddy Ebsen TV movie and there is a sequel that involves FDR’s ghost hanging out on Air Force One. FDR didn’t even have a plane with call sign Air Force One, but he had a plane called the Sacred Cow for his trans-Atlantic flights. John wonders what happens when they build a new Air Force One: Does FDR’s ghost walk down the gang plank and up the next one? We have to assume that his ghost transfered from the dixie clipper to Eisenhower and Kennedy-era planes at some point.

Maybe FDR is in the football, the suitcase with the nuclear codes? Maybe there is some haunted object like a pack of peanuts that they keep bringing on Air Force One and that is the only place where he really feels safe to come out and make the toilet seat cold and whatever ghosts do. Maybe he is in the machinery and he is our first cyborg president? A lot of times when you think you have a ghost it is actually the woofers and the tweeters in your speakers that come out at night and make the toilet seats cold and slam your doors. Woofers and Tweeters are like little Pokémons.

John thinks about all the great airplanes that were once kitted out but that are gone now. The Sacred Cow is probably still on display somewhere. If John were a rich person, he would not want some boring new plane, but he would want some Howard Hughes era turbo prop or pre-turbo-prop. Ken argues that this might be fun with cars, but with planes it is dangerous and you would risk your life on some aesthetic choice.

You have to put your life at risk if you are going to be serious about it, which is actually true for some sub-cultures every time you walk out of the house. Wearing a linen suit for example comes with a lot of risks. If you trip and fall on a rusty nail, your linen suit isn’t going to protect you like denim would. If you wear a big fur coat, people will throw animal blood or red paint on you, which is the worst. John wants a head-to-toe wolf coat.

The problem with haunting an airplane is that it is a moving target. Are ghosts localized to the spot or can they follow moving objects? John’s sense of ghost mobility is that they can move quickly over short distances and they exists within the atmosphere of the container they are in. If you put a ghost in a can or a thermos, you could take the thermos into space and the ghost would be in the thermos and would not have to chase the space craft.

You think of a haunted house as stationary, but of course the Earth is zooming through the universe at millions of miles an hour and the ghost doesn’t stay at the point in orbit where he was when he died, but he follows the house. Or maybe most ghosts do stay in their place and that is why we don’t have tons and tons of ghosts, because they are all spread out across space? If the Earth passes through a place where somebody dies you get an apparition. This is all very convincing and Ken thinks this is where Scientology came from.

Aging stars and John’s grizzled and shop-worn Indie Rocker look (OM99)

Ed Asner was probably 32 years old at his peak when he seemed like the apogee of a middle-aged guy. Abe Vigoda seems to live forever because we assumed he was an old guy when we first saw him, but on Barney Miller he was only 45. Tom Cruise is older (2018, he was 56) in the new Mission Impossible movie than Wilford Brimley was in Cocoon (1988, he was 54), which is pretty wonderful, because Wilford Brimley was grandpa-looking already in his late 40s.

Although it might seem like it, being the guy who looks like a grizzled old American man at every age is not John's aesthetic. He met other Rock musicians who clearly had an image of what they wanted to look like, which sort of expanded and overshadowed what they actually looked like in their own imagination. He personally knew a lot of Indie Rockers who would take the stage and by the way they moved and the way they perceived themselves internally you could see that they felt like they looked like Morrissey. Then you would see them catch a glimpse of themselves in a backstage mirror and they would be shocked that they were not Morrissey, but they were sort of lumping. Ken says that John can name a frontman, but he is not going to name all the frontmen, he is not Morrissey, but Colin Meloy, not just regular people.

John always wanted to be more glamorous than he was. He never intended to be as grizzled and shop-worn looking as he probably is now, but it is a great Rock look and it is probably the soul of Rock from the era John came up in, the pre-MTV era. Rhett Miller, the frontman of the Old 97’s has a kind of ageless beauty with long floppy skater-hair. He is very pretty and a very compelling front-person and he is almost exactly 2 years younger than John but looks like he is 27 while John looks like he is 1000 years old.

John could supposedly go to the gym, dye his hair, put hair coloring in his mustache and try to fake it, but at some point there is something odd about these ageless Indie guys who still have swooping, swirling bangs. Iggy Pop somehow looks great like he was carved out of mahogany and the agelessness of Mick Jagger seems weird while John is the Wilford Brimley of Indie Rock.

Ken actually prefers John’s current look because John is in his prime and looks like a Rock guy. Ken himself has an ageless baby-face and maintains a ”still sort of wearing the plaid shirts and cutting his hair in a certain style” that seems timeless, but that actually comes from the Turkey blood he drinks. He could be transported to 1955 and walk down the streets and no-one would say ”Why are you wearing a life preserver?” (reference to the movie Back to the Future), but he would just seem like a normal person, whereas there would be 15 things wrong with John that would make him immediately seem like a problem.

John looks like a Hobo in every era until just the last 5 years where Hobo culture has started to dominate male fashion. Ken is tired of people appropriating Hobo culture. Imagine if John showed up at Ken’s door in 1935: ”Hi! Say, can I interest you in a conversation?” John would not even come to the door, but he would come to Ken’s window and steal a pie and he would make a chalk mark on Ken’s fence, which is code for other Hobos meaning ”Generous Gameshow champ lives here” or ”great place for Turkey blood”

Nicknames of Seattle (OM99)

At the time of the movie Doomsday Flight it was not widely known that Denver was the mile-high city (1 mile = 5280 feet = 1609 m). The Broncos were not playing at mile-high stadium until 1968 and it wasn’t super-imprinted in the culture. As a result, Denver being a mile high wasn’t people’s go-to idea. The capitol steps said that you were now one mile above sea level, but it was kind of how you might not know that Portland was the Rose City or Seattle was the Queen City.

Seattle has gone through so many nicknames! The Queen City is meaningless and the Emerald City is also a terrible nickname for Seattle, but Jet City was the only good one. They were Jet City through most of the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s and they should be Jet City to this day. Boeing moving their headquarters killed it off and is such a bummer! John is standing his ground on this! Do not call Seattle the Emerald City, it is a dumb nickname picked by committee. There is still an improv theater and a phone repair place called Jet City. John references it in one of The Long Winters songs.

John tweeting or podcasting at people in real life (OM99)

John’s daughter’s mother used to tell him to stop Tweeting at her when they would be driving in the car and John would make any kind of joke or observation. She would say ”That’s a tweet! You just spoke a tweet to me, stop doing that!” Now that John stopped tweeting regularly she will tell him to stop podcasting at her while John is just having a conversation. She claims that those last three sentences was John fully podcasting. Last night Ken did an impression to his wife, like angry Scotsman or something, while they were watching Better Call Saul and she was was saying ”I don’t need this bonus episode of your little show!”, which was the greatest wife-burn of her podcasting husband.

Receiving a calligraphed letter in their PO Box (OM99)

Today Ken and John received a fantastic calligraphed personal letter after Ken had said on a previous episode that letter writing was a lost art that he did not mourn. The letter appears to be written on Velum, used very good punctuation and all the sentences were well-constructed. There appeared to be a little bit of screw-up off a straight edge at the very bottom and you could see that the writer hadn’t planned ahead and the paper had shifted. The letter was beautiful and the first thing John asked Ken was ”Is it scented?” The one thing missing from this beautifully calligraphed letter was that it didn’t also have a dab of the letter writer’s cologne. Don’t send John letters because he will have some notes for you!

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