RL175 - Backwards at Half Speed

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: Dad gave ‘em the Heisman, referring to John’s dad viciously rejecting to talk to Hare Krishnas in airports when they tried to pin a flower on him.

The show title refers to Merlin having figured out a pro-move to slide back into his dreams by slowing his attempt to remember his dreams way down and go backwards at half speed to get right back into it.

The show starts with the Nerdalogs (?) singing for John.

”ACK!”, it is Monday and John hates Mondays, he is face-down in the lasagna. He was sleeping in his box and Odie came and danced on his head. Merlin’s daughter likes Garfield because he is lazy and he is her spirit animal. John’s daughter also likes Garfield, but it is unclear why because she doesn’t get the jokes. John has the entire Garfield collection, at least all the ones Jim Davis published from 1978 to 1984. He was amazing and somewhat subversive for his time. Shucky Darn and Slop the Chickens!

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

Exposing your child to media, comics (RL175)

Merlin read his daughter a Bloom County and she really liked it. There is a lot going on in Bloom County. Merlin is exposing his daughter to a lot more media than John does, but they are at a very awkward age right now and they are getting to a point where there is a lot more stuff she can watch, but she is not going to get a lot of the jokes.

What Merlin holds off because she won’t get the jokes is the movie Young Frankenstein, which Merlin saw at a fairly young age and is still one of his favorite funny movies, but she has not been steeped in universal monster culture and the tropes that this movie is mocking, although she knows who Dracula is. She loves Marx Brothers movies, but like most kids if something is black and white she is wondering what this broken thing is they are watching because this is weird.

The other one Merlin holds back is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. She has a flair for enjoying absurd humor, but it is worth waiting until she is ready to get why it is funny. John and Merlin were exposed to a lot of movies and media from the 1940s, 50s and 60s when they were kids because there wasn’t that much media yet and when they were searching for something to put on the Late Show, they just got these movies and John watched them although they were also part of their culture.

Even in the mid 1970s John watched a lot of 1950s sitcoms like I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver, those were on in the afternoon, but also John got introduced to 1960s editorial cartoonists by finding old Playboys and a lot of the people doing those one-panel-cartoons in those old Playboys were also doing cartoons for The New Yorker. At the time Playboy could attract the best writers, like Gahan Wilson, the guy who draws the crazy-looking creatures. His cartoons were in Playboys that John would find under a board in the forest, which is where you used to find those. If you saw a piece of plywood out in the woods, you lift it up and maybe there would be a Playboy or 5 Playboys.

After you had seen the naked ladies, what else was there to do than to pour over these Playboys, trying to decode adult culture and there were all these great cartoons and reviews for HiFi Stereo systems and sophisticated political talk, guys in swim trunks smoking cool cigarettes outside on the deck.

By the time Bloom County came around John had already read quite a bit of Nichols and May style 1960s political commentary and he understood the language and the references a little better because it was making a lot of references to Nixon and this stuff, although that wasn’t even his era.

There was a time when whatever was on TV was what was on TV. There are people now who are 30 years old who have never had a CD except as a gift. People have not been buying a lot of CDs for 10-15 years. The total catalog of what was available back then was much narrower, there was a lot more long-tail old stuff like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movies, stuff that at that time was 20-30 years old and is now 60-70 years old. You would see monster movies all the time, like Creature Feature or all the Arthurian Literature that is the basis for Holy Grail and Merlin doesn’t think his daughter is steeped in that.

Who represents your generation in media? (RL175)

John had a really interesting conversion with a Millennial person of great intelligence and good will and he asked a simple question: ”Who do you think are the members of your generation you admire the most or who are culturally representative of your generation?” - ”What do you mean?” - ”There are people of your generation who are doing cool things and when I was 22 I could tell you who the 5 prime movers were in establishing a beachhead of our voice in adult culture. Who is doing that for you?” - ”John Steward?” - ”No, people of your generation!” - ”John Steward is of our generation!”, but he is older than Merlin.

They had a language gulf that they struggled to surmount, because what she was saying was that because now all media is everywhere all the time and everything is equally accessible to everyone, from her standpoint as a smart 22 year old, John was asking: ”What about Taylor Swift” - ”Well, that is Pop music, that doesn’t matter!” She was laying claim to everything that is made now, regardless of who was making it. Stephen Colbert was contemporary and therefore of her generation.

In a sense, in 1986 Peter Gabriel’s record was really big and they would have said that Peter Gabriel was popular music then, but Peter Gabriel was not their generation and they wouldn’t have laid claim to them. It wasn’t until people their age started making things that they had that sense of ownership, like ”This now belongs to us!” She couldn’t identify with that, and this conversation is a sample set of one, but it was very interesting to see at least in this person that even the idea that the first one or two people of your generation that made it into the mainstream, even if you didn’t like them, they still were your emissaries.

Maybe people of her generation have been on TV her whole life or there are too many to count or Vine or whatever, it was very hard for John to even… she turned the tables on him and was asking for clarification, to describe what it was like to have… that feeling of a generational… having 4 or 5 people that you felt were your generation in your media. The first time John turned on the TV and saw someone his age on TV right now that wasn’t a kid in a sitcom, but a young person speaking in their own voice in mainstream media, it was: ”Wow, look! I am consumed by a feeling of total envy and fury of this young person for being more successful than me!”, but he was also excited that there was one of them on the news team.

The choice of music and media being limited in the past (RL175)

Merlin says that music has always sold, but it never sold any way like music sold in the 1990s. In the mid-1980s he was feeling so strangled by six recording artists that were everywhere: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, it was just everywhere! Is that what it is with Tyler Swift now? No, the formula has changed. There were only three radio stations then that you could listen to. If you were a teen you liked The Beatles and The Rolling Stones you would never have to listen to anything else, but you could get into your mom’s car and plug in your music station on your way to and from school and you could limit your exposure and it will feel like freedom and choice and like you are curating your own existence.

That is what companies like Apple and other tech media companies have been selling for a long time, that we are now liberated and we can curate our feed so it only contains things that give us pleasure. But the problem with that is of course that Merlin and John and people in ye olden times were exposed to a lot of stuff involuntarily because it was all that was on and you wouldn’t have chosen to watch Twilight Zone because it didn’t have anything that seemed to appeal to you at first, but having watched it out of boredom and frustration and because it was the only thing on, now you realize it is brilliant and it has opened you up to all this stuff that you wouldn’t have been exposed to.

Now you don’t have to do that and nobody does, not just young people, but even people John’s age consider it a gift and a prize to never ever be exposed to something they didn’t chose in terms of music unless they decide to spin the bottle one day and change the setting in their music program so it is no longer the Built to Spill channel, but now it is the Mariah Carey channel, just to see what happens.

There are still just as many Jimi Hendrix fans as there ever where, but nobody is hearing about Mountain, because nobody puts Mountain in as their band in their Spotify. Everybody put Jimi Hendrix in, but nobody puts the James Gang in or Jim Dandy (James Mangrum). The world still contains as many multitudes, but unless it comes up in the algorithm… John was stuck in a world where Madonna, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and Prince were all there were.

When John was going to college he was discovering Exile on Main St. (album by The Rolling Stones), which for whatever reason… In High School he listened to Sticky Fingers, but he hadn’t gone down the Stones rabbit hole quite like he did later because his friends were mostly listening to Metal while the Stones and The Beatles were a thing that John and a couple of other guys kept as their secret little world in their larger culture that was listening to Triumph and Accept. The forbearers of that, like Steppenwolf or Deep Purple, which was their party music.

When John was diving into that record he felt like he had discovered a whole world and he thought he had been wasting his life not listening to this album. His room mate who grew up in San Francisco was the opposite and said: ”OMG, if I never hear that record again I would be fine!” He had listened to it a billion times because it was just everywhere. It was 15 years old at the time and he had felt it was used up.

John being tired for no reason (RL175)

John doesn’t know what his point is right now, a thing he has never said on this program. He is so groggy and he doesn’t know what is going on. He has been traveling a lot and when he came home from his trip he opened his front door and his house smelled funny. You can’t smell how your house smells like unless you are away for a few days, but it was an additional smell on top of normal smelly. It was just sickly sweet enough that the question ”Did something die in the fireplace flue?” was in play, or maybe his kid had dropped an apricot and it rolled into the heating vent or somebody spilled some cough sirup on the furnace. One of Merlin’s favorites is milk between the couch cushions. Maybe somebody was making Prison Hooch while John was away?

It smelled equally like this smell in every room, it didn’t feel concentrated anywhere, and it was so weird that he asked his mom to come out, but she didn’t smell anything. It was faint. When he woke up this morning he felt a little drugged.

Merlin’s house is old, but he doesn’t realize that it smells old unless he is away for 3-4 days and there is nobody in the house. Every house settles into a certain smell when it is just left still, and that smell is nay-on impossible to detect unless you have been away. It is not exactly musty or gassy, but Merlin lives in fear that the apricot is going down into the heating vent or he is constantly checking the pilot lights because they go out really easily. He doesn’t want to have a freak accident, especially if it would have been avoidable.

John thinks about freak accidents now in a way he has never done before. Like in The Omen when the guy goes back to get the knives and the giant sheet of glass comes swinging through the air and things happened and something shifts just a little bit and totally cuts his head off and rolls down the glass. This is the canonical freak accident for Merlin, except this one was actually staged by Satan.

Things that are much older than you would think, Baby Boomers as the beginning of culture (RL175)

When John would hear that song, he would always think of the knives from The Omen. Now Merlin also will, like remembering John’s friend when you drink from the water fountain. Those are the steely knives of Hotel California. This song is now 40 years old! Merlin was watching The Flintstones as a kid, which most people their age did, and it seemed hopelessly old because that cartoon style was so weird and Merlin needs a name for it, but there is no term of art for it that he knows. He had been watching The Flintstones when it had only been 10 years since it had come on and now it has been over 40 years since that happened. Nevermind was 24 years ago! Synchronicity is 1983, which is 32 years and 32 years before that was the Korean war.

This is the conversation John had with the girl: That protraction, that generational geometry really meant a lot to them at the time, and partly because a lot of what they were consuming in the 1980s was through the eyes of Baby Boomers who were nostalgic on their own youth. There was never a generation that was more nostalgic for their youth than Baby Boomers in middle age. Merlin says that being a teenager didn’t exist until the Revolutionary War and wasn’t really a thing until the 20th century and it wasn’t a market until the 1940s and 50s when people were making a lot of things for them, like cool toys, TV-shows or movies.

John’s older brother was a full-on Baby Boomer and he remembers his first TV and he was there to see Howdy Doody and Roy Rogers and Black & White television. Whether or not he felt that his childhood was innocent, it was certainly more innocent than his teen years, which were at a time when you didn’t question the government. When John was a teen, those people were in their 30s and 40s and they were ironically in some ways, but also pure nostalgically consuming their youth media and John was, too.

There was a real sense for John that the adults are this far away from their childhood and one day he will be that far away from his childhood, except his childhood he will be consuming not only Scooby Doo, but even that was a re-run, it was all re-runs! Eight Is Enough or something, but he will also be remembering his childhood through the media of this generation before him. They were very conscious of that architecture and they want to really think of the young people today through that same lens, but that architecture is gone for them. They can’t picture what is inside our minds, because they don’t have the same basic building blocks.

Baby Boomers are not interested in that game either, because they see themselves as the beginning. In 1955 when they were sitting down to wach Howdy Doody, there weren’t Errol Flynn movies on TV, or if they were that was very much their dad, but there was media being created for them on an hourly basis and it belonged to them.

Here we are at sea again. Their whole conversation always ends up depositing them back on this strange Lily Pad of: Generation X, nobody cares about it except Generation X, and they care about it so passionately but can’t get anybody to share it with them.

John dreaming he was 82 years old (RL175)

John had a terrible dream last night, not really terrible, but he was with a group of people of his family and friends and they were walking, John was engaged in some business, it was night-time, it was maybe in the future, and someone told John that he was 82 years old. He said: ”What? No!” and he started counting the decades on his fingers and he counted up on his fingers to 82 and it turned out he really was 82. He resisted the notion and counted up on his fingers again and got to 62, which he could live with, but then he wasn’t confident that he had counted right. There was a lot of question about how old he was and none of it was very encouraging.

John was checking his body if this was an 82-year old’s body, but it was not and he was confused about this information because it didn’t comport with what he knew about himself. Then he had that brief feeling of: ”Am I dressed appropriately for an 82-year old?”

On the way in today the methadone clinic was quite calm and there was not a lot going on (see RL174), but John passed a guy his age that was dressed like Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots, his hair was spiked out, frosted tips, he was wearing tight pants that had that wet-waxy quality that Rock’n’Rollers prefer to their denim, very tailored. It was unclear whether he belonged in the Delta Sky Lounge at SFO airport because he was actually a millionaire Rock entrepreneur, or whether he was a 48 year old guy who was trying to get his band going. Maybe he was living in a Chevy Nova somewhere?

This guy was in middle age and he was rocking a look that did feel authentic to him, he has been inhabiting this look for a long time and it looks appropriate, but that means that we are now living in an age where there are going to be, just as there is a Keith Richards right now who is 71 years old and who still is tying ribbons and feathers in his hair and is also a millionaire, we are now entering into the era where there are people in their 70s and 80s who have been Rock’n’Roll their whole lives and are going to be Rock’n’Roll all the way to the end. They are never going to put on a cardigan sweater and a pair of loafers, but they are going to lace up their Dock Martens all the way until they have to pay somebody to help them lace up their Doc Martens, or someone appointed by the state does it.

Old people traditionally handled their transition into oldness by starting to wear loafers and eventually white loafers so they can see them in the dim light of the early morning when they wake up. Now we have old Rock’n’Rollers and they are never going to do that, unless… Weiland could be in white loafers because he is one of those guys that has the My Own Private Idaho look.

In John’s dream he still had that feeling of: Is it inappropriate for him to be too Rock’n’Roll, now that he is 82? He was checking himself, feeling still pretty Rock’n’Roll, but feeling that was evidence that he was not 82. His feelings were a little incredulity, a little panic at maybe a Rip Van Winkle (short story by Washington Irving) situation where: ”I don’t mind one day being 82, but what happened to the 27 years in the middle where I was going to do stuff?”

Maybe it was some dreamed time travel and when he is 82 he will have an experience of walking with his family through some charted terrain and he will hav a deja-vous at the time and it will feel familiar.

Merlin’s technique to slide back into his dreams by slowing down (RL175)

Merlin dreamed last night that he lived in a football stadium in an apartment with the landlord from his office and Emma Stone was there and showed him how to open the windows. He felt slightly anxious, like he does in a lot of his dreams. Lately he has been developing the pro-skill of being able to slide back into a dream and he has a whole methodology he has been working on that is really paying off. You must not get panicky about trying to remember your dream when you wake up because when you think to fast about a dream you start losing blocks and stuff starts getting erased. Instead you have to slow it way down and force yourself to think at about 1/3th or 1/4th of your usual speed and you will remember more things.

You get to catch yourself and say: ”Wait a minute!” and sing yourself a little song in your head and the lyrics start getting filled in and it comes back. You have to make yourself walking backwards at half speed! John is imagining doing this! Merlin starts to wonder about his concentration because if he slows way the fuck down when he does a given thing it is a completely different experience for him and he is wondering how much stuff he just doesn’t see because he is moving so fast and is causing his brain to move so fast, an obvious example being eating slowly being fundamentally different from eating any other way. John tries, but he cannot eat slowly.

Handwriting slowly instead of typing as a creative hack (RL175)

Merlin has started using a handwritten notebook again and if he makes himself write at half the normal speed he not only writes a lot more neatly, but his brain also has a lot more time to come up with stuff and you get a really different quality of stuff coming out of your fingers. This is a whole new thought technology for him!

The other day John did a Wikipedia-dive on Hemingway and he was cross-reading some of his work while he was reading about him. He has mixed feeling about Hemingway as any thoughtful person would, but what he learned was hat although there is this image of Hemingway sitting at a typewriter, he actually wrote all hose books longhand and they were then typed for him.

John also wrote everything longhand until the mid-2000s. He had a computer and he wrote school reports on the computer, but all his creative writing was all with ballpoint pen in spiral-bound notebook. You enter into a sentence, you are writing along, you realize halfway through the sentence that you have gone somewhere and you have to pivot in your thought to be able to land this sentence and you have to change somewhere along the line. You can go back an cross stuff out, but it is much more acrobatic to enter into a thought and have that thought morph as you are creating it and then try to land that acrobatic move.

It was absolutely a different art form than writing on a keyboard because on a keyboard you are getting halfway through a sentence and you are just deleting it and go back and the final product shows no record of the three or four different ways you tried to get into it and you are never obligated to just try to finish that thought or to contort in mid-air to include what you have already written and still make he point you were trying to get to. Adding the idea to write slowly and neatly to that feels like a major thought technology or even a creative hack.

Being mindful about the form of your language (RL175)

Merlin doesn’t have too much objection about how other people talk to other people, that is not his business, he is not the police officer to tell you whether and when to use emoji, paragraphs or periods, but for himself he still treasures the moment of struggling the thing he wants to say and just typing LMAO is not a thing he wants to start doing. Are you literally laughing your ass off? In that case this would be a terrific sentence to write, but it becomes awfully easy to just type those little letters.

Even in a text message Merlin finds himself thinking about how he is going to compactly and elegantly say what wants to say and have it go the way he wants it to go. He feels himself drawn into this spazy over-the-top exclamation point culture and he just wants to make sure that he really wants to be exclaiming that many things and that he as a fifty-fucking-year old man become that ejaculatory about saying ”I’ll see you in 5 minutes!”

Merlin has never been a fan of LOL, but he much more frequently said the syllables El-Oh-El or ROFL. Everybody John knows is using those words to mean the opposite: That something is not funny, not laughing out loud! The term HaHa is much more the sound of a practical joke gone wrong for Merlin, doing the voice of somebody in a Chick Publication (Chick Tract), or maybe a donkey on Pleasure Island in Pinocchio. In Chick Publications it is always spelled ”HawHaw”, like: ”You go to Hell, Charlie Conners, Haw Haw Haw!” - ”Oh, he is having a heart attack!” (from Hi There!, see here) The drawing would be so specific like Tom of Finland at the beginning, and by the end it would get really degraded into just some cloaked Dr. Who character standing in flames, saying: ”You had your chance, Charlie Connors!”

This gives John faith that sardonicism wins out and that something as dull-witted as LOL can be converted into a way of conveying some of the degradation of the language. There are Facebook-moms who still use LOL! as ”I am laughing out loud right now!”, but it has turned almost entirely into ”The thing you just sent me isn’t that funny, try harder! LOL!” it is like the Eddie Vedder noise or the Paul Stanley scream: Don’t start doing it ironically because within a week it won’t be ironic anymore and now you just do that.

Merlin has a friend of the family, a very sweet woman in her 50s who works at a school, and she is his canary in the coal-mine for whatever phrase is about to become very noise-som for him. She works at a school with teenage kids and she picks that stuff up, for example she was one of the first ones who said: ”Thank you! Paris Hilton, LOL! Thank you!” and that turned into a whole thank-you culture.

Chick Tracts, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (RL175)

Merlin’s all-time favorite Chick Tract is called Wounded Children (see here), which is a hell of a piece of work. There is a porno mag in the house, the little boy finds it, Satan shows it to him, the little boy sees it and is obviously very upset, and within a few pages he is a young man in a leather bar with gay men. It mentions Amyl Nitrate as a drug and that makes John think of a scene in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Fat Freddy’s Cat comic when Freewheelin Franklin Freak has a bunch of Amyl Nitrate capsules in the front pocket of his shirt and some cop jumps on him and breaks all the Amyl Nitrate and Freewheelin Franklin inhales about 10 of those capsules all at once and he gets up and kicks the cop’s ass.

Merlin used to collect them informally and in the foremost of time he actually cheated and started buying them.

John talking to Hare Krishnas in airports (RL175)

During the era in the 1980s of moral majority and splintering of the factions, evangelicalism was leaving the Southern baptist tradition and the Midwestern farm church culture and became Southern Californian. The mega churches were developing and it was blowing up in our nation. There were Chick publications everywhere and people were really getting into this vocal muscular prosperity Christianity in a new and exciting way. John is not a guy who wants to see a trend happen where he doesn’t at least dips his toe in the water.

John started watching the PTL Club to see what was going on. He does not consume media ironically unlike people of the Church of the Bob Dobs crowd (Church of the Subgenius) who watched PTL ironically, but he was watching it earnestly to see what was going on. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t want to be blind to what was happening. He also always loved a Chick comic because he loves comics and you could put any kid of insanity into comic book form and he would grab it and read it happily, and he has read a ton of insanity in comic book form.

When John was younger, walking through airports and Hare Krishna would come up and try to pin a flower on his dad, his dad would somehow materialize a cricket bat out of his jacket: ”No! Get the fuck away from me, hippie!” and he would send those people packing. At 8-10 years old John was wistfully wishing that his dad would stop and engage them because he was very curious about them and when his dad would engage people he always learned a lot just by dad stopping and talking on the street.

Why wasn’t he talking to these fascinating Hare Krishnas in the airport when all they wanted to do was give him a free flower? Instead he gave them the Heisman (meaning a straight arm as a running back to get through) when he otherwise would stop and talk to anybody. Guys in deerstalker hats with flowers all over their hat would walk up to them on the sidewalk all the time and wanted to talk to John’s dad about some strange public policy and he would sit and talk to them for 45 minutes, but why not these guys with the top knot and the robe in the airport?

John made it a policy to always stop and talk to Hare Krishnas when he got to be 18 and was moving through airports on his own. If somebody came up and try to pin a flower on him he stop and talk to them about Hare Krishna for enough time until they started to repeat themselves and he learned a lot about Hare Krishna, but then they all went away and stopped being in airports all of a sudden. ”Pear pimples for hairy fishnuts?” (a line from the Bloom County Merlin showed to his daughter and she thought it was hilarious, see here a comic featuring Opus). It is called a spoonerism.

The Hare Krishnas went away and the Evangelical Missionaries started to appear with their Chick Tracts and their college church people and John would talk to them for endless hours. He was genuinely curious and wanted to get to the bottom of their logical process. Not being raised in a Christian tradition he didn’t even fully understand the transubstantiation and the logic of dying for someone else’s sins. John was just absorbing and he also didn’t want to be rude, so he was sitting there, legs crossed in an airport and they would get very excited.

It is probably a thankless job and when they hook a Largemouth Bass like John and sit him down and start talking to him about that stuff, they would have some lively conversations. John was between 18-19 years old and was wondering about the process he would have to undergo in order to become an Evangelical person because he also believed in magic, miracles or transformation and he was very open to epiphany multiple times in his life in the same way that he would try to conjure an orb, but in particular the possibility of Christian epiphany.

John going on a Romanian Orthodox pilgrimage on his walk through Europe (RL175)

When John was walking across Europe he was walking along the Danube outside of Vienna, an enormous river that has enormous dykes on either side for much of its length. He heard a voice shout out ”Wanderer! Wanderer!” and he turned around there was a little leprechaun who was resting in the shade of a big metal water maintenance utility box and he has almost a bindle on a stick, a little bag and his little hiking boots and a long red beard and longish hair and he is not a very tall guy, 5,5’ tall.

He came over and started yammering at John in German, but John explained to him he didn’t speak German and he started speaking some English: ”What are you doing? You are clearly a wanderer!” - ”I am a wanderer, you are right, sir! You have identified me correctly!” - ”I too am a wanderer! Where are you going?” and at the time John would not tell people he was walking to Istanbul because that was the policy in his heart because it was too crazy sounding and he would curse himself and never make it if he said it. ”I am walking to Romania” - ”I am also walking to Romania! Let us walk together!” and for three days Bernard and John walked together toward Romania.

They walked into Slovakia together and into Hungary together. Bernard was a wonderful man who had been a ship captain from Linz who had formerly owned a Danube longboat, but he had given it all away, his boat and his house, in order to go on a Pilgrimage to Romania to discover what God had in store for him. After three days of walking together John realized that although they both were on a journey to Romania, those were separate journeys. Bernard did not understand not to camp in a mosquito bog, although he was 10 years older than John there were a lot of things he was still learning, and not to camp in a mosquito bog was a thing John had learned at a young age.

At a certain point they agreed to go separate ways but to meet up again in Romania. He wrote a little map on the back of a business card and told John to follow this map when he got to Romania. John did rendezvous with him in Romania and they went on a Romanian Orthodox pilgrimage to a place in Transylvania where there was an icon of the virgin that had magically appeared on a mountain top. It was not painted by a living person, but it had appeared and the Romanians built a church around it because it commanded them to, and now the icon hung in the church and people came to this church and crawled around the church on their hands and knees hundreds of times until your hands and knees are bloody because the icon commanded it somehow.

John went on this adventure and was so vulnerable and susceptible at that moment in his life that he said: ”Okay God, you work in miraculous ways and I am entirely open to the possibility that this, which seems bananas, is potentially a doorway to you that I hadn’t considered before!” Not that John believed that this icon appeared on a mountain to, but this was clearly animating people to do these remarkable things and John was newly awakened and ready for the lightning bolt.

There have been hundred of thousands of people standing on a windswept mountain to, saying: ”I am ready for the lightning bolt, God!” and God rarely produces lightning bolts in those situations. That is not how he rolls, he does not burn bushes for everybody. But over the years John had suspended disbelief multiple times and said that he believes in epiphany and: ”Let it roll!”, not even ”God, you have until noon tomorrow to hit me with some bells!”, but: ”I am just here. I am an empty vessel!” and that was probably the most recent time.

John was there and he was available and Bernard was very available as well, but neither of them had an epiphany. After John left Romania Bernard stayed, fell in love with a Romanian girl and started some kind of church himself. He was very interested in helping people and developed a practice to do so by going back to Arad, which is close to Timişoara and he started a help group which morphed into a church-like edifice, not building, but a thought edifice, and now John is not sure exactly what the doctrine of his group is.

It does have a ”turn the loafs into fishes” quality to it. Because he has a Central Eastern European take on things, but he is Austrian ultimately, ecstatic is exactly the word to use. The new church he runs with his wife is a ”feed the people” type of organization. John doesn’t know what they are doing and he occasionally reaches out to John and asks him to send them some American money because they are building a pump to pump Satan out of the water or something and John said: ”Bernard, I could send you $50, but I am timid about that and want to continue the conversation we have been having for 15 years about God”

Religious experiences (RL175)

Merlin was very devout a couple of times in his life and has talked about it on his other shows. He wonders how many people come to religion or faith at the strongest point in their life and he has a feeling it is not so many, but people come to religion at the less strong points in their life. People don’t learn self-defense when they are winning a lot of fights and people aren’t looking for an answer for life’s giant questions when everything is going their way and Everything’s Coming up Milhouse (Simpsons reference).

No matter what you say about religion, you are going to get yelled at. this week Merlin said something that were in fairly strong defense of people of faith and he got yelled at about that, last week he thought he bracketed it really carefully in saying that he was not really talking about religion but about religious traditions in the past, but people still accused him for being anti-religion. At the time when you are most open to the idea of faith, it also becomes desperate because you are sitting and waiting for the phone to ring and for God to call.

Merlin also has done the whole cartoon character thing of: ”I will be the most devout follower in the world as long as you let me win this contest”, or something like that. It is interesting the state of mind that brings people to an act of faith and being open and vulnerable, and what keeps you there if things stay the same or do in fact get better. Almost everybody at some point has felt desperate enough about something to ask whatever to just make it better, and everybody who says they didn’t either has had a very fortunate life or is lying.

A Walk Across America (book) (RL175)

Somebody gave John the book A Walk Across America (by Peter Jenkins) in the Blue Highways (by William Least Heat-Moon) and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (by by Robert M. Pirsig) days when he was doing a lot of cross-country traveling, freight-hopping and hitchhiking. There is a subculture of books about traveling across America as a young open-minded vagabond and A Walk Across America is one of them.

John was hungry for it because he was doing this searching-traveling and this was even a dimension beyond because these guy was not hopping freights across America, but he was fucking walking across America and this probably planted a seed in him that many years produced his walk across Europe. This guy and his Siberian Husky were going to walk across America and he was a pretty sunny-disposition-person and rather than to head West from the East Coast he headed South and was planning on turning West from the South.

He walked down through Appalachia as a young white guy who was just walking through the poor South, which was still a separate island from the rest of America with a lot of undiscovered world. He was having experiences where he was taken into people’s homes and given hospitality he never had before and he was marveling at how wonderful people are, at a time with a lot of unrest and racial tension in our country. John was 18 and he was also traveling and the possibility of having similar experiences himself was very compelling to him.

About 3/4 of the way through the book the guy is still in Appalachia somewhere in Virginia and John started to get his doubts whether he was going to get across the rest of America in the remaining pages of the book. As he got down into the South and has met all the Southern people that he perceives as much more genuine and authentic than his dumb middle-class white neighbors from New Hampshire, he had that experience of: ”Wait a minute! These poor people are fun and beautiful! The world is all upside down!”

Then he is sitting in a church somewhere with his friends who had been helping him on his trip, and a light comes in the stained glass window and hits him and he has a revival conversion and becomes a passionate evangelical. He had never referred to religion in the first 3/4 of the book. At one point his dog dies and he was very sad and confronted with the idea of walking across America all by himself without the companionship of his dog and then the light hits him. The book called A Walk Across America ends with him in Georgia, having been hit by the lightning bolt and him deciding that he is with the Jeez now.

It turned out that was what he was looking for. The end. It was deeply unsatisfying and John felt totally betrayed by this book and he continued his trip across America in subsequent books to spread the word. John was a little less credulous, but there were many hours out on the trail that if a snake had talked to him, he would have said: ”You are a false God, snake! I will not eat that apple! I am in service of something higher!”, but God decided he didn’t need John but was looking for people with other skills, like people who knew SEO optimization.

In popular culture Jesus is represented as somebody who is very hungry for volunteers, looking for people with a very wide set of skills, and John has a big voice and likes to talk to people and can convince people of some pretty questionable… he is a fast learner, a self-starter, and he can self-motivate. John would be exactly the kind of people they should be looking for to expand this franchise. He has connections and would bring in a lot of new people. He has tried the hamburger over there and didn’t find it to his liking, but if you say it is a good hamburger, maybe I will give it another try, but in fact John screwed up the interview somehow.

Merlin’s daughter’s homework containing grammatical errors (RL175)

Merlin hates it when his daughter comes with homework that has grammatical errors in it. His wife disagrees, but he thinks they get a lot of stuff off the Internet and just print it. The other day his daughter was about to start her homework and there was a graphical mark where you do a two-ended arrow to say ”Switch these words around” because she had already copy-edited the headline. Merlin’s seven year old daughter caught a typo in the headline and fixed it.

Merlin re-reading game instructions before playing (RL175)

Merlin can’t get his kid to read the instructions. He is a big instruction reader and a manual reader and he will never play a game, even a game he has played before, without going back and re-reading the instructions. About a year ago when he was playing chess with her he forgot about all kinds of shit about chess, like En Passant, Queening or the Rook Move because he hadn’t played chess since he was a kid. There is Castling or Rooking or The Rook Switch, these things all sound like things you get in a whore house. John likes to get castled in a whore house!

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