RL20 - We Can All Agree on Cheese

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Perfume (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Merlin’s Walgreens and Safeway (Merlin Mann)
  • Scott toilet paper (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Hotel rooms with pillows and disgusting objects (Travel)
  • John has the antibodies for Lyme disease, getting bitten by a tick (Aging)
  • John having a big head and no eyebrows (Style)
  • John cutting his own hair (Style)
  • John replying to an angry email, people reframing arguments (Philosophy)
  • We can all agree on cheese, people not saying straight what they want (Philosophy)
  • Ron Paul, political arguments (Politics)
  • The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards autobiography (Music)
  • John buying a cape at Merlin’s Walgreens (Stories)

The Problem: Lot of people can’t enjoy a lady steak, referring to John not being attracted to a lot of scents of women, but what if she smelled ribeye in all the right places? Like a lady steak?

The show title refers to an argument John had with two friends on what free pizza toppings to chose. John’s friend wanted a cheese pizza, but didn’t want to say it but instead presented it as the logical compromise to manipulate the rest of them.

Merlin has a new bell that sounds like a Christmas tree.

They start the show singing each other’s names. Merlin goes with ”John, ahaaa” (melody to Masters of the Universe) and John sings his usual Nasty Boys by Janet Jackson.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Perfume (RL20)

Merlin just sent John a picture of a chili dog and John is at once envious and disgusted. Merlin ate this chili dog in the two minutes since he sent that picture, but his first rule of chili dog is that you should not eat it in two minutes. John’s first rule of chili dog is that you should eat it as fast as you can from the driver's seat of a moving Volkswagen Bus going across the George Washington bridge.

Now Merlin likes to hear more about that story! John has so much to share and there are so many threads that could become a tapestry, but they are still on the very first square of some very special quilt. It is a tapestry that is safety-pinned to the ceiling of John’s dorm room that turns the harsh dorm room light into a beautiful mosaic of colors. There might be Patchouli on the pillow from a guest, but there is no native Patchouli in the room.

You don't even have to be in the same room as someone with Patchouli because it goes through brick, like on those cable shows about finding ghosts. It could have been there years ago! Still, when listening to the Indigo Girls Patchouli does not pour through the speakers, but someone with Patchouli on has to be in the vicinity. John listened to the Indigo Girls and didn’t get Patchouli on him.

It is a lot like Axe or Ralph Lauren’s Polo or Calvin Klein’s Obsession and you become inured and quit noticing how much you stink. Once you get into a personal scent you have to know when to stop and you probably can't, which is precisely why John has never worn any kind of scented product. First of all: You don't want the Viet Cong to pick you out in the jungle, but second of all: You don't want to be walking around with Brute 45 coming off you in giant waves like on a highway in the desert, giant waves of stinky cologne!

John learned very early on that he was extremely sensitive to the scents that women wore and perfumes or essential oils did not sexually arouse him. What if she smelled like a ribeye in the right places? John could watch her eating a rib eye and that would conquer almost all sandalwood smell. Merlin loves a woman who can really dig into a steak. If John was nuzzling her and all of a sudden he caught a whiff of ribeye? No! A scent of sautéed mushrooms will get John through many long nights. It was on side one of John’s first record. Merlin has been guilty of deliberately smelling like a steak. In the early 1990s they were all dabbling with steak smells.

One time John had a very uncomfortable conversation with a girl that he was extremely attracted to and they ended up dating for a long time, but he had to say: ”Stop wearing that smell!” She was an earthy and a sporty girl, the swimmer/dancer sporty, no big butt, and she did not shy away from perspiration, but she made the category error of choosing a musky earthy scent for herself.

Because she was already such a dark musky girl, she should have chosen a light scent like Lavender, Primrose, or something flowery. You don't want to pick up a Carhartt jacket and smell campfire on it, because the Carhartt jacket is automatically going to smell like campfire. You want to pick up a Carhartt jacket and smell the lobby of the Ritz Carlton hotel! Merlin adds: ”…or a lady steak”, but now Merlin is coining a smell that John does not want to smell. John likes ladies and he likes steak, but as a portmanteau it is meat you don't want to cut.

She was receptive to John’s constructive criticism and she changed her scent and they were off to the races. If someone caringly said to John: ”Your scent is a wonderful part of you, but the part that you are spraying on after-the-fact you could modify”, he would take that criticism.

Merlin tries to text John as little as possible. It is like a Soup Nazi thing (reference to Seinfeld): He puts money on the counter, he tries to be even with John and think about what time of day it is, whether he has slept and eaten. Not because John is delicate, but because Merlin doesn’t want to be one of those people who causes problems in text to him. If somebody texted John that he was very earthy, maybe a little too earthy, they might get a flaming text back. Merlin thinks it is an act of violence.

Merlin’s Walgreens and Safeway (RL20)

Merlin is realizing how often he is at his neighborhood local Walgreens and he might need to get into some kind of program. Walgreens is right across the street from Merlin’s house, where John bought his cape that he still has. It was a special time for them both! Merlin likes pens and they have an okay selection of pens. Merlin’s Walgreens is empirically categorically the shittiest Walgreens he has ever been in his life. He has been in a fuck-ton of Walgreens and his is easily the worst! John has also been to Merlin’s Safeway, the creepy Safeway by his house where you park on the roof. There is a Safeway in Walnut Creek, not the nice Safeway but the old Safeway, that might be even creepier like a Haunted Mansion where they turn off half the lights and stuff.

John’s mom has been to a supermarket that smelled like rotten meat four times in her entire life and all four times it was a Safeway. She won't buy meat at a Safeway because if you can't keep the smell of rotten meat out of your supermarket then you are doing something really wrong. Has John ever bought seafood at a Lucky aka Albertsons? No! Does it come in an Almond Roca can? Albertsons is in a Built to Spill song (Big Dipper): ”He thought an Albertsons stir fry dinner would make his apartment a home” Twin Falls Idaho (By Built to Spill) is a pretty song and not a very pretty town. So many people try to capture that feeling of being a kid and being confused about love and things and usually it comes out really stupid, but that song is gorgeous.

Scott toilet paper (RL20)

Merlin was walking through Walgreens, not to get a prescription, but to buy some bathroom tissue, as they call it in France. John just got into an argument with a friend about this. He is a wealthy and successful man, John was using his restroom, and he is a Scott toilet tissue buyer. John gets mad about a lot of stuff eventually, but Merlin hasn’t seen many things where John gets mad faster!

John came out of that bathroom shaking that roll of toilet paper in his face and said: ”You are a fucking millionaire! Buy some goddamn two-ply toilet paper! You are committing a crime against yourself and your family!” Scott toilet paper is like waxed butcher paper! Comparison shoppers go through the aisles, looking at the different toilet papers, and they say: ”Oh, I get 10.000 sheets! It is a massive roll of toilet paper and it looks firm as a well-made Nicaraguan cigar, it is a solid fucking chunk of toilet paper and you could knock somebody out with that!

It is half the price of the other toilet papers and you think you are a great shopper and a smart person and let's be honest: It is just toilet paper. How good or bad could toilet paper be, given what you are going to do with it? It doesn't have to be printed with a colorful pattern, it is just toilet paper! Then you realize that it is as thin as tissue paper, it is as soft as notebook paper, and because it is so uncomfortable and so flimsy you end up using seven times more toilet paper than you would otherwise. It is toilet paper from a public restroom in a park!

John’s millionaire friend started giving him some pushback: ”I've always used Scott! There is nothing wrong with it!” - ”You have no idea! Your children are growing up in a toilet paper Holocaust!” His children are going to go to other kids’ houses and they might as well have literal human shit on their face. They are going to have no idea, it is like not knowing how to eat with a fork. What is this magical thing that you put into this special room? All my friends are flying on a magic carpet of soft toilet paper and we are riding on a birch two-by-four. Even worse when their teenage friends come to their house and the word gets out on the street! Gross!

Merlin thanks John for correcting that, like with so many of the things where he has stayed at Merlin’s house for a long time for free, he really helped him and his family and they don't get that anymore. Whether it is the paper products that Merlin’s uncle helped to pioneer, whether it is the paper towels, whether it is the toilet paper, over time they have been trying to find new ways to use paper for things. You got wipes now and they invent new ways to have cheap paper for you to buy like some branded Johnson & Johnson product.

Merlin’s family struggles with the question about the right toilet paper to this day! When he was in the Walgreens with the stinking Patchouli lady he looked at the embarrassment of riches before him, but he still had no idea!He judged it by every heuristic he knows, he did his research on Amazon because you can subscribe to toilet paper which Merlin has done before. There is cheap toilet paper, which is in its own class, but when it comes to the mid-to-high range of toilet paper, the Honda Accord of toilet paper, you can have soft or durable, they call it tough. If you are having a tough time and you really had to go to town and you were not drinking enough water, it is going to blow up in your hand like a German grenade, like a potato masher as they called it.

Hotel rooms with pillows and disgusting objects (RL20)

The IKEA pillow section is a sham! Merlin sleeps on a funky foam pillow. John shops his pillows at Ross Dress for Less where poor people buy panties and fake Lladros. They have a selection of very inexpensive linens and pillows. He will try them out while he is there, he will stick a finger in it and stroke it, but he doesn’t lay down in the corridors and snuggle his pillow because he has a sense of the kind of pillow he likes. This last time he bought pillows that were too firm and now he tries to break them in and every time he walks past them he kicks them and punches them a bunch of times. This is like the Crest and Colgate thing for Merlin where he didn't think it mattered, but now it matters (see RL18).

Merlin really notices the difference between pillows in hotels. He is a Marriott man and there are fucking 12 pillows on the the bed, mostly decorative, with three or four underneath that are not even like a bag of feathers, but like very fine styrofoam, which is way too soft for him. He doesn’t like the headphone pillow thing that goes all the way around your head, but you can always consult the pillow menu.

John is allergic to feathers (see RW6), although he does have a boa, but he doesn’t wear it. When he was at hotels he used to have to call down to get a hypoallergenic pillow but now it is a rare hotel where all the pillows are feather. They used to make them out of shrimp, peanuts and butter, but they discovered that a lot of people were sensitive to those things.

When John's hotel bed is covered with decorative pillows, he looks at the pillows and tries to determine the pillow in that pile that is the least likely pillow to have been employed in a filthy sex act and he assumes it is buried under all the other pillows. Merlin talked about this on the last three shows of his other program. It has come to be called Mann's Assumption, like Occam's razor or Murphy's Law: Everything in a hotel room has been in somebody's ass at some point. Just assume that somebody has cum on everything in the room, because they probably have.

When John’s former drummer Nabil Ayers would enter a hotel room, the first thing he would do is grab the unused garbage bag liner out of the garbage can, wrap it around the remote control, and tie it off so that you could not touch the remote control. He would grab the remote control with his hand inside the bag like he was picking up dog shit in a park. Then they could happily search through the channels of television without having to touch this thing that he was absolutely certain had been all the way up inside a person so that no part of it was visible. It is a safety thing to do and that is why you wipe off the top of your pop can, because the truckers are peeing on the pop cans in the back of their truck (see RL13).

The toilet paper in a hotel restroom is probably not terribly expensive toilet paper. Literally don't get Merlin started on them folding it into a little arrow because he has an entire blog about folding toilet paper into a point, called ”Quit touching my toilet paper!” You sit down, ready to enjoy yourself, it is Daddy's deuce time, and the phone rings. What? There is a phone next to the toilet! Somebody is going to pick up a phone that is next to a toilet? His daughter likes to play with the phone in the room so Merlin unplugs it, grabs a giant pump of hand sanitizer and covers the entire thing until it is saturated and then wipes it all off like a crazy person.

When some men are in their cups they will reveal things what they have done with objects. Merlin had a friend who admitted putting a piece of rope in his ass when he was bored one day. Did he tie little knots in it? That is actually a thing! Merlin has seen it at Good Vibrations (which is a vibrator store, not a sex store, they don’t sell sex there), they pull it out a little at a time. You can have a vibrator store and it doesn't fall under the rubric of sex store. You can make milkshakes with them or use them if you have lower back pain.

There is probably some industry publication saying that people will feel welcome and cushy if there are 95 pillows on the bed, but Merlin has a whole process and wants to do a whole podcast about hotels where he tries to help people. He used to be very interested in the things he could do to help people with their personal productivity. That is what made him famous and rich! In the same way he would say: ”I like these index cards for this use, for this reason, this may or may not work for you!” he wants to share a process with people of what has worked for him so far.

John has the antibodies for Lyme disease, getting bitten by a tick (RL20)

John is immune to bedbugs and they don't like him because he has the antibodies for Lyme disease. He has never had Lyme disease, but he was bitten by a tick in the forest in the Netherlands once. He tried to get it out with a pair of tweezers made from two matchsticks with a rubber band wrapped around them, but that was a mistake. He went to the nearest little town and said that there was a tick in him and there was a kindly little Dutch doctor who said: "You put a little rubbing alcohol or really any kind of alcohol on it and it will come right out. It won't kill it, but it will want to get out of you!" John did this and the tick came out. Later he went through an area which was all ticks. There were no trees, although they looked like trees, but they were just piles of ticks, and John had ticks all over him.

Many months later when he was feeling not very good for another reason he went to the doctor and the doctor said: ”You have the antibodies for Lyme disease!” Now John is strong against ticks and bedbugs. They come up against him, they smell his earthy scent, and they say: ”Move along! Nothing to see here!”, like with a Jedi. Merlin would love to have that because he is scared of bedbugs and lice.

If somebody gets lice at his kid’s school they have to check everybody for lice and disinfect everything, put all the toys in garbage bags and cut off the air so the lice on the toys will die. John did have lice a bunch of times when he was a kid because there was no gathering of kids that he didn't want to get in the center of and rub his head all over their heads.

John having a big head and no eyebrows (RL20)

John has a pretty big head. People with big heads look good on television. Merlin has a normal-sized head with John Darnielle eyes and on video he looks really dishonest. His eyes are too close together, the opposite of a baby. We like babies because they have big eyes that are far apart like ET, which is why you like a baby and don’t throw it in a river. John is a big blond person and he has always been somewhat confused by the fact that he has slanty eyes like a laplander who is constantly searching across the snowy planes for his reindeer, these eyes that are always half open. Is that ping pong? Are they scrunched up or almondy? They are scrunchy and squinty, maybe because John is a High Plains Drifter with weather-beaten squinty eyes? Arch Stanton!

Merlin’s late father and a few other people were a bit like that, but Merlin has never known anybody who looks more different with the glasses off than John. Clark Kent and Superman for example look exactly the same!John has many different pairs of glasses (see RW119). When Merlin was at John’s house the time John gave him the glasses his sister-in-law threw away, not that he is mad, John had two or three of the racks from a drug store full of vintage frames. John has probably 170 pairs of glasses, but he keeps giving them away to people whose sisters in law keeps throwing them away. Those were gorgeous glasses and they had become Merlin’s signature look, not by design but when he stopped wearing them people asked where his glasses were.

Merlin was going to make a joke about reindeers because that is exactly the one thing he knows about lapland. They have cute hats and sweaters. Merlin remembers the first time he saw John with his glasses off, and it doesn't matter if he had his crazy Elton John glasses, any of those nutty glasses, or those creepy Elvis ones.

Merlin has a photo of his daughter and John when John had a missing tooth, long hair and Elvis glasses, but he still looked like him. Beard or no beard doesn't matter, but when he takes his glasses off he looks like his brother-in-law or something. Has anyone ever told John that before? It is a thing John keeps under wraps because in the event he ever needs to go on the lam he will just take his glasses off and blend into a crowd and nobody would ever notice him.

John is into spy stuff. When Merlin was a youngster that was one of the things that fascinated him the most. Merlin is a piker who is not anywhere near what John has done with reading up on this, but the part on how to do disguises always blew his mind. It was all life hacks, like put newspaper in your shoes so you will walk a little bit different. It is an entire way to become a different person, and it is way more than a fake mustache! It is a whole way of carrying yourself differently without attracting attention. It is not shoe polish in the hair and a different shirt, but there is a lot more to it. You put a little pebble or a pin in your shoe and all of a sudden you have a strange gate and half the people you know wouldn't recognize you.

Merlin doesn’t think of himself as someone with terrible posture, but he doesn’t have good posture. Whenever he catches himself walking the way he usually walks all the time he will sometimes just straighten up the tiniest bit and he can tell that he probably looks different. John is a big guy who seems to walk tall. If he slouched down a little bit he looks pretty different.

He walks with his toes pointing out like a giant ballerina and sometimes if he has a long distance to walk he will intentionally change the angle of his toes so that they are pointing directly straight ahead. It changes the whole architecture of his body and his gate. He does that to throw off satellites, almost like a bear wearing shoes. John can't change his appearance by shaving his beard because he has a beard-shaped face. If he shaves his beard, most of the time people don't even notice the beard is gone!

It happens all the time that he shaves his beard and people who have seen him every day for a year, including his mom, say: ”Did you change your hair? Are you wearing a different pair of glasses?” - ”I shaved my freaking beard! I had a beard for two years and today I don't and you don't even notice!”, whereas weak chin people shave a beard and you go: ”Urgh” When John’s face went from teenage face to adult face he noticed and wondered where all this jaw came from! John has a much bigger face now.

Merlin is pretty good at clocking. Somebody who is doing a whole gender thing (being a man dressing as a woman) can pass or be clocked, and when they are clocked that is when somebody looks at them and goes: ”That is totally a dude!” Hopefully this isn't ping pong talk, but there are a lot of people with things like comb-overs or comb-forwards. Many of their good friends have shaved their heads and they look awesome now, but in the 1970s, even in the 1980s that was not an option. Merlin used to work for a guy who was the source of a lot of his paying work and when he got into a swimming pool he looked like Ali MacGraw or Thor because his hair went down to his shoulder. He did this amazing architectural Frank Gehry thing to make it fly up. You could see the hairspray glistening on it.

George Clooney made the Caesar catch on, which was very popular with gay men in the early 1990s, too. It always comes back. Daniel Negreanu, the Professional Poker Player who is by all accounts a bald man, looks like he has a full head of hair because he is rocking the Caesar. Brian Eno from Roxy Music rocked it in the same way that the character from Rocky Horror Picture Show rocked it, which is to say grotesquely! It is a terrible look: bald with long stringy Swiss hair, it just says that you are a high-level cleric on Saturdays.

If you are going to dress like one of the members of Jethro Tull or like Mick Fleetwood on the cover of Rumors, you are more than welcome. Mick Fleetwood is another one who lets the hair over his ears grow long and the top of his head is bald with just a few really long single strands of hair. Merlin does not want to work ping pong, but this look is big in his neighborhood, especially with Chinese men. The six discreet string lots of hair across the top thing. It is a move!

John cutting his own hair (RL20)

Merlin has seen photos of John lately and John looks great! It looks like he has a professional man's haircut, but he is still cutting his own hair and he is getting better at it. He has cut his own hair for over 10 years, which is why his haircuts vary so much. At a certain point along the way he realized that he could shave dry and didn't even need water anymore. Of course if you use shaving cream the Viet Cong can smell you from across the river (see RL3) At that point he was liberated, he was free from the entire aisle at Walgreens that deals with male shaving products.

Merlin wants to be John’s Boswell (biographer) for half a second and mention that John went into a lot of detail about the genesis behind this and the revelations in an episode called: ”The Vietcong can smell the soap” (RL3) where he went through the history of wanting to eventually become a person in espionage.

John freed himself from these tyrannies, or to quote the great philosopher, from mental slavery: ”None but ourselves can free our minds! Have no fear for atomic energy ’Cause none of them can stop the time…!” (lyrics from Redemption Song by Bob Marley) Merlin can’t even guess who it is. First he thought it was Nietzsche, then he thought Merv Griffin and then he thought Burton Russell. ”How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? Some say it's just a part of it!” Ray Milland? ”We've got to fulfill the book!” Dick Kevin? "Who said that? That is good!" - "It is your hero, Bob Marley!" - ”Huh! That was pretty good!" John knows those Bob Marley lyrics because he likes Bob Marley, he thinks he is good and he enjoys Reggae music (see Merlin's Reggae story in RL19).

John was buoyed by the success he had doing espionage Alec Guinness style shaving and he decided he was going to go the whole hog and he was going to free himself from (being dependent on a haircut). How many times do you go into a hair salon to get a haircut and you come out the other side and it was not what you were going for? Then you have all the fun of letting your hair grow out and you look like a crazy person until you get your hair cut again and they don't get it right again.

If somebody was not going to get it right and was going to give him a bad haircut, it might as well be him, and he started cutting his own hair and he has been doing it for a long time. Now he even cuts other people's hair, he cut his mom's hair until she started cutting it herself and now she cuts her own hair and then comes to John to do the tricky bits.

The idea to cut his hair has always been strongest at 3am, which is a bad time to make decisions. 3am is a great time to clean the house, but it is a terrible time to cut your hair because you start cutting and lose yourself in the insanity of the night and pretty soon hair is flying everywhere. John has given himself some haircuts that seemed like a great idea. Merlin knows this from women, not to go ping pong, but the impulse to do something to your hair or for your hair or of your hair almost always reflects something much deeper and the 3am voice is not a good voice to listen to about how you should do your hair.

Usually John’s haircuts are in three stages: First he does the 3am haircut and the following day around 2pm he has identified all the problems with what he did the night before and tries to get it into some kind of shape. Over the next week there is a kind of trickling later-stage and every time he walks past a mirror he gets a pair of scissors and cuts some little thing off. After about a week of that it usually comes into line. John did a good haircut several months ago such that it is now growing out well and he is just letting it alone. He went in last night and looked at himself in the mirror with a pair of scissors, but he put the scissors down and did not want to fuck with it right now.

John is a late sleeper and goes to bed late. 3am is a great time for certain things, but there are other things that it is terrible for. You shouldn’t write emails at 3am! 3am is the hour of dissatisfaction. Merlin read a whole thing about this the other day. He never considered himself an insomniac, but there have been times when he hadn’t slept as much as he would have liked. He read this amazing article written from the perspective of saying: If you are not an insomniac or anybody who has ever had trouble sleeping, then you have no idea what it is like! It sounds completely harrowing. John routinely stayed up for 48 hours to push the envelope on those feelings.

John replying to an angry email, people reframing arguments (RL20)

Last night at 3am John did a thing he tries to do infrequently now: He responded to someone's angry email by responding after every sentence they had written with a whole paragraph about that sentence. Here is what you are trying to do in this sentence and here is why it is not working. Then he would let them say another sentence and he would say: "Here is why this sentence is a total fail also!"

Merlin wonders if John ran a Cyrano (Cyrano de Bergerac) on him (see RL40): ”You are going to tell me I got a big nose? Let me tell you about big noses!”, but no, John hates that style of argumentation, like ”You could have insulted me better!” John doesn’t mind that. There is a wonderful scene in Cyrano, the movie with José Ferrer, where a guy comes up who had heard Cyrano was the tough guy and says: ”Your nose is rather large!” and Cyrano composes a poem on the fly while he kicks the guy's ass with the sword about all the ways he could have done that in a more clever way. That is exactly what John was trying to do.

The sender was trying to manipulate John by framing the argument as a fait accompli. He framed the argument and presented his elegant solution, but John was saying that he was not in the position to frame the argument and because it was not his argument to frame it was also not his argument to solve. It was a business situation where John was doing business with somebody and they had a disagreement and all of a sudden they started using all this weird, creepy (way).

We can all agree on cheese, people not saying straight what they want (RL20)

When people try to accomplish a goal, especially when they write it down, but even when they say it to you, they are often not just saying straight why they are dissatisfied with you and what they want from you, but they use different ploys, like appealing to a straw-man or trying to use Sophism on you, trying to lead you down a certain way of thinking.

John’s favorite example is from a restaurant in San Francisco. He and two friends were looking at the pizza menu, trying to decide what kind of pizza to get. The menu said: ”Two free toppings on a large pizza” and John said: ”We should get pepperoni and mushroom” and his second friend said: ”I don't like mushrooms! What about pepperoni and green pepper?” and the third guy said: ”I'm not really into pepperoni!” and then the second guy said: ”Let's just get a cheese pizza. We can all agree on cheese!”

John said: ”We get two free toppings, so why don't we get green pepper and onion?” and the third guy said: ”Well, I like a little meat. What about sausage and onion?” and the second guy said again: ”Why don't we just get cheese? We can all agree on cheese!” They both looked at him and said: ”Well except for the two free toppings! Free toppings!”

John said: ”Sausage and onion sounds good!”, the other guy said: ”Okay, sausage and onion!” and the third guy, now a little bit upset, went: ”Well let's just get cheese! We can all agree on cheese!” and they looked at him and said: ”We just agreed on sausage and onion!” Then it occurred to John and he said: ”Do you want cheese pizza? Is that what you are saying? You want to get cheese? That is what you want?” and he said: ”It is just that we can all agree on cheese!”, but: ”We can't all agree on cheese! Only you are agreeing on cheese!”

He just wanted a cheese pizza, but he could not say it because he had grown up thinking that he was the problem solver, the one who made everybody happy. He was the one who negotiated and he had learned to get his way by trying to make his desire seem like the compromise position between everybody else. He had a reputation of being the nicest guy, but he got his way by presenting it as the simplest solution!

They were having two different conversations: One of them was trying to agree on the best utilitarian solution for what they liked on their pizza, and the other guy wanted to be right. He wanted to win and he was so invested in his method that his method was exposed. He stuck to it just a little bit too long until John was like: ”Wait a minute! There are only three of us here and we are all agreeing, except for you!” John has known this guy for years and still knows him and likes him very much. He had been employing that method his whole life and most of the time he would just stick to his guns and other people would be talking around and pretty soon it would seem like the logical choice.

John despises that phrase ”We can all agree on cheese!” just like when Merlin says: ”We will have to agree to disagree!” because John agreed to nothing! He made sure that the phrase ”We can all agree on cheese” became a watchword for the tendency of people to seem like they were being accommodating while they are actually manipulating. It is a very common thing and you see it all the time!

People offering their position as the compromise

People are ashamed when they get into a fight and manipulative people are great at turning people's shame into an agent to accomplish their own goal. They know you are ashamed already because you are in a fight and they phrase their argument in such a way that you doubt your position and then they offer you an elegant solution. In 99% of the time people are so relieved to have a solution presented and that the other person is offering them their hand in peace.

They don't even notice that the argument has been reframed and the hand in peace is actually just the other person's position. The other person is winning by presenting their desire as a compromise. In the hands of a very powerful person who is used to doing that all day long and who is good at it it can be a hell of a Jedi mind trick because now you sound uppity and you are being unreasonable. The other person says: ”Hey look, I am just trying to help you here and solve this problem!”

Merlin would just get tired of arguing in that situation, but John does not suffer from that, which is why Merlin won’t put out the first hour of every show. Sophistry works great on other people who believe in that sophistry and you can play a certain kind of game with somebody. If two people both subscribe to the ”Let's agree to disagree” philosophy then nothing will ever be accomplished because they will try and agree to disagree with each other and if one person says: ”Let's agree to disagree” then the other person cannot counter because they already believe in ”Agree to disagree”

People being afraid of finding the truth

Merlin wonders when John last time lost an argument, but John doesn’t answer Merlin’s questions and says he loses them all the time because he loses the other person's love. The other person gets exasperated and exhausted, but is it really an argument if you don't lose sometimes? It is just a treatise! Merlin is talking about a big showdown where two well-matched swordsman come up against each other in a fair fight and somebody is probably going to lose.

This happens all the time because John Hodgman has very strong feelings about culture that John does not share. He believes certain cultural things are bulletproof and John believes that they are riddled with bullet holes. They will argue about them back and forth and very often Hodgman makes a compelling case where John has to say: ”Mmm, alright!” Hodgman is one of the rare people who can actually argue longer than John.

A lot of times people who get into arguments with John feel overpowered because John replies to everything they say. He keeps the threat of the argument going in his mind and he doesn't get distracted or sidetracked. He doesn’t feel the need to settle it quickly in order to have it be easier on either of them. John wants to find the truth and get to the truth of whatever the question is that they are talking about.

When John comes up against somebody who is also interested in finding the truth you can find two truths and you can find that your truth and their truth differ and you can find a superior truth. Both parties know when both truths may be equal but one truth is more equal than the other. In those arguments John concedes to the other person all the time that their truth is the higher of the two.

The arguments that fall apart are the ones where the other person is either not seeking the truth or where they get defensive. John also doesn’t like people who use tricks. Most people are very afraid of the truth, although they have no reason to be, but they are just afraid of it because they don't have very much real truths in their lives.

They are living on an island of moss that is built out of all the little lies that they have been told and keep telling themselves. They think that in looking for the truth they are going to fall down a hole. They have these little tricks and games to redirect conversations back to places they are comfortable on or to not go into the realm of ideas where they feel threatened. Those tricks serve only one purpose, which is to avoid getting to the truth.

If you are arguing about a simple thing, like what kind of pizza topping to get on your stuff, then why are you afraid of the truth? There are three of us here and we can either come to an agreement on pizza toppings, or if you do want cheese pizza, the other two people are friendly enough that they will get half cheese, half something else. What they ended up going was getting half sausage and onion, half cheese, and John said: ”See what happens? You want cheese pizza? Say it and we get you fucking cheese pizza, but you were trying to work us and that is never good! Particularly don't try to work people who are going to see through it, because you are going to really end up being ashamed of yourself!”

Accusing people of hypocrisy

Merlin is bad at arguing. He doesn't like it, he is not just sandbagging, but he generally doesn't like arguing with people. He is not flawless at this yet, but what gets his dander up and what he fucking hates is the obsession with hypocrisy. It is astounding how many smart people allow a discussion to be shut down by not just the existence or the appearance of hypocrisy, but in fact merely the accusation of hypocrisy can be allowed to change what the entire argument is about.

Whether you are talking about God, about the truth, or anything, let's just talk about the truth! The truth is the truth, whether Merlin is good at it or not. He might suck at the truth, but him having this position, especially in this age of all the Facebook shit, whether or not he is good at it or does it correctly or is ”hypocritical” about it, so many conversations get shut down once somebody tries to find one instance of where that didn't square up in someone's life. It is appalling once you start noticing it!

Accusing someone of hypocrisy is one of 10 really great undergraduate arguing tricks. Someone once accused that person of hypocrisy and they realized: ”Oh wow, that works great!” They just need to listen for a place where they can insert the lever of inconsistency and derail their whole thing, or trying to find one exception to it being perfect and flawless all the time, which is pretty fucking crazy borderline personality disorder.

Merlin thinks it is troubling when police in the narcotics squad take a lot of money to put people in jail by planting drugs on them, that is hypocrisy, the kind of inert bullshit and the kind of harmful bullshit. He can't believe how often you get one of those notes from somebody and if you take a step back and decide that you are not bothered by being hypocritical it is amazing how the entire argument changes. It falls apart! There are so many things that people say to each other, but that accidentally just mean ”I found a way in my mind that you are hypocritical. We are done here!"

You can then employ the ninja technique of saying: ”That is right! I have conflicting ideas! What is your next move?” or: ”You are absolutely right, I am hypocritical! What else should we talk about?” If somebody calls you a hypocrite in particular on the internet you are done. They are a sniper, they got the shot and you are finished.

"Okay, I am a hypocrite and I am not losing that much sleep over it, so now what do you think of me?" Now you might as well be fucking Hitler to them because you are not obsessed with hypocrisy. You know who worries about hypocrisy? People who are extremely fucking hypocritical and are scared to be discovered by somebody!

Ron Paul, political arguments (RL20)

The conservatives across America have finally discovered how to combat the charge that they are racists. They are saying gleefully: ”Quit playing the race card!” Really good conservative demagogues have been doing this for a long time, but now it has reached the conservative mainstream. People say a blatantly racist thing and when somebody says: ”That was really racist what you just said!” they go: ”There you are again, Liberal! Playing the race card!” Then they say the racist thing again.

It is brilliant because it is a ninja move! They have flipped the argument and their audience of course agrees: ”Yeah, the race card!”, but even a lot of the reasonable people, the moderates, these in between people, are going to say: ”Why don't those liberal stop playing the race card?” It is totally a Jedi mind-trick!

Ron Paul's ex-campaign manager, who had been with him since the late 1980s, read a really interesting piece in response to all these allegations that Ron Paul is this and Ron Paul is that. Merlin doesn’t give a fucking shit about any of this, but it was very interesting and carefully written and very entertaining in a wonderful rhetorical style: He started to lay out his bona fides: "I worked for the guy, I have been with him every day, I did this, I did that, I have been working on his crazy presidential campaign in the 1980s"

Then he said that everybody asks: ”Is Ron Paul homophobic?" - "No! He is an old guy who like a lot of old guys is kind of uncomfortable being around gay people. It is weird that he does wash his hands after shaking hands with a gay guy, but is he homophobic? I don’t know, but he is definitely weird." He is not trying to damn with faint praise. "Is Ron Paul anti-semitic?" - "No he is not! He is around a lot of Jewish people all the time!”

He is humanizing him about all these hot-button issues. Then he explains what the problem is: ”Nobody is noticing how completely fucking out of his gourd he is about foreign policy!” He basically said: ”You guys, you want to make this electability straw-man over here when you should be looking at how this guy is a pre-World War I caricature. He has got all his money in gold and silver!”

Merlin likes anybody who loves their job, is good at it and likes talking about it, and anybody who can write something entertaining about anything. He doesn’t give a shit about sports, but he likes listening to the people on NPR. He doesn’t really care about Texas, but when Wade from Texas does a report… Same with this: He doesn't care about politics, but if somebody writes something good it is good! Good writing is good writing!

The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards autobiography (RL20)

After the Keith Richards autobiography came out there was an awesome response from Mick Jagger. The book was a tidal wave, Keith shunted so much shit on Mick, and Merlin heard him on Fresh Air talking about it and the first half hour were happy recollections of crazy Rock'n’Roll and the second half was basically just a lot of him saying: ”Mick is a misogynist who only cares about money!” Everything fucked up that has happened in the Stones was apparently because of Mick Jagger.

There was a reply that supposedly was from Mick Jagger and it was such a brilliant piece of writing! It made John wish so desperately that Mick had actually written it and that Paul McCartney and Paul Simon would write a similar thing. Let's just quit pretending and talk about how hurt I am by the shit you said and the reality of the situation. Of course it was a hoax, but it is an example of great writing that trumps the lie. It is better than anything John could have written, it is better than whatever his real mealy-mouthed response was, it is better than Keith’s autobiography. Good stuff!

The stuff that happened to The Rolling Stones is mind-boggling! What happened to them at the height of their powers in the early 1970s will curl your hair! It is ridiculous, it is a perfect example of the kind of shit Merlin and John care a lot about. They knew they were getting screwed by their label and suddenly this dude Alan Klein came along and said: ”Guys guys guys, you are being treated so poorly! I got this one! Just sign here and I'll take care of everything!”

He basically got their entire catalog and then wasn't paying their taxes for four years. It is the comb-over thing: In 1975 The Rolling Stones were essentially trapped in thinking that their comb-over wasn't noticeable, in the sense that they just didn't have the perspective that we have now, which is: ”Hey bald guy! Shave your head! You will look great!” Charlie Watts in particular. He is a great-looking man.

John was in a band with a guy who wore an ear-to-ear comb-over (Michael Schilling, see RL342). All of his friends were trying to talk him out of it. He was 25 years old, living in the city, playing in Rock bands, and he was wearing a lacquered haircut from ear to ear. One day everybody just said: ”You know what? The emperor has no clothes here. We gotta start telling him!” and they told him: ”Hey, just cut it off!” because guys were already shaving their heads, it was already a look. Eventually he did it in Merlin’s kitchen the day Merlin met John. He looked so great! He is a good-looking young man with a nicely shaped head. That first day was like walking outside without any pants on for him.

Back in the 1970s they didn't have the awareness that we have of people being ripped off, of how to conduct business, and of how to talk straight to each other. They were getting blood transfusions, Allen Klein was stealing their money. John loves that story of them in the South of France: Keith had a beautiful mansion right on the water in Captain Teebs. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman did not have the songwriting royalties at the time and they also moved to the South of France for tax reasons, but they were living two hours up the road in the Exile on Main Street era, it is a harrowing story!

There is a documentary where Mick goes back there, they were working men with families and they had to commute to heroin den, a place where they didn't speak the language and weren't interested in the culture and all Bill Wyman wanted was his brand of biscuits and all Charlie Watts wanted was some Mr. Pibb’s Tea or whatever. He just wanted his Jazz records and be left alone, but instead he was driving on these little narrow tiny roads to get down to Keith's waterfront mansion. There were so many better ways they could have done it! They could have just been living in a hotel, there are a million things they could have done, but they didn't think it through. Poor guys!

That Paperback Writer 2-3 period for The Beatles where they were just in the studio and stuff was working. John (Lennon) wasn't that happy, but it must have been amazing to be able to just come up with stuff like that!

Exile on Main Street is a great album. Rocks Off is Merlin’s favorite Rolling Stones song, period, but sometimes he is having trouble getting into it. He should listen to it more.

John buying a cape at Merlin’s Walgreens (RL20)

One time John was visiting Merlin near Halloween without the band and as was so often the case they ended up at the Walgreens near Merlin’s home. With a minimum of decision-making or hemming and hawing John bought a cape. He walked in, he saw the cape, he bought the cape, a Dracula-style costume cape. If you are going to buy a cape, that is how you should buy it. You don’t want one of those fruity little Bat Girl ones. Bat Girl looks great in that, but having a mini cape is very effeminate for a man. You see a big enough luxurious cape? Get the cape!

John kept wearing it for a while and once he got the cape on he realized why Dracula wears a cape. It conceals a multitude of sins, it makes every entrance and exit extremely dramatic, and in John’s case it protected him against police interference. At the time of course he was wearing a cape and a western shirt, which you don't think of as going together, but they go great together! A Dracula cape, a western shirt, and a cigar! There are some wonderful photos, it turned out really good!

It is one thing to be kind of wacky, it is one thing to have a T-shirt with an obscenity on it, and it is another thing to have a big fruity Jamiroquai hat. A certain kind of person would have no compunction about coming up and just punching you in the face because they think you are stupid, but there is something about a tall man in a western shirt with a cape! It is enough that you have to think a little bit. There is some extra processing going on and John started walking in a slightly more stately way. He stood up more erect and he walked a bit slower. People were literally crossing to the other side of the street rather than just encountered a giant man in an cape.

An American man wearing a cape in a Chinese part of town, on the face of it you think: ”This guy is going to be laughing to himself, running around and throwing poop!”, but John looked like someone who was trying to solve a very important problem. He even used some of their promotional photos and he had a look of a very serious man that was somewhat at odds with a western shirt and a cape, but that just made it work even better. John put on his thinking cape, and he still puts on that cape and walks around his house! Merlin thought it was just a San Francisco thing when John wore it on stage, but John also wore it to enter a Rock concert.

At the end of the night, it might have even been Duff McKagan, but some Rock person who is an actual Rock person, said: ”You know, you walked out on that cape and nobody in this city understood that they were seeing the most Rock’n’Roll moment of the year! They didn't even know where to put it in their minds and they just stood there mouths agape!” When you think of capes you think of James Brown and Screaming’ Jay Hawkins, but how many more people except for some fruitcake during the psychedelic era or Freddie Mercury wore a cape? That guy from the band where the one guy in pigtails does the singing and the other guy who wears a cape plays the keyboards. Sparks!

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