RL231 - First Banana

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: John’s gonna figure out what it means. The origin of that is unknown.

The show title refers to Wayne Rogers from MASH being sick of being second banana and wanting to be first banana.

John doesn’t want to talk about time travel.

They end the show with making impressions of Tom Waits doing Louis Rothschild, but John heard a lot of Randy Newman in it. The question is ”Do I?” and the answer is ”Yes, I do!” That’s it, that’s the whole game!

The people who did Trivial Pursuit needed to clarify that ”km” means ”kilometer”. Apparently they did a universal search for the string ”km” and now Hugh Jackman is in Trivial Pursuit as Hugh Jackilometeran. Out in Washington, everybody recognizes km as the Kenworth brand. KMFDM is a Drug Against War. KMFDM is the Art of Noise.

When John was naming his band, his mom asked him to consult with her first because she wanted him to have a band name that is googlable. She probably spent a lot of time on Laura Ingalls Wilder posts.

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

John got his internet back in the office (RL231)

John is back in his office because he got his Internet back! The person who came and finally fixed the problem said that his CFIT authenticators had been mislabelled as RFQI defibrillators. It is one of those things like a corrupted font: It is the last place you look. He checked John’s fonts, he reverse-image-searched a lot of the key queue, and he had to reverse the polarity at least a couple of times. Was John’s deuterium depleted? It would be quite normal for a man his age. There was a team of SAS commandos that parachuted in to destroy John’s deuterium factory and they almost succeeded, but then the bombs didn’t work because the backdoor had an extra padlock on it.

John was without Internet in his office for months and he asked them to refund his money, he demanded satisfaction. The RFID polarity problem was something they recognized as their issue. So who is the crazy one now? They were probably cleaning house and they renamed things that had no names, the girls who had no name, the man without a face, the eyes without a face. Somebody higher up had said that they needed to clean up all this fidgemoroll and they didn’t recognize what it was and named it something that it wasn’t and then they couldn’t find it.

The Radar O’Reilly hat, MASH (RL231)

Father Mulcahy passed, which made Merlin and John really sad. 2016 keeps taking from us, even still! Charles Manson is feeling better, but John doesn’t care if he lives or dies. Radar O’Reilly always wore that little hat that was a tank helmet liner for cold weather. In Alaska that was a hat that you wore if your dad worked in a tank and it communicated exactly the thing that Radar O’Reilly was. No-one else on the cast of Mash ever wore that particular type of hat that John calls the Radar O’Reilly hat. You would see them in Alaska on people, but it would always say that they worked in a tank.

In the mid-2000s this hat all of a sudden became the fashionable hat, which made John very upset. He didn’t like that hat at all on people and he didn’t like it on Indie Rockers. There was a particular type of Indie Rocker who wore it, but who was decidedly not somebody who had worked in a tank, but someone who was wearing bell bottoms, but not hippie bell bottoms. Merlin sees it as an Everything but the Girl guy hat. He got really sick and skinny and Merlin thinks he wore a hat like that.

The most egregious example that really upset John was when Ben Folds was wearing it at Bonnaroo one year. Come on! This is not your hat, my friend! It is not a skate rat hat, but more a ”I got these beats in Guatemala hat”, except within the Indie Rock context. John already thought this plague was gone and had been eradicated, but ever since he found out that Father Mulcahy died, he has been seeing those hats everywhere. He doesn’t think they are in tribute, but it must be something weird. Are millennials suddenly discovering them even though they are only 10 years old? MASH is fairly hard to stream, so most millennials probably don’t know it exists. They definitely don't put the asterisks in the name.

Merlin thinks that MASH was some of McLean Stevenson’s best work, although he was on there maybe for a total of two seasons. Trapper and Henry left at the same time in Season 2 because Wayne Rogers was sick of being ”second banana” to Alan Alda, as Merlin had read in Dynamite Magazine. How bummed he must have been when they did the Trapper John MD Medical Drama! Which banana was he then?

There is something special about the first few seasons of MASH, it is more anarchic and way less preachy. Toward the end after about 1979 it got really bad. The entire Korean police action was only 2 years in length and that show was on TV for about 10 years. It has always been a metaphor for Vietnam. Merlin really liked Colonel Potter. You got to sand off everybody’s edges! The whole point of Hot Lips in the movie and the early seasons was that she was insufferable, but you can’t leave somebody insufferable for 10 seasons, you have to make a little bit lovable. You have to bring in a Donald Penobscott. John’s sense of MASH and its legacy is that the last few seasons colored it completely for so many people.

People talk about it like people talk about the Eagles, like there was nothing redeemable about MASH! John watched all 10 seasons of that show and it only became awful after Burns left. They brought in Winchester, which was a little bit of a recordscratch, because part of what made Larry Linville’s character Frank Burns so interesting was that he was actually not a good surgeon. Merlin and his friend John Patton debated this all the time: Is Winchester a good character? He is very dignified, they take the piss out of him a lot, but he was a very good surgeon.

Up until 1976/77/78, they were running out of brand-new ideas, so they were bringing back Hawkeye writing a letter to his dad or acting like everybody was being interviewed for a documentary or orphan Korean boy who ends up being an irrepressible scamp gets adopted by the… (Merlin is not going to work ping pong). The last few seasons are non-canonical. John liked Charles Winchester III and making him a good surgeon probably eliminated the ongoing and very difficult idea that there was someone on the cast that was patching up American servicemen badly. It is one thing to have a second-hand remark about Vietnam and it is another thing to say that our boys are not getting very good service. As the writing got more histrionic, it got harder to take the fact that Frank Burns was doing a poor job as slapstick. He got the Dunning-Kruger-problem. They continue to talk about MASH.

Watergate and Richard Nixon (RL231)

John was explaining Watergate to his millennial girlfriend in a very tight 20 minutes and he realized that the formative moment for our entire generation and the generation that preceded us, the crime that gave its name to a thousand crimes, now just seems like comically innocent. In retrospect it seems so dumb because they were totally going to win the election. It was even dumber because they had won the election, Nixon was already re-elected! Something this dumb had to happen not because of Nixon but because of the sick synergy of the people that he needed around him, a malignant combination of terrible, broken personalities!

It has gotten quite hard for John on Twitter lately. There is a person who very successfully inhabits the character of Richard Nixon on Twitter, commenting on current affairs. John feels he knows Nixon in a new way and he really looks forward to his posts. Nixon was kind of like Steve Jobs: ”Fucking amateur hour, look at what these guys are doing!” That is a lot of what this Nixon persona does. ”This is your idea of corruption?” It makes John miss simpler times. Then you get Gerald Ford, and this guy over here, no soup!

10th grade in High School (RL231)

Merlin’s favorite year of high school was his freshman year of college. The most interesting and significant one, the one he romanticizes the most is 10th grade, because that was a really important year when he had a lot of firsts. In his memory this year is filled with a lot of sadness, but also a lot of contradictory stuff. There are the forces leading up to 10th grade, there is 10th grade and there is what happens after 10th grade. 10th grade was a crucible where a lot of the story got cooked out and it was super-interesting! The stuff that Merlin was into in 10th grade was disparate and contradictory in a way that is kind of amazing. It was not the year he joined the society of creative anachronism, but he was a year into playing D&D.

Merlin's daughter is 9 and she is growing really fast. His friend John Siracusa has a daughter about the same age and Dan has a son the same age, and it is really weird that each kid has a handful of things where they might just as well be 60, and a handful of things where they might as well be 2. Merlin suspects that this changes just by degree over time. In 10th grade, Merlin was much closer to 6th grade than he was to 11th grade. He was still very much a kid, struggling to figure things out. In 10th grade Merlin was really into The Who and Ozzy, he was getting over Rush and he was still mad at them because of Subdivisions. He liked a weird mix of music and culture and he was still very pliable.

John’s favorite year was 11th grade. Merlin’s birthday is in late November so he was always old while John was always young and they are probably talking about the same year of life. In 10th grade John was really unformed and just flailing. During summer after 10th grade John made his little list on his desk plotter and wrote down BMOC, because he needed to step up! 11th grade was the one full of firsts: First kiss, first moment where some peer recognized him as cool like ”Good job!”, some senior said ”That was pretty funny, Roderick!” and then spit in John’s milk. He was starting to come in on his own and he could look at himself in the mirror and he wasn’t a complete human crater.

By 12th grade John had already squandered everything he had earned in 11th and he became an enemy of the people, but for a brief shining moment in 11th grade he had it all. He was on a trajectory, but he still had a residual halo of "Loser!" around him. In his freshman year there was only one picture of him in the yearbook wearing a black sweatshirt covered with dandruff and a very greasy bowl haircut. The caption didn’t even include his name, but just said ”Come on, it can’t be that bad!” Somehow his normal picture didn’t make it in there, but he wasn’t in any clubs. The picture should have said ”Definition: Freshman” In 10th grade John was involved in stuff and getting into it, but he was still 6 years old. If two Juniors were sitting on the couch kissing each other, he would walk by and go ”Buuuuuuuuuh”, because he didn’t understand how to play it cool.

When John first started his junior year there was quite a bit of uncool still stuck to him, but he had really cleaned up his act: He got elected to the student congress and he was the arts and culture editor of the school newspaper. This all happened in the beginning of junior year. He had written BMOC on his desk plotter, he didn’t even know what that meant, but his dad was talking about it all the time, he was going to figure it out and it was going to be him!

After New Year's, John had a girlfriend. He was talking to girls and they were absolutely telling him to go away, but they did it with a giggle instead of with a look of horror. John was writing for the school newspaper and people were coming up to him, telling him that they really liked his article, which shocked and amazed him. He had a car all of a sudden, and he was a bonafide member of his little gang, not just some tag-along. His hair wasn’t greasy anymore and he had cobbled together a wardrobe of Crew-neck sweaters.

In senior year John lost his plot. In freshman and sophomore year he was the guy with the two alligators humping on his jeans jacket and in senior year he had a floor length duster trench coat with a white-out skull and crossbones on the back. It was just junior year where he wasn’t fucking up at all, but he had a Crew-neck sweater, a button-down shirt, top-siders, he was writing for the school newspaper, and he had a girlfriend. He flew too close to the sun! It seemed like everything could happen from there, he could even go to college!

Merlin dislikes the phrase that somebody has ”arrived”, because how long will it be before you will be asked to leave? By senior year, John’s hair was greasy again, he was like Cinderella and his carriage turned back into a pumpkin. In Sophomore year he was still somewhat pubescent and he wasn’t pretty to look at. In Senior year he was not pubescent anymore, but he was just a gross 17 year old. He was a grotesquery, he was a founding member of the trench coat mafia and there was nobody else in it.

There were a couple of good years, like the first time John quit drinking and got himself into the University of Washington. Grunge was happening all around him in Seattle, but John went straight. He cut his hair and he shaved off his scraggly beard, he put on his crew-neck sweaters again, he went to the University of Washington and he was so proud of himself because that was his dad’s college and he had gotten into the big school.

Having already been Grunge for several years and now having really cleaned up his act, John was very contemptuous of all the students wearing Grunge clothes and practicing Grunge as a lifestyle choice around campus. John was really coming across very LL Bean. There was a real pull in him and he was wondering which way his life was going to go? Is he going to be straight? Is he going to be successful? Is he going to go to his uncle and ask him for a job? Is he going to be a US Senator? Is he going to be a grown-up person? John held the till while the ship was going into rough waters, but as he was catching the wind he just couldn’t hold it. There wasn’t anything in it that he could find that worked for him.

Family counselor (RL231)

John’s junior year was the time he first started to see Jane Lindeman, his family counsellor. His mom and dad were trying to figure out how to solve their family dynamic and the 4 of them, his mom, his dad, his sister and himself all went to this family counsellor. After a couple of months his sister, who was maybe 11 and pretty young to be this aware, said that she has been sitting in this family counseling for 2 or 3 months and no-one has ever asked her a question or said a word to her, so whatever the problem was in this family, it was obviously not hers and she didn't want to go to this anymore.

The elephant in the room was clearly John! Everybody was embarrassed and nobody believed that the idea that their family dynamic was a problem included them. John's mom, his dad and him continued going to family counseling for a while because John’s dad was really into psychology. He had been seeing a Jungian psychiatrist in the 1950s. His mom and his dad signed up for LSD trials in 1959, but didn’t do them for some reason. They were very curious about that stuff and very exploratory.

When they were sitting in family counseling everybody was yelling at each other about what a problem John was and at a certain point his mom stood up and said ”Obviously, David and John have a lot to work out and it is not a good use of my time sitting in here listening to those two bicker and argue about what is obviously their broken relationship” She wasn’t going to come to this anymore until some progress has been made.

Then there were two, John and his dad. They continued to see Jane Lindeman for another couple of months and then his dad said ”Hey, I can’t make it this week, I got a big meeting in Washington DC and I’ll see you next week”, but he never came again. John kept going and continued to see his family counsellor for 3 more years. Jane never yelled at John, but there was also never an acknowledgement that John was a teenage boy who needed some special help. When he would say anything about a girl, Jane would change the subject and she would not give him relationship advice. When John was 13, 14, 15 years old, that was all he wanted to talk about, but it always deflected!

That whole process really confirmed in John the understanding that a) everybody in his family thought that he was the problem, and b) Jane didn’t disagree. John already knew he was the problem, and going into 11th grade he had this huge shock wave right behind him of not just a feeling, but he had also been given the language to describe it and he had the power of conviction of a whole army marching behind him who all agreed that he self-sabotaged, he got in the way of his own self and he intentionally took steps to impede his success, which was a widely held believe in his clan.

All he needed to do was just do the thing that needed to be done. He didn’t need to do the other things he did, which was examine the logic of the thing that was being asked. If somebody asked him to draw this in 2 colors, he didn’t need to draw it in 14 colors to show them how much better it can be, he didn’t need to argue with the premise, he didn’t need to write in the margins, and he didn’t need to tell the teacher that her question was irrelevant. He just needed to get out of the way and do the thing and the thing seemed so simple to everybody else. Why couldn’t he just do the simple thing? He couldn’t! He never could do the simple thing! Half the time he was just offended by ”How could any of you do this?”

Getting a sense of humor and being accepted (RL231)

Going into 11th grade, he looked at the letters BMOC printed on his plotter and he asked himself what to do about that, because right now he was LMOC and what is the transition? He started to get out of the way. If you finally manage to get a shirt with a crocodile on it, don’t sow another crocodile on it! Just leave it, you are just antagonizing people! You can have the crocodile and disbelieve it and you can imagine another crocodile on it, just don’t go that extra step!

What did John want? He wanted was to get kissed! He wanted to kiss somebody! Didn’t he also want to not be just another fucking drone? At that point that was no longer a risk! He was never going to buy at hook, line and sinker. He wasn’t mentally or emotionally vulnerable in that way. He couldn’t conform because it was not in his heart, but he started to recognize where to make his stand, pick his battles, fight the real fight, don’t sit and lose the initial battle of even getting your foot in the door because you are showing up in a double-knit suit that you got at the Goodwill for $1.

For the first couple of years of high school John had planted his feet somewhere on the topic of Levi’s: He wasn’t going to wear Levi’s because Levi’s were trendy. He was dumb and didn’t know enough about anything, but at that point in time, he was not going to wear super-tight Levi’s that had been ironed, but he was only going to wear army pants and stuff. By 11th grade he had spent 2 years fighting Levi’s and what did he have to show for it? Levi’s still exist! Everyone in the school was wearing Levi’s except him and no-one cared! He hadn’t won anybody over to his way of thinking and he hadn't collected a new army, all wearing army pants.

This was also the time when John had his growth spurt and all of a sudden he was tall, which couldn’t have hurt. His sense of humor had come in the same way that somebody's mustache comes in, although his mustache had not come in, but his sense of humor had come in. He was no longer ”There is an atom bomb in your shoe!”, he was no longer quoting Monty Python, but he was able to toss off little quips that were fairly biting. The scene where a senior said ”That was a good one, Roderick!” was an actual event, a guy named John (John Jerryl, called JJ, see story in RL268).

He had a pockmarked face, he wasn’t beautiful, but he was the real cut-up of the grade ahead of him, he was the Bill Murray and John really wanted his approval. One day, standing in a group of people, John pulled out his verbal derringer and hit somebody in the gun belt, and JJ took a little bit of a head check and said ”Huh, that was pretty good!”. JJ was immediately going to war with John because John had just demonstrated that he was the new thread to him. You want to play with the big dogs? It was a tense moment, but a great moment for John to have gotten JJ's attention. They did go to war and eventually John prevailed, because his sense of humor came in hard when it came in. It all came in at once.

John had grown a foot in height (30cm) and he went from being picked upon to and pushed around and ”Hey John, drink this!” to a state where nobody could get the better of him, at least in the teenage way: ”Hey John, drink this!” - ”Why? Is that your mom in a cup?” All you do is bang your head on a locker because you just got schooled. Is this your first day? John had a friend tell him many years later that John has never been as funny than he had been in 11th grade. That is horrible to hear, but he was an idiot and what he meant was that when his humor came in he had been abused and so he was pretty vicious.

Merlin was bullied like every kid was bullied: They were all living in fear. Being funny was more a defensive thing, and Merlin's John Roderick humor started probably in 8th or 9th grade. He always felt like a non-combatant. He was not even in this game. In 8th grade he did not register with people and was just another dork, and he has still never been in a fight in his entire life. John has been in a couple of fights and he made one of their listeners very uncomfortable a couple of years ago talking about one of these incidents.

John doesn’t like to make their listeners uncomfortable, but he would like them to feel bathed in a warm chalice by John and Merlin. John is like your favorite uncle you look forward to seeing every year and then he talks about Hitler for two hours. John is cupping their heads and Merlin is pouring ointment on them. For Merlin the frisson was more emotional and nobody was going to see his dick in this locker room! Those showers were one of the most debilitating things for him: Shower down to get an A!

In Buddhism they call it the second arrow: There is the arrow you get shot with and the arrow you shoot into yourself. John took a D in gym rather than to get in the shower. Merlin was not worried about being gay, but he was worried about having a tiny dick and no body hair. Millennials will tell him that he had the nascent homophobia of the 1980s, but that was not it, but he was really underdeveloped, especially in his own eyes. He was probably pretty normal, but boy was that something he never wanted anybody else to see. John was fat! In 8th grade Merlin had lots of baby fat while the other guys looked like Roger Staubauch. This was not fair!

When you look back at pictures of yourself you looked great! What were you so worried about? John was very worried that he was chubby. For a long time it didn’t even occur to him that penises had different sizes because when someone was naked around him he averted his eyes immediately. He had been in locker rooms, but he had never seen a penis. Some guys are used to being naked and they have been through puberty and have a lot of secondary hair. They are walking around cock of the walk! If you are a sports person and you are physically capable on the sports field, you carry a body comfortability with you and it is the Easter parade for you. If you can throw a football all the way down the field, who cares if you have a gut or not? Merlin probably smelled scared.

Not accepting being on the fringe with the nerds (RL231)

By 9th and 10th grade, John had made his world with the nerds. He had made his bones with the kids who sat at the edge of the lunch-room, the D&Ders, the Monty Pythoners. As he was going into 11th grade he felt: ”Is this me? Am I going to hide out here in the corner of the lunch room?” This wasn’t him, but he was over here because he felt safe and accepted here. John remembers sitting with a friend who was taking metal working classes and who was very excited to be able to use the forge. He opened his notebook and there were very detailed drawings of the broad sword he was going to forge. John was both intrigued by forging a broad sword because it was pretty bad-ass, but there was also a recognition that forging a broad sword does not bode well. It is not a useful implement now, we don’t use them a lot and to want one in that way, but not buy one and put it on the wall, but to forge one in the furnace of Mordor? John was living in that fantasy place a lot, imagining he was being gifted with magic powers, conjuring an orb right and left.

There were also contemporaneous people who were preparing for a life in the world. John was playing with GI Joes in the bathtub while people his own grade were actually having sex with each other, not just making out and going to second base, but they were all the way moving on. He made the conscious decision to go out from where he felt comfortable and safe into a place where he was able to be comfortable in fantasy and to move into this terrible world where a big part of how that world discriminates is by starting with the premise that they don’t want you. Somebody like John who was not a hero yet!

There were people who were a lot cooler than John and who still were not going to make it! How could he achieve enough velocity not only to penetrate, but once headed that way, he was not going to be content unless he was in the center. BMOC is not ”Big assistant man on campus”, it is not ”Big sidekick on campus”, John wasn’t going to be anybody else’s sidekick or second banana, but he was going to write and direct this episode and it was about him saving a little Korean boy named Top Hat (referring to their discussion about MASH in the previous episode). That is kind of true now, too!

Not abusing your power to get into shows (RL231)

John is adjacent to the world of Hollywood, comedy, and actors in the same way that Merlin for a long time has been adjacent to Silicon Valley. Now that John is down in Hollywood all the time, he looks at that world and asks himself: Why do I hate everyone in this café? Oh, they are all working on their screenplay! Everyone in here is either meeting with someone that they hope will option their screenplay, or they are just striving to do a thing that clearly is not going to pan out for them.

John feels safe in the place he built for himself, but is he prepared to go down to California, cold-call Joel McHale and say ”Hey, I’m in town! I don’t really have any good ideas, but I was hoping that I could ride on your coat tails! Call me back!” This turns out great how? Merlin is acquainted with Chris Hardwick, not super-good friends, but they know each other from a time when Merlin was more famous and he was less famous. They would talk about things and play at the idea of doing things. Time passed, Chris has gotten real big and successful with stuff and people say that he should have Merlin on his show, but Merlin just wants to hide under a rock. Merlin doesn’t even want to inconvenience people with ideas, because ideas weigh something.

John was down in Los Angeles as Patton Oswalt was playing at Largo. He wanted to go to that show which was sold out, but that doesn’t matter to daddy. He knows everybody at Largo, he has played a lot of shows there, and the Largo-account faves his Instagram posts. He is really up here! This shouldn’t be a problem. He was gearing up, standing at the front door, saying ”I know the show is sold out, but you guys liked my last 7 posts” There is not a lot of turnover in the people who run the place. John's plan was to just show up with people (!) and waltz in.

Then he was sitting and doing a Merlin Mann on this, thinking about the potential outcomes. If he shows up with a bunch of people at a place and gets turned away, he is not especially embarrassed by that, because it is always like ”Well, gave it a try! Let’s go across the street and eat Blintzes” or whatever! Buy why give his good friends at Largo any memory of ever having turned him down for anything? Why risk even establishing the notion in anyones mind that he is in a category of people who get turned down for anything? He didn’t want this enough to live with what the "No!" would have meant. It would have put a black mark next to his name and put him on a list with people who get into some shows sometimes. Right now he is not on that list of people who get turned down for a Patton Oswalt show that has been sold out for a month. He could have gotten into that show, but science all falls apart if you test your theory!

Sometimes John does feel he is not pushing himself enough. Just the word ”audition” makes him want to sit in the bathtub with a bowl of Macaroni and Cheese. John’s problem is that he always feels that he is offering utility to every situation. He is not showing up there with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champaign, but the bouquet of flowers and the bottle of champaign is him!

Merlin tries to teach this to his daughter with regards to the cat: In the 11 months they have had her she has really warmed up to the family, but she is still a hideous monster. She has come in her way for a 10 year old cat, and she has become kind of affectionate in the sense that she likes to be petted at certain times in certain ways. With cats it is all about building up way more trust than you think is reasonable or certainly way more trust than is fun. A lot of times when you feel like petting the cat: Don’t pet the cat! Leave it alone, because if it really wants it, it will come to you! If the cat does come to you, here are a couple of places and ways that the cat likes to be scratched. You can scratch the back of the cat’s neck forever and she will be very happy. Don’t walk up to the cat, picker her up, turn her around, put her on her lap and start scratching her on her underside. That doesn’t build trust, but suspicion!

Follow-up Dan Harmon (RL231)

John feels like the ship has already sailed for being in Dan Harmon’s productions (The ”All the great shows” guy) and John doesn’t think that it is Dan’s job to reach out to John and it doesn’t help that some of their wonderful fans have missed very few opportunities to make this into an unnecessarily oppositional thing with Dan Harmon.

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