RL232 - The Going-With Years

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Quantum of Solace (Movies)
  • John changing his light switches (House)
  • Power windows (Cars)
  • Merlin’s family’s morning struggle (Merlin Mann)
  • John’s weird clock (Objects)
  • The going-with-years in Junior High where girls will ask you to go with them (Early Days)
  • The Arctic Roadrunner and Laurie Basler (Early Days)
  • Merlin’s life hacks (Merlin Mann)
  • John’s model rocket (Early Days)
  • John’s daughter’s outfit (Family)
  • Ordering custom food, not eating potatoes, applying sauces (Food and Drink)
  • John getting his daughter to school (Family)

The problem: There were engines in the doors, referring to power-windows in cars having engines in the door to pull down the windows.

The show title refers to 6th grade in school where girls will ask the boys if they want to go with them or as an intermediary if they want to go with her friend.

John is a little bit sick. He had a chocolate croissant and he is a little dolorous, a little bit everything. He was up very late last night, but it is a long story.

John was trying to explain molecules to his daughter the other day, and she turned and looked out the window.

Quantum of Solace (RL232)

The people who had fixed up John's before he moved in years ago did a terrible job! They made some pretty weird decisions that did not have the long view in mind. There is no fireman’s pole. There are no switches at his bookshelf or when he moves back the head on his Shakespeare. There is nothing that affords him an unseen location in the house. There are actually two hidden doors. If you are going to make changes to your house, you should begin with having cool hidden panels, doorways, and tunnels. Everything you do after that: Wiring, plumbing, where you put the new half bath, is all going to be governed by where the corridors are.

That is the thing that infuriates John the most about Quantum of Solace: He got this beautiful house in the middle of nowhere and this amazing escape tunnel next to the fireplace that goes down into this amazing warren of escape rooms, but when you get out of the tunnel it just sort of appears in the yard. It goes out into the septic field and they never show the last 100 yards. There is a scene where they go down to the basement and in the next shot he is poking his head out of the grass like a gopher. There is no door or anything! 300 yards are a long way to go and John’s question is if that whole distance is a stone-lined corridor that you can stand up in, but at the last bit you just push some grass apart? There should be a well or a dog house or a chapel because you don’t just pop out in the grass somewhere!

John changing his light switches (RL232)

John’s house was equipped with so called decorator switches, which are light switches that are both ugly and unusable. They look like something else and they are touch-sensitive dimmer switches who don’t even have a click! You put your hand on it and you roll your fingers on it like you are playing an 1980s keyboard with a sensitivity strip, but they don’t work. Sometimes they don’t respond to your touch, sometimes they go all the way on and then all the way off immediately, so when John first moved in he said that this will not stand! He took two of them out and put in normal looking switches that are still dimmers. Instead of going flick, you move those little levers. It felt like a nice balance because dimmers have their place and he would need 1000W switches. That was 10 years ago.

The other day John turned the dimmer in the kitchen down almost all the way to the bottom and the switch went ”bss bss bss”. He monkeyed with it, he could get it to do it again every time and the room smelled like smoke, like in the 1970s when you put too much ice in a blender. It is particularly bad because if you are not going to put your dimmer all the way down, somebody else is going to do it and walk away and this thing is going to be sitting there starting a fire in the wall.

John went to the hardware store, but they don’t sell 1000W switches anymore. The guy said that there has never been such a thing, as they always do. Where did you get these? I bought them here 10 years ago! As John was about to buy some new switches he thought of changing all the switches in the house because that is the kind of thinker he is. He changed all these switches and at one point he was a little lackadaisical, made an error and it caused some arcing, which is not good.

He hadn’t zipped everything back into the wall when he was testing it and turned the power back on, and a couple of things were hanging out and touched one another. Stupid rookie mistake! In the course of that he fried one of his new parts and had to go back to the Hardware store. The indignity! For 10 years he had been living with these switches that everybody hated. Coming into his house and turning on the lights was not just an intelligence test, but it was an intelligence test that gave you a different result every time. Guests would just leave the lights off, because they didn’t want to deal with the interface. Now John has normal looking switches that do normal, replicable things and nothing is shorting out.

In the process of fixing his light switches, John had both the front and the back door open because he was running in and out. Late at night he was laying in bed and a mouse ran by. John has never had a mouse in his house and it is cold outside! There are mice around, there are toys in the attic, but there was never a mouse in the house! Hopefully it is only ”a mouse”. Now John was laying around thinking about this mouse instead of sleeping. It is surely still around and he will have to dispatch him.

The difference between a traditional light switch and what John had in his house is the difference of your life before a child and your life with a child. It used to be that it was 11:52pm for no particular reason and you felt like walking to a light post 5 blocks from here. You want to leave the house? You leave the house! You want to pour a bucket of Gatorade over you head? You just go do that right now! You grab your keys, your wallet, some bathrobe, and you walk out and come back any time you feel like it.

After you are having a child you get to be like John’s light switch: You can’t tell within certainty of more than plus or minus 20 minutes when you will be able to do anything, because there are so many unknown factors. When John is running his fingers over this lady light switch to make it light up it is the same thing: You should not have to deliberate how long it takes for your lights to come on.

Power windows (RL232)

If Merlin had his druthers, he would not have power windows in his car. What if you go into a river? Now you need a special tool to not die in your car! It also makes the doors very heavy because you have to have engines in your doors to make the windows go up and down. Before cars got good, the rich guy stuff in rich guy cars was pretty consistently the stuff that broke first. If you had an AC Delco AM/FM Radio in your GM car and you still have that car, the one part of it that still works in it is the AM/FM Radio with the Chunk Chunk buttons on it. You pull it out to set it, "chunk chunk", you listen to QNO5. It tunes perfectly and flawlessly every time. It probably doesn’t sound great, but your 50 year old radio is still working fine.

At least one power window on an older car would usually break and then it would still be heavy, but you had a window that didn't work. Merlin’s last car har manual windows. It was the least costly version of that particular model of car and it was fine. Stuff in your house where there is a trick is just cute and Merlin doesn’t like cute stuff to turn a light on or off. He doesn’t have a Nest, but he does have a lot of smart lights.

Merlin’s family’s morning struggle (RL232)

Merlin’s family sometimes struggles with mornings because they have a kid who has to be at school at a certain time. Ideally she would have food with her for lunch, she has to have homework in the backpack, she has to not have Hermione Granger hair, but look presentable and clean, she has to have brushed teeth and she’s got to be wearing shoes. An hour seems like enough time, but socks and shoes is where it all falls apart. Merlin feels like they need to add adjustments of 20 to 30 minutes in front of everything.

As a retired project manager, Merlin can tell that there are many things that are not being accounted for and by the time you get to shoes and socks, everybody is crying. It also has to do with his own sleep, because now Merlin has to go to bed earlier in order to get up earlier in order to be more helpful in the morning. It is a cascading chain on decisions! If you don’t go to bed earlier and if you keep reading Lemony Snicket until 10pm, then God bless you, but how do you tell a kid to stop reading?

This is Merlin’s dream: If she is healthy: Great! If she learns to like music and reading: He is done! One of his very selfish things and all he really cares about is that she likes to read, which she does, and that is great! But if you go to bed at 10pm you are not going up at 6am anymore, because you are a kid and you need more sleep. Now you are getting tired and the toast is getting pushed out later which in turn pushes out the reading before school and suddenly it is 4 minutes before the drop-dead-leave-the-house-time. That is when the hair-brushing and tooth-brushing begins and now comes the tears.

Merlin gave her a watch and purchased three new clocks for the house. He is turning into a martinet about this and he tells her that he and mom are here to be her helpful assistants, but she needs to become more cognizant of how the time works. To John it sounds like mornings in Merlin’s house are going to be like the beginning of a Pink Floyd song. Merlin is running around like a crazy person asking what time it is all the time. It is 7:28am and here comes more tears!

Now they are trying something new: Everybody gets to bed earlier, everybody gets up earlier, and dad is helping more in the morning which he thinks is important to do. Merlin now also does postmortems with her, like ”This is what went wrong with the Mercury launch” She has friends who live outside of town and for them it takes them 20-25 minutes to get to school. Merlin lives very close to his daughter’s school and they can walk there in a pace that will not have them out of breath in less than 10 minutes. There is no reason to ever be late to school, but because it takes so little time to get to school, you get a little loosey-goosey.

They lost yesterday because they didn’t account for socks and they were out at 07:32 instead of 07:30. The difference between 07:30 and 07:32 is all the difference in the world! If they do not get out at 07:30, they have failed. Today Merlin felt like a dick because he was very heavy on the clock. She was very excited to wear her new watch to school while Merlin was walking around in his underpants, telling her how many minutes after 7 it was. He was really tired because he only got 5 hours of sleep because the new program is slow to launch.

John’s way of dealing with this is a very simple hack that he has been using his whole life: Every clock in his house is 11 minutes fast. 15 minutes would be too easy, but with 11 minutes you forget that it is there. He also changes the amount that the clocks are off. Sometimes it is 7 minutes, sometimes it is 12 minutes and if you don’t have NPR on, you don’t know how much they are wrong. John is just taking the clocks at its word when they are in the car driving, passing some clock that a business thoughtfully put up, he is like ”Wow! We got plenty of time!” He fools himself every morning and intentionally never remembers it.

Since Merlin’s daughter is wearing a watch to school he has given her some kind of connection that she can take into the world. Her watch can’t be wrong because she is going to measure it against the school clock and she is not going to believe the house clocks. Her watch is not a precision time piece, but something Merlin got off Amazon for $13. It is amazing what kind of watch you can get today for $13! It is an analog and digital chronograph with modal buttons for setting the thing. You have to set the time on the analog and the digital separately and neither of them is necessarily correct, which is driving both of them nuts. The second hand of the analog watch does not match up with the seconds of the digital watch, which would drive Merlin crazy all day at school. He would be thinking ”What fresh hell is this?”

Merlin needs a clock at the place where the morning drama begins and the best choice would be an old school kitchen clock, but he understands that this is not aesthetically pleasing. He wants the largest conceivable clock that will fit in that area, something she cannot avoid seeing, and he bought 3 different clocks from Amazon and is going to let his wife pick which one is least odious. Merlin's wife has strong opinions about the vibe that a clock imparts to a room and she is right: If they put a huge school kitchen clock next to all the framed pictures of people, it is going to look weird.

John’s weird clock (RL232)

John bought an old fashioned diner clock for one of the rooms in his house because he liked the look of it. He knew that he could have just gone down to the salvage yard and find some clock from an old school, but he was at some store, saw this thing, and it was not expensive. There was a separate battery for the little hand, which means the operation of the little hand does not bear on keeping time. It is just spinning around to show you what seconds look like while the clock is just like Tick Tick.

The clock really ties the room together and because it is in an adjacent space, John doesn’t refer to this clock. It is visible from the guest bed and John is already fucking with them because it is 11 minutes fast and the second hand is just a rounding error or can be used for taking your own blood pressure. It would be funny if John changed it so that a minute would be 47 seconds to make his guests feel like a crazy person. They would lie in bed and watch the little hand go around, but the big hand would tick off another minute while the little hand was at 40 seconds. It would do it repeatedly, like in a Black Mirror situation.

John's clocks on the stove and on the microwave are right next to each other and he will set the time on one and sit with his finger poised over the other because he doesn’t even want them to be 4 seconds separated.

The fact that almost anybody has a correct clock on their phone is interesting to Merlin. It is a canonical source of time. People don’t think about that and sweat this stuff as much as his generation did. The clocks they had at his elementary school had a sweep second hand and they were all set remotely and were always exactly right. If the bell rang at 1pm, it did not start to ring until the clock turned to 1pm. Every single clock in every room was exactly right all the time.

Merlin remembers that on the Friday in the fall before the time change, there was this amazing moment right before school would let out when suddenly the unimpeachable clock would stir and move backwards, which took less than a minute. It was such a strange and weird moment like somebody was resetting the sky.

The going-with-years in Junior High where girls will ask you to go with them (RL232)

Merlin’s Junior High was 7-9 and High School was 10-12. For John, Junior High was 7-8 and 9th was Freshman in High School. To Merlin this sounds like the way Europe makes you put your dog into a kennel for a year, see also: Building trail, 7-8 is a containment facility. When you are a 6th grader you are like "Lalalalala… Pow! Pow! Pow!", it is the time when the girls will start to ask ”Do you want to go with me? Who is going with whom? He is going with her. She is going with him.” The going-with years!

A lot of the time they are acting as an intermediary asking "Do you want to go with her” A small group of girls approached John on the playground and asked him ”Do you want to go with Stacy?” (let's call her Stacy) and because John was such a child, his answer was ”Go where?” They collectively rolled their eyes and sighed at him. By saying that dumb thing, he had somewhat blown his chances with Stacy and outed himself as a dork. He had stopped for one second playing time traveller’s space ninja and said ”What? Go with her where? Why would I go with her?”

The Arctic Roadrunner and Laurie Basler (RL232)

(see also story about Laurie Basler in RL156)

The worst moment of John’s life was in 6th grade: He went to the Arctic Roadrunner with a friend of his, with Laurie Basler and with some other girl. The Arctic Roadrunner was the hamburger place that was around the corner from Northstar Elementary school, a place from the 1950s that looked like the 1950s. Everything in Alaska is named after Alaska. The Arctic Roadrunner used to only have one location on Arctic Boulevard, but then they opened another location which John found non-canonical.

All 4 of them went to this place which was a very unusual situation: They were off-campus during school getting a hamburger that they were paying for with their own money. It was a big deal and felt like a scene from Grease. John got his hamburger first, went over to the booth and wasn’t sure what to do. Should he sit down on one side and then tell his friend to sit next to him, or should he tell his friend to sit across? He wanted Laurie Basler to sit next to him. Eventually he sat down in a booth with his friend across from him and Laurie and her friend sat in a separate booth together. ”No! That’s not…! We are all together!” The only worse scenario would have been if Laurie sat next to John’s friend and her friend sat next to John, which is not what happened, so it ended up remaining neutral. Boy, there was a lot of tension there and that is 6th grade to John. By the time 7th grade rolled around, people were smoking cigarettes and getting drunk before school, but it was Alaska.

Spring in Alaska is one of the great seasons of the world! Winter and breakup are so awful and when full spring arrives, everything blooms, it is beautiful out and by June the sun is up in the sky for a long time during the day until 10pm. You are still trapped in school, which is crazy-making.

John remembers sitting in class on the last day of 8th grade, watching that little had go "tick tick" as it went around the clock. They were one minute out and the teacher was still giving them things to do over the summer. When it hit that bell, it was like the ceiling lifted off the world because John was done with Junior High. He was out of this nightmare and he was basically off to college, which was 9th grade. All through Junior High everything is preparing you for 9th grade where you are not a kid anymore.

John began what would effectively be the last true summer of his childhood and staring at that clock that represented the uniformity of school. The same clock was in every classroom from the time John was in Kindergarten. Whenever John will be doing a big budget Hollywood film and they will ask him if he can cry, he will just put himself in that situation.

Merlin’s life hacks (RL232)

Merlin is a disorganized and confused person, but there are 2 things that made his life more sensible and made him less stressed out:
1) He always puts his wallet, his keys and all his pocket things at the same place every day all the time. It is a white dish, a crossing between a plate and a bowl, probably from IKEA, about an 8x8 McConaughey Disc. He calls it the dish. It was such a game changer, like when you stop smoking and you can’t understand why anybody smoked.
2) He learned to realize and accept his relationship with time. It took 5 years each time to make a 10% increase in realization of how fucked up his sense of time was. It should have been a Shyamalan thing for him that he never turned anything in on time and that he was late for everything he did. It never occurred to him that it was the time that was a little screwy. When he eventually became a project manager it was even worse because everything that was perfectly planned still went wrong. Merlin learned to always add 20% to everything and maybe sometimes that ended up okay.

John’s model rocket (RL232)

John once built a Saturn 5 model rocket, it was 3 feet tall (90 cm) and had 4 D-Engine rockets. It was a massive rocket and it was a big operation, but when he launched it during a model rocketry event, it went so high that it went away. They were in a giant field with no trees around it and people were launching rockets all day, catching them as they returned on their giant parachutes, but John's Saturn 5 rocket went so high that it went away. Nobody could see it anymore and it was just gone!

John had spent a lot of time on this rocket and he had already completed it a long time before launch. He had it around, looked at it and caressed it. He had built many parts for it from scratch and he had laboriously made it look like a Saturn 5. It meant a lot to him, but it just went away and he still wonders what happened. The adults at the event agreed it was a puzzle, it went off like a rocket, it tore ass into the sky, which was a thrilling moment, but then it just kept going.

John thought he would retrieve it and launch it a million times! That was the moment when he walked away from the rocket field with his head held down, a Charlie Brown moment where his kite was stuck in a tree except it wasn’t even a tree, but he just didn’t have a kite anymore. For some kid in some suburban neighborhood at some far-away place it was like the Playboy bunny was coming in through the window.

John’s daughter’s outfit (RL232)

When differentiates John from everyone else in his family is that he makes no assessment of his daughter’s costume. The only thing he ever says to her about her outfit is ”You have good style!” She picks it out entirely herself. Everyone else in the whole family has opinions about what she is wearing. Her mother, who is someone for whom style and fashion matters and who thinks a lot about her own clothes and does a good job with them, has feelings about their daughter’s costume.

John’s mom also has a feeling about it, but all based on practicality like the weather or later in the day we do this and those shoes don’t match with it. John’s mom is very matchy-match and although style also matters to John, he is a mixed pattern type, a little bit of a Costa Rican breakfast of a man, a sewer lid covered with sauce. ”White sauce? Not a problem!”

Ordering custom food, not eating potatoes, applying sauces (RL232)

It is a peculiar joy for Merlin to eat out with John and watch the come-to-Jesus-discussion with the waiter. At first Merlin thought John was a little silly about not wanting potatoes, but John will actually say ”If there are any potatoes brought to the table, I will send them back and there will be a problem!” Sometimes he orders fruit instead of potatoes and then they bring both the fruit and the potatoes. Everybody up! We are going to start over and come in the door again!

John does not want toast or hash browns with his breakfast and his latest thing is to ask for one pancake instead. 98% of the time the server looks up at the sky, taps their pen to their lip and says ”I can do that”. It feels like changing a $100 bill into 5 $20 and 4 $10, like John pulls a paper moon on them. They look up and picture a plate of toast and hash browns, and they picture that one pancake is less than those and it sounds like a deal.

It also becomes existential algebra because they would have to make the toast. The question is if John is trying to get away with something, but the waiter is not a fan of making toast and they would be totally fine with somebody else making a pancake. All John has to do now is to ring the bell and say ”Pancake!” It is an easy custom thing to do and it is less work even than giving John a coffee refill.

The other 2% of the time they want to charge him a dollar, which is fine! He will pay the fucking dollar for the pancake! The real twister is if they are going to bring that pancake on a separate plate where it belongs, or if they are going to bring it touching the rest of the breakfast! Yesterday the pork cutlet with eggs came on the same plate, which isn’t a problem exactly except that the pork cutlet was covered with white gravy.

If you put syrup on a pancake, there is going to be a place in the middle where there is syrup, white gravy and eggs. John was wondering if he was into that and he might be! This is why Merlin likes a monkey dish and a separate plate. He is not even that weird about food touching. Merlin’s new thing is mushroom cheeseburger with crinkle fries and a side monkey dish of white sausage gravy. Now he can deploy a dollop of ketchup and a dollop of mayonnaise next to the fries, which allows him to freely deploy 3 different sauces and everything is going in all of them.

Merlin's burger can and will be transmogrified into anything. If he wants to put a french fry on his bite, he can. He can deploy any of these sauces and in that case the monkey dish is the key. John puts ketchup on the plate and dips the burger in the ketchup, because that is the only way to do it. Then he asks for a cup of Au Jus, because there is nothing that you can’t dip in Au Jus. You can dip a piece of chocolate cake in it! The concept of ”Let’s put any kind of sauce on it” is also how John approaches dressing.

When John makes breakfast for his kid, he many times microwaves one egg in a coffee cup, which is the ultimate hack. Sometimes he gives her a little bit of granola with a dollop of yoghurt on it. She is pretty cool about it and she even eats a hard-boiled egg, which John wouldn’t.

John might put a hard-boiled egg in his pocket and take it with him on the trail, like a Landjäger, because there will be a time in the middle of the day when he is way out on the trail and there is no place to get any food. That is when he will pull that egg out! At breakfast in a German Pension there will be a basket of eggs and you are just like ”Dankeschön!”, but what John wants is some toast with jam, actually he wants one pancake but he knows that is a bit more difficult. Add some cold cuts and one of their hard buns and he is out of here!

John getting his daughter to school (RL232)

John’s daughter’s way to school is a 30 minute drive, or it is a 20 minute drive if you leave on time, because traffic changes within that 10 minutes. If you leave at 07:22am, you are in the game and you can stop at the gas station and have an additional breakfast of a couple of chicken strips while Daddy can get a coffee. If you leave at 07:32am, forget it! You are sitting in traffic and you are going to miss the first bell! At a certain point John says ”Go, get dressed!” and she lolly-gags for 1,5 seconds and he says ”What did I say? Go, get dressed!” and she disappears and reappears often in the most fantastical outfits you will have ever seen:

Flowered pants, a plaid skirt, a mohair sweater that John didn’t even know she had, some kind of rain jacket and cowboy boots. She finds all this stuff and John looks at her and goes: ”Great! Here we go!” The only issue is to come out of that room, dressed in some costume, by this moment. John's only criterion is that when he sees her next, she needs to be in this state and headed toward the door and if he gets to the door before her and opens it, she should be able to continue to progress. You walk out of that room and be prepared to keep walking!

That is also the point at which John will throw her hastily made lunch into her backpack, throw his own coat and hat on, and 95% of the time she appears in some costume that John thinks is magical, but that would drive both of her other caretakers right up the wall. John does not particularly care if her hair is a rat’s nest, because his own hair is a rat’s nest. He will grab one of those little ponytail rubber-bands and throw it on top of her head in some way, not so that the ponytail is sticking up, but he grabs her hair, pulls it to the side and puts a little top ponytail on it so it hangs down, tucks her hair behind her ears and goes ”Good!” and she goes ”Good!” and they are out. Compared to her mornings elsewhere, it feels like team effort and she gets to go to school dressed like she wants.

The only beef is ”It is 07:21:45! Where the fuck are you? Did you get distracted and lost in your room? You know what happens when you get lost in the room!”, in which case daddy will be standing at the front door yelling ”Let’s move!” At that point it is John’s problem, because he should be on his game enough to yell ”Let’s move!” already at 07:20 and often he is not, but it is 07:28 and he is the problem. If he does open her door, she is standing there staring at the dust coming down or trying to figure out what a fucking neutron is and they are late now because John was also staring up at a corner of the room. Daddy is also the problem! Sometimes they walk out of that house and they both look like Pagliacci!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License