RL323 - Stool in the Sky

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Snow emergency in Seattle (Geography)
  • How tall are the Spice Girls? (Music)
  • Yellow Jackets (Pets)
  • Merlin got ants again (Pets)
  • April Wine, Triumph, Zebra (Music)
  • The Sullivan Arena, uncle Jack was mayor of Anchorage (Family)
  • The song Bears (Music)
  • Stubbs the Cat, Talkeetna (Geography)
  • Mount Everest (Geography)
  • Christian Rock, Marillion, Stryper, King's X, Jane's Addiction (Music)
  • John visiting an Adele concert (Music)
  • Merlin's relationship with people in the service industry (Merlin Mann)
  • Bill Patton getting John the job at the News Stand (Friends)
  • John meeting his girlfriend at the news stand (Friends)
  • Phil Ek (Music)

The problem: The local guy knows, referring to John working at the news stand and knowing what type of cigarettes his future girlfriend wanted. It is a nice feeling when the local guy knows.

The show title refers to John working at the news stand and sitting on a stool behind the cash register that was elevated so he was taler than his customers.

This episode seems to have been pre-recorded on February 4th.

John spent 23 minutes trying to get his computers to be on this phone call. Voice over Internet protocol! Skype! There is a lot going on!

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

Snow emergency in Seattle (RL323)

Seattle currently has a snow emergency, like every time when it snows or rains hard. People just collapse into curled-up fetal balls. Seattle has a mild, temperate climate and people forget how to deal with any adversity because it is all just bland. Merlin read on Twitter that if the high temperature in Seattle doesn’t hit freezing today, it will be the first sub-freezing high in the city in 5 years.

About 30 minutes ago John’s mom showed up at his house and he could hear her stomping the snow off her boots on his porch. Because it is a snow emergency and the roads are impassable she figured it would better to come out to John’s house because otherwise she won’t be able to get anywhere. She got her car stuck down the road and had to walk the rest of the way. Her reasoning was that if she came out here, then John could take her where she needed to go. He offered to come and get her, but she wanted her car down here. When John is done with the show, he will have to get her car unstuck, which is not exactly ”near”, and she walked in 25 degrees (-4°C) and was very proud of her coat that is very warm. At least she was prepared for the eventuality! John actually likes to get her car unstuck, because that is a fun thing to do.

How tall are the Spice Girls? (RL323)

Merlin is having rain and the ants are back. You will see the useless ants first, the explorers, but eventually their trails will accumulate. Merlin wonders how old an ant is and John doesn’t know, but he does know how tall the Spice Girls are because this morning (Merlin: "I throw out my outline") as he was waiting for his computer to boot the question who the tallest Spice Girl was popped into his head.

Merlin thinks that Scary Spice is the tallest and Ginger Spice is the shortest. John is a Ginger Spice guy himself, but would have put Baby Spice at the bottom and Scary Spice at the top. In fact Mel C, Sport Spice is the tallest because she was always wearing tennis shoes while the rest of them were in big Gene Simmons boots. There was a Gene Simmons boot phase in the late 1990s / early 2000s and people wore flip flops like that! What is worse than a flip flop? A platform flip flop!

The size ranking is Sporty (5’5”), then Scary (5’4”), then Posh (5’3”), then Baby (5’2”) and then Jerry (5’1”). If you look at a photo of them, they are not distractingly different sized because they calibrated the boots to make Baby look the smallest because she is the baby! That is how they get you, like Peter Jackson with his forced perspective, just to give you a different viewport into the UK!

Yellow Jackets (RL323)

One time Merlin made a school trip to the Pumpkin patch up by the hospital where they sell pumpkins around the corner and boy were there some fucking Yellow Jackets, attracted to the sweetness of the Gourd. They swarmed around the children and some of the kids got the shit stung out of them. One of the moms said to not smash a yellow jacket because that makes the other yellow jackets mad because they smell it.

Yellow Jackets are meat eaters and swarm around any dead bug. When John was driving around in the van through the Middle West or Canada, at certain times of the year the front of the vehicle would just become a bug holocaust (See RL150). From the bottom of the bumper to the rear view mirrors it was just a solid mass. In West Central Florida during September the Love Bugs are doing their thing. These are fuck-hungry little flying bobys who copulate in mid-air, doing their thing. They are down on their jammy and you just get smashed copulating bugs all over the windshield.

One time John pulled into a truck stop, got out of the van and the bugs were so thick that there were multiple layers of dead bugs on the front of the van and you couldn't even see the paint. John and his bandmates went inside to have some food and when they came out the front of the van was covered in yellow jackets eating the dead bugs off the front of the van. John could not get in the van because every time they went close to it there was this swarm of angry wasps. They had to throw open the door to get inside, but a dozen wasps got in the van with them and they had to make sure to kill them as fast as they could.

Merlin got ants again (RL323)

Ants come out of the womb fully formed and go straight to work. Merlin looks up on Wikipedia how old ants get and he is amazed that worker ants can live up to 3 years while males only live a few weeks and the queen can get up to 30 years. They say married men live longer, but John doesn’t think that married women live longer. They continue to talk about some ant facts, how old certain ants get and how the mating ritual works. Merlin doesn’t want to get letters. He has a lot of respect for ants, they are amazing, majestic and very industrious creatures, but he loves killing the shit out of some ants and really enjoys it.

Merlin got very tiny innocuous Argentine sugar ants. You can get ants from having chowder in a bread bowl. The picture John is looking at doesn’t look like the ants he has. If they get on you they will occasionally bite you, not like ”Ouuuuuu!”, but like ”What the fuck?” Merlin’s ants don’t smell when you smash them, but you do get a smell when you kill Seattle ants. In the Middle West of Canada they have bugs the size of cats, not because of the educational system, but because they are very tolerant there and a lot of bugs that would have been eradicated by scorn grow to enormous size.

April Wine, Triumph, Zebra (RL323)

Canadians are very polite and they still like April Wine. Who doesn’t like April Wine? They are a good band, but most kids today wouldn’t know about them. They did maybe not invent the power ballad, but Just Between You And Me is a classic power ballad. Merlin will take April Wine before Triumph. Triumph is fine but after only a few months Merlin realized that Triumph is a PG Rush, they are Rush without the interestingness and their videos used to be on way too much. It is very hard to find a copy of the live performance Exit… Stage Left by Rush. There are some shitty ones on YouTube that Merlin has watched most definitely. It is a very good live album and a great live performance. Rush are so good!

Merlin doesn’t hate Triumph, but in 1983 he did the 9 albums for a penny thing all wrong: He always forgot to send in a thing and they sent him fucking Phil Collins and Huey Lewis and the News. It was $11 with all the included parts and one of them was a Triumph record that he is still mad about. It wasn’t even a good one, like Allied Forces, but it was Thunder Seven. In a Pepsi challenge Merlin would even take a Rush over a Triumph. Triumph was formed in the mid 1970s (actually 1975) and April Wine goes back all the way to the 1960s (formed in 1969) and they are from Halifax and are barely Canadian! Sloan, another band that Merlin likes, is also from Halifax and did an April Wine cover (of I Wouldn’t Want To Lose Your Love) The Nature of the Beast was a good record with Sign of the Gypsy Queen and had dueling guitars.

Zebra is an underrated band who did Who’s Behind the Door and Tell Me What You Want. Those were very important songs in a time when it was very difficult to know how to interact with contemporary Light Metal. They weren’t Metal, but Canadian-style Pop although they were from Luisiana. Zebra the eponymous record had the two songs they just mentioned, but they also did the record No Tellin’ Lies which has a very good song called Bears about bears that nobody else every heard because it is a deep cut and the record did not sell very well.

John's first Rock concert was Dio with Vivian Campbell in the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. The opener was Dokken with George Lynch and first of three was Zebra. John got into Zebra because he saw them. They were a 3-piece band, like Triumph.

The Sullivan Arena, uncle Jack was mayor of Anchorage (RL323)

John knew former Anchorage mayor George Sullivan (John first said Ed Sullivan) because his uncle (Jack) was mayor of the Anchorage Borough, which is like the county, while Sullivan was mayor of the city for a very long time from 1967-1981 and was the same age as John’s dad. The Borough was much bigger than the city, but in the mid-1970s they decided that the Borough and the city were going to merge and Sullivan and John’s uncle Jack had to run against each other, which was tough because they were pals and it was a small town.

Sullivan beat uncle Jack in the election and became mayor of everything. When they built an arena in Anchorage they named it after him. It could have been the Roderick Arena, which is a classic Roderick indignity! Can you imagine how that would have been in High School? John went to the High School where Ozzy didn’t play because West High had the bigger theater (see RL13). This was before the arena.

Can you imagine if John would have gone to his first concert when he was a Sophomore and it had been at the Roderick Arena? How would his life be different? Merlin thinks it is a double-edged sword. People get a disease or a hurricane named after them, and having your name associated with that is not always fun. Like The Who concert at the Cincinnati Coliseum (see RL151): You wouldn’t want your name forever be associated with something bad.

The song Bears (RL323)

John reads some lyrics from the song Bears:

In the middle of winter
The trees are bare and the bears are hibernating
The only sound in the forest
Is the sound of snow heard crashing to the ground
And in the middle of loving
I hope you’ll find a place in your heart for them

This is a triple turn because you think about sexing, but no! Merlin wonders if it is one of those things like imagining dead puppies so you don’t ejaculate, but John doesn’t think so. It means ”The love that is in your heart”

They really can’t do us any harm
It is only us who can do harm to them
But there’s an animal that winter won’t affect at all
He sits by fireplaces waiting for the winter’s fall
He owns guns and oh you know he’s got that gun in his hand
He’s a man and oh he’s got that precious thing in his hand

This is a song about not shooting bears. John highly recommends it. They are playing a Double Neck B.C. Rich and he sings so high that John has never been able to hit those notes.

Merlin wonders if John could hit a Brad Delp from Boston, those are some hard notes to hit, and he challenges him to sing More Than A Feeling. It is all Tom Scholz! John claims it is much easier for Merlin to hit those notes because he has been practicing them for 40 years. Boston had a lot of big hits! There is a lot of sadness in their Wikipedia article and Tom Scholz does not come off great because the Delp estate has some beef with him. Delp was a very sensitive person and his suicide note was in French. Their record Third Stage with Cool the Engines and Amanda wasn’t as good as you wanted. Don’t Look Back was pretty good and it was about the Guitar City coming for a landing in a utopian super-planet valley somewhere.

Stubbs the Cat, Talkeetna (RL323)

Merlin’s daughter knows one thing about Alaska governance: Via some kind of an exercise she discovered Stubbs the Cat, the mayor of Talkeetna. John follows him on Twitter, because although the cat died in 2007, his wisdom lives on. The cat had a rough life with two injuries, which is why they call him Stubbs. Merlin reads from the Wikipedia entry. In Talkeetna the standards are a lot different. Merlin says it is a historic district and not a city, but John wouldn’t even call it that.

There is a bar that used to be a hotel. It famously has a sign on the front that says ”Hippies use side door” and when you go around the side, the door is boarded up. There is an airstrip where the bush pilots to Mount McKinley / Denali fly out. It was just a grass strip in the middle of town before they built a real gravel airstrip over to the side of town for the mountain climbers who wants to go to the top of Denali.

Denali is the name of the mountain, McKinley is the name of the park. McKinley used to be the name of the mountain when John was a kid. Now they are even changing the park name to Mount Denali Park.

John forgot to mention in the Omnibus (OM127 where they talk about Mount Everest, but also touch on Talkeetna) that the mayor of Talkeetna was a cat. He was a wise cat, but maybe not as wise as a 30-year-old cat (ant queens can get up to 30 years old). He was born in the year that doesn’t exist (1997). Imagine a cat being 10 years younger than an ant! Time is a flat circle!

Mount Everest (RL323)

There are a lot of dead bodies on Mount Everest, which is the topic of an entry in The Omnibus that will be released a couple of days after this episode (see OM127). They freeze to the mountain and become part of the mountain. Merlin wonders if you could get a Nepalese sherpa like Tenzing Norgay to help you get them down, but it is very hard to get up there, even in a space suit.

Some sherpa have been to the top of Everest many times and they are the most hardy people in the world, but even they would have a very difficult time up at these altitudes shlepping dead people around. The generally agreed policy is that if you die on Everest it is like a burial at sea and they just throw your body down in a crevice. Some of the people are dead on the trail and you have to step over them, which is really terrible.

Christian Rock, Marillion, Stryper, King's X, Jane's Addiction (RL323)

John didn’t like the Christian Rock bands Marillion or Stryper. They are named after a Biblical quote about stripes, like You Shall Know them by their Stripes (maybe it was Fruits), or something. You can find pretty much any reference in the Bible. Pedro the Lion was somebody who saved Jesus or something. John is pretty sure that the stripes in the Bible weren’t spelled with a ”y”.

Merlin was not a fan of King’s X, a very unusual-sounding early Prog Metal band with highly produced music. The Wikipedia log line is ”King’s X is an American Rock band that combines Progressive Metal, Funk and Soul with vocal arrangements influenced by Gospel, Blues, and British Invasion Rock groups” and Merlin thinks to take out about half the ingredients and then not make it. It was a 3-piece band and according to Merlin you always get extra points if there are only 3 musicians.

During the late 1980s Jane’s Addiction threw a wrench into everything and they were like ”What is Metal? What is Alternative? What is Prog? What is Anything?” What the hell were the Chili Peppers? Are they Metal? Are they Funk? Merlin was so much cooler than seeing a band like them, they might accidentally have played near him, but he would never go see them. He saw Meat Puppets the same night that White Snake was playing on the same campus in Tampa.

Merlin’s girlfriend’s drove them to Tampa in her big Ford all the time and if it was in The Empty Keg they got in for free. Merlin did not go to school in St. Pete, but in Sarasota, but they were technically part of the University of South Florida, which is a different thing than the university of Tampa, they got an Onion Dome. They have that beautiful architecture that is all wrought iron, or maybe it was Argosy University or Tampa College, but if it has Tampa in the name it is already a punch line. Jim Morrison is a military brat who went to Eckerd College for a while.

John just found a website vice.com, a proud boys website, and there is an article ”Florida man says he attacked fancy cars that reminded him of college bullies, which is one of those Florida Man jokes. Merlin not only followed it, but he lived it. He went to High School with Florida Man and he definitely worked for Florida Man.

John visiting an Adele concert (RL323)

It happens to John a lot that people have tickets to something that nobody wants and they bet that John would want to go. They give John tickets to things and John will be like ”Well, I guess, sure, I’ll go!” and that is how he ended up seeing Adele, the lady with the big songs from England. Merlin would see Adele, he is not made of stone! She got pipes and a sense of humor and a cute little chin dimple that is slightly off-center.

One time a friend of John's from inside the concert business asked him if he wanted some tickets to Adele and John replied ”What’s Adele?” - ”She is a singer and I’ve got these tickets and you are the only person I can think of in our Rock culture that would go to see Adele” - ”I don’t know what Adele is!” - ”You will probably know one of the songs” - ”Yeah, I’ll go see Adele” - ”The tickets are at the box office”

John went to get the tickets and texted his friend to ask where he was, but he was not coming. That was so West Coast! John went into this giant stadium and sat down at his seat in 3rd row center all by himself. He was surrounded by people who were absolutely losing it even before Adele had taken the stage. People were grabbing John and ”OMG, can you believe it!” - ”I don’t know, I’m not sure what I am doing here!” and the people right around him were like ”OMG, he has never seen Adele” John got 20 people around him who were so excited for him. They said he had the best tickets in the world and they had waited 45 hours for these tickets.

When Adele took the stage, John was immediately transfixed and his mind exploded 30 times. By the time he left the stadium he thought that Adele was the greatest Rock star of all times. She is incredible and hilarious and she made a room of 20.000 people feel like every single person in the room was her best friend.

She walked out on stage in front of the sold-out arena and said in her wonderful British accent ”Before I start, I just want to say that I’m fighting a cold sore. I am really embarrassed, it hurts and all night long my face is going to be on this giant screen above everybody and I’m really anxious about it. I just wanted to get this off the table so I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the show. So you guys all know I have a cold sore and now I can just sing” The room went crazy and John was sitting in his chair and was wondering what the fuck he was about to see because this was the best intro to a show he had ever seen.

Later John realized that she doesn’t tour that much and only plays America once in a blue moon. He happened to stumble into this show and see Adele at one of the five times she has ever played in America.

Merlin's relationship with people in the service industry (RL323)

Merlin has a fantastic relationship with everyone in the service industry, like the lady at the Bodega or the guy at the sandwich shop, but he doesn’t think he wanted to see Les Claypool with any of them. Merlin is privileged and fortunate that he gets to control the amount and direction of conversation. It is the wonderful type of relationship you can have in America where there is not really much to it. Merlin is a really nice guy, they are a nice person, and they have that back and forth 1-7 times a month and it never goes any further, but if they saw each other at a concert, they would not hang out, let alone drive there together, it would just be too much.

Bill Patton getting John the job at the News Stand (RL323)

One of the first people John met when he moved back to Seattle was Bill Patton, a guy at the same age who was a very good guitar player, a Rock musician and a song writer. Bill always wore earth-tone clothes that didn’t fit him very well and he had a ”I haven’t showered”-look. One of his parents died when he was young, he inherited some money, and he had an RX-7, which was incongruous to everything else about him.

John always instinctively liked him, but in practice they were constantly at odds with one another and Bill was a thorn in John’s side. John liked him, he was funny, he was smart, he was sardonic, he was low key, but he was just a pain in the ass and he thought John was a pain in the ass. Bill and John's girlfriends at the time were friends because they had the same kind of weird breed of dog, maybe the dogs were even related.

Over the last 30 years all it would have taken is that they should have been thrown together into a solve-a-mystery or broken elevator situation and they would have come out the other side as something, but nothing has ever thrown them together and they have no desire to be thrown together, so they are always like ”Oh, hey!” - ”Hey, how is it going!” and then they shoot the shit and it is funny and fun, but then it is like ”Okay, I hope I never see you again” - ”Yeah, you too! Fuck off! Okay, bye” Their inability to be friends was not affected by time together or time apart either. John hasn’t seen Bill in 5 years and they wouldn’t do the Seattle thing where they gave each other a hug, but just like ”Oh, hey, what’s up!”

Bill worked at the news stand that John would later work at. John used to go there to buy cigarettes and he would say ”God, this is a great job, how did you get this job?” and Bill would say ”They never hire, everybody else has been working here for 40 years and you are never going get a job here!” - ”Ah, but this job is so great! You sit there and read all day, you are sarcastic to people, and you are selling cigarettes”

You didn’t even have to stand because there was a stool that was on a riser behind the cash register and you were up in the air like a Pharmacist and you were taler than your customers, it was so brilliant! The news stand was right in the heart of everything, the café Septieme was on the other side, and people would bring John sandwiches and coffee all day.

Eventually somebody got fired or died and although Bill didn’t like John he told him to apply because there was a job opening. John got the job and it ended up being the greatest job he ever had (see Employment History). John worked with Bill for a while, but even that did not make them friends. The reason they don’t get along is probably that Bill feels that John occupies some of the same space. John would be friends with Bill, but Bill doesn’t want to be friends with John.

One day when John was at work Bill came in with two tickets to Primus the same night, he asked John if he wanted to go and John said: ”No!” There were a lot of reasons: He didn’t want to see Primus and he didn’t want to go to a second location with Bill. Bill said ”I don’t want to go either, but I have two tickets and the only person I could think of who would go is you!” - ”Huh, that makes sense! I get off at 7pm” - ”Great, because the show starts at 7:30pm” and so John got off, Bill was standing there, and they smoked 11 cigarettes on their way down to the show.

They had good tickets and they watched Primus in that venue, but they shouldn’t really play in venues because if there is any kind of echo, room sound or reverb, it sounds like ”Prrrrrrrrrr” and they had to sit in this theater for 1.5 hours and were just perplexed by the number of notes. There were so many notes! Like when Merlin saw Al Di Meola he was so overstimulated after five songs. Too many notes for the ear to hear!

The other day John asked his daughter if she wanted to be friends with that girl named Olympia or Orangina and she replied ”Yeah, I would be friends with Orangina” - ”So what is stopping you?” - ”She hasn’t ask me!” - ”Why don’t you ask Orangina to be friends?” - ”I would rather not be friends with her than have to ask her” That is oddly sophisticated, but Merlin gets it. It is his entire life: He wants to eat, but not as much as he just would like to sit here.

Maybe it was the same situation with John and Bill: Bill didn’t want to be friends with John and John wanted to be friends with Bill, but he would rather not be friends than ask him. One the other hand Bill asked him whether he wanted to work at the news stand and took him to see Primus.

Many years later John asked Bill if he wanted to join The Long Winters and Bill said ”Yes!” He played in the Fleet Foxes briefly or he was Fleet Foxes adjacent and played on their record. He started learning the tunes of John's band and John had already anticipated Bill in the Long Winters because he is very good, but the idea of John and Bill every day waking up in the same hotel? They had an audition for various people and Jonathan Rothman also came in to audition and played the guitar and the keyboard and he knew all the songs.

John had to call Bill and tell him that they had already hired a guy and Bill was like ”I though when you asked me to join The Long Winters that it was a thing where when I said Yes you weren’t asking anybody else?” It wasn’t ”Do you want to audition for The Long Winters?”, so John said ”Do you want to build a snow man?” and he was running for the snow. The thing about him is that he is very cool and just was like ”Well, whatever then!” - ”Sorry about that” - ”Whatever, that’s fine! No problem, I guess” - ”Well, anyway, High Five long distance over the phone. See you when I see you” - ”Sure! See you out there in the world”

Merlin could see John and Bill being room mates some day, not because John chose to, but just because this is how it turned out. It could be a re-education camp or an old-musicians-home, somewhere where by accident or happenstance they could end up in a quad (?). Bill has transitioned to the thing that happens to some gifted musicians when they get to be 50, and he is teaching music now. John is for shizzle a very big Bill Patton booster and he would never say a bad word about him except that he is a pain in the ass, but that is not untrue.

John meeting his girlfriend at the news stand (RL323)

John met his long-term girlfriend at the news stand, not the one whom Merlin has met, but the one before that. She had black curly hair and bright red lipstick (Merlin laughs out loud because that description is not helping to narrow it down) She came in every day to buy cigarettes, she was the originator, and John would ask her questions from his stool in the sky. He was super-sardonic and super low-affect.

She would be like ”Pack of Pall Malls” or whatever and John would say ”What are you doing today?” - ”Oh, I’m just on my way to work” John would not follow up on it, but just say ”Here is your change!” and he would piece together his information about her by asking her one question a day for weeks at the time. She was a seeker who worked at the store that did nothing else than buy and sell used Levi’s. (see RL9, John called her Maurice then, and RL263) They had a store front devoted to people coming in and saying ”How much can I get for these used jeans?” and they would buy them and then sell them to Japan. It was such a different time!

She was always really shy and John would place her change in her palm and touch her palm with his fingertips, which was slightly intimate. He knew her cigarettes, she didn’t have to say what they were. It is a nice feeling when the local guy knows!

One day John asked ”You live down at the end of Broadway” - ”Yeah” - ”And you work down at the other end of Broadway” - ”Yeah” - ”Between where you live and where you work there are 15 places where you can buy cigarettes. Why do you come in here every day?” and she turned and ran out of the store. Later on that day she showed back up with her bag full of Levi’s clutched in her hand, John was sitting on his stool, amazed to see her again, she sneaked in, came up to the counter and asked ”Do you have a girlfriend?” and John said ”I do now!”

Phil Ek (RL323)

One time John said to Phil Ek that he was a pain in the ass and he is still mad about it 25 years later (see RL287, RL318). Band of Horses was recording with Phil Ek, John was talking to Ben (Bridwell) and was like ”Ah, Phil Ek, he is a pain in the ass!” and Ben is from that school of people from the South who are like ”Don’t talk shit about people!”, but John doesn’t belong to that school. If somebody is a pain in the ass, you got to say it.

You don’t want to send a friend into a situation with a pain in the ass and then later they will be like ”Why didn’t you tell me that guy was a pain in the ass?” In the South they have code for things like that, but John has a much more New York City idea of things. You don’t say ”Bless your heart!” about a guy, because John doesn’t want to bless his heart!

When they got into the studio Ben told Phil Ek that John Roderick had said he was a pain in the ass, which qualifies as talking shit about John, but then Phil Ek asked John ”Why were you talking shit about me?” - ”There is a reason I was talking shit about you: You are a pain in the ass!” and he didn’t give John a rejoinder for that, but he was a little drunk and he actually put his fists up like an old soul boxer and said ”I’ll punch you in the nose” and John said ”I’ll kick you in the head, and I’ll kick you in the head” (reference to some lyrics?)

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