RL325 - Covered in Science

This week Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: John is the snorkeler, referring to John being in a shoe store in Hawaii and following the clerk’s instructions. John had come to her world and she was the turtle and John was the snorkeler.

The show title refers to new shoes for Uncle Jack that were covered in science because they had him walk over a pad to let a computer measure his stride and John was not sure if that was all fake.

John starts the show making bird noises. They had skipped the first week of recording during John's vacation on Hawaii, but have been recording two episodes from there.

There is a truck beeping in the background at the very beginning of the episode, but John doesn’t know if that is construction equipment. There is a lot of performative building in Hawaii! Fences get erected, people drive around in trucks, from one year to the next you will see new things, but you will also see a lot of people with hard hats staring off into the middle distance, which is called a make-work project.

After a short interregnum where John was alone with his Uncle Jack, Uncle Junius and Aunt Joanne have arrived at the house and they will all be there together for two days.

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

Spreadsheets (RL325)

Merlin trusts a lot of his brain to spreadsheets, but John doesn’t know how to use a spreadsheet. Merlin thinks John would love it because John likes to look at Romania on Google Earth and he likes tagging MP3s, at least he will do it if you give him a stack of them. There are rows and columns in a spreadsheet and when you add some words to a box, other things appear somewhere else. John doesn’t want to know how much money he is going to make because it is terrifying, but Merlin suggests he could do a lot of what-if type speculation stuff. You can also have conditional formatting. Merlin is not here to stand for spreadsheets, but they are really cool!

John wonders if spreadsheets are Aloha or not. Similar to the question if something is cool / not cool or legal / not legal, there is a bar and you have to do an Aloha evaluation. Can one spreadsheet be Aloha and another one not be Aloha or does it depend on certain actions inside the spreadsheet?

John trying to improve on his Aloha (RL325)

John has been working really hard to bring more Aloha into his life. He was trying to walk 5 miles (8 km) and see a turtle every day, he was listening to the birds coo and he was watching the leaves in the frons (?) because the leaves get in the frons and the wind gets in the leaves in the frons. Merlin feels that John is changing already and has become much more pastoral, green and verdant like an early R.E.M. album. The Katsu is all over him! John once said to Peter Buck that he loved that album because he could smell the Katsu and Peter replied ”No, that was our other album”. John is already fucking Walt Whitman!

John doesn’t want to see a turtle laying on the beach, but he wants turtle time in turtle town and wants to see one on the hoof. Therefore he had to practice every day to not be scared anymore of snorkeling. He put his snorkel on, went down into the water, sailed around, encountered some turtles, had some time with them, and noticed that a turtle can not be not Aloha. Everything a turtle does is Aloha! The ocean comes and blows the turtle, and the turtle goes with the ocean and doesn’t fight it. If you come along with your snorkel on, the turtle goes with it and says ”I have been here a long time before you and I am going to be here a long time after!”

John is in the turtle’s world and he is not going to do anything to him, he is not going tell him to turn down his music, he is not going to touch him or tell him he is doing it wrong. John is unable to judge if the turtle is a good boy and he has only just started even figuring out whether he is a boy or not. Not to be turtle-normative, but John has a hard time telling them apart. When he is in the water, the only thing not Aloha is he himself.

One of the things about turtle town was that John started to feel that if he was looking for turtles he would not see them, but if he would not look for turtles he would find them. It is extremely hard to go to turtle town, get in the water to see some turtles, and not look for turtles. Every day he would look for them in the water until he realized that he was never going to see some if he kept looking for them, so he would just quiet his breath and start looking at fish and rocks and stuff.

John's sister taught him that he cannot affect the turtle’s Aloha, but all he can affect is his own Aloha. Merlin thinks that is surprisingly woke. In the spreadsheet of this experience in time, the only cell that has the capacity to either be Aloha or not is John himself. All the other cells have other functions acting on them with different conditions in them, like ”if n and then 3 or”, but in the water, the only one that is ”if uncool then not Aloha” is John. The problem is that as soon as he gets out of the water, the capacity for other non-Aloha things just skyrockets. There are cars, music and other people, and other people are generally not Aloha.

For John to come to Hawaii for 2.5 weeks to get Aloha and then take that Aloha back to Seattle and have it change the way he does things is also not Aloha. He came to Hawaii to get his uncle some shoes and he was trying to be Aloha, but he didn’t know if he would be able to export it or if that was even what he was looking for. Will he come home and go on a juice fast for three days? When Jason Finn will call him up to yell at him, will he say ”Hey, bro! I’m just Aloha right now!”

John couldn't just go back to Seattle and be talking in a patois that he had picked up during two weeks of living somewhere, but he had also never been more ready for something to be different. He was ready to just turn left at Omaha! Merlin didn't know if there was Aloha in Seattle, but if there was anything like it, John might have been a bit more open to seeing it because he had become vulnerable. Something was different and John was interested in at least interrogating what that thing was.

Merlin is worried about all the rain that is going to come to San Francisco and he is really fucking un-Aloha, but John was not saying anything about Merlin’s Aloha. The opposite of Aloha is Harsh Toke, which is not dependent on the quality of weed, but you can get a harsh toke out of bad weed or great weed. John and Merlin continue to banter about this topic. Merlin doesn’t know if they can do this show anymore because he doesn’t know how to approach John because John has changed the paradigm.

Every time John opens his computer, the Aloha goes right out of the room, because it feels the room with a noxious gas.

Hotel resorts in Hawaii (RL325)

There is a trail that runs through 25 different hotel resort environments with the ocean on your right and the hotels on your left. At first you are in a Four Seasons cultivated environment until you cross an imaginary property line threshold into a boutique hotel cultivated environment and a quarter mile later you are in a Marriott or a Fairmont. They are all nice hotels, many of them situated up on a cliff and don’t even have a beach, but they compensate with pools. While walking through these environments, John is on a North-to-South trajectory and the hotels are facing West to the sunset on an East-West trajectory. John is so Aloha at this point that directions have just become words and he has zero sense where he is oriented in space and time.

The people in those hotels are looking out from their cliff and see John coming through North-South, meaning they see John enter the frame at stage right, move across, and exit stage left. They are living in different time bubbles! John is behind the book-shelf, pushing books out, trying to communicate with them, but they are just wondering about that speck between them and the sunset. They are traveling and John is a traveler.

John was walking through these resorts every day because he decided that his 5-mile (8 km) walk was not going to attempt to duplicate the turtle experience, but he was going to do the opposite, which is not his world either. The waves were washing up on the resorts, people came and went, but John was just snorkeling through. He wanted the contrast because he recognized that his tendency and the tendency of the whole culture he lived in would be to walk through these resorts and be like ”OMG, can you believe this!” It is people on vacation and it is ridiculous.

Those people were in an all-inclusive resort and John was able to walk through, but they couldn't escape, they didn’t even know there was an escape, like in a tourist zoo! They paid thousands of dollars to come to this place and every night at dinner there is a hula-show, they practically line up to get their picture taken in the sunset every night in the same place, actual native Hawaiian people in Aloha-shirts are bringing them icy drinks and are very friendly to them, and then they are going to go home to whatever and say that they had a great time in Hawaii, or maybe they know that this isn’t actually fun and they are miserable. John was trying to pass through it without bringing his own tendency to make himself superior to them, which is very hard not to do.

As John was walking through Hawaii, if he was going to get into Aloha in any way shape or form, he could not use Aloha as a cajole to bury these people because he doesn’t know enough about Aloha to know. He can’t walk through there and say ”OMG, you guys are so not Aloha”, because that is not Aloha. What would he judge them on? His own standards from Seattle about the difference between cool and uncool plaid shirts? That is not Aloha either!

John’s uncle Jack (RL325)

At 92 and 11/12 years old, Uncle Jacks's condition has varied over the three weeks John has been with him and a big part was that John’s sister likes to talk with old people about death. She was telling him that whether he finishes his memoirs or not, one day he is going to die and he is not going to know the difference. His reply was ”I got to finish it, I am working on it!” - ”Yeah, I know, but then you will be dead. Is this good for you? Do you like it? Is this how you want to spend your time?” - ”I got work to do!”

John's sister had these intense little pow wows with Uncle Jack and John had to come in and sweep up the toast crumbs and the cheese at his feet. ”It is okay, buddy! You can keep working on your book and I will help you!” Over the last three weeks Uncle Jack has started to say things like ”I’m ready for the next adventure!”, which is absolutely something that John’s mom says about death and Susan must have put it in his ear. John’s mom would say ”Life is just an adventure and I am ready for the next one!” and John grabbed her by her little Cardigan sweater and said ”You are not ready for your next adventure! You have to stick around here!”

Yesterday uncle Jack had a bad day and was not really able to stand up. John wondered if he should call an ambulance and if so: Why exactly? His uncle couldn't travel, but he was also not visibly dying. He couldn’t feel his feet, but sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. John got him up on his feet and was holding him. He is still a heavy guy, built like a football player. They were walking around and it was not even just one day at a time or one step at a time, but: Was this moment happening?

Then they were on their feet, which they weren’t a second ago. John let go of him, he was standing and John got the feeling like when you get an RC-controlled drone for Christmas and there is that moment when you realize ”Wow, it is flying” Uncle Jack was immediately like ”Fuck off!” and off he went. John suggested to get out of the house and go to the doctor because Uncle Jack had reason to be there anyway because he had other problems. John drove Uncle Jack to this particular doctor he likes.

Uncle Jack writing his memoirs (RL325)

Uncle Jack's primary project at 92 years old was documenting his life in a manuscript and then evaluating that manuscript as though he were an editor or a critical reader. It is the type of thing that John would also do at 92. He was watching his uncle and was hearing his sister’s voice saying ”And then you die and then what?” and he was watching him wrestle with that. Then they were having long conversations about what a great tight end he was for Yale in 1948 and about Ted Stevens and why he got an airport named after him and all this other stuff.

On John’s sister’s level all that stuff is in the category of ”What does that matter? Ted Stevens is also dead!”, but at John’s level it is all historically fascinating and he wished people could hear these stories that his uncle was never going to write down. Uncle Jack wondered what this all meant and, at the end of the day, if he did do good and if he did make a change.

John was watching that and realized that those might really be fruitless questions that we might not see the answers to. If John could see that in his uncle, then he has to be able to see it in himself, and if it is true, then how can he at 50 years old start doing things differently so that he at 92 will not be shuffling through 1000 reams of paper about all the things he has done, trying to figure out if it all adds up to something?

Uncle Jack’s stories are great and John keeps telling him that Descartes did not know that he one day would be Descartes, he just knew that he was Rene from the block. Van Gogh was mainly a guy who was eternally poor and couldn’t get along with girls. No lobster thinks of themselves primarily as food! The two little bugs in the glass of champagne.

John can’t also not be a futurist in those moments and say ”Uncle Jack, you are the first generation that came into black & white for the future!” If twenty generations from now someone is curious about their history their great-great-great-20-times-grandfather they will be able to go online and find some of it in his own voice. John’s great-20-times-grandchildren will be able to listen to this podcast if they want, which they won’t, but they could do it, something that we today can not. Past 5 generations back we don’t even know their names. To people of the future all of our history will be just like the 50.000 years of unrecorded history before us, but John’s Uncle Jack has at 92 years old stepped into the circle of light long enough that he has left an after-image that will be visible to the future. He is the first! He is walking on the moon here!

John doesn't know if that is some comfort for us or not. According to Merlin the dilemma is that John is not going to feel comfort unless he has finished something or is in some way distracted from it. He might not feel capable of doing that and sometimes it is difficult to appreciate the story you have, because you are not happy how you have written it down. John says that he is not going to get happy with the way he has written it down.

It is the most incredible thing for John to sit in a room over here reading and hearing his sister over there saying ”You are going to die!” Everybody dies, stop talking, and all the riches in all the world’s museums won’t stop you from dying! Is that supposed to help? If you pull her aside and ask what this is all about, she will turn it right on you! ”What’s what all about? You hear that ringing in your ears? It is not going to get less!” - "I can’t feel my feet!" - "Of course you can’t feel your feet, you are going to die!"

Getting new shoes for Uncle Jack (RL325)

John's Uncle Jack had the exactly the same New Balance tennis shoes that John’s dad used to wear. At one point those became old-men shoes and Merlin confirmed that velcro New Balance are the shoes of every elderly person he knows. When they first arrived on the scene, John’s perception was that they were technical running shoes for really advanced cross-country people. John had a pair when was on the cross-country team and then his dad started wearing them.

John asked uncle Jack about the last time he had a new pair of shoes and he said ”I don’t know! 20 years ago!” - ”Yeah, those shoes look 20 years old!” - ”They are great!” - ”But the years take their toll on shoes, too! These shoes are what we call thrashed. Let’s go to the shoe store and buy you some shoes!” John might as well have said ”Let’s take a bag of gold and throw it in the ocean!” This guy is living in Hawaii for 3 months in his own 3-bedroom house, it is not like a pair of shoes is going to make or break him, but he was really fighting it.

They didn't have a wheelchair or a walker because Uncle Jack refused to use one, just like John’s dad did, and so they moved at exactly 1 mile an hour, but they like to chat and it was not an issue. You reach another level of Aloha when everything is moving around you and you are moving very slowly through time, particularly when you are with somebody who at any time might say ”Fuck you!” to anyone, encountering them in any way. Uncle Jack is very frustrated by the fact that he is no longer young and in charge of himself. The men in John’s family always felt in charge of and responsible for the world, and when Uncle Jack can’t hear what someone is saying or when he doesn’t understand what someone is doing, he still wants to interject his authority into the situation.

As they got to the shoe store, the very nice clerk came over and asked ”How can we help you?” and John said ”We need some shoes” - ”What are you looking for?” and Jack said ”I can’t hear you!” - ”Well, Jack, first of all, you don’t need to hear her right now because we are just having perfunctory conversation at the beginning of the transaction, it isn’t a thing that needs a bunch of buy-in from you. We are at a shoe store and I am literally going to walk you through this. Just pull up a chair and let go and let God!” Part of the reason Uncle Jack was trying to be in this situation was that he hadn’t had a new fucking pair of shoes in 20 years.

The clerk said: ”Take off your shoes, come over here and walk sideways across this mat on the floor so only one foot walks across the mat. You want to be walking, not just standing on your foot. The pad is going to evaluate the stride and the different pressure points as you pass and then it will put that into the computer which will process your stride so we can find you the best possible shoe."

It felt like the security theater in TSA, but in this case it was arch support theater because the only things she could sell them were the shoes she had in the back and they were not going to take the computer-information and laser-cutting a special shoe for this man. Merlin saw John Oliver talk about psychics, a form of cold reading, and according to that: Whatever she was going to offer them was going to seem like a scientific solution to the experiment they ran. It is a pretty cheap magic trick!

She said ”You don’t have to do this!”, but John said ”We came into your world, you are the turtle in this shoe store, I am the snorkeler. If in your shoe store people are walking across this pad and that is the sea weed you eat here, then we will walk across your pad.” - ”If you bring your own pre-assumptions about the fact that I got some shoes in the back and I am just going to go back and get some, then I will go with your way, because I work in a shop and I don’t have a massive investment in this computer either, and frankly: I know it is all fake, too!” - ”Uncle Jack, we are going to walk across the pad” John doesn’t know why he decided this. He and Jack are from a group of people who have sought new experiences their whole lives, at any other point in his life he would have walked across the pad, so why stop now? Even when they know it is fake!

John was having the excitement and the fun of standing with the shop keeper, watching Uncle Jack who didn’t wear his ear things and couldn’t hear anybody. People with poor hearing can usually hear John because his voice resonates in their mandibles or something. John told him ”You start over here, you walk this way and only your left foot hits the pad!” They had been shuffling everywhere they had been and he was going an inch at the time, but he took one big step across the pad and came out the other side.

John was waiting to catch him like a kid on a bike for the first time, but Uncle Jack turned around and did it again. The second time it didn’t work and he had to do it a third time, but he was not complaining because they had arrived in a new headspace. This friendly turtle was helping them to get magic shoes, they were walking across this thing, his stride showed up on the computer as a rainbow-colored foot MRI, and they were both fascinated by it.

The clerk went to the back and got the five pairs of shoes in size 12 that she could lay her hands on, and as they came out they were covered in science. Uncle Jack put on a pair of shoes, asked a couple of questions about how good these shoes were going to be in ice and snow, because that is what you do if you are from Alaska, and John reminded him that he is not going to be walking on ice or snow ever again because he can’t even really walk on pavement, so he doesn’t really need shoes that work on ice and snow anymore and that is not a bad thing. "You finish your memoirs or you don’t, but one day you are going to be dead! At this point in time, let’s just leave snow and ice out of our list of considerations!"

Uncle Jack started walking across the store and he started bouncing, like ”These feel amazing!” and at that point he was standing up straight with his head in the air, not like he was dancing, but he was walking and ”Look at these! They feel great! We take them!” They walked out into the mall, bouncing along, and as they got to the edge of the mall and he asked John if he wanted that bag with the old shoes or if he just wanted to throw them away. He had been very committed to these shoes an hour before, like they were some things he was going to pass on to his kids, and now he was like ”Get them out of here!”

By the end of the day Uncle Jack was walking around on his tip-toes in his new crazy Norwegian shoes, which was hilarious. They are surely made in the same Chinese factory as everything else, but he was sailing alone and by the time Junius and Joanne came here everybody was in a great mood. They never would have guessed in a million years that the morning had started off so badly. John was just passing through time, he was not a turtle, he was not a straw, he was maybe leaves and forns. He was not sure what role he was there to play at that time, but he was playing it.

Merlin in Hawaii and on vacation (RL325)

A long time ago Merlin was in Hawaii on the North-East part of Maui, but he doesn’t remember what the place was called. They got robbed by the people who owned the motel. On Mother's Day eve, somebody broke into their room and stole all their shit. Merlin went up early the next day to work on the book he never finished and everything was gone: The laptops, the cameras, the iPhones, all gone! It was very painful and he was spending his vacation looking on eBay, trying to figure out where his laptop was.

When Merlin was on the cruise, he felt very much like a person on the outside. He is terrible at vacations because it takes him days to unwind, it used to take him 3-4 days to get into what they were doing and not be on his phone all the time, which is one example.

A couple of days ago Merlin left the house without his phone and he almost had a panic attack. How could he go to the Bodega with just his LTE watch? His pocket was empty and he kept tapping at it.

John losing his bag in Avignon (RL325)

This story has been told in its entirety in RL133

In 1989 when John went to Europe for the first time he slept outside in a park near the train station in Avignon and he was robbed in the middle of the night, his bag was taken and when he woke up in the dark, a man was standing over him with a leg on either side of him, trying to figure out how to get his passport from around his neck without waking him up. John got up and chased him and it was all a big bummer. In the final accounting he lost everything he owned and was just living out of a bag.

At that point in his life he realized he didn’t need any of that shit because he was already a smelly 20-year old student youth hostel scumbag. There were tons of bummers about it, but once he realized he could just stand up wherever he was and start walking and never look back, because he didn’t have anything and didn’t have to look back to see if he had his stuff, he was poetry in motion. He could wake up from a deep-sleep, jump out into the world and continue moving with nothing holding him. The people who sat next to him on a train were surely like ”Ugh, I wish this kid would have a bath!”, but for several months after that, if something didn’t fit into John's pockets it didn’t come with him. That was really transformative!

Many years later when John was living in a house, he got robbed of some things he was sad to have lost. This was not The Burglary, it was a different time of getting robbed, and a woman very close to him asked if he remembered the story when he got robbed in Europe and felt free. At that point John did not feel free for having his computer stolen. Back then John was ready to see that possessions only handcuffed us, but now he just wanted his computer back and do his work on his thing. This was not a message of non-attachment, but this was him calling the police!

Sitting in a sidewalk cafe giving people the shade (RL325)

In the 1990s there was a little outdoor coffee-shop on Broadway, a little Vivace with just 5 tables on the sidewalk. Around 1996/97 John worked on Broadway (at the news stand, see Employment History) and was a member of the Broadway community. At the time Vivace was a gay hangout and most of the people sitting and drinking coffee were members of Seattle’s very inclusive and very unusual gay community.

One of the favorite things for them to do was to sit at those tables and pretty openly mock and ridicule everyone walking by. The gay community was based a lot around snark, at least on broadway in Seattle. It was the funniest shit you ever heard and some tremendous shade was getting thrown. Nobody put any restraints on their language and John would be rolling on the sidewalk. It was one of the great parts of John’s day! On a sunny day he would go down to Vivace an hour before he had to be at work, sit with his friends, and listen to them fucking do this television show that if you made it today would burn the world down.

Partly learning from that and partly just from his innate inclination, a component of most of John’s adult life has been sitting in a chair, watching the world go by, going ”Oh, girl! You didn’t!” and then his audience going ”Lol!” As the years have gone by we have tempered our language and our willingness to look at people and say ”OMG, no!” It is not how we look at the world anymore, but as long as you confine your target to affluent white people, you can still sit and go ”Can you believe this?” It is not quite the same as it was, but there is still that impulse. If the person turned, looked at you and asked ”What did you just say to me?”, then it was even better because within the gay summertime fashion walk-down-this-boulevard culture at the time, a cat fight was what you were hoping for.

Being snarky and judgy has been John’s MO since coming out of Junior High. He realized a long time ago that he used it as a defense mechanism because he was getting picked on. He he could never fight these boys really because they were athletes and fighters, they were older, they were bullies, and they were going to do whatever they were going to do, but John had the poison pen, he had the quip! The quip devastates and it is a weapon as good as anything, or better even! The first time some bully squared off on John and John made a quip instead of cowering and the kids standing around all laughed, he realized that he was Superman. This kind of snakiness is very popular in gay culture because everybody uses it as a way to have a rejoinder to everything somebody is going to say to them and they are going to die of shame (see also RW130).

Eat, Pray, Love (RL325)

see The Big Walk

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