RL384 - Original Shame

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John rarely pushes a minister, referring to

The show title refers to John not being inhibited by embarrassment, although he still won’t do a lot of things like coming into a wedding party and push the minister aside and say: ”Have I got a wedding for you?”

The show title refers to John not being inhibited by embarrassment, although he does feel shame all the time and in his case it is the original shame, like an evangelical.

Merlin started the show still having his clacky keyboard connected instead of his quieter podcasting keyboard. He likes the clickety-clack of the old IBM Selectric because he loves the key travel and the Cherry switches. Also it has a large volume knob on it that he uses a lot, but it doesn’t have a daisy wheel.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John shaving his beard down to a comedy mustache (RL384)

Merlin always tries to keep up with what all his great co-hosts are up to and what they are doing. He gleans the most about John on Instagram, but on the other hand Merlin no longer has an Instagram account, so he can’t click and see what is happening. He saw a picture of John having made a comedy mustache, a vanity quarantine Sweeney Todd mustache because John’s beard had grown bigger and become more unruly. Our human race no longer sees a big grey beard as an age signifier, but a curve flattener and everyone with a big grey beard now looks 75 years old.

Whenever Merlin grows a beard he increasingly looks drawn, like a narrow fucking old man, like somebody would carve him into stone and put him into their garden, which in an advantage he has over John who looks more like and uncooked scallop that is now covered with white hair. John doesn’t like his face without a beard, so he can’t just shave it off and look young. These are John’s trials and he has every instance of male vanity as it relates to its beard because he would just do as his dad did and wear a mustache for the last 40 years of his life, except he doesn’t really think he has that great of a mustache.

Merlin always admired Rob Delaney’s facial hair, he has really cool mustache! He got think hair, while Merlin has a lot of narrow and very fine hair, which tends to his drawn beard face. Rob Delaney’s male vanity probably has something to do with too much hair and he maybe wished his back wasn’t so hairy or something like that. Everybody wants what they don’t have. Like the great Moss (Morrissey) said: ”I want the one I can’t have! It is driving me mad! It is driving me mad! It is driving me mad!” (I Want the One I Can’t Have, song by The Smiths). People with curly hair want straight hair and people with straight hair want a little wave and they get a perm.

John hears from many people that he has a great beard, but he always wishes that something about it were different, like would have wanted a mustache when he was young, but it was made out of peach fuzz until he was about 34. John was looking at the big mutton chops and saw General Ambrose Burnside peeking out and wanted to try that route. If you want an Michelangelo, you start with a face and cut away everything that is not a comedy mustache. He may have gotten a little bit too far and could have stopped at a Lemmy, but Merlin thinks John did the right thing. John still has it right now.

The problem with a comedy mustache is that you go out into the world and you forget you have a comedy mustache and you are interacting with people who already know you. It is like forgetting you have a lobster on your shoulder. There are all these people who just know John as the guy who moved into the neighborhood recently and who had a beard that he let go, the comedy mustache really announces that there is a new sheriff in town! Usually John will let something like that go for a day and then he will pass himself in the mirror and: ”Gotta get that off!”

Merlin had a very ill-advised hair experience for almost a year and for some reason he just never had it in him to get a haircut while at the same time he had a beard that made him look very drawn. When you get to be an older guy your hair greys and it gets weird and wirey and Merlin’s sideburns right now are wakadoo, he is practically Hasidic (Judaism). They are not even cool like those cool curls, but they just stick way out. Eisenhower had eyebrow hair that was about 5” long and Merlin admires that game, but you do need to keep it in check as you get older. There are ways to groom yourself to look cool, but for Merlin unruly hair, long beard, and lots of grey is not a terrific look.

John thinks that every picture he sees of Merlin, no matter how his hair situation was, he still thinks that Merlin is a very handsome guy. John thinks that everything looks good on Merlin Mann. Merlin thinks he is uncommonly blessed in many ways. He doesn’t think a lot about his physical appearance. They look at some pictures of Merlin with different beard configurations together. John really likes the mustache because Merlin looks like someone who is fighting Zulus and all he needs is a pith helmet.

Being able to trade anxieties with other people, shame, embarrassment (RL384)

Merlin doesn’t think he would mind being bald as a lot of guys do, but it sucks and he feels bad for guys. He wishes sometimes that he could trade hangups with people. He doesn’t want to be famous on YouTube, it is not a thing that dogs him day and night, but he would love to be able to have one day without a single intrusive thought. Maybe he could trade with a YouTuber who would want Merlin’s disability and he wants theirs?

John would love to have a day without feeling menaced by his own expectations, but what would he trade it for? It is not a question about not caring about what other people care about because in order to take it on you would be plagued by it. Merlin says that Bill Clinton is tremendously skilled at compartmentalization, which is a way of being able to focus very heavily on one thing and at the same time not noticing this whole other thing or not being bothered by it. John is not bothered by pain and physical discomfort. He does feel those things and obviously he will prefer not to, but it doesn’t consume him and part of his response to feeling pain is thinking: ”Aha! I am alive!”

John’s mom does not feel it the way other people do. She can burn herself and not know it or hurt herself and then realize later that it is a serious enough injury that she should be doctoring it, but she didn’t notice it. She knows that she is hurt when she feels nausea and that requires that she will be pretty hurt. John does not have that, but he does feel ache and hurt all the time, but it would never stop him. It has caused injury before, like he walked on shin splints on his long walk across Europe until he couldn’t walk anymore and he ended up having to sit still for 2-3 days.

John also broke his hand and walked around with his fingers taped together with a fucking pencil and only when it didn’t get better after 10 days he went to the doctor. Merlin mentions a scene from Parks & Rec where somebody broke their hand on the way to the doctor and it looks all purple. Looking that weird would freak Merlin out because his body integrity is gone and his symmetry is diminishing and on top of it his hand is all purple and bangy.

Unless there is blood streaming down his face John wears that stuff with pride. He is not embarrassed the same way that other people are. He does feel tremendous shame all the time, like an evangelical, like original shame, but shame you bring on yourself, while embarrassment you see radiating from the imagined reaction of others. John has no idea why embarrassment is so inhibiting to other people. He walks into situations being embarrassed all the time, but it doesn’t impede him and that does feel like a superpower, given how often he hears people report that it is embarrassment that keeps them from doing the things they want to do, or even just the fear of embarrassment.

For Merlin it is anxiety where something inside of him comes up with all of these scenarios that might as well be happening right now. When he has anxiety, which is a lot, the problem is that he doesn’t have much distance. John is like Wilberforce, he gets embarrassed, it hurts every time, but then he heals and it doesn’t stop him from doing his crime solving. If you power through it… there is all kinds of things he won’t do, for example he won’t just walk into a wedding party and push the minister to the side and say: ”Have I got a wedding for you?”, but he doesn’t feel inhibited by embarrassment, even though it does hurt.

This morning John had his first tinge of anxiety in months. He was thinking about health in general, which is on all our minds right now (due to the coronavirus pandemic), and he did the anxiety leap by thinking about his future health and the Terminator menu screen came up and started scrolling through every possible and probable disability he was going to suffer in the course of his life before he finally mercifully crossed over to the other side. He didn’t want all those things, he didn’t want to be bedridden, and then he felt that tightness come up in his craw.

John is able to stand at that crossroads where it hasn’t filled the room yet, and tell himself that he can think about this for one more second and be fucked or he can get the fuck out of this rapidly shrinking room and he managed to shake it off, but it was spooky because he hadn’t felt it for a while and he had it constantly during his anxiety years a year ago. The reason is that the lead foreman of the contractors working on John’s house has coronavirus and they stood in a bathroom together, John was wearing a mask and was intentionally crowded into one corner of the bathroom using the force to keep him on the other side of the bathroom, but that was 10 days ago, meaning John is within the 14-day window.

The danger is that John’s mom has come out of her super-tight quarantine and has started to go to John’s house to work in the garden. She still wears a mask everywhere she goes, no-one in John’s family has given her a hug in 3.5 months, they stay apart from one another, but she has gone into the house to use the bathroom, and that whole story has brought reality home. Up until that point they didn’t really know anybody who had it and it seemed distant from their day-to-day reality.

John’s sister loves to yell at people. In everything in her life she manages to yell at people, mock them to their face, and they come away loving her. She will say: ”Excuse me! Please practice social distancing!” and the person goes: ”Huh? What?” - ”You are not practicing social distancing right now!” - ”Oh!” and they take 4 giant steps back and she goes: ”Thank you!” - ”Sure!” - ”Are you seriously not wearing a mask in this store?” - ”Ehhh, I just…” - ”I mean, seriously?” and then they laugh. ”I left it in the car” - ”Left it in the car?” - ”I am going back to the car now” - ”Okay, bye!” - ”Bye!” Merlin doesn’t want to do that, but he wants to be able to do that, like he wants to know Jeet Kune Do although he will probably never have to use it, but it would be nice if he could.

She is like Merlin’s friend Pete whom they call Action Lion because anytime you need anything done, especially with customer service, you call Pete because he is the nicest, sweetest Christian man and a wonderful drummer, but boy did he know how to get things accomplished efficiently. John’s sister relishes the opportunity to set people straight and she finds a way to do it where way into the interaction at the moment where we are all inclined to turn to our friends and go: ”OMG! This guy! Can you believe it!”, but she directs it directly at them, which is disarming somehow. John doesn’t know how she does it, if he would do that he would be in a fist fight.

John doesn’t even know the wild animal to compare his mom to. Merlin would compare her to a veteran dean of girls at a High School, the McClusky of girls who communicates: ”This is what I have done all day for 19 years, working with Punks like you!” and Merlin does not want to displease her. She is very no-nonsense, but when she talks the way she talks in the day-to-day she is so focused and she is really looking at you. The way you can tell she is furious is when she clears her throat. Then you know it is over and you better hit the dirt! It is always easy to tell when John’s sister becomes unglued because the whites of her eyes turn electric green and she is just waiting for you to finish your sentence.

John’s contractor having coronavirus (RL384)

So right now this exposure has happened within John’s clan and they are concerned about their contractor who has been working with a team of 3-4 guys, they were scofflaws about the quarantine because they all work together and they just kept working for the last 3 months and powered through, which was in contravention of local guidance from the get-go, but in the case of the recording of Omnibus, Ken and John were on the JoCo Cruise together, they flew home together in an airplane and two days later they were supposed to record Omnibus in person and they both hadn’t been out, so they couldn’t see why they wouldn’t record as usual, and the contractors used that as an excuse to John that they also were in quarantine with each other. He said he probably got it at the store where he clearly wasn’t doing it right.

If we take the 14 days to be meaningful, then John has 4 more days, but he could also have it without knowing it. Now they are back to a place where they can’t see mom or Ken because John had some outside exposure. They were not going to loosen up, within the family they had no intention of going swimming and they are not saying: ”I can’t believe that the overreaching government is trying to tell me how to make my macaroni and cheese!”, but they are still listening to scientists - it wasn’t ever about the government.

John’s neighbor suffering economically from the lockdown (RL384)

John was talking to his next door neighbor yesterday and he and his wife are both evangelical ministers that are focused on the homeless. They spent part of their career in Bulgaria, trying to convince some orthodox kids that what they really wanted to be was born again. Merlin loves the outfit in the orthodox church, he used to go to a Greek culture festival in Cincinnati and sometimes he would go to a church that was so pimped out compared to ours. It is so much cooler and byzantine! The evangelical argument is that you don’t need all that stuff, but you go direct with God. John imagined that their services for the homeless had become somewhat choked off, which was true. They used to provide medical and dental and two squares a day, and now they are down to three bag lunches a week and all the other stuff is closed.

But the real bummer is that his wife made a living working for Norwegian cruises and she had been out of work since the beginning and they are not opening back up. Merlin knows somebody who with his wife owns two bars in Brooklyn and that sucks, he thinks about them all the time! They went from doing great on behalf of some cool thing they owned to ”No future! No future!” and it is terrible. Even if you are living a science-based life you will in that case be praying to science that one day you would be able to open your bar or go back to work on your cruise company. John and Merlin are incredibly fortunate to have gone from where they were more or less embarrassed by their jobs to… Merlin just says he does stuff with computers because it is so boring to say that.

Different rules of communication in different regions (RL384)

In the bay area people are sizing each other up and estimate how valuable you are by learning what you do. John wonders within the Bay Area how that must go. In Seattle everybody works in computers, but there is considerably less entrepreneurship and every 3rd 24-year old you meet is not hoping that they app makes them $1 billion, but everybody is working for the man although getting paid outrageously. They are not trying to tell you that within the next year they are going to be living in a helicopter.

In the Bay Area every 3rd person you meet thinks they are better than you. Every region Merlin has lived in had a slightly different culture about what you can and cannot say, should and should not say. In Ohio you can gossip all you want about people, but you don’t ask them awkward questions. You might not know that somebody is divorced ever because you don’t talk about that stuff. In San Francisco it struck Merlin how much people join each other’s conversations in public which he had never seen anywhere else, and talking constantly about what you pay in rent.

In New York city all you talk about is where you went to college and your apartment, how expensive it is, your history with apartments, the smallest or the cheapest you have lived in. The game is that you are bragging about how cheap your rent is, but it is seen as a way of describing your relative wealth and how well you are playing the system of rent control for yourself. In Seattle it is very rare that you would ever mention how much your house is worth, how much you paid for anything, and the rent conversation has entered into it, but it has gone from ”You are not going to believe how cheap my rent is!” to ”You won’t believe how expensive my rent is!” as a way of trying to communicate to others that you have a social justice complaint, too!

Insurance and health care has entered into the conversation on a national level as well. You always had to work and pay money to live. Back when John’s rent was $350 he also only made $900 a month. When he was in Romania he was paying $0.25 for a pack of cigarettes and you won’t believe that he paid $6.50 in the US for the same thing, which was what your typical Romanian made in three days of work. People in America make $35.000 a year, that is how this is possible. There is a lack of perspective in the conversation about health care where people are talking about having to work to pay rent as being intrinsically unfair as a way to shame the older generation: ”You didn’t have to deal with what we have to deal with!”, but even Boomers had to work and pay rent and the rent wasn’t easy for them to pay. Although there was a time in America where you could work a blue-collar job and buy a house.

In all of history everybody has always felt like they have big problems. There is nobody who doesn’t have problems, even during the salad days. Your daughter would end up marrying meathead who came and lived in your house and talked about the war. There is never not being cancer! How did Merlin derail them onto local customs? John will trade his shame for Merlin’s anxiety, ”… chocolate in my peanut butter!”

This episode's topic chain

John has a comedy mustache -> Rob Delaney’s facial hair -> Merlin’s history with different hair and beard styles -> Some bald people really suffer -> Merlin doesn’t think he would mind if he were bald -> What if you could trade your anxieties with someone else’s? -> John not having a problem with being embarrassed, but he does feel shame -> John can endure pain -> John feeling anxiety again for the fist time in a year because his contractor has coronavirus -> John’s neighbor suffering economically from the lockdown -> John and Merlin being glad they have a job that they were a bit embarrassed about before, but now they got lucky -> Merlin not wanting to tell people what he works with, just ”something with computers” -> People in San Francisco sizing you up by learning what you work with -> Different regions having different unspoken rules of conversation -> Insurance and health care entering into conversations nationally -> People lacking perspective -> cigarettes in Romania only costing $0.25, but they also have a much lower income there -> Even Boomers had to pay rent -> Everybody has problems.

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