RL392 - The Oldest Tyler

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John only had rolls of nickels, referring to John having landscapers cut down some trees at his old house and having promised them he could pay them in cash, but then it turned out the cash he had were rolls of nickels and dimes.

The show title refers to one of the workmen with the chainsaw near John’s house who looked like he could have been a professional wakeboarder 25 years ago and who looked like the oldest possible Tyler Higham.

Merlin accidentally left a clip in the show where he said: ”I have to take a shit so…” in the middle of a story.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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.

Ashley Feinberg doing detective work on public figures (RL392)

One of Merlin’s favorite writers is Ashley Feinberg who does the wildest detective work on public figures. She found James Comey’s secret twitter (see this article), she found Sebastian Gorka’s Amazon wishlist (see here) and she has a special obsession with the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. who on his Instagram had posted a photograph of an old Zippo lighter, some rifle casings and a recently lit cigar, with the caption: ”Getting the weekend started right!!!” (see here) and she uttered a phrase that Merlin still thinks about twice a week: ”Please meet the most going-through-a-divorce man alive”. He can sometimes identify somebody who is definitely a going-through-a-divorce man.

Merlin wanting to name his child Tyler (RL392)

The notional name for Merlin’s child before his wife gave birth was Tyler, which it is the most generic American name. John knew a couple of Tylers, one of them at his university. Merlin even knows some very good high quality ones, and ones who do podcasts. You have to watch out for Toby, though, but it is a great name for a girl. Siracusa wanted to name his daughter October from the U2 album with Toby being the canonical nickname, and that is adorable. It could be the name of the leader of an all-girl motorcycle gang.

John working as a landscaper in High School (RL392)

In High School during the transition period when partying was not funny anymore, but he hadn’t quite figured out another path for him yet John worked as a landscaper a fair amount. For a couple of years he was driving around in a truck with a bunch of lawn mowers in the back, mowing and mulching people’s things. It is hard work and you drink a lot of Slurpees!

The properties he was supposed to work on were spread all over town and he learned pretty quickly which tempo met the bare minimum expectation of the foreman. They had 200 properties and if John was Johnny-on-the-spot hustle-guy, doing 5 lawns a day, he was not getting paid any more than if he was the guy who takes a bowl of alcohol for lunch, doing 3 yards a day. The foreman would ask: ”Huh, you couldn’t have made it out to the 4th one?” - ”Oh, there was a thing about a helicopter and I had a flat Slurpee" At some point along the way John decided he had to stop drinking and that was the big turning point for him not ending up as a 52 year old landscaper.

John was a much better student when he came back to college after years in the field because he had realized he was paying for each one of those classes out of his own pocket, and when he finally got his Bachelor’s degree at the age of 47 he felt like he was probably one of the better undergraduates for the last 30 of those years.

Transitioning from a bad situation to a better one, bad judgement (RL392)

When we are trying to transition from a bad situation to a better one, we all feel like we want to bring some things with us from the bad times. We want to be done with the abusive relationship, the bankruptcy or the alcoholism, but we definitely want our girlfriend to come with us or we don’t want to get rid of the business because that is our nest-egg. We are done being an alcoholic, but we don’t want entirely 100% never be able to have a glass of wine at dinner again.

When you finally quit it is like being born again and you have made enough bad judgement calls in the past that you need to acknowledge that your judgement is bad, and that you are not the one to stand here and say what things your are going to pick and choose from the old life to bring to the new one, but you just have to make a clean break. It is the hardest thing to say that the problem was not the booze or the girlfriend, but that you were making bad decisions.

An abandoned house in John's neighborhood getting fixed up (RL392)

There was an abandoned house down in John's neighborhood that had been bought by one of the elderly couples on the block. They wanted their son to restore the house and move in there because their backyards would connect, but then the son didn’t want it. The man of that couple is always circulating petitions because the Chamber of Commerce has decided they were going to put a pot dispensery in the place where the old Haberdasher was and he wants the community to rally together and keep the pot dispensery out.

He claims it generates a lot of traffic, although out there you only see a car every hour, and he also thinks it is not going to be good for property values. He is a natural born activist, a classic Nimby (”not in my back yard”), but when it came to his actual back yard he sold the plot of land with the abandoned house on it and he subdivided the property so he could sell the other half to somebody who is going to build another house there and who were chopping down some trees while John was recording. He doesn’t want a pot dispensery three miles away, but the things he does literally in his back yard are not going to be great for the neighborhood.

The abandoned house is all fixed up and nice now, but the guy who bought it also bought a COVID-19 boredom minibike. Merlin didn’t know they were still around. They predated mopeds and were very popular among Hillbillies in Ohio. John’s mom’s boyfriend Bobby had bought one for John at the Midway Drive-in, a swap-meet in Midway that existed before they built the Lowe’s. It was also where he found Barney the dog. It is a low chopper minibike, but a stretched-out thing that is not cool. There are so many motor-vehicles now that John can’t keep them straight.

Merlin remarks that John Lewis’ hearse was so fucking bad-ass, it was the coolest hearse! It has the performance characteristics of a Ghostbusters car or a Herman Munster vehicle, but it looked totally modern. The problem is its exhaust note (John makes farting-noises to illustrate how it sounds) and this neighbor rides around in circles in his yard, which means it is not just annoying like a motorcycle that drives by on the road, but it is an ongoing shit show.

John having workers with chainsaws outside (RL392)

While John was recording the episode there were some chainsaw people outside, the kind that come in the night and make the toilet seat cold, called he tweeters and the woofers. Somebody is developing a piece of property down the hill from where John is, and they hired some guys to clear the trees. They were out there last Friday and again today on Monday. They were obviously a slap-dash organization and the guy in charge had the look that Skeeter (see RL124) used to have: A guy who has an all-alcohol lunch.

He is probably no stranger to the recovery community, but he might be exploiting it from within. John doesn’t see any contrition in him, but if he was no longer drinking a liquid lunch it would only be temporary. He has not turned his life and his will over to God, but he is still tilting against windmills. John knew he was a Skeeter through a Malcolm Gladwell Blink thing.

The second guy had light-blonde hair and might have thought he had a career in professional wakeboarding 25 years ago, like the oldest possible Tyler (Higham). He looked like a competent guy who can get things done, but the wakeboarding thing didn’t turn out, he probably did some commercial fishing time and now he is working on this crew because he might have had a little trouble, but he seems like someone who can do a job.

The third and youngest guy was like a Chris (Rogers) and looks like a really brow-beaten 30-year old who may be a veteran that fell out the bottom and his wife left him. He looks like a really bedraggled 30-year old and the others yell at him all the time while he keeps his eyes to the ground, beaten down. He is Merlin's favorite character in this story, and Merlin wonders if it is possible that these are all people who are going through some sort of family tumult right now.

These three fellows resemble folks who work for a Goodwill-type organization that helps people who are recovering from things, but they are still in the wild and have yet to find a safe harbor. Skeeter 2 runs a tight ship, as tight as can be run by a man who is drinking alcohol out of a soup bowl at lunch. Chris is a good name for the third guy because he looks like a guy who might die in a school bus that has been parked on a lot.

John was watching them doing dangerous work up in the tree and he was noticing how much they take the time to get their ropes straight instead of just say: ”Fuck it!” The guy could lean out a little bit and hit that rogue branch with the chain saw and there would be a 92% chance that it would just fall where he wants it to, but instead he puts the chainsaw down and hikes up the ropes to get himself into a slightly better position. At first glance John wouldn’t have thought that he was Mr. Safetly, but that might be why he is still working in the tree business.

They had 3 trucks with a healthy-looking dog in the cab of one of them, and an industrial sized wood chipper. A lot of things could go wrong in this particular occupation, and the guys on this crew are also the type of people who could have been commercial fishermen on crabbing ships, which are probably crab boats, in the off-season. John has too many pals who did that.

John being able to tell people apart who are in alcohol recovery (RL392)

John has a fair amount of experience with the demographic of American men who drink alcohol from a bowl for lunch. He can tell them apart from someone who is just having a beer, even from someone who got a flask. You look at a guy who is down on his luck and you check the state of his teeth. If a fellow is going through a bad divorce and has hid the skids it is not going to affect his chew-strengh for a while, and in particular it is not going to cause him to chew his tongue while he is just sitting in his truck like somebody whose teeth are more or less gone.

You can tell a lot of the guys who are hitting it pretty hard apart from a guy with a lot of sun-damage to his face who has been working outside for many years, a salty sea dog who has stared out at the wine-dark sea day in and day out, not knowing whether it is day or night, pulling crustaceans from the bottom of the ocean, or a fellow who has worked on oil derrick, which is called a wildcatter, depending on if his knuckles are swollen, how big his calluses are, if it is just one big callus, and if he is freshly out of jail and has just hit the sauce super-hard or if he been on a maintenance regimen of Sterno for 8-10 years.

In case he was married: Was his wife a nurse or somebody who worked in the bar he went to? Does he have a tattoo on his neck of a mosquito tapping into the main vein, which is how Skeeter got his name (see RL124)? He had this idea when he was at the tattoo parlor, but it didn’t look like there was really a mosquito on there because it was 9 inches long and took up his entire neck like a Thrush sticker. He probably didn’t have any tattoos from the Navy because the Navy wouldn’t have taken him even when he was young.

John has been to a lot of drug and alcohol treatment events, like meetings or events that people in the recovery movement try to put on, like a Rock concert for sober people, like: ”Hey, you don’t have to stop rocking, just because we are not on drugs! Here he is: Ted Nugent!” John actually saw Ted Nugent at a sober event one time. At those event there is an incredible cross-section because people who are trying to get sober always represent a cross-section.

There are people who got in trouble with the law, people who earnestly and honestly believe that they have reached their bottom and are ready to make a change, people who are in and out of recovery for decades and who can never quite plant their feet, people who are just wet brains who have done so much damage to themselves, but sometimes something tips you over, people who are temporarily sober and who are there with a huge chip on their shoulder about how bullshit it is and about how everybody there is bullshit.

When you are at those events you try to pick your people, the ones who look like they are headed somewhere, and you want to stay far away from the people who are on the edge and sarcastically critiquing the fashion of the other people. If you have been sober for a while you feel tremendous empathy for somebody at a meeting or at a sober event where it is very clear that this is not their last day and they got some road to travel, and you wish that they get something out of this and remember it well so that later on when they come back here they will remember it well and got a toe-hold if they will ever come back.

When John was 19, a guy in an AA-meeting once told him: ”Son, you got more drinking to do!” and that is the wrong take, but he was one of the old guard. In those situations you can see the ones who are not beaten yet and who are not ready to capitulate to alcohol yet.

John having hired workers with too small chainsaws (RL392)

Last year when John was getting ready to move from his farm, a guy came by and asked if John would like him to clean up some brush around here. John replied: ”Yeah, sure! I don’t have a ton of money, but I can pay you in cash!” The guy had a team of 4 or 5 really young people, which felt like a sober work party with a group of people who were in crisis. There was a halfway-house vibe about the group, but it wasn’t clear what the house was halfway between, what two things it was in the middle of. Maybe he had gone to some youth center where incredibly vulnerable kids had just been released from juvenile hall or they had a real tenuous hold on civilization.

It is the Fagin scenario of exploiting kids, like when The Long Winters had the School of Rock kids be their band for a big Showbox show. It was a situation where 15 kids under the age of 12 had learned 25 Long Winters songs and did a pretty darn good job with them, but their parents were paying tuition for them to do that and at the end of the night John gave each one a $50 bill.

John was working with Sahm on some kind of window sill (see House, RL257) and when he came back around the guys had chopped a bunch of branches off. They all had a brow-beaten staring at the ground and the guy who was running the operation looked like a Skeeter (see RL124), a guy who was drinking alcohol with a soup spoon and his chainsaw was too small.

He had done a bad job and when John went to pay him he realized that he did have any cash except some rolled coins and he gave him $80 worth of rolled dimes and nickels, a shoebox full of money, and he definitely was mad about that, but he did a bad job, so this was a fair exchange and John still feels like he is owed something from him.

Furthermore, they didn’t take away the wood that they cut, so then John had to put an ad in Craigslist that said: ”Free firewood!” and he met a lot of interesting people that day because people who come to get free firewood in August are some real preppers. One of them was a lady in a Honda hatchback and John helped her load these giant logs into the back of her Honda. She said that you could heat your house all winter with this stuff. All afternoon people came by until the wood was finally gone and afterwards three more people came, asking for the wood.

One year later when John's neighbords had tree workers taking down some trees John noticed that their chainsaws were too small and it reminded him of the guy from the year before. When one of the guys was lopping branches off of an Alder Tree, sure he got a little chainsaw, but later they were down on the ground chopping down whole trees, but they were still using little lopper chainsaws, and that is working harder, not smarter.

John went down there and started talking to the chief, the old back-and-forth, playing the dozens, and he was sure it was the same guy. He is in better shape, maybe he cut his hair, and he got some gear now. Maybe last year he had gotten out of prison and got a bunch of kids to help him and then put that money into buying some equipment.

John getting wood chips for free (RL392)

The thing about wood chips is that some people in the game have more wood chips than they need while over here there are people who are looking for wood chips. It is the definition of an inefficient market because there is not a good clearing house for connecting chip-havers and chip-needers.

John actually had a use for some wood chips to do some mulching because having grass in your yard is not a very good use of land. You don’t want a big lawn because they use a lot of resources and they don’t give back. When there were tree workers in his neighborhood John went down to the oldest Tyler and asked him what he was going to do with all those wood chips when he was done.

Skeeter 2 was up in the tree and did not like John standing there because he has that natural instinct of somebody who is up to no good of ”What are you looking at?” He was probably wondering if John was a neighbor who had a problem or somebody from the county who was there to see if he got his paperwork right, but he was too far up in the tree to deal with it and he didn’t seem to be very good at delegating. He didn’t say to Tyler: ”Go figure out what that guy’s problem is!”, and John was just standing there because he is not intimidated by a guy up in the tree with a chainsaw eyeballing him.

You can tell that Skeeter 2 is mean, but he was chewing his cheeks up in the tree and he was looking down and as soon as Tyler was talking to John he was really interested in what was going on. Tyler is a wakeboarder with a friendly face and he is not in charge of anybody, he is just trying to get down the ropes. He is about John’s age, while Skeeter 2 is a little older.

Tyler was shouting at John over the sound of their chainsaws: ”I don’t know, you want them?” Then Tyler turned around, Skeeter 2 was looking at him, and Tyler made a series of semaphore hand gestures specific to the trade, like a Hobo code, where he imitated a dump truck with his arms, and Skeeter 2 gave from way up in the tree a shrug like: ”Yeah, sure, he can have the chips!”

All of a sudden John felt like he was getting payback. If Skeeter had been on the ground with his chainsaw off he would probably have said: ”Yeah, for $50!” John doesn’t think Skeeter recognized him as the guy with the shoebox full of nickels.

They followed John to his house and dumped a big huge pile of steaming wood chips in the front yard, which is going to help him mulch, get rid of the grass and turn his front yard into a garden. Then Tyler didn’t know where he was and John had to drive him back. Not everybody can find their way back! Merlin is also perma-lost and is discovering new things he has been to many times. In a way that is a wonderful life.

Tree workers throwing a tree on a swimming pool (RL392)

The people next to the property in John's neighborhood where there were tree workers have a full-sized swimming pool underneath a prefab airplane hanger, made out of corrugated plastic rather than corrugated metal and they heat it with a wood-burning stove, so whenever you smell the smell of firewood it means they are heating their swimming pool.

This morning they continued cutting down trees, and they should not be cutting down a full-sized 100 foot tall fur tree because they don’t have the equipment and the mental muscle for it. In a densely populated area you can’t just drop a 100 foot tree because there are houses all around, so you have to climb way up there and cut the top of it out, but you also can’t just be hanging off of the side of a tree where the top-half is falling any which way and you need to have all kinds of ropes and pulleys. It is technical, and you need a bigger chainsaw!

John thinks that just before they started recording this episode the guys have felled a tree and it has landed on the roof of the swimming pool and the chainsaws have stopped and not started again. Merlin is very curious if that is true, but if John will show up down there and take a picture of the fact that he felled a tree and it landed on top of the wood-fired swimming pool, he is not going to be happy about that, but if John will just be like: ”Hey, just looking for some more wood chips!”, and he will stand around with them all, looking at the tree from 7 different angles, trying to figure out how to get it out of there.

John is going to go down and try to get a photograph of the situation with the tree on the swimming pool, but he is not sure he is going to be able to fully tell the story in photos. Skeeter 2 might not be fully bonded in his shirt (?), which is exactly why John feels like there has been a "Stop work!" over here because he is probably saying to somebody not to call so-and-so. In a situation like Skeeter 2 is in, he thinks probably half the time that his shoddy work is going to get over on people, and he can run this scam, cut their trees down for half the regular price, but he is going to do a shit job of it and then he gets paid in nickels or his tree falls on a swimming pool and he ends up having to do i for half the money and he is going to be dealing with the consequences. He is surely on a national registry of some kind.

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