RL393 - A Little Grace

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John wants to set it and forget it, referring to a good practice with audio gear, to set it and then not touch it again, but it applies to other things in life as well like relationships and cars.

The show title refers to John’s family having started to say a little grace before dinner after their daughter has picked up that tradition at Ken Jennings’ house.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Audio equipment: Set it and forget it (RL393)

John starts the show singing Merlin’s name like in old times. Merlin was twiddling a lot of knobs, trying to dial in his DAW. He was getting a little cute with it and now he is paying for it. He is a little gainy and is peaking a little bit. He is out of his depth because he uses a device with a lot of DIP switches. John loves a DIP switch and he would hit a switch any day rather than pull down a menu.

In his very short career in software development Merlin would keep working on it until it wasn’t obviously broken, and he does that with his DAW as well: He tries to get it into a relatively dependable state and then he tries not to touch it. John would also rather set it and forget it, like with all things in life like relationships or cars.

Facebook behaving strangely (RL393)

John is not a Facebook person, he is not a practitioner of the dark arts, but he has some fan sites over there and his own profile and he will go there once a day or once every few days. You scroll down and you see all the people you went to High School with talking about Q-anon and there are all the wonderful fans of Roderick on the Line and The Long Winters and Omnibus, the Road Work community, the Friendly Fire people, they are having scintillating and John loves to pop in and most of the time it is read-only, but sometimes it is random access.

Lately Facebook after you scroll down 3 comments it just blanks out and you can’t look into the past more than the top 3 posts. It does it across all the different sites and John wonders if he did not do an update of some kind or if he violated the terms of service, he has to check the firmware, he has to check the oil, the fluids, the windshield wiper, flipping all the DIP switches, but he can’t figure it out and although it is an absolute annoyance he doesn’t care enough to do anything about it, and by not fixing it he has to stare it in the face every day.

Merlin knocking out some Mosquito tasks (RL393)

Merlin woke up early today and he knocked down a lot of mosquito tasks, these little things that he wouldn’t put on his calendar, but if enough of them pile up you start to feel like a hoarder. This morning he cleaned out a cooler, which was really gross, he brought in some junk from the back yard that was really unsightly, and it is a nice feeling to get 5 or 6 mosquito tasks done and once you get rolling you get a head of steam on and now you want to fix all the things and you want more mosquito tasks.

Mosquito tasks bog John down. You go out, you drain the pond, you brush the beables off the thingamabob, and by the end of the day you realize you did all these things that needed to get done, but John is super non-good at that. Merlin has a text-file for this, one just for tech annoyances that he thinks he could do something about if he spent a little bit of time with.

John is not a big writer-down and he is not good at list-making. Merlin’s wonderful grandmother was an inveterate list-maker to the point where she had a meta-list of all of her lists and when she was waiting for a doctor’s appointment she would pull out all of these scraps of paper and do her cross-tabs on figuring out what list needed to be updated with new lists. John almost never makes a list.

When John is in the grocery store, the person in front of him in the line is also a person living in the same world and somehow the world has brought them together in this grocery store at the same time, so they both cannot be that different, but they are making lists and John is not, so they might as well be living in France and Alternate France. You see somebody in a fancy car and another person in a cheap car and which one makes lists and which one doesn’t? Probably they are both making lists and they are closer together than John, the outlier, the guy that never makes lists. He has a lot of mental lists of his failures and near-failures.

Saying grace before dinner (RL393)

Lately John’s family has been saying Grace at the dinner table. They had been to dinner over at Ken Jennings’ house and right before dinner Ken looked at John’s daughter and said that they were going to say Grace, so ”Buckle up!” and they all said Grace and the next night when they were at home she said: ”We should say Grace!”, so she made up a little Grace: ”Thank you for this food and drink that we are lucky enough to have and thank you for all the good things!” and then they all nod. Sometimes John says Koyaanisqatsi and sometimes her mom says Namaste. Is he appropriating Philip Glass?

Merlin could never get away with that, but he thinks it is lovely. It arrests the thing where you haven’t even sat down in your chair yet and you look over and your kid is already shoveling food in their mouth. Slow down! Everybody has got to get here first! Her mom does this thing where she yells from the other room: ”You guys start without me!” and John always looks at his daughter and says: ”We don’t start without mama!” - ”I know!” and they sit there. They have done this for 8 years and they have never started without her.

Merlin thinks there are two lovely things you can do at dinner: People who are not religious should be able to have a religion without the religion. Church is nice, but Merlin is not a huge fan of the institution of religion. There could hardly be a nicer thing than taking a minute to express gratitude for what you have. Merlin’s friend Richard and Merlin’s ex (Richard’s current at the time) used to kiss each other on the lips right before they started eating, and that is nice, too! You don’t always remember to kiss people!

Since they started saying grace at dinner John’s daughter has introduced at some point the idea of saying something that you are grateful for, wherever that came from. It was John’s turn, but the list of failures and disappointments that he carries around with him all the time normally exclude him from thinking at all about anything he is grateful for because whatever he can think of that he has gratitude for is immediately shouldered aside or clouded with conditionals.

She was not interested in hearing Daddy do a soliloquy because they got hot food in front of them and the first couple of times he said: "Today I had some triumphs and some defeats, and I guess the triumphs in the end outweighed the defeats!” and the two of them would look at him and slowly nod.

As the weeks went by John realized that if he had to lay his victories and defeats out and describe each one, he could name the victories, but he couldn’t put his finger on the defeats. A couple of days ago John was pulling weeds and he had a tenacious weed and he pulled really hard, leaning back on it, and then it snapped and John punched himself in the balls. It was a clear defeat and he had to spend 10 minutes recuperating from it. How many times does that happen?

But in most cases the defeats were just a sense of absence of a different victory and he realized in this small little gratitude moment that this was another example of this back-ack (backpack) John carries around all the time where he didn’t even know what his defeats were today.

John used to sometimes at dinner put his fork down and stare with a furrowed brow at some leafy green for a few moments, but he definitely felt like he didn’t have any defeats today, except the general feeling of defeat, but you can run down your five victories and you can’t even name a single defeat except a vague sense. That doesn’t outweigh your victories! Merlin thinks one is a number of nouns that generate a positive emotion and the other one is just your personality. Like if somebody asks him: ”What are you anxious about?” - ”Yeah, right?”

John figured that his defeat was that he had to hang out with himself all day. He was scoring all those small victories, but: ”Look at this guy! I wouldn’t join a club that would have me, except here I am!” Steve Rubell said he would not let himself into his club Studio 54 because he is too unhandsome to come to Studio 54. John says the same thing about his records. If he was going to buy a record, he would probably not buy a Long Winters record. They don’t have enough distortion. Merlin thinks John made Mike Squires play some good AC/DC parts.

Playing a bit on the Internet (RL393)

There was a big hack at Twitter and everybody who was a verified user and everybody who had changed their password in the last 30 days got locked out, so people were making fun of it, like ”The blue checks aren’t here to well-actually us!”

Merlin recently tweeted: ”Went out to the garage to get more toilet paper, and I tried to carry WAY too much at once, and since I was wearing very loose sweatpants with my phone in the pocket, my pants fell down in the driveway, and I had to shuffle like a crab until I got inside. #BlueCheckLife” Here is where we get back to Nora Ephron: ”Everything is Copy”: When you slip on a banana peel, everybody laughs at you, but when you tell the story of slipping on a banana peel and you do it well, people are more likely to laugh with you. John brought a lot of joy to Merlin’s life when he punched himself in the balls, that we pretty god-damn funny.

There is an aspect to the way John performs on the Internet where self-aggrandizement and self-mythology is a part of his shtick, but part of that also requires that you pop that balloon sometimes and mock yourself, you can’t believe it and live in the world. John and Merlin’s Internet personas are different from their actual personalities and they are kidding at their own expense more often than it might seem to the casual observer, playing with their bits and with their avatars, and people come in from left field who don’t get the joke and say: ”That sounds arrogant!” - ”Yes, that is the whole bit! I do that every single day!”

Dave Hill, Todd Berry, they occupy a fursona of themselves that is very real. Todd Berry is absolutely that big of an asshole and yet, it is also a fursona. He is cosplaying Todd Berry. John has spent many times with him where he is taking a selfie and John edges into the picture and he will say: ”Yeah, can you not be in my picture?”

John’s daughter telling him to kiss her on the lips (RL393)

Not very long ago John’s daughter told him to kiss her on the lips because she has noticed that people kiss each other on the lips and not just on the forehead as has been her experience her whole life. Merlin's family has been a lip-kissing family, any gender, any combination. John’s mom is not a big lip-kisser, and the Rodericks are a bit reticent about displays of affection that go over some imaginary line, but his daughter wanted to see what lip-kissing was like. She is natively more sensual than John is and she likes experience while John rather sits back and will guess what a thing feels like without having to touch it. She is living in the world!

Merlin always had a good relationship with his kid. There are oscillations on a few-days basis whom she likes more, him or her mom, but despite the fact that Merlin feels their relationship has never been better she is also pushing 13 and she doesn’t like being touched anymore. When he has done something really nice he sometimes gets an out-of-nowhere hug and a kiss and he really misses that. Scott Simpson years ago was talking about how all he has to do is stick his hand out at a 30 degree angle and his son grabs his hand when they are walking around. Merlin doesn’t get that anymore and he misses that.

John is conscious that all of his friends with children older than 12 say that he has to treasure those moments when she still likes you and still wants to hang out with you, and John’s daughter does and he is treasuring it. They are very physically affectionate, they have a lot of hugs and tickles and they spend a lot of time together curled up, although even when she was 2 years old, she would sit on your lap and you could hug her or hold her, but then it was enough. She was like a cat, which will do all kinds of stuff until they realize that they are vulnerable and then they will bite you! She had an amount of cuddle that filled her up and then she was done.

The idea that one day this not going to be there is actually in John’s emotional life a return to normal. Before she was born, his whole life nobody cuddled with him. When he was in young relationships, who got time to cuddle? They had somewhere to be! John never just sat curled up under an Afghan with anybody, so now he has a child that is little and likes him, it is peak cuddle for him and when it goes away he hopes it goes by easily because he will retract to regular, which is: ”No cuddles for me anymore!” and everything is his fault again and that is great! His whole life John has felt he is living on borrowed time.

John being invited to Jason Finn’s house (RL393)

Jason Finn's lady friend Leginda said to John: ”Jason hasn’t done anything in the last 5 months and he needs some companionship.” - ”Why are you looking at me?” - ”I don’t know! Do you know any other friends that he has?” - ”No, I guess not!” - ”Right!”, so he came over to John’s house to do some guy stuff and he became John’s project. John was over to Jason’s very stylish town house in Downtown Seattle, right on top of capital hill, full of fantastic art, it is very nicely done, he has a wonderful eye and it is a very chic place.

John would come over with their friend Tina, who is also has an art collection even better than Jason’s. She is an engineer who builds giant cranes. She designed and built the crane that lifts the Space Shuttle onto its gas tank, and the machine that opens Safeco Field’s roof. She is in Taipei this week to build some giant machine. Merlin just did a podcast about how to convince a guy to wear a C-PAP if you tell him it will make him cum, so he is doing some pretty important work here, too.

Back in the day she would ask John to come down to Florida with her when they were launching another Space Shuttle and she would be there with the hard hat on, standing in front of some yellow button, but John was always saying: ”Maybe next time!” because this time he was playing a show at Ye’Old Cranky Coffee Shop in front of 15 people and he never went down with his friend and watch the Space Shuttle. Just as with seeing Nirvana, he thought he could do it next week. That is Merlin and Hüsker Dü. He arrived a little bit too late and never had the opportunity and in 1987 they suddenly were not together anymore. John walked past some venues where they were playing inside and he was just: ”Naaah, next time!”

John was over at Jason’s house together with Tina, Leginda was there and Jason was making some sous-vided filet mignons, which was really nice and they had a nice time.

John’s daughter really being into Star Wars (RL393)

John’s daughter is really into Star Wars, he doesn’t know how it happened and he fought it every step of the way, but somewhere it is in the air. She has read all the books, she watched all the Clone Wars. John can do a Clone Wars era Obi-Wan imitation (”Anakin”). John realized that there is a whole world of Star Wars figurines out there and when Phantom Menace came out the toy people realized there hadn’t been any Star Wars figurines in 15 years and people were ripe for this, so they put out all these Star Wars figurines of every bit character and every nobody in the background. There are 15 Padmés for every time she changes her clothes.

John has them all because online there were people who had 50 of them, one of everybody, and John was in competition with 15 other neckbeards around the world, bidding against these things, and John was ready to pay $100 for 50 Amidalas, and they started showing up in giant bags, but John couldn’t just give her 50 Star Wars figures, so he took Qui-Gon and hid him in a bookshelf. John’s daughter really really notices things. He had tucked the Anakin in a hiding place and she saw it within an hour. She had no idea that they existed and all of a sudden she discovered this 4-inch Qui-Gon. It was like magic, but John didn’t cop to it and was just: ”Where did that come from?” and every day he was putting out another little person.

Once he was eBay anyway he bought 50 more and got a Millennium Falcon and an X-Wing fighter from back in the day, and he has been putting out just one a day. There are these guys from the Jedi council that John couldn’t identify, the point-headed guy or the guy with a lobster for a face, but his daughter knows them all, she knows the planet they are from, she knows the race they are, because she has read all the books 50 times, but when he would put out a couple of those people she would get blasé about them, so a few days went by and nothing happened and it has become a part of their life to not only search for them, but every once in a while there will be a little dude or gal or monster poking out of somewhere.

The problem is that when you buy a bunch of Star Wars lots, every one of them has a Qui-Gon and a Jar-Jar and a Lando Calrissian, and so John got a bunch of cool ones, but also four Qui-Gons and four Mace Windaloos (Mace Windu), which is a delicious and very spicy Indian treat. So when John went over to Jason’s house he brought him a little bag of them and Jason loved that little Mace Windu and he was surprisingly chuffed about about it when John gave it to him.

John’s daughter’s mother’s two cats before their daughter was born (RL393)

When John's daughter was in vitro her mother lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in Downtown Seattle and she had two cats, both of them were awful. One of them was deranged. She was married to John and Merlin’s friend Sean Nelson, singer of Harvey Danger.

They had two cats and the one that was deranged (his name was Gingus) was not the one that fell out of their 3rd-story window and survived, but the deranged was the only cat John ever saw that in its broken mind could not differentiate between the most violent angry hiss and what you did on a normal day when someone petted you. You would pet this cat and it would rear back violently like a viper and you could smell the cat-food from two days ago come out of this cat in this evil hiss, and then it would go back to purring and needing you. What the fuck? This cat sucks! As it got older it went more hiss less cuddle, and that cat was no good.

The other cat was a fine cat named Zelda (for Zelda Fitzgerald) until she stopped grooming herself. She probably had kitty depression, her name was her destiny, and it was probably Gingus that brought Zelda’s depression on.

In the divorce John’s daughter’s mother inherited the cats because Sean was not able to care for another living thing, and she wanted them because she has this hippie blind spot, this wonderful cloak to wear, this wonderful technicolor dream coat, to be able to put on where everything is fine. She definitely doesn’t sit down at the dinner table and start cataloging her faults and also does not see color, which means she doesn’t see problems.

When their daughter was on the day and was busy being built inside of this mom, John said that he doesn’t have a lot of say in the world and there are only a few things he was really going to stand his ground on because for the most part he goes along to get along and tries to be everybody's friend, but he didn’t want to bring their little girl into this world where the murder cat and the dirty cat create an unsafe environment.

They were her little babies and she has had them for some time and had presumably developed a feeling of care for them, but they have to go live on a farm. She was breathing in the cat litter and surely had the toxoplasmosis, and John didn’t want that in the baby’s bassinet, coming in there in the night and smothering her to death, and to steal their baby’s breath.

She found a home for them with her older sister, who when you walk into her kitchen has a cat on top of the refrigerator, and you go: ”How does a cat even get up there?” There were a lot of cats in this house, but you can’t pet any of them because they all have their own thing that they are doing. John wasn’t even allowed to see them, because the cats didn’t want to be seen except for the one on top of the refrigerator, and don’t try to touch it. John is also allergic to cats and was always sticky eyes around them.

John’s family getting a kitten (RL393)

All of Merlin’s friends are enjoying Instagram and they are learning about yoga pants and sticks you can use to hit an elevator button, but Merlin doesn’t have an Instagram account anymore and his problem is that unless he logs in he is unable to see anything but the thumbnail on the website, and this is the day Merlin is most bummed about that because it appears that John has a new resident in his household.

John grew up with cats, his mom loves cats, they all love cats, even the worst cat, and the idea of a cat has been floating around every once in a while. There are a million reasons not to get a cat and they would run down all these reasons, but now we are entering Coronavirus month 15 and everybody has quarantine ennui and all of a sudden the idea of a cat comes back up.

Interestingly, John’s daughter is ambivalent about it. She has never had a pet, and she wants to manage a group of much younger children at the ages of 4 and 5 that do not yet have the voice to express their own will. If she could have her druthers, they would have four 4-year olds that she got to dress up and tell what to do. There are seven cats at her aunt’s house and nobody can find them, so a cat seemed like not that interesting, but there was a cat-shaped hole in John’s daughter’s mother’s / partner’s heart. Merlin sometimes wishes for a normal cat, not the dirty cat that they have, and he expects that John’s daughter might change her mind by the time she will be able to discover Internet cats.

John was raised with cats and he tries to slot the new cat in somewhere between your best cat and your worst cat. Maybe you get lucky and it will exceed your best cat ever, which would be Louis, which was John’s last and best cat and in being his best cat he had to exceed the lofty heights achieved by both Guido, which was formerly his best cat, and Mel, which was one of the great cats. That is not to say that the cats in the middle like Tippy, Flaky, Puppy, and Puppy 2 weren’t all great cats, too! They never had a bad cat except for Lucy, but she went to Eric Corson and they deeply bonded. Lucy and John’s entire family just didn’t have the same needs, but Eric and Lucy are totally into each other.

When Lucy met Eric she did what she did with everyone she first met, which is that she viciously attacked him, and Eric thought: ”Haha, that is amazing!” Every time Eric came over to the house he would ask: ”Where is my girl? Where is Lucy?” and she would attack him and shred him and turn him to hamburger, but he would find that fantastic. John asked him if he wanted to babysit her and as soon as she was with him it was it was an absolute heaven-match. He would walk into his house and it would be like Inspector Clouseau calling for Cato and she would jump out of the refrigerator and rip him. She is still alive, she has to be 15 now.

The other day John got read into a new dossier, which is the ”We have been looking at cats online!” Merlin knows how that goes, he doesn’t get consulted on anything and sometimes furniture shows up at the house or an animal, or there is some kind of a plan. They know that he is a negative Nellie about a lot of stuff and has an abundance of caution, but that does not stop them from having fairly extensive conversations behind the scenes about what the next plan is.

The plan is a thing John didn’t realize was a thing about domesticity. Having never been shagged up with anybody people had to alert him to a plan because he had his own front door lock, but now he was standing in the kitchen at 1:15pm in his socks, drinking a cup of coffee, and one of his family members walks through and says: ”Oh, at 2pm you need to be at X because XYZ!” - ”At 2pm I need to be what?” - ”Oh, we have been working on this for weeks!” and the person who has alerted John to that is already just a whiff, just a ghost of perfume.

While John was at a dinner party at Jason Finn's house, having some Star Wars times with his friends, a tiny kitten was acquired out in the world and brought into the home. There was this plan afoot and apparently they had been looking at kittens online and have been bidding on them, and they found this little kitten and went and got it and brought it home.

While John was having his sous-vided filet mignon he got texted a picture of a tiny kitten and all these little heart emoji and he came home to sharing a house with a kitten by the name of Alyeska. She wants to stay up all night, she wants to attack everything, but she also wants to cuddle all afternoon. She wants to be fed and she wants to poop in a box, she wants to do all the things that they want to do. It is a regular cat. John’s little girl was all of a sudden very in love with this little cat.

They still do the thing where John is standing in the kitchen in his socks with a cup of coffee and they say: ”Oh, at 2pm we are going to go X!” - ”You guys are going what?” - ”Sorry, can’t talk now!” and then they are gone and over there Alyeska is going ”Meow!” This past weekend the two of them went camping ”girls only!” and so John and Alyeska were just living in the house together.

John has no problem bonding with a cat, but when you are living with Alyeska all by yourself, a cat wants to sleep on your face and fuck with your face in the night, but John can’t have something fucking with his face in the night, it is against fundamental… Don’t mess with my feet in the night and don’t mess with my face in the morning! It is just common curtesy.

The cat agreed to not sleep on his face, but then she played with his keys under the bed while he slept, which was also out of the question and how did she even get his keys? Alyeska and John have been developing a relationship and, like when the baby was born, everybody else in the house was enjoying the cuteness of the baby, but when it is time to say: ”The baby can’t just run our lives or dictate to us!”…

When John came in on day three, they were feeding the cat a can of wet Whiskas or whatever and there was a little bowl of kibble over to the side, so although he doesn’t have any say in these matters he reminded them that if you feed a cat wet food the cat is never going to eat the dry food. Pretty soon the cat is going to be a tyrant and eventually you have a cat that only eats lasagna, which is not a thing that you want.

You put dry food out, the cat is going to scream bloody murder because it lived three days on fucking Leberknödel, but the cat has a walnut brain and by that afternoon she is going to eat it and life returns to normal. You can give it a little wet food, but don’t get into a situation where the cat is running your life! John’s dad would feed his cats, like Puppy 2, some wet food in the morning, the cat would eat half of it and then would snub it in the afternoon and insist on having fresh wet cat food so that John’s dad was throwing away half a can of cat food a day because it wasn’t fresh enough for the cat. John cannot live in this world!

Now he is the bad guy again who doesn’t let his kid throw a tantrum in the mall and he is the one who doesn’t feed the cat $15 worth of cat food a day, but he can do that! They cuddle it and then he is the one who says: ”You can’t sleep on my face!”

Last night John’s daughter came in and said that she can’t have the cat in her room because it was under her bed, playing with John’s keys, and she couldn’t sleep, can’t the cat sleep in here? But the cat can’t sleep in here because John doesn’t want it to sit on his face in the middle of the night, and they both looked at each other and thought: ”Momma’s room!” and they ran down and pitched the cat into the room and closed the door behind it.

This is the thing about hippie mum where everything is fine: She woke up this morning and they asked her: ”Did the cat sleep with you last night?” - ”Yeah, she did, it was really great! She cuddled with me all night!” - ”Did the cat jump on your face?” - ”Yes, the cat woke me up in the middle of the night by pounding on my face!” - ”Huh! And that was fine?” - ”Oh, it was so cute! Another time she woke me up by literally punching me in the face with her paw while I slept.” - ”And that was fine with you?” - ”Really really super-cute!” They have completely different thresholds, she is living in a Neighboring France, and: ”God Bless them!”

Merlin thinks it might be a blessing that they are not asked to participate in the family. He and John have an understandable job. There is a family, they are adjacent to it or members of it, but every France needs a karma suck, somebody who stands there and says: ”No way we are doing that!”, and then they just ignore you and move on, a lot like Vichy or something! They will be alerted when they are required, they will be receiving their assignments on the day and date, don’t plan too far ahead, and why would I put that on the calendar? Here is where you are going at 2pm! Hakuna Matata! It has gotten so far that John is scared of standing in the kitchen with his socks, drinking a cup of coffee, because when is the other show going to drop?

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