RL401 - How is Pond?

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John doesn’t want his diary to just be a list of cricks, referring to John feeling a crick in the back of his knee when crouching down, but not paying attention to it because if he wrote down every crick he feels in his diary it would just be a list of cricks.

The show title refers to Merlin asking how the things John is describing in regards to his creek relates to building a pond and how someone would go about building a pond.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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’s knee hurts (RL401)

It was going really good until just a second ago when John realized he has a new injury he didn’t recognize until he just walked down the stairs, when his right knee, which is not his bad knee, started hurting so badly he struggled to get down the stairs without spilling his coffee. It didn’t hurt laying in bed or walking around on flat surfaces, but it is just a walk-down-the-stairs injury. It hurts at the back of the knee, and already last night he crouched down to pick something up or pet the kitty and as he was standing back up he felt a crick in the knee, so he knew there was something going on, but if he wrote every crick that he feels in his diary it would just be a list of cricks.

John doesn’t think it is actually the knee, but a muscle in the back of the leg, and there is a knot in it just above the knee at the right hand side of the rear thigh, very far away from being a butt muscle, but close to the knee, and it is decidedly pulled and John remembers when it happened and at the time he said: ”That is going to hurt later!”, but then he put it out of his mind and sure enough it did hurt later. Yesterday John was doing work where he was thinking the entire time that this was going to hurt his hands the next day, Mr. Guy who can’t do a day’s honest work without having his hand all screwed up.

John has a little bike helmet that belongs to an American Girl doll, which has the head size of a baseball, and he uses it as a hard point to massage his hurt leg muscle, like some ad-hoc kinesiology, he is rolfing himself with it.

Merlin getting older and more easily injured, moving the rag in the front bedroom (RL401)

The bar for what it takes to injure Merlin has been lowered greatly. He frequently discovers injuries or discomfort, for example when he was assembling a new desk for his lady friend and had to crawl around on the floor for the first time since his child was little and he had to use the leg of the newly assembled desk to help Daddy up. It was worse than he thought and all of his joints hurt. Merlin also just cut his lip while shaving.

Merlin injured himself in so many different ways while sleeping, like the neck and the back. He is a cover kicker and likes them to be loose, but sometimes he wakes up the next morning and has a sprained ankle from sleeping, which is nowhere to live. John is a bit behind Merlin in age, so it is all going to be coming to him as well. Merlin is now also wondering if he has arthritis, which is normal for somebody getting older, but he can’t grip something tightly with his left hand anymore because he gets excruciating pain in his thumb.

Yesterday as part as an omnibus effort to improve the office/bedroom area that is Merlin’s wife domain now they had to move a pretty good-sized rug, which is heavier than it looks, especially with the grippy stuff under it that makes it hard to drag. It became a 3-person effort that was necessary because of the new position of the new desk, and that room is looking great now! She now got two different stations with her standing desk and her new desk and double monitors. She is helping medicine a lot right now.

John was doing a show the other day and he had to go pee, but didn’t want to say ”Oh hey, can you guys hang on!” and he stood up on his desk because his microphone is on a boom arm and he realized that he got a standing desk and could do all his podcasts standing up, but that is the last time he tried it. Merlin sounds different when he is standing, maybe he has to adjust, maybe he just doesn’t have a voice for standing.

Moving the rug required getting a bunch of the rug under the bed so that they could create a space at the other end of the room by the fire place where the desk could go because you don’t want to have any rug under your desk so you can be rolling and you also don’t want the desk half on a rug so it will be cattywampus. It was a 3-person effort, employing all kinds of ancient Egyptian tricks of Physics like putting a yoghurt bolster under the bed to hold it up. All by way of saying: Merlin’s back hurts this morning and he is the least strong of the three of them. His kid is stronger than he is! Merlin continues explaining the details how the were moving the rug.

Merlin spent a lot of his adult life knowing that he will be fine by tomorrow, almost no matter what happens, and that is simply not the case anymore.

John cleaning up his ravine and his pond (RL401)

John was down in his trench, doing his stone work, raking, shoveling, putting himself on hard labor, sentencing himself to a trench like a federal prisoner in the 1930s. He is doing work that you literally could not hire someone to do because even if you went to a Boy Scout and told them that there is a merit badge in it for them to clean up this creek they would pass. There is not any garbage in it.

Mr. Oman, the old man, the father who built the house and raised his family there, wanted a pond, partly because his wife wanted the creek to stop eroding in the spring floods, so they did a lot of work to keep the creek from eroding and at a certain point dad became committed to the idea of a pond, but he was working for Boeing as an electrical engineer, so pond building isn’t in part of his field. He was using surplus materials, some of it probably from Boeing, and in the space that used to be Oman Pond there were a lot of very big steel pipes pounded deep into the ground, 6 feet tall, but only 3 feet of them out of the ground, and things were probably attached to the pipes that made older dams that are now long gone.

John has become a landscaping Cormac McCarthy and Merlin is enjoying it. There were giant beams that would have been sawn out of an ancient warehouse, and if they had not spent the last 50 years in a pond they would have now been very expensive beams on the old beam market and they would show up in a tech company headquarters common room, but unfortunately they have been in a pond for 50 years. Merlin wonders how all of that plays into building a pond because he imagines you lay down a tarp, put some water in, Bob’s your uncle, and you drop some Koi, but how is Pond?

There are a lot of schools of pond building and the first question people are going to ask is if it is in your back yard or in a ravine that is close to your house. Is there live water, active water, or are you pumping water up to the top of a little waterfall and then it trickles down into your pond? In every case you are going to make a different decision. Most people do not have a creek running through their back yard and have to bring water in themselves. You got pumps, you are moving water around, you probably have a little fountain, or a little waterfall.

Almost all pond and stream culture says: You carve out the channel, you dig out where you want the pond to be, you line the bottom with a pond liner tarp, you cover that with sand and pea gravel and you put your decorative rocks around the edge. There is a lot to it because otherwise the water either seeps through the ground into the ground water and you will just have a hole in the ground, but instead of throwing money into it you are throwing water into it, like a boat if a boat were a pond (reference to John’s mom saying that a boat is a hole in the sea where you throw money into).

If the water is touching the organic earth that isn’t sitting on top of a plastic liner and it is sitting in the mud, then all the creatures of the Earth will come and you will not only get a green pond, but a mud bucket that is just a place for a mud duck and is not going to score you a slot in Sunset Magazine, except their famous pond fails page. John did not want to be on Vice’s ”Pond dos and don’ts”. Sunset Magazine is now being written and edited by and for people John’s age or even a little big younger, and the editor is a very active fashionable West Coast woman who really wants to know what the best spa towns in Arizona are and where the Airstream camp grounds are where you can be looking at the Pacific, but also be glamping with 7 different kinds of cracker.

Pond design has changed a lot in the last 40-50 years and a lot of what you see in pond thinking now is going back to the ancient practice and what we saw in Mid-century was probably 100 years or more of interventionist ponds while we are now looking for pond originalists, which also John has been studying. He is not tied to the pond documents, but you need to interpret them and you need to learn the rules before you break them. When John is done with his pond, it will be restored according to the new old principles of pond and this pond is going to make the 1950s ponds look like the 1980s ponds.

Mr. Oman did lay down some plastic, some tarp, some beams, and some pipes, but then one gets the impression that over the years the family broke up a few driveways and there were some patios that they sledgehammered. The amount of junks of broken concrete, if John would get down into a proper lifting position and got both hands under this things, he can stand with it, but he is waddle-walking carrying these junks. For whatever reason those junks of concrete were clearly envisioned to line the bottom of the pond, but the pond was too big and didn’t have liner all the way under it, or John didn’t dig down far enough to find it.

This is a natural pond in a lot of senses and every autumn the 25 mature big-leaf maples that ring the pond and are 180 feet high, the tallest maples you have ever seen, all lose their leaves at once and all those leaves that are bigger than John’s splayed hand fall down into the pond and sink to the bottom, creating a layer of leaf muck that grows and grows until it becomes a muck hole where the bottom is in hell, it is just muck all the way down until you get to this layer of broken driveway.

John is taking the broken driveway parts out of the mucky pond and he is not sure why he is doing it, but something is happening in him when a thing isn’t right, no-one else would notice, and maybe it is even structurally important, but it is wrong and it doesn’t belong. John will not rest until it is gone! At so many occasions in his life he has undermined the foundation of a thing and has destroyed a piece of art or a relationship or a carburetor or a 10-page essay because there was some thread sticking out and he can’t leave it and he keeps picking at it.

Realizing that this pond had all this stuff in it, this is a pond and the first thing he had to do was to drain the pond. Once he started pulling this concrete out… he had to dig with a shovel to get to the layer of broken concrete, at which point he had to use a crow bar to pry them out of the muck and the carry them up to the shore and yesterday he had amassed this pile of broken concrete on the shore and he needed to move it up the hill, which is a totally different thing, having to step over a log with them in his hand, back and forth.

He should just cut the log with the chainsaw, but he has been studying it for months and hasn’t picked the spot where he wants to cut it. He actually picked up the chainsaw yesterday to go down and cut the log, but then he put the chainsaw back down and said: ”Not yet! Wait! The moment will come to cut the log!” John was stepping over the log with a block of concrete in his hand and he felt his leg go ”Boing!” Who would have guess that would happen? ”Later on I will have an American Doll helmet under my leg!” is what he said.

John’s neighborhood Normandy Park (RL401)

John had been looking for houses for a long time, he had gotten very depressed, and when he saw the listing for this house before he even saw it, he knew he was definitely going to buy that house. Most of the people helping him and following along his house search were surprised and a little confused about why he chose this particular house because his search criteria had been for a long time that he wanted a house with a lot of architectural drama and he was willing to sacrifice other things for that, but the house he chose is not that dramatic, it is a fairly modest home in style. There is some drama to it, but it doesn’t look like a space station. It has vaulted ceilings in every room, including the bathrooms, and the humility of it appealed to John at a glance.

When he looked at it he realized he had seen it a lot because it is central in the neighborhood at a crossroads of arguably 4 streets with multiple STOP signs on one of the streets because they converge at a weird angle, and the house is sitting on a lot that was part of the original plat of the neighborhood, so not only is it a Lot A house, but it is also in the Normandy Park Riviera Section. It wasn’t built until the 1950s, but the land was platted in the 1920s. Only a fraction of the houses in this neighborhood are a Lot A and were part of the original vision, which means you have a fractional ownership in a private beach and clubhouse that is only for the neighborhood (see Normandy Park Riviera Section Community Club).

When they originally platted this they had two private beaches. It is called Normandy Park because they were going to build a neighborhood of big French provincial homes, a bedroom community for the city of Seattle full of very expensive homes, but right after they had their grand-opening ribbon cutting, with a country club and a golf course and everything, but then it was 1929 and the stock market crashed and the lots remained fallow all the way through the depression and the war and after the war there was a plucky young generation of architects popularizing the mid-century style of Eames chairs and lava lamps, teak woods, it is a whole architectural school of thought.

Architects have to study to be architects, but in a lot of situations they don’t get to design and get their buildings built, but they have to spend many years carrying water, but after the war there were all these young people who wanted to buy their first house in Levittown and there were pink Cadillacs and there were Baby Boomers getting boomed and young architects discovered Normandy Park that was already platted, that already had sewers in, the roads were laid out, but there were just no houses on it.

They bought a lot, designed and built a house, and all of them were on half-acre lots (2000 sqm) and they realized that ownership in the beaches was written in the original founding documents. King County said at some point that you can’t have a private beach, all the beaches are public, but the people of Normandy Park went to court, waved the original papers in the air, and through some wrinkle of zoning the judge said that because this was written into this before this date it is a grandfathered-in situation and they could have their beach.

The county really didn’t like it and said they needed this beach to build a sewage treatment plant for the region and they were going to eminent domain it, which felt very vindictive, but the residents were so ”not in my backyard” that they incorporated themselves as a town and seceded from their state as unincorporated county and created the town of Normandy Park with a mayor, a city council, a police department, and an entire town infrastructure. The county sued them again two more times and each time it went all the way to the state supreme court, at which point the court said that this little town has a private beach and the county cannot do anything about it.

The way the water works around Washington there is private ownership of certain beaches because that private ownership was established before the principle of commonly held water was enacted. At a certain point the state of Washington said that all the beaches were open to everyone and the people who already had a beach written into their deed all the way to the low-tide line and the state couldn’t blanket-repeal that because they would have had to have written 10.000 deeds.

The private beaches you see in Washington are all on a per-house basis, there is not a community that says ”this beach is ours”. It is the problem they have down in Malibu where they got the most expensive houses in the world and they got guys with metal detectors walking around out front, which they don’t want. King County didn’t like it on principle and there is no place in Seattle with a private beach, but the residents of Normandy Park got together like a bunch of Amish and built a giant club house in the mid-century style with fire pits and picnic tables and a playground and little meandering stream with ducks in it.

After that the county went upstream, up Miller Creek, and built their sewage treatment plant up on county land in the forest where nobody can see it, and they had to work it out with Normandy Park that rather than to send any of the water into the creek they had to build a pipeline deep under that went all way out into the ocean way below the low tide-line. It occurred to John that he could be the mayor of Normandy Park, but the problem is that the mayor is elected from the city council by the city council, it is just one of their members, and the city council is a pro-bono position (they only listen to U2) and you don’t make any money.

There is work to do, they have meetings, and at the 4th of July parade you stand around and old guys come up and yell at you about how they wanted to put in a taller fence. It would be a chance for John to reprise his work as King Neptune, he could ride in an open automobile, and that is the part of being a mayor John would love, he just doesn’t want guys coming up to yell at him. He would have a banner across his chest like Mayor McCheese and he would convert it so that all council members wore sashes. Right now there is not a sash in Normandy Park, except for some retired beauty queens.

A lot of Normandy Park has big fancy houses that are not Lot A which means they can not go to the beach, and in the summer there is a guard sitting in a car at the entrance to the beach. Merlin remembers a story about a turkey (see RL362) and a story about a woman at a beach (see RL356) and he conflated those two stories and thought they were one story. It would be infuriating to live in the city of Normandy Park and to pay Normandy Park taxes for Normandy Park cops and to wear a sweat shirt and a hat that says: ”I live in Normandy Park” and not be able to go to the beach and the club house (see information here).

Within Lot A there is a smaller group called the Riviera Section which is the original original plat where the actual borders of each house lot were drawn, not just showing the land where they would build Normandy Park, but the lots they would sell individually to people and John’s house is in the Riviera Section as well. Merlin discovered on the Wikipedia page for Normandy Park that the only entry under ”Notable Residents” says: ”As of October 2019, John Roderick of the Seattle Indie-Rock band The Long Winters is a resident of Normandy Park.”, citing RL362.

John thought he had been doing a good job of not telling people he lived in Normandy Park because Merlin had convinced him not to let anybody know online about what he was doing, but he just realized that he doesn’t want it to be a secret, but he wants people to move there now that everybody is working from home and a lot of people who live in the city don’t have to live Downtown and they are looking far-field. John was talking to Nick Harmer, bass player of Death Cab for Cutie because there was an amazing house for sale in John’s neighborhood and he wanted Nick to move down there, but he hadn’t even heard of Normandy Park.

It is the same Merlin feels about his own neighborhood, except he doesn’t want people to know anything about it. His friend Michael used to say that Merlin is not near the beer and it is too far away from what everybody in San Francisco does, which is true.

Normandy Park is 20 minutes to Downtown and it is on the correct side of the ship canal, which is the south side of the ship canal.

The West Seattle Bridge is closed (RL401)

Also, the West Seattle bridge has been closed for 7 months and they are talking about not opening it. It was built not that long ago and it didn’t pass muster seismically and the engineers got up on it and needed to take a look at it because they saw some cracks, and they were like: ”Holy shit! Everybody off the bridge! Seriously!” They shut down this major thoroughfare and hundreds of thousands of people depend on it because it is the only way in and out of West Seattle, which is a huge neighborhood. With no advance notice: ”Bridge is closed!”

Now there isn’t a way out of West Seattle unless you drive South away from the city and then you have to get down off a cliff and over a river. There are 4 bridges over the Duwamish river, and the West Seattle Bridge is the only giant freeway bridge that is very tall because it is an active river with ships going in and out and rather than making it a draw they wanted it to be a freeway and they built this huge bridge that goes way up and over, and then there ware 3 draw-bridges along the river: The old West Seattle bridge, the 1st Avenue Bridge and the South Park bridge.

10-15 years ago the South Park bridge that is closest to the old Boeing factory has been shut down and said it is impassable and they don’t have any money to fix it, but they ended up finding the money and ended up building a new South Park Bridge, which is lovely except they made some public arc choices that John disapproves of. Now the West Seattle Bridge is closed and you have the old West Seattle canal bridge that has only one lane in each direction on a metal-grate draw bridge, the 1st Avenue Bridge which is an improved draw bridge that can carry a lot of traffic, but it is not designed to serve West Seattle, but to move traffic a different way, and there is no reason for the South Park bridge at all except that the town of South Park depends on it. They blew all their money fixing that.

If John lived in West Seattle he doesn’t know what to do. The quarantine happened right after they shut the bridge down, which was great because the 500.000 people a day that needed to use the bridge now had to stay home, but they won’t have to stay home forever. West Seattle is an entire town of its own with a hardware store and a record store, and it has a vibe and it is big. People don’t appreciate how big it is and it could be its own town if they had come up with a clever name for it. They could have called it Luna Park or divided it into 5 towns.

When John looked at his house for the first time (RL401)

The Riviera Section doesn’t come with any additional benefits except for being a snob about it, but there is a Riviera Section committee and John hasn’t interacted with them yet, but they seem to be a group of people that can make comments on your hedges or that your palm tree is drooping.

When John found this house he knew that it was the house he was going to buy, it is only a mile from the house where his daughter lives with her mother and where John has been living for the last year, which was the whole idea of John moving down there: To be closer to his kid and make them a family, if not a nuclear family then one with covalent bonds, not an atom, but a molecule, and to live very close by seemed wonderful.

He was throwing on his coat and walked over to the home and realized he had seen it many times before because it sits very central. He had seen it in winter and in summer and he knew it sat next to what appeared to be a giant forested undeveloped public space, like an abandoned lot, and it had a feeling like no-one had done anything to it for 50 years and there were all these giant maple trees. There was underbrush 15 feet high that was so thick that you couldn’t put a hockey stick into it and if you tried to enter the lot it would throb and say: ”No!” What was very enticing to John was that you could hear a stream and a waterfall coming from within, but John could not see it and could not get to it.

John never associated this abandoned lot with the home because you wouldn’t necessarily think that they went together although they are next to each other. John went and got a machete, even before he made an offer on the house, he went to his closet where the sign says: ”Endorsed by the Filson company”, he put on his stuff from head to toe, and he went in and started chopping, and the first time he visited the property he had gotten in there, but he was not sure he was able to get out.

It was going to be hilarious if he would have to call someone and say: ”Hi, I would like to make an offer on the house, but could you send a team because I am down in the creek and I can’t get back out and I have injured myself and I broke my ankle” What John found down in the creek was amazing, he couldn’t believe it was there, and it was right in the center of a neighborhood of expensive homes that had changed a lot from its original super hoity-toity beginnings, its scrappy middle period, and now it has been through a long period of ”elegant homes”.

John hopes that after outing it that more people will take interest in it. For the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle you can buy an architect-designed home on a half-acre lot (2000 sqm) 20 minutes from town and nobody wants to go to town anymore anyway, but nobody knows about Normandy Park in Seattle! A real estate agent told him that the only people who know about Normandy Park are people John’s age who are tired of living in West Seattle. This is where people in their 50s are going to retire from West Seattle, and John doesn’t hate that idea.

Eddie Vedder living in West Seattle, driving an old Toyota pickup (RL401)

Eddie Vedder lives in West Seattle on a compound above the Fauntleroy ferry terminal that you can only see from the air. He has the same car mechanic as John and he drives a 2-wheel drive Toyota King Cab Pickup that he has had professionally painted flat black. When John saw his truck at his mechanic he wondered: ”Seriously? He rattle-canned a Toyota Pickup?”, but his mechanic said: ”It looks rattle-canned but it is actually professionally done!”, and not a recent truck, but one from 1992.

Right before the coronavirus John’s mechanic was quitting car-mechanizing to open a Rock’n’Roll bar. John wrote him the other day, saying he needed some car mechanizing done in case he had trouble keeping his bar going now in corona times, but the reply was that he was never going to touch a wrench again and the bar is going to make it because he is selling beer out the back door. He was John’s only connection to Eddie Vedder.

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