RL411 - The Anxiety Family

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: It’s the trim that belongs to the room, referring to his carpenter using trim from a pile of trim that John had taken down to refinish it and using it for something else although it was the trim that belonged to the room it was lying in.

The show title refers to a stress that John is currently feeling about his house that is part of the anxiety family.

Merlin was late because he was dicking around. John doesn’t have the luxury to do that anymore. It is all serious business now!

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Superstitious idioms (RL411)

It is the first of the month and you have to say: ”Rabbit, rabbit”. There are also ”asi asi” (so, so), ”más o menos” (more or less) , or ”comme ci comme ça” (neither good nor bad). Apparently people say asi asi in Spain and más o menos in Mexico. Saying rabbit rabbit on the first of the month is like cutting the ends off the roast, it is something we have always done, a story Merlin knows from friend of the show John Siracusa that describes a cargo-cult thinking where every generation kept cutting the ends off the roast because their mom did it until grandma finally told them that the reason they cut the ends off the roast was to make it fit in the pan they had.

The Oakland Firestorm of 1991 (RL411)

Merlin compares a contractor who comes in a car instead of the van to the fire brigade where the fire chief also comes in his own fake cop car. You really have to manage a fire!

John was in Berkeley for the Berkeley fire (Oakland firestorm of 1991) and it was nuts! He was up there with some friends, driving around, trying to get as close to the fire as they could, until they saw a wall of fire and were like: ”Oh shit!” and they turned around super-fast and drove away with fire behind them. They got to a checkpoint where the firemen had blocked the street and they were: ”What the fuck were you doing up there? We had cleared all that! Get out of here!” and within the next 6 hours everything was gone. (see RL29)

Later that evening they drove out to Santa Cruz and there was a steady stream of fire trucks going toward Berkeley from the coast, they were emptying out fire departments all the way down to Carmel-by-the-Sea, sending trucks from every directions.

Merlin needing to get his cat groomed, John’s relationship with his cat (RL411)

Merlin needs to get his cat groomed and the problem is partly that she is a grotesquery, but everybody you deal with for cat stuff is part of the problem. How are there not more people who will fix a cat? There is the crazy lady, a total nut job who used to come out in a van and abused the cat a little bit and was a real dick to work with. She needed to use Merlin's hose to refill her water tank.

In other places Merlin had to sit and hold the cat while they were grooming it. In the entire fucking city of San Francisco there is not somebody he could pay double the market rate to do a good job of fixing the fucking cat, he is losing his fucking mind! This is not the only cat in San Francisco! Merlin’s cat is gross, but he loves her so much! The relationship between his cat, his lizard and his Roomba is a very interesting triad. They are all somewhat indifferent, but still curious about the the others.

John’s cat and his daughter have a crazy Stockholm syndrome relationship. She treats that cat like the cat is a sack of beans, but when John tries to touch it, the cat reacts as though John was a Roomba. His daughter grabs this cat, swings it around her head, hugs it like her life depends on it and as soon as she puts the cat down and walks out of the room the cat follows her and the cat cannot get enough of what John would consider total abuse.

John’s daughter is happy as a clam and completely oblivious to the fact that when she has the cat around the neck and the cat is screaming she can just say: ”Oh, kitty! I love you!” and the cat will still follow her around, while she wouldn’t let John put a single finger on her.

John got his former cat Louis because it showed up at the front door of his house, he opened the door, the cat looked at him like it had known him forever, it walked into the house, John was: ”Oh, hello!” - ”I live here now!” - ”I guess you do!” and they totally understood each other. They would interact all the time, and John knew exactly what Louis needed and wanted. But the cat that lives in this house now, ever time John walks into the room it looks at him like it had never seen a human before. ”I am the same person! I just fed you!”

Merlin had the same experience with the sandwich place down on the corner half a block away from his house: Not only had she never made a sandwich, but she had also never eaten a sandwich and it is entirely possible that every single morning she finds out that sandwiches are a thing. What she is making is not really a sandwich like a Publix-style sandwich made to be eaten, the best kind of sandwich. Roast Beef or Fried Chicken sandwich from Publix are so good!

Contractors at John’s new house (RL411)

John got off the phone with the electrician who was supposed to be here this morning, but it was a miscommunication between the electrician and the other electrician and now everybody is mad. John has definitely made the contractor very mad who is probably taking it out on everybody he meets and it is really running downhill.

At the start of the project it was all breezy summer-afternoons in a world of hope. The general contractor had told him that he doesn't want to make a bid on the whole project, but he was just going to charge John every week for the work they do, which is going to save him money over time. Sure!

John assumed that every week he was going to be able to see the progress and make a plan for next week, stay in budget, this type of thing. It is currently a builder’s market in town because everybody is doing house things, Seattle keeps growing (although John doesn’t know why), there aren’t enough people, and all these guys can name their price.

John’s house is far enough from the contractor’s house and from where the contractor normally worked that he didn’t really ever come by himself. Instead he sent his guys and the foreman was a dingdong who kept saying dingdong things to John like: ”We can just fix this with spackle!” After 3-5 of these John called the general contractor and told him that the guy was not getting what John was doing and that they were spinning their wheels. He put the guy on a different job, but he did not replace him with anyone.

Now there was no foreman on the job and the foreman tasks fell to the lead carpenter, who is a good carpenter, but not a project manager. He is a younger guy who grew up on Telenovelas, he is a little dramatic and he throws a fit and things happen, but no-one is standing in the middle, saying: ”That over there has to line up with this over here for it to work!” Instead one thing gets built, then the other thing gets built, but it is off by 1.5”

John and the carpenter have a bit of a language gap and sometimes John says that this thing has to go over here and the carpenter got it, but the next day he doesn’t know about it. John would show him the X he had made on the 2x4 when they were standing there the other day and the carpenter goes: ”Oh!”

John can’t be there all the time predicting the mistakes the guys are going to make, but somebody has to be doing it. The general contractor is saying: ”God, it is a long drive!” and over the course of the year that they have been working on the house they have put stuff in just to rip it out and put it back in again over and over.

Apparently they had tested it, but the first time John tried turning it on there was no power to it at all and it must have been a broken part from the factory that worked one time when they tested it and immediately self-destructed. That happened 3-4 times, but they did test it before they tiled over it and it was not their fault.

Charging by the week does not incentivize the guys who are working on the job to go to their boss and say: ”We spent 8 hours ripping out the thing we put in!” Everyone in the situation is generally trustworthy and honest, but when John says: ”Install the heat pump!”, he assumes that this includes that it works.

They are saying: ”You paid for us to install the heat pump. Now that it doesn’t work we have to take it out and replace it, but that is not our fault because it is a broken part!” There are things where there is no way they could say that they didn’t screw the thing up and where they take those hours off, but 10-15% of the money goes to taking the tile back down because a thing inside the wall had to be dealt with.

John’s contention is now that there are a couple of unpaid invoices and some things that still don’t work and it was only when he said: ”I am not going to pay those invoices until those things work!” that all of a sudden, one year later, the owner has started to come to the house to make sure that it is done right. It is 20 minutes away from where he lives and he is in car, not in the van.

He is a guy about John’s age and he got stuff going on in his life the same way Merlin does, maybe not the same as John does. He probably has a mother-in-law that is ailing, he doesn’t seem to get along with his wife, he had a thing where he invested a bunch of money into a house and it turned out that it was all wrong, he got bills to pay, and he has this very dramatic lead carpenter. On top of all he has to deal with John's house out in this far-flung neighborhood 20 minutes away who keeps wanting special tile that isn’t made anymore. He got a lot on his mind!

John is an absolute terrible project manager! He doesn’t want to sound like a whiny asshole and some things are wrong that he is not going to complain about because: ”Fuck it!”, there are bigger fish to fry. Merlin constantly weighs in with project manager advise while they were talking.

John has not yet tipped over into ”Nothing to do now but burn it down!” and he is still trying to resolve it. He is on the phone with contractors and he is writing a lot of of long-form letters to contractors that he should publish in an ebook called ”John Roderick - The Electrician Letters”.

He starts with: ”You say that I owe you $30.000 and I say that I am not going to pay it and here is why: Part of the money that you are charging me was for your supervision! You are paying the carpenter $40 an hour but you are charging me $60 for his time so that you can say my house is too far for you to drive to? I am not going to pay you this money and I am drawing a line. Your narrative is that all of the cost overruns and all of the problems were because I needed special tile. I agree with you that I am a problem, but you haven’t done your job and you don’t have any oversight. You asked me to be the project manager on this whole project, but I am the boss!” They are caught between a rock and a hard place because of all the things that still don’t work and he is not going to come out and fix those things until John pays him.

John hasn’t sent his letter yet because it says: ”Come and finish the work! Then I am not going to pay you again! I already paid you for the work!” There are contractors listening to this right now who are rolling their eyes. They live according to the laws of their own ecosystem, but they get to feel like they are holy warriors because they are so desperately needed by people. There are surely contractors in Southern Illinois who are just trying to scrape it together, but the ones in Seattle walk on water!

Today John talked to the electrician about his powered bubble bathtub. It needs to be plugged into an outlet that is RFI compliant and has a little red button, but John’s contractor who installed the tub and the outlet didn’t put a RFI outlet there, which is a thing that any contractor would know to do! John is not paying him to tell him that.

Code demands an RFI outlet there and John has already paid to have an outlet installed, it was just the matter of picking the right outlet at Lowe’s, but nobody was in charge! The guys who put it in had to know that it had to be RFI compliant, but this was the one they got and nobody was ever going to notice it because it is under some drywall.

Cutting a piece of trim wrong (RL411)

John was trying to put some trim around the fireplace, but the carpenter had canibalized the trim from around the fireplace to finish the trim in a different room. John had taken the trim down because he was going to refinish it and to a carpenter in a project-manager-less situation it looks like a pile of trim, but it is all 1952 mahogany that cannot be duplicated at any price because the wood doesn’t exist anymore. The guy was just thinking: ”It has to go somewhere, it can go down here!” This pile of trim was sitting in a room that already doesn’t have the trim up and it is the trim that belongs to the room.

The carpenter would bring his 20 year old cousin and tell him to clean up the garbage, and the cousin, whom nobody was supervising, took all the shit that John was saving in the corner and throws it all in a dumpster.

There was one piece of wood left in the whole house that will fit the fireplace and John was trying to fix this because his mom had already told him: ”You got to finish the trim!” - ”Yes, mother!” He was down there all afternoon yesterday and he is a perfectionist about carpentry and he loves to do it, but the fireplace had settled a little, this wall had bowed a little, there was a piece of slate that was a 1/4” higher than the floor, there was a this and a that, and when he was looking at this piece of wood he realized he had to jig out this and bend it a little here, which is going to pull out…

He went downstairs with his chop-saw, he made the cut,it was a little long, which is what he intended because he needed a little bit of extra to make it exactly right, and the second time he went down to cut it he cut it wrong. John is a ”measure 3 times, cut once” guy, but he still cut it wrong because the saw slipped. You should not be working with a chop-saw when the saw ever has a chance to slip, but he was doing a little hack and had the wood balanced on a plastic bag of survival blankets, trying to use the chop-saw a bit like a jigsaw, trying to do stuff that a chop-saw can’t do, but he was moving the wood a little and it slipped and made a cut where he didn’t want one.

He thought: ”Well, I fix it in post!”, he cut it again and then it was too short. Now John has cut the one piece of wood too short, and even in the too-shortness of it it still doesn’t work to solve the other problem and at the end of the day he had spent 5 hours on this, he had ruined a piece of wood, he had not solved the trim problem, and he walked out of there thinking: ”Did I need another thing to keep me up at night?”

In similar situations in the past he would realize that he swung for the fences and didn’t quite connect with the ball and he would always punish himself for it, but if it is the only thing you are punish yourself for, then you can luxuriate in it. But right now? Take a fucking number! But it is there! John limped back to a cold pizza at the end of the day. It comes down to the fact that his life is upside down right now.

John feeling stress from the anxiety family (RL411)

When he quit drinking John didn’t have a toothbrush in 4 years and he carried an open Spyderco knife in the pocket of his jacket with his hand on the knife in case someone attacked him. When he was walking across Europe, by the time he came to Romania he was sleeping with an open knife on his chest because he felt like he needed to get to it that fast, and he wasn’t wrong. That is a way to not sleep very soundly.

John has been in that situation before and right now he is not sleeping with an open knife laying on his chest, but he feels even more stressed, because at least when he was in Romania he smoked and he could sit up and light a cigarette in the middle of the night. Now he can’t even do that!

John is feeling more stress right now than he has ever felt. A few years ago he was suffering from anxiety, which was a nightmare, and they all ended with him being suffocated, getting stuffed into the back of a police car with a bag on your head and being put into a grave and you hear the dirt on the coffin. It was the feeling everything ended in and somebody would ask: ”Hey, I am making sandwiches for lunch, what kind do you want?” - ”I am drowning!” The current stress is probably part of the anxiety family.

He sleeps about 4 hours a night and he wakes up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning, not able to sleep, but it is not the feeling that someone is sitting on his chest, holding his nose, but it is a feeling that he is being hit by baseball bats and everywhere he looks he sees that everything is going wrong and it cannot be fixed and it will never change.

Before John started taking bipolar medicine he went through a couple of years where he was just always on the verge of catastrophic depression and he was blowing it off and he was not dealing with it because he thought he deserved it. He did not believe it was depression, but a rational response to how things are and should be. He thought it was not depression and not a chemical imbalance, but it was wisdom that made him sensible and reasonable while everyone else seemed like a Pollyanna. He directed all that energy at himself when in fact a lot of it was just a kind of madness.

Now John recognizes that he is getting hit with these bats and he hears a voice in his head saying: ”These things are actually real, you deserve them all, you are not having an episode, you are not stuck in a cycle that you can not arrest, and this is not going to resolve itself, but these are too many insurmountable actual problems to ever possibly address. This is the new state in which you live!” He wakes up in the middle of the night with 40 things on his list that are all related and all real. Merlin calls it chain-worrying when worrying about one thing connects to another thing and it is going to keep going until dawn.

John quitting social media after the BeanDad incident (RL411)

Comparing social media to an addiction like smoking or drinking

After the BeanDad incident John is not on social media anymore and he has a lot of excess energy. He found a new game for his phone that is very addictive and he hates it, but leaving social media behind is going to be a very hard thing: A lot of it is emotional and a lot of it is time management and: ”What do I do with my hands?” It is like quitting smoking when you fidgeted with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter 20 times every day.

John’s dad said that when the phone would ring he would light a cigarette and as he would look down there would be a cigarette in the ash tray that he was already smoking, but the sound of the phone made him light a cigarette because he was going to sit and talk on the phone.

The tornado that hit him a month ago allows him to not be on social media anymore. It is the thing that broke him and he is not there anymore, but it is even more difficult than quitting smoking, it is more like quitting drinking. When you quit smoking you don’t leave a bunch of friends behind, you don’t have smoking friends who don’t want to hang with you anymore.

For the last 20 years John was looking back at the time when he was drinking and thought that he had lost a lot of friends along the way, but in fact some of these friends were not just drinking buddies, but tight friends that were there for him. When he quit drinking and they didn't he had to loose them and he did not just have to get over the physical and emotional addiction to alcohol, but he also lost his life in a way and had to start over building the basics: ”Who are my friends? What do I do? What happens at 7pm in a normal person’s life?”

The early days of social media

In the early days of social media you would put something out there and get some applause from someone you admired and you would be happy that you are somebody, but already in the early/mid-2010s, even before it turned into a giant shit show, you were chasing faves and your status was up and down 25 times a day. Merlin says that Twitter was fun because it was ephemeral, but any time you can put a stat on something you are going to look at the stat. In the early days you would go around and shuck and jive, and Merlin met the YLNT guys thanks to Twitter. It was supposed to be a podcast about Twitter and it is fortunate that those episodes never came out because it was really stupid.

Then Favrd came along, the big chicken, and at first it was just fun because it allowed you to find people who you wouldn’t know about who were really funny. Dean (God rest his soul! Dean Cameron Allen, @textism) had the good taste to not put everybody on there, but then you were chasing where you were on Favrd. It turned into ”I am putting ice cream in my vagina on Saturday night, what do you think, guys?”

It is the worst, and yet John spent 7 more years doing it. Merlin used to spend 4+ hours a day composing tweets. He used to do it outside in a composing app that had a character count so he could nail exactly 140 characters. He would fact-check his tweets on Wikipedia, he would make sure the oxford commas were there, that all mattered to him, and in the end it was all just tears in rain. John did the exact same thing at his desktop computer. He wrote tweets until he was ready to send them and we would go: ”Here we go, baby! Fly!”

How social media became a toxic place

Over time Twitter evolved into the ecosystem where he lived. Those were the rules that he followed and they were not rules he completely bought into, but those were the rules of the JoCo Cruise or MaximumFun, places that were fully vested in a Twitter ecosystem, and they were all agreeing to a common set of rules. Then it also became a place where the news was.

Merlin continues to give this a fair amount of thought. In all communities after a little bit of time you learn what makes people thrive and eventually you learn what makes people succeed and eventually you learn what is necessary just to survive. Any place where you are thinking: ”I need to pretend to be somebody I am not in order to survive!” is the opposite of success or happiness. If you have to spend a lot of your time trying to figure out how to make people who don’t know you see you like somebody else for the one moment they discover you exist, then that is not a healthy environment.

We all have said that social media is a toxic place and it is terrible for us, there are even movies about it, none of us like it there, and yet none of us have the discipline to stop going there. John tried many times, he quit, he started lurking again, and he came back to it, he sees somebody post something and all of a sudden he is waving his hands, trying to attract their attention: ”Hey, give me some faves!” Merlin compares it to a comedy performance where after every sentence everybody in the room gets to hold the mic for the amount of time you spoke, but that kind of performance is not a career he wants to have.

John also got the confirmation that podcasts are not on the Internet, but they are on the fucking radio! Their listeners found them somehow and now they live in that separate ecosystem. Many people wrote him and said that they are not on social media at all, but they couldn’t help but hear about this because it was on the BBC. Merlin heard it mentioned on a very famous podcast that went up this Saturday by people they don’t know, and they used that two-word phrase where Merlin wondered if that was really still going on.

John losing his Friendly Fire podcast (RL411)

A lot of the anxiety that John had three years ago was financial. He was doing the (Omnibus and Friendly Fire) podcasts, but he was not getting paid for them. He was 50 years old and he had built a life for himself that he enjoyed work-wise, it but he had not unlocked how to make a living. People all around him were telling him that they were making a living from podcasting and that it was a simple matter of just putting a, b, and c together, but the people he was working with apparently made it twice as complicated because it needed to happen within the parenthesis of c, d, and e. Some of that anxiety went away because of Aloha and some of it because John solved one of the problems (by monetizing those two podcasts).

Now it has been a month since the beandad incident and John is sitting here with his creative energy, his soul, and his confidence intact. Even his confidence in his viewpoint, his life and his loves are all undamaged, but his house and his neighborhood became completely washed away when the Missouri river overran its banks. It has ebbed in the meantime, but it came with a couple of casualties, a couple of things that mattered to him like friendships and one of those in particular was not an insignificant part of his income.

It washed away like it had no foundation, like it was made out of straw, while John had really thought it was made out of brick. It washed away out of his control and it is inconceivable that he had no say in the end and the destruction of it. It was just taken for reasons he cannot comprehend. Merlin is not going to talk about this, but he is fucking mad. He doesn’t need the aggravation and he doesn’t want his poop to make a big splash but he thought he knew some people better than he did.

John can’t account for it, it all happened within an ecosystem that he is now out of, trying to make a new life. He had no power or control over it, which he did not realize. He was fired from his job without actual cause by his friends who disappeared over night that he had for 15 years. Now there is a feeling of not just insecurity and danger, but also of desperate sadness and obligation to the people who had come to love the thing, and a desire to give them more.

John creating his own Patreon (RL411)

This morning John launched his first Patreon at patreon.com/johnroderick with the idea that this is now in a new life and he is going to be writing more, he is going to be releasing music, he is going to do the long-form stuff that wouldn’t fit on social media and that he had preferred social media to doing the work. He is also trying to think about what he does as work, trying to think about podcasting as a job.

People who listen to his shows have reached out to him in the 100s, saying: ”We love you, please don’t go! Come back, please! This isn’t about you!” They warmed him and he feels a responsibility to it because the fact that a show that he loved went away did not take away the people who listened to it and loved it. They are over here with John, wondering what happened.

They don’t like to shill things on this show, but John is trying not to feel that way because he wants to keep working for people, doing stuff, and he can’t do it in the same way he thought was stable but turned out that it wasn’t. He needs to be in charge of it and be truly his own boss.

John trusts Merlin and he trusts Ken. He knows Merlin and he has a sense of what he is going to do. They have been doing this show for 10 years and there have been times when they were asking themselves: ”Where are we right now?”, they had some ups and downs. Merlin doesn’t like to do extra work, but he treasures doing this show. People come here because they like what they are doing, which is in one sense perilous and in another sense very freeing.

Merlin hates talking about this, but anybody who bought into the shit that went down is not allowed to listen to this show. If you actually believe the horse shit that a bunch of bullies said, then shame on you! Of all the things that are incredibly fucked up about John and about Merlin, the things for which John was accused of were deeply wrong and unfair, and it was very frustrating to Merlin that people who know John better than the strangers and friends who listen to the programs didn’t get that.

Merlin hopes that this show and the nice people who listen to it will allow John to look down at the things people said and go: ”Who are you? What? Really?” Roger Stone said: ”It was just your night in a barrel!”, but it has consequences. Merlin is glad that John is doing this, he loves doing this show, and he is going to stop talking now. John loves this show and this is the show and what is in the show is in the show.

John does not feel cancelled. He recognizes what happened, he acknowledges it, he apologized and he was sincere, but it is never enough and you will never fast enough become the person other people think you should be, which is usually them, and if it was John’s night in the barrel or if he lost the Shirley Jackson lottery (short story The Lottery), whatever he is going to say is not going to be enough. It is not what he did or didn’t do, but it is what people imagined how he is and then they get to be the one with the stone rather than standing in the middle of the circle, and Merlin thinks this is fucking revolting!

John doesn’t belong on social media and he hasn’t for years. It is not for him, it isn’t where what he does belongs, which is really hard because he doesn’t know where what he does belongs right now and he needs to build something in a world where nobody cares about the things they used to build. Nobody goes on websites or on message boards, it is all happening in a place that John is not, and yet you can build something in the world, you can make something, and people will find it.

Getting reported to Child Protective Services (RL411)

A dozen people have reported John to Child Protective Services and they were obligated to come and interview his family and interrogate his daughter. They were wonderful and they were just doing their jobs, but imagine that an Internet mob would actually believe that that was the right thing to do! They were surely genuinely extremely worried about John’s incredibly pampered child! That puts fear into you because it is not just that your account might get hacked, but the police is going to come based on some person in Kentucky who read 10 tweets and doesn’t know enough about what CPS does.

CPS said that this was not a good use of their time, but they had to check the boxes. It was a wonderful experience for John in the sense that he got a better understanding of what they do as they explained what they are capable of and what their resources are. John was curious and he learned a lot. At the same time it was also awful, but fortunately John’s daughter really liked the girl.

They went downstairs and played Barbie for an hour and John’s daughter came up and told him the questions that she had asked. She asked what her favorite and her least favorite thing about her dad was, which is that John doesn’t play with LEGO as much as she would like, and also he sometimes calls her sweaty-heart although she asked him not to.

Outro (RL411)

Merlin never liked John at all and he wasn’t surprised at all, and this is the opportunity to come out and say that he actually never liked him and always had his concerns. John was always really problematic.

This is a separate world and maybe John can live a full life and not be on social media. Merlin tries to hold John back to not go crazy, there are still cigarettes above the doors at the farm, and it wasn’t the electricians fault.

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