RL416 - Under Their Trucks

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John was the tree, referring to boys wanting to hit a tree with a stick and John always being the tree who got hit, he was never the stick.

The show title refers to John driving a Fiat convertible in High School in Alaska, which was a huge embarrassment and he could drive his car under the trucks of the Soshes.

The audio starts with Merlin whispering repeatedly: ”Salesman of the month”

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Street cars going by Out of Service although they are replaced by busses (RL416)

It is early! They keep running the street cars, even though the street cars aren’t really running. All that noise that is picked up by the audio is unnecessary! It has been busses for months and the street cars aren’t coming back anytime soon, but they keep running them ”Out of service” back and forth, which is suspicious. They might be drug mules or maybe some courier service where they need to get something from Van Ness station to the Zoo or back. It is a They Live scenario (John Carpenter’s They Live) where the trollies aren’t really trollies if you just had the right glasses. The problem is that Merlin is not all out of bubble gum.

Robin Goldwasser and her dad Peter Jason (RL416)

That movie famously has a 40-minute fight scene in it. Robin Goldwasser’s dad Peter Jason was in that movie as one of the main characters. Robin was adopted at a young age and didn’t know her birth parents and when she finally discovered them she discovered that her father was an actor and not only that, but he was a famous actor and she made contact and they became very close friends. Robin is the wife of John Flansburgh, she is a playwright and a musician and she is one of the most delightful people Merlin ever met and she knows a lot about Jerry Lewis (see RL12). She is a puppet maker and a puppeteer and the They Might Be Giants puppet theater (Deeply Felt Puppet Theater) is all her concoctions. She is one of the bright lights and now she is also an adoption rights activist and was for a long time very active in the commentariat around adoption.

They continue talking about what roles Peter Jason was in.

Adoption in John’s family (RL416)

There is adoption on John’s family as well and when the person who was adopted found John’s family they welcomed them back into their family and their lives and it was not uncomplicated. When she had reached out to her birth father he was receptive, but his subsequent wife and two daughters were extremely not. John’s family’s side were thrilled, but it is more complicated than that because you have decades of wondering and building up hopes and dreams, but in this case there was a lot of personality resemblance and it felt amazing that they had just improved their family by one.

But there was also a lot of expectation built up, like all their questions would be answered, but there is no one thing in your life that explains everything and makes everything better. It was bumpy, not because there wasn’t anybody who wasn’t thrilled that it was happening, but because: ”Wait a minute! Now that this has happened all past debts are absolved!” and that is not always the case. It reminds Merlin of a High School reunion, he never went to any of his. It also reminds Merlin of John always wanting to close an open loop, and this was a loop he didn’t know about.

John was talking to John Hodgman the other day who kept saying over and over that there doesn’t always have to be a story and sometimes things just happen, but John rejected that.

High School reunion (RL416)

John went to his 20th High School reunion, he didn’t go to his 10th, and he discovered that all these people that he wasn’t friends with in High School he has known them for 25 years and he knew exactly who they were and he remembered everybody’s name and it was a very positive experience. Then there was a little gaggle of people across the steam-shrouded gymnasium that John wasn’t friends with then and wasn’t friends with now. They were his arch-enemies, even though he never had anything personal against any of them, but they were the Soshes that were the most diehard about their cultural differences. The sad story about the Sosh is that they were incredibly popular in High School and that was their peak.

There is one guy who went to John’s High School named Mike, John actually has his driver’s license because that is how he rolled, he was like a serial killer who likes to keep souvenirs. Mike’s dad had bought him a 1957 Chevy with the license plate THX DAD (see RW24). In addition he had a brand-new Chevy Shortbed Pickup with glaspacks, he was captain of the Hockey team. John had a confrontation with him early on in High School where Mike got in John’s face in a ”What did you say?” way about nothing. John was always the one who had the snide remark and every once in a while a guy would come over and John would back down from such a confrontation.

Merlin talks about boy energy in different age classes and the fact that sometimes boys want to hit a tree with a stick and that doesn’t go away during teenage years, it just takes a different form, but John was always the tree. If you wanted to hit something hard, John looked like the biggest tree.

John got no beef with Mike, he wants him to be happy, he wants to go over and say: ”Hey man, we have known each other now for all these years, but we have never sat down together and talked!” Merlin doesn’t like fighting people who are hopped up.

The Going Places Gang, The Soshes vs The Conserves in High School (RL416)

In High School John’s little gang called themselves the Going Places Gang (see RW165) because the Soshes called themselves the Soshes and called John’s gang the Conserves. ”What has S. E. Hinton done to us?” Merlin’s daughter had to read The Outsiders (by S. E. Hinton) this year and did her report on Sherri ’Cherry’ Valance, which was a fun character to do. Everybody wanted to do Ponyboy Michael Curtis, but Merlin’s daughter’s work has been heavily commended.

Merlin sent John a photo of the cast of The Outsiders and that is exactly how the Soshes pictured themselves. They were not the preppies from the rich kids camp, that was John’s gang, but although they were rich, they thought of themselves as the cool blue-collared jockey, which was the psychological tension. They did not think of themselves as the spoiled kids, but they wore cowboy boots and drove pickup trucks, while John drove a Fiat convertible, which was an embarrassment from an Alaskan standpoint, he could drive his car under their trucks. They were the mullet-wearers and the acid-washed jeans guys, they thought of themselves as the Rock’n’Rollers.

It is exactly what you see with the Trump world now where when you asked them who they are they will tell you that they are the fun ones, the ones that can take a joke, the party people. They could not make the case that they were the underdogs, but they saw that in America in 1983 the story was: ”The pride is back! America! USA!” and that was at the very beginning when the word Liberal became a dirty word. The Soshes weren’t political, but they were ”USA! America!” before that even existed.

John’s gang as the preppies also imagined themselves as the underdogs because they were nerds and the others kicked sand in their faces. Merlin thinks of Mods as being in that position, where they are fancy, but still underdogs. The primary difference was that the Soshes lived for today and the Conserves lived for tomorrow. They put all their hopes into the fact that they were going to go to college and get out of there and go out into the world. What happened in High School was always prolog.

When John asks people what the best years of their lives were he always gets surprising results. For some people this is a very intuitive feeling and if you ask them they know immediately. Not having a care in the world is very much an aspect of it. As soon as you leave High School, your status disappears and you are no longer the second best person on the Hockey team, you are just one more guy, trying to find a job. Maybe that feeling never goes away and you end up as the Assistant to the Regional Manager.

The Going Places gang was going to make the 1980s look like the 1960s. Dan talked about this at length with Dan at one point (see RW165) and a certain group of the friends and fans of their shows started calling themselves The Going Places Gang.

John Jarrell, the originator of Going Places Gang (RL416)

The other day John wrote his friends from High School and told them about this, that they made super-cute T-shirts for Road Work, and now John started a message board over at Discourse, an open source message board software that brings you right back to 2002, a lot of people posting fun stuff, and the group self-christened as the Going Places Gang. The guy from Mediocre-tee showed up and suggested to make T-shirts for this group, Dan is fine with it, and now John wrote the original 8 people he is still in contact with via an email-chain and told them that he wants to send them each a Going Places Gang T-shirt because they were the originals.

Eric Spurlock is the guy with the drinking fountain story (see RL268) who said that every time you see the logo in the drinking fountain you will think of me, and now Merlin thinks of John and Eric every time he sees a drinking fountain. He had disappeared from John’s life for 2 decades and now he is on this thread and the other day he said he is getting ready to retire to Florida, and he said The Going Places gang probably came from John Jerryl (JJ), his cousin who was one year older and who was the funny one in the class above John and John admired him and feared him in equal measure because he had such a wit and he was so cruel (see RL268).

John was had the good sense not to be his acolyte and to follow him around, but in his heart he wanted to be at his elbow to watch the master at work. He was very studied in being cool around him because he didn’t want his dark light turned on him, but he also never wanted to miss when he was on. JJ was there when John first got drunk. Eric was also in awe of JJ, although he was his cousin. One time Eric called John and said that they were on their way over, JJ, Kevin, Rick, and he, to pick John up, and John put on his best jacket and sat on the stair in the entry hall, waiting for them to come, and they never came and John sat there until midnight until he finally kicked his shoes off and hung his head, which was a terrible feeling.

The greatest moment in John’s High School years was when JJ was a senior and they were all standing around in a group of seniors, and John had already achieved a lot by being allowed to be with the seniors. Christie Green, a very high status senior girl and also read-headed, came over to John’s house one time and got drunk. While standing there John said something to this group, it stopps the conversation dead, and JJ turned around and said: ”Nice one, Roderick!”, like John said such a cold-ass burn that no-one else in the group wanted to be the next one to speak. JJ literally passed the torch to John (see RL231).

JJ was at a level of status that was outside the normal status games. He was not popular, wealthy, or beautiful, but he was also not a loser but he was a rogue knight. His power only was operative in High School. If you graduated as the funniest guy in class, but you went to work at a Meineke Muffler dealership and you are the funniest guy there, there is a long dirty road. John’s High School voted him as most humorous and he really did feel like ”What else is there?” It is like getting straight A’s and you think you will put that on your application and become a comedy writer.

John mentioned in the email that he has no idea who came up with Going Places Gang or what it means and Eric said that one of JJ’s burns was when people would do something, all the way from when one of the richest Soshes did something stupid all the way down to a total bozo, he would sing under his breath: ”Going Places, got a nice bright future!” as his way of calling everyone a loser. Eric thinks that this has to be where the Going Places gang came from, they had repurposed it from JJ’s super-burn. Part of the implication was that that person was singing that song to themselves as in: ”Hey, look at me! I am going places!”

Merlin just rewatched the first episode of the TV-show Party Down that he loves.

Merlin got voted ”Most Talented” in his senior year and got his photo in the yearbook with his guitar and although it was a completely meaningless award because all his friends were working on the yearbook, he was really excited that he got it. It is a bit like the Phoney Award (see Awards), which they had to make up themselves.

JJ was the first person who got John into working out. One summer he came up to him and said: ”You are out of shape, you are worthless and weak! What is this? A Twisted Sister pin on your uniform?” (some reference) He told John to meet him out at the Gold’s Gym on Muldoon every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the summer. John came and Eric was there, too, and the three of them worked out and pumped iron.

After talking to Eric John planned to write JJ and also send him a Going Places Gang T-Shirt, but Eric wrote back and said that JJ had ghosted him in 1986 and they haven’t spoken since. He was working in a video store and the manager said that they should become film makers, JJ applied to NYU film school and got in, went to NYU film school, realized he wasn’t going to be a director and he wasn’t going to spend 20 years in the trenches just so he could be a focus puller and he started to write scripts for pennies, living in his car.

Then he wrote the screenplay for Romeo Must Die (his name is John Jarrell) and became a Hong Kong action movie script doctor and he now lives in Hollywood and teaches a class on how to be a bad-ass screenwriter, he wrote a book called ”Screenwriting is not for pussies” (actually Tough Love Screenwriting), but he hasn’t talked to anyone from High School since the day he left High School.

John knows a couple of other people like this who are just gone. A really good friend of John’s sister about five years ago just stopped communicating, although he still lives in Anchorage, but he dropped his old friends and has new friends and won’t reply to emails.

John spent the last week searching his own feelings if this is a funny enough story that he will reach out to John Jerrell through his management to try to close this loop. He was always a storyteller just like John. If one of the kids that lined up behind John’s sigil would write him and say: ”An off-handed comment that you made in 1986 stuck with me and now I have an active online fan community that have named themselves after your off-handed remark and I would like to send you a T-shirt of that remark and duly credit you with it!” he would be so thrilled and he would think that was the greatest gift.

On the other hand JJ might have decided that he wants nothing to do with his past, that High School was an incredibly painful time, he might have reinvented himself and he doesn’t want to look back. What John really is doing is sitting on the stairs in the entry way of his house, waiting to get picked up and by sending this email he is setting himself up to sit there until midnight and then kick off his shoes. This is a story that needs to come full circle and John needs to write to JJ because this story is too good to not try to get it to him and get the resolution. Maybe this is the thing that will get JJ to write to his cousin Eric again!

When Merlin first moved to San Francisco in 1999 his friend Michael Fergusson let him stay with him and introduced Merlin to San Francisco. He lived in Western Addition and one day they were walking around and near his place they saw a guy in a very rumpled suit with a briefcase that was loaded with some kind of papers, muttering to himself as he organized this rat-king of papers. Michael pulled a JJ and leaned over to Merlin and whispered: ”Salesman of the month! Salesman of the month!” and to this day whenever Merlin sees somebody who is very frenzied, a little bit manic, as they participate in something that seems relatively low stakes, Merlin goes: ”Salesman of the month!”

One of the things about doing this show is that all of their off-hand little bullshit becomes a fucking T-shirt, which is so great, but also weird. JJ probably doesn’t think that someone in the world is still singing ”Going Places!” If JJ is listening, get in touch and take the T-shirt, he can wear it to his class!

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