RL426 - My Little Cowboy

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: There was some noise down in the ravine, referring to the Highline Water District having an easement on John’s property and some workers doing things with the waterline back there.

The show title refers to John’s fence contractor who is a cowboy who does calf roping.

The audio starts with a bit of Swing-music which is the intro to the TV show My Three Sons.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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 audio-interface (RL426)

John sounds great and uses the correct microphone input directly when Merlin called. John is using his Apogee Quartet that he got from iHeart Radio when his Omnibus-podcast was on their network. (see RL425) Merlin was recently using an Apogee device to turn his guitar cord into a USB (probably this), he also has his MIDI-keyboard going. John has talked about the big-knob philosophy before (see RW145). Merlins interface has DIP-switches and there is probably not a kind of switch in the world John has not some experience with because he has lived in a very switch-based world for a long time.

Boeing-switches in John’s house (RL426)

In John’s house that was built by a Boeing defense engineer in the 1950s who was also an amateur wood worker and who built most of the closets in the house himself. The architect was a young man who designed this house and he later moved on to designing the Hydroelectric Pavilion at the 1962 World’s Fair (Electric Power Pavilion) and in the blueprints, which John studied together with friend of the show and architect Ben King looking over his shoulder, there is a palpable sense that the architect had designed the house and then home woodworking electrical dad cut corners on a couple of things. There are notes on the blueprint ”Closets. Owner will install.” and you can feel the condescension. John accidentally said condensation and Merlin says that John Siracusa thinks that moisture is the home owner’s greatest enemy. John has someone in his life close to him who cannot stand that word. Merlin has a whole list of words that he would prefer people not to use.

They built onto the house in 1962, right about the time when the guy was hitting his peak at the World’s Fair and he came back and amended his architectural rendering of this house and built on a room for mom and dad as they kept having more babies, which is also when the bomb-shelter got in. Working at Boeing, building B-52s or whatever, the owner kept bringing home salvage switches from work like the ones from the scene in Dr. Strangelove when they are in the B-52, the clicky ones where you have to lift up a red metal switch cover to get to the switch.

John having an easement for a water mains running through his property (RL426)

Early in the morning the other day there was a power tool noise down in the ravine and John got his bathrobe on and strapped his sword on and walked down with his beer-stein full of coffee and there were a bunch of guys with hard hats who told him that the water main broke and they had to jack-hammer the road. John asked the foreman to tell him everything about the sewer and water around here and he invited John back to his cab-over-Pete with the reefer on (reference to the song Convoy by C. W. McCall) and on his in-cab computer he pulled up the original as-built-drawings for the sewers, water mains, and fire hydrants in the whole neighborhood and John got to sit with the Highline Water District guy, asking all kinds of questions about different things on the map.

None of them even noticed John was in his bathrobe because they were all so fixated on why John was drinking beer at 9am.

They were jack-hammering the street and John knows that they know that he doesn’t own the street, so they got a certain amount of ”we own the street” energy and John was not here to contest that, he is just a regular guy who wants to look at the plans for the sewers and has a couple of question, like: ”At what point does it go from here to there?” The Highline Water District have an easement across the back of John’s property where this line of water goes across the back, an easement that they eminent-domained in 1964. Merlin used to have sidewalk-sized easements behind the houses in Florida that caused a lot of bickering. At the time it was wild country out there with wild horses roaming and burial mounds, and they cut a road through the back and laid down a big water main, but what are you going to say?

When John first started hacking through the Laurel and Holly with his machete strapped to his back like Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone he came upon an Ivy-covered hillock and when he excavated it he found a manhole cover in the middle of 100-year old ceder trees. He did his research as best he could and he discovered the easement, figured out where the water was going, and saw the hydrant that it led to, but ever since then he was wondering what easement meant exactly to the Highline Water District. Is John going to wake up one day and there will be a back hoe out there: ”Yup, sorry! Easement!”

John asked the guy what if he wanted to build a 7-sided lighthouse made of dreams and he put it over the easement, and he said that this happens all the time because people don’t read their papers, just as property lines are never where you think they are. When they put in the roads they only had the money to put in a 2-lane dirt road, but it was already 1950 and why don’t we make the lines in case they wanted to build a 4-lane Cadillac delivery system? On a map it looks like these are widest road and you could turn a horse-cart around on those!

This is the wonderful thing about meeting people who work in the trades: They know so much! Some of them are like anybody and they are not curious and are just doing their jobs, but some of them are genuinely informed and curious and the foreman John was talking to did not have a complete spacial sense of what he was looking at on the map and he was not completely oriented and when he was pointing to things in the real world he as 5 degrees off of what he thought he was pointing at. There is somebody on his team who knows exactly where they are because you are not going to start digging a hole in a road without knowing where you are, but he did know what plans were.

The road they were digging up did not exist until 1968, but it was on the original 1929 plans because it was headed down to what was going to be the town square, which is now a forrest that was eventually preserved as a nature preserve, and the original plat has apartments, a fountain, a city hall, and a fire station, which is super-adorable, and all of it is living in an alternate ghost universe because the 1929 crash put all that on the back burner, and by the time they started building in the 1950s they decided against the whole idea what land use looked like and they built all that stuff flat-roof style up by the Highway rather than down in the valley. Now there is the memory of a little town and until 1968 they hadn’t even…

John talked to a guy who grew up in the neighborhood and he said that from right where they standing you could get all the way up to the QFC and never see a house because it was all forest and you could follow the creek. From John’s front porch up until 1979 there were horses close enough to hear that he could hit them with a frisbee, right across the street. There is a horse pasture still there that they haven’t converted. This is not deer-country, maybe there are mighty elks (?), but they are not around here. John does get coyotes, but he hasn’t see an opossum.

Over here there are houses built on the easement and they are going to be really sad. They showed up one day with their trucks and they had built a house on it and hopefully they won’t ever have a problem. They are not going to come through with a bulldozer and take out your family room, but what if there is a problem? The only time they are going to care is when the water main cracks.

In the same way it is important not to park where the red curb is by a fire hydrant because that is where a fire truck needs to go and Merlin has seen pictures of black BMWs where they broke both front windows and put the hose right through it. Within the car community it was widely understood that BMW drivers are the biggest assholes, but that has rotated slightly towards Audi drivers. John mentions that Audi, Volkswagen, and Porsche are one company and he says that Audi stands for ”Auto Union” (actually it stands for ”Hear!” in Latin for their founder ”Horch”, Auto Union was a predecessor for the company).

John’s neighbors throwing their garbage on his property (RL426)

None of that was completely academic to John because for the last year and a half he tried to get somebody to come and build a fence between him and the daycare so that she stops throwing her freaking coffee cups over the fence, a lady whose family has been throwing their garbage over the fence for the last 35 years. The old people who lived in John’s house had let the ravine go to seed and when John moved in and started macheteing his way through the Back Forty he found that both of his neighbors have been using it as a dumping ground. One of them was just using it as a place to put here egg shells and banana peels, but she had been doing that for 30 years.

John has confronted her about it in a non-hostile way she told him that they have been building up the hillside, but a hillside made out of egg shells and banana peels isn’t a stable structure and John is planning to restore the ravine to its native state using all native plants, and as she was talking to John she was peeling an egg and throwing the stuff over the edge. She was a former Alaska Airlines air hostess back when they wore elbow-length white gloves because she is a much older lady now, but she clearly was used to in this world being cute and getting her way and she was very cute, flirtatious and charming with John, but continued to throw her waste into his yard after he asked her not to several times.

She was asserting that this was all the way over by her house, nowhere close to John’s house, and his property line might be halfway through her lawn, but it has always been this way and it always will and also: It is all natural, it is just egg shells. ”Hair is like grass: It just grows back!”, ”I did not make the rat, God made the rat!”, ”Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth!” Eventually John said that he would like her to entirely stop throwing anything onto his property because if that is such wonderful soil, then why doesn’t she want it? John is trying to plant ferns and stuff and they don’t want egg shells on top of them.

At that point she got very hostile and said: ”Enjoy your lonely life!” and she stomped off. John doesn’t have a lonely life at all, his life is pretty full of people and Merlin wishes he had a lonely life, so he didn’t really have a retort. After that they didn’t talk for a while. The cost-benefit-analysis of John getting into any kind of disagreement with her is zero, it really costs him nothing, but it also benefits him nothing. As Merlin’s friend Marco (Arment) used to say: ”It is not your fault, but it is your problem!”

John’s other neighbor and her three sons were so delightful when John moved into the house. She came over and brought him an orchid, which feels like a Romanian course. It feels like sending somebody a fish in a bulletproof vest (lalala), it is basically a challenge: ”Here is an orchid! Keep it alive!”, but it was a very nice gesture. Her yard is beautifully manicured and she told John that her father was a master gardener and the orchid is an expression of master gardenerhood. The property line between their houses was such a bramble you couldn’t see through it. There were trees that were covered with blackberry so you couldn’t identify the species of trees, and it is all thorny and invasive human-killing species.

You couldn’t get through there and John was hacking away at it until he came to the fence and discovered that on the other side in their manicured garden they had a daycare center where she sees little kids for the day while you go out in your Audi and go to work. Her house is one of the older houses, older than John’s, and it was owned by her husband’s parents who grew up in the house because his parents lived there their whole lives, and in the divorce somehow she kept the house.

Because this neighborhood was settled by Boeing-adjacent people has the quality of an affluent working-class neighborhood, which used to be a thing. If you go up by the college, everybody in the neighborhood is a college professor and if you want to put your kid in a pottery class or a ceramicist class there is going to be somebody there who will teach that to you. Out here you would have to go back to Seattle to find someone who is doing ceramics as an art form, but there are a lot of people who support the local sports teams here.

John’s neighbor gives the impression of an affluent working class woman who has a nice house, but who is also running a day care to keep the lights on. As John was working his way through the bushes he met her in the back area where she hasn’t seen anyone on John’s side of the fence in decades because those sticker bushes were very tall and awful, and the fence between them was 3 feet high and chain link, like that De La Soul song 3 Feet High and Rising. It is not a substantial fence. They were all very friendly at this point.

John tried to dig up these fucking blackberries, which is very hard because their root structure is like a brain and somewhere down there you find a woody mass of roots that hates you and you are lock into an eternal struggle. The 3-foot chain link fence is just to keep the kids out of the sticker bushes and now they had someone on the other side, working. As John pulled up the sticker bushes, every 6 inches there was a piece of true garbage like a 16 oz (0.5 l) plastic Coke bottle with 40 cigarette butts in it and then someone pissed in it, put the cap on it and threw it over the fence, black plastic 50 gallon (190 l) bags full of Red Solo Cups and the garbage from a kegger, but also broken crockery and Christmas ornaments that they didn’t want anymore. Like Michael Stipe said: ”When you throw something away, where is away?”

As John dug deeper and filled up 20 bags of garbage and was still finding more and stacking this garbage against the chain link fence he started to really hate them, not just resent them, but this woman and her family are the descendents of master gardeners and at one point John said: ”You know, there is a lot of garbage over here!” - ”Oh, they used to party back there!” - ”Interesting that they only partied 15 feet from your fence and they partied the entire length of your fence, and they brought Christmas ornament and if you were going to pee you would just pee on the ground, not in a bottle!” There was also shit from back in the day, they have been throwing stuff over the fence for 3 years. John was digging 8 inches down and was still finding stuff buried in the dirt.

Also, one of her sons is clearly a crazy person because when he was in the back yard and finished his coffee he threw the mug over the fence into the bushes. John ended up having a confrontation with her adult son because he was down in the ravine, they were up in the yard digging up some big bush they wanted gone and when they were done they just hucked it as far as they could into John’s ravine. At that point he had said to her that he noticed their history of throwing things down there and he had told them to stop throwing things over the fence because he lives there now and is restoring the land.

The guy freaked out and yelled that they had been throwing things over there for 30 years and John has no right, so John climbed out of the ravine and as he approached him he saw the unmistakable signs of a drug abuser, and in talking to the other neighbors he had already learned that she had one kid that is fucking nuts. John has found hypodermic needles and he is a needle drug user in addition to a meth user and just a user. He does not live at home because she runs a daycare. He was losing his shit on John and was in his face all of a sudden, and being right in John’s face is a super-bad strategy.

Because he is a drug addict he has no sense that there are people who take a step back if you get close to them and there are people when you get close to them they take a step forward. Very quickly he understood his error, but he was committed to the crazy eyes and John walked him back up his driveway near his front door and his mom came out, trying to control him, like: ”Get back in the house!” and he realized that he was in a sticky wicket. John turned to his mom and said: ”I don’t want any trouble, I definitely don’t want to be on the wrong side of your family, but I have said it a few times: Please don’t throw anything over the fence and tell everyone in your house not to!” - ”My son is very protective of me!” - ”Right, that has nothing to do with this because there is no thing to protect you from. I am not throwing stuff over your fence!”

John never called him a junkie, he just gave him the look that you give a junkie and she knows he is a junkie, everybody in the neighborhood knows. He didn’t say: ”You are running a day care and you have a junkie son who probably got a record!”, he was not even implying it, he was just saying: ”Don’t throw your shit over the fence!”

Trying to find a fence contractor, the cowboy fenceman (RL426)

At that point John realized they needed a much larger fence and he spent a year trying to get a fence contractor to commit to building a fence. He has never met a flakier group of tradespeople than fencemen. A lot of them will make an appointment with him and 20 minutes after they were supposed to be here when John calls them they tell him: ”Oh, there was another thing. I saw a hot air balloon. I could get my radio to tune to the metal station and so I had to die!”

The few guys who came out there and walked the line said: ”We can totally do this! This is easy!”, they give John a respectable quote, and then he never hears from them again and never sees them again. These days tradespeople are in high demand and they can surely build fences all day for contractors and they don’t have to come out and build a fence between John and garbage daycare and they just don’t give a good ”God damn!” John found an electricians not very long ago is very responsive and does good work and John wondered what kind of unicorn he was.

Merlin tells the story how he finally found a Comcast repairwoman who was a veteran and who showed him how much coax he had in his wall that had degraded the signal so badly that Internet couldn’t get to the house anymore. John’s farm had so much coax at the outside of the house that it looked like it was being attacked by a Cthulhu. They get paid by the foot!

John was looking for a fence contractor for one year, which felt like a lot of years because this year will make last year look like 5 years ago, and he got a 24-year old kid on the horn, he came out, they walked the property, John explained what the purpose was, the kids said he can build this fence, but John had heard that before and asked him for any kind of timeline, and he said that the season for his other job starts soon and he is just doing this work in his downtime. He was from Enumclaw Washington, which is country, and he is a rodeo rider and he grew up putting up fence because that is what cowboys do. He had a calf roping scholarship to Central Washington University and he showed John some videos.

He was a chatty personable guy and John was throwing questions at him and found out that this level of cowboy is traveling the country like an Indie Rock band, he is called Hunter and his friend is called Pistol or something, they have perfect cowboy names, and John told him he wanted to have him on his Patreon-only podcast and the guy’s eyes lit up and he wanted to know all about podcasts because some of the other rodeo riders as they are driving across America are listening to podcasts and he didn’t know anything about them. Now he is all excited and he is probably not going to ride off into the sunshine and not build John’s fence (see interview with Hunter on RZ3).

In the meantime John was going to interview a couple of other fencemen, but they both called back and said they couldn’t come because they put in a bag of microwave popcorn and it only half-popped. Fuck you, guys! Hunter is coming! On Friday Hunter called and asked: ”How is Monday!”, a year and a half of trying to get a fenceman. ”Yes!”

Hunter told John the story that he was in an elevator in Las Vegas and a guy got in and saw his rope case and asked: ”You are roping today?” and when he looked up he saw it was George Strait, the country musician. To hear him tell the story was like if Eddie Van Halen got into your taxi and asked: ”Do you want a line of blow?” George Strait asked him about his rope case!

This morning he showed up and he is putting in posts in between John and the trash daycare right this moment and John told him that after he is done tomorrow he shall come in and do a podcast, and he said that his friend Trigger wants to come too because he got a lot of stories. John met Trigger this morning and he had a baseball hat that talks about feed lots. More than the excitement of having two cowboys on a podcast (lalala) is the fact that John got a fence going up and he can just dance around naked two feet from her!

John is thinking about asking them about their politics, not because he wants to her about their politics, but he wants to hear what they think about their politics. Here they are, good old fellows, young and smart, and they are over here on this side of the mountains where they dance naked on the solstice, what is their idea about what we need to do as a nation? They are probably not going to say that we need to bring a Christian theocracy to government, they have surely some more nuanced ideas. They started to talk about roping, but John asked him to save it for the show. He still tells some details of roping that John talks about with Merlin.

Looking out the window John can’t see the neighbors, which is one of the wonderful things about the ravine, it is all trees, but he knows right on the other side of those trees the little cowboys and putting in the fence that John has been dreaming about since day one and they are not going to charge him that much and tomorrow afternoon they are going to come in with the Wranglers all wet from the ravine work, John is going to have a fence that he is going to put some guard towers up on. Merlin suggests that John bring them some lemonade so that the neighbors aren’t talking to them and try to turn them against John, but John has already told them all about her.

She was writing John that they can’t be in her backyard and John said: ”Well, they are going to be in your backyard!” and he wrote John and said that he was going to need to use power from her house with an extension chord and John told him that he will have to use that million dollar smile and this morning he gave John the smile and John said: ”That smile? If you were looking for an extension chord from me I would give it to you!”

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