RL55 - A Welsh Troll

This week Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: Life with a German disease, referring to John being diagnosed with depression in his early teens didn’t that was a fairly glamorous diagnosis because it seemed exotic like a German disease.

The show title refers to John's dad taking credit away from him by saying that it was his genes that made John good at something, but it was the Welsh troll in his head talking that comes up with shitty things to say.

John starts the show singing Merlin’s name.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

People being busy, but it is their own fault (RL55)

Merlin sounds like he has a lot going on. Life is like having a big closet: You are always going to fill up every one of them, no matter how big they are. Merlin hates it when people say they are so busy, implying that it is indisputable that most other people in the world are not doing anything and those few people who are busy, who say ”I am really busy right now!” are the getter-donors that we should support with all of our efforts.

When Merlin says he is busy it usually means one of a couple things and they are both his fault. Because of the nature of what he ”does”, there is never a time when he should be too busy unless he has chosen to be too busy. That is true of everybody, whether they like to admit it or not, but for Merlin it means he has overcommitted, planned poorly, or he is not being very good or effective.

Whenever John says ”I am busy”, he could just replace that with ”I'm behind the eight ball!” He is sitting in a room right now that is basically just boxes and bags of things that he hasn't attended to. The boxes and bags are stacked on other boxes and bags and soon he will be like a hoarder person who can only get to his computer desk through a corridor of stacked old cat food cans and used newspapers tied with ramen noodles. John is behind the eight ball, just even walking in here he is behind the eight ball.

Hoarding, availability heuristics: Once you see it… (RL55)

There are stages to hoarding and at one point in his life Merlin had a reason to learn about these things because of a family member. We are all on the hoarding continuum, that is what makes it a continuum. Merlin is not a hoarding clinician and he forgot how many phases there are, but once you are aware of it you start seeing it everywhere. One of the middle phases is "paths". When you have to blaze trails through stuff, then you are on the exceedingly slightly more special part of the continuum! (see also RL134)

When you buy a Volkswagen bug, all of a sudden you see Volkswagen Bugs everywhere. It is a version of an availability heuristics, meaning that you make decisions about what is going on in the world based on the information that is available to you and your own experience. For instance John never used to see P.T. Cruisers at all. He had a P.T. Cruiser screen on his consciousness, like a protective visor that screened out P.T. cruisers.

One time Kathleen Edwards came to visit him, they were driving around town in her rented P.T. Cruiser, and all of a sudden John was a member of the P.T. Cruiser fraternity. People were like ”Beep beep! Hi!” There are P.T. Cruisers everywhere and John had to see them because he was in one. It changed him forever, but not in a good way. Merlin will sometimes hear a word that he hasn’t heard his whole life and on that same day when he hears it for the first time he will hear it again. Either he heard that word before and didn't remember it, or there is some dark matter going on.

Merlin’s wife’s boss thinking she would drive a P.T. Cruiser (RL55)

A few years ago Merlin's wife received an unintentional left-handed compliment at her job. While they were talking office talk, because you don't really work in an office, her boss said ”Have you ever seen those P.T. cruisers? That seems like the kind of car you drive!” That was probably a way of saying to somebody that you are a fun kiki individualist. It is a quirky car, like a Pontiac Aztek.

This came from a lady who had reached menopausal age where we start wearing a lot of chunky jewelry and say what's on your minds, but she wasn't saying in an unkind way. She just meant that Madeleine was a funky gal. The things we buy for other people as presents usually say much more about us than it does about the other person. Often it shows that we have bad judgment and no taste. John hopes that Madeleine enjoys the pearl-handled Derringers he bought her for Christmas and Merlin ensures him that she treasures them. She won't let Merlin give her anything with pearl on it. That seemed like a sweet thing to say.

Merlin being test marketer for Kenner toys (RL55)

Merlin was a test-marketer for Kenner toys when he was a child. He was bored in class and Kenner is based in Cincinnati or at least has a big outpost there and this is the kind of thing you could do in a public school in the 1970s. It was the smart kids, the kids that could afford to miss a whole class to go play with a toy, and boy did that ever make the other kids love him. Merlin, Jenny Balcom, Billy Shaller, they would take them out, they would say ”Come on let's go!” and the kids who were already done with the work got to play with toys. It was wonderful, but it was terrible, it was awful. Merlin hates himself, too. He is like a P.T. Cruiser!

Merlin knew exactly the specific G.I. Joe he wanted. He was into Big Jim for a while, which is like a bi-curious G.I. Joe who likes to go the beach. He also test-marketed Stretch Armstrong and those really cool little cars called SST where you pulled the T-strip to make it fly across the floor, and the Wizzzer Top that goes across the floor. John never had one himself. Broken by his mother! (reference to the incident when John's mom jumped on John's toys and broke them because he had put them into the closet instead of really cleaning his room, see RL161)

John pretending to be sick in school (RL55)

If John wanted to get out of class he had to pretend he was sick and go to the nurse's office. John is allergic to cats and because they had cats his whole life growing up he always was a little sick. Like Wolverine, he had to constantly call upon his healing abilities in order to just stay alive and that caused baseline pain to him all the time. that That is only one of the ways in which John is like Wolverine. Canadians fucked him up with all that Metal, but let’s not go into it.

Nobody in John's environment ever thought ”Maybe this kid is allergic to cats?” and for 14 years he had a constant scratchy cough and runny nose. If class was boring and he wanted to get out, he would just be like ”I’m really sick right now!” and they would send him to the nurse's office where he would lay on the cot and count the dots in the ceiling tile (see RL296). John could call upon his ”Conquest Space!” fantasies from really anywhere he could be supine. He just wanted to go somewhere, lay down, have them turn the lights down a little bit and leave him alone.

Conditions that might be fake, kids with ADD (RL55)

Merlin thinks John would have needed fake migraines or chronic fatigue syndrome, because the etiology of those is really tough and you can't look at somebody and tell whether they do or don't have a migraine. People who suffer from it are very serious about it being a real thing and they have impressed upon John that if it is real and no one believes you it is a terrible fate. These people go to the doctor and say ”I feel like I can barely function!” and the doctor is like ”You are imagining it!” and this might go on for years. John won't make jokes about chronic fatigue syndrome except that it does sound like they are faking it.

There are conditions that they know exists, but there is no etiology for it and there is no tests for proving it. Having one of those things sucks and Chronic fatigue syndrome is one. Up until the last few years Merlin was pretty sure that kids with food allergies was mostly a fake thing. Maybe it was a doting mother or something? Why does everybody suddenly have food allergies? It didn't used to be like that! When Merlin was a kid, Julie's Schessinger didn't like oranges, so she had to wait in line for a banana and she would cry. That might have been a food allergy, but he didn't know any kid who had stuff that they just couldn't eat because they would get sick. Merlin is 100% positive that it is real now.

Merlin's friends Amy Jane Gruber, who is a pistol to begin with (Merlin sounds more and more like John’s dad) and John Gruber have a kid who one time touched a piece of cheese and it left a tattoo on his arm. They took him in to get tested, they started with 1/8th of a teaspoon of milk, he said ”Mom, I feel crazy!” and his eyes rolled back in his head. He went into anaphylactic shock and they had to give him two or three EpiPen shots and take him to the emergency room. He almost died at the hospital! He is a little lactose intolerant! She carries EpiPens everywhere, she is ready!

When John heard about ADD for the first time he was in a psychiatrist's office and the psychiatrist told him to sit in front of this computer and play this game. Things flashed at him and he was supposed to choose between this thing or that thing and then something shot across the screen and he was supposed to choose between two options. As he got to the end of this not very fun game, the doctor said ”You have attention deficit disorder” - ”What's that?” - ”It is a new diagnosis for people who are struggling to integrate themselves into the worlds. It turns out that you are not lazy or dumb, but you just can't stay focused on things. There is a medicine for it"

John was about 17 at this point, he had been going to psychologists for a long time and he was suspicious of them. Like a lot of people he was also suspicious of this diagnosis. ”ADHD? Attention Deficit Disorder? What the hell is that?” They would take those kids out of class and let them test-market some toys in their stupid school! Before they would say ”He is a spirited little kid!” and all of a sudden it had become a pathology.

Now we live in a world where the number of kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders or something on that spectrum is probably 40% of the kids in the school and combined with food allergies, Aspergers, and all the other ways it is even more. A lot of parents are self diagnosing their kids as Aspergian and a lot of parents are still in denial about it, but their next door neighbors are diagnosing their kids Aspergian.

All the way through John's High School some kids got separated out and put in special classes, including kids who were mentally functioning at a high level but they just had a palsy or something. It happened to Merlin’s dad who had dyslexia and poor vision. You get this one place that basically becomes a pedagogical holding cell for people with profound personality problems, legitimate depression, serious health problems, or maybe they just read too fast.

John's initial response to the proliferation of human problems was suspicion. People were making up these diagnoses and chronic fatigue syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were on the same spectrum, the spectrum of people making shit up about themselves to excuse their shoddy performance. As time went on he accepted that these things were real, but none of them existed during his childhood. Everybody had to just cope or go to the special class where you had to wear a helmet.

The only reason why some kids Merlin knew went to private school was that it was a Catholic school. He didn’t know anybody who went to the Huntington Academy or something like that. It didn’t exist! They went to private schools and got free bread and a finger in the pooper. Merlin has become more sensitive. We made it through the age of reason and we don't believe anymore that there is a tiny troll in your head causing you headache and stuff like that.

John’s dad would say ”It is great that you are a musician! Your genes are responsible for you being a good musician!” and John would say ”Screw off! That's that Welsh troll in your head! There is a Welsh troll that lives in your brain! It comes up with shitty things to say and takes the fun and the credit away from me!” - ”I don't have a Welsh troll!” and they would argue about the Welsh troll that lived inside them. His Welsh troll was what made him say that there was no Welsh troll. ”I'm not in denial!”

Irritable bowel syndrome is another example. Merlin got intestinal issues, but not IBS or Crohn’s disease, but the other one (Colitis Ulcerosa). Unlike a lot of people Merlin does not keep chopsticks on the back of his toilet to go through his BMs, sifting through, doing a little bit of panning for corn. He keeps some poultry shears, a very fine mesh, and of course some index cards. Merlin got an old toilet! IBS is a bummer because sometimes you get diarrhea, a lot of the times you are constipated, but mostly you are kind of in pain. The singer Beth Orton had it and it really screwed her up.

Unless you do one of those made-up phony-baloney FMRI things, you can’t say you have migraines, but it is all based on symptoms. There are signs and symptoms. Symptoms is what you tell the doctor. Merlin’s friend Jesse Thorn has bad migraines and he is drugged-up on stuff that he doesn't like taking to keep them even manageable and even then they are not super-manageable. Merlin had like 4 ever and they were crippling!

John’s mom has migraines, but she has that pain threshold thing and she is so unaffected by pain in most situations. When she says ”There is a headache coming and I need to close the blinds and go upstairs”, it is so disconcerting! When you say that ”God gives people the beard that they deserve”, Merlin wonders if you get the migraines that you deserve. They suck for everybody and not that many people who get a migraine can just deal with it, you don’t brush it off. John's mom will see halos of light and flashing of light and she will say ”I'm out of here!” It doesn't even hurt yet. John never had a migraine. For a lot of people there are triggers like red wine or chocolate. All those things suck! You feel like you are monkey balls because all the sudden you have this thing nobody can see.

You got two little kids on a playdate but there is only one large piece of cake left, so what do you do? John’s mom would throw the cake in the yard. "No cake for anybody, ever!" In more conventional homes the classic way to do this is the Prisoner's Dilemma kind of thing: One of the kids cuts the cake and the other chooses, which ensures that you are going to make the most even cut possible. It is an interesting principle for many things!

A place where Merlin used to work did environmental consulting. What gave them credibility was that they did environmental assessments, but not environmental remediation, because why would you go out and let the same person tell you what your problem is and then how much it would cost for them to fix it? Merlin just described the entire Chinese economy, John’s dad and the mechanic (see RL289 and RL279), and half of the craft in America.

Classes in public schools have up to 50 kids and your kid can not take up more than 2% of the time. If one kid who for whatever reason takes up 4% or 8% of the time, they pull them aside, bring the parent in, and say: ”This is your problem, not our problem! Our problem is that we have no money and a class full of 50 kids. You need to figure out how this kid goes back to 2% or less!”

John wished they had used that metric when he was a kid because he wanted to take up 0% of the teacher's time and been left alone to sit at his desk and draw army men, look at the encyclopedia, or stare at a spot on the wall, but they were trying to engage him. John will listen in on your silly-ass class, he will be over here with these books, and if you address something he doesn’t already know, he will look it up in these books. How does that sound?

With two parents in the household, which is increasingly not so common anymore because everybody is working and everybody is busy, there is not that much flexibility for anybody. Especially when you get to 5th-8th grade, you options are Focalin or Adderall, are there any questions? That is why we need to institute that third option which is building trail (see RL48): Either you give your kids this personality-dulling medication or you get them out in the bright sunshine every day and wear them out.

Grape juice for Susan (RL55)

John’s mom used to buy grape juice for John’s sister as a special treat because Susan was insane about grape juice. It was very expensive in the 1970s and they had like $4.35 to feed the three of them for a week. She would buy grape juice and would apportion it out in glasses to Susan, John didn't really care about grape juice, but she gave it to Susan so sparingly that the bottle of grape juice routinely turned to cooking vinegar in the fridge before Susan was able to have it (see RW101).

John's depression (RL55)

John being depressed since his teenage years

The ultimate thing about this undiagnosable, unseeable malady epidemic that is happening in America comes home to roost because John suffers from depression. It is very hard for him to accept that and acknowledge it as not being a personality flaw. During the course of a typical day or over the arc of nine months of John’s life the only thing that can account for the choices he has been making is that he is clearly suffering from depression.

Every time he talks to a doctor and says ”Here are my problems, doctor!” and he runs down his problems, they will say he has severe depression, but ”I know, but come on, help me out here with something!” Although he had been a drug addict, John was thinking for a while that Adderall is not a drug, but an attention focuser. He said it on the Internet a couple of times and people were writing him ”It is totally a drug! Don't kid yourself!” Merlin misses it if he doesn’t take it and he does feel different.

During his early teens, being diagnosed with depression didn’t have any stigma for John at all. It was a fairly glamorous diagnosis that seemed exotic, like a German disease, and with depression you would ultimately be wearing a black suit, lounging on a chaise, and someone would be painting you in oils. Particularly as a 10 year old, somebody telling you ”It seems like you have depression" was a very adult-sounding thing to have and it felt very continental. John accepted that! It was only later when people started coming out as depressed and talked about the stigma that they felt, that it even occurred to him that there might be a stigma around it. Depression seemed the only reasonable response to an insane world, why would you feel a stigma about that?

Whatever reticence John had to talk about it was entirely based on not liking to reveal things about himself to strangers. He doesn’t mentioned his daughter's name (he later did), and he doesn’t talk about his problems on the Internet because he will just get a bunch of concerned DMs from his friends going ”Is everything okay? Are you okay?” Recently John mentioned the depression he had for 17 years on Twitter (here in February 2011 and here in April 2012), but it is not that he is peaking, he is not standing on a bridge, but he is talking about it more as time goes.

John always thought that depression was a thing that you had when you were in your teens or early 20s, the peak dramatic years, but for John it continued into his thirties because every aspect of his youth continued into his thirties. He was still a teenager at 37 years old, but now that he is in his 40s and it is not waning, if anything it is waxing, he started to talk about it more as a feature on his landscape. Every morning when he wakes up, even if there are no owls in his room (see RL26), there is always this bugbear, like ”Ahh, you again?”

Not being able to value the things you have accomplished

It orbits around a feeling of dissatisfaction, the feeling that everything you have accomplished adds up to bobcus. There is no reasonable way John would think that, but depression is unreasonable. Merlin’s understanding is that the most insidious thing about depression is not that you are really sad and that you sometimes think about harming yourself, which a lot of people feel a fair amount of the time, but when you are depressed it feels completely impossible to imagine a world where it could be better, no matter what day it is. It is fairly constant and sometimes it gets a lot worse. The last thing in the world that you could imagine is having it get better.

John agrees that it doesn't abate and that it attaches itself to his normal sense of reason. It is not like some kind of crazy Republicanism where all of a sudden you think the president is a Muslim, it is not like madness, but you make normal assessments in a way that seems absolutely rational, but your conclusion is really fucked it up. You are a real turd in this situation.

When John is making a pot of Macaroni and Cheese there will be three or four opportunities in the course of waiting for the water to boil, adding the powdered cheese packet, and eating the Macaroni and Cheese, where he feels like this Macaroni and Cheese is a metaphor for how he is not thriving and the Macaroni and Cheese turns to ashes. It robs you of the potential to enjoy even the simple things because you are finding all the evidence you need for why you are a flop in the simple things you do.

Depression does not feel foreign

John prizes himself for the capacity to look at the evidence and make decisions based on what he sees and knows. He uses this prized faculty everywhere he goes, like ”Aha, I see how this is going to go: This guy is about to throw his milkshake in… Haha, he did! I saw it!” When he turns that faculty on himself and all the evidence he is getting points to the fact that he is a drag and everything he has ever made belongs on the dustbin, then it is very hard to go ”Well, in that instance my faculty for seeing is flawed or broken!” because he uses it all the time and he trusts it.

John is suspicious about people telling him that serotonin reuptake inhibitors are going to make him not feel that way anymore because the depression doesn't feel alien, which is what is insidious about it: It certainly feels like a handicap, but it doesn't feel like a stranger and it doesn't feel external.

John can look around the room and say ”Well, come on! Look at that poster on the wall that commemorates that great show that you played! That should be a source of uncomplicated pleasure for you! You have a beautiful poster that commemorates this wonderful show that you remember fondly, how can you find a downside to that?” and then the voice doesn't even need prompting, but it says ”Only someone with a low self-esteem would need a poster to remind him that he had good things in his life. Everything in this room is just some kind of sham reflective surface broadcasting your own life back to you in these discrete chunks to try and make yourself feel better about what a shit job you have done!”

There is no thing that cannot be robbed of all its joy by this friend who sits next to John in the cockpit and whispers in his ear ”Everything that you love is a thing that you love because you are a sham!” John has seen that same thing happen with people who struggle with depression that is more severe than his own and who are no longer on this Earth. He feels lucky that the idea of harming himself has never occurred to him because when it is time for him to go, he is going to take as many motherfuckers out with him as he possibly can. If there isn't a mushroom cloud at least to mark his passage from this world, he really will have failed!

There is no simple solution

Living in a low-level-gray is no way to be, either! Unfortunately John can't get over the hump of thinking that a serotonin reuptake inhibitor or cross tops or exercise or more blowjobs or whatever it is that he gets prescribed by people is going to help. After talking about this he is going to get 1000 tweets from people who are like ”Oh, all you need to do is blah blah blah blah blah!” Please don't send John your cures, thoughtful people, for the love of Christ! As soon as you start talking about it there will be people who want to cure you and the problem is that John has a million reasons why the very principle of trying to seek a cure is not going to work.

It is very rarely as simple as X, because X is what eventually worked for another person. For a lot of Merlin’s friends who have gotten treatment for depression it was a pretty fucking rough go. Sometimes it got worse, sometimes they couldn't get a boner, and sometimes it took two years. Merlin is not trying to say ”Don't look for help!” but don't pretend that it is as simple as drinking some green tea and walking in the woods.

John wonders if what Merlin was saying means that he would be looking into a no-boner future. "Remember when the boner will stare back at you from the boner abyss!" Merlin does not have anything like depression as far as he knows, but if John had Merlin’s poop problems, he would be even more depressed. You just got to be careful about the onions! John can have Merlin onions and Merlin will take John’s lack of occasional lack of mania. The capital D part of depression is that it doesn't feel like it is a veil that can be lifted. It isn't a matter of flicking this bugbear off your shoulder or saying ”Satan, I rebuke thee!”, but it is a good deal more complicated.

Depression as a talent

(Søren) Kierkegaard had mania and depression. For 50.000 years of human history those where useful talents that made people become monks, philosophers, scientists, or conquerors. They are not just handicaps, but they are a very complex rainbow of qualities.

Part of why John’s depression is so hobbling is that he has the resources and the inclination to further isolate himself and to live in an ivory tower. At any time prior in human history, unless he was a very very rich person, he wouldn't be able to do that and he would have been out in the streets and his depression would have been mitigated somewhat by just having to go down to the onion cart and buy an onion every day if he wanted an onion. Merlin’s mania would likewise be assimilated into the culture.

Particularly given that the life expectancy of people was 37 years, by this point John and Merlin would already be dead and they would remember them in their village, like ”He was amazing! You see that church spire? He once climbed up and ranted about how the president was a Muslim for a couple of days before he got tired and fell into the onion cart!”

Depression is a modern diagnosis of mental pathology that also has an upside. John can't see the upside to chronic fatigue syndrome, except that it used to be called Pleurisy and was a thing that very aristocratic women fell victim to. They had to lay on their fainting couch with their ether-soaked opera glasses, and looking back through history, if these modern diagnoses have analogues in the past, a lot of them were considered talents, sometimes bordering on mystical talents.

These people were integrated into the culture like ”Oh, she is too delicate for modern life and we need to bring her lukewarm tea!” while now we are shooting the same person full of hormones or amphetamines most of the time. Psychopharmacology, much like the internet, is still in the bicycle engine stage of aviation where the wings were made of tissue paper and somebody had a 1.5 horsepower single-piston engine and ”They're flying! We can fly! We can affect the brain now, let's do it!”

Is there a "normal" and does John want it?

It all presupposes that there is a correct degree of humanness, that there is an ideal balance to any mind that translates across all minds, and we are seeking this balance, this healing of brokenness. John cannot separate his depression from his personality, which is the problem with schizophrenics who take medicine and don’t feel fun anymore. Admittedly John was living under the Embarcadero, but he was seeing some colors and he didn’t want to take this medicine because it made him feel dull. People give up their job, their apartment and their wife and they go back to living under the bridge because they feel like their mind isn't theirs. John is not sure what amount of healing he is seeking. Has he ever wanted to be ”normal” in the first place? He never assumed it was an option.

One of the many articles Merlin didn't finish reading this week was about the diagnosis of autism in different societies. There are tests about what we consider autism, like ”Do you make eye contact with people? Can you follow this conversation?”, but there are cultures where it would be very disrespectful for a kid to look an elder in the eye while they are talking to them. You might look at their face, but you wouldn't look them in the eye.

It is natural to want to not feel like you are on the edge. Not only craving to be like other people, but you just want to not feel fucked up. It is really depressing and not fun at all to wake up every day and feel off balance before you even get out of bed. That was exactly the feeling John sought from the ages of 16-30. He wanted to feel on the edge all the time. That was how life felt meaningful and real to him.

Young people focusing on a career path (RL55)

A month or two ago John did a video shoot down in in Los Angeles and one of the camera operators was 21 years old. He was a very competent camera operator and John got chatting with him. He said that when he graduated from High School at 16 years old he really wanted to make movies. They were filming an episode of Portlandia in his town and he just went over and hung around until they asked him to get coffee. Pretty soon he was assisting the camera person and later he was running one of the cameras. Now he lives in Hollywood.

There are many examples of people at 16/17 years old who want to be a Rock star, who want to be in Hollywood, who want to be a writer, or who want to be in politics, and they had no doubt about their choice and they just did it. That makes them very accomplished at a young age and they are already on a path. They are not sitting there saying ”What if I should have gone to medical school? What if I should have been an astronaut?”, but they are doing what they love to do. When John was 21 years old he was imagining that he should be doing everything, but he didn't know where to begin and how to get a degree in doing everything.

It was not just inconceivable that John would go down to a film shoot and stand around, saying ”Hey, can I lend a hand?” until somebody says ”Yeah, hey kid! Come over here and hold this!”, but it would have been a waste! Running coffee for some guy, really? John cannot compare himself to somebody like that. He cannot think that this is normal and that the needs to fix what is broken about him to get closer to that, because he doesn’t resemble it in the least bit. John admires those kids, he loves to sit and talk to them in conversation, but comparing his own attributes to theirs would be like comparing his looks to theirs. There is nothing he can do to be that successful, to be that single minded, and to be on a course and be happy with the results.

Assuming there is a bell curve of humanity and we are apportioned different traits by a clockmaker who has put this universe into motion in order to accomplish some inscrutable goal, why would you load up a human person with John’s attributes and set them loose on this world? John does not know what he is contributing or why you would even put so many self-contradictory qualities in one organism and set it loose upon itself. ”Here you go, animal! Go get ’em!” and the animal immediately starts punching itself. ”You don't even know how to punch! You call that a punch?” It is one of the things John would point to in order to say that intelligent design is perhaps not actually how the universe works.

The insidious part is that this always looming self-doubt raises the question ”Why take a step in any direction?” John admires people who build houses for poor people, like Habitat for Humanity. He admires Doctors Without Borders, but he does not feel the pull to help people in that way. The vast majority of the kids John started out with in High School and College knew what they wanted to be.

At 15 years old a whole big group of John’s friends in High School decided they were going to medical school, largely because there was one good biology teacher at East High School in Anchorage that John did not have who was really inspiring. They are John’s age at 45 years old and a lot of them are doctors and have been on that path since they were 15 years old. When John was 20 years old he was living in a fraternity house at Cornell for a summer and one of the guys there was going to join the Navy to be a fighter pilot. He was graduating that summer from Cornell and on his way to flight-training school for the Navy, he had enlisted in the Navy already.

John thinks about that guy periodically, and if he succeeded in getting his wings he is now entering his 23rd year as a Navy pilot. He made that decision and stuck with it, and John assumes that this guy is now a full captain in the Navy who is retired from flying jets and either retired from the Navy or running a battle group somewhere. John contrasts those life-arcs against his own which has mostly consisted of filling up paper bags with stuff from thrift stores and arranging it in piles, periodically losing the thread of which pile of hats belongs in what bag.

It has been 25 years and John is thinking ”Where is my gold watch?” He does have an awful lot of cool hats, something nobody can take away from him! Merlin says that many people would love to be John, but those people have no idea how fat John is when he takes off all the corsets (Merlin totally looses it at that point). John looks like Veruca Salt! Merlin does not like comparing himself to other people, maybe because he is scared to do it, but it feels unproductive. John doesn’t do that either, but it is more an emblem of the darkness that settles on him.

Dreaming of finding a drug deal gone wrong (RL55)

When John first read the book ”No Country for Old Men” he was furious because he had been daydreaming about stumbling on a drug deal gone wrong: Walking through what had clearly been a showdown shootout, finding a truck full of drugs and money that was at the center of this pitched battle, and then pushing the body that is in the driver's seat off into the dirt. He had done it a hundred times before he read this book and was like ”Someone stole my plot!” John is definitely a guy who, if he sees brake lights up a dark road and hears gunshots, is not headed away, but is headed that way through the woods because it is a scenario that has always struck him as plausible.

They actually had the money there, it wasn't going to be a rip off, but an overzealous young lieutenant decided he was going to circle around from behind. Somebody shoots him and, he shoots back, and everybody shoots everybody and then everybody is dead. The cars are all still idling, full of money and drugs. One of them is a suburban full of gym bags full of money because they were buying a metric ton of squeak and the street value of squeak is like minting Krugerrands.

No Country for Old Men caused John to turn that light back on himself and reflect on why he spent so many hours of his life playing out this scenario. Carrying around an easy money fantasy is a big part of being a human being or being an American because you are finally going to be relieved of all of your money tension and happiness will alight on your shoulder like a bluebird of happiness. As John played out this scenario and had this untraceable duffel bag full of pesos, what was he going to do with it?

The reality is: Everything that John would choose to do in that moment is something he could just choose to do right now. ”If I had $10 million, what would I do? I'd move to New York!” Well, just go move to New York if you want to do that! ”I move to New York and I live in a really nice apartment!” Well, go move to New York and within a year or two you will probably have a pretty nice apartment because that is how it goes.

The idea that there would still be things in John’s life he is waiting to pull the trigger on, and the only reason he can't do it is that he has not found a duffel bag of drug money at a crime scene, is an incredible three-way-mirror on himself, because all the other things, the more elaborate choices he would make, like ”I'll move to England and live in a castle!” would result in him being lonely and cold. His friends in England would visit his castle a couple of times and if some of John's friends got a bunch of money and moved into a castle, John would say ”What an asshole!” John would not move to Florida or Southern California either because he has been many times to Florida and Southern California and he doesn’t even want to be there that long just passing through.

What John really wants to do in life is write a book, he wants to have an article in The New Yorker, he wants to be on the board of directors of several Fortune 500 companies where everyone else on the board quivers in terror as soon as he clears his throat and sits forward in his chair, ”Oh shit, don't let it be me this time!” These are not things that any pile of bags of money are going to get for John. Even with all this drug money he would still be dissatisfied, he would still want to write a book, he would still want to be published in The New Yorker, and yet this fantasy is a great comfort.

Staring at a spot on the wall today, John is no longer commanding a space battle group like he did for so many years in his childhood because that is an unrealistic goal. If he was watching C-beams glitter off the shoulder of Orion and saw space battleships on fire outside the Tannhäuser gate (Tears in rain Monologue), he would have a little bit more hope for that possibility, but right now it seems that if he really pursued that he would just be one of those kids playing a multiplayer video game on the Internet and convincing themselves that they are space battle commanders.

Instead John is playing out some scenario where a truck full of money goes off a cliff and he is the only one who happened to see it, which is embarrassing, even personally embarrassing, and he never admitted it to anybody until now but he was pretty embarrassed just because the one ”me” that looks at the other ”me” is like ”Seriously?” Merlin thinks it is pretty mundane, like having your ultimate sexual fantasy be to kiss boobs. $1 million in a bag is not outside John’s grasp. If he really tried single mindedly to do whatever it takes to get a $1 million in a bag, it would maybe take 18 months, and he would probably pull a Keyser Söze.

Winning $300 million in the lottery (RL55)

Merlin hates lottery tickets because they are a tax on poor people and they make it hard for him to get his tequila and his daughter's milk. He gets those at the same place, but it is not a great tequila and it is not super-fresh milk. The other day Merlin waited in line behind a guy who bought $100 worth of lottery tickets. Like with any gambling you don't need to win a lot to keep doing the lottery, but you need to win just enough to know that the system is not totally rigged and to get that little dopamine burst.

This is a very subtle Oscar Wilde The Soul of Man Under Socialism point, but you are getting into such a stupid habit and every time you do it you make that habit stronger. Have you done the fucking most basic modicum of research to find out whether people who win $300 million in the lottery are happy? They are not fucking James Bond, they are not Tony Stark!

They have new problems they never knew existed because they don't have the training to have $300 million. They take their country kitchen aesthetic and everything is a duck in a basket now. They apply it to a 40.000 square foot (3700 sqm) home and put ducks in baskets everywhere, they get a 42 foot (13 m) duck in a 70 foot (21 m) basket. They buy the world's largest duck and now they need the world's largest basket. The fucking basket was supposed to be here by 10:30, and it is not here!

First of all you give half of it away to taxes, and if you don't immediately give the next half away, you are on the road to madness. John has an incredibly active imagination and he cannot think of what he would spend $150 million on. Merlin says John doesn’t have the training. You don't just show up on day one, like ”Oh, I've never been in a fight, but I'm pretty sure I'd be good as a fighter!” Merlin has never run more than half a block to catch a bus without feeling like he is having a heart attack, but he is pretty sure he could run a marathon.

You give away so much in your life by fantasizing about something that would actually not be that great for you and it is different from saying ”I wish I had all the weed in the world!” If John had all the weed he would lord it over all the fucking stoners. ”Want some weed? Where are you going to get it? You get it for me, and you know what? I don't want to give you any weed today! Come back tomorrow, maybe tomorrow I have some weed!”

The first thing John would do if he had $150 million of course is buy both of his neighbors’ houses and tear them down. That would be a great feeling, to walk up to your next door neighbor, knock on the door and say ”Your house is worth $300.000, I am going to throw in an extra $50.000 if you can be out by this afternoon!”

This may be completely apocryphal, but there was a great Craigslist gag, a millionaires club situation, where a bunch of laborers were outside of a labor hall and a guy came up in a truck, picked 15 guys off the street, and said ”You you you and you, get in the truck! I am going to pay you $40 an hour to do some demolition work for me”, and they drove over to a house and he said ”We need to tear this house down!” These 40 guys tore the house to the ground, but the guy never came back and it turned out it was his ex-wives house.

As somebody who already mostly operates with impunity the real shaping influences on John are the opinions of his close friends. Merlin would take $50.000 to like John. He could tear down every house in the neighborhood except that some of his friends would be like ”Hmmm. That wasn’t…” You can't buy your friends’ love, and you can't buy fear, you have to instill fear.

Building a big trebuchet if you win $300 million (RL55)

If John would win $300 million in the lottery, his first plan would be to build a giant trebuchet and huck 50 gallon (190 l) cans of Quaker Oats all over the city, just as a thing nobody was going to expect. People would look up in the sky and see a thing of Quaker Oats that would be a facsimile of a Quaker Oats canister except it was a 50 gallon drum and the perspective of that flying through the sky would give you no sense of how big it was.

As it got closer it would just keep getting bigger and bigger and your mind would think ”Is this thing 50 stories tall?” After it landed there would be Quaker Oats everywhere. John could accomplish that for $600.000, including fines. If John was hucking giant Quaker Oats cans all over the city, he is going to have to pay some fines. He would need one truckload of logs because you could build a trebuchet entirely of logs and you wouldn't need any other parts.

John knows all the power brokers in Seattle and Washington, he is very wired in this community. Most of the people who knew the old school are gone. There are a couple of guys, like Mike Heavey who is a powerful politician, there are Local Paul and Low Green is the son, there are Sally and Clemenza (Godfather reference), there are a lot of sons of guys who were partners of John’s dad, but John has made his own relationships with the new younger generation of politicians here like the bike mayor and the Rock’n’Roll county executive. The Democratic candidate for governor has expressed an interest in liaising with John. If John can get a guy in the governor's chair his Quaker Oats plan is going to be fine.

County executive Dow Constantine loves Rock music. He goes to shows, he is a hip guy, he is John’s bro and he is a powerful local politician. John is going to call him and say ”Listen, I misread the zoning! I thought my neighborhood was zoned for Trebuchets”, like an old woman telling a cop she didn’t see the sign. ”If I had turned it around and was shooting them to the South would that have been alright? Maybe we can forget about this? Here are some tickets to the show!” Merlin loves the word Trebuchet.

Tre Buchet (Trebuchet) being John’s early Internet Punk Rock names (RL55)

Tre Buchet was one of John’s early Internet Punk Rock names and it was also his Friendster profile. No one ever got it, but there was a girl who knew him as Tre Buchet on Friendster and who happened to come to a Long Winters show. She had no sense that John was Tre Buchet, but she had come to the show randomly, she came up to John at the merch table and he recognized her from Friendster. She was like ”That was a great show, oh my God! Amazing! Can I buy your merch?” and John was sitting there thinking ”Should I tell her I am Tre Buchet?” He didn't cop to it, but he sold her his merch, he took his picture with her, he high-fived her and off she went into the night.

John had never outed himself as Tre Buchet because he likes keeping a secret even long after it doesn't need to be a secret anymore. Some of the secrets from World War II are still secrets, not because of the thing itself, but because some of those methodologies are still in play. There are two concepts about espionage and World War II: One is that no Nazi spy survived the war in England undiscovered and the Germans had almost no successful espionage and were getting all planted information.

The other myth is that the British were putting guys in trench coats with briefcases and poison-tipped umbrellas, parachuting them behind enemy lines in Germany, providing all this incredible actionable intelligence. The Germans captured some of them and thought that if they were capturing 50 of these guys it must mean that 500 got through, which served the British to perpetuate the idea that their spies were getting through and they had spies everywhere. They are still fueling some of those myths because you never know when the secret might be useful again.

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