RL80 - I Was the Red Robin

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: There are self-appointed vultures in all the trees, referring to people who are Bruce Springsteen’s private NSA who will hear what John has to say about him and carry it forward, potentially ruining the quite real possibility that he would ever be invited into his house.

The show title refers to John having worked at The Red Robin in Anchorage when he was in school and wearing their costume on a regular basis in the restaurant and outside.

The episode starts with a steam train whistle and Merlin laughing really heartily. John responds singing Merlin’s name. John thinks they should reference Yesterday multiple times. Merlin blooped John on the Skype as a joke because he had been remarked upon how John tends to clear his throat at the top of the episode, so his quote was: ”Clear your throat, because here we go!”, but John saved it for Merlin and wanted him to hear all the little rabbit babies that he kept in his cheeks.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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 being on a carbless diet (RL80)

John is still wandering around through carbless days and he can’t imagine another meat entrée that isn’t going to make him despair because all he wants is spaghetti with cookies on it. He had made a carbless stew and he had also roasted a beef, which is delicious, but he doesn’t have a meat slicer and at least half of the enjoyment that comes out of roast beef is out of the thinness of the slices of the beef (see RW111 when he finally bought one). John likes it rare cooked and very thinly sliced on a fresh french roll, but he can’t have that.

John ate the rest of the stew and is feeling less like diving into a swimming-pool-sized strawberry shortcake. He is getting by, it is is not a torment, but it is a constant feeling of not knowing how to live. All these years he has been hopping from shortcake to shortcake like a Frogger and now he can eat any meat he wants and it is all delicious, but after a week he finds meat to be the most boring food. Merlin thinks it is like having a steady girlfriend.

When Merlin was struggling to make the no-starchy-stuff thing work he discovered that the worst part was before he would eat the actual meat, but if he forced himself to eat something protein-y, the shortcake train desire would abate a little and you realize how much it is in your head.

A week ago someone asked why he wouldn’t just take a celery stick and dip it in a peanut butter jar, but for one he is not four years old at the daycare center, and for two he has literally not eaten a thing like that since 1973 and he cannot of a thing less appetizing. But yesterday, only a week later, he was thinking that this actually sounds very delicious and he already thinks of vegetables in a different way. Give me some vegetables! They fill you up and they dress up your dumb dead shoe leather or whatever thing you eat.

Merlin loves asparagus, broccoli, and spinach sautéed with some cloves of garlic. He has been eating nothing but meat because his family is away and in his head he thinks he should make a little asparagus with a spritz of lemon on it, but he feels like such a fruit when such a thought goes through his head. Then he makes it, it is delicious and he eats it, which is so silly!

John’s friends wanting to go to The Red Robin

One of John’s friends was in town whom he had not seen in many years because he and his family live in St. Petersburg, Russia. They were passing through Seattle and suggested meeting up for dinner, but they wanted to eat at the Red Robin because they are going to go back to Russia for another year and an American style bonsai hamburger with a pineapple ring on it and a strawberry milkshake was their dream. You can get a lot of things in St. Petersburg, but no nachos with strawberry compote on them.

John went out with them and they were tucking their napkins into the front of their shirts: ”Here we go!”, each ordering a 6000 calorie burger and a milkshake while John was getting a Cobb Salad. They looked on him with pity as if he had ordered a glass of radiological liquid. The Cobb Salad was the size of a bear’s head and there is nothing to be sorry about, but John’s friends were eating their burgers in slow motion and were licking their chops while John was there with his egg, slices of turkey and avocado. It is an amazing salad, but nothing he would have ever chosen at a Red Robin. He knows the menu inside and out.

It is like going to a House of Prime Rib and ordering a Fillet of Sole. The only person who is going to ordering that is a guy who is putting a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue before he sits down at the table, and where the scar across his chest from open-heart surgery is still throbbing. For the whole time John and Merlin have known each other, which is now more than 10 years, Merlin has been talking about the House of Prime Rib, and every one of their friends like Scott Simpson, Jason Finn, Jonathan Coulton, John Hodgman, they all talk about going there. Next time they meet they have to go there, not just to the Walgreens.

John working at the Red Robin in Anchorage, wearing their giant bird costume (RL80)

John used to work at the Red Robin, he was the Red Robin. As one of his earliest jobs when he was 17 years old he was a Busboy at the Red Robin in Anchorage. They didn’t trust him to be a waiter because he didn’t have the maturity, but he was running around, bussing tables. One day he was in the back store room and behind all the boxed of dixie cups hanging on a hook was a life-size Red Robin costume, dead, lifeless. It looked exactly like the Alec Baldwin chicken face in Beetlejuice and John was startled and scared.

He mentioned it to the manager who said that for a long time they had somebody wearing that costume, but you have to be big and like to dance and love kids, which all fit John perfectly, so he threw the costume on and went out into the restaurant. Recently it has been shown that severely autistic people make the best sports mascots. People might be completely internal with Rainman-level of autism, but once they are inside that costume they become incredibly animated, social, gifted, child-hugging, cartwheel-turning super-mascots.

John had a similar experience when he put this costume on: For months had been working there toiling as a busboy, the lowest guy on the totem pole, and suddenly he was The Red Robin and everyone in the restaurant wanted him to come over to their table and all the waiters were stepping aside to let him pass and he never wanted to get out of this costume again and inhabited the character of The Red Robin, who is both a mixologist and a burger master.

Merlin has never eaten at the Red Robin, just passed by them. The Red Robin is a red bird with a beanie cap on, carrying a burger like Bob’s Big Boy, and big adorable yellow bird feet and beautiful blue eyes. The Red Robin is a burger chain restaurant that was started in Seattle, but they have burger places all over the country now and their twin selling points were a menu of outrageous burgers with outrageous toppings and a very fun bar component where master mixologists worked, and the term mixologist was coined there.

Their slogan is: ”Gourmet burgers and spirits”, which is a brilliant idea because mom and dad could get a tall drink with 15 shots of liquor in it that tasted like a banana and the kids could have all-you-can-eat seasoned fries and a giant burger covered with Skittles, or whatever kids want. They had amazing food like a Mudd Pie or nachos.

John had such a good time as The Red Robin and was such a success that somebody put him in the back of a truck and drove to all the hospitals where he started visiting sick kids, which was amazing! The hardest part as a sick child in a hospital is that nobody comes except mom and dad for an hour. Half of the kids had no idea that there was a connection to the restaurant, but it was just a giant, freaky bird.

They were doing this really rogue and one of the assistant managers and one of the waiters owned a truck and they decided to go to the hospitals, they didn’t even call ahead, but they just drove to the hospitals, walked in the door, and the nurses in the ER took them back to the kids. There are 50 things about that that would never happen today! As they were driving through town with John in the back of this pick-up truck he would be waving and he really felt like Queen for a day every time he put on this costume.

They started going to the State Fair and everything. The manager loved it because John was not a very good busboy and that summer all of a sudden The Red Robin was literally everywhere in Anchorage. You could not get John out of that suit and every time somebody opened an envelope he was there in The Red Robin costume. It was a silent role and John didn’t say anything, but he was just bouncing and jumping and dancing. Everybody in the world should walk into a hospital ward of sick kids, dressed as a giant bird! The looks of pure joy and adulation on these little faces! It wasn’t John’s first job, but as one of his first jobs it was a hell of a revelation.

John has a tremendous soft spot for Red Robin, even as they have succumbed to cost-cutting measures such that their current Mudd Pie is a shadow of its former self. For old Mudd Pies they literally opened a 2-quart jar of peanut butter and just turned it upside down on this chocolate ice cream pie and you would get dizzy and have to sit down from just smelling this ice cream cake pie. Merlin is amazed John didn’t have to go through six weeks of training and sign a bunch of insurance forms before he put on the suit.

Merlin had his 10th birthday at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and made a pig of himself and got the ribbon on his toy box. John ate the pig’s trough at Farrell’s as well (see RW7, RL171, OM138). They would bring out this ice cream thing on a stretcher and they were all wearing straw boaters. You could just sit there and eat 21 scoops of ice cream and it had basically everything you could conceivably put on there (actually it is 6 scoops).

John doesn’t prefer an Onion Roll for a burger. Some of the Red Robin burgers will sit you down! Those fried onions are very generous.

The time when John didn’t have the right pants for a fancy dinner at the house that was too big (RL80)

This is about M.C. Hammer’s 40th birthday party, but it was probably his 50th birthday party because the street car tweet was from 2012. They mention the Japanese Soaking Tub in RL380. Also they mention Merlin insulting the house in RL268, and it was the time when John spit on the street car, as was mentioned in RL255.

One time when John was visiting Merlin they were rushing to go to dinner with Mr. Fancy Pants and the two other guys at a fancy restaurant on Van Ness Avenue in Nob Hill. John had not checked the pair of pants he had grabbed and it turned out those were little-boy-pants, which is a thing that drives Merlin nuts with people. All John had to wear with his suit jacket were big Richard Nixon shorts, which made him look like a beefy Angus Young. Merlin even has a blurry photo from that evening of John in shorts looking very anxious, and he put it up on his Flickr.

They were already late for dinner, they were on the other side of town, and their crappy Goodwill only had tiny-men clothes or clothes in XXXL, all for $80, and triple-plaid pants which John wouldn’t touch with his hands. They were hauling ass to The Castro, parked in a Zipcar spot at a gas station, which made Merlin very uncomfortable, and John, wearing basically a suit jacket and his underwear, ran into a vintage thrift store on Market Street in that fancy strip between a Church and The Castro. It was a really upscale curated store where you can’t get a skinny tie for $1.

He shouted: ”men’s pants!”, he ran into the back, flipped through their pants, and only found a bunch of Hammer Pants until he eventually came upon an amazing pair of reproduction full-leg, buckle-back, high-waist, early style pants made of very heavy wool that were very outdoorsy and that a forest ranger in the 1920s would have worn. Not only were those the right pants, but they were dynamite and everybody in this Nob Hill steakhouse is going to have to reevaluate what they chose, which is how John likes to walk into a place.

John went into the dressing room, wore the pants out, left his shorts behind, and waited behind a guy who was dressed like Ichabod Crane, wearing a tri-cornered hat, and who was there buying pukka-shells. John threw cash down where he didn’t have to wait and ran back up to the gas station where Merlin was sitting in the Zipcar spot, drumming his fingers on the dashboards, and off they went, hauling down the road. By the time they got to Van Ness Merlin thought he was going to die. John was Gene Hackman in The French Connection, banging on the dashboard, and they were going fast like they were chasing the heroin dealers.

Merlin would have taken the shorts because you never know what is going to happen and you might want to go skinny dipping later. After the dinner everybody had a few cocktails and was smoking pot out of an e-cigarette and Merlin made fun of John’s friend, which was pretty great, calling attention to the fact that John’s friend had a vulgar taste in houses. There are a couple of situations where Merlin shuts down and gets very mad. When people are lying compulsively is one of them, and the other one is when people are ostentatious insecure falsely-fancy high-status douchebags, like when somebody says: ”This is my Thursday-BMW” - ”Wow, that is a really expensive car!” For a while he will play along, but then it gets to: ”Wow, that is a really big boat!” because he doesn’t know what else to say and he is not going to be a complicit Vichy.

It is the same reason he can’t stand fake-friendly tchotchke waiters, it makes him apoplectic. ”Stand up like a gentleman and take my fucking order! Hold the tomato between your knees!” This party was fantastic because every new room they went to in this house was like a curtain parting and revealing a new level of pretentious vulgarity, like a Japanese Soaking Tub and the shower stalls with pebble floors. He had a bathroom with its own bathroom! Merlin just went louder and louder: ”Wow, how much did that cost? You must have really spent a lot of money on that!” and the guy was oblivious to it. ”That is a really large piece of granite! This is an artwork that must have been very expensive in the store!”

At one point they were standing on the roof of his 5-story house and everybody was looking at a panoramic view of beautiful San Francisco and John looked off the backside of the house and down in the cavern between his giant house and a little 1920s bungalow that was behind it with only a 5-foot space between it and his house and John realized that for 90 years this bungalow had an incredible view of San Francisco from its yard, and then this giant 2001 A Space Odyssey modernist monolith slammed into the vacant lot on the corner and blocked out the light, and as they were all standing around smoking pot with the e-cigarette, John excluded, he asked their host about the neighbors and he just looked down at the bungalow and said: ”Oh, I don’t know!” and they went back talking about the music business. He doesn’t even know them!

He is a super-nice guy and John never said a bad word about him. Sweet guy, never married. It was in that style that became popular when lofts started getting big in San Francisco - a place that is a bit where people would work and it looks little like a boat and the stairs have high-tensile-strength wire instead of normal slats, the front door is extra big and it slides, like in the meat-packing district, you got lights with covers over them so when you are unloading with your fork lift you won’t accidentally knock out your porch light. In most places they made that on purpose in 1998 to look like that. It is not even as cool as living in a tree house, it is the single 45-year old man version of a race car bed, not that there is anything wrong with that because Merlin is sitting there reading Batman comics.

University of Washington Football Stadium being non-appealing (RL80)

The other day John drove past the new University of Washington Football Stadium, which they are rebuilding. His dad was an ardent fan and they used to go to every game they could and sit in the absolute highest seats. And one time he fell and rolled (see story some other place) He was astonished and gapemouthed to the point where he almost had to pull over at the fact that the $700 million bond that they had to pass to build this thing and all the architects that had to rubber-stamp this plant, that they had made this 50.000 seat football stadium look like a Panera Bread. It is so architecturally undefined, like Tinker Toys plus foe brick. Well done!

There was surely 10% for art in the budget and when you walk in there is probably a statue of a seagull or Joe Theismann, but the exterior is not unappealing, but it is non-appealing. You look at it and your heart just keeps bumping at the same rate it was pumping before.

Food at a football game (RL80)

John has never been to a Giants game, but they have a very fancy stadium, way ahead of the curve. It used to be Candlestick Park and John thinks they had a whole kayak team to catch their old balls, but there are actually interns that work as unpaid ball catchers. It had the garlic fries, the Red Bull with the sourdough bread balls (?), they got one of these in Seattle as well and it has a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in it (The Seattle Wolfgang Puck is in MoPOP), it is like airport food (Wolfgang Punk Express), like California Pizza kitchen.

The stadium John was talking about looks garish, but has things like Sushi because Seattle is known for its seafood. Merlin’s wife won’t shut up about those noodles they got that one time (when they were in Seattle), the high nutrition shaved barley green noodles, those were awfully good.

Frozen bacon (RL80)

Recently John made 2 pounds of bacon, as you do, to the point that it was crisp, but still warm and pliable, he got little half-sized Ziploc snack bags that are only good for 10 candy corns, and he put 4 strips of bacon per Ziploc bag, pushed all the air out of the bag, and was stacking those bacon pod servings in the freezer. The first time he thought of bacon he grabbed one of them, and on his way to the microwave to put it in for a 30 second reheat he broke off a pice and put it in his mouth and he realized that frozen bacon is the popsicle of the Gods!

Because of the natural crunchy meaty consistency of bacon, freezing it does not change its consistency at all and it is still just like crispy bacon, but it is cold. You can also crunch up that mini bag with your fist and use it as topping for your quarter ice berg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing. John is now in the process of figuring out a new use for four strips of frozen bacon every day.

Making bacon is a little bit of a production, almost like making pancakes, it takes a few minutes, your whole house gets greasy as fuck, it is terrible, but once you are making bacon it is much less effort to keep making bacon because at that point you have bacon inertia and making 2 pounds is like making 10 pounds. Merlin always thinks he has enough of bacon and he will buy 3 pounds of bacon whenever John comes to visit him, but like with crab legs it is never enough.

Merlin pretends to take a call from Ryan from Grand Rapids who has a question about things he could do with leftover roast beef.

Twitter (RL80)

Merlin hates it when people talk about food. It is like orgasms and farts, he just doesn’t want to think about anybody else’s. John also never wants to talk about anybody else’s farts, except half of Twitter is now people talking about their farts. He loves thinking about other people’s orgasms.

3-4 times in John’s Twitter life he has followed a few people and then followed the people that they seemed to think were the best and pretty soon you end up in a cul-de-sac, which Merlin calls the Paul F. Thompkins singularity, but John had ended up in the Jake Fogelnest camp, you follow people, you unfollow, and now John is over somewhere in a sideland that feels like the center of everything, but it is really just what this group of people is talking about and John is ready to back out of that room quietly and close the door behind him. Some of those people are superstars of Weird Twitter and various Twitter comedians.

Merlin doesn’t like to follow that many people on Twitter that are like him, or too many comedy insiders because it is too exhausting and it is not funny. Ken Marino is funny, for example, but last time Merlin watched Louis C.K., which is one of his all-time favorite performers, his Twitter was like the bulletin board at the laundromat.

The people John is really enjoying on the Internet now are the ones that selflessly curate a stream of interest, a stream of consciousness, like a microblog. Somebody should invest in that idea, John might be a thought leader, but we probably need to get Elon Musk on this.

Google Balloons (RL80)

Bill Gates thinks that the Google Balloon story might not be a good idea. Merlin was with him until he started talking about Malaria. Few people help the world the way his foundation helps the world.

The new Pearl Jam single (RL80)

The new Pearl Jam single (probably Mind Your Manners) might be the first Pearl Jam song he really likes. Every once in a while Pearl Jam surprises with a new Rock jam that is a totally valid and rad Rock jam. On the whole, John likes all of those guys personally, they are the Bruce Springsteen of the Northwest. John understands why people like Bruce Springsteen, he understands his appeal, but he does not move John personally.

Bruce Springsteen (RL80)

John has a friend, a British guy, who has become a personal friend of Bruce Springsteen and goes over to his house. He will blow up John’s phone: ”Guess where I am?” and then it is him and Bruce hanging out. He seems like an amazing guy who is generous in a quiet way and John is dying for the opportunity to go to his house, which is not completely unrealistic, but it is conceivable that John would be in the New Jersey area and his friend will say: ”Why don’t we drop in on Bruce?” - ”Fuck yes, let’s do this!”

Merlin was shielding himself because he really likes Bruce Springsteen and he doesn’t want to get into a thing that makes him cry. John is afraid there is a Bruce Springsteen NSA, and he probably doesn’t care, but John is afraid of all the people out in the bushes around his house. When he gets there he is not sure what to tell him either, like: ”I really like how you dominated the culture of America during my High School years, it was really amazing!”

A.J. Weberman was the self-appointed Bob Dylan scholar who used to go through Dylan’s trash, then Dylan would come out and yell at him and he would record the conversation. It is super-creepy! It is like being a royal watcher. There are self-appointed vultures in all the trees, watching everybody. As you are driving up the long lane with giant Alder trees on either side that leads up to Bruce Springsteen’s house and there are probably some $150.000 thoroughbred horses trotting alongside your car, there will be a personal Union Steam Boat, steel mill, people building automobile tires, your rental minivan suddenly transforms into a 1957 T-bird (Ford Thunderbird), like you are in Willy Wonka land!

Chris Christie is up there with binoculars and a crossbow, like: ”You don’t love Bruce enough!” The list of people who love Bruce and who should go to his house before John is 15 million people. Merlin thinks that John is like an amazon.com of wrong, he doesn’t even know where to begin. John doesn’t like Bruce Springsteen as a person, he doesn’t like his music, he has nothing to talk to him about, but he is worried that his personal NSA, which includes a still Ruther Portley Boman (?) is going to somehow get this information and scotch the trip that John doesn’t want to have with the musician that he doesn’t really likes. It is just within reach!

Bow and Arrows, martial arts movies (RL80)

It is like driving up a country road and you have the feeling that there are people in the trees, scorning you. Merlin has been disturbed by trees and he has been thinking about bows and arrows lately because he has watched a martial arts movie from the Wuxia genre called Hero (from 2002) with Jet Li, which is the greatest martial arts movie of all time. He is the one who runs along the tree tops, but much better than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They have some great bow and arrow scenes. Imagine seeing 15.000 arrows coming at you? It is the scariest thing Merlin can think of.

The have talked about the Battle of Hastings (see RL61) and the lack of bowmen on the English side, they have talked about the Battle of Agincourt. A rain of arrows, it is not like a bullet where you don’t see it coming, but you do see it coming and you just don’t know which one has your name on it. You crouch down, put your little wood shield over your head, and in most cases getting an arrow in the knee is no better than one between the eyes. You are just going to die of infection now! You are going to sit there, they are going to have to move on, and the best thing that can happen is if your friend comes up and kills you. Imagine getting shot in the gut with an arrow.

When you survive an attack of archers you probably feel pretty good about yourself, especially if you become a Banjo-playing standup-comedian. He was a really stupid comedian who was so funny, but it has not aged well (probably Steve Martin). Among the majors Richard Pryor has aged best, but Robin Williams,… Bob Newhart stands up 1000 times better, he is totally bulletproof and still funny and so weird in its way. The Button Down Mind and the One-sided film conversation are funny.

Merlin’s daughter’s first contact with cassettes (RL80)

One time Merlin’s family was renting a house in another state and the owner had at least 150 cassette tapes. They are probably 5-8 years older because they had 3 Pat Benatar records, 5-6 Billy Joel records, and 3 R.E.M. albums. It was the first time Merlin’s daughter ever saw a cassette tape, which was really fucking funny. She didn’t know how to open the case because they are so weird and fragile, the later ones had a full U-card. The Western State Hurricanes only ever made a cassette and John still has a couple of them, but by the time the first Long Winters records came out everybody knew that cassettes were not a viable form of releasing music.

Merlin went through a phase where he had a stereo, but to listen to it in his car ca 1988 he had to dub it from the LP to the cassette, which was an art to get the loudness exactly right. His friend Richard had a CD-player that would scan the entire CD to find the loudest point so you could set the level correctly. It was not a Nakamichi, but maybe a McIntosh or a Fisher. It was an intermediate medium because unless you were John Lennon you didn’t have a record player in your car, but if you bought the cassette copy of something it sounded like shit compared to the album. John never did that once and it never made sense to him. Merlin did buy cassettes. He had the Steve Vai one by Alcatrazz (Disturbing the Peace) and the Rainbow one with Since You’ve Been Gone (Down to Earth) and he paid $8 for that.

Billy Joel, the fake-earnest small-town stories (RL80)

It was also Merlin’s daughter’s first introduction to Billy Joel and Merlin might be a bit back into him. He has a couple of really good records. He is perfect for someone Merlin’s daughter’s age, it is the same intellectual level. It is kid’s music! Merlin sings a line from Allentown and John agrees that this is a great jam. Merlin thinks it is a great record (The Nylon Curtain), it is his Beatles record. John still catches himself singing it. So many songs from 1981-1990 suffer from a very thin production, Merlin is not even going to go into the gated snare. The keyboards are so lame! There is one song called Surprises that is really good, it has a Prophet synthesizer or something.

This was before the Yamaha DX7, and when that became popular it was on every record for the next 5 years. The Tina Turner’s Private Dancer record with What’s Love Got to Do With It sounds to Merlin like somebody in a mall is playing a demo of the DX7. That fake harmonica that was on every record! It is like church music. John should make a record. Full stop. But it should be with gated snares and DX7 harmonicas and RadioShack sounds. Merlin wants to be the one to sing like Billy Joel on that record. Billy Joel’s lyrics are not always great and sometimes they just don’t make sense. Merlin never realized it until this listen-through over this vacation. At one point in Allentown he says something about the graduations hanging on the wall, but what does that even mean?

There is a scene in Deer Hunter that lasts for 45 minutes where they are sitting in a bar of an Upstate town, instead of getting to fucking Vietnam, but they are showing a bunch of families that have been living there for generations and the dad and the granddad worked at the factory, and they are just sitting in this bar with Schaefer beer signs on the walls. That scene is so long and unendurable and the whole point is to make you feel what it is like to grow up in one of these Pennsylvania shit-hole towns. Every time John sees that scene he is just transported into the mind of Billy Joel, his whole oeuvre and all his fans are living in those first 45 minutes of Deer Hunter.

One of the songs, New York State of Mind, sounds like a cross between Tony Bennett and Randy Newman, and to Randy Newman’s peril over the years, and to stupid people’s fault, he writes songs that are from a character’s point of view. Short People is not about short people being inferior, but about some dickhead thinking that. He sings as this character, as a slave master, and he is the expert at it. Billy Joel also sings from a character, but every character is him, like a first draft of a 5-paragraph essay. John thinks that it is Billy Joel singing like John Lennon singing like Tony Bennett. There is one song on The Nylon Curtain album Layla Leila Karen Jennifer, a Tom Waits song (Merlin is just joking because he couldn’t remember the name of the song called Laura).

Merlin comes back to the line that the graduations hang on the wall, but they never really helped us at all, and he still can’t make sense of it. Billy Joel is also in a weird zone where you can’t tell if it is a parody or not. John thinks it clearly isn’t a parody, but it reads like a parody. There are certain ways of singing where only Brian Wilson (from the Beach Boys) sings like that. He is used to chewing up the carpet in these casinos up in Schenectady. He is like David Copperfield, he lost any sense… and he lost it in 1972, he never had it.

John is coming at it from a different perspective because he grew up in America, but also far away from America in the great state of Alaska. American was already a fetish item to them because places like Eastern Pennsylvania were incredibly exotic. Some Adirondack mining town was as exotic a place as any place in the Ural mountains, it was just as foreign. John came at all of that culture, including little Johnny Cougar (John Mellencamp) and Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen… John Cougar came into a farm aid phase, where… Bob Rock did not produce that record, he did not go from Kiss to John Cougar. Bob Rock did not produce Shania Twain, that was Mutt Lange, but they are all fake hardland people, and that sense of hardland was a thing that John only understood as a cartoon, it was not a thing he had direct exposure to, but it seemed cartoonish already

It is like the first time you come to New York and you ask a cop which way the World Trade center is and the guy turns to you and tells you it is right over there in a certain accent, and you realize that this is real. You hear all these jokes about the Transit Authority, not the album The Chicago Transit Authority by Chicago, but the bus terminal; When you come there you realize that it is exactly as you imagined and it is horrible, with people laying in urine and nobody is actually waiting for any transit.

Bob Seger has some good songs, but it exactly underscored how silly that fake-earnest successful Rock musician thing is. That is the jumping-off point for the whole ”love it or leave it” America culture, which existed a long time before. It was a cartoon when Billy Joel, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen were caricaturing it because it was a thing that goes back to World War II, those guys are nostalgic about the war or about their father’s experiences of coming home. We are all still suffering PTSD from having won the war and then not creating an Utopia, but 20 years later having race riots.

There was a time in America where a man with a High School education could get a job in an Automobile factory. That was a thing! There was the G.I. Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944), you can get hagiographic about it, but Merlin thinks that was a pretty good time!

The book The Farm, fake nostalgia (RL80)

Not very long ago John read the book The Farm (by Louis Bromfield, see RW22), written in the early part of the 20th century, but in a very modern voice. It is a nostalgic, but wise worldly book about a guy looking back in his own family to the setting of the plains, when his great-grandfather arrived in Ohio, cleared the land and built the farmhouse that today is the oldest building in Akron. At the time it was all farm, they lived together in one room while they were clearing the forest, and eventually they built on a second and third room until they built a mansion.

From our perspective we are able to cast back in our own imaginations and through our family histories and news-reels and books only so far before the reality of historical times becomes just a constellation of images. We don’t have sense of what it was really like, but we have just put together some pictures in our minds from books and movies. This guy was writing this book in a time prior to media. He was a modern person and a modern thinker, but he had access to his grandparents who were till alive and who were pre-Civil War homesteaders, and they were able to tell stories about their grandparents who arrived on the scene in 1790.

This book is a spectacular glimpse of… he is experiencing nostalgia for sleigh rides, that Currier and Ives nostalgia that we don’t even know. We see a picture or we sing a Christmas Carol of people riding in a horse-drawn sleigh and it is part of our collective culture, but this guy is talking with nostalgia about these things that have been lost to the motor car in a way that makes you feel it fist hand and you recognize that voice: ”It used to be that a man could make his living off the land!” Sure, they had an indentured servant who lived there, an Irish guy who came over there, they paid his passage and he worked for them his entire life, but they put his kids through school and one of them is now a barber.

Whenever John thinks about nostalgia, by the time that wave has reached us, 85% of what we think of as American culture is just misremembered nostalgic mythology. We are such self-mythologizers, we are such a young country, still, and yet we have all these epic heroes and all these fallen martyrs. The race of technology over the last 200 years feels like an American story more than any other, like the motorcar or the steam engine, although they were invented in England.

When John hears Billy Joel’s nostalgia for the post-war factory worker in the context of even the 40 years before his dad got a job at the mill, let alone the 140 years before, it just feels like: ”Urgggh!” Merlin’s theory is that until you become senile in life, information and memories really only flow one way. Things rarely become less complicated as you get older, and the stories that you tell are like: ”I wish I was 14 again and I would do that differently!” or ”I wish I had a job making the equivalent of what I make now, except I spend less!” Everything feels so simple back then!

Every generation thinks their kids are getting stupid and dangerous, there has never been a generation that thought their kids were better than they were. They might have wanted more for them, but they got more sass-mouth, they had more intercourse, they are doing more alcohol and drugs, they are doing more dangerous careless things and they don’t have to work as hard. Things were simpler because a bunch of people died because there were no vaccinations, it was simpler because white people ran everything and you didn’t have to be confused by the black lady at the Starbucks, it was simpler in a way that benefitted you, but ”the good ole days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems” (lyric Keeping The Faith by Billy Joel).

You were a little kid and you remember it that way because you didn’t know enough to know how fucked-up everything was. Merlin can’t get passed how people just used to die for dumb reason, losing a hand to farm machinery, getting some dumb disease. The other day Merlin’s family had a health scare that he doesn’t want to get into and that turned out just being a mixup at the hospital, and there was the potential that Merlin’s family had been exposed to a deadly disease, and that is the kind of thing that used to happen all the time! Your kid is going to be blind and loose an arm because they did this one thing. They are going to get polio and walk around with a brace on their leg for the rest of their lives.

John’s mom’s boyfriend (RL80)

John’s mom’s relationship with Johnny Roadster has run its course, it happened very fast, fortunately for John his mother is still herself and did not get swept away, but came back to her senses.

John feeling he has too much stuff, worthless collections, hoarding (RL80)

John continues to hold out the possibility that he will sell everything and move onto a sail boat. As much as he recognizes that this is a terrible idea, it is also an inescapable one and at one point he is going to have to do this.

John has a lot of experience of going to estate sales with his friend Chad, who goes to even more than John does. You see people’s collections that they were hoping were going to stave off death, but their kids don’t want their 150 shot-glasses in a custom-made case on the wall, and they end up being just another thing that some estate sale company had to put a little price tag on. A lot of it gets sold and a lot of it just goes to the thrift store.

Hoarding and collecting crapola is exceptionally common, it seems like one of the number one ways that people build a framework to hold back time, to build a sugar-candy memory-dam, collecting books they had never read and that they will never read, useless item upon useless item. It is also an aspiration sink, all the things that should happen, the yacht-club that they one day going to join, the sail boat that they one day are going to move onto.

John looks at his own collection of everything. He loves R. Crumb, and over the years he has collected a great number of R. Crumb comics because every time he saw one he would buy it. Now he holds onto them because part of him imagines that he will introduce his children to the work of R. Crumb and their minds will be expanded, but he knows that this is not going to happen. The chances of John’s daughter going through his books and finding R. Crumb and finding him at all interesting and appealing are next to zero.

John is in his 40s right now and he is carrying these R. Crumb with him, and he is looking at them on a shelf and is thinking that he could schlepp these around for 40 more years. Maybe he will read them one more time, but he doesn’t consult them, they are just books among the 10.000 books he has. John is beginning to think that it should all go, including everything but the very smallest box of family photos. The rest of it… if John needs to read The Hobbit again, he can surely find a copy, and the copy of The Hobbit he has is one he has checked out from a library 30 years ago and never returned it, it still has the Dewey Decimal tags on the side, he should probably take it back.

Merlin suggests John could also keep the favorite thing of each, his favorite candelabra, his favorite pair of cowboy boots, his favorite braille Playboy, box the rest up, put it in a storage shed for 6 months and see how he feels about it. Then he might miss those braille Playboys and he could frame 5 of them and put them on the wall and make it a thing. John’s real problem is the inertia. That stuff hasn’t moved and neither has he. You can’t slice tomato unless you buy a knife, and that is going to

When John was younger he was acquiring these things because he was imagining populating his future life with them and people would come into his house and would be astonished by his 1/2 scale replica of the Fokker Triplane. They would say: ”My God, man! Does it fly!” - ”I got it in Africa!” But now John is presently in his life and all of this stuff literally is his Bruce Wayne library that has not a 1/2 scale Fokker Triplane, but a 1/8th scale. John conflates the Fokker Triplane and the Ford Trimotor, but it is not clear which one he has a model of.

It isn’t just continuously accumulating, but he also feels like Ötzi the Austrian glacier man, stuck with his little bag of Müsli and his home-made fur boots. Merlin doesn’t know what character John is referring to. It is not a guy in a cough-drop commercial, and not Lucy (Australopithecus) who is just a bone fragment in a story, but this is a guy who had been frozen in a glacier in Austria. Lucy is just a fragment of a jaw and a good tale, which sounds like a John Cougar song, but this guy who died in a glacier and was frozen for literally thousands of years, the whole time he was in that glacier with his little bag of grain and his quiver of arrows, he was probably thinking: ”Why do I have so much stuff?” Now John is Ötzi (John says ”Jotzel”) and his stuff is the glacier, but what is the grain?

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