RW125 - Wrong since 1988

This week, Dan and John talk about:

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The show title refers to John’s leather jacket he bought in 1988 and that has never been quite right. It has been wrong for 30 years since 1988.

Dan had a long lunch meeting, but accomplished nothing. You go in thinking you are going to get some stuff done, but nothing gets done. John had a long on-boarding call with a sponsor the other day and was wondering why he was there, because nothing got accomplished.

Dan is super-tired and he does not have any topics, but he is leaning on John. John never comes with anything to say or do.

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

Playing the MBMBAM intro live (RW125)

MBMBAM was playing in town and because their theme song is by The Long Winters, they asked John to play the intro in person, which was a fun idea. John likes those young men because they are very funny. They sat around backstage with lots of laughs. Tonight they are doing another show here in Seattle where they are playing D&D with their dad and both shows sold out a 2600 capacity theater, the largest theater in town where you can do a thing like that, which is a pretty impressive podcast enterprise.

Tattoos (RW125)

For many years, between 1986 and 1996, John considered getting a tattoo. It was during a time when tattoos experienced a dramatic explosion of popularity and John was right in the center of a culture of people who decided that they had always wanted tattoos and it was what they needed now. Tattoos were getting put on all around him right and left, he was in a dust devil of tattoos, but at no point in time did he decide that a tattoo would suit him. From that time forward there was no subsequent second explosion of the popularity of tattoos, but they just expanded. It was like one of those old films of small nuclear weapon test-shots where there is a flash and then it expands outwards. You see the shock wave and the cloud just keeps getting bigger and bigger. That is what tattoos were from about 1990 on, but the wave passed John by when he was around 20 years old.

The first of John’s friends who got a tattoo, they were still in High School, was James Swanesson, who is still alive and he and John see each other on Instagram. James got a tattoo of a skull smoking a joint on his forearm, which was a classic one to get, and it was a powerful statement to roll into High School with. James was very his own man and he didn’t feel bound by the same conventions John felt bound by. John has told the story of going into a tattoo parlor in Boulder, Colorado and asking for a tattoo when he was a week away from being 18. The artist said John needed to come back after he was 18 because it was a tattoo parlor right on the hill there in Boulder right off-campus and he knew no to give 17-year-olds tattoos, but 17-year olds all around have tattoos now and maybe he just thought John was an idiot. By the time John turned 18 a week later he thought that his tattoo idea was stupid and ever since then no idea has gotten any better.

John could get ”Pay me!” tattooed on his palm like Jesse James the motorcycle builder, or ”Love Hate” across his knuckles like that character in Do The Right Thing, except he had rings, not tattoos. John has a lot of friends who are just covered in tattoos, but he himself is still a tattoo-less virgin. If they ever fish his body out of the Hudson river, John wants it to be a problem for them to identifying him. It will be a headless and handless body, so they won’t have any teeth either. Whatever twists and turns his life will have to take to have him end up decapitated and without his hands thrown into the Hudson river, he would like to continue the mystery and not give the police an easy task, because it is much better for everyone to wonder what happened instead of having some inglorious… ”He was identified by his Love Hate knuckle tattoos.” - ”Buuuuuh!” -"He was identified by the Mr Yuck sticker he had on his arm in 1986". They have talked about Mr Yuck in Episode 35. John probably mentioned in that episode that he always regretted not getting his ear pierced and now it is too late because his character is established.

Evolving your personality (RW125)

John is evolving along a path. It is entirely possible, and people do it all the time, to completely and utterly reinvent yourself. John could show up tomorrow with a backwards baseball-cap, some Oakley Blade sunglasses and the keys to a Quad Velociraptor 4-Wheel off-road vehicle. He could be chewing tobacco and he could say ”Let’s get her done!”, but that would be an invalid adoption of a completely other value system. It would not be a reinvention, but it would be a crime-sham.

Although that seems exaggerated, there are a lot of instances where people decide they want to reinvent themselves and they do something just as ridiculous. If you are adopting a persona that is a product of a value system, it is not just a reinvention, but an adoption of a completely new system of values and having so little a system of values in you that you can adopt a different system of values whole-cloth, that is not John!

John would question everyone who says ”Now I am a Rastafari” - ”Really?” What could have happened in your life that could have provoked such an incredible transformation? ”I just wanted to change it up!” Rastafarianism is a life-credo and in order for you to adopt it, you would have had to have a lightning-bolt moment where you realized that Jah in the person of Haile Selassie is the one true king of Africa. You can’t just enjoy the music of Steel Pulse and decide you are going to just change it up, but John does see that happen. People pivot and try to erase and start over, but that requires them to have no investment in their previous system of values. You can't be in your 40s and not have developed at least a credo!

John attaches all of those different personae and he cannot but see for instance Tom Waits or somebody with knuckle-tattoos as public performances stemming from their core values, something they have developed over time. Those tattoos are not just decorative, but they express experience and intention. Tom Waits’ whole thing is that with each passing year it becomes more real because he has lived for that much longer. It is not just a hat, but a whole life has gone into it.

That is why John has such a hard time wearing a Stetson outside: He loves Stetsons, he thinks they are beautiful hats and he appreciates everything about them like the history and the craftsmanship, but there is something about the way John has lived his life that is not on the same path as someone who decides to adopt a Stetson in mid-life as a new expression of something. It would not be consistent with how John has lived up until now. He collects Stetsons and he wears them around the house, but what they would project if he wore them outside is a thing he is not comfortable with, because it isn’t true to who he is.

John doesn’t feel inhibited by who he is, he is not sitting here going ”I wish I could wear a Stetson outside, but I can’t because I am embarrassed” John could absolutely wear a Stetson outside anytime he wanted, but it is not something he is comfortable doing. This is part of developing a creed: It absolutely comes with stakes! As you develop and live it over time, you preclude being able to do other things. John cannot wear dreadlocks, it would be impossible for 1000 reasons. He has made his choices early on and those choices mean that he can never wear dreadlocks. Dreadlocks can be a religious expression or a Beaver Hat worn by an orthodox jew, but while a Stetson can not be quite that, John doesn’t think it is the hat, though. He is going to leave it up to the theologists if a Beaver Hat is equivalent to dreadlocks.

John’s fashion is constantly evolving according to the rules he has set and lives according to. He could get a tattoo and not have it be inconsistent with the choices he has made. Getting a tattoo would even get him closer to being able to wear a Stetson outside. It would be a fork in the road that he could still arrive at now at age 50. John thinks about this a lot. In 1988 he bought a leather jacket, but it turned out to be the wrong leather jacket. It was early in Northwest street rock culture and he had a lot of friends with motorcycle jackets who looked good in them. John had a denim jacket, which was a fine solution for him, but he was dicking around with people in leather jackets all the time and he also wanted a leather jacket. When he eventually got one it was wrong, but he had invested money in it and it was hard for him then as it is now to acknowledge that he had spent money on a thing that was wrong.

Rather than holding on to it and have it keep being wrong for years and years, because he didn’t want to lose money, he should just have written it off and start over again, but he didn’t. John still has that leather jacket and it has been wrong since 1988! For 30 years he has been schlepping this jacket around and every once in a while something will happen, like some retro Rock show or some kind of event, and John will pull that leather jacket back out and wear it to the thing. He felt the whole time that this jacket was never right.

What he could have done, if he had know what he knows now, is to put this jacket back into the pond. He would have lost money on it by taking it down to the Ye Oldie Trading Post and he would have waited for the right leather jacket to come around. If he had found the right leather jacket in 1988, it is possible that he could be wearing it still and it could be his signature jacket. When you thought of John, you would think of him in that jacket. This would inexorably have led to a pair of boots that went with the jacket and the boots would be a thing as well.

Through the purchase of one leather jacket John could have charted a course in 1988/89 along a line where the jacket and the boots would have suggested how tight his jeans were and the tightness of his jeans would have suggested weather or not he wore a chain around his neck. All of that would have fed into the decision to get a tattoo at some point that would have said ”Man’s ruin” and had a naked girl with devil horns jumping out of a hoop of fire. Any of that were possible pasts, but that leather jacket was wrong and John felt corny in it.

John remembers one instance in 1990 where he went around a corner wearing that jacket, a pair of sunglasses and a pair of blue jeans with the knees ripped and cuffs at the bottom. It was next to the Seattle Central Community College in the middle of a busy day with people coming and going. He was in a group of people leaving the school and there was a group of people coming into the school on a crowded sidewalk. John ran headlong into a gay man who was about 5’2” (160cm), just diminutive in every way, and he was probably 40, but he seemed very old to John then.

This was at that moment in gay culture where everyone was working toward being out, but gay culture was not mainstream by any means and there was still a real thread of hilariously caddy meanness that went through the center of middle-aged gay culture. 40 year old gay men were vicious and hilarious. This caddy awfulness that was wickedly funny it is one of the great things that was unfortunately lost between the 1990s and now. John bumped into this guy and he stopped, took a look at John up and down, took a step back and went ”Oh, you are perfect!” He meant it to devastate John and was calling him out for trying too hard. He was saying that John had absolutely succeeded in being a cartoon. As he disappeared into the crowd, John was struck in place and felt utterly called out.

Nobody witnessed it and it was just between them which was so wonderful about that wickedness, about that biting humor and knowingness. He was doing John a favor and he meant to destroy John, but there was a gift in it, too. He wasn’t doing it for an audience and had he done it for a crowd of 10 people it would probably have been just to get a laugh from his crowd, but he felt so sure of what he saw in the world and what he knew in the world to see John and go: ”No! Yes, but no!”

John went home, took the sunglasses off, looked at the jacket that was only 2 years old and thought that everything about the jacket was wrong, because it was just too right and that is what made it wrong. John still has the picture of that guy’s face in his head from that 2 second encounter. He had a little scrubble on his chin, he wasn’t beautiful or attractive, but he lived in that in-between world where he could see everything. If John had had the right leather jacket on and he had said ”Mhmm!” or something, the waves would have parted a little bit. John did get that when he stopped wearing that leather jacket, but it took him a while.

John remembers walking down University Avenue with a friend who was a Rock musician, a really handsome guy who knew he was handsome and who flouted it, which is a thing in your 20s: You get handsome friends who know they are handsome because they have been told they are and they get things for being handsome. Boys rub it in on each other, there is a lot of competition and a lot of ”We are going to a party, don’t worry about me” asshole behavior. About halfway up the street John's friend asked ”What the fuck is going on? Every girl is looking at you!” and John said ”Huh?” because he was oblivious to it then and now. John was dressed appropriately for who he was. He was wearing a sweater, he had washed his hair but didn’t put any product in it, so he was just his natural dumb self, but it was appropriate and his friend was confused because he is used to walking down the street and getting all the attention paid to him and definitely not John, this shambolic pile of wool. At a certain point John realized that he can’t do anything more than what comes from within.

There is a leather jacket for John and he has been looking for it for the last 30 years, which is the terrible thing: The 20-year old in him is still looking for that jacket, but he is 50 now and to find that jacket that would have been right for him when he was 20 and put it on now might be like when you are 65 and buy a 1967 Dodge Challenger because it is the car you wished you had had and you are driving around as an old man in a hot rod car, which is a thing, but a dumb-looking thing. You can afford it now and you get the car you always wanted, but you can never be 21 in a 1967 Dodge Challenger again. You weren’t then and you can’t be now. There is a leather jacket out there that John has been waiting for all these years and if he finds it and puts it on now, he doesn’t think he is there anymore.

John remembers a coat that was hanging up in the rafters of Mike’s Old Clothes. He had them take it down for him and it was the right jacket. It was horsehide from the 1940s and at the time they wanted $120 for it or something, which was a lot of money, considering it was a used leather jacket that already had quite a bit of road wear on it. Mike’s Used Clothes was also the place where John tried on a pair of boots, walked around the store, found that they felt weird and discovered they had giant holes in the soles that had been worn through. John could touch his sock through the bottom, which seemed more like a bug than a feature and Mike looked at them, said ”Oh, that’s no good, you can just have those!” They were steel-toed, ankle-high Chukka-style black leather US Navy issue service boots from the Korean war that had been worn through with love. John took them up to the cobbler on 15th avenue and asked if he could put soles on these, which he could for $25 and John really searched his feelings if it was worth $25, but he went for it and put Vibram soles on them. John still has those boots and he is still rocking them.

What John should have done is bought that leather jacket. He didn’t have $120 because he only earned $120 a week. But where would he be now? He might have a fucking neck-tattoo! John approves tattoos on forearm front and back or biceps, but up over your shoulder blade is a new style. No tattoos on your legs! Keep them off your ankles and off your feet! Don’t hide them on your butt. Arms and hands? Hand-tattoos is a thing John gives special dispensation to, because the first time he saw somebody get a tattoo on their hands he was shocked.

It felt like people were deciding that they definitely were never going to start in a bank, they were never going to work in the straight world, they were never going to run for president and they were never going to meet their fiancé’s father and have him say that they one day are going to inherit his Pontiac dealership. It was a choice to permanently take a path away from the straight world and for a lot of people like James Swanesson, who never ever had any ambition to join the straight world, it wasn’t that big of a sacrifice. When he got that tattoo in High School, he was absolutely joining a world and didn’t really care that he was also leaving a world because he never really felt that he belonged in that world. He joined a different world and that tattoo was the first sign that he had entered a different culture.

John’s friend Mike Squires is covered with tattoos! Working in a bank was not an option that he ever considered. The first time he got a tattoo was when he joined the Marines and he got a Marines tattoo. By doing that he was joining a group, not divorcing himself from one. For John, a tattoo felt more like he was divorcing himself from something than it felt like he was joining something else. He had no trouble joining the culture where people wore tattoos and he didn’t feel he needed one to belong. He just didn’t want to be permanently divorced from a culture that didn’t have tattoos.

Hand-tattoos were a bigger commitment at the time because John had never met somebody with a neck tattoo, that came later, and he was like ”Wow! You just go for it!” The first neck tattoo John knew personally was Ben from Band of Horses. He got a tattoo on his neck and John just marveled at it because he couldn’t even disguise it with a turtle neck on it. He was not trying to disguise it, either! He was going to be Rock ’n’ Roll from now on and couldn’t even take a job as a security guard in a high rise with that, because nobody would ever hire him, but he didn’t want that.

John never wanted that job either, but he would just marvel that you would never feel like you needed to hide. Some of John’s greatest feelings of security is his false sense that he could truly disappear and not have anything follow him: No trace, no identifying marks! In fact he is located in this place and time, he is seen and known, these are his people and he couldn’t ever do that. Mike Squires got his knuckles and the back of his hand tattooed, which is beautiful, but if they put his body out of the river, John would be able to tell his stupid-ass tattoos even if he had been in the river for 1.5 months. Mike said ”Fuck you! I’ll sink to the bottom, because they will tie a rock around my ankles!”

There is no way John is going to get a job in a bank now and there is no chance he is going to disappear. He is not running like he always felt he was. He is still a nomad in his heart, not because he can’t forge bonds or make a commitment to a thing or a place or a person, but he is a nomad because he feels chased and he feels like there is something over the horizon that might be a brief respite. There is some security, some sanctuary, but he never believes in it for long.

Part of wanting that leather jacket was always that it would have been a form of home. He would wear it every day and the jacket would become a second skin. In a way that is how he uses glasses. John’s glasses are more than just something that allows him to see, but they are a form of armor. John never found that jacket, although he understood how important it was. He just never found it! It has been a succession of not-as-good jackets that ended up sidelined, and that ended up failing to do the job.

Equating zombie movies with genocide fantasies and being happy (RW125)

John has a tendency to make anything heavy. The other day he ventured a theory that zombie movies were really just a kind of fun cosplay for fantasies of race war and he got a couple of emails from people asking if he was serious because that felt a little heavy and they love zombie movies. Last night, in reply to somebody who sent a one-sentence email like ”Did you really mean that?” he wrote a two-page perspective for an academic paper on how zombie movies are really genocide fantasies. He was asking himself why he was doing that to this poor person. He should rather have written it on Medium. John likes zombie movies or maybe he doesn’t even care, but he went down step by step, dissected all zombie movie tropes and drew direct parallels to nationalist survivalist narratives on what is going to happen when the race war starts. John realized that he just likes to make everything heavy!

When people ask John questions like ”Are you happy?”, he always reflects back to the conversation they had here on Roadwork (see RW93) and the other day he had a little moment where he saw he was approaching it from the wrong directions. He is asking himself ”Are you doing good?” but he has all this unfinished shit that he is always worried about. He got these podcasts that tumble along like polar bear cubs down a half-frozen hill, everything is fine-ish, but nothing is really taking the world by storm. John is generally well-liked, but not really loved, maybe a little, but never enough, and he is living in this constant feeling of ”Meh”

John did a small flipperoo an instead of saying "Are you doing good?", he said: "What if I asked you if you would be happy doing podcasts and working to put out a record that was just the best you could do? Would you be happy if I told you that is all you could do and you are prohibited from doing more than this? Would you be happy?" - "Yes, sure! Pretty much!" If John was prohibited from doing more, he would be perfectly happy with doing what he is doing. It was a shock because it clearly showed that what is making him unhappy is not what he is doing, but it is always what he is failing to do. If he were prohibited by some natural force from doing those other things and only allowed to do the things he is doing, he would be pretty content with them.

It was kind of like his zombie race-war-theory: In almost any genocide situation, just like in zombie movies, the people who are doing the killing present themselves first as victims of this great unwashed disorganized mass of hungry graspers who are trying to eat your brains. You don’t want to have to kill them, but you have to kill them and mow them down, because otherwise they will take your children, your lives and everything that is valuable to you. You are forced to kill them against who you are! You are not a murderer!

That is exactly what genocidal murderers say when you confront them with their crimes. They didn’t want to kill the tootsies or the mountain people of Laos, but they were forced to because they are sub-human, first of all, but also because they were coming for us! We were the victims here! Even the Nazis had that narrative. It is in that framing that you are saying that you may be the one that is forced by history to be the killer and the murderer, but it is not what you wanted. You are a peace-loving person, you just had to do it. You don’t have sympathy for your victims and we shouldn’t either because they are not fully alive and they are not on equal footing.

That idea of absolving yourself of responsibility is narratively quite a leap to connect to what John was saying earlier. He is absolving himself of responsibility for the fantasy of what he could and should be. He got tangled up somewhere because he is not making the comparison he initially was trying to make between his zombie movie theory and the epiphany that if he approached his satisfaction index from the other direction, which is to say that he was artificially limited to what he is accomplishing right now, that false authority would be a great comfort to him. He doesn’t know how to inhabit or animate that authority with something he would take seriously enough.

You can’t be anything you want (RW125)

John was always told that anything was possible, which is a terrible thing to say to a kid. First of all: That is not even true! You can’t be anything you want. You can tell a kid that if they work their ass off starting now, they could have a shot getting into the Top 100 candidates for a thing they might want to do, at which point they will be in competition with 100 people who have done exactly what you have done, which is work their asses off starting now to get there, and now you and these 100 candidates are vying for 2 slots, good luck! If you aren’t one of the two, you will still be somewhere, you will have worked your butt off and you will be in the group of 98 people who didn’t get picked, which is not nothing, you won’t be back to zero, but if you want to be an astronaut or the president or a US senator or the CEO of a company or a test pilot or a long-distance runner, then No! You can't necessarily be those things.

Adults say that stuff to kids because they wish they had done more. That is what happened with John’s dad: He wanted his kid to accomplish all the things that he was told he could accomplish, but didn’t actually want and he was not going to find out whether or not his kid actually wants those things either, but he was just going to pass on the obligation. John’s dad didn’t want to do any of those things either, but he was told he should and he didn’t and then he told John that he could. You take the ”SH” off your Letterman sweater and turn "could" into "should".


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