RW155 - App Applegate

This week Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to a person named App Applegate who built himself a boat in the middle of the forest of San Juan island to one time sail to Cuba.

The Blue Angels have arrived and are doing their practice today. They will be flying over them during the show flying 500 feet over John’s house.

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

John’s clock is not telling time (RW155)

John is looking at a clock that is ticking, but not working and not telling time. The only hand that is moving is the little hand and the other hands are in the same place they were yesterday. It is usually the other way around because if one of the elements of a clock is going to break it is going to be the second hand, not the minute hand or the hour hand.

John using his remote podcasting rig (RW155)

John sounds different because he is using a different mic which is pretty good. No-one else has noticed, but for Dan it was impossible to not notice. There is more mid range, a bit less low end and significantly less sibilance and high end, which makes John sound more like he does in person. Dan prefers this to the old one even though he has to redo his EQ profile. It is the great microphone question: How to get the closest approximation with a little bit of an Instagram filter on it that makes you seem a little bit wiser? John is recording from the farm and will be at his old house for two more weeks, so next week’s episode will be the last from his old house.

John is using his remote podcasting rig that he had built with the idea that he was going to record remotely. He wanted something he could put into a briefcase that would enable him to go places like hotel rooms and around the world and have a fairly decent-sounding podcasting setup. He used to travel with that (Beecaster) USB mic, but it was not meant for traveling, let’s just call a spade a spade. Now John built this little thing that folds up and fits into the smallest bag and he is using it to remote broadcast from his own home which isn’t his home anymore.

John expanding the scope of houses to look for (RW155)

John has successfully moved on from the dream house that the owner doesn’t want to sell to him. John is not dwelling, which is a pretty informed choice of words, in the nostalgia and the disappointment of what could have been, but he is looking into the #future now, trying to imagine a place that is going to come along and suit him perfectly. In the last few days he has dramatically expanded the scope of what he is prepared to consider.

For most of the past year John has drawn a very small circle around a part of the city and decided he wanted to live within this circle and not outside this circle. Within the circle he has a complicated, detailed, and almost impossible series of conditions he needs to meet. People come to him all the time, like his real estate agent, family members, Ben Harrison’s wife, and they are all searching for houses that meet this criteria, but because this circle is so small and John is looking for houses every day.

It is not likely any of these people can find some amazing house that he didn’t already see. 6-7 people are sending him links to things that he looked at 18 hours earlier and they say: ”Oh my God! Look at this! This is amazing! Look at this one! Did you see this one?” and none of them are right. As the weeks have turned into months John has hardened his position on some of his criteria. Early on he was much more unyielding because he thought that he was going to have his pick of the litter.

The house at the lake (RW155)

A couple of days ago a house came into John's Inbox and he doesn’t know how it got there because it is not within his circle, but it is some rogue posting that made it through all the filters he has been set up to keep it out. It wended its way in and arrived in the middle of the night and John looked at it and said: ”That is interesting! How did this even get here?”

It is well South of where he was looking, a house on a lake that he didn’t know existed. If you look down on Seattle from an airplane you will see that the city is dotted with lakes and you won’t know a lot of them. John never saw that lake before because there is no public access. Those lakes are bigger than ponds, but too small for a motorboat or they have a covenant that says you can’t drive a motorboat on it, but big enough that you can paddle to the other side in a rowboat or a canoe and you would be tired. It would take you a while to get over there. They didn’t build a public boat ramp or anything, but they just divided it up and put houses around it and you would drive right past it on the street and not realize it was back there.

Houses on these lakes are far enough away from Seattle that the distance cuts the cost and some of them are cheap enough to be within John’s little price bubble. He drove down to this place at 3am and because these lakes are almost by definition down within a depression it means that you have to drive down a narrow lane to get to the house that is next to the lake. It was clear that this lane was the driveway of this house. There was a car in the carport so John couldn’t peep in the windows, but he walked around the property. The interior is represented in the photographs of the listing.

Over to the left the property is bordering to what had probably been a big farm or a big thing that had recently been redeveloped and something on the order of 30 completely new townhomes had been built in a cul de sac. They had their own public private neighborhood park on the lake that is not accessible to the rest of the citizens of the city. Those are nice town homes with some qualifications, they are expensive, and they are built to look expensive. They are not built against each other, but you can only just walk between them. They should have built them like The San Francisco Painted Ladies! Why bother putting outside walls on them? Just build them like row-houses, but that is not what buyers in Western Washington want.

The term for that would be Zero-Lot-Line, but these are standalone and you can walk all the way around them, but there is no reason for it. Each of them probably was $800.000 to buy, which is quite expensive because this is far from Seattle and you are probably going to be driving back and forth to the city in 40 minutes to under an hour. Apparently there are 30 families who can pay $800.000 to live an hour from town on a lake right next door to this less expensive property that John is intrigued by.

These town houses are wonderful and for instance the guy who bought the ”that ship has sailed house” surely wants is one of these. They have granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and glass top cooking surfaces, all the things that everybody seems to want because they are getting slammed into every single freaking property that they can get slammed into, including this house on the lake that John is looking at.

Although it was built in the 1950s it has granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and glass top cooking surfaces because. It is some kind of mind infection, some avian flu that apparently has affected everyone. You cannot buy an appliance that isn’t stainless steel or black or white. You apparently cannot buy a countertop surface that isn’t granite, and unless you are one of the lucky ones where someone took the time to plumb gas to your kitchen, John hasn’t seen a stove that wasn’t glass-topped in two years. What happened? John could design 40 kitchens for you right now, just out of his Imaginarium. All the cabinets are supposedly made out of ”Cherry”, but none of them are because there aren’t that many cherry trees in the world and they are all just cherry colored.

Cherry, granite, stainless, glass! These townhomes were built that way and John believes in them. He left the property that he was there to tour and drove down into the cul de sac, slow-rolling because it was 3:30am. In the driveway there was a Tonka Truck Toyota SUV with a rack on the top and a kayak on it. Next to that was a Prius or a Tesla Model 3. Young mom and dad, probably two kids under the age of seven, and they are adventure-people, they are wearing sport fabrics that wick away sweat, and they have hiked up to Tiger Mountain within the last week. This is who you want in Seattle! These people is where the city gets their whole identity!

This is their brand-new townhome that has granite countertops! If the refrigerators were granite, the cooking surfaces were stainless steel, and the countertops were cherry, John would be into that! Flip it around! These things were built this way, but the guy who owns the ”that ship has sailed” house wants to gut its original 1950s kitchen and bathroom and put this stuff in which makes him a war criminal. What he wants is one of these and they are there for him. For the same price you can get one of these and you even don’t have to do anything. It is turnkey!

In their private park there was a fire pit, a horseshoe game pitch, a sandy Beach that had been brought in, a boat dock with some boats that are just for the neighborhood, and a playground. It is a lovely place for a young person with a Tonka Truck who has $800.000 and wants to live almost on a lake. The problem is, if they are sitting at the horseshoe pit with a very long stick with a wiener over the fire pit and their kids are out there, then they will all be looking directly at the house that came onto John’s radar, which is not very private.

You could be inside the house and would just be looking at your bucolic lake, but these neighbors would be right over your shoulder and there was surely one guy at that fire pit who had a ”ha ha ha” kind of laugh. If you are buying a house on a lake there is always the possibility that even across the lake there is going to be a guy with a laugh like that, but at this place there are 20 more chances because all these townhomes are right next to each other that there is going to be one right next to you there.

Seeing this lake house caused John to zoom out of his little search circle and say: ”I will look at any property in this much larger circle if it is on one of these small lakes or rivers!” because there are a couple of rivers and lots of streams, even some bogs. All of a sudden he had 10 houses to look at that he wouldn’t have looked at before. The primary argument against them is that they are a lot further away, but they have a dock that goes out into a lake and you could run out on the dock and jump in the lake!

How much is that worth? It seems worth an extra 20 minutes on the road! In the winter you can get up in the morning, put your wool hat on, get your cup of coffee, get in your rowboat, row out into the center of the lake, just sit there as the mist collects on the water, sip your coffee, and think about how fucked-up everything is. Then you row back in and get to work! Wow!

Some of these lakes might even freeze enough that you could ice skate on them, which blew John’s mind: ”Whoa! What have I been doing!” He has been living his whole life wrong! He could switch his search around and just look at townhomes, and he wouldn't even have to be sad about the cherry kitchen because he can be confident that this is the style that rings out in these buildings, that is how they are tuned! He wouldn’t have to walk around them and go: ”Why is this here? Why did they do this? Why did they think this was good?”

The house in Issaquah (RW155)

A house in an area called Issaquah came up in John's search. People used to think of Issaquah as the last place where you could get gas before you went over the mountains. It used to be nothing but some farmers who got kicked out of everywhere else, and it is right in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains. Because Issaquah is on the Interstate 90 it became a bedroom community and they built enormous street-of-dreams mega-mansions on cul de sacs, and it became a big suburb where there had never been one before. The guys from Modest Mouse are from old Issaquah, which is glue sniffing Issaquah, like a single wide trailer on 15 acres. John would never live in Issaquah! What would he do out there?

The property that came up on John's expanded search is 10 acres (40.000 sqm) with five buildings on it, a pond that belongs entirely to you, and everything on the property screams: ”This is a dude environment!” It has a cheery stainless kitchen that John hates so much and one of the reasons it has become ubiquitous is that it is somewhat gender neutral. It is a kitchen for a new kind of American.

The stainless, the granite, and the cherry all are more masculine-seeming than a kitchen that was made in the 1940s. A kitchen in a house from the 1940s or 1950s has an element to it where this is where Mom is going to be. Mom is going to be in the kitchen, so Mom needs it to look like this and mom wants it to look like that. The fridge is avocado because that was the fashionable color for the season of 1958, it was a different time.

Modern stainless kitchens are meant to look like a place where people are getting work done, they are made for young mom and dad to be in there together. She is chopping, he is mixing, then she starts frying and he starts blending, their appliances that are all matchy. That is the kind of space that you see a lot of times. In these mid-century houses that John has been touring, even when you look at them from a distance, you realize that Grandma long ago took charge of the situation, grandpa has the shop and the garage and maybe a corner of the basement, but the rest of the house and property are grandma's universe. It is clear in every choice!

From the curtain rods down to the way this house is kitted out: Granddad had had zero input. All he did was say: ”Yes, dear!” John wants a house that was built for the lady of 1958 because that is who he is. He does not want a house where the lady of 1958 is now 80 years old and has been making decorating decisions for the last 55 years because he doesn’t think she has made very good decisions! At some point along the way she decided she wanted the house to be in a country theme and she is no longer the chic young housewife of the late 1950s, she is now a grandma.

A lot of these houses feel like the dad has gone out of them, but the house up in Issaquah feels like dad got divorced a long time ago, he built this house and moved out into this property, he smoked cigars in his underwear, he did whatever he wanted, and no-one ever put a flower in there. Not to say that it seems musty, but there is no feminine of any kind.

John was intrigued by that because it is so unusual. Usually a dad like that ends up living in his car or he goes to Mexico or something. Half of them just marry a new grandma and the house gets decorated in the brass and fern style of the mid-1980s with a macrame terrarium hanging down. She had big glasses and puffy sleeves and dad was like: ”Whatever! It is fine!” The sheets on the bed went from shins to maroon.

This property has its own stream-fed pond and John could get into terrible trouble out there, but unfortunately it is in Issaquah. John talked to a real estate agent and asked for the seller’s disclosure form, which was a little bit terrifying, like: ”Have there ever been any tornadoes on the property? Have you ever had an infestation of vampires?” and you go down and you check off ”No, they have never been any tornadoes or vampires here!”

This seller's disclosure form was like: ”Maybe there was a vampire here at one point? I can’t be sure!” - ”Maybe?” - ”Maybe there were some wood-destroying insects!” - ”I get it. You’ve got a pond. But how much wood did they destroy before you got hip to them?” These are the questions that are seller’s disclosure form can’t quite ask or you can’t discern it.

This is definitely not a property you go tour at 3am, this is a property that you barely go tour at any time of the day! Talk about driving up a lane! You have to drive out to a part of the country where you wouldn’t normally go and this is single-wide-on-15-acres Issaquah. They say: ”Oh, it is only five minutes from Front Street!”, but it is five minutes from Front Street as the crow flies if the crow is strapped to a rocket.

You could ride your bike down there and then you would be somebody riding their bike from their single-wide-on-15-acres into Downtown Issaquah where nobody wants you anymore. They fixed up Issaquah now with hanging flower baskets and places that sell carabiners and they are not looking for a guy to ride into town from his decrepit vampire-infested pond to for supplies, which is what John would be.

It is a fever dream and John needs to shake it off! He is not going to go look at this property in Issaquah because he is not looking for a place where he could conceivably build a rocket and no-one would know until he launched it. He shouldn’t have a property like that because the danger would be that he would wind up half-building that rocket! He would be someone who builds the rocket but never quite gets all the parts together to launch it. Dan says that is kind of like NASA.

The San Juan archipelago (RW155)

There is a little archipelago of islands in Northwestern Washington called the San Juan Islands. They are a magical place because of a phenomenon called the rain shadow, a 100 square miles (260 sq km) or larger section in the region of Bellingham that extends across Puget Sound as part of the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic Mountains, probably the most remote part of the contiguous 48 states, are a very tall rugged mountain range that does not have any roads into it and does not have any towns, but is true wild country! No-one ever talks about it and nobody knows about it because they are outside of the region.

People might know it as the setting of the little town Forks, which is where the vampire and werewolf teenagers go to High School. The mountains are tall enough that when the big weather comes across the Pacific and hits these mountains they stop it cold and the weather can’t get over them. It goes around them, but drops so much precipitation that the Western side of the Olympic Mountains is the only rain forest in the continental United States that meets all the requirements of a rain forest. It is a place where the magic trees are and it has the largest Douglas Fir and the largest Red Cedar. There are some Indian reservations where they are not really keen on you being there in the first place and there are not that many places to get a Snickers bar.

The other side of the mountains, around the San Juan Islands, has weather on an epic scale because as the weather goes around the mountains it creates an island where it is sunny and 69 degrees (20 °C) while it is rainy and stormy all throughout the Pacific Northwest and Seattle is just cold and getting drenched. It is a sort-of paradise that is not close to anything and you have to take a boat to get there, a place in Washington state with single-wide-on-15-acres little farmhouse where people were raising clams.

The main islands of the San Juan Island archipelago are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, which looks like a set of saddlebags, two islands connected by an isthmus, Lopez, and then there are a bunch of small to medium ones like Shawn and Waldron. You can get to Orcas, San Juan and Lopez with a state ferry, and for the other ones either the ferry stops there once in a blue moon or you have to take a smaller boat or an airplane.

Then there are other islands that are not considered the San Juans, but they basically are, most notably Lummi Island where John’s daughter’s mother was born and grew up, right next to Bellingham. The Canadian border goes right through there and on the other side there is Vancouver Island and other Canadian islands. It is a super-interesting little world!

When Oprah found out about it a whole new class of people arrived in San Juan Island who were able to take those 15 acres, helicopter the single-wide out of there and build what anyone else would consider a hotel or a giant lodge out on a private island, many of them in Pacific Northwest style. It is a pretty incredible part of the world!

Joe Brotherton, Doe Bay (RW155)

Joe Brotherton is an extremely eclectic local self-made lawyer millionaire eccentric, but not the kind of eccentric who lives out in a rainy man-house and is trying to build a rocket, but an eccentric who has a wonderful wife and a handful of wonderful children who all adore him and are all in their own way eccentric, but if you saw them walking through the University Village you wouldn’t think: ”What a bunch of weirdos!”, but you would think: ”Wow, that’s a cool family!” At one point he decided he was going to reform the American voting system by developing an app to vote for president from your phone. Maybe he is still working on it!

About 10 years ago Joe Brotherton found a weird old Cub Scout camp on Orcas Island that had been a nudist colony and then was a Hare Krishna place. It is a crazy piece of property right on the water with 20 white houses on it, some big, some little, and little jeep trails between them. There were some tipis, a hippie spa, a meditation house, some stages, the whole nine! Every kooky Washington thing you could think of was on this property. It had its own little cove named Doe Bay after the lady deer.

Joe Brotherton bought it, just like: ”That’s for sale? Sure, I’ll buy it!” One of his daughters had an Indie Rocker boyfriend who said: ”Hey Joe, you know what we should do? We should start a music festival!” and Joe was like: ”That sounds like a great idea!” and they started a music festival called Doe Bay. Because the property is what it is it can never become a thing where 30.000 people go, but it became immediately a very successful small scale fun Northwest music festival.

Of course everyone has to take a ferry and camp out on this property or stay in one of the little houses. The Long Winters played Doe Bay during year two of the festival and for the five years after that John just went. One time he played a show in the forest, he loves Joe Brotherton, he loves his family and the whole thing is great!

Meeting App Applegate and his ship in the forest (RW155)

See documentary about this story!

One year when John was at the Doe Bay music festival on Orcas Island, the organizer Joe Brotherton wanted John to meet a guy who lived up on the hillside. They drove into the forest, got out of the car, and started walking into the forest. Through the trees you could see what appeared to be a large boat in the forest, not a boat you could have towed there, but a very large boat that was built deep in the forest on the side of a mountain. It was spooky walking through the forest and finding this boat, a three-masted 80 feet (24m) long schooner, or maybe even bigger than that!

His tour guide was like: ”Right? Right? What do you think about that?” and John didn’t know what to think. It was a real head twister and it was freaky because this was a dark and tall Northwest forest and there was a fucking three-masted ship. As they got little closer a woman stepped out and said: ”Hey, what’s going on!” She recognized John’s friend who introduced him.

The woman was in her late 50s and John’s friend said: ”John here wants to meet App!” - ”Well, make yourselves comfortable, I’ll get him!” and after a little bit of standing there in awe there came a little old man at 85 years old and 5' (150 cm) tall. He was like a hobbit, walking with the aid of a stick, but he was clearly a friend to all. John is not sure if a bird landed on his shoulder while he was talking to him but he wouldn’t have been surprised.

His name was App Applegate, which sounds like Tom Bombadil but he was a real person. He said: ”Let’s go take a look at the boat!” He was too old now to clamber around the boat, but he would stand here on the ground while they would clamber around the boat: "Just pop your head up out of any porthole and ask me anything you want to ask!"

John went up on the boat which was a crazy place. There was a library worth of books in shelves that were built into the boat. There was a galley that could make food for 20 people, there was a steam engine taken from a locomotive, it was an insane asylum in there, that had been lived in for decades, but it had also very clearly been hand-built over decades here on site. John had never seen anything like it!

John was throwing questions out at him and App answered with great joy. The woman was considerably younger and was his companion. The boat was named The Aproximada and App Applegate was a communist, an anarchist, who early on in the 1970s decided like a lot of kooks at the time that they were going to move into the forest of Washington and disappear from the mainstream world. They didn’t need the man’s electricity and they didn’t need your goddamn capitalist horse-shit. They go into town every once in a while to buy some nails and some coffee, but other that that they are going to live off the land.

App Applegate started to work on building The Aproximada with the idea that once it was done he was going to truck it down off that mountain, put it in the water, and sail to Cuba, which seemed like a great idea in 1977 when he was in his 50s. He set about building this ship all by himself with the help of not this current lady friend, but maybe of an earlier lady friend or some kids, maybe some hippies were there, John doesn’t remember.

In the intervening 40 years the forest grew up around him and you weren’t going to truck this boat out of there anymore, so he switched to a new plan where he wanted to hire a big heavy-lifting helicopter to lift the boat, take it out over Doe Bay, drop it in the water, and he was still going to sail The Aproximada to Cuba.

One can imagine how fantastic that vision must have felt as he lay in his birth in his hand-built boat for all these many years. He has been picturing this journey, finally helicoptering the boat out of here after all the work he has put into it, dropping it in the ocean and sailing to Cuba.

Somewhere along the line he became an old man and it was less and less clear how exactly all this was going to go down because App Applegate didn't have a ton of money and just hiring that helicopter would be very expensive. Also: This boat had never been in the water! To introduce it to the water by dropping it from a helicopter into Doe Bay would be a sink-or-swim sea-worthiness test. The boat was sealed with pitch, it looked like a full-on boat, it doesn’t look like he didn’t know how to build a boat. He certainly built one, he was that kind of intrepid.

As John got out of the boat App said: ”Why don’t you come over to the house?” - ”The house?” and they walked along a bumpy, rugged, thump-a-dump trail and came to a deep ravine at which point they had a consultation and she said: ”App is tired. He is going to take a nap. We would like to invite you over, but not now. Come back another time!”, at which point App got into a little bucket on a zip line that took him across the ravine to a little hobbit house built on the side of the ravine opposite and he waved goodbye and went into his little house.

There was no electricity or any other amenity anywhere on this property. He had a hand-crank generator that he used to I-don’t-know-what. John didn’t get to spend as much time with him as he wanted, but in the time he spent with him he loved him immediately. You could see he had a lot of help over the years and you could see why: He is charismatic, he is a pretty avid communist and a true believer and fellow traveler.

It was very inspiring because he got this crazy Fitzcarraldo situation and he has never relented. There was a twinkle in his eye when you ask: ”Are you going to really connect this ship to a helicopter and sail it to Cuba?” and he says: ”Yes!” because he knows he is not, but he never surrendered either. The only people who knew about this world-class American kook were Joe Brotherton and the people living in the immediate environment on Orcas Island America USA.

App freaking Applegate needs to be on the cover of American kook magazine! They put so much energy into celebrating their kooks and this is Top Rank! He was right up there with the nuttiest nuts John had ever met! It was very instructive to John who is not many kisses away from thinking about building a ship in the forest that a helicopter will one day transport to the ocean.

This was John’s 7-sided lighthouse made of dreams and he sat there with app and studied the surroundings and said: ”I also want to have a little cabin that I can only get to with a zip line!” A lot of what he had built there comports with John’s idea of a perfect world, but: ”Wait!” App had been fully committed to this since the mid 1970s! This was it! This is what he had been doing! It is Sisyphean and beautiful in its futility.

The late 2010s are the mid-1970s for John and while he is definitely not going to spend 40 years building a fucking lighthouse, what he embarks upon next is going to be the beginnings of his Aproximada.

When App started building the Aproximada he clearly most obviously never thought he would die, just like John’s dad and a lot of people in his generation. To be 85 seemed like a big surprise to him. He was 85 years old 10 years ago and John has no idea whether he is still alive, what happened to him, or what happened to the boat. It remains a mystery!

Today App would be 95 and still be living in a house that you have to take a zip line to get to, so John is guessing he is no longer living there, but he also doesn’t know whether he came down from the forest. As a Communist he is probably no going to sell his mountainside to somebody, take the money and go to Cuba on an airplane. Also: Cuba in 1977 and Cuba now are two different notions of paradise!

John could probably pick up the phone and make one phone call to find out what happened to App Applegate, but he prefers App to live on in his memory as the App Applegate he remembers. He doesn’t want to know what happened, he has to think about the App Applegate in himself.

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