RW4 - Pie from a stranger

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • John searching for a part and accepting pies from strangers (Pie)
  • John studying his compass (The Big Walk)
  • Absence of kindness being worse than physical damage (Humanities)
  • Listener mail (Podcasting)
  • Tweetstorming / Instagram-storming (Pie)

The show title refers to John not wanting a pie from a stranger because that pie would represent a huge debt for him.

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

John searching for a part and accepting pies from strangers (RW4)

Dan has been following John's search for a part on Twitter and Instagram. A guy in Texas even claimed that John was "Clogging his feed". John had a good time the other day, pouring through a junkyard in the rain. Part of the fun of following along is that John won't reveal what part he is looking for. John got a lot of angry text messages from various friends asking what is the matter with you. Ben Gibbard's dad wrote him an e-mail saying he is kind of a junkyard dog himself and a total grease monkey, but it skipped a generation and his son doesn't really care about motorized vehicles. Alan is always looking for somebody to go prowl around the motorcycle shops with him and John fulfills that role sometimes. Alan sent John a message asking for what the part is, but he is going to have to find out the same way everybody else is going to find out when John will eventually post it on Instagram.

Dan suspects that John is worried someone is going to get the part and extort John in some way or have something on him. They might then ask him to come to their house on the weekend, have a little barbecue and ask John to play 10-20 songs to get the part. John confirms that Dan is really close. He would have no trouble just not accepting the part, but the problem is that people's kindness is its own sort of obligation for people with John's makeup, which is described as INFJ. His mom has the same personality type and John watched her shoulder that burden. When someone would come over and for instance hand her a pie, she would immediately feel a burdensome obligation to perform the rituals of neighborliness and human intercourse. It is the thing that is impossible to understand for people who don't have this personality type: The burden is so much greater than whatever small pleasantry is in the pie. She doesn't want the pie because the pie comes attached with all of this indebtedness. The person giving the pie can't know that they are about to give the pie to a broken person.

The INFJ personality type

The problem with INFJ is that it is the least common personality type. There probably is an evolutionary need for that type of person, because we always need hermits and monks and people who leave the village and go into the forest. They are the borderlanders, but there are no more borderlands. We are all forced to live together in neighborhoods now and as you drive through the neighborhood and look at the front doors of different places, you cannot tell who lurks behind those doors. Football player, Cheerleader, Football player, Cheerleader, they all have the same mailman. John doesn't have it as bad as his mom. For her it is very hard to make friends, because so many people make friends by bringing you a pie, you say "Thank you!", you bring them a pie, they say "Thank you!" and pretty soon you are friends and you stitched it together with this pie exchange.

There are people who say "Oh no, I don't want you to bring me a pie, but I'm just bringing you these pies because I just love you so much and I want to give you these pies with no obligation!", but six months later that person says "After all the pies I've brought you, you can't just give my son a job? Gratitude!" John's mom has a lot of trouble negotiating all those subterranean motivations and all of the passive aggressiveness that glues most of human society together and she just doesn't want a pie! If she looks out the window and sees a neighbor coming up the steps with a pie, she closes the blinds, turns off the lights and stands in the hallway until they stop ringing the doorbell. In John's case it is a little bit less of that, but when he posted about looking for a part, there were a lot of people on the internet right away who were also grease monkeys and who spend a lot of time in junkyards.

Identifying John's part

One guy in particular actually correctly identified the part John is looking for from the photos he had posted, because he is enough of a grease monkey that he could look at the photos and say "A couple of those driver's compartments were more or less complete except for one or two missing parts" John was leaving lots of clues. The thing about posting an Instagram storm like that is: 99% of the people are just going to breeze through it and hope it will soon get back to pictures of Wil Wheaton's puppies or whatever it is that they're on Instagram for. Nobody's got time to play games and study people's stupid Instagram photos for clues. We are all so busy playing fucking video games! One guy in Texas was like "I unfollow you because you clog my feed", but John was having fun at the junkyard and he absolutely was framing his photographs so that there were clues and he hoped that someone would do what this person did, which was be even mildly observant.

It was obvious that John was not looking for a tie rod and this guy jumped right on it and figured it out. "Excellent! Job well done, sir!" and within a few hours or maybe the next day, he sent him a photograph of a part which he speculated was the correct part. He had found it on eBay, he recognized it was too expensive, but he just wanted to make sure that this was the part. In fact it was not. It was some version of the part, but not the correct one. The number of people who offered John their help was huge and if John were a good future Internet person, he would have crowdsourced this part and it would be already in the mail, because some super nice person would be sending it to him right now. It is the expectation to use the Internet, but there is something about it that makes it feel like somebody is standing on John's front porch with a pie. It is much more fun to post the search that belongs to him. Finding the part is less important than maintaining hegemony over his search, his process and his space. it is difficult to explain to someone who doesn't share some common sensibilities.

The Godfather and Goodfellas

Everyone's seen the Godfather! One day, that favor I may ask, maybe late at night! The funny thing is when Don Corleone shows up on that elevator and says "Look what they did to my boy!", it actually seems like a pretty small favor in return for the undertaker coming to him on his daughter's wedding day and asking for some violence. All Don was asking is that this guy would do his job a little bit after hours. If you make pizzas for a living and you say: "I know you went home already, but I'm hungry now. Could you make me a pizza?" - "Yeah, I'm the Don and I fucking killed a guy for you and I want you to do your job after hours and do a good job, because I don't want his mother to see him this way." Seems reasonable, seriously! The first time John saw that movie, he knew that this guy was going to be sorry he agreed to this. If that was all the mafia wanted, maybe they wouldn't be so bad. They might just call you late once.

In Goodfellas, the guy comes to the Don and wants him to go in on the restaurant with him, because these Goombahs like Joe Pesci keep coming in to eat without paying and never pay their tabs. He wanted the Don to come in on the restaurant and be an investor, thinking he was going to be protected, but those guys ran every kind of scam immediately, the business went to shit and they burned it down. You are going out, you light a match! That is what John expected was going to happen to the undertaker, even though he saw the Godfather a long time before Goodfellas was even a thing. You are going to regret this, buddy! He sowed Sonny up and the thing about being an undertaker is that you do a good job as far as anybody can tell and then they bury the evidence. Even if you did a shitty job, as long as you put on some pancake, nobody is going to come to you and say he looks like shit today. Yeah, he is dead! You do a pretty good job, but it is not like it has to last. It is not a mummy, but the body is on display 6-8 hours and then it goes in a hole. It seems to John like that guy got off easy, but he agrees that everybody recognizes this obligation.

Obligations as human normalness

A lot of people actually enjoy these obligations, because those are the threads that bind us together. They see the pie, they recognize that the pie represents a debt they have to repay, but they are excited about that. It is a gesture of friendliness and community, they like being liked and they want to be a part of it. It is less usual to respond "Oh my God, now I got to bake a pie!", although that is somewhat normal. As you head out on that spectrum, you can get to where John is: "No pie! No matter how good a pie is worth the obligation!" He will however accept a pie as a gesture of human normalness and the pie will not turn to ashes in his mouth. He will enjoy the pie and he will repay the pie, he will do this dance with other humans, but he is not fooled for a moment!

Buying lunch

John believes that buying somebody's lunch should be a commonplace gesture which carries very little obligation. His friends have reached that stage in adulthood where they are not quite at the point where they are fighting over who pays the check and everybody is more than willing to let someone else grab it, but there is an expectation that when they finish lunch, someone is going to grab it. They are grownups and they are not going to sit and all put in $11 or $21.50. Somebody is going to grab it, there is a sense who's turn it is and the guys that are a little flusher than some of the other guys, they pick up more than their share and everybody knows it, but in general it goes around and everybody grabs a bill when it is time. It feels great to do it like this. What John is talking about is a pie from a stranger.

Someone from a different town offering John the car part on Twitter is very different than grabbing lunch for a pal and the doorbell ringing from the neighbor. John will accept a pie, all the way out on the spectrum where his mom is. She will not answer the door if she smells pie, but she goes down into her basement bomb shelter and turns off the lights. There are people who are so afraid of the pie that they can't even live in that town. They will put newspapers up on their windows or a sign on their door that says "Day Sleeper" or whatever, just to avoid that kind of stitching together of people with no commonality other than being in the same place at the same time. There are many opportunities on the internet for John to make a closer world with people and to say "Hello! Send me your pies!" Many of his friends are pretty good at it. John Scalzi is pretty good at it, and Amanda Palmer has to rent an airplane hangar to hold the pies that people are sending her, but everyday she is soliciting more pies. John gets greater pleasure out of knowing that you are in your town eating your pie and thinking of John, but you eat your pie, John will eat his. You go to your junkyard, John will go to his.

Villagers and outsiders

There are a group of people who don't mind at all giving you a pie and you are denying them the pleasure of doing something that they would like to do. Villagers love to be villagers and the mountain man, the curmudgeon, person who lives on the edge of the village insults them just by his very existence and his very nature. It is one of the great human problems to solve! The person on the outside of the village often does not have all the self-awareness in the world. It is somewhat rare for them to recognize themselves in that story, but the people within the village definitely do not have a ton of self-awareness. What ends up happening is that the villagers have the advantage of feeling like they're normal and what they're doing is normal and good, and the outsider is abnormal and therefore bad. From the outsider's perspective, they recognize that they are outside, but the villagers are so foreign to them. That is where you get that whole mentality that most people suck and the alternative mentality that normal is bad.

It is all on a bell curve of people being people and you just have to figure out which one you are, where you are, and what your needs are. Then be comfortable and good with it! John is super comfortable with the fact that he is not exploiting the world very well. He could have his mailbox full and he could open a store selling just this one part that he is looking for, because he could marshal the Internet to send him every single extant part from a 1970s Chevy in the world. He will be out there with a Kickstarter to corner the market. He is not doing that and he is comfortable with that, he is happy with the fact that he is not winning and not ruling, because the intangible cost is too great for that kind of engagement and that is one of the things he is wrestling with.

Political career

Trying to think about John's recent political career, there were some aspects of being a politician that he was just ill-suited for at a fundamental level of desiring human contact and wanting to stitch together a quilt of indebtedness that ends up being the coat of arms of a politician. In order to be a great politician you have to have that network of people who owe you things and you owe them things, you need 10.000 people that you are cataloguing a debt to or from. All that makes John very uncomfortable, because it assaults his autonomy.

Asking from people while being in a band

John doesn't seem like somebody who asks other people to do things on a regular basis. If he was out of sugar, would he go next door to his neighbor and say "Hey, can I borrow some sugar because I'm out and I really want to finish making this Rock Candy and I need more sugar." or would he say "Got to go to the store or no Rock Candy" or would he throw it in the garbage as he looks out his kitchen window and watches his neighbors shouldering 50lbs bags of sugar into their toffee making operation? He would rather die or eat sugarless candy than ask for a cup of sugar. His nature would probably dictate that, but over the course of 20 years of being a musician, John had to find a way to collaborate with people. He was asking people for a lot, in fact, because he had a Rock band.

In the early years, John operated his bands philosophically on the presumption that it was its own reward for people. "You are a musician, you want to play Rock music and travel the world. My band is offering you that opportunity and there is no indebtedness between us! You are here voluntarily and as a free person. We are traveling together side by side. I am paying you and we have a business relationship" John was very uncomfortable with the gratitude of "Thank you so much for playing in my band! I know that it is a lot of hard work and I know it is tough on you, but I am so grateful to you for being my piano player." It was exceptionally hard for John because of all the tendrils of insincerity. So much of that kind of talk is insincere and John would rather not thank someone or not be thanked by somebody rather than to exchange insincere "Thank you!"s.

Over time, particularly when you have been in a band with the same guys for a long time, you realize that you are all making sacrifices, that it is incredibly hard to do and that it is hard on all of us, but the lion's share of glory accrues only to John. He is the star and he is being paid in intangible ways that money can never offset. Even if that glory isn't what some of the musicians are motivated by, nobody is a Rock musician who doesn't also want glory. The obligation you feel towards your friends and the desire to collaborate and to make a thing that is bigger than anything you could do by yourself forced John to ask his neighbor for sugar in order to make a cake and learn to do it gracefully and learn to even do it full of joy.

Being grateful to your fans

There are fans that started out with the band, they were on the first tour, they came to the shows when there were only 20 people, they posted on the message boards early on and they created a fan community with other early adopters. Those fans felt like they had made a big investment in John's band and at some point along the way some of them started to feel resentful that John didn't have more gratitude for them. He wasn't responsive to them on the internet, he didn't reply to their e-mails fast enough, he didn't play at their house parties, and he didn't love them enough, by whatever their expectation was. John watched a lot of Indie musicians from his era who poured affection on their fans and doted on them. They replied to their e-mails about their breakups up into the middle of the night. When they would come to town, they would spend three hours cultivating their relationships with much younger people, like 40 year old musicians cultivating friendships with 21 year olds.

Aside from whether it was creepy or cynical or whatever, John was not comfortable there. "You are fans of the music I'm making, you have created a fan community around it, and I appreciate it and it is wonderful, but I would never join that fan community myself. I have never joined a fan community like that and I don't know what to do in that kind of emotional space. The last thing I am going to do is join my own fan community." John is not being aloof as a way of trying to create a rockstar mystique, but he is being aloof because he is truly aloof from this. He doesn't share that emotional nature and doesn't know how to respond. There is a group of people who were very early adopters of The Long Winters and passionate fans of the band in the early years, who are now resentful.

Their anger is all about what John didn't do. He never touched anybody wrong or stole money from anybody. He has a lot of Rock musician friends his age who exploited their young fans and who did take from them, did gross things and took advantage of them over and over and over again. There are some raw feelings toward those people, but a lot of their fans found it funny to have a rock star stay in their house and in the morning their lamp was gone. In some cases, the greater crime was that John wouldn't stay at their house. If he had stayed at their house and stolen their lamp, it would have been better. There is some resentment toward John about what he didn't do, mostly he didn't reciprocate affection or reciprocate conditional love and reciprocate the emotional connection.

To people who don't have John's emotional nature it all sounds so simple: "What's the fucking big deal? Those people were just being nice! What's your problem?" and people who do share his emotional nature will recognize the situation immediately. Unfortunately these personalities represent a very small fraction of the people and what is considered normal is the attitude of "What's the big deal? Just go over to her house! Just stop by their place on the way to the show! It just takes 20 minutes, what's the big deal? You do the kid a favor and make him feel good and then you get on with it!" John understands how easy it is, but the costs of it is not worth it to him.

Emotional vulnerability

Somebody suggested the other day that John had synesthesia and whatever complicated "Joy of Cooking"-list of ingredients there is in him. There are a lot of versions of synesthesia and John wouldn't claim to have it, but his emotional life is intense and he experiences emotions connected to parts of his thinking that maybe other people don't have their emotions connected to. Some things feel emotionally threatening to him that aren't actually threatening. People can identify a physical threat very easily, but what is an emotional threat exactly? Are you going to feel bad or is somebody going to make you feel bad or are you going to feel really bad?

There are people out there, and good politicians are often this type of people, who are very much like sticks and stones. You can stand right in their face and scream vitriol at them, but they are unaffected by it. If you talk to them, they will admit that they are not unaffected by it and it sucks when somebody does that, but they say that those people are just a crazy person and they need to get on with their day. The tenor of the internet has shown us lately that some people are very sensitive, very delicate and very vulnerable and they can't even read Moby Dick without being sent into a state of of crisis.

John is big and confident and he seems invulnerable in some ways, but emotionally he perceives and receives threats much more strongly. He is less afraid that somebody is going to physically hurt him, but he is very aware of being psychically or psionically injured. Some of his friends are so fragile, they make him look like a pillar of salt, but emotional vulnerability happen all the time. It is a constant friend.

Getting people to talk about themselves

John loves people's stories and he loves other people. Talking to people about themselves is part of his process of self education to get people talking about themselves. Some people use that as a ploy to pick somebody's pockets or sell them a car. Getting people talking about themselves is such a joy and John loves hearing other people's stories. It makes him seem very gregarious and people-oriented because afterwards he retells those stories or thinks about his own stories in a new context. It is the alphabet! It doesn't mean that he wants to hug, exactly. He doesn't really want a hug the way some people would forego the stories or the listening. Some people would never listen to you although you have been married to them for 11 years and they have never listened to you, but they want to hug desperately all the time. It is like intersecting bell curves in four dimensions.

Being a bad neighbor or a bad Southerner

Dan has many traits, but not enough affectations. He is way more on John's side of the camp in not wanting the pie, but for different reasons. He is very much aware of the problem, maybe because it was the way his mom was, and he grew up with the understanding that people will do things for other people and a lot of the times you don't want it, but you get to just take it anyway without feeling bad about it. If they want to go out of their way to make you something, Dan definitely feels like you have an obligation to thank them for it in a way that will be measured against the amount of effort that they put into doing it. If they drew you a little sketch on a little napkin versus a pie, that would require a lot more thanking, versus if they built you a kit car, which is even more work so you would have to be even more thankful. It comes down to how great of a thing it is, but Dan learned that if somebody wants to do that for you and you haven't asked them for it, you are obligated to thank them for it, but they can't come back and expect something later. The transaction ends after you thank them. "I made you this pie!" - "Wow! Thank you so much! It was really nice of you, but you didn't have to do that." - "I know, I wanted to!" Okay, that's it!

Maybe this is a Northeastern thing? People will say that Texas isn't the South, which Dan agrees to, but Dan spent a lot of time in the South in Florida, which is its own strange land. That is true for North Carolina as well which definitely qualifies as the South, and there is very much that thing like "Oh, we baked some cookies, we brought over this basket of preserves that we made and canned ourselves for you!" and it almost becomes like a competition of out-nicing the other person which is a very stressful exchange for Dan. He lets it die after they give him that thing, even if they walk away from it thinking Dan is a bad neighbor. He doesn't want the pie anyway, he is not going to like it. It makes Dan a bad Southerner, but his problem is that there is only one kind of pie that he could actually possibly like and no-one is going to make him that one! Even worse, he is probably not going to be able to eat it because of the gluten-free thing. That is always the worst thing, someone made him these cookies from scratch, but they are going to the table in the common room in the office building he works in and he is not going to get any of that.

Dan being a member of the Devo fanclub

Dan became a member of the Devo fan club when he was 11 years old and he didn't get very much in return. They sent him a little card or a paper that he could self-laminate, but he had the feeling that what he got back for whatever small amounts he had paid was not enough. He wasn't expecting Mark to sit down with his ink quill pen thing and sketch something for him, but he felt like he wanted a little bit more than what he had gotten back. Today he would have a different perspective on it than he had back then. There was something cool about saying he was a member of the Devo fan club, and he was OK that he had to pay for the right to say that.

Dan receiving donations and letting people down

Dan does have some 5by5 Super-fans who have been with him from the very beginning and who have listened to every show. They have passed the line from being fans to being friends of the shows, then being friends of Dan and supporters. He has asked them for favors, or maybe he hasn't asked them for favors. The crux of the issue is that Dan could never possibly repay people who are fans or super-fans or people who donate, even if they donate $1 a month or even only $1 for one month. He feels like he is letting them down constantly and it brings up the emotion that he doesn't even want to do the shows anymore, because all he is going to do is going to let people down. There was a show that Dan had taken a little bit of a break from and that he is starting back up, but this summer got crazy with his kids both out of school and everything that was going on with a couple of other projects he was working on, so he had to take a break from that show and people miss it. They wonder what happened and ask for it to come back.

Then Dan feels really terrible about it, because people have invested in a show that they like or they have invested in a band that they. You are letting people down at all times, no matter what you do! If their normal show is two hours and they do a show that is an hour and a half because a bunch of people emailed and said that their shows are too long, even though they are great, then they will get other e-mails from people who now have been let down by half an hour. You have taken that half an hour from them, they budgeted the number of episodes they were going to take on their camping trip to listen to on their drive or something, and now you have taken that from them! It is not that people feel entitled or feel owed, even the people who donate.

Dan's Buddhist meditation and feeling guilty

For a long time Dan was very serious, too serious perhaps, about practicing Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. Listening to John talk about debt and donations reminded him of all these talks that he used to listen to, about something called Dana, which is the practice of giving. The core of it is that you are making a gift that you expect absolutely nothing in return for. It is the only true way to give a gift, because you are only doing it for the joy of giving and you truly in your deepest heart of hearts do not want anything back in return. That is the only way that in theory you are even supposed to make a donation to a Buddhist organization or to a temple. You can't hope that you get something back, but it has to be completely freely given. Especially in our culture this is in many ways a foreign concept. You think about giving something and not wanting anything back, but for example the people who donate to Dan's shows hope he will keep making them, so now they do want something back. Dan is not saying that this is bad, because the donations make a big difference for them, but there is that expectation that they have given Dan $1 a month, but that may not be big enough to get a mug or a sticker or something. Dan is not exaggerating when he is saying that he is feeling guilty about it every single day.

Absence of kindness being worse than physical damage (RW4)

Part of Dan's and John's personal journey together should be to figure out a way to accept people's love and in particular accept people's love in the form of money. They do not feel guilty about it, they live in the light, they accept the love and they just have to figure this out.

John practices a kind of amateur Buddhism, which is not in any way connected to Buddha, but only to the principles of Buddhism, like the principles of most religions are what you discover when you go to extremes. He routinely goes to extremes and when he comes back, he often finds that he is holding some tenet that can be identified as a Buddhist tenet. John sees where Siddharta went to extremes and came back with his premise. John didn't go to such extremes, he did not sit with his food bowl under a tree for 40 years, but the desire to silence the mind is a thing that if you have never experienced it, then you have not gone to extremes. The great mysteries for John are gratitude, other people, and how to find your place. He feels like he has left a trail of tears throughout his whole life that is primarily a result of him failing to give, as opposed to physically damaging people. Whatever cruelty he commits against people is a cruelty of absence, which is no less cruel. That is John's struggle! He always felt like absence was kinder, certainly kinder than violence, but also kinder than the dangerous fallout from complication. You get in there, you get blood on your hands, you get entangled with somebody, you are all glued together with sweat, semen, a shared bank account, glitter and Burning Man dust or whatever it is that coats people. That just all seemed so fraught with explosive danger and absences seemed more generous, but for so many people absence it the supreme unkindness.

John's inner mountain lion

John is wrestling that mountain lion every hour of his life. John seems calm, he is sitting in a Tali's, eating a chocolate croissant that tastes like a flower-covered catcher's mitt, but what he is really wrestling with is a mountain lion of solitude which is still not resolved. Every morning when he wakes up, this fucking lion is there. A Mountain Lion is about the size of an African lion, but much more powerful. It has claws and is a very muscular animal. It is not even a lion John's size, but John outweighs the fucking lion, but a 90 pound mountain lion is still a big fucking cat! Even if John is twice its size, it is still a formidable adversary and John has to be on guard. It is trying to eviscerate him with its hind claws and bite the back of his neck with its big fangs. John loves people! They are amazing! They are hilarious! John is the fucking Will Rogers of Indie Rock and he almost never met a person he didn't like. There are a few people he doesn't like, but for the most part, even the worst people are pretty likable. Dan thinks that even though John is intimidating in person, he also seems very approachable. There is something very kind about him, but he still seems much less kind than he really is.

Creating magic in the world (RW4)

Trying to hide his kindness is one of John's defining characteristics. He notices that the light bulb in your landing is burned out and he changes it and takes great pleasure in not just that you don't know it was him, but that you will never notice. That is a very Buddhist thing to do! It is exactly the same impulse as when you when you find a dime on the ground and it is tails up and you flip it heads and leave it. You are just taking the badness away. The person who comes along and finds the quarter does not realize that anyone has interacted with it and they think it is a lucky quarter, because it is heads up. Creating luck for other people is one of the great pleasures for John and it is not a thing he would ever talk about even to his friends, because it is a private joy. Only because Dan leaped upon it can he even describe it. Creating magic in the world is so easy, but it requires that you never take credit for it. It is a form of anonymous donation that requires you to survey and see what's broken, what needs help and where magic is possible. You walk along and you see somebody coming and you see an obstacle in their way that they don't see and you remove that obstacle in a way that they never perceive. They don't ever even register you! That is one of the great ways to play the violin in the world. There is a huge potential for a little bit of a practical joke in doing something like changing the light bulb, if they did notice it was burned out.

Running away behind a bus (RW4)

There is another version of that: When you are standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change and somebody is standing across the street from you and you see that they see you and you see them. Then all of a sudden a bus or a truck is moving down the street and comes in between you. In the space of the two seconds that it takes that truck to go, John will leap in the direction of the traveling vehicle and sprint. When the truck has passed the person across the street will think that he has vanished. He does that type of thing often at great inconvenience, for example not only is he running for no reason, but now he is all the way down the street or he has to duck into a place or something and then you have to hide it and then you are late for what you were going to, just in order to create a moment. If you notice John on the street, he is pretty noticeable, especially with his vest and monocle and purple top hat. To notice him and then see him disappear is pretty great! Then John will hide somewhere and watch this person spend the next couple of minutes playing it cool. Nobody else saw it and it was for that one person only. Playing it cool, walking down the street, looking around like "Where the fuck did he go?" Before the truck John was just the picture of calm, waiting for the light.

John has a handful of those and won't give them all away. He never learned actual close up magic and he doesn't have the ability to give people that joy of making cards disappear and stuff, but he loves the practical joking aspect. He hates to sound like fucking Jerry Lewis, like a clown who wants to "put a smile on a kid's face", but there are lots of opportunities to do that stuff and you can surprise people in a pleasant way.

In some ways it is like the impulse to build a Cairn. The first time you come to the top of a mountain and you see a Cairn, you are like "What the fuck is that? How long has that been there?" and the chances are it has only been there for a week or for an hour, but John is not going to give away his secrets, he might have said too much already. There aren't that many people listening to this podcast relative to the number of people that he is potentially going to see on the street. The other thing is that you can't set it up, but you have to honestly be waiting on a street corner, notice someone has noticed you and then the fortuitousness of a passing truck. It is like life occurring spontaneously on a planet: Everything has to be just right. It happened to John a handful of times in 25 years, it is in a quiver of potential events. When you are standing on a street and see somebody across the street, you notice that they see you, and you hear the rumbling of a truck, you have 1.5 seconds to decide if you are going to do this and then you have to execute fully. If you are not running as fast as the truck and they see you running down the street, they will think nothing of it. Maybe that guy must have forgotten his wallet!

When it comes to changing the light bulb or that type of thing: It is not often that you show up somewhere, you notice a burned out light bulb and you have the opportunity to go find a new light bulb. To be primed for that and to find a set of keys on the ground and not just leave them or take them into the nearest shop, but to notice them, figure out what kind of car they're from and then search the neighborhood for that car, find the car and then not steal it, is the first decision you have to make. John has gone pretty far down that chain of events, finding a set of keys on the ground and he was able to place the keys with the owner of the car after a long set of hijinks. There is so much joy in life, waiting for the opportunity. You have to make a little bit of investment, but you bring laughs to people or mystery.

Dan proposes another thing: You call someone on the phone, you are having a nice phone conversation, and when you feel like you are done with the call, which is usually before the other person is ready to be done, you say "Oh John, there was one more thing I want to tell you, it is actually kind of important, I can't believe I forgot" and then you hang up. Then they will wonder if you were playing a game. If they call you back, do not answer. If they text you, you got to wait at least a couple of hours and if they call you out on it, you say that you can't remember what it was.

Sponsor: Wealthfront (RW4)

It behooves everyone to learn about money. We should all know more about money, even though money is fake, but we should educate ourselves about it! We don't take home-economics anymore, nobody learns to balance their checkbook let alone on how to manage their money. It seems like a thing that the less you know about it and the more you just sort of sign up for Amazon Prime, Apple Care or Google Plus, which doesn't cost money, but it does cost something. The more you just let direct withdrawals take care off your expenses and the less your fingerprints are on your money as it comes and goes, the more vulnerable you are. This data service that Wealthfront is providing is a good opportunity to do some self-education and to watch stuff move around to figure out what it means. The stock market is a harsh mistress, a pit of vipers, but knowledge is power!

Listener mail (RW4)

"Dear Sirs, I do pose this question to you in the hope that it will be discussed on your excellent show. Mr. Roderick, recently you have enumerated upon the need for infrastructure building and looking at what our grandchildren will need when they become adults. I would be interested to hear what you and Mr. Benjamin think is the most pressing infrastructure need for the world." — Steven, Sydney, Australia.

All infrastructure is interconnected and you can't really divorce one thing from another. Going forward it seems like the next problem we need to solve is fresh water everywhere. Our prehistoric plan to gather it as it falls from the sky or as it runs down from the mountains isn't sufficient anymore. In Western Washington they have always gotten away with murder because they have abundant water, but this past winter it never snowed and they realized that all of their water comes from snow that is stored up there in the mountains. The mountains release that water slowly over the spring and summer, but it didn't happen this time. They have always been pretty smug about the amount of water they had relative to the desert Southwest, but three more winters with no snow and they will be literally up a creek just like everybody else.

Australia is one of the pioneers of desalination technology and they have taking the salt out of seawater for a while. Now they have finally built a plant in Israel where it seems like the cost of taking salt out of water is coming down because electricity generation is getting cheaper. Solar power is starting to be a real force in electricity. We need to pioneer clean electricity in order to have cheap desalination plants to provide fresh water for everyone. If we are able to do that effectively, we will find that a lot of the regional political strife is already water-based, let alone what it is going to be if we don't get at this now. Why does nobody live in the Sinai? The Sinai is a giant peninsula right in the heart of the matter, it is the center of the world, but you can't live there because there is no water. If you had some big desalination plants, you could turn the Sinai into an oasis, do some terraforming, turn it into the new Palestine and make it a desert garden. The Sinai Peninsula is 23.000 square miles (60.000 sqkm) and it has a population of 1.5 million people. Israel by comparison is only 8000 square miles (21.000 sqkm) with a population of 9 million people.

"Hello! You asked for listener questions and I have one: Which seems more ridiculous: The idea that life is random and finite, as in 'when you die, that's it!' or the alternative that it isn't. I am struggling right now because both seem absurd and both seem plausible to me personally. Thank you for being there and for all you do." — Jamie

The idea that life is finite is not very ridiculous. That is the answer to the question. All around us, life is finite. There is no sentimentality in nature and we have spent many centuries trying to draw a line somewhere in the continuity of life. Plants die all the time, bugs die and mice die and nobody cares, because there is no mouse heaven. Nobody weeps for the dandelions. Somewhere between mice and cats, all of a sudden we say that when the cat dies, it can't be the end. That cat has to go to cat heaven because I loved that cat and it can't just die. When a giant tree dies, we mourn and rend our garments and wail, but that line between mouse and cat or between dandelion and Redwood is just a fake distinction, because as things get closer to us emotionally, it is harder and harder for us to imagine that the same rules apply. Of course the same rules apply to dandelions as to Redwood, to mice and to humans. John doesn't know why there should be a human heaven but not a mouse heaven. No one has explained why we should mourn a Redwood but not a dandelion. Our fourth dimension is all we perceive. We don't see our fourth dimension, but from the standpoint of a Redwood: How many mice have died at the feet of any typical Redwood? 10.000, 100.000? The Redwood doesn't care!

John doesn't think it is ridiculous to think that life is finite. Everything that accompanies our sense of justice is a human invention and that doesn't make it fake or wrong, but it is a thought technology and is not really something baked in. The world itself is completely unsentimental and doesn't have a sense of of right and wrong. It is the hardest thing to understand because we have invented it and it serves us. Maybe we have pulled a golden rule out of math somehow or a proportional Leonardo da Vinci drawing down out of universal principles and we have extrapolated from it, but it is still an extrapolation and not some kind of a-priori system. Other than wishful thinking John cannot think of any other evidence or reason to suspect that it is otherwise, not even wishful thinking! When you really put your mind to it: If somebody came to you and said they will let you live for 1000 years, when you really think about how exhausting it is to live and how short lives are, they are bullshit-short, but in actual practice of living them, they are interminable, they are so long and exhausting with relatively few clear rewards. There are some good times, like there are some days at the beach and there is strawberry ice cream. John is not a monster. There are plenty of nice things: Soft kisses or full moons, but there is also an awful lot of dragging your carcass across the baked sand.

If you could live to be 50 and then go back to 20 and live between 20 and 50 three times, that wouldn't be as bad. That would be killer, actually! It would be one continuous life, you get to be 50 and "Boom!" back to 20, but nobody else knows about it. They would have a funeral for your 50 year old self, you beautifully inhabit some 20 year old, but you remember everything and then you lived to be 50 in that body. Then "Boom!" again one more time. If you could do that, you might want to live forever. That might not be so bad, but it is hard to say!

The reincarnation gig that everybody believes, including some people in John's own family, is that they will always be ascending. But eternity in heaven? No one ever explicates what exactly your day looks like up there. What is it? You are getting massages all day? Is it the first day of 7th grade and you're on roller skates and Blondie's Heart of Glass is playing? Are you just in a warm bath? Any description of it doesn't sound very cool. Heaven is just offered as an alternative to hell and people spend a lot of time describing hell. All we know about heaven is that it is not hell, but we spend all of our time thinking about hell. John spent quite a bit of time thinking about heaven and he can't come up with anything that would be even remotely worth eternity, because that just sounds like another kind of hell. We all want to have meaning attached to everything, because that is human. The human game is to assemble things into patterns and to find meaning in those patterns. Space travel is going to be very important. And podcasting. The two pinnacles of human achievement.

In answer to the question, Jamie should start a podcast and that way he will live forever. Then he can let his body die unsentimentally like a dandelion. His words will ring out and somewhere in the future. George Carlin and Clarence Clemons will sit on a giant dais and make some weird hand gesture in homage to him and his life.

Many people know that Buddhists believe in reincarnation, but it is not seen as a good thing. Buddhists don't want to be born reborn. The whole point of Buddhism is to make it stop, because there is a lot of suffering in being being alive. That doesn't mean there are not a lot of good things, too! The theory in Buddhism is that by the time that you are a human being, you have already been reborn thousands if not hundreds of thousands of times as every variety of creature in the universe until you worked your way up to finally become a human. You got the chance of finally being lucky enough to be born as a human being, the only being that has the potential to attain enlightenment, which is the Buddhist way of saying that you are not going to be born again anymore and you get to stop. Getting this cycle of rebirth, Samsara to stop is what Buddhists are working towards. Being born as a human has that potential, because other beings like your dog do not have that potential. The chance of that is equal to the chance of a sea turtle swimming in the middle of the ocean coming up to the surface to take a breath and having its head poke through the hole in a piece of driftwood. The chance of that just happening randomly in the world is how likely a being is to be born as a human being.

The whole goal in the Buddhist mindset is that we want to stop this cycle of Samsara, of rebirth and death. It is the karma we create. People think of karma for example as an eye for an eye, but that is the Westernized version and it is not quite that simple. It is more about every action has an effect. There is cause and there is effect. That exists on the purely physical level but it also exists on the energy level. If you are a really awesome Buddhist, like you are the best Buddhist ever, you are maybe only going to create good karma, not making any bad karma. That would be really good, but that is still bad. Your goal is to not make any karma at all, to have all of your actions create no karma, good or bad.

John talked about being emotionally invisible and that is the pinnacle! Walking across the rice paper without making any trace. If Dan believes anything, he believes along the lines of Buddhism with the goal of getting out of that. It is not that John gets reborn and now John is this other person, but the karma that John has set in motion, the existence of that karma is what creates that next life. It is not you and your consciousness per se as much as the effects of the things that you have done in this life that leads to your next rebirth. If you take a stack of dice and stack the dice up on top of it to built a tower of dice, you can stack them on top of each other but the one that you're stacking on top of the other one can only be stacked because there's one below it.

Tweetstorming / Instagram-storming

There are 26 photos from the junkyard:

Initial Tweet

Early on in John's time on Twitter, he went on a screed against Firestone, because he went to a Firestone dealership and the manager was a rude twat (see story in RL26). They did a shitty job fixing his car and then they they failed to address the problem 3 or 4 times. Finally they had to get John a rental car. They called him at 5:59pm and said they fixed the car and it is ready for pickup, but John didn't get the message at 5:59pm because he was in the recording studio, and so he came by the next day to get the car and they said they had called him yesterday and they weren't going to pay for the extra day of the rental car. John said he was at work, but they were like "Well no, you didn't come by after work!", but John is a musician and was at work from 3 pm to 3 am. Anyway, they weren't going to pay for that extra day. John got in the car, started it up, drove 3 feet and realized that the steering wheel just went down or something like that, and they hadn't fastened it. He went back in and was mad. The car had been there for 4 days such that they needed to rent him a car and then they tried to nickel and dime him on the car and now his car still wasn't fixed. It was the 4th time he was here, you got to be shitting me!

The manager said "Sir, if you are going to use profanity, then we are not going to entertain your complaint!" and John asked if they are seriously going to read from the Firestone assistant manager script that came in a three ring binder about what to do with an irate customer, because John had said "You have got to be shitting me?" He was like "I will burn your Firestone to the ground in a brand new way by using a tweet storm" and he tweeted things like "I hate Firestones" SEND "Here's why. Because Firestone a blankety blank" (first tweet, later tweet) and he started tweeting about Firestone and was happy because of that first flush of feeling that he was doing something right. After about 10 tweets, he started to get replies from people like "Dude, why are you clogging my feed?" and it just made him happier that there were people out there who were mad that their free Twitter account required that they scroll or something. It was early enough times.

John never understood the "clogging my feed" problem, because it is so easy to just unfollow or to scroll. Then John was antagonizing people, which was its own joy. He tweet-stormed about Firestone for a couple of hours and then of course Firestone got involved with some customer service person. It was John's first exchange like that where a customer service representative was trying to fix the problem, but they didn't have a dedicated Twitter person, it was just that someone had alerted them to it and someone from Firestone was like "Hello! I am from Firestone. Can I help resolve this problem?" John told them they can help by closing their Aurora Blvd store, firing the manager, salting the earth, and sending everyone there into exile. They said that they don't have the power to do that.

Over the years John has gotten a lot of joy like that. He most famously went to war with the Hilton Hotel chain (first tweet, later tweet) because of an experience he had at their Alexandria Virginia location. John tweet-stormed about them a few years ago and that was one of the greatest days of his life. They were actually pounding on the door. Somebody storified that one and it was a good time. Every once a while you do a little tweet storm and now that John got Instagram, he has got to do an Instagram storm, which is pretty fun. John recommends that everybody listening to this program should follow John on all of the social media channels, because the times we have! 3:00am in the morning, tweeting at each other. Just don't bring him a pie!

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