RW45 - Pipe Organ Preservationists

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to Wurlitzer pipe organs from old movie theaters from the silent film era that were torn down in the 1970s and some hippies saw themselves as pipe organ preservationists and saved some of them to put in pizza parlors.

John and Dan tried to talk to each other 3 times, they both rebooted and now they are here! John is in Venice, California and we might hear someone with a leaf blower in the background who is blowing some dry grass clipping around a very small yard, which could be raked in about 2,5 minutes, but instead they use a 5HP gas-powered leaf blower and he is walking around blowing the grass into the same general pile that he would make if he raked it, but it is taking him about 15-40 minutes to do.

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

Fruit trees in John's back yard (RW45)

John has a larger piece of property compared to other people in the Seattle city limits, about 1/3 of an acre (1200 sqm), and after he moved in he proceeded immediately to plant a lot of bushes like flowering bushes and enjoyable bushes and Rhododendron and Camellias and Pierises and Botinias and lots of different interesting bush work that immediately needed maintenance. He also planted a birch garden with lots of little Japanese maples and California oranges.

John does have 3 fruit trees that are mostly pests, because all the fruit is ripe at the same moment and then you have ripe fruit for about 3,5 days after which the fruit immediately is overripe. It goes from just underripe to perfectly ripe for 2-3 days and then the tree is full of birds and raccoons and it will be shedding rotting fruit for 1,5 months. The awful thing about grocery stores now is that they import fruit from Chile all year round that doesn’t cost us anything because of the economics of scale, but it costs the world all the pollution and garbage that results from schlepping fruit all around the world, which is a hidden cost that we don’t pay.

If John would bring 25 giant bowls of cherries into the house he would just have fruit flies a week later and you don’t really want to fill your whole freezer with frozen cherries. The apple tree is kind of the same and in order to make the apples good you have to spray in the dead of winter for worms, because apples are naturally full of worms. You either sit with every apple you pick off the tree with a pairing knife and cut every portion of the apple that has a worm in it off, or you are a old-timey farm person and eat the worms.

John doesn’t just throw the apples down the street until all the apples are junk and then he does throw them down the street. It is one of his games: Take an apple and throw it down the street as far as you can! In the back yard John has a pear tree that is about 100 years old and the pears are only perfectly ripe for about 4 hours, but the nice thing about them is that you can bring an unripe pear into your home and it will ripen, which gives you about an 8-day window where you can have the pears around until they are fruit fly producers.

Dan had an orange tree in his back yard at his first house he owned in Florida, but the oranges were terrible and they just attracted a lot of raccoons.

Dan noticed that many of the yards in his current neighborhood are nicely manicured and he wondered if human civilization were to be completely wiped off the planet, how long would it take for the Earth to reclaim all of this? How long would it take all dogs to eventually go back into their primordial dog form? John thinks it would only be 3-4 generations. In the case of John’s house, it would be reclaimed by the bushes he planted and it threatens to do that every season!

John is out there all the time with his little clippers and he has a powered lawnmower, but he doesn’t use a powered hedge-trimmer and he is not somebody who edges. He does considerable raking. He has some busted-ass rakes he uses and some good rakes, and he is out there raking all the time. John has a Catalpa tree with leaves the size of what we previously called Medium Pizza, but what we now would call Large Pizza.

Pizza sizes (RW45)

At the time when Dan worked at Domino’s they had small and large pizzas and they were just introducing medium pizzas. Two medium pizzas were $11.99 delivered to your house in 30 minutes or less or it is free. The first time John saw an extra large pizza on a menu he thought that they had finally done what he always wanted, a pizza that was just a little big bigger than a large, because John is a pizza glutton and when a large pizza shows up, he immediately begins to hoard it.

If you take one slice of pizza, even if John has six slices of pizza, he will still covet your slice of pizza because what the hell are you eating John’s pizza? It is one of the few occasions when John turns into a lion on the Savannah and everyone else approaching his pizza is a Hyena. He becomes very jealous about his pepperoni pizza! If there are two people sitting around, you are not going to order two large pizzas. When he saw extra large, he thought this was perfect, because the ”extra” will be the portion that the other person eats and then there will still be a large pizza for him. When it arrived, it was just a large pizza that they now called extra large because they had introduced some intermediary slightly smaller pizza or something.

In Anchorage there is still a pizza parlor called Sorrento’s Pizza on Fireweed Lane, which has never been Anchorage’s nicest street, but it is a street that you use. When John was a kid, it had pawn shops, army navy surplus stores and little hamburger diner type places and lots of little shite houses. There was a store that would make trophies and a couple of places who sold guns, dry cleaners, the Foreign Legion, that kind of environment. John lived right off of that street, so he knew every shop.

There was also the Fireweed Theater, which was a drive-in theater that also had 3 giant movie theaters associated with it that would seat 800 people and then the drive-in closed and the theaters got chopped up into 10 little Multiplex theaters and recently they closed it down and tore it down. Fireweed Lane has become so down-market that they can’t even support a movie theater anymore. As John drove down the street, he thought it was really on the skids. You would think that Anchorage is booming everywhere and Fireweed was a mid-town street that was there to be used, but how did it become so blown out? The one thing that is still there that you can count on is Sorrento’s Pizza.

The place that introduced John to good pizza was Pizza Haven in Seattle, which is now gone. Pizza Haven had a slightly sugary sauce that didn’t taste like fresh tomatoes, because if you want fresh tomatoes, go eat a tomato! Pizza should have expressive flavors that aren’t natural, but that are changed by the hands of man. Natural? Go out and lay in the grass and rub your face in a tomato and put some basil up your nose.

You can have natural any time, but pizza involves labor, like chopping and mixing and cooking, and it should come out the other side tasting like nothing that you could find in nature, because that is the principle of making food. You don’t want to taste the nature in it, because there is plenty of nature! John doesn’t mean processed food that is full of Xanthan gum, but processed by the hands of a cook. Make it into something else! Pizza Haven had this pizza that felt like candy pizza made for kids and it made John realize that pizza is the greatest food!

Movie theater pipe organs (RW45)

There was a pizza place in Seattle called Pizza & Pipes

In the early 1970s they were tearing down all the great Vaudeville houses around the US and all the pipe organs that had been installed in these buildings during the era of silent film, not church pipe organs, but pipe organs meant to score Harold Lloyd movies, became orphans. Early big movie theaters would have a pipe organist in the employ who would score the film. They were tearing these buildings down to make parking lots and later on they became Lowe’s.

A lot of these pipe organs just ended up in landfills, but there were probably some hippies in overalls with little round grandma glasses who were pipe organ preservationists. They recognized that no-one was going to build a modern pipe-organ and we had to preserve these old Wurlitzers. They were enormous, bigger than a room, because the big pipes were 3 stories tall and they were built into the theaters. The control surface had 6 different layers of keys that wrapped all around you. The organ did not just make organ sounds, but it also had sound effects.

A few of these pipe organs have survived to this modern day. They were tearing down those ancient theaters that were only 70 years old and that should by all rights have lived for 1000 years, because they were the temples of their time! Why do we still have the pyramids, but we don’t have a giant pipe organ in every neighborhood? A few were preserved and some of them were installed in pizza parlors.

In the 1970s the fashion for pizza parlors was Ye Olde Pizza Parlors, where the waiters and waitresses all wore arm garters, red checkerboard table cloth, and straw boaters. Penny-farthing bicycles were very fashionable throughout the culture. For some reason the 1920s and also the 1950s were very popular in the 1970s. It is like trying to deny that Happy Days had an influence in that time period, but it really had a huge influence. There were organ grinders with little monkeys running around playing the Star Wars theme. It was a very confusing time!

Shakey’s pizza was a giant chain, at least in the Northwest, with a 1920s motif. The pipe organs ended up in pizza parlors with the concept that they would play silent movies in the pizza parlor and these hippie pipe organ enthusiast preservationists would sit at the pipe organ and play along as they had once done in Ye Olde Times, except those were young people. In a lot of cases there were a bubble gum machine and a Lionel train set that ran along the ceiling.

Your pizza-going experience was fully immersive and you knew you would get some of the finest early 20th century entertainment along with some pizza which back then was a total ethnic food that no-one who wasn’t Italian had ever tried. The popularization of pizza didn’t happen until the 1950s and you wouldn’t have gotten a pizza slice in New York in 1930, you wouldn’t even have eaten spaghetti because this was some strange food eaten by foreign people.

They tore down the Pizza & Pipes which was just a way station on the pipe organ’s long slow march to the garbage dump. Now it is challenging to find any pipe organ anymore! John happens to know of a wealthy woman in Portland, Oregon with an enormous property where she custom-built a theater to house a pipe organ that she saved because she is a pipe organ enthusiast and now there is this enormous building tucked in the back of her hill-top estate, built by some architect exclusively to house this enormous machine, which, because no-one she knows plays it, sits in this strange space unplayed.

At a certain point, one of the members of Menomena bumped into her on a beach while surfing and she hired him as the caretaker for her property and offered him to live in the pipe organ building. This was 15 years ago and he might still be living there. John spent many a night there and every time he wanted to fire up the pipe organ, there was always something dismantled and something needed maintenance. They were surely very sturdy in their original buildings, but once you relocate them, it is like re-planting a palm-tree: They become very fuzzy.

John heard a story the other day that a full-grown palm tree in Los Angeles, plus having it shipped to your front yard and getting it planted will cost you $1000 a foot. Some of these palm trees are 60 feet (18 meters) high and the knowing source just shrugged when John questioned if people were really paying $60.000 for it.

Pizza in Florida (RW45)

When Dan was growing up in Philadelphia, there was great pizza anywhere you went. When he moved to South Florida, he didn’t expect to get the same kind of pizza and he discovered that the concept of pizza in Florida was Domino's. They also had Uno’s for the deep dish, which Dan never had before and didn’t see as pizza, but as some other thing. He enjoyed it during the time he ate pizza.

Every time they went North they tried to stop and have a real pizza, just at some mom & pop pizza place at some corner and it would always be outstanding. Of course he would always fold the pizza and he never realized that it was a thing that only he did. Finally they opened a restaurant in Orlando that was called Philadelphia style pizza, but it was nothing close. There are also Cheesesteak restaurants in Austin that are called authentic Philly Cheesesteaks, but they are not.

There are no Delis outside the Northeast (RW45)

No-one outside of the Northeastern sea-border knows how to run a deli or make a freaking sandwich. Everybody knows what a sandwich is and everybody has the same access to ingredients: There is bread that is made from wheat and yeast and you can buy whatever wheat you need. There is meat that is made from animals: Kill them, slice them up, they are full of meat! But as soon as you go 120 miles from New York City, sandwich technology is instantly lost. It is like prehistoric people trying to make a flashlight out of leaves.

If you haven’t eaten a sandwich, a pizza or a bagel in the Northeast, you have not had those foods. Eating a donut is probably closer to a bagel than what they give you at the Einstein. The one exception to the bagel rule is Montreal, which is the only other place where you can get a decent bagel. That is not to say that you can get a good bagel sandwich in Montreal. Dan doesn’t understand the point of a bagel sandwich!

Dan doesn’t eat gluten anymore, but he is fairly passionate about bagels because it is something he grew up with. When he lived in Philadelphia he would visit his grandparents and his aunt Boka who lived right by Flakowitz, one of the best places where you could get bagels in the United States! In Orlando there were no bagels anywhere except maybe Publix can make a sandwich that is not an embarrassment. It is a grocery store and by all rights should not be able to make a sandwich.

There are some canonical bagels and some disallowed ones, shunned by social process. Doing an Everything-bagel means you are not making up your mind. Dan never had a bagel sandwich he liked during his whole life, because what are you going to do with the meat in the hole? You can’t have anything there because you don’t have any bread at the top and the bottom! Why won’t you just use regular bread and make a rye sandwich or something? Einstein bagels don’t actually have holes in them, they are basically big buns with a belly button on either side, like doughy buns.

Food being introduced to Anchorage (RW45)

John remembers the first bagel that came to Anchorage. There was a place called the Bagel Deli and it was a big deal when it opened. New kinds of food periodically arrived in Anchorage on an ocean liner and the event was like Clark Gable arriving in New York City on an ocean liner from Paris. There was confetti and people were waving off the side of the ship, the gang-plank went down and somebody in a double-breasted suit wearing a fedora would walk off the ship.

There were streamers and a brass band started playing, and he held out a bagel, and ”Look what I have found!” and the people in Anchorage rejoiced, they were curious about this amazing new food and wondered if they could add it to their existing 6 kinds of food that they have there. They have eggs, moose burgers, moose steak, and pizza, but you get tired of eggs and moose steak and here came a bagel! When the Bagel Deli opened, there were lines around the block.

John remembers when the French bakery came to town on the sailing ship and he saw the first croissant in his life. It had an Eiffel Tower on the side and was called Chez Croissant, and there were also lines around the block to get these amazing buttery muffins.

John remembers the first time he saw Fajitas: There was actually a fireworks display, because there is nothing more Alaskan than Fajitas. It appeals to their pre-existing love of Mexican Food. Besides moose burgers and eggs they also had those giant garbage-can lids covered with cheese and refried beans that pass for Mexican food in the Northern States. It was a platter with 85.000 calories of the 4 different constituent parts of lard, separated into 4 portions of the platter.

Anchorage already had that, but if you bring a platter like that out and it is on fire, that is so Alaska! Why didn’t they think of this before? When this food comes out of the kitchen, it is basically an assault on everyone else in the restaurant, because of its steam, smoke, fire and burn-smell. The only thing that would make it better would be if the waitress fired a gun in the air when she put it on the table. That was a big event!

John remembers the first time he had Thai food in Alaska. After the place opened it was full of the most sophisticated people in Alaska, like the mayor was there. It was like Chinese food, but it didn’t taste like Chinese food, but like peanuts and leaves. It was a revolution of the mind! Now here we are, 30 years later and you can surely get Bibimbap in Anchorage.

Fur coats (RW45)

When John was growing up in the mid-1980s there was a guy on the ski hill who was the father of John’s friend, a rich guy with a Porsche 944. He wore a woman’s fur coat when he skied. He was a big man and the coat was tailored to him, but it was in a style that could only been described as a woman’s fur coat. They had a prodigious number of fur coats with fur collars and hoods in Alaska. It was an acceptable thing for people to wear.

John still has a couple of coats with fur accents like a big wolf coat. Wearing a wolf coat in Alaska really sends a message when you walk into a Thai food restaurant. This guy was wearing his coat as a signature thing and a big gold chain would have been very appropriate.

Pawn shops (RW45)

Dan needs to go to a pawn shop because his 8-year old son found a gold chain man’s necklace that he wants to pawn. Dan doesn’t know enough to say if it has any value, but it does not exactly read as bling. It would be worn by a guy with dark hair, nice tan, a V-neck, and a little bit of hair in the upper chest. He might also wear mirrored sunglasses in a non-ironic way. It is a single piece, not Mr. T style with lots and lots of them. It is not something a young woman would wear a locket on either.

Dan doesn’t give his kid any allowance and any time he asks Dan for something he says ”No!” It doesn’t matter what it is. Now he found this chain and was planning to keep it, but then he said he wanted to sell it and Dan told him that he might get something for it at a pawn shop. His son didn’t want to go to a pawn shop because he didn’t know what that was, but he wanted to sell it on eBay, which Dan wouldn’t allow. They have bought a few Futurama toys from eBay and Dan's son knows what eBay is. Dan doesn’t go to pawn shops a lot and he wants John’s advice.

John recommends Dan to look at the chain with a magnifying glass, because if it is gold there will be some goldsmith marks somewhere on it, like 14K, because a 24K thing would be too malleable. In any situation like this you are going to want as much information about the thing you are taking in as you can, because if you just walk in there with some gold bangle and say you want money for this, the pawn operator is going to find it very funny and they are either going to give you nothing or they are going to tell you that it is worth nothing. Whatever they do it will not be the most efficacious deal.

The business of a pawn shop is that you get behind on your bills, or somebody offers you a really good real estate deal, but you need to get into it today, or some other situation where you need cash fast. If you are a person who needs cash fast, there is already a problem. If you are a normal person who is doing good, you generally don’t need cash fast, unless there is a medical emergency.

You look around your house for things that are worth money, like this guitar or this laptop, things that are valuable and their value can be determined easily. You take those to the pawn shop and say that your 12-speed bike is worth $1500. You paid $2200 two years ago and you can sell it for $1500 and all you ask for is $750, because you need it for a medical emergency or somebody wants you to go in on an acre of land in the Everglades. The pawn guy looks at it and thinks that you are probably not going to come back because most of the people who pawn things use it as a source of ready cash.

Some people pawn their Gibson Les Paul and at the end of the period they get the money together and get it out of hock. Then they are cool for a couple of months until they put it back in pawn. There are guitars that have been in an out of pawn 50 times because for whatever reason that process becomes part of this person’s banking. In most cases, if you couldn’t put your hands on $750 now, why would you be able to put your hands on $750 later?

Your thing goes into hock and sits there for a long time and when the period expires, the pawn man brings it out from the back room and puts a price tag on it, so he is looking at your 12-speed bike and although it might be worth $1500, what is it worth to him? You are asking for $750 and he will give you $500 for it, because he is trying to make a profit and he is not going to get $1200 or $1500 for it. Nobody who wants that bike will be looking for it in a pawn shop and it is an opportunistic sell. If Dan has a legitimate gold chain that is 14K gold and it weighs a pound, the best he can do is get slightly less than half of the value of the gold.

You can also go to a pawn shop and say that you straight-up want to sell it like on the TV-show Pawn Stars. The only place in the world where this show actually happens in pawn shops is Las Vegas, because it is the only place that a) somebody has a leather jacket signed by Elvis, b) somebody has a leather jacket fake-signed by Elvis, but they believe it was signed by Elvis and c) they need money fast.

This is the thing that never gets talked about on pawn stars: Who are all these people who have those amazing things and why are they selling them in a pawn shop in Las Vegas? They just lost their ass at the roulette table and this is what they’ve got. You are not bringing in your Porsche 956S to look what you can get for it, but you are pawning your dad’s car because you are up to your ears in some casino and there is a guy waiting in a car outside who is going to beat your ass.

When you walk into a pawn shop in Texas, the first thing you are going to see is a bunch of Makita power tools, saws and drills, because that is the stuff that is worth money and that people who are living close to the edge have to sell. Dan remembers from when he was a kid that he would see guitars, guns, tools, knives and jewelry. He pawned a ring once but he never got it back, so if he had said he was selling it he would maybe have gotten 10% more. It used to be that you would see interesting things in pawn shops, like cool guitars. There were a lot more cool guitars and somebody would actually have a cool guitar and take it into a pawn shop, because you could buy cool guitars for $500 and they got $200 for it.

There were a couple of guitars that John regrets not buying at a pawn shop. One of them was a Gibson guitar that was laser-cut in the shape of the United States of America. It still devastates him that he didn’t buy this guitar! A friend eventually bought it and gave it as a gift to another friend. It was affordable and John could still own it to this day. At the time he thought he would see a million of those, but in fact, that was his one shot.

The other one was a beautiful 1980/1981 Gibson Les Paul Special which they only made for this one year. It was a Les Paul with full binding, P90 pickups and everything, not a Les Paul Junior with cheap paint on it. It was this gorgeous thing for $350 and John found it cool, but he didn’t buy it. A few days later he ran back to the pawn shop, but his friend Jeremy Kepping had bought it and John immediately he started shadowing Jeremy, but he didn’t want to sell it to John. Even today, 15 years later, Jeremy still has it and doesn’t want to sell it to John.

Pawn shops are interesting social places. The first thing the pawn guy is going to say is that it is not worth anything or maybe $20, and then Dan and his son can go over to the corner to confer and they can say ”Listen! We looked at this under a magnifying glass and it says Avon right on it. We want eleventy twelve dollars” and the guy is going to say ”Avon is a perfume company and eleventy twelve isn’t a real number”.

It will be learning experience for Dan’s son. Everybody should go into pawn shops and look around, because there is nothing a guy at a pawn shop likes better than somebody else who has never been in a pawn shop, standing there looking at things under the glass and saying ”Can I touch that? Is this a real gun?” There is a scene about a pawn shop in Blues Brothers that represents the good old time big city pawn shop.

The other thing with pawn shops is that people are trying to pawn things they stole. If Dan went in there with a giant diamond, pawn shop employees are generally not moralists. They are not working at a pawn shop because they have this super-developed moral sense and they want to right in justice, but they want to buy and sell things that come off the street and it is a little bit in the shadow lands, like a cheque cashing place.

Pawn shops are a legitimate business hat make transactions in the border country between the straight world and the slightly out-of-true world, but the pawn shop guy does care if the thing is stolen, because the police routinely comes by and asks them to prove that everything in there isn’t stolen. They have a whole methodology to find out if a thing is stolen, for example by looking for any identifying marks or serial numbers.

They also have to hold things for a certain amount of time. The state requires that a pawn shop can’t take something in and sell it the same day, but they have to hold it against the possibility that someone will call the pawn shop and say that their car was broken into and their big gold chain was stolen, at which point the pawn shop will ask them to describe the chain. If you get close enough to describing the thing or if you have laser-etched your name on it, they have to tell you that they have it. If they take in something that was stolen and they haven’t done their due diligence on it, they have to eat it and of course they don’t want to eat it, so they make sure-ish that the thing is not stolen, which is also why they sometimes don’t want to buy a thing.

Maybe this leather jacket is actually signed by Elvis, but the market of people who actually want a jacket signed by Elvis is very small and maybe the guys on Pawn Stars have access to these people, but does the guy at the Austin pawn shop have access to the entire market of signed Elvis jackets? No! For something made out of gold there doesn’t need to be a market exactly because there is always a market for the weight value of it.

If it some amount of solid or identifiable gold, they will buy it because it is basically currency. You can go right to your dealer and say that you want a big bag of drugs for this and the dealer is going to say that they will give you a medium bag of drugs for that and you say ”Are you kidding me? This thing is worth $1500!” and the dealer says ”Today it is worth $600 in drugs, because: Fuck you! You want drugs and this gold is just enough of a pain in my neck that I’m going to rake you over the coals for it, because I’m a drug dealer”

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