RW93 - The Pea under the Mattress

This week, Dan and John talk about

The show title refers to the fact that John not having any plan has always been being the pea under the mattress in his relationships.

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

The podcasting space (RW93)

We are in this strange period where podcasting has not reached its upper, maximum limit by far, because it is really just starting. The biggest network is still NPR and none of the commercial media enterprises have really even entered the space at all. Dan says that they simply don’t know how! They want to get in there, but they don’t understand it and what they are probably trying to do eventually is to buy shows to get people to be on their platform. Those old-school content companies attempt to turn a podcast into a TV-show and the couple of times they have tried it had been total flops. Dan’s little boy used to do a podcast when he was about 7 or 8 years old and it was a lot of fun talking about cartoons and video games and things a 7 or 8 year old likes to talk about. Then Dan got an email and a phone call from some people at one of those cable channels who wanted to make a TV show out of it. He listened to it, but said ”No!” because he didn’t think there was an idea there, but he also didn’t want to expose his 7/8-year old son to the world of television. That was just the initial opening salvo of those companies trying to figure out what they could do with podcasts. They want to shoe-horn it into what they are comfortable doing, which is a TV-show, We have yet to see the Jay-Z show, where Jay-Z has a podcast.

The podcasting space feels very crowded from within, particularly when it comes to shows where people explain interesting facts from history. There is no shortage of those and Ken and John thought long and hard about what podcast they wanted to do. They both just like this stuff and it is not just a gimmick for them. This is what they talk about when they go and have tacos. They love doing the show and they are very proud of it, but it is entering into a space where people say ”The Dollop does that, too!”, except they are comedians. ”Stuff you missed in history class” also does it, except that they are women. There are a lot of different approaches to it and it is hard to know in the long run how you compete for the limited amount of time that people have to listen to interesting facts or listen to anything at all.

This show, Roadwork, competes with Omnibus, because people might only have time to spend on their commute in the morning and the afternoon, if they even have a commute. They might have time when they are jogging or walking the dog or making dinner and that might be the only time they have to listen to anything. Not many years ago people were begging for there to be more good podcasts because there weren’t that many. People loved the few shows that were actually good and they wanted more! Now there are a lot of really good shows, but it has become very hard for people to figure out which shows they should be listening to. There might 5 or 50 shows in the same space and it comes down to if they want to hear John and Ken talk about it or if they want the Dollup people talk about it. What if you like all of them? Then you are in a situation to cut a show! They want to listen to that new thing John does, but it is 45 minutes twice a week. Should they cut one other show or two other shows?

The concept of an expanding podcasting sphere is not to keep poaching the same 50.000 listeners from one another. ”How Stuff Works” is conscious of the fact that Ken Jennings’ name and persona has a wide appeal with people who have never listened to a podcast. The idea of launching a show with Ken as one of the hosts is the opportunity to bring more outside-people into this medium. John travels with Ken all the time and he is still widely recognized and beloved. Every person over the age of 55 knows who he is and, surprisingly, even a lot of young people do, too!John met Zooey Deschanel 10 years ago while she was still an Indie-film-person. She personified a kind of style of Indie-filmmaking and the question was when she was going to have her Amelie. After Jason Schartzman was in Rushmore, it was just a different thing, he had become an institution. Then Zooey got on the television show New Girl.

At the time John still believed that television was a demotion from film, a common conceit through the 1970s/80s/90s. If a movie actor appeared on a TV-show, they had fallen from grace and couldn’t get work, so they had to do a show on TV. When John Ritter appeared in Sling Blade, everybody was ”Wow! Stuntcasting!”, because John Ritter was massive and Sling Blade was a tiny little art project. John watched Zooey as she joined that television show that absolutely changed her life. She was a much bigger star after she was on television, because the audience was huge and you are broadcasting right into people’s living rooms. You are there every single week and you are so much more of a presence to people than Ryan Gosling was in Blade Runner II. It totally turned John’s sense of Film vs TV on its head, even before the current 14th renaissance of television where every television show is cinematic and full of gratuitous violence.

Neither John nor Ken are comedians, although they are both fun to talk to and they are both funny. It is not a comedy show, but they still make each other laugh. You can be funny about history, but neither John nor Ken approach history from it being funny, like "People in the past used to think this! Isn’t that crazy?" Omnibus debuted a week ago and they have released 5 episodes to date because they had them in the can. During their first week, they were number 13 on the iTunes culture charts and number 43 overall, discounting all the ESPN-shows. If you look at the actual raw data of podcasting, the Top 100 shows are all ESPN football recaps, but there are iTunes-charts where they take sports out. It is exciting to be in the Top 50, but nobody knows if you remain there forever, you probably ebb and flow. As someone who has never sold more than 35.000 records, it is interesting to be in those spheres. Podcasting is still not like being on New Girl and it is never going to turn John into America’s Indie darling, but it is really interesting to be part of a property that is one scale different from anything John has done before. John does like doing it and it is sustainable, so we will just see what happens and what it leads to.

Ken Jennings’ streak on Jeopardy (RW93)

Ken won Jeopardy 74 times, which means that for half a year he was in everybody’s living room. He was also responsible for an enormous bump in Jeopardy viewership as his streak continued. The shows are recorded long before they air and you are not allowed to tell anybody that you are doing it, even if you are on a winning streak for several months as Ken was. They record 5 episodes in a day and you can bring different clothes to pretend that it was a different day after each one. Ken kept taking time off from work and only his boss knew what was happening, but none of his co-workers did. He had to go on this ”business-trip” for weeks and weeks and couldn’t even say that he was on the show at all. A little known fact is that until 2003, within a year before Ken's run, you were retired if you did a streak of 5. You won a car or they gave you a trophy. Then they changed the rules and you could keep going, but it was still like normal churn, people would win 3 times and get bounced and so on.

Here comes Ken and wins all 5 shows and wins 5 more. The people from Jeopardy were like ”Oh, we got one now, he won 10! Amazing!” Then he won 15 and 20 and none of the shows had aired yet, so it was all happening in this weird Jeopardy bubble where the producers of the show were like ”Is this bad? Did we do something terrible? Are people going to be furious and going to stop watching the show? Have we betrayed the whole concept?” As Ken won 30, they were on pins and needles and you could see Alex Trebek like ”Oh, Ken is back!” It was confusing for them! The show had been going on for decades and most people who watched the show didn’t even know about this 5-limit rule that had been in place since the beginning. When Ken's episodes started to air, there was still this embargo of information and as people were watching it as they normally do, they would say ”Oh, this guy won 5!”, and ”Wow, he won 10! No-one has ever won 10!” By that time it was already an event. Ken was going to work every day at his computer programming job, but he had also won 10 shows on TV! In the alternate reality time line he was still winning and he was still leaving work to fly down and win Jeopardy. This had never happened before because by the time the episodes air it had already been months since you last recorded. The people at his work were getting this inkling, like ”Wait, you recorded these how long ago and you are still going down there for things?” There was a period where he was in that weird space where he was winning on TV but he was also still winning in the backstory at the opposite end.

By the time Ken won 30 shows, the degree to which that was unprecedented was exponential! It started to become very exciting within the whole culture, because although we don’t all watch Jeopardy every day, we all have watched Jeopardy at some point in our lives and a lot of people have gone through periods where they have watched it quite regularly. All you have to do is be sick in bed for 5 days and you are going to find Jeopardy, you almost can’t help it! A lot of the stuff from Jeopardy is in our broader culture, so when this guy was winning, winning, winning, nobody had to be told what Jeopardy was and people started tuning in and started to be interested in it. Ken is a very interesting mix of a guy who appears as American Joe when you first look at him. He is clean cut, he is a boy next door American white guy, but he also has a real rye charm and is not un-telegenic. He is a little sassy, but in a way that still conveys boy-next-door-ness, not like the guy who won Jeopardy recently who had a big beard and was a Brooklyn tavern guy. He was more like ”I’m milking it!”, but Ken was just there methodically ticking people off, knocking them down.

People were tuning in in record numbers and by the time Ken had won 50 shows, the Jeopardy people had effectively doubled their viewership and did no longer feel that they had made a terrible error. Still, there was this question if this was all it took! One smart guy and he is undefeated now forever? How many times do we let him win before somebody has to kill him? It was really implausible that somebody could do a streak like that, because there are a lot of smart people and Ken is just a normal person, not somebody who can just sit and destroy worlds. There has to be somebody who is faster on the draw and has to slip up? During the last couple of weeks of his reign it was in the newspaper every day. It was a media event and people were talking about it at the water cooler. Eventually he was defeated in just some inglorious way. A smart woman came on and bet some amount of daily double and Ken got the question wrong and he was out. When John says that he is doing a podcast with Ken Jennings, half of the time people know who it is, and the other half find the name familiar, but when John adds ”The Jeopardy guy!”, everybody knows who he is.

Ken’s 75 matches took place over the span of 182 calendar days. At the time he had won more money on quiz shows than any person in history. The question of whether or not it was unfair to all the past victors who didn’t get a chance to go past 5 shows was a little bit of an asterisk next to his record. Jeopardy tried to address this by having a series of tournaments of champions where they invited past 5-time winners to compete against one another. In these tournaments of champions, Ken still beat them all with the exception of Brad Rutter. They competed head-to-head several times and Ken beat Brad eventually, but Brad had beaten Ken in a couple of big events including one with $1 million as the first prize. Ken came never below second place in any Jeopardy tournament and often in first, but Brad Rutter ended up winning enough money that he became the richest quiz show contestant in history with Ken only being number two. It seems pretty hard to beat this 74-winning-streak. The Brooklyn bartender won quite a few, but not that many. He had a little bit of on-camera pizazz and people were talking about it. There was a lot of talk along the lines of ”Is this the one? Can he go the distance?”, but 180 calendar days is quite a distance.

John often gets asked why he has never tried it. He would be good at it, but he doesn’t think he would enjoy it, and you have to like it in order to come so far as to win $1 million. John is not 100% sure that he is that fast either. He knows the answer, but he wouldn’t hit the buzzer before the other person and have the answer right on his tongue. The other day, somebody posted a picture of Serge Gainsbourg with his long-time muse. John was sitting for two minutes thinking about the name of that girl until he remembered that it was Jane Birkin. He knew her name, it was in him somewhere! What Ken and a lot of those people have is the ability to hit the buzzer and know the answer immediately, but this is not the way John’s synapses fire. On a show like Jeopardy he would just be covered in shame, because as soon as somebody would give the answer, he would be like ”Oh, right!”. When somebody has Jeopardy on TV, he will give answers to it all afternoon! Sitting in somebody’s kitchen knowing all the answers is fun, but sitting up there with your hand on the buzzer? It doesn’t feel like that is what he would be good at. His consolation prize is that he gets to do a long-form trivia show with Ken Jennings.

John having the first regular weekly routine since 1999 (RW93)

Right now, John has a pretty comfortable little setup. Since the spring of 1999 when he worked his last job, he had not had a regular weekly routine as much as he has right now. There was a calendar in the back of Steve’s Broadway news that showed his shifts. He had Wednesdays from noon to 6pm, Thursday from 6pm to midnight, Sunday from 6pm to midnight, Monday from 7am to noon (which was his least favorite day of the week). He worked 4 days a week, maybe 5 days if he was covering a shift. Then his band practiced on Tuesday and Thursday nights. There were two nights where he worked until midnight and two nights where he had band practice and that was his schedule. He knew on each day of the week what he was going to do. Since he left that job, the only schedule he has had was when someone sent him a tour routing that said on Monday you are going to be in Ames, Iowa and on Tuesday you are going to be in Lincoln, Nebrasca (which is a shitty drive, by the way).

John's calendar still filled up with things he had to do until he started the show with Merlin which meant that one day a week he had to be somewhere at 10am to record the show. Then John started to do the show with Dan and had two things a week to do, but now he has 4 podcasts and one of them was still unreleased. John has a schedule! He wakes up every day and has a show to do. Three of the shows he does at 10am and Roadwork, because of Dan’s lunch needs, he does at noon. Then he has things with his daughter that are also on his calendar and it is almost like he had a job. He can’t just ”Fuck off!”, but he has to get up in the morning, which is good, because he has eased into it for so long and has done podcasts for a long time so he knew he liked it. It was not like getting a new job, but more like expanding the times he sits at this desk in front of this microphone. It is strange to have alarm-clocky work to do in that way! John is enjoying it because in a way it comports with being 50 years old. The adjustment isn’t the work, but the other stuff that goes along with having a regular life, like needing to figure out how to go to sleep every night, which is still a bug bear! For example, he was awake puttering around at 5am last night! Even thought the show with Dan was not until noon, he won’t get 8 hours of sleep, and why would he stay up until 5am? He needs to figure out all the other things that go along with having a daily routine.

Being dependable without having a plan (RW93)

There is so much danger in a romantic relationship and it is very different from a platonic relationship. Romantic relationships are all about plans. Very few people are able to have a romantic relationship that is entirely in the present moment. To be in a couple is to be making plans! John’s life has been spent in a largely plan-free schema and that is partly because he doesn’t believe that life is made better by planning. Plans just seem to be things that go wrong and while John obviously has not accomplished as much as he could have if he had had a plan, he has accomplished okay. He knows a lot of people who had really really good plans the whole time, but they didn’t do any better. Then there are people who did a lot more things and stuck to their plan. John’s High School girlfriend had a plan from the time she was 13 and she accomplished it. She is still living according to it at the age of almost 50. She and John are still in touch which means that they are still close because they have know each other for 35 years, and if you ask her she will confirm that she has accomplished her plan and continues to do it every day. Wow! That does not describe John at all!

Whenever John is in a relationship with somebody, his lack of a plan immediately becomes a subtle problem. It is the pea under the mattress! John resists being shoe-horned into somebody else’s plan, not passively, but he goes ”Hmm, well, doesn’t sound like what I would do in that situation. Can you convince me why that is better than just waiting and seeing what is going to happen?” The answer to that question is always that it is better to have a plan. Anybody who doesn’t think that is trying to weasel out of something or is a sneak or is a shiftless or is somehow failing the test, because the idea of commitment is another form of describing a plan! John is faithful the people he loves and he loves them truly and eternally, but he doesn’t submit to plans, which creates an enormous tension between him and especially the women in his life. The guys in his life don’t care because their hanging-out isn’t predicated on a plan, neither a plan for them, nor a plan for what they are going to do.

John is confident that in most cases, he will continue to be friends with his 15 discrete groups of guy-friends as long as the sun is in the sky. Dan and John are not going to have a falling-out of any kind, his Seattle Rock-friends are going to be his friends forever, he is not going to screw them over and they will be friends for as long as they continue to call each other. There isn’t a question of betraying the plan, which is presumed to be as bad as cheating. The presumption is that if you are faithful to the person, you are faithful to the plan and if you are unfaithful to the plan, you must be unfaithful to the person. John can’t ever reconcile that with his nature! The most successful relationships he has had have been the ones where his partner was pretending to themselves that there wasn’t a plan, but what caused them to come apart eventually was when they reached a crossroads where they would wonder if they could continue going planless and John says ”Sure!”, but then something happens where they can’t be planless anymore. There are the remarkable few who can just chart their own course.

John does feel very true and very faithful. He is still here, he is not a flake, he is not going to fuck off, he is not Hip Hop this week and Grunge next week. He is he and has always been. Every time somebody feels like John’s planlessness is synonymous with rootlessness, he doesn’t understand how they figure! He is as rooted as a person can be and he is knowable and he is known. He is not a serial killer, he has never shown his penis to somebody who didn’t want him to and even the ones who wanted him to, he didn’t do it because he would be embarrassed. There is no creep-story about him waiting to come out, the degree to which he is a bully is evident. You can see who he is, he doesn’t bully people except in this broad-shouldered accidental pendulette-kind of way where his voice is just louder than other people’s voice. The idea he is not dependable is his life-long struggle. John is fucking dependable! Everyday he is here! He is there for his kid, he pays his bills, he is responsible! He just doesn’t look 5, 10, 15 years ahead and has a sense what that is going to look like. He doesn’t have goals for that! Being there everyday is the easy part, other people are doing that too, but having the goal and working toward it is the hard part. Without that, people don’t have any indication that John is still here tomorrow and that is what being dependable really is! Dependable isn’t ”I’m here today”, but what’s missing is the assurance that you will be there tomorrow as well.

Dan anticipates that on Thursdays John will show up and they will do a show, but there have also been Instagram photos on late Wednesday nights of John getting on a plane and Dan was thinking that there was probably no microphone in that Filson bag and maybe they were not going to be recording. That hasn’t happened a lot and Dan has had other co-hosts just not show up at all for things. At the end of the day, they can make it up, it is not a big deal, there are people with plans that never leave their house who will sometimes miss their podcasts. Dan has missed podcasts because he goes to the doctor 14 times a month, but Dan doesn’t think of John as not-dependable because once or twice John was on a plane the night before they were going to record and John didn’t remember to tell Dan. Because John has no plan, we feel that he could just pop off the face of the planet at any minute and he is going to be on a sub for a year. That seems to be within the possibilities of things John could do. He could be on a plane to New York or he could be in a submarine for a year, we won’t know, we won’t have any idea until we hear from somebody else that John has already started doing that.

What Dan is describing is very true and it gets to the heart of how John experiences emotion. People’s plans and schedules and schemes and commitments and contracts are a way to manage their emotions which they don’t trust and don’t understand. Their emotions are a source of fear, anxiety and confusion for them and so they tie themselves to the world and one another through schedules and plans and commitments and contracts, because they don’t feel dependable in their soul. What keeps them reliable are their commitments. A lot of those people who have contracts and mortgages and life-long commitments to people are also cheaters and liars and fakes, but they feel like they are doing what they need to do, because they are fulfilling their commitments and they are on schedule. As fraught as John's emotional life is and as many demons as he battles, he doesn’t feel that being under contract would change any of that. He has learned early in the course of his life that you can sign a contract that says anything, but they aren’t binding if his emotional commitment isn’t true. John is not scared of a contract, it doesn’t sit there like a vulture and glare at him, and John will uphold contracts you sign with him, but the difference is that John doesn’t sign a contract until he intends to uphold it and he doesn’t need to sign a contract if they have a contract.

For example, John doesn’t have a record contract. When he signed his record deal with Barzuk records, he shook hands with Josh Rosenfeld. Over the course of the 15 years they have been in business together, Josh came to John a multitude of times with a written contract and they sat down over dinner and they read the contract together, pushed it back and forth and John said that he would sign it if it weren’t for those two extra words in sentence 2 subset A. With those words there, John felt like they needed to talk about it, but Josh told him to cross those words off, but John felt like those words were in the spirit of a different animal and they should think about it and get back to it. Josh agreed and they have doing this for 15 years. They have been in business together and have exchanged an awful lot of money between them and they have depended on each other and they have been furious at each other, they felt like the other was screwing each other over, but there was never a question if they were under contract to one another, such that if there was something they would need to change, they would be able to change it, because John trusts him and he trusts John. If they had signed a contract and something had to change, they would have to go and get a new contract whereas in the course of their business together, things didn’t have needed to change that much and that little has just changed.

The point of a contract in general is to help people who don’t trust each other or for plan-focused people who are concerned that the other person’s plan can or will change and they are trying to set up some controls around that. They realize that you don’t want to do this thing forever, so lets work out the details so they can make you keep doing this thing as long as it is profitable for them. That is why John doesn’t do a lot of business with people like that. Dan and John don’t have a contract, Merlin and John don’t have a contract, he doesn’t have a contract with his booking agents and he has the luxury of choosing to do business with people. But within the emotional realm, the relationship realm, like ”Is John trustworthy over the course of 5 years or 10 years?”, he doesn’t feel like his emotions are this foreign agent. They are not that confusing to him, he doesn’t need to build a cage around them in order to feel about himself that he is reliable and dependable.

When John was running for city council, a sitting council person came over to his truck one day and said ”We don’t know who you are and what you are going to do!” and John was like ”You know who I am, I see you all the time!” and his reply was ”No, when you are on the city council, we don’t have any idea how you are going to vote on things, because you haven’t given us a very clear sense what side you are on and we don’t want somebody up there where we don’t know what they are going to do. Even if you are against all the things that I’m for, I would rather have that than you just voting on your conscience. It is just not what we want! All the deals that happen and the way government goes is that we pretty much know how a vote is going to turn out and we can arrange things and plans can get made and people can sign contracts. We don’t want a situation where every time there is a vote it is some kind of 5:4 and John is always going with the wind.” John was like ”Well, fuck! How are you supposed to have flexible government where people are thinking about issues on their own merits?” and he is like ”You just can’t do that! It is too crazy, because you vote for one thing one way and then two months later you vote for a thing that basically contradicts that and this thing is true and that thing is true. You have to work in blocks!” It is true, you can’t be a legislator and just follow your truth. You have to be aware of the fact that if you follow your truth, you will arrive at incompatible conclusions because that is actually closer to true than politics.

In this world of emotional incomprehensibility, it makes most people feel much more secure if they have an idea of what is coming next. Maybe John has less capacity to feel either sorrow or joy or maybe he has a tremendous capacity to feel sorrow and joy and he just calls those things by other names? Dan thinks that a lot of people make plans in order to protect themselves from things they find uncomfortable. This gets into a Buddhism-thing. We lump our experiences into three categories: Good experiences, bad experiences and neutral experiences. We generally want to avoid to the bad experiences at all cost, we try to avoid the neutral experiences because those are just boring and we only want to have the good experiences. We make plans for having the good experiences, but more often than not they don’t work out. In that case people think that they were stupid to make that plan or that something went wrong and they don’t understand it or they made a horrible mistake or whatever. If you made no plans, however, how did you ever expect anything good to happen? A lot of people are scared of the unknown or they are scared that if they don’t have a plan, they don’t know what they will do tomorrow. John doesn’t seem to be scared of not having a plan or of bad experiences. Maybe he is differently abled in emotional terms.

For example, if John is somewhere and it is raining outside and a group of people are all climbing into a car and they are like ”Get in!”, then John thinks about his options, which are ”get in the car” or ”call a cab” or ”walk”. In that situation he will generally pick ”walk”, because he will never call a cab and he almost never wants to get a ride home. It is not because he doesn’t like being with people, but he doesn't ever chose the convenience of a ride home just because it is raining, not because he wants to be dramatic, but because the self-sufficiency, even enduring minor suffering in terms of a long wet cold walk home is important to John. He people in that situation paralyzed all the time by the fact that there is no-one to give them a ride home. They are standing outside the club in a state of apoplexy because their ride didn’t come or because there is no room for them in the car or there are no cabs or something. This is a specific example and there are a lot of people who can’t walk home at night from a club, but it is not meant to be an exclusive example, there are tons of examples like this that don’t have to do with mobility or with John's ability as a white guy to walk home in the middle of the night by himself. It is an example of John always practicing in order to never be in a situation where he feels abandoned or apoplectic or panic at being dependent, not just on somebody, but dependent at all. John walks home in the rain and he will be wet and it will make him sick, but he will love it, because it makes him feel free of fear. Being free of fear is like a top-order need. Fear of the unpredicted and fear of random accident. John wants to be free of that and he practices it all the time. Hurt me! Punish me! I want to be ready!

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