Early Days

John losing his worked leather wallet (RL253)

One time while John's mom was dating Bobby in the early to mid 1970:s, he was running towards Bobby's boat in the dock. His worked leather wallet with a horse on it (a worked horse, done with a little leather stamping tool), a zipper and some very important things that a 7-year old would carry in his wallet, slipped out of his pants pocket and plopped into the water. All he could do was to watch how his wallet slowly sank into the deep! It was very hard to console him in moments like that. John is not a bawler, he doesn't outwardly rend his hair and he doesn't ululate, but he just sits there and slowly sinks with the wallet into the ocean. He remembered that wallet with the horse his whole life and in the 1990:s he wrote a song about it for The Bun Family Players (it was not "Teaspoon" as Merlin suggested, because that was about a teaspoon and a girl and about other things). John wants to know when that happened on a calendar timeline and his mom should be able to give him some information. It had to have been summertime, but what grade was he in?

He loves me, he loves me not (RL158)

John got a Valentine's card in 3rd grade, showing a little girl crying and holding a flower. She had obviously been playing the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not game, plucking the petals off the flower. It was clear from the unwritten narrative that, as she had arrived at the last petal, it was ”he loves me not” and she was crying, unable to pluck it, holding the flower and imagining an alternate reality where the last petal would be that ”he loves me”. The cartoon was saying ”I will be so lonely if you won’t be my Valentine”. Even as a 3rd-grader John understood the story that was being told and it destroyed him! It was so fraught that he openly cried upon receiving it! John felt acutely for this little cartoon girl who had started off plucking those little petals full of excitement, hope and fun, but as she was running out of petals her feelings started to get darker. John wanted to do everything in the world to be able to change this story and put an extra petal on this fucking flower. He kept this Valentine, tucked it away and would take it out sometimes to look at it like it was pornography, because it will put him in this place of absolute emotional rawness. He would even do drawings of it, trying to unlock the story or change it in some way. John still has it today and probably even some of the drawings. He can picture everything about it and he still feels about this little girl when thinking about it.

The preamble of the constitution: "We, the people" (RL109)

Merlin and John can recite the preamble to the constitution thanks to the TV-program Schoolhouse Rock!. For John this had played a very important role in a pivotal moment of his education. In 7th grade of Junior High back in Anchorage, John was a program called "PACT": "Program for academically and creatively talented" to segregate the smart kids off. Merlin was in a similar project called "DEO": "Differentiated Educational Opportunities", which sounds more like the helmet class. In Seattle they were pioneering a program called "DIG!": "Differentiated Interest Group". But no matter the name: When you came back from those classes, you were hated by everyone, because you had glue in your hair and and had clearly been building rocket ships.

In Junior High your schedule transitions to hour-long classes where you move around the school and go to different teachers, yet they were able to maintain a PACT program in 7th and 8th grade. They put it over a system that already had honors classes and PACT was considered higher than the honors classes, turning it into a three-tier system. Honors were the harder classes and felt like being on a college track. You got into PACT if you were a hot-shot and a nose-picker with bowl hair that tested well. In the late 1970:s, the idea was that our children would all become baby Einsteins if we only activated their creativity, because all they needed to do in 7th grade was to draw and build Eiffel towers out of popsicle sticks. When John entered Junior High he was put in all the PACT classes, although he wasn't even ready to be in school in general. He was not ready to be with other people. In grade school he had been able to negotiate an arrangement with his 5th and 6th grade teachers to not do assignments, but instead independently read books the teachers gave him and write book reports. Otherwise he would repeat everything they said in a sing-sang voice and put sticks in his first wart.

But in Junior High, nobody was interested in making those kind of arrangements, because John had six teachers instead of one. By the end of the year he had failed all of his PACT classes and so the administrators said that he doesn't belong in PACT, because it is too advanced for him. In the next semester he therefore sat in these regular classes with these normal kids and he was mortified. One day they talked about the constitution and John would stand up and recite the preamble to the constitution that he knew from the TV-program. Nobody from the class knew what he was doing. Halfway through he was orating Abraham Lincoln and the Hawley Smoot tariff act. The teacher hightailed down to the office that he doesn't need this kid in his class, because not even he himself knows the preamble to the constitution and so they didn't know what class to put him in. They surely couldn't put him in the honors class, because that was for serious students, and they didn't want to put him back in the PACT class, because he got all Fs the year before. But in the regular class he would just throw grenades all day, so for a time John went to a different class every day and finally they put him back into the PACT class.

John says that he has now figured out the vehicle (is it a custom white van?) that he is going to use as a mobile Junior High school for his daughter when he takes her out of school. The original plan was to drive a Jeep to Tierra del Fuego, but he cannot navigate the Darian Gap, right there between Panama and Colombia. His first choice would be to spearhead a project building a road through the Darién Gap. What else would teach a child more than that? But since that seems slightly unfeasible in this day and age, his new project is to buy a GMC RV.

The Cotillion Club (RL177)

In High school during the 80:s in Anchorage, John was a member of the Cotillion club (so was Merlin in 7th grade). A group of adults would choose which kids were the right kids to invite to this club with a special set of dances that only the chosen kids could attend. The grown-ups were the moms and dads and chose each other for future generations as well. His mom was absolutely not one of the right moms and he was definitely not one of the right kids, so when that selection happened, John was not invited. He was probably the bad element, his parents were divorced, his mother was a single mother who lived in an inappropriately large house and all the neighbors were afraid she would steal all their husbands or something. John's friends who were in the club rebelled and staged a protest in order to get John invited, a bit like their march on Selma. A week later his invitation arrived and the moms were mad because he would ruin it. Obviously very few if any people of color were invited, but that was before anybody noticed that there was problem with that.

And so they had these dances down at the Hilton hotel where members of the club, the right kids from all the schools from the whole town would congregate. That sounds like something from the 30:s, but was actually Anchorage in the 80:s The club had nothing to do with school, but was funded and run by parents who wanted the best for their kids. There was this super-class hierarchy in Anchorage at the time. People who had settled Alaska in the 50:s and 60:s came from the Northeast and moved directly to Alaska, for example directly from New Haven. They brought their old culture and implanted it in Anchorage, things like a carving station, where a person in a chef's hat would carve the meat for you. John was already a persona-non-grata with the Chaperones and he played it up: Polyester suits and bad attitude. He was the one to wear a Toga when it was time to wear a Toga, stared the Conga line, but he would also put on a tie and go to the meeting with dean Wormer. John would talk to adults and he had actually a mother say to him "You are such a bullshit artist", which he took it as the highest compliment, because this mother was driven to such frustration that she would swear to a teen.

He felt he belonged there, but as the person who was trying to make it super-fun and in the process ruin it for all time for everybody else. Over the course of a couple of years he was expelled and then allowed back in, he wrote a letter of apology and all was just a big farce. Then there was college Cotillion when you went back from college to Anchorage at Christmas break. There would be a big dance for all the college kids to talk about their fancy colleges and he would destroy that dance. There was projectile vomiting and there was spiking the punch bowl as though it was 1950.

The end-game of the Cotillion club was to let the best and the brightest understand the bond they had with one another, to begin the process of creating an old boy network already during their the youth. You were meeting one another at a time when some had already decided to become doctors, and some had decided to become lawyers, but the ones who were going to run real estate empires or owned the bank didn't quite know what they are going to do yet. Once you were all 30 years down the road and needed to take a loan in order to start a newspaper or something, you would sit down in the bank president's office and you already knew each other. That's how old boy networks get created. In Alaska, they didn't have family names like in the East, so you couldn't just say "I'm a Roosevelt".

Pink leopard spots at the High school prom (RL240)

During John's senior year in High school in 1985, the Anchorage Daily News sent a reporter and a photographer to document the class all through the year. They picked half a dozen seniors and John was one of them. At the night of the prom, John had to go to work at 02:00 at his job as a VJ at the Catch 22 music television station (Employment History). He went to the prom with his first girlfriend in matching outfits with pink leopard spot satin. He was at the dance, they partied, kissed under the mistle toe, but it was very baller to bail out and go to work at that time. There is a photo of John in his tuxedo, clocking into his job at the TV station, which was quadruply cool, because they handed over the whole station to this 17-year old who ran it all by himself during the whole night.

In March of 2017, his former prom date sent John a text and asked if he still had the prom suit, because her son was going to Junior prom and she wanted him to wear it. John not only still has it, but he can still wear it. He wore it to Sean Nelsons wedding. John packeted it up together with all it's accouterments and he will send it up to her and assumes to get it back afterwards. He will then keep it and when his daughter is old enough, he will ask his prom date for the matching dress. Of course, as soon as her son is in his middle ages and needs a suit for going correct to a wedding, he will transfer it to him, but he first needs to show a little sign that he can handle that story: His grandfathers wedding suit, and John's and his prom suit. Currently, John wants the suit back, because a 16-year old is not yet sentimental enough to think of the clothing as his prom suit, which is a suit he is not going to bleed in. John has suits where he doesn't mind bleeding in, but this is not one of them. Some of the suits he bled in could not be recovered. Normally if you get home in a bloody suit, you have a pre-ammunition of it, so you won't wear your best suit that night.

Another kid who was followed by the reporters at the prom was the head cheerleader, who was dressed in a thing from the top of a wedding cake, bleached completely white, maybe even with tiara. Her mother told the reporters that tonight is the most important day of her life, only after her wedding day. They wanted to make everything perfect, but that was such an odd thing to say, just like people say that High school years are the best years of your life, which they are clearly not. The girl was a figure of fascination, because she was the head cheerleader, with huge hair and a even her name suggested a kind of a bubbly vivacious go-get-her person. At one time, John stole her personalized license plate and she came with her gang of 7 girls to get it back.

At the end of the year, John settled all the bets because he was going to leave Alaska and was making amends. Amongst others, he gave her the license plate back, one guy got 200 dollars back in $1-notes, put into a VHS-case. He even spackled a hole in the wall of one's living room. Even today when John posts a picture of him in High school, everybody remembers what a pain in the ass he was at that time.

John is now a good friend with the head cheerleader. She lives in Seattle, her husband works at Microsoft, she comes to music shows and is genuinely interested in what John does.

John's history of bicycle mistakes (RW66)

John's good friend Ben recently bought a vintage Schwinn bicycle with a banana seat. It has a gear shift, but otherwise it is just like the one John once had. John remembers the transition to BMX when banana seats became the bell bottoms of bike seats. John's old blue Schwinn had a flag on it, a siren from the drug store that sounded like a police siren and a microphone where he could say Breaker 1/9 into. He had a playing card in the spokes so it sounded like a motorcycle. All the kids at the time made the transition to BMX bikes, but John found that regressive, because they looked like they were for kids. He ditched his Schwinn and jumped right up to a 10-speed. As he hung out with 5 friends on BMX bikes, being they guy on the 10-speed was lame and made him a nerd. Dan interjects that all you have to do is to put the handlebars up in reverse and you would be alright. John disagrees, because handle bars up is for people with a top hat. As Dan was a kid in Philadelphia, everybody was riding around with their high water pants, their afros and having their handlebars backwards. Dan had a lot of fun while crashing with BMX-bikes on ramps.

In 9th grade John made a fatal mistake: After spending 2 years of leaving his Schwinn in the garage and riding around on that awkward 10-speed while everybody else was BMX-ing, he bought a Schwinn BMX bike for $50 from the classified ads. It was pretty knackered, but it was cool with 6-spoke integrated wheels. He was rolling up with it just at the point when everyone else was making the transition to road bikes, so now his friends are hauling ass on 10-speeds or even 12-speeds and John has to stand up on his pedals to catch up on this BMX that he had no pedigree on. He couldn't bunny hop, he couldn't do anything on it, he was just chasing after his friends who were already on some other bike adventure. John made yet another bike mistake when he got a Centurion racing bike with aluminum rims and tires as wide as a piece of chalk. As John was standing up to crank up a hill one time, he bent both the rims, just from the force of cranking up this hill side-to-side. After that he wasn't riding bikes for a couple of years.

Then mountain bikes came in - the worst idea ever, except if you are in a mountain. Mountain bikes are like BMX for grownups. John got a mountain bike from the classified ads, which actually was not a real mountain bike. It was not a stumpjumper, but a bump jumper. Something about the frame geometry told everybody it was a dad bike. At this time the bike designers could not decide about the best frame geometry for a mountain bike. A low seat was great for going downhill, but you wouldn't have the power of sitting on your seat and cranking when going uphill. At the other end of the spectrum, Haro built a mountain bike frame with an extra triangle that put the seat way up high above the handle bar and you could just motor uphill, but on downhills you were so far out over your handle bars, that it was almost dangerous. The point of mountain biking is having fun going downhill, nobody wants to go uphill. John bought one of those Haro high-seat bikes from his friend John Barnhart and was riding around on this Frankenstein praying mantis bike frame for some time. That bike got stolen, thank God!

Dan agrees that mountain bikes are terrible. He has a great 10-speed, but hasn't touched it for the last 8 or 9 years. When he was in High School, he had a Nishiki racing bike, but instead of bike shoes he had toe clips and once it turned out the grass on the side of the bike path was misleading, he fell over and couldn't stop the crash because he couldn't get his feet out. He even had to go to the college clinic and get some stitches. Now you almost can't see the scar anymore. John asks how many scars Dan has and it is not that many. His wounds are deeply internal, emotional scars from childhood that he can hide. Dan abandoned bike riding at one point around 2007 when he had those lower back issues.

John is not going to buy some wheely board and he doesn't have a skateboard, mostly because he doesn't mind walking from place to place. It never felt like an inconvenience. Last year he spent a lot of time in Venice with his millennial girlfriend where it is very flat and everybody rides their bikes. John made yet another bike transition and bought a 1958 Raleigh out of a classified ad, which he liked because it was old and cool, but it also was old. It was too small for him and they didn't make big frames back them. At one point John walked past a newfangled bike store in Seattle where they are making their own brand of bikes. They had a bike with only one speed, but it has a free wheel and is not a fixie. The challenge with it is going fast on the flat as you only can go as fast as this one gear. All of a sudden bicycling became some kind of zen exercise as he was not able to hustle. John went on the latest bike trend almost by accident: The cruiser bike. You sit upright with curved back flat handlebars, a basket on the front, almost like the Schwinn suburban that his dad had in the 70:s. You should have a loaf of French bread in there.

In 2013, the Filson company released a bicycle in conjunction with Shinola from Detroit, the Bixby bike. It has Bamboo fenders, leather seats, and as many parts as possible made out of copper with leather over it. It is an adorable, but expensive 3-speed that John got as part of his Filson sponsorship. Unfortunately, riding a Filson bike around Seattle is like wearing your own band T-shirt to your own show or wearing a Seattle T-Shirt. Riding it around New York or Iowa or Venice on the other hand is fine. It is a lot of work to ride a bike in Seattle because it is a very hilly town. John's friend and former mayor Mike McGinn commutes on his bike everywhere. The valet guy at a fancy hotel where John attended an event recently didn't find it funny that Mike had asked them to valet-park his bike. John finds his Filson bike too nice to put it in his barn and therefore he stores it right now in his house, where he has to go around it every day. He feels that he has to ride it during the upcoming summer. He also wants to teach his daughter how to ride a bike, and he is going to put it in the truck and drive somewhere to ride a bike, which feels a bit like driving to the gym. It always feels dumb to drive somewhere to work out and it feels really dumb to drive somewhere to ride a bike. But that is the situation in Seattle unless you are one of those commuter bikers who go into cafés with their clop clop shoes and ride their bike all year long. There are commuter bike lanes, but if you venture on there with your little ding-ding-bike there will be people with helmets, little rear-view mirrors and spandex-outfits, except it is Gore-Tex, zooming past you on their way from work. They are presumably all lawyers and they give you the "Oh, isn't that nice you're on a bike"-look, just like an F18 fighter pilot looks at somebody in an ultralight, like "isn't that nice, you have a 5 HP motor on a hang glider while I could shoot you down in 400 ways". To culminate the story of all of John's bike mistakes: John has this bike in the middle of his house that is too nice to use and too nice to sit in the barn and get covered with spiders, meaning he has to look at this really nice bike every day, but he doesn't have the room for a bike in the middle of the house, really.

John pitching a tent on a garbage dump (RL25)

At the age of 17, right after the first time John ever hopped a freight train, he got off in Vancouver, Washington because he didn't understand that freight trains sometimes stop and then keep going. As John hopped off it went away immediately and left him between all the tracks in the middle of the night. He crossed a giant railroad bridge over the Columbia River, looking for a place to sleep. He was late, tired and stupid. John quickly found this big beautiful open area, after having been walked over rough ground, he sets up his tent and in the morning he wakes up at 07:30 to the sound of bulldozers all around him. He had pitched his tent in the middle of the former St. John's Landfill in the Columbia Slough on a very thin layer of dirt they had put over the garbage. The guys in the garbage loader trucks have never laughed so hard as John went out in his underwear, got dressed and folded up his tent.

He was 17 and dumber than rocks. Even when you are just 18, you might have held on for a minute and asked yourself what this place was, or caught a whiff of it. The place was right next to a river with a strong breeze that had covered the dump smell. It was quite a dangerous situation, because the guys in their dump trucks could just have thought that there is a piece of tent trash that didn't get mushed down and the first thing they do in the morning is to see who can roll over the raddy tent first, like a game of Quoits. Between the river and the railroad they were dealing with a lot of hobos in a tent, but most of them were seasoned enough to not pitch their tent in the middle of a garbage dump and John was in the decided minority here. This story was clearly part of his list of the top 50 rookie mistakes he has made. Of course many garbage dumps have been cupped and turned into parks and picnic grounds. people pitch their tents there all the time. All those places will become trash mines in the future, when the future is mining trash. It's going to be the cheapest way to get petroleum products.

John trying to adapt to other people's accents (RL25)

John had been prowling through America's underbelly, America's undercarriage, America's lady basement, and at one time at the age of 19 he was talking to someone at Cornell in Upstate New York, one of those street smart kids from the Bronx. John was telling him about all those places in West Virginia, Alabama or Tuscaloosa where he had been and he was telling him that he will always try to speak in the people's accent when he is going around the country to show them that he is a local. John would try and adopt their local mannerisms, because he thought that was how you greased the wheels, but the guy told him that he always just speaks normally, because you won't fool anybody. You just talk like you talk and they know who you are. This blew John's mind! This was a heavy lesson he learned form this kid and he stopped making the rookie mistake of going into places and trying to figure out how they do it. The guy had a comically Bronx accent and people were fine with it everywhere. He was a wise man while John was kind of a turkey by going around and mimicking people's accents back to them in a fake patois and thinking that he was really getting inside. John sees America as if it was a foreign country, but not only one foreign country, put multiple foreign countries in a big continent.

The Opening of the Berlin Wall (RL238)

At the age of 20, two months before the fall of the Berlin wall in September 1989, John was on a ferry boat from Tangier to Marseille on his way to meet some college friends in Florence. He struck a conversation with a guy in his mid-to-late 40:s. The guy was an American who was very comfortable on this ferry boat and had obviously done this over-night trip many times. They were smoking kief and drinking garbage beer. They really hit it off and John felt that they were so similar, just as if the guy was an older time-travel version of John himself. The guy told him he should not go back to America, but he belonged on the open ocean. John had already cut his cord and was on the way, there was nothing waiting for him back in America, no money, no friends. The guy was talking about Prague that was basically non-existent during the cold war, but just 4 months later would be on the map and John could be one of the first western students who would realize the possibilities that would open up for them. This conversation really blew Johns mind. It felt like the guy was a mentor or a teacher, a moment like the universe was trying to tell him something. The guy had already done it, had already cut his cords and was a citizen of the world.

After this conversation, John vagabonded around Europe (This encounter was exactly a decade before The Big Walk). He went to the University on Florence as planned, but when things started to fall apart in East Europe, John took a night train to Berlin on November 11, 1989 and was there when the Berlin Wall opened up. He spent 10 days with a hammer and chisel, chipping away on the wall. He unfortunately never found a photo of him from this adventure. John talks a bit about the history of the era, how he visited East Germany just a few months prior and what the procedure was, and when the East Germans went to the West through Checkpoint Charley in their Trabants and how they were received.

When Christmas time came along, he was invited by someone to Christmas dinner in Garmisch Partenkirchen. John got sentimental and thought back of his mom and became scared of being a citizen of the world. After he called his mom, he went home to Alaska for Christmas (train to Paris and flight from there), but wanted to go back to Europe, end up in Prague and explore the world - just like going home for winter break.

But as it turned out, when he was home, he "collapsed in a heap", smoked pod for 5 months and got a job at The Red Robin.

How John wanted to be a ski instructor, but ended up settling in Seattle (RW67)

There was a short period of time where John could have ended up moving to New York. He was 21 years old and he could have tried to join a literary scene. That would have created an entirely different life for him.

His plan at the time was to move to Telluride, Colorado (which is the abbreviation of "To Hell you Ride") and be a ski instructor. He went to the ski instructor office in mid October 1990 and they told him that they don't hire until late November, which was a big problem for John who had imagined he would be there early and be first in line. He had hitchhiked there and didn't even have a car to live in, so he was going to hang out in bars until somebody would offer him to sleep in their shed. Then somebody offered him to go to Boulder for Halloween. Boulder is a long way from Telluride and it is famously fun on Halloween. It used to be insane, a freaking police riot, and in 1990 Boulder was actually a tear gas police gang bang. It was high LSD time and all the kids were tripping. Immediately after Halloween, his dad called him because his aunt had died and they were having a funeral in Seattle. He offered John to fly him from Denver to Seattle, if he wanted to come to the funeral. After the funeral John realized that his dad bought him a one-way ticket to Seattle, not a round-trip ticket. It was at a time when one-way tickets were not unusual, while nowadays you have to go out of your way to get a one-way ticket.

After the funeral, John didn't have any money or reason to get back to Colorado. He stuck out his thumb to head east and couldn't get a ride, so he took the Seattle city bus as far east as it would go (which at the time was Issaquah), in the hope to at least get as far as Spokane. It was pouring down freezing rain and John was standing on an on-ramp to I90 East at 8pm with his thumb out. He could have stood there until he turned into a pillar of salt. Every single car that drove by splashed him with cold water and he spent several terrible hours standing next to this Denny's. He just was bedraggled. He felt pretty desperate, because he had taken this bus out to the commercial area and he couldn't curl up somewhere out here, meaning it was starting to look like he was going to spend the night in a Denny's. He schlepped himself over there and called his friend Brian from the pay phone. Brian was overjoyed and invited him to come over and party. It was such a great relief and so he went back on the bus and met his friend in Murphy's Irish Pub. John was offered to sleep in Brian's mom's Volkswagen Vanagon behind her house, so that was his first home in Seattle. From there the rest was history.

After Brian's mom no longer wanted to have him in her van, John ended up crashing at Eric Singleterry's house. Eric was a guy from Anchorage who let him stay because he thought he was on his way somewhere, but John just started living there for several months. He slept on a papasan in the living room which is not a very comfortable place to sleep. Then Eric and his room mate told him they were about to move to a different house and part of the reason was to move away from John. He found out where the new house was, stopped by to bring them something, ended up crashing there that night and was living there for several weeks until they finally had a house meeting where they told him that he has to stop living with them. They would go up in the morning to go to work, but John didn't have any work. At one time when they were gone, the phone rang and someone was asking for Eric because he needed to work at a show that night and as John told them Eric was not there, they asked him if he could work the show instead. So he did. It was a show by Agent Orange at the OK Hotel at 7pm and John was delegated to work on the stage. They had a couple of people who would crouch on the stage while the band played, because so many people in the audience would try to get on the stage to stage dive or rampage and dance on the stage. John's job was to prevent people from getting on the stage or if they got on the stage, throw them off, which turned into a thing because that was what they wanted to do anyway. This was the moment when John was converted to Seattle.

He would not become a ski instructor in Telluride and he would not move to New York and become a member of a literary club, but he is going to be this, whatever it was, however long this lasted. And everything he ended up doing was a product of this fateful decision. At the time he had thoughts of becoming a stage actor at a local alternative theater scene, or a writer. Musician was pretty far down. He didn't have a calling and he didn't think he had a talent for it. He was 21 years old and it felt like the people who wanted to be rock musicians had known that since they were 13. With 20 he already felt like he was too old to chose to be a rock musician. Most of the people he knew were already pretty good at music when they came out of High School. John knew 5 notes on the guitar and had written a couple of songs, but mostly jokey acoustic guitar songs. Learning the guitar was was for him just something you spend a little bit of time on in order to learn 5 chords.

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