Objects

2015-June: Selling clothes on eBay and wearing your father's clothes (RL158)

John has some left-over clothes at the office from the time when he last imagined to start a thriving eBay company that would sell his old clothes, an idea that has come and gone periodically from his life. Examples of clothes are a tangerine-colored linen sports coat, a pair of heavy wool hunting pants for a night outside at 20 degrees below zero (-29°C), and a corduroy vest. If John would dress himself in a John Roderick for city council T-Shirt, the hunting pants and the corduroy vest, he would look exactly like Ignatius Reilly. John needs to find a few guys with the same interest to swap clothes with. He is a tall guy and all those tiny clothes he finds in stores don’t fit him. There should be a matching service for people based on interest and shape. The intention of the eBay store was mostly to distribute his clothes to a group of people who are standing there with a big catcher’s mitt, waiting for the used hunting pants that they can’t find anywhere else. John's natural inclination to open a store to curate his former belongings can been seen as narcissistic at first and it is in fact a form of egotism and narcissism in its most reduced form. He wants to put his things up on the Internet as though they were valuable.

The desire to have a curated life is one thing, but the desire to have a curated history of your life is a different impulse that John tangles with all the time. He is very pleased that he found his father’s clothes from the 1950:s and 1960:s., long after his dad had stopped being interested in them during the 1980:s. His dad was not a trendy guy, but those dated suits were the sourdough starter mix of John’s whole fashion sense. They were the suits his dad had worn during the Kennedy administration and he didn’t keep them for John, but he just never got around to throwing them away. John has been keeping stuff his whole life, thinking that one day it would regenerate that same excitement of wearing your dad’s clothes in his future child, like the Spoon song ”The Fitted Shirt”. Merlin thought at first John that was going to make a Miranda July-kind of project and would open a shop with his own clothes like in that Portlandia sketch, but there are countless possibilities for how to frame something like that to the public. What is art, anyway? The nexus of total narcissism and complete self-doubt is where you find art. You could put a frame around objects from you life in order to highlight how pointless and ephemeral they are, but also in order to show how important and emblematic they are. Fashion is the strange connective tissue between generations and one can wonder what kind of sensibilities one would develop based on wearing your father's suit. You never know what your kid will ask you about! Finding a cigar box of old stuff can answer so many questions you didn’t even know existed.

Things that only mean something to certain people (RL158)

Many fans of The Long Winters would surely be interested in seeing the paper with the original handwritten lyrics to Scared Straight that John was scribbling out as he was writing the song in the studio. A much smaller group might even be interested in owning it! When it comes to the original handwritten lyrics to a song like ”Like a Rolling Stone”, there are millions of people who would be interested in seeing them and probably many tens of thousands who would bid on it if it came up for auction. John is one of the people who would like to look at it, but he would be much more interested in the shirt that Dylan was wearing when he wrote it. Dylan does probably not remember the shirt he was wearing and has probably never thought of it that way. He might even find something like that kind of repulsive and would burn the shirt just so John can’t have it. Dylan's persona might even let him enact finding it repulsive. The Kremlinology around that guy is just nauseating! John can remember pretty much which shirt he was wearing when he wrote "Scared Straight", it is a shirt that John got from his dad.

There might only be a handful of people who are interested in such a connection and although that through-line might never be interesting to John’s kids or grand-kids, it is interesting to somebody, which in turn is interesting to John. There is no way to know what your kids are going to care about and saving a shirt for somebody who might not be into it is pretty weird. If Merlin would be trying to save everything, he would be a garbage man. He would not be a curator or collector, but an emotionally damaged hoarder who doesn’t know what special things to keep. It is like at the end of the 3rd Indiana Jones movie where Jones has to pick out the right holy grail. Nobody could look at all of these shirts and pick out the important ones. In some way it is completely intrinsic, because it is not going to be the nicest one or the one that is in best condition. Who is to know which one of those hard-backed books in this pile made a real difference? Who is going to know what to keep on that clothes rack and if anybody ever wants a corduroy vest in John’s size. John has several vests, but he can’t think of a time when he walked out of the house with only a vest. It is kind of up there with a cowboy hat and leather pants: If you can do it, then good on you! If you are heavy, then your vest is probably your waistcoat.

Having feelings about inanimate objects (RL158)

There is a broken speedometer sitting on a shelf in John's living room. It is from the motorcycle that he crashed in a Kansas field in 1986. He was devastated at the time because this $500 Honda CB650 had represented his only asset in the world! He took it to a place called Denver Used Motorcycle Parts (DUMP), but they didn't want to give him more than $20 for it. The guy wrenched off the broken speedometer that was still stuck at 80 mph and handed it to John as a souvenir. What good is that to anybody? There are the things we know why we save them for ourselves, but there are also the things we save without being sure why, like the Facebook challenge coin somebody had handed John the other day or his medals and trophies from people who got wounded in World War II.

There is a spectrum with your deceased child’s blanked you want to keep at one end, but you can’t keep all the blankets you ever had. On one end there is somebody emotionally healthy who knows exactly why they are doing this, while on the other end there is hoarding. John doesn’t think that him keeping all those things is a sign of emotional health. Imagine the most emotionally healthy dude, sitting somewhere at Big Sur with only a vest and some board shorts and he is just ”Whatever, man! Don’t hang on to stuff!” and then John is sitting here in his hunting pants with the broken speedometer from a 1981 Honda. The other guy sounds healthier. Merlin is very much into the objects he saves. One day when he was about to take out the trash in the kitchen, he found an old, gross pair of shoes that his wife hadn’t worn in years, but those were the shoes she had been wearing when Merlin met her. He could just as well have saved the turd he made the morning after. Why not throw away your wedding dress, bitch?

When John was a kid, a part of him felt sorry for the other bananas whenever he pulled a banana from a bunch of bananas, because he had chosen the one banana and felt like he had to comfort the remaining bananas. It wasn’t about them, but it was just that he picked this one! He feels a lot of emotion about inanimate objects and had been reduced to tears for feeling sorry for a chair with a broken leg. He used to have an orange safety flag, like a big pennant that you would attach to his bike so you could see him around corners. As he crashed the bike somehow and his pennant ripped, he was inconsolable, not because it was less useful now, but because he felt sorry for it. He had carried it into adulthood. John does not apologize to things he uses and he doesn’t cry for broken things the same way, but objects do have an emotional valence. He doesn’t want to throw things away that have served him well because he wants to honor their service! Merlin had a lot of attachment to stuffed animals until he was pretty old. His kid loves them now, too! Seeing a stuffed animal on the street makes him melancholic. No matter how many pork chops you jam in your mouth hole every month, the first few minutes of Babe will still tug on your heartstrings. Merlin used to feel bad for his clothes if he didn’t wear them often enough or if his socks were separated. Maybe it does come down to being a bit broken inside.

Sentimentality about physical objects (RW81)

Dan posted some pictures of watches on the Internet he had for sale, because he didn’t wear them and he figured that there was probably someone else out there who would love to have them. Dan's Omegas are real turn-ons for John, like his granddad’s watch from the mid-1950:s or the other, newer Seamaster, which is Dan’s favorite and the one he always wanted.

Dan doesn’t own a lot of things. Technically he owns the stuff that is in his house, or at least half of it. He has silverware he uses, he has pots and pans he uses, he uses the house, he sits on the sofa or uses the table, but he sees that as just furniture. As far as actual things that Dan sees as his possessions, he owns very very little. All the earthly possessions that matter to him could easily fit into a regular size suitcase. That includes some clothes and a couple of pairs of shoes (which take up a lot of space, so they will be excluded from this thought experiment and they are not very expensive and he could just get a new pair). All the watches and pistols. Dan doesn’t have any photo albums or grandparents' photo albums. John is gobsmacked that they are seriously talking about whether or not to fit a second pair of tennis shoes into Dan’s life bag. The shotgun is not going to fit into the suitcase, but John is going to allow a rifle case.

If there are old photo albums or schoolwork from when he was a kid, then they are at Dan’s mom’s house in Florida. He does not have any pictures and has not kept any letters from anybody. Dan has gone through 25 years of adulthood and 10 years of late-child / student-time without anything sticking to him. He doesn’t have a lucky hat and he just got rid of a few hats recently because "what do I have this crap for?”, which is the title of the Dan Benjamin-story. Dan has his watches, his iPhone 7 Plus, the sneakers, his belt. John has 40 vintage wooden coat-hangers alone that he would be hard-pressed to give away, because each one of them tells a story of a San Francisco hotel in the 1940:s. Dan appreciates that, but has no equivalent to that at all. John is so astunned about Dan’s situation! Dan would love to clean out John’s house and John assures him that he is not alone. There is growing a small cabal of people who want to do John the enormous favor of coming in and just putting it all into some kind of enormous yard sale which will be staffed by them and pricing decisions and decisions whether or not things are going to go made by others while John has to just sit there tied to a chair.

Dan would do it while John is away and John would come back to a clean house! Dan has no High School yearbooks. He was there, he remembers it and one day he won’t remember it and that is fine, someone else can remember it. Dan does not need that and carry it around with him! His wife has archived class photos of their kids and they have lots of digital pictures. Dan scanned in old photos they had and maybe his wife still has them around, but those are not his. High school report cards and diploma - gone! There are things his kids have made that are fun, but his daughter generates so much artwork in just a day that they gave her several banker’s boxes and she filled 3 of them in just a few months of stuff and although they told her that she has to pick her favorites out and can’t keep everything, she is keeping everything. If that makes her happy, that’s fine. But as far as Dan, if he is going to move and live with John, he will have a suitcase and that is all he needs. He recently donated some shirts because he does not need anything extra, just what he uses.

Dan has a system for that, too: If you don’t know what to do with a thing, you put it in a box, tape it up and put a date on it. If you haven’t needed anything out of that box in 6 months, then you donate it. Dan has no sentimental value to very many things. His granddad was a metallurgist and worked for the government, through the army for WWII and did a lot of traveling. While he was in Egypt, looking at the Sphinx he got inspired and when he got back, he took a chunk of copper and sculpted it into something reminiscent of the Sphinx. Dan still has that and he is going to keep that!

There is something in between not being able to throw away a stapler because of all the papers you have stapled with it and having room in a single suitcase for a cat because Dan has zero items except a copper sphinx that he would take with him on the apocalypse trail. Dan does not apply his standards to other people, though. His son is a hoarder, he will keep anything! At one point he wanted to start collecting bottle caps. He has many collections of many things, like shells from the beach, beads and Pokémon-cards.

This was an utterly fascinating glimpse into Dan’s psychology. He and John are almost opposites in this regard. Dan even throws his old passports in the trash!

John losing his first passport (RW81)

John is looking at a bookshelf with tons of stuff that he had for decades. There are interesting art books and alternative comics that would be hard to replace and he would never go through the trouble of replacing them. Honestly, he hasn’t looked at most of them in years and if the whole thing got turned into $300, he wouldn’t cry. But his old passport? John lost a passport in 1990 after he got back from his first 7-8 months long trip to Europe as a 20-year old. In the second half of 1990 he was in Moscow, Idaho and was carrying this passport as his primary ID for some reason. He was at a party and he was drunk and the next day his passport was gone! It must have fallen out of his pocket and he didn’t notice until he was in a car on the way to somewhere else and he didn’t have any phone number to the people he was staying with the night before.

John has a small passport-shaped hole in him where this passport belongs and a part of him thinks that somewhere in Idaho there was another person like John who found it and would have kept it themselves all these years. If John would have found a passport at a party in 1990, he would have recognized that it was important and he would have tried to reunite that passport with its owner. He has to accept that it is not going to turn up, but he cannot picture a world in which someone else would throw a passport in the garbage. It just seems crazy! If you throw a passport into any mailbox, it will end up at the US Passport office again! The passport John lost had been his first passport and he had taken it overseas at a time when you still got your passport stamped when you passed from France to Germany. All of those stamps are gone! The ones from Portugal to Spain where you had to go through passport control.

John traveled all around Europe to all the nations of the world and was meticulous about collecting his passport stamps. He went multiple times in and out of Holland and Belgium, he went to France, Italy and East Germany, he was in Berlin when they opened the wall, he went to Morocco where he got a very beautiful full-page visa to travel to Algeria which took him weeks to get. He needed to go all the way to Casablanca and go through this whole process with the Algerian embassy. It is gone! Now 27 years later he can still describe it and describe why he wants it. A passport is a 10-year long document, so you can only have a discrete number of them in your life. If you are 80 years old, how many can you have? Seven or eight? John has had four until now and one of them is gone, it is like a missing limb or like somebody cut the end of his pinky off.

Just the room that John was in while recording the podcast would fill a truck and he could deal with that. There is a desk that was the credenza at his father’s office at the Dexter Hortan building in 1965, a long mid-century modern beautiful desk. His mom took it in the divorce and it had been in their house the whole time growing up until she asked John if he wanted it or if she should throw it out. It would be hard to watch it go to a thrift store, but if somebody gave him $800 for it, he would probably sell him. Not for $100, though, which is just because of his inflated sense of the value of things. But his collection of passports? John even has his dad’s passports. He has one from the 1950:s with a black-and-white picture where he is wearing a bow tie, because you got your passport photo taken in a tuxedo back then! It was when people wore pillbox hats and white gloves to fly on airplanes. Maybe one of the passports is missing from the mid-1960:s when he was not traveling internationally. Those are valuable to John!

John is not sure if his kid will care. She would not miss them if they were gone, but if she does have them, would they be a gift or a curse? Just as John is currently carrying around several boxes of his dad’s old phone bills from the 1980s because his long-distance bills and his cancelled cheques tell a really interesting story to him. They are a doorway into the stories of those times. John can identify his reoccurring child support payment cheques. Other ones remind John of a thing they did together. John could throw that stuff away, having gone through it once, but it is really a cool part of the story and he would make a bad decision at that moment, so he put that cheque back in the box. If he was just a slightly better version of himself, he would look at it, have that moment, add it to the elaborate network of interconnecting stories that he is constructing and that makes up his world, but then he would shred it, because putting it back in the box means 15 years of toating that shitty box of cancelled cheques around until he looks at it the next time. John would admire himself more if he would be able to do that simple bit of editing without flinching and without having this voice in his head that asks him ”What if you one day decide to make a coffee table book about you dad’s cancelled cheques?” It would be an awful coffee table book!

2015-December: Delivery tracking (RL183)

John had ordered a couple of small dead soldier pins from eBay. Both had "no tracking available", one said "to be delivered in 3 days" and the other one "to be delivered in a month". He couldn't explain why. When he came back from his month out of town, he was looking forward to those two packages, but there was no sign of them. One of the sellers said "my packages always arrive, they never fail to arrive" and the other person did a fair amount of due diligence without any result. He does not pay for tracking, because it is too expensive.

2016-January: John is opening an eBay shop (RL184)

John has been setting up an eBay store under the name morganridesfree. He is going to tell stories about some coats, pants and boots and then he is going to sell them to the people together with the story and John's opinion about it. John has worn some of these items for years. He might even sell one of his dad's shirts. They don't actually fit him because they are 1/2 inch too small in every direction, but he has worn them for years. John is going to start small and put 20 things up there, like the leather jacket he bought in High School that he has worn to both of Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger release parties and that he has seen David Yow and his spectacular band The Jesus Lizard in. The jacket has liquid paper on it, some of which has been painted over with white paint pen, and some of that has been painted over again with black pen. This jacket has been trough everything with John, but it is not going all the way to his death. It is size 48 and too big for him. Merlin says John needs one real killer item that everybody would link to and John promises to think about that. John will put all the items in boxes, mark them with post-its and stack them. Then he only has to put the address on and carry them to the post. John will maybe put the story of the item on a card inside the box, written with his cursive typewriter. He got some old index cards that would be suitable for this.

John's ebay name, "morganridesfree", comes from his middle name Morgan. When he was a teenager hopping freight trains, he noticed that all the hobos had little tags that they wrote on the train to indicate that they had been there. John's hobo name became morganridesfree, shortened to MRF, but it should have been MORF. The Comparative History of Ideas always called itself CHID, but it should have been CHOD, or CHOÖDE, like The New Yorker. Or "Mr Choöde", the stupidest joke in the history of stupid jokes.

2017-January: Collecting jam jars and selling old stuff on eBay (RW53)

John doesn't throw empty Lamictal bottles away, because they seem very useful. He is not a hoarder, but for the longest time he collected peanut butter jars, because they seemed very good for keeping old screws or Sharpies. After a while his mom told him to stop collecting peanut butter jars and he was switching to saving jam jars because they are smaller and better for little screws until his mom told him he can't collect those either. John has a barn for this stuff! One could say it is time to clean John's house. Sadly he has a very large collection of Pendleton and Filson clothes, more than he can wear. He is gearing up to a big garage sale where he is going to sell all those wonderful wool garments. In preparation for that he has to pull them all out of storage in order to sort them into the right piles which might make him look like a crazy person to an outsider, because there are 10 piles of wool jackets all over everything. There is a system. They are all staged. They are getting ready for their new life! John thought about going down to the Chamber of commerce, asking for an empty store front that he could have as a pop-up store for a month. He could fill it up, sit behind a desk and people would just say "Wow, this is weird! A lot of jam jars full of little screws, 400 candle sticks and lots of great Filson jackets!" Then they would see John in the corner surrounded by globes and they would understand.

Dan was selling a lot of stuff on eBay lately. Previously he saw it only as a platform to buy ancient computer equipment, but since then they have streamlined the whole process and Dan was going through his stuff purging as much as he could. People seem to want to buy anything! It doesn't matter what it is, what condition it is in, or if it is functional, as long as the price is right. Some things went for almost the price that they cost new and John feels guilty because he doesn't want to take advantage of people's addiction to the buzz of selling, which is almost like a gambling thing. He had a G-Shock AWGM100B-1A watch that was lying in a drawer for years and years. They don't make it anymore and it is a nice-looking watch. Dan started at $35, not expecting to get any bids on it, but after 8 bids it is already at $46. He also had a Tom Bihn bag that sold for $5 less than you could buy it brand new. Tom Bihn are probably the nemesis of Filson. They are also in Seattle and make high quality bags. John has $40.000 worth of really cool stuff that he would get rid of in an afternoon if he could. If you like Pendleton jackets? John has som fur collared Pendleton jackets for you! Dan found an "NWT Men's Pendleton Wool Jacket" on eBay for $136,80. "NWT" is "New With Tags". There is also a "Vintage Pendleton Wool Hunting Jacket, Coat, Green/Black" for $65, but that does not sound enough for John.

2017-February: Selling things on Craigslist (RW59, RW60)

In February 2017 John tried to sell things on Craigslist because for the first time in his life he got a bill from the IRS over multiple thousand dollars that he didn't have the means to pay for.

Things for sale included:

The problem is that John does not collect valuables, but things that he find nice and the collection as a whole is not worth anything. Even if certain items might be exceptions, it will be very hard to find just the right buyers. The things that were good to sell are the things that he either needs or REALLY does not want to sell. Therefore the notion of getting rid of garbage (as Dan likes to do, calling it "liberating") and making money at the same time does not compute.

Dan thinks the Filson stuff might sell like crazy, but John is reluctant because just the Filson jackets defined his public persona quite some and because he doesn't think they will be worth more just because they were his jackets. As an example he used Steve Albini who produced the Nirvana-record In Utero, but didn't really make a big deal out of it, but saw it as any other album. John just doesn't want to be a braggish bourist egotist. The discussion continues with several more examples of stuff that is for sale just because a famous person owned it and how and how not this can be pulled off.

John has a collection of Alaska Fur Rendezvous pins that mean a lot to him, but are probably worthless. The Vox AC30 amplifiers he has were from 1999, the last year when they were made in England which is important, even if Vox was owned by Korg by that time. The ones made in 2001 look the same, but are not the same. Somebody by the name of Ken Stringfellow wanted to call the police on him because one of the 1962 Fender Bandmasters he put up for sale looked suspiciously like one that was gone missing. All in all, the endeavor was not successful.

John even considered harder measures like selling the GMC RV, his piano or looking again into things like Patreon, without knowing that Dan had secretly created an account for him over the last month that had amassed a monthly pledge of over $1000 already. (RW59) Dan did however not tell John about the Patreon this time either, but waited until the next episode (RW60).

John got pushed by his mom to ask his friend Cal, who does own an advertising agency, if he can put ads on his podcasts. However, this is quite difficult, so this did not go very far. John pleads to the audience instead to make him avoid getting into the debtors prison, the Bastille. (RW60)

2017-April: Cleaning the house (RL242)

John had left his house uncleaned and his yard untrimmed for a couple of seasons and everything had gone to chaos. After having worked on his yard for several weeks, for example he had finally chopping off the top of his ugly apple tree, he decided it was time to spend two days cleaning up the house. There were receipts from 7-Eleven (where he never goes) from 2013 just laying around. Instead of throwing things out, John started to move things to the office that didn't belong to the house, like his dad's slides from the 70:s, a big box with wall warts, 1/4 inch cables and guitar picks. Had it been a dumpster, he would have been fine, but he will go through all of this in his office and put the quarter inch cables in this, all the broken picks in that.

Many years ago, John bought on Merlin's recommendation tiny little Flip Video cameras, but the system is no longer supported making them useless. He also has a lot of 31/4 inch floppies with stuff on it and somewhere there is a box with his IBM 64K PC with dual disc drives which he used all the way through college. Other people had color screens and mice, but John had the amber coloured screen which in 1980 was way ahead of the green screens other people had. His mom said in 1995 that one day that computer might be worth something. Some day John was even starting to write a sex story on it.

What he noticed was that he was able to do a project in the house for a sustained hour until he needed a 20 minute vacation. He had never seen it in action this way before because he has all those stupid games on his phone. He worked from 8am to 8pm cleaning the house and took only six 20-minute breaks to play games on his phone, but worked diligently the rest of the time, which is way better than he normally does. He didn't chastise himself for the 20-minute breaks either, which was a kind of workflow and he wonders if there isn't something there for him to mine that he could use for writing songs: Work on it for an hour, then play a little Minesweeper. Merlin calls this the procrastination dash, some call it the Pomodoro technique: If there is something you've been putting off, there is light at the end of the tunnel if you build in the concept that you only have to do this for a few minutes, then you can do something else during the break. It gets you to work on something you've been procrastinating, because the hardest thing is to get started.

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