RL119 - A Cocaine Economy

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: John knows this house is BUILT of pot, referring to John having to be friends with somebody and having to listen to music with them that he didn’t want to in order to get pot while the whole house was full of pot or even built of pot.

The show title refers to John opening a jazz café in a bus station that was completely powered by cocaine and that was part of a cocaine economy by driving people there who would buy cocaine from the other owners.

Merlin hopes heaven is not run by beef jerky, but Heaven is a Place on Earth and Heaven Ain’t a lot like Dixie. Heavens to Murgatroyd, it is a place where nothing, nothing ever happens. Heaven! Heaven! Heaven 17. Penthouse and Pavement, Summer Babe.

Merlin is having a fugue state because he has too much sodium in his system.

Merlin has a great video of his daughter dancing to a hitman, like a dancer, when she was about 2 years old.

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

Artichokes (RL119)

The other day John had some artichoke heart soup that was a sodium solution with an artichoke infusion, like wet salt with artichokes, but it was pretty good. The artichoke is a much-maligned vegetable because John hardly ever orders an artichoke thing, partly because so much of the artichoke is inedible and he doesn’t understand how nature could have produced a grenade-shaped fruit that is full of corn chips that you can’t eat covered with bitter guacamole. When John has an artichoke thing, he always enjoys it. For Merlin it is on the low end of the butter-conveyance spectrum. You can do things with it and make dips, but there is a lot of scraping and you end up with a bunch of leaves you get to throw away.

Opening a jazz club in a bus station (RL119)

John also mentions this in RL253, see Employment History

Many years ago in the early 1990s John was having one of these bar conversations where you get going with a couple of guys and pretty soon you are having a real intense meeting of the minds. Unlike most of those intense meeting of the minds conversations, the guy John was talking to was wearing a hemp necklace and looked like young Lindsey Buckingham from back when he was beautiful and had a little beard.

At the end of the conversation he said that John was perfect for this big project they had going on, like ”Come with me!” It was the middle of the day and they were half-drunk and they went out. His plan was to open a club that was going to be an art gallery, speak-easy café, Jazz club, Rave space and John was like ”Tell me more!” He found John to be a visionary guy who was ideal to partner up with on this club and John agreed because it was about time somebody recognized him as a visionary!

This very handsome and charismatic guy turned out to be a shoe salesman in women’s shoes at the Bon Marché, one of the big department stores in town. There used to be Bon Marché, Frederick & Nelson’s and Nordstrom, three department stores that were clustered Downtown and while the Bon wasn’t all the way up to Frederick & Nelson’s standard, it was a pretty nice department store. He and two other of the shoe salesmen were going to partner in developing this club.

They had a ton of cash because they had jobs, which was something John didn’t have. John and this guy became fast friends, they were inseparable. He had a pretty nice apartment and he just wanted to talk pie-in-the-sky ideas about how this club was going to change the culture of Seattle, and how it in a way was going to improve race relations. His group of friends were all multiracial, multicultural people, and they were going to appeal to everybody in the city. There was going to be a Hip Hop component, a cool Jazz component and all the things that you could want.

John’s role evolved to be head of security, which was an interesting evolution. He was still visionary, but also head of security. They found a space in the old abandoned Trailways Bus Station in Seattle, they found the owner, they rented the space and they stayed open for a couple of months. It was basically a 24 hour business: In the morning there would be a café, they had Costco muffins and an Espresso machine, serving espresso to people on their way to work.

During the day it morphed into an art gallery espresso space and in the evenings there was jazz with kids from the Cornish music school playing improv-beebop-jazz. Later at night it turned into jazzy hip hop which was a thing in the early 1990s in Seattle where the girls were wearing turbans and it was very Sade-y, and at 2am they would close all the front doors and open the unmarked back door for a power-rave from 2am until 8am.

They seriously kept this going for a couple of months. It was completely powered by cocaine and it turned out that the shoe salesman guys had a lot of money not only because they had jobs selling shoes, but it was a total cocaine ring. John had not spent a lot of time immersed in cocaine at the time, but you would be surprised how much work you can get done.

You can make a lot of Espresso in the morning and art-showing in the day. John would take cat-naps on the old bus station benches that were still there in this space. They really thought they were going to revolutionize the country and they were on their way because while there weren’t a lot of people buying art, the rave turned into a complete blow-out. Two and a half weeks in there were 400 people at the Rave which attracted the cops.

The business was not official at all. They gave some rent to a guy and John being head of security meant that he stood at the door and took the money from people. He charged each person a different arbitrary amount of money and he kept most of it for himself because the other guys didn’t seem to be in it for the money and John was the only one who didn’t have a job and suddenly he was doing pretty good.

It was a cocaine-driven economy and they were bringing in a lot of people to the venue who were buying cocaine from them, so it was self-sustaining and it would have become an aggressive virus that takes over the world and the whole world would be a jazz hip hop art gallery rave cocaine party if not for the police who drove by one night and saw 250 kids outside of the old Trailway’s bus station, which peaked their curiosity.

They came in and saw that it was just the overflow of the people inside, the place was a total fire trap, and John was sitting at the door with pockets full of cash, hopped up on goofballs and when he saw the cops he just got off his stool and walked away. His name was not connected to anything and he just left. Everybody got busted, but nobody really had their name on anything except for the guy who looked like Lindsey Buckingham.

John saw him again a couple of months later riding a small-bore one-cylinder 350 Kawasaki motorcycle, an imitation of a Triumph. John was walking down the street while he rode up on this bike and was calling at John ”Hey man, get on!” John jumped on the back, they rode to the ferry dock and took the ferry because he was living in Port Townsend now and he wanted John to see his place. He was thinking about re-opening the gallery in Port Townsend and he needed John there because John was the heart and soul of that place. Port Townsend was a long way away, he showed John the space he had in mind, but John was invested in living in Seattle and not up here in this weird hippie town. He was disappointed.

John spent the night in the house, he lived with some girl, he was a magical person who was somewhat powered by drugs, but also powered by charisma and he was hopping through life. Only months later he had this house in a different town and he was living with a girl? He wasn’t mad at John, but John was the smart one who got out of there before the hammer came down. What was John going to do? Stand there and ”IDs, please?” with $600 in his coat? He was ”See you later!”

In the early planning stages of the Café they went to a pizza restaurant to have a lunch meeting and talk about the big plan. The guy ordered an artichoke pizza. At that point John had never eaten an artichoke and he looked at him like he had ordered a rat pizza. John loved this idea of a lunch meeting where they were having a pizza, but he just ruined it by putting some terrible shit on it. He insisted that John was going to love it, and he was right: John loved it.

That artichoke pizza was one of a handful of events in his life where John realized that he was wrong about something and that his life was going to be different from now on. John gets a different thing every time he goes into a restaurant, even if he goes to the same restaurant over and over. He never orders the same thing. The club was called The Off-Beat Café and that name was the result of some think-tanking high-level discussions. It communicated a little bit of the jazz and hip hop vibe, it has the word Café on it, so it feels Bohemian, but also it was trying to be a café.

The hardest audience to appeal to were all the people walking past the Trailways bus station on their way to work in the morning. A lot of times John was the one standing there bleary-eyed manning the Espresso machine and he would watch the business suit people walk by, they would peer in, they would see the café sign, John would wave to them, but they would just keep walking. The big challenge was to up the café component of the business, because that was the road to legitimacy. The Rave was always going to be in the shadows, but if they could get the café business running, they could get licensed and get all the permits. There was a plan!

They were all students and it was all student run. A student Jazz ensemble can pass for most people as just a legitimate Jazz ensemble. If you were a Jazz pro, you would know that this was terrible Jazz. When it comes to the art side of things, student art and student paintings really read as student art a lot of the time, like the kind of thing you would see in a café that doesn’t have a license. A lot of the artwork looked like Mockups for the third Matrix movie and the art never sold.

The Offbeat Café was also where John met Reggie Watts (see RL253), the comedian, because his first foray into show business as a 20-year old was as a Jazz piano player. He was one of the Jazz musicians who came to the Offbeat café in the afternoons and evenings and he was a great pianist who played a Wurlitzer piano. He evolved many different times before he discovered his true gift, the comedy act. It sounds to Merlin like a Gus Van Sant film and John agrees that it very much was his own Private Idaho, but taken out of a Gutter Punk junkie context and put in a multi-cultural multi-racial cocaine context.

Merlin kind of envies the Lindsey Buckingham guy who could pull that off and John admired him and kind of loved him a little bit, but he doesn’t remember his name. Four months later John was sitting in that same bar, wondering what all just happened. He had been sitting there, drinking in the afternoon and two months later he was making $600 a night in illicit money, running an MDMA cocaine rave art gallery and two months after that he was sitting back in the same bar and all those people were gone.

At the height of the café experience, he probably knew 150 people by name and 400 people on sight that he hadn’t known before, but 4 months later all of those people were gone. The only people he saw again were Reggie who ended up in similar artistic circles as John, and a couple of other dudes that he hung on to for a few months. The Lindsey Buckingham guy was gone forever, who knows what happened to him! He could be the fucking sheriff of Twisp right now (see RL28)!

If there are not 400 businesses called the Offbeat Café, then John doesn’t know anything about anything. Every state in the union and every English-speaking country in the world has one. There is probably one in Marbella, Spain and in Zagreb.

Cocaine people and sex people (RL119)

The thing about cocaine is that the culture is predicated on the idea that you give somebody a look, they give you a look back and then you sneak off into the bathroom together. It is a little bit like the sex people: They know what to look for. If you are a sex person and you want to find another sex person to make sex with, you can get pretty good and sussing people up pretty fast. The other day John was having a conversation with a couple of people and one of them was describing the drummer in his band as one of those sex people.

They were talking about how they all were in bands and on tour all the time, and yet there is an awful lot of loading and unloading of gear and standing around in offices that smell like bleach and not a ton of having sex in a swing. He would be standing at a party, talking to a girl all night and making really great conversation, enjoying her company and thinking to himself that something is really coming together between him and her and then the drummer would walk in, walk over, say ”Hey man, how’s it going?”, look at the girl and ”You want to get out of here?” and she would say ”Yes” and they were gone. The drummer predictably said that it was an empty life and a curse, but you know what? Fuck you!

It is like the cocaine people: You are always going to be looking out of the corner of your eye for something that is going to catch your eye. You get the twinkle. If you are into cocaine and you have it, then you have a certain power because a certain percentage of the people in the world want to do it. If you have pot, a lot of people want to get stoned with you, but they are not always the highest caliber friend. Having cocaine puts you into a class where you can use cocaine to make friends.

If you are a person who will be friends with somebody for cocaine, then that is also an energy you are projecting. There are very few pleasures in life that you want enough to pretend to be friends with somebody you don’t like. Likewise, you do not desire to be friends with someone who wants to be friends with you because of something you can give them. There have been times in John’s life when he very much felt like that he will be friends with you if you would have sex with him, absolutely he will! Is that an optional?

John’s sources of Marijuana (RL119)

In the Marijuana department John was very much a person who would be your friend if you would give him some Pot, which was part of the shame cloud that descended upon him over time. When he was first introduced to Pot, he thought that it was cheap and it made him want to play air guitar to Side 1 of the Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers, but as time went on and Pot got his clutches on him, he didn’t like not being stoned because it was filling him with anxiety and he preferred being stoned, but he didn’t have any money, so now he went to some guy’s house who didn’t want to listen to Sticky Fingers, but to Skinny Puppy.

John will listen to Skinny Puppy if you will smoke pot with him, but then that guy realizes it and for some reason he wants a friend who listens to Skinny Puppy with him, so then he would withhold the pot for hours and hours and would have John listen to this latest Skinny Puppy album, like ”Really? There is another one?” John would listen to it and he knew this house was full of Pot or even built of Pot, and he wished he could take some out and take it in a bong so that he could at least be stoned and listen to Skinny Puppy. It was the caliber of his friendship and of what he was willing to endure just to have that stupid feeling of being high, when it really is like $10 to buy some Pot, but John was a slow learner.

The first time Merlin ever smoked Pot was on the way to a Cheap Trick concert. They drove into the mad part of town and bought what was a step above green tissue paper. These guys had chosen a very smart place to sell their shitty Pot, a part of town where white High School students were terrified to be in and wanted to get out of as quickly as possible. There was a certain excitement of going in there and buying that crappy Pot, it was awful and it didn’t take for a long time. His Pot-smoking period was mostly in college. He bought an okay amount, like a quarter bag for $45, which back then was the stuff that would put you on the moon, and today would be the thing you use to mult a plant.

Marijuana and PCP (RL119)

John used to have a friend who used to work as a secretary at the Korean embassy in Alaska. He started out as an assistant, but became part of the diplomatic corps of the Korean embassy, he was in good with the ambassador and became the ambassador’s personal assistant or something. As such you can get away with sending John Pot by Federal Express with some kind of embassy seal on it. Because it was coming from the Korean embassy, it was in a special category of ”Don’t mess around of this” John was living in Seattle and his friend was living in Alaska and had a Pot-growing operation in addition of being the inner circle.

Alaska has a very large Korean population and although not every country has a diplomatic corps in Alaska, Korea does. His friend would send John huge bags of Pot that had been vacuum-sealed and put into these Korean Embassy diplomatic pouches. They would be hand-delivered to John’s door at a time when he had decided that he no longer wanted to listen to Skinny Puppy, but that he needed more dignity.

This was just a bump in the road because John sank much lower later on when he was digging in the carpet looking for crack rocks that he was sure he had dropped (see RW116). There were literally and figuratively a few high plateaus where John had figured it out and had it all going on, like when he was getting diplomatic pouches from the Korean embassy full of pretty high grade Matanuska Thunder Fuck, which was very serious shit.

It was the High Poobah of Pot back in the day, grown in the Matanuska valley where Sarah Palin is from. The legend was that because the sun is up so long in the summer there and because the soil is so dark and black because it is a glacial river bottom it was the first brand of Super Bud. If you are in Amsterdam now or if you are a pot connoisseur, the common name for it now is Northern Lights.

When John was a kid, one of the exports that Alaska was most proud of was the internationally famous Super Bud from just north of Anchorage. These days the true Marijuana heads are all smoking weird MIT laboratory Pot. That weird ditch weed John used to buy to get kind of high looked like somebody had cut up Sage and sold it as shake weed. It was a pleasant groovy buzz, you could go to a concert, you could hang out, it was a social buzz, but this chronic bud now turns everybody into a freaking zombie and you have to be a scientist to smoke it and even make toast. The Pot that the pot people are smoking today is about at the level where acid was in the 1960s. Back then you could just sit and eat that all day long like Jelly Bellies, but the stuff they have today is just leveling and will knock you out.

Merlin never liked feeling out of control with the Pot. Out of control with drinking is fun, but out of control with Pot is way out of control. You get heart palpitations and all kinds of stuff and Merlin can imagine almost anything being wrong with him when he is super-baked. It is the hilarious trope of ”This Pot is laced with PCP” People cannot believe how stoned, out of control and freaked out you can get on Pot and they have invented this hilarious story where they think that PCP dealers are wasting perfectly good PCP and putting it on normal Pot and just sending it out there.

It is supposed to get you hooked on PCP and get you to come crawling back for more or PCP dealers are somehow sociopaths who enjoy the idea of getting people freaked out on PCP, not that they can see it, but it is just happening in dorm rooms. They are dosing them, but they don’t even get to enjoy the experience of watching them trip out, but they are just dosing them and sitting somewhere in their PCP van, content with the knowledge that they are fucking with kids. All of this is of course false and no-one has ever sold PCP-laced Pot for the price of Pot. You could get it if you payed extra for the PCP.

One time John was standing with a group of guys on Northern Lights Boulevard in Anchorage, the strip where they used to cruise (see story in RW58). They were parked somewhere in the middle across from Bob’s Big Boy and John was with a couple of guys, one of them had a brand new Audi and the other one had borrowed his dad’s Corvette. They were hanging out in a group of about 10 people, sitting around, watching the cruisers go by, smoking Pot, drinking beer and having a good time.

A guy walked up who was a little bit older, he sat down and talked for a while, they were a bit suspicious of him, but it was Saturday night and they were having a good time and he seemed cool. Eventually he offered them a hit of what he was smoking. They were all sitting there smoking Pot and it seemed like a gesture of Pot culture friend exchange, like ”Here, have a hit of my Pot and I’ll take a hit of your Pot” and he handed the pipe to John’s friend Shannon.

There was a vibe about this guy that was not 100%, but this was at an age when you would take a hit off of the pipe of a guy you didn’t feel 100% confident about and Shannon took a hit of the pipe, he looked at the guy and went like ”Hey man, what is that?” and the guy was like ”You like it?” and Shannon coughed out a big thing of smoke and ”Hey dude, that is not cool!” and the guy splits, like heal and toes it down the sidewalk.

They were sitting there and Shannon wondered what the fuck that was. He was very touch-and-go for a while and they came to the conclusion that it was PCP. He was a guy who was not unfamiliar with every kind of drug and he ended up being somebody who would many years later do PCP, maybe not habitually, but on purpose, and he never turned his nose up on a thing.

Later on when John worked at the Off Ramp there was a guy who played guitar in a Punk band called Mach Turtle, it was pre Post-Rock and he went on a PCP trip a couple of times and at one point fell down a flight of stairs and at one point threw his guitar out the window and was running around naked, screaming something about his dad.

Diplomatic pouch (RL119)

A diplomatic pouch can be a cardboard box, briefcase, duffle bag, large suitcase, crate or even a shipping container. It is the espionage version of a Bag of Holding. You can drive a Cadillac with Jimmy Hoffa and Dany de Vito dead in the back into a shipping container, call it a diplomatic pouch, and drop it into the ocean somewhere. This is the Illuminati question: We don’t know what we don’t know! They keep talking about that there are no conspiracies that have survived and they get a lot of Chemtrails style emails from people telling them that they don’t know what conspiracies have survived, because they have survived.

Who knows what is buried on the bottom of the ocean in a diplomatic pouch that somebody pushed off the back of a boat? In the movie where Robert Redford sails around the world alone in a sailboat and sinks (All Is Lost), he runs into a shipping container that was floating around there. When they were looking for that Malaysian airliner, they kept finding pieces of debris in the ocean and when they zoomed in, it was just a shipping container full of tennis shoes that fell off the back of a boat and is now just floating out there.

Some diplomat from Saudi Arabia had thousands of dollars in tickets because he was just fucking with people by parking in a fountain or whatever, but you can’t do anything because of diplomatic immunity. That was the plot point of a lot of 1980s cop dramas. In Beverly Hills cop there was a situation where a guy was getting through customs, which is when you put the pot or the German Bearer Bonds in coffee, which was also the plot of Die Hard. They needed the lock on the safe to disengage because it was full of German Bearer Bonds (see RL250, RL263, RL274)

John still has to do a lot of flying this summer and he needs to get some diplomatic bags and he might not even need to go through TSA, but he might just hold up the bag and they would wave him through. A diplomatic bag is often escorted by a diplomatic courier who is similarly immune from arrest and detention. If you wanted to start up a cocaine rave wave with Reggie Watts on Second Base, as long as you were carrying something that said diplomatic bag on it, they couldn’t arrest you. In that sense, the courier is an extension of the bag and as long as you are holding on to the bag of holding, you have the power of the nation. It could be full of Ritz Crackers, it doesn’t matter, but you shake it, especially if you have it hand-cuffed to your hand. 99% of diplomatic bags are probably full of Cocaine!

Questioning the truth in John’s stories (RL119)

Somebody wrote a review of this podcast with the words "Questionable Veracity", which was a little bit of a reach for them vocabulary-wise anyway. They implied that there was some question about how true John’s stories are. Merlin buys the part where people don’t know when they are kidding, but although Merlin can’t prove the stories, he can tell the listeners that they are by and large pretty much true. The thing that makes John mad is that he is not sure the listener was 100% clear on what veracity means. He was probably trying to say one thing and ended up saying another thing and John doesn’t fault him, it was a very nice review.

John at the airport for the opening of a Sub Pop store (RL119)

The other day John went to SeaTac airport for the grand opening of the Sub Pop store because he is friends with the Sub Pops, he had his feet on his desk at some point and they were fast friends. Megan Jasper, the executive vice president of Sub Pop sat with John on the Seattle Music commission together and they saw each other all the time. She invited some of them down to the grand opening of the Sub Pop store at the airport which required that they went through the airport as employees.

They rendezvoused at a part of the airport that John had never been to because it had never occurred to him to explore the part of the airport that is marketed as a convention center. Apparently you can have a convention at the airport now. A person from the airport met them, took them in an elevator John had never seen before, went down 4 flights to the basement of the airport, went to a door where somebody looked at them on a TV screen, and each person that was escorting a group of people through this door could only take 3 people with them. There were 9 of them, so there had to be 3 escorts and each escort went through the door separately.

After that they were in this incredible baggage warren under the building where all the baggage carts and trucks are driving on streets with stop lights and intersections and stuff. There is also a UPS distribution center. It sounds like a Bond villain hide-out waiting to happen with chutes and ladders going on down there! They had to wait until they could get across a busy street under the building and they went outside onto the tarmac, up an outside flight of stairs where they used a keycard to open a door.

They ended up in the terminal as if they were normal regular people except they were surrounded by people who had official badges and they were clearly very special people. This was some serious heavy-duty in-and-out. If you have the right card, you can go all around the airport and if you are carrying diplomatic pouches you might go in a different door. John can’t imagine that a guy with a special diplomatic pouch headed for Uzbekistan has to put that on the conveyor belt. Merlin thinks that they probably don’t do that thing all too often and they are showing John way too much to get him into that Sub Pop store.

If you work at the airport there seems to be a way where you go in through a back door and you end up working at the Chipotle at the airport. All these people have to get in there somehow. They might have been showing off a little bit, but it was a glimpse into literally the bowels of the airport that John never thought he would see.

The Sub Pop store gets two thumbs up! They are selling Long Winters vinyl there and they have a fantastic selection of very cool stuff. If you are at the Seattle airport and you don’t go to the Sub Pop store you are a dingeling. The last time John was in there, he bought Superfuzz Bigmuff, Bleach and Ultimate Alternative Wavers all on vinyl. There are shirts, tote bags, and Sub Pop branded neck pillows, it is pretty funny stuff. They said that they were making money a long time before they thought they would and a lot more than they thought they would.

The rent on that place has to be astronomical! All the places who sell stuffed orcas and canned salmon in the Seattle airport, all the Beats by Dr Dre that get sold, there are a lot of people trying to make money selling the most garbage-y crap. The manager of the Sub Pop store is Mark Pickerel, the drummer of the Screaming Trees. All the people working at that Sub Pop store are actual Rock stars. John thought that it was very funny to think that that label has come a long way.

Jonathan Poneman famously disputed the veracity of John’s stories in the past. He was John’s first exposure to somebody who said everything John wanted anybody to say to him. Merlin and John previously talked about wanting to be proved right or validated. Jonathan Poneman came up to the Western State Hurricanes after their third show and said: "You are the future of Rock’n’Roll and I want to take you to lunch tomorrow!" He was a famous guy in Seattle and he took John to lunch and they laughed and had fun, he is very smart.

He said that there was nobody in Rock who was doing what they were doing and Rock’n’Roll needs them. It was in the dark years of Sub Pop, pre-Shins, post-Singles Club, right in era of the Pernice Brothers or the Scud Mountain Boys. There was an era of 6 or 7 years where they didn’t have very many hits and were making a lot of different kinds of music, but before they started having hits again.

The next generation of bands to come out on Sub Pop, like The Shins, Postal Service, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, all had hits and hits in the 2000s, but in 1998 it was still a weird time. Zumpano was putting out records, but they were not selling. Merlin and John’s friend Sean might be the only still standing Zumpano super-fans in the world. Merlin loves them so much! Even John is a pretty big fan, because he got into them reverse, following A.C. Newman and going back to figure out Zumpano. It was after that first A.C. Newman solo record, that thing is dynamite!

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