RL180 - The Other Pope

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: John worked on the curves, referring to John creating and laminating himself a press pass in High School where he worked on getting the curves just right with a pair of sheers.

The show title refers to John running the school newspaper as the editor although he wasn’t the editor, like the Pope at Avignon, the other pope.

This show was recorded on November 16th, 2015, two hours after they recorded the previous episode.

Merlin mentions Wikifeet, which collects pictures of celebrity’s feet. John says that he wants to see pages for celebrities on Wikipedia, not on IMDB, which is owned by Amazon.

Merlin didn’t like the movie Superman - Man of Steel.

They recommend the mashup video of Prisencolinensinainciusol that starts with a girl saying ”Professore” - ”Si, ticca?” The girl from that video was the lead actress in Von Ryan’s Express, which sometimes appears in Netflix’s recommended section.

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

Musicals (RL180)

They start the show singing each other’s name. When Merlin sings John’s name it almost always sounds like a methodist hymn. He also does a song from the musical Maria.

Musicals always make John uncomfortable. There is so much of culture that makes him wince, like stand-up comedy shows, bands he doesn’t know, people’s first novels, or YouTube-videos. He always goes into it waiting to get whacked in the face with a cricket bat. Merlin doesn’t consider himself a Broadway musical person, but some of his favorite songs in the world come from musicals, for example all the Fred Astaire songs where he introduced us to Cole Porter songs that we now consider standards, while the movies were a little bit of a slug. Merlin is good to watch Jesus Christ Superstar every 4-7 years and the songs in that are great. John watched it in his 9th grade social studies class.

SWS, School within a school (RL180)

When John was in 9th grade, East High School in Anchorage had a School within a School, called SWS, that had its own building connected to East High School by way of a two-story external corridor. It had its own principal and its own faculty. It was a program within East High School that you had to apply for and get into. The general population of East High School considered SWS as the freaks and the geeks, which was true. There were couches, the floors were carpeted, and it wasn’t like a school, but like a big hippie tower. The principal at the time was Dr. Richard Krieger who wore a lot of turtle necks and who had an afro.

Later on, John’s good pal Don Shackelford became the principal of SWS. He was the one who reported John for having pipe bombs in his locker, for which John was given an emergency suspension. Don ratted John out (see story in RW84) and was very disappointed in him! Later he became a very good friend and a mentor. John went into SWS during Freshman year, because with the freaks and geeks was where he belonged. You would take some normal classes in East High, but most of your classes were in SWS and all of your teachers were hippies. There was Doc Blankensopp who had a red beard and was a little bit of an Elven character, John's biology teacher looked like Steve Jobs who tucked his turtlenecks into his jeans, and John’s social studies teacher was a wonderful woman and her idea of social studies was to watch Jesus Christ Superstar or Monty Python episodes.

At the end of his Freshman year, it was determined that John didn’t have the discipline to be in such a rigorous program that required self-determination. He was taking advantage of the laxity and he was spending a lot of time sitting on the couches. John was booted back into the regular school, but because SWS was connected to the regular school by these corridors, he would skip class, go to SWS and sit on the couches. They couldn’t kick him out anymore because they had already kicked him out.

John remained in newspaper, which was in SWS, and he would go there all the time and sit in Don Shackelford’s office. As it turned out, it was true that John didn’t belong in SWS, but he belonged in this special adjunct class that was part of the regular population of East High School, but was also welcome to SWS. John could be in both worlds. All the real honors classes, the kids who later went to Ivy League schools, never crossed the threshold into SWS and they didn’t want anything to do with it, because it had the taint of D&D. Merlin finds that John’s story sounds like a musical. Actually, many of his relationships sound like romantic comedies, but John would call them romantic dramedies: a Rom Dram!

SWS was a pretty diverse group of people. One of them was Terryl Walker, an Africa American who was a good friend of John's. Many years later, either through Facebook or at John’s 20 year reunion, Terryl expressed incredulity that of all the people in the world who could have become a professional musician, it would be John. He religiously practiced the piano in High School, he always wore a bow tie and was prepared to go to the show. In a way he was congratulating John, but he was also saying ”What the fuck! How did you?” John didn’t do anything in High School except walking around with this press pass and sleep on the couches in the middle of the day. How did he even get away with that? How did he even graduate, let alone go on to become a professional musician? John sees Terryl Walker around on the Internet.

Alternate forms of college (RL180)

Merlin thinks that most people in their youth are very careful about picking the things where they stick out, especially if they are a normal college-track-type kid. They want to be recognized as the kid who was getting the best grade on the physical science class test, but they don’t want people to notice that they got the cheap version of the ISAT. People don’t want to be noticed as sticking out and they want to be in the normal class, unless there are some true privileges attended to it.

In John’s case, the biggest privilege was to be able to roam the halls freely while everyone else was in class, which is all John ever wanted in High School! He would pop into classes where the teacher welcomed him as a friend and he could eat lunch in the band room. He got the specialness of being able to move freely, like he had diplomatic papers, but he also got the implicit buddyness and peer-relationship with the teachers.

John used to be in debate class, but he got kicked out because he didn’t ever take it seriously and just got up and extemporized it, which wasn’t what they were looking for. Although he got kicked out of debate club, everybody in there knew him and liked him, including the teacher, and he popped into debate club, sat around, and kicked his feet up. Today John likes to argue with text and he could ace any High School class by writing.

There are good colleges like Evergreen, Reed college, or Colorado college that people are trying to get into, but they have a tint to them, a smell that, while it is a good college, you know they are making their own acid in their dorm rooms. It is just not a normal college! You could see that constantly in New College, which combined all the fruity stuff from all the different schools all in one place. There are no grades, you get written evaluations, you do your own classes, you can make up your own major, and you do independent studies in January.

Different people handle this in different ways. Your independent study project could be baking bread, or writing a novel in a month when you are 19 years old. John doesn’t know who the hell these kids are who can shoulder the responsibilities of independent study. There are enough of them that whole programs are devoted to them. Independent studies was code for John that he could wander the halls and nobody would yell at him. He would have lunch in the band room, he would pop by SWS and sit in Shackelford’s office for a while, Shackelford would ask him if he shouldn’t be in class, John would laugh at him and and he would laugh with John. This was paradise!

John is actually still good friends with Don Shackelford. After he retired as a High School principal he got his ear pieced. He was a child of the 1960s, but he was waiting the whole time and got his ear pierced at age 65. They see each other, he comments on John’s Facebook page all the time, they like to play the dozens, and John still considers him a friend.

In Merlin’s last year of High School there was a smoking area and you could smoke cigarettes at school if you were 16 years old. If you were 18 years of age you could sign yourself out of school at any point, as long as you had been there for 2-3 periods. Merlin did that especially during the last semester. He never skipped school, but he would literally sign himself out of school before he had gone to science class.

John wanting to be the editor of the school newspaper (RL180)

The East High School newspaper was called the Zephir and the teacher had been Doc Blankensopp. Throughout his entire High School career, John was groomed to be the editor of the newspaper. For his senior year he walked into class two weeks before school started, he was introducing himself to the new teachers during the summer, he was fucking Max Fischer. John introduced himself to the newspaper teacher ”Hi, I’m John, I’ll be a senior this year and I’m going to be the editor of the paper. We should get to know each other!”

She said that she was the teacher and she would be the editor of the paper, but John was trying to explain to her that that was not how they did it at East High. She was a young and brand-new teacher with a lot to learn and because John showed the entitlement to think he was the editor, she was going to teach him a lesson by not letting him be the editor. He still walked that school as though he was the editor and he ran that paper from a non-editor position, but he fucking was the editor of that paper. Like the Pope at Avignon, John was the other pope!

The first thing he did was making a press pass and laminated it down at the office in the real school. He would flash that press pass to the security guards who roamed the halls to make sure nobody was truant. Not only did John forge his own credentials, but he made up the whole idea that there could be credentials. There was no press-pass, that was not a thing, no-one had ever had one, but John made one and because the security guards at that school knew him very well, the first time he showed it to them, they were like ”Okay” and for the entire rest of the year he could roam the hall with his press pass, doing stuff. It was really brilliant and it was as good as John was ever going to be. He was going down to talk to a teacher about a story he was working on, he would flaunt it and he was just strolling, eating a Hershey bar with Almonds, press-pass in hand. John did edit the paper, he wrote 4 articles in every issue, and it was something he actually worked hard on. He wishes he had a press pass now.

Merlin has bought a lamination machine for his daughter’s spelling class, which is not a bad idea to have around in the house. It has to be the right kind of lamination, because you don’t want bubbles in it. If it is thick and has satisfying curved edges, it gives you a lot of credibility. John had a pair of sheers and he worked on the curves of his press pass over the course of senior year. He was always improving it and making it seem more and more official.

Kids learning how to trick the game (RL180)

Figuring out how to game the system is one of the great skills of a young person. Merlin is trying to to teach it to his daughter and he is very proud of her every time she figures out a way to trick him. He is not super-bright, but don’t whisper loud about your plan! Learning to be tricky is not a terrible or criminal thing. John’s daughter is a dominant child who is in everybody’s face all the time and she needed to learn a little subterfuge.

"Hey, lady, it is okay to get people to do what you want, but you need to put a little spin on the ball! Don’t just stand there, palming the basketball, putting it in their face, taunting them with your power, but do a little Harlem Globetrotter stuff! You got to have a ladder or a bucket of confetti." Rip Taylor and the Harlem Globetrotters can teach us a lot about life. It is a hustle and the point of the hustle is to make them think that they can win, that is the "con" in "confidence".

Scientology (RL180)

You have to watch that Hustling movie with the guy from the spaghetti sauce (do they mean Lock, Stock, …and Spaghetti Sauce?). He is the hustler and there is the guy from the Honeymooners, there is the hustle movie where it is the guy from Bartender, spinning his bottles and stuff, the guy from F/X (they might be talking about Bryan Brown). Merlin doesn’t like John to mention Scientology, but that guy is really good at that! (John probably means Tom Cruise) They know the hustle! Hold these cans! They are literally cans. Between professional wrestling and Scientology, Merlin has seen a lot of documentaries and it is still amazing to him that they really have not tried to make the E-meter look any less like a Fisher Price toy. Whenever they talk about Scientology, John feels that their German fans sit up on the edge of their chairs with their hands on their headphones, like "Tell us more!", but their actor friends feel a little uncomfortable.

Being kind (RL180)

Merlin believes in kindness. Some of his friends have the rules of their house written by the front door in perma-chalk and one of the rules is ”You don’t have to be nice, but you have to be kind!” which Merlin finds to be a really good distinction. Being nice is something you tell girls when you ask them to smile, but kindness is a good thing! You can be kind and still trick people. There are lies of omission and there a lies of delight and you are doing people a favor sometimes! Kindness is a good thing in general. Being polite is a fantastic thing and you can get away with a lot of shit in life by saying Please and Thank you. Being polite also includes not to pick your nose, at least not where others can see it. There are a lot of reasons to pick your nose, one of them being that it is fucking pleasurable. It is like touching your clitoris but you don’t do that in a restaurant.

Rita Moreno, Robert De Niro, The Intern, Movie banter (RL180)

Right now in this culture we need a Rita Moreno and a Rip Torn (not Rip Taylor) if we were to create a musical. Rip Torn was fantastic on the It's Garry Shandling's Show. Rita Moreno was the original EGOT. There is a number in West Side Story called Tonight Quintet, it also exists as a YouTube video, where everything is coming together, all the songs and all the gangs, and Rita Moreno is putting on her stockings. She is totally awesome! It is basically the going-to-the-mattresses-scene from The Godfather.

John was forced to consume the movie The Intern with Robert De Niro and with the girl who is a manic pixie dream girl. Merlin happens to really like her, he has dreams about her and there is no way he would see that movie. She is very exciting, particularly in this role as a CEO. The script keeps claiming that she is a ball-breaker and a tough CEO lady who is tough to work with, but she breaks into tears all the time, she is flighty, she can’t decide, and she is a manic pixie dream girl CEO, while the script indicators say that she is a real powerhouse. That incongruity is jarring!

The twist is that Robert De Niro is the intern. He is an old man who comes from the old school and wears a suit every day. They don’t get along very well because she doesn’t need his adult supervision, but he is very patient like a wise Buddhist Dharma, sitting on his toadstool waiting and doing menial tasks without complaining, which is what wise old men do in order to eventually earn the trust of everyone. Young guys look up to him and want to wear their tie in the same way than he does.

The problem with Robert De Niro being in this movie is like when The Fonz was in Night Shift: He was good, but it was the first movie he did after Happy Days and he was playing low status, like a Weiner. No, don't do that! Anybody but The Fonz! Every other role Henry Winkler did were roles that Alan Alda rejected for being too wimpy. They continue talking about Robert De Niro and if he really needed to take on this role. They also talk about Archie Bunker.

Merlin has never seen Casino. Sharon Stone’s acting in this movie is tremendous! They mention various other Robert De Niro movies. Merlin reads some of the plot keywords from American Hustle, like cheating husband, drunk wife, sexual attraction, and so on. Amy Adams is an extraordinary actress and she lights up the screen of anything she is in. As far as John is concerned, American Hustle is the debut of Jeniffer Lawrence. Merlin only finds two X-Men movies to be good, although he is the biggest X-Men fan in the world.

SnapChat (RL180)

Merlin wonders why so many people put their SnapChat address in their Twitter photo. John does not know what SnapChat is, but Merlin explains that it is the one where teens send each other expiring dick pics. John is an archivist and he does not want pictures to disappear, but he wants them to be collected. He is not Inbox Zero, but Inbox 25.000. When Merlin gets fake Twitter followers, he notices them sometimes because they are not even trying but they use some stolen picture of a lady and she mostly writes in dollar-signs and emojis. They often have their SnapChat address in there somewhere.

Getting an Intern (RL180)

Maybe Merlin and John should get an intern? The person should have vigor and the right amount of enthusiasm, because a lot of young people have too much enthusiasm and want to tell John how he helps them. They also need a strong back because there will be a lot of heavy lifting. Every time John and Merlin don’t understand something, their intern could serve as a translator or emissary. Some people on John’s campaign staff did that quite a bit. There was one kid who really knew reddit and when John did a reddit AMA he was doing all the facilitating and was weeding through the questions so John could sit there and write his answers without needing to read through 25 questions saying ”Do you still think that Punk Rock is Bullshit?” He was a young person and the interface of reddit probably makes a lot of sense to them. You need to know all the shortcuts.

What is the internet? (RL180)

What is the Internet? Where does it live and what is it? Merlin is the wrong person to answer the technical parts, and where is John Siracusa when you need him? In 1993 Merlin was told that it started out as a DARPA project to ensure that communications could continue in the event of an apocalypse, but now it is a series of tubes running through the Nevada dessert. It has Google on it and Amazon, presumable. You can’t see all parts of it from China. Then you got TOR, the deep web, where you are paying for drugs with Bitcoins and you are sharing videos that nobody else wants to see. John saw a picture on 4Chan of an iceberg: The top of it was Google, Amazon and Friendster, and the whole bottom of the iceberg, the largest part of it, was the deep web.

John doesn’t want to learn about XHTML or something, but he wants celebrities in revealing outfits and nip-slips. He wants to avoid people on Facebook who talk about gun control, he wants to post on Twitter and not be yelled at, and every once in a while he wants to go on eBay late at night and have a Bipolar B episode where he buys a lot of old military emblems. John’s needs don’t seem difficult and current technology should be able to do pretty much all of that. Also, if people are talking about John on the Internet, he wants to be able to take them aside and sometimes put them in a hot box and say that what we have here is a failure to communicate. Merlin calls it a huddle room. John basically wants a pop-up principal’s office where they can go and take a seat and talk about what they said about John.

Dick Cheney in a shipping container in the dessert (RL180)

(see also story in RL189 and RL281)

John wants to sequester Dick Cheney in a shipping container buried in the dessert, give him small doses of LSD, and play Prisencolinensinainciusol on repeat for him until he goes mad! John wants to do a supercut of all the TV footage of him giving a press conference or accompanying stuff about what is going on around him, like the montages you see in a Vietnam film that have ”This is the end, my friend…” in the background, but instead the soundtrack will be Right Said Fred.

The room will be pretty plain and there will be a sink for him to drink water that has a little bit of LSD in it. The TV will only have one channel that just plays himself to him, but they will slightly modify the material a little bit at the time so it will be not quite how he remembers it. Although he is in a shipping container buried in the dessert, there will be fake windows with some Trump-loyal palm trees outside and when he opens up the shades he will see a diorama that looks like the outside at first, but little by little things will change slightly, like ”Was the dessert always that color?”

They will start to tilt the floor just a millimeter at the time, like one of these optical illusion things where it doesn’t look tilted, but something is up there. There will be just enough LSD in the water that he can’t quite be sure if he is imagining it or not. After 2 years the floor will have dropped by 2,5mm in one corner. Outside the window the sun will come up and go down in the dessert, the TV will be on, broadcasting this loop and little bits will get shaved out of the loop over the years. There will be one-frame-dick-shots cut in. They will also videotape him all the time.

Right next to him in the shipping container will be Lawrence Eagleburger and Condy Rice. The problem is that John wants to get this done before Dick Cheney dies of a heart attack and he doesn’t want him to die of a heart attack on his watch either. By now, his heart is just mostly made of aluminum, so he might have decades left.

Why is the floor moving? Is this the same water-glass I take my pills with every day? Who moved it? They will move his glass just a little bit in the middle of the night and put tiny thumb prints onto it. If they pour a little bit of water on his crotch he will start thinking he is wetting the bed. There will be a little bit more water in the toilet every day and he will be so upset. They will keep putting slightly smaller shoes in the room and they won’t fit him anymore. John got so far in this thought experiment as to imagine how they would drip the precise amount of LSD into the water.

Documentaries in connection with WWII (RL180)

Netflix’s search algorithm never gives John what he is looking for. Just because Frank Sinatra is in that movie John is not going to like it because Frank Sinatra is not convincing in WWII. He skipped that war! Merlin has seen a new WWII documentary with color footage that they cut together into a TV series. John watched a WWII documentary the other day about Göring’s brother. They continue to talk about WWII documentaries.

There is a book about Nietzsche’s sister, who has a fascinating story. She was married to Wagner’s son, she became a Nazi, and they actually went to South America to form a new German Reich in the far off Northern Argentina, Uruguay or Paraguay. There are remnants of this town today. That book was just like ”Tell me more!” and John almost wanted to get on a plane, fly down there and look at it. There is a movie about repatriating Eichman where Israel went after him. There are also documentaries about when they stuffed him in the trunk of their car and drugged him. In the spirit of Nietzsche’s sister they made this movie about Göring’s brother. They talk about the ranks in the German military who just add more words the higher you go.

Bodily humors (RL180)

John wonders if he sounds phlegmy and if it is a character of him to have too much yellow bile, but Merlin doesn’t think so. He coughs a lot, though. John doesn’t want to have a wet humor, but he wonders what humor he wants. There are phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic and sanguine. Sanguine has a lot of blood and is a wet and moist humor. Phlegmatic is relaxed, peaceful and calm, which is cold and wet. Choleric is short-tempered and irritable, which is hot. Merlin mentions Chinese energies, or G:s ”We can all agree on G:s” (referring to his bit "we can all agree on cheese")

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