RL259 - My Dump Buddy

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: ”Not to make 9/11 about me”, referring to John having very close memories to 9/11 because he was at the towers only 10 days before the attacks.

The show title refers to John being at the dump again together with his friend whom Merlin in the conversation calls John’s dump buddy.

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

John being hard to reach (RL259)

Merlin has a process to figure out whether or not he will be recording with John. It involves texting John and members of his family and circle, like ”Is John okay?”, which is quite a popular text in general. John ghosts Merlin sometimes, but he hadn’t heard from him in a long time and was getting a bit frantic as he had do a little bit of rescheduling and he was getting worried. He texted John’s baby-mama and was looking at John’s Instagram. Sometimes he can be like Sherlock Holmes and gather the facts, like if he sees him on the East Coast on a Sunday night, it might be a clue, but he likes to get confirmation from the source, as they say in journalism.

This time, John had an extra wrinkle, because his phone broke. It probably saved him considerable injury because the amount of energy that it absorbed would otherwise have been absorbed by his body. It crushed and bent in a way John had never seen before when John fell from a trailer at the dump as he had told already before. Watching people use a broken phone causes Merlin quite som anxiety. When the person has this spider web screen on an iPhone 4 and it has been like that for 3 years, it makes him so uncomfortable. He treats his phone like a Eucharist and has never broken a phone and a screen. John dodged a bullet here, because he is a middle-aged guy. In his youth he did falls like that as sport, but particularly landing on his butt and his back would have been really terrible.

Merlin twisting his back in his sleep (RL259)

Merlin twisted his back in his sleep last week and is stealing his wife’s Vicodin so he could sleep. He harmed himself with sleep and now he thinks he might be the opioid epidemic. John warns him to not get addicted to opioids, but Merlin counteres that it supposedly is not as bad as the media are blowing it up, because they don’t like the white working class. It is really about heritage! John thinks that states attorney general really want to sue pharmaceutical companies, because they are bored, like it was with the cigarettes in the 1990:s. They are liberal democrats, there is trial lawyer culture.

Memorials of varying quality (RL259)

The WWII memorial is the most recent thing to actually occupy and stretch accross the mall itself. It is a new feature right between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. It is a pretty enormous little amphitheatre they built. John has a relationship with WWII as a conflict and has spent quite a bit of time on it in the course of his life. His dad fought in it and all his friends did and John is sorry to say that the WWII memorial is an abject failure. It is just bad. Badly designed, badly executed and it was really sad to John because you are not allowed to say that. It was incredibly expensive. It was designed by a committee to seem epic, because they had all this space on the mall and had to design something with a lot of whizzbang. It looks like a football field from the sky. It has very bad access to it, you can enter on one side, but not leave on the other side. It commemorates nothing. One side of the oval has a big sign that says ”Pacific” and the other side predictably says ”Atlantic”. There are 52 pillars with all the states. John did not even go around and check if Alaska and Hawaii were on there. There were two fountains on either side, carved with the names of all the battles. It is entirely insufficient. The Vietnam wall is a creepier and there is something momentous about it.

Turns out the 9/11 memorial is closed at night! It is an enormous plaza and there is nothing in it except fountains and trees. Merlin has a pebble in his shoe, because a security guard yelled at his daughter for standing on the railing. John went there at midnight, which is a good time to visit a memorial like that, but they have decided in their infinite wisdom to hire 40-50 security guards to walk around this park all night telling you that you cannot set foot in it. If they have those 40-50 security guards, why not let them walk around all night and you could also walk around in it. What are you going to do? Start a campfire? John went there to have a solemn moment, because he went up to the World Trade Center on September 1st in 2001. When that all happened, John was just 10 days from standing at the Windows of the World and standing on the roof. Not to make 9/11 about himself, but it was a very profound experience and so John wanted to have his moment at the memorial and was hoping to be there alone and not have to experience it in a crowd. ”Sorry, park is closed!” It is partly security theater. If you throw out the idea to hire 50 security guards to stand around this place, noone is going to say ”No!”, because if you say ”9/11!”, you have just trumped any argument against it. Do you think anybody is going to come and blow up this memorial? You need 50 security guards to keep everybody out from the park, but you would only need 20 to keep people from camping there.

There is an enormous outdoor sculpture garden in Seattle with security guards hiding in the bushes! If your kid touches the Calder, somebody appears over your shoulder and tells you not to touch this artwork. It is an outdoor sculpture garden, which is closed at night and you are not allowed to touch it. The most disturbing memorial Merlin has been to was the Holocaust Memorial in Miami. It is a little over the top, but it is very affecting. John gets in arguments with people about the way the holocaust and WWII has been memorialized, because unfortunately for them, the war was immediately followed upon by the brutalist movement and the hyper-post-modern art world. Representative art fell out of fashion, so a lot of the memorials for WWII are black donuts, which has to be explained. There is a lot of criticism to be made about the WWI memorials where 40 valiant soldiers stand and look at the middle distance with dying comrades around their feet, glamorizing their fallen heroes, but at least you don’t need a tour guide with a clipboard explaining why you should be moved by this. A lot of people defend that stuff, because they feel that metaphor is the only thing that is sufficient.

There is not one answer to any of this, there are examples on both sides that are done well or poorly, that suit the purpose and don’t. Some of them don’t age well, but it is just a question how well it is executed. That is why the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is such a heavy visit. It is an enormous field full of black obelisks and it is open all night, because it is in Europe and nobody cares about that. When you are on the edge of it, the stones are low and you can sit on it. If you walk into it, the earth falls away and those obelisks are towering over you and every time you come around a corner, you can see all the way the paths in either direction and it becomes very disorienting and very overwhelming. When you are down in the center you have no idea where you are because you can no longer see out of the park. It also accomplishes that you become a little scared and want to get out of there, but you don’t know which way to go. There are also people down there, not just kids, but stupid college students, playing peekaboo, but there is nobody down there telling you not to do that, so everybody is interacting with it in a different way and when a 24-year old is running past you giggling, your impulse is to grab them and say ”Hey, WTF are you doing?”, but you can’t do that and it adds to your feelings. You are having a real emotional experience.

The WWII memorial in DC succeeds at no level, John wouldn’t call it abject failure if he wouldn’t mean it. It is just a committee-designed, extremely expensive hole in the ground. It doesn’t achieve awesomeness, you are not awed by it. It feels like a monument to our time. It is like when you go into housing developments and you know that this building was built in 2007, because it has the same baby shit color as every other building from that time. Merlin feels that way about awnings. In 1984 or 1985, everything had to have an awning. Awnings and atriums. It didn’t age well. Awnings get mildewy, Atria need to be cleaned regularly and they did not endow the building with a cleaning fond.

Restaurant chains (RL259)

awnings and atriums are the thing about a Chick-fil-A. Prescious few Chick-fil-As have their own endowment. It is not Rice University, there is going to have to be some bootstrapping to have the atrium cleaned. It is like a Rax, they all had atria. It was kind of like an Arby’s wannabe, maybe a little nicer. Back in the 1980:s when John’s family ate at fastfood restaurants probably it was still nice, they woudl still get dressed and out of the house to go to the Burger King or the Taco Bell. It was pretty deluxe at a certain time and you could get fresh Mexican food. Merlin would drive to Tampa to get Taco Bell. It was down-market, obviously but back then the distinction was if you ate at home or if you were eating out and obviously they wouldn’t go to Simon and Seafort’s and didn’t get Fettucchine Alfredo except on your birthday or your graduation day.

The thing that distinguished Rax was that it was the first restaurant of its kind that had a salad bar and it really brought people in. The 1970:s were the golden age of the sallad bar, then there was a silver age of the sallad bar and after that it became table stakes. Places like Ponderosa Bonanza shipped it from being a York Steak House style to slightly upscale mall-ish food to being ”all you can eat”. You could get a steak, but you were mostly there for the hot bar. John didn’t have any of those Midwestern brand names. Before church, Merlin would go to Perkins and get strawberry pancakes and if you got a little bit of dough, you would go to Forum after church, which was the cafeteria at their mall, and get little green Jell-O cubes. Maybe once a month you would go to York Steak House, which had a medieval theme and it was amazing. Merlin’s first grade girlfriend and he would talk about the date they would eventually have a York Steak House and what they both would order.

Merlin’s first aspirational girlfriend (RL259)

An aspirational date with his aspirational girlfriend. She is a health professional now, and because she has always been Merlin’s age and that means she must be 50 now, which is very difficult to imagine! He never went out with her, because he changed schools in 1979 in fourth grade, which was the age where something like that even kind of might have begun to have happened. They had mostly phone calls about York Steak House.

John’s first kiss (RL259)

4th grade was John’s first kiss. Sherry Edwards kissed Merlin in 3rd grade during a fire drill. John untangled a dog that someone had tied to a pole and the dog had gotten himself tangled up so his collar was right next to the pole and he couldn’t move because he had spun around it so many times. He was probably not a smart dog! As John was done there was this girl behind him that he had understood was a high-status girl and he tried to remember her name 30.000 times because it was the first time he was actively flirtatious with a young lady. They saw each other at the grocery store when she was with her mom and John was with his mom and even their parents noticed because they would look at each other down the ailes with their eyes locked. As John had just rescued this dog, she came over and kissed him and he didn’t know what to do now, so he just did nothing. He never went to her and asked her to be his girlfriend, and she never did either, because they were in 4th grade and not that sophisticated yet. Then he moved to Alaska and she went on to a life so distant from him that he can not even recall her name. Their class pictures that they were given in the 1970:s have no names underneath, so even if he looks at the picture, he still can’t recall her name.

Restaurant chains (cont.)

The last York Steak House closed in the late 1980:s. Is was done like a Sizzler, like a castle. In Anchorage there was a Clinkerdagger Bickerstaff & Petts, which was the medieval steak house where the waitresses were dressed like medieval wenches and it was table service, the fancy medieval steak house. Why did steak houses and restaurants have so many themes back then? It was the whacky 1970:s. John had a restaurant where every room had a different theme and the waiters were dressed in different costumes, like the guy got a straw boater on and the guy next to him has like a pirate hat on and she had a hoop skirt. It was like Farrel’s, but for spaghetti. Merlin had something similar called Spaghetti Warehouse and it had a street car or train car with tables in it. Merlin went there at his 10th birthday and remembers it very well! Their signature dish was mizithra cheese which seemed so exotic. You could get half-and-half where you had mizithra cheese on one half of your spaghetti and meat sauce on the other half. It was definitely where you went for you birthday and in Seattle it remains the place where you go on prom night.

It is a little bit orthogonal to Bennigan’s, which for Merlin a very brass and fern kind of place. Then there was that trend with Cracker Barrel type restaurants with shit on the wall. There could be a loom or an old Coca-Cola sign. Spaghetti Warehouse was like that. It was this very old-timy street-car-in-the-middle place where the waiters would wear a garter on their sleeve. Steak and Ale was large in Merlin’s childhood. It was a little bit medieval and the menu was on a cleaver (example pictures). Now they are looking for new franchisees. John has always been curious about the people who own franchise restaurants, like you want to own a restaurant, but you don’t want to think about all the stuff and what menu you are going to have and so on. It is a very retired sports guy thing to do, like owning a Pontiac dealership, you want to invest in this turnkey operation. Like the have $150.000 to invest, they want something that is going to grow and they don’t want to do too much work on it, so they become a franchisee. There will be other franchisees out there to help them figure out how to hire a manager. There are McDonald’s franchisees who have 5 or 6 restaurants and they are raking in the dough.

If John and Merlin would open a francise restaurant, they would have to pick a 3rd city that is neither of their cities, for example Missoula, Montana. They would like to want that kind of food that they like to have at certain times of day, because a big part of it is a passion project and you would not only see it as an investment, but as a lifestyle job. There should probably be some Dim Sum. Or what if they don’t care, but it would just be about maing money. They could have it in Winnemucca, Nevada and neither one them would ever go there. Or they could open two of them, one in Seattle and one in San Francisco. The only reason John would open a restaurant is to give himself somewhere to go everyday. You would have a big table with a big curvy banquette
that is always reserved for the boss because he comes in all the time and wants a Malibu Chicken. Sometimes people would come over to ask you a question, sometimes you would sign some papers, you would have your ashtrays, people would ask if they could pay you their debt in installments, but you would request them to pay those $50.000 by Friday. You would also wear sunglasses that are tinted at the top, but not at the bottom. Three times a day they would come out and put a steak in front of you, you eat about half of it and then you push it away. Merlin likes the idea of a turnkey operation, maybe some place that used to be a Pizza Hut, then it was a dentist’s office and now you’d make it into John’s restaurant. Or an old Taco Bell or International House of Pancakes where they had that super-tall blue roof, but now it is a Thai restaurant. There are websites documenting this, like Used to be a Pizza Hut or Not fooling anybody and there was even an episode of 99% Invisible.

What is the deal with Wienerschnitzel? It is a hot dog place, but Wiener Schnitzel is an actual dish as wellm which is not a hot dog or sausage of any kind. If you want to put the word ”Wiener” in something, go right away, but don’t make it confusing like that! In Europe, the Schnitzel is the basic food item in any place. In any pub, the first thing on the menu are 6 kinds of Schnitzel.

John cracking his phone (cont.)

Initially John wanted to try being without a phone, see how that worked and get that thing out of his head, because 10% of his head is just always in his phone, even if he is not looking at it. Any time John had a moment, he would look at his phone, even when he came back to his house after a tough day and his daughter would go get a book, he would look at his phone. Being without a phone turned out to be hard because several times during the day he would be in transit somewhere and nobody could get in touch with him, which is how we lived our whole lives, but now it is an impossible problem for people. Then John started to get texts from people including Merlin asking if he wasy okay. He also got Instagram messages from people who had noticed he hadn’t posted i a while. John was totally fine with that, because he didn’t have this monkey on his back anymore. He went cold turkey on it! Like when you are really sick and you can’t drink coffee or smoke and afterwards you just don’t start anymore, because you have already been through the worst of it. Then he went to Washington D.C. and his daughter’s mother said he can’t go there without a phone. She gave him an old iPhone 6 out of her drawer and John only switched SIM-cards without doing anything else, so he had her old phone with her old address book and stuff, but you could call him, about 20% of his texts came through and he could go on the Internet. Those were the 3 things it allowed him to do. For 2 weeks, he didn’t have a Smartphone and didn’t post to anything, he was planning to be granddad with one of thoseflip phone with really big buttons and he would text his friends with no punctuation.

What happened instead was that John would sit down at his laptop at the end of the day and conducted whatever small amount of business had come in through email. Having this hole in his life that used to be fulfilled by the cell phone, he immediately went back on 4Chan which had changed a lot since he was there 5 years ago. All people ask for now are naked pictures of other people’s girlfriends. There is a new thing that never existed before called ”rate my dick” where people take a picture of their dick and people offer encouraging remarks. Because it is anonymous people also talk about their small dicks. There are about 14 of these threads every day, which you never saw back in 2010. What used to be gore threads are now rekt threads and John knows enough from his personal experience with gore threads that he doesn’t want anything to do with them or look at them at all. John doesn’t want to see people die! 4Chan is mostly porn now. Not having his social media stuff right at hand, he went to this weird bunghole of the Internet! People from all walks of life are still creeping on this place! John has never posted anything on there, he is one of those lurkers. He also does not want to put his dick up there. He doesn’t need any input and feels comfortable with himself. Men are fragile and women have somehow learned at an early age not to compare them with ex-boyfriends and not to offer any other feedback than ”You are the best, honey!”

John’s girlfriend with the motorcycle boyfriend (RL259)

One of John’s girlfriends said that her ex-boyfriend once rode his motorcycle up the stairs of her house to come to her in his leather pants and ravage her. John replied that he is not going to do any of those things and hoped she was content with him coming by sometimes. She wanted to establish that John was the lucky one to have her, and she was not the lucky one to have him. It became clear that she really was not the lucky one. John did not have a motorcycle or leather pants, he was not even a heroin addict or a ravager nor was he a rapper. Usually he would come to her house and go through the cupboards to see if there was anything to eat, he would take a bath and then he would mildly ravage her, like a wet ravage, then he’d lay around and get a little more food. As the sun would go down he would tell her he was headed to the bar and invited her to join him, but made it clear that she wouldn’t have any fun. That was about the extend of it. Over the course of their relationship his complete lack of ability to even pretend to try flipped the power dynamic so eventually it seemed that he was the prize. Think of the poor bastard that came next! Also retroactively, where is the guy with the motorcycle now? She was with John now, so why don’t you ride your motorcycle down the stairs! Now John doesn’t do that anymore. He is very interested, very attentive and he hardly ever goes through someone’s cupboards.

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