RL263 - Real Admiral Crunch

This week, Merlin and John talk about

The problem: He was a literal pants prospector, referring to people finding valuable old jeans in thrift stores and selling them for a lot of money.

The show title refers to the plans of the US government to move all industry underground to survive the war, amongst others the Captain Crunch factory. But because he was in the navy, he should be called Rear Admiral Crunch.

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

Daylight savings time

John is trying to perform better sleep hygiene and the sun has become his friend. In Seattle it stays up till almost 10pm in the summer, while in the winter, it goes down at 4pm, which is quite different from San Francisco where Merlin lives. There is no reason for daylight savings time up there, because all it does is pummel them. It is appalling when you come home from work or school and it is already dark. When John was growing up, you never saw the sun in the winter. His 5th and 6th grade classroom was in a converted locker room, because his school was a converted Catholic private school that had been absorbed by the city somehow, but it wasn’t quite large enough to absorb all the students. Therefore they turned the locker room into a classroom. They put carpet on everything they could and it felt like a little womb, which was great, but the problem was that it didn't have any windows and you would go in in the morning when it was dark and you came out at night when it was dark. It was like living inside of a bean bag chair. John kind of misses the time when he was sitting there in the corner and reading Watership Down.

Merlin’s take on daylight savings time is: Just pick one! Either do daylight savings time all the time, or do the other one and stick with it. John thinks that daylight savings time is like the electoral college: Both are things we need to eliminate, but there is a lot of emotional investment in them and there is the sunk cost fallacy. The electoral college is even getting worse as more people move to the cities, but the problem is that the people currently in power won’t do anything about it. Arizona was the one state that had a referendum to not celebrate Martin Luther King day and who was not getting the daylight savings time. There are videos about this that will make you mad, because there are streets that have a different time zone on either side. It is like splitting time families apart, kind of a temporal civil war. After they took the wall down in East Germany you realized they had run the wall down the middle of the street at many places and there were two houses that all of a sudden were separated by a no-mans-land.

Ancient concepts sticking around (RL263)

There might be more things that once were a good idea for a reason, but are now just sticking around. Merlin puts fax machines on that list. John often enough receives emails where he is supposed to print it out, sign it and fax it back, but he refuses to do something like that. Nowadays you can do things like that in an app that doesn’t work. John draws a line in the sand and says that if he can’t do a certain business on his phone, he won’t do it. The other day somebody wanted John to send him an invoice, although they had been doing business for 22 years. Then John wrote one, but the guy couldn’t open it, because John had written it in Apple Pages. Then he told John he can’t send him the money without an invoice, because he is not the business manager, although he was the actual manager. Merlin puts cheques on that same list. In the last 9 months, the DocuSign app has finally gotten to the point where John doesn’t fling his phone across the room screaming in more than 60% of the time. Apps like Square now recognize most of the time that John has been there before and don’t ask for his email again. When he is told to enter his email address, he usually says: I would rather give you a pint of blood than stand here and put in my email address for a receipt. I want you to fax me the receipt between two slices of bread and I want you to put it between your knees.

John's banking history (RL263)

Cheques made a lot of sense at the time when you would pay everything in cash. You would not send $200 in the mail, but instead you would send a cheque with your signature, also a concept that goes on Merlin’s list of ancient things that stick around. The millennials don’t even know what cash is anymore which is why John usually pays them in Canadian currency, because they don’t know the difference. John still gets a book of cheques to pay people who come around, like John paid Sahm with a cheque. John likes to keep all kinds of financial instrument available, because a lot of people he does business with don’t trust the banks. Some may want to be paid in German Bearer Bonds.

When John was growing up, they always used the national bank of Alaska. When his dad worked for the Alaskan railroad, they used the Alaska Railroad Employees Federal Credit Union, which issued John’s first book of cheques when he was 12 years old. John felt so big, he could almost drive! He was able to choose what design of cheques he wanted and he chose the Western look where the book looked like hand-tooled leather. Because he wanted to be prepared, he just signed all the cheques in advance and created a leather book with a series of blank cheques. When John was a kid, he had a bank book down in Seattle. It was a little book like a passport where they would note down all the deposits and withdrawals. Every time someone gave John 25 cents, he collected it in a shoe box and when he had enough money together, he carried that shoebox to the bank. It was the time when people at the bank loved kids and had the time to take care of him. The radio on which Merlin heard Supertramp for the first time had been given to him by the bank. John and Merlin spend some time to reminisce about old clock radios with flipping numbers. John saw the model he had as a kid at a thrift store recently. When Merlin was most sleep deprived, like in 8th grade, he would anticipate the sound the numbers made every minute. That was the time when things still were things!

John got his first Washington Mutual account really early on because they had this program called overdraft protection and they would cover it when you wrote a cheque but had not enough money to cover it. John assumed that they would pay themselves back as soon as you put more money in the bank again. But in fact, every time overdraft protection paid your debt, it put that money into a separate account and was turning it into a loan at 24% interest. At one time John had accrued $500 in $20-cheques that otherwise would just have bounced. It was one of these ”If you had read the fine print” cases. John was pretty young and didn’t fully understand the repercussions of everything he did and he wanted to close his account, which set in motion a situation where he was getting phone calls for 11 more years in an attempt to collect a debt. Washington Mutual was a local bank at first with their offices right there on Broadway. John loved his relationship with them and he had an account number that communicated to the teller that he had been their customer for a long time. It was the old style of account numbers and John always took a lot of pride in that. Then they became too big for their bridges, they screwed up, they became a behemoth and they fell apart.

They lost their personal touch and they lost several tens of billions of dollars. They got absorbed by Chase Bank, a faceless New York banking enterprise, but John was still hanging in there, largely because of his old account number that predated 5 different iterations of the bank's numbering system and started with ”059” or something. Chase Bank now allows you to take a picture of a cheque to deposit it, but during the last year, three of John's checks have disappeared. Although he had gotten a confirmation with a transaction number, they had sent a cancellation notice to the person who’s cheque it was and they did not deposit the money. Considering what a bank is being asked to do, that is a failure on quite a high level. They were talking about John being an early adopter of this fascinating new technology. John doesn’t like to yell at companies or corporations, but this incident made him and his mom craft a letter with 1000 words. They have now edited it down and it is ready to be sent to the State Attorney General.

It was John’s bookkeeper who discovered that there were about $5000 missing and they called Chase Bank's customer service in Bangalore. According to them, the banking relationship between a bank and a customer requires some mutual effort in the sense that the bank can take your money and give you a number for the exchange but then the onus is on you to make sure that the money was there. Now it is John’s fault that the money isn’t there because he didn’t follow up, which obviously was part of their mutual obligation! The bank takes your money and tells you that it is fine, but then you have to make sure. John’s bookkeeper really has a lot to say about this matter and she tends to write very long letters which John then needs to make a little bit tighter. Now she is going to the State Attorney General and they are going to switch to another bank that John had a long relationship with because this was the bank he had used for the Roderick group. What he hadn’t noticed was that he had registered several aliases at that bank because in the phase before he started to take his bipolar medicine, whenever he had the option to register a DBA he would do it. Now you can literally write John a check to #Supertrain and he can cash it. Merlin wasn’t sure if the special character will screw up the system, but John was thinking about that he now can get cheques and a platinum business made that say #Supertrain on it. It would look so badass with those new cards where the numbers are just etched on the back. John can also get cheques written to ”All the great shows”. He doesn’t even remember doing this, he must have been in an absolute fugue state. His bank even offered him to get cheques made with a stencil picture of a GMC RV on them and he might have forgotten to give them a go-ahead, which he partly regrets.

When John was at Washington mutual he did not have enough money coming and going to have his own banker, but he knew the tellers. It was the old style of banking where those people worked there for a long period of time and you would deposit your paycheck all the time. Going to the bank was part of your day. This was also the time when John had a card in his wallet with the phone numbers of everyone he knew in tiny letters and then he laminated it with Scotch tape. They also had the spectre of nuclear war hanging over their head and they had to be ready to jump into a bunker at any time.

US Government contingency plans during the war (RL263)

On the first day of Harry Truman’s presidency, he just walked out the door of the White House to go to the bank and do his banking. The secret service was chasing after him, they shut down the street and all of Washington DC was paralyzed because the president had snug out a side door to go to the bank. He hadn't factored in that he couldn’t do that anymore. At that point he had been vice president only for 2 months. The story goes that when FDR died, Truman received a message to come over to the White House because they wanted to talk to him and he thought that was weird because he had only seen the president twice during the election and wondered what they wanted. Eleanor Rosevelt was waiting for him and told him ”Harry, you are the president now!”, and he was ”Shit, I got to go to the bank!” Up until the middle of the war there was no secret service protection for the vice president, because they didn’t think this was necessary, but as they realized that Truman was the next in line and FDR could die any day, they wanted to give him two agents, but Truman sent them away.

John is reading a book right now about all the secrets of the US Government’s Cold War Strategy for continuity of government. It started during the Truman administration when Truman wondered ”Wait a minute! If the Russians were to drop a bomb on the White House, do we have a plan for that?” and the answer was No! There was a period in the late 1940:s / early 1950:s where conventional wisdom in the US seemed to be that our future as a country would be to move all our industry underground because of the threat of nuclear war. Government agents went around and did an enormous survey of all the caves in the US. They were thinking about eminent domain:ing all those caves to build a General Mill’s Captain Crunch cereal factory. But as more and more people in government got to see the pictures from Hiroshima, they realized that the threat was a lot worse than they thought and there was no way of surviving this. They didn’t disseminate that to everybody and so there were still a lot of people running around not just building bomb shelters but really envisioning that the entire country would move out from the city centers and disseminate our business and manufacturing out into the woods. There were real estate ads for houses in Upstate New York saying that it was a beautiful farm well outside the blast zone.

In that era they also developed those elaborate hierarchies of succession with 60 people deep. Every single cabinet members had this train of potential successors. In case the US would get on a war footing, all of the people on that list would receive some telegram activating Defcon 1. Some of those people would then get a federal agent as their bodyguard, like ”We need to protect you, sir, you can’t go to the bank today, because you are 42nd in line to be secretary of housing and human welfare”. As the 1950:s went on, the government became less and less interested of this project of bringing the American people and all of our industry underground, but they did not abandon this project when it came to the government itself. As far as normal people were concerned, they released a civil defense video called Bert the Turtle showing cartoons of kids ducking and covering and they built the Interstate Highways and the Internet. How would we otherwise stay in contact with the department of the navy or with General Mill’s to get our Captain Crunch? Captain Crunch was in the navy, so after his promotion he would actually be called Rear Admiral Crunch. They continued to build secret installations like caves and underground bunkers for government people to survive the war. Every single state has an underground bunker for the government to escape to.

Old hotel rooms (RL263)

John asks Merlin if he had recently stayed in a hotel that had not been upgraded since the times of yore? The one John stayed at in San Francisco recently was a total SRO, a classic hotel where the bathrooms looked like they had been there a long time. If you walked down the hallways of those floors 25 years ago, it would almost certainly smell like fried fish, because people had a hot plate and were frying something up in there, which is not a friendly thing to do in an SRO. It would probably be close to a bait fish, not a lightly sautéed halibut. White fish, fried in oil. John has stayed in enough of those places and looked into enough doorways at a guy in an undershirt with a cigarette in his mouth, frying fish on a hotplate. As he was 22 years old he didn’t realize that the world was going to change, because this is what it looked like in the 1950:s and John thought that would always be true. Later those hotels would become ACE hotels taking $150 a night. Merlin and John once met James Baniac in a classic Sealands (Siemens?) hotel where the rooms were cheap and they wouldn’t mind if you fry a fish. That was the same hotel where John once found a single walkie talkie lying in the room and was wondering if that would be the beginning of an adventure. Merlin’s room looked like an updated version of ”The Prisoner”, a very tidy cell. There was no TV in the room and Merlin suspects that those young people just want to have sex, because the bed was very central in the room. You take your Nanamica bag, put it down, pull out your can of mustache wax, hair-wax and eyebrow wax, you untie your artisanal, handcrafted bindel. Hobo Chic is going to be the next big thing. You will carry a locally sourced neckerchief tied around an artisanal, responsibly sourced stick. Let’s go back all the way until you heard the word ”artisanal” for the first time. Merlin was the first to pronounce it ”art-is-anal”.

Making money off of old jeans (RL263)

John was dating a gal in the 1990:s who was really early on in the game of finding old jeans in thrift stores in Montana for 50 cents and bringing them to Seattle to sell them to a broker from Japan for $1500. The broker would then take them to Japan and sell them for $15.000. She was a pants miner and John even knew a guy who was a literal pants prospector. He made a fortune and bought himself a house by driving around Montana during this weird era where there were all these old guys dying and their old buckle-back Levi’s were going to the Goodwill. You could drive around and discover those jeans that were worth $20.000. If you would find a pair of 1960s Biggie Levi’s right now, you could still sell them online for good money, but in the 1990s there was a bubble in that market, just like there was a time when a 1959 Les Paul was selling for $1 million. As they were talking, John found an ad of a vintage 1950s Biggie Levi’s for $5500 on Etsy and a pair of jeans from 1987 is $250, meaning that this world still exists. Even older Levi’s, like the one with a buckle in the back, were super-priced among the fashion cognoscenti in Tokyo and John’s friend said that his retirement and escape bag under his bed consisted of two pairs of jeans that he could live off of if he needed to. There is a famous story about a woman outside of Sacramento who was out in the gold country and found an open mine shaft. She was touristing and walked in, turned a corner and found a table with on old patched pair of jeans on it. They turned out to be the oldest pair of Levi’s still existing. No-one at Levi had ever seen them, she brought them in and they became this talismanic pair of pants, the ur-Levi’s.

she had really dark-brown hair and she dyed it black for no reason, it was already as brown as brown can be, but it had to be black, with bright red lipstick and she was smoking cigarettes behind the counter where she worked.

That was the first time John understood that there was value in something that wasn’t an antique, but was a soft good. It wasn’t clear where the value actually was, except for scarcity. John was watching her do her job when people would bring in a big stack of Levi’s and she already had that attitude, she would flick through this stack of pants with such distain that the person on the other side would feel bad for themselves for bringing this stack of jeans to her. She would say ”Thanks, but no thanks for these, but I will take this pair”. She had the ability to go through thrift stores, buy a puffy coat and make it seem like it was from the future, although it was a mom-coat form 1981. Hand-made things made in America are going to be a lot more expensive. You are already used to paying $3500 for a pair of Biggie jeans if you are anybody. Some boots were $500 and you just need to make that mental transition that you are not going to have seven pairs of these boots, but you are going to have one. You only need one! You only need to hit that one top pair of Levi’s in a stack of 40 pairs of Levi’s, but John thought it was wrong, because he needed more than one pair. The White Cone Mill in North Carolina made $500 jeans were you only needed one. Merlin thinks that jeans are tough, but when it comes to a top hat, you only need one nice artisanal top hat from a small batch Tennessee top hat factory.

Getting a mounty jacket (RL263)

As John was compiling his King Neptune outfit, he really wanted a jacket from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but what he learned was that the iconic red jacket is not only copyrighted, but you never own your mounty jacket when you are a mounty, you only lent it. The jacket is sacrosanct! When you are done being a mountie, you give the jacket back. That is also why you don’t see Canadian Punk Rockers roaming around with red mountie jackets with a big anarchy symbol on it. As John was up in the Canadian Internet, all he heard was ”sorry”. Then he found a guy outside of Ottawa who lives in a shipping container. He was a very friendly man and wanted to talk on the phone quite a bit. John heard all about his many adventures driving a truck in the Yukon Territories. He has a small collection of jackets (called tunics) that had been used in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police academy and they were even fancier than the normal tunics, because they were cadet jackets with a lot of gold braid on them. There was a loop hole in the system thanks to the fact that they were cadet jackets and so the guy he had some and John wanted one.

The jackets had an unusual sizing system and John told him to send him the biggest, tallest one he had. As the jacket arrived, it was neither big nor tall, so now John has a 1960:s mounty jacket that would fit Merlin perfectly. He would be so adamant and fancy, because there is no one in America who has one of these. They are called the Hussar and they overlap quite lot with steam punk. Every time that happens John has to treat very carefully. John loves leather, brass and gold braid, and he loves little tinkery things. Once he was walking through one of those little towns near the ocean. They had a store selling old fishing net, but the town is trying to decide if it can get fancy. There is a little store with a guy selling cigars, but also Nauticalia, which John could put up in his Seaman’s hotel. He was looking at old barometers and giant compasses. John wants a sextant, but doesn’t even know why. What he doesn’t want is to have more stuff in his house that is steam punk adjacent because he already has a lot. He found this walking stick and he has 12 different Stetson fedoras which he would never wear outside. Instead he wears them around the house all day and looks like Adam Savage. John really wants a shoulder holster, like his buddy Ed Brubaecker, wearing his pistol under his Levi’s vest. The entire history of Roderick on the Line points to one thing, which is that he should never ever wear a concealed weapon, because he is a natural born sheriff and all those dummies out there carrying pistols think of themselves as sheriffs, too. John knows he is a sheriff and if he would be carrying a gun around, he would be sheriffing all the time and that is not what the world needs. Still, he does want a shoulder holster and doesn’t know what to put in it. Probably a collapsible brass telescope!

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