RL268 - A principled Ohioan

This week, Merlin and John talked about:

  • Getting a pair of Adriano Goldschmied jeans (Style)
  • Thrift store pickers (Stories)
  • The Water-fountain story (Early Days)
  • Programming people with associations (Factoids)
  • Photo Shoot with Ken Jennings (Podcasting)
  • Intense memories of the childhood (Early Days)
  • Nerd-culture disappearing (Humanities)
  • Portugal. The Man (Music)

The problem: Adriano Goldschmied, referring to a pair of pants that John recently got at a thrift store.

The show title refers to John’s mom who did not buy him cool clothes on principal.

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

Getting a pair of Adriano Goldschmied jeans (RL268)

Three days ago John got a pair of black soft jeans called ”Adriano Goldschmied” at a thrift store for like $3. He had never heard that name before but found it to be a cool name. Normally he would look it up right away, but as he had the jeans in his arms at the thrift store and wanted to look up the name, he deferred it because he was halfway searching through a rack or something and as he went over to the thing something else happened, maybe the person said something to him. In the end he bought the pants without having looked up the name. He also forgot to look it up while his truck was warming up and remembered it first when he came home, but then something else distracted him again.

For the last three days John has looked at the jeans and has memorized the name, but each time the name hypnotized him or it is like an incantation, almost like a spell and each time he says it 5 times, he will forget to look it up. On his way to sit down to record the podcast, he remembered it again, pulled them out of the washing machine to look at the name again, put them on because they are his new jeans. He is wearing them right now! As Merlin called he had already decided that he doesn’t like them and he will give them back to the thrift store. They don’t smell bad and they don’t smell thrift story, but they just smell like somebody else and John doesn’t want to sit around and smell somebody else.

According to Wikipedia, Adriano Goldschmied created premium denim. Merlin remembers having one of those old man moments like ”You can buy these jeans now for $400”, but that seems like a lot of money for jeans. He is aware that Diesel is a brand from a time when jeans got costly and presumably more fancy, like the 1980s. Designer jeans got popular in the late 1970s associated with the Disco movement, you get your Gloria Vanderbilts (they were so dark!), ”The Jordache look”, ”My home is Seattle, but he lives in Britannia” and ”Nothing gets between me and my Calvin’s”

For Merlin $40 is such an interesting price point! You will notice that many things you order off the TV are $39.95. When Merlin was young, two very important things were $40: A pair of pretty good Nike’s and a pair of designer jeans. In Merlin’s household, both of those made a Veblin good, like ”You have got to be kidding me?”. You could get these perfectly serviceable JCPenney shoes in blue and orange with the wrong number of stripes on it for maybe $8 or $10, ditto for a pair of Levi’s or Toughskins that you pick up at Sears. John wouldn’t wear Toughskins because they are too Husky (which is the boy version of ”woman”). He has never been able to wear any Wrangler’s or anything like that either. Husky Boy’s Jeans, ”available in women’s sizes”, what a horrible code word! For half of the population the clothes size is ”You are a little bit bigger than we’d like”. You are like a 12, let’s go over to women’s! To wear the word ”Husky” around your neck was really a Scarlet letter.

Thrift store pickers (RL268)

John was too young to participate in the original run of fashion jeans in the 1970s and early 1980s because they cost $40 and they weren’t actually his style. When the second wave of what is described as ”premium denim” came around, John was standing at Ground Zero of premium denim! His girl friend Megan at the time in the 1990s worked at a store that sort of pioneered this whole thought technology that originated in Seattle: Go out to the Rocky Mountain states and find some trousers that you can sell for way above of what you bought them for (see also the same story in RL263)

She worked at a store front in Seattle and as you would walk in the door you would see 4 shelves: One of the shelves had a pair of original Air Jordans, one of the shelves had original something else. There were 4 things for sale in that store, it was not a store that you went to just to buy things. She used to sit behind the counter looking at a magazine. The point of the store was that you would try to sell her an armload of jeans while her job was to sit there and sneer at your jeans so you would walk out of there feeling bad. Sometimes you would argue with her and she would just go back to reading her magazines. You can’t argue with the girl who’s sole job is to mock your jeans! Sometimes she was ”Alright, I’ll buy those jeans” and she would give you some amount of money.

There was an era of thrift store pickers where people would go to thrift stores way out in the country. They would see 5 other people in the store, but they would all know each other and glare at each other. Somebody would come by in the aisles with a shopping cart full of stuff, they would pass her and ”Hi Megan!” and she’d go ”Hi!” and John was wondering who those people were who knew her 80 miles out of Seattle. They had a grudging level of respect for each other and they were all very detailed about what they bought and what they liked and what their thing was. Megan would pick stuff, like ”This is worth $90, but it is gross!” and put it back. John never got into that. He did not have any interest in that whole resale thing if it wasn’t his size and if he wasn’t going to wear it personally.

There was an urban myth that if you find a Tootsie Roll Pop with an Indian on it shooting an arrow at a star, you get a free one. John used to collect those wrappers, because they weren’t that rare and he never traded one in for a free one. They also told you that you could save your fingernail clippings and sell them to Estee Lauder. Also The top of a Pop Top is made out of super aluminum or something and you get extra money for super-aluminum. God bless the hard working people at Merlin’s school and the people who dozens of years ago came up with these really terrible ideas for raising money and continue to do today. You bring in you label tops from the cereal and they will make 1/2 penny off of 100 of those.

The Water-fountain story (RL268)

Merlin has a feeling he met Megan. Was it the delightful raven-haired girl they went to dinner with at one time? He has never met the red-head, but she is just a mythical character in the Pantheon for Merlin. He also still thinks about Dr. Kelly every time he goes to a drinking fountain. This is how the story goes: Eric Spurlock was a guy who moved to Alaska with his parents when he was already a teenager. They lived back East in Geneseo, New York and they moved to Alaska because Eric’s dad’s brother lived up there already. Eric’s cousin was a guy named John Jerryl (JJ), who was the funny guy in the class ahead of John. He had a pockmarked face, he was never going to be one of the handsome guys, but he was just viciously funny, he was super-fast at knowing where to go.

JJ was also an awful and scary bully and in Alaska things are kind of cut-throat. Nobody backed JJ into a corner, you couldn’t rich-clothes-shame him, he was the classic kid that felt a little bullied sometimes and that deflection is where the humor came from. It was how John felt: he was chubby and he was Husky, he was universally considered a dork, he was a year younger than everybody else because his parents put him in Kindergaten when he was 4, he couldn’t grow a mustache and he was just a dork. His mom kept cutting his hair until he pushed her hand away at one time because he wanted a haircut. She wouldn’t buy him cool clothes on principal and nothing is worse than a principled Ohioan.

John admired JJ burn people with his humor, but he was also terrified of him and he never gave John any praise or acknowledgement. He was more like ”Get away from me, scallop! The last thing I need is a bunch of fan boys!” Everything John wanted to do, JJ had done it before him, like for example being a radio DJ. John remembers the day and the moment of one particular exchange: he was standing in High School, which was technically JJ's world because he was a Senior and John was only a Junior. A group of people was standing around, John said something to them and JJ replied ”Hah! That was pretty good!” which John took as if the crown had passed.

Eric Spurlock was JJ’s cousin and he was John’s age. JJ had a pockmarked face, but he wasn’t unhandsome, while Eric was just unformed, a guy that would be a very attractive man, but he was not an attractive teen. Eric was also very funny, but he was from New York, meaning that he was coming from outside and he felt very strongly that Alaska was something he couldn’t penetrate. He was never going to be an Alaskan and he very acutely felt the insecurity of not understanding what all the rules were and of not comprehending the insight. Eric became a very close member of John’s group, but he never accepted entirely how close he was to them. He was integral to them, but he couldn’t let it be to always feel outside.

At the end of high school, they were all going off to college. Since Alaska was all they knew, they assumed that they would go to college and then come back to Alaska, because Alaska was the whole universe! It didn’t occur to any one of them that they were going to live outside of Alaska. Even Jim NcNeil from Arkansas always felt very much part of Alaska. He didn’t have any insecurities although he spoke with a thick Southern accent, but in Alaska that was just an advantage, like ”I’m from Alaska, what are you talking about?”.

Eric's father had come up to Alaska to start over and buy a bakery. The bakery was for sale because it had formerly been owned by Robert Hansen, the Alaska ”butcher baker” who had kidnapped prostitutes, flew them up to his wilderness locations in his airplane, set them free and hunted them. There is a terrible movie about him called ”The Frozen Ground”. John’s understanding of the story was that Robert Hansen did not use the bakery for his thing, but it was just where he went to work. Eric’s dad bought this bakery and John had something that not many others did, which was having a friend who’s dad owned a bakery where they always could get some bakery things when they were driving around town.

Eric and John were walking through the Sears Mall, they stopped to go to the bathroom and there was a drinking fountain where they got a drink of water. Just a few minutes before, Eric had dropped the bomb that he and his folks were leaving Alaska and were moving back to New York. John’s reaction was like ”What, you can’t move?”. He had made it all the way through High School and had become an Alaskan, why would he move?Just as John was drinking water, Eric said that in the future, every time John would see the writing at the bottom of the drain of a water fountain, he wants John to think of him! There it is, it lives in infamy! How do you reprogram yourself from something like that? You are not using a water fountain often enough to get used to it and write it off.

It would be the same as if you would say that every time you see an urial cake, you think of me! An urinal cake is this soap like thing that you pee on and that replaces the urine smell with a different smell. It is not used very much anymore. In Europe, they now paint a little thing like a fly or a bee in there to give you something to aim at. It is never centered, but by the side in a spot that reduces splatter. John has found it impossible to not pee on the fly! They have surely saved 100 billion man hours because they have to clean up much less splatter. Freakonomics should make a whole episode on this! Even more common than a fly is a bee, because a fly conveys dirtiness and that is not what you want in your bathroom. This is probably evolutionary psychology on some level. If you were out in the world just peeing in the gravel and there was an opportunity to pee on a bee, wouldn’t you do it? Merlin would follow along a trail of ants. It gives you this sense of accomplishments.

Programming people with associations (RL268)

When Merlin was in military school he had a 3-digit laundry number, which meant that every single item he owned had this 3-digit number on it. The number was 207. For practical purposes, it was almost like his serial number. It also meant that if he ever lost anything, it would magically return to him. Whenever he sees that 3-digit number in the wild, he thinks it is weird because this was his laundry number. His PO-box in college was 289. Those are just random examples of digits that don’t mean anything for anybody else. We imbue those digits, like you think it is nice if you get a 420 or 69! Maybe you get a lucky number like a 37.

If you want to program somebody like Eric Spurlock did with John, it has to be something random like a water fountain or a pay phone. You can still see pay phones, but nobody is having a good day if they are using one. Can you imagine how dirty that thing is and you put it right on your face? We all did it for decades and decades! Think about how many mouths have been right up to that mouth piece! Merlin stopped sucking on quarters between age 3 and 11. He loved collecting change, playing with it and acting like he was the Monopoly man, running his hand through it! Smell your hands! It smells like blood! They say that every $100-bill in America has cocaine residue on it. But they also say that if you collect a Tootsie Roll Pop with an Indian shooting a star you get a free one, but it turns out that is not true. There has to be a website that deals with those kind of urban legends!

What science fiction got wrong about VR (RL268)

One of the things that is going to popularize and facilitate the transition to AR is gamification of regular life. There are going to be little coins floating above your tasks or above things in the world and when you grab those coins they will go into your virtual purse. This will be used by companies or maybe even by governments. As you are walking through the mall, companies will pay to have gold coins floating in front of their store and you never would have gone over to the Gucchi store if it wasn't for collecting your coin. *cling!* You are standing in front of the store or you have to go inside to the store rack. A version of that exists in the neighborhood near Merlin’s house over in West Portal. Once a year, many of the merchants participate in a ”Where’s Waldo?” tournament and there is this cut-out Waldo somewhere in one of the stores and you are supposed to find Waldo and turn it in for significant prizes and coins. It is the attention economy, that is why there are ads!

Merlin really killed it this time with his transition to their sponsor. We already have something called advertising which is a kind of a gold coin, but in that case the gold coin goes to president Zuckerberg. Mazel Tov! The other things that we want people to do during rush hour traffic is the zipper merge! We are talking about a time when there is not going to be driving, but it will all be driverless cars. John might be a futurist, because he just took two assumptions and went to a whole other place. Somebody told him the other day that there is a Masters Degree in Futurism available at the University of Hawaii and the person wondered why John is not in that program. There are a lot of reasons, but he in fact is a Master in Futurism! Merlin doesn’t like the food in Hawaii. You should be able to get a degree like that from your home.

Think about how people will be controlled by their own volition because of this Spurlockian sink concept! They will call it the Spurlock effect where they will be asked to put that little bit of a dystopian game onto all the things they are doing. It is going to be collecting in their VR-account, their life account, a thing that is somewhere between Minority Report and Facebook. There is one scene in the movie where the ads are talking to him! All those things are possible today! There are those dingeling apps that are constantly asking for your location or for notifications and even though it breaks the terms of service, it pushes you things based on where you are or what you haven’t done for a while.

The great thing about science fiction is that they get 80% of it, but it is never really possible to see everything clearly until after the fact. When John was a kid, they never could have imagined that there wouldn’t be a NASA now. How many science fiction movies have covered the idea of hyperspace travel so fanciful, but almost everybody missed modern communication, which is an amazing thing that happened! There are so many movies from the 1970s, 80s, 90s that fall apart if people have a mobile phone.

The thing that Minority Report didn’t get was that VR was going to be personal and individual. Everybody will be experiencing the world completely personalized, which will be playing to the intrinsic narcissism of modern people. It won’t take very long for us to believe that the world actually does belong to us! How much different is it from going into one of those massively multiplayer games where you get to pick what kind of cloak and sword you want and if you want to be this kind of elf or that kind of elf? The world becomes your own little DeviantArt where you can see everybody else like a monkey. Every single store, every single ad, every single thing is like ”Hello Merlin Mann, how are you, Merlin Mann?” Most people’s minds are vulnerable enough or lazy enough that they will not be thinking to themselves that the same is happening to everyone, but they will just bath in getting their name spoken over and over by everything. If we didn’t think that we already had a nation of monsters, this is going to be a technology is going to divides us rather than unite us. John gives Merlin a lot to think about, he should be teaching Futurism in Hawaii! He is teaching in Virtual Hawaii! Turn up your brass valves to PSI Roderick!

Photo Shoot with Ken Jennings (RL268)

Ken Jennings and John were doing a photo shoot the other day. They were trying to communicate futurism without using steam punk iconography, but they determined that it was impossible. You cannot communicate the future without Jules Verne anymore and although they had said ”No goggles!”, Ken started to slowly put these goggles on. You can’t not have goggles! They also wear lab coats, because what can you do? You can’t fight it! They could be holding bloody baby dolls like the Beatles, like a Yesterday and Today, or like the dancing scenes from Buck Rogers, the television show.

Intense memories of the childhood (RL268)

John has a text file on his phone of weird memories that ha had to write down because they were such powerful and emotional memories. When he reads them now, even the ones he wrote during the last couple of years, he discovers that he didn’t write them well enough and the memories got lost trying to capture them. It is like trying to remember a dream: The harder you try, the faster it goes away! John has a couple of those memories, like the time he lost his Horse Wallet in the water (See story from RL253 in Early Days).

There is also a very specific memory from when he was a kid. He was in Hawaii with his dad. Maui didn’t have paved roads at the time, but it was all dirt roads and they were at some little store that had a rack of comic books. There hadn’t been any comic books anywhere else in Hawaii and his dad allowed him to have ”a couple” of comics, so he brought 3 up to the cash register and his dad said ”No, I said a couple! 3 is a few! Now you can have zero!” That was harsh and that is why John remembers it! He remembers everything about this long car ride with his dad, because it was just solidified in this moment where he had three comic books in his hand, he was already at the cash register and those three comic books just went away because he didn’t parse the difference between a couple and a few!

Merlin remembers a superhero comic that contained hippies and his mom took it away from him. They talk about a movie with Koko the talking gorilla. They talk about the original animal Cheeta from the Tarzan movies who is still alive and loves to paint. Merlin bought an original Cheeta painting, but he feels scammed. John talks about the elephant sanctuary where they sell paintings (See story in RL69).

Random banter (RL268)

John’s friend Ramy Egan lives in San Francisco, California over by the park. It was not the guy Merlin insulted when he was drunk that time! That was wonderful! It was a total John Jerryl (JJ) moment where John thought that one day he will be as absolutely unfiltered as Merlin Mann in this moment ”Wow, that looks like a really expensive bathroom, you must really take advantage of your clients to be able to afford this house!”, like "That bathroom is very big for someone living alone!" The guy doesn’t listen to this show. There were some herbs involved that night, they were with John’s Rock’n’Roll buddy after MC Hammer’s birthday party (see Stories from RL255). They went to this guy who lived alone in this massive house. John had spit on the street car and the street car Twitter account replied ”Don’t spit on me!”, John was so embarrassed!

That night still has an impact on Merlin! John says that there are people periodically coming to town who will say that they remember that night in San Francisco they had spent with Merlin Mann and then they tell a story about how Merlin got rowdy, took a Subway sandwich and stuck it into the Bellhop Ear, although Merlin says that was a different night! He had eaten two Subway sandwiches over a sewer with Paul & Storm and that has been pretty well documented (see story in Food and Drink from RL246). Merlin has a photo of Jonathan Coulton in a Subway at 2am with his eyes closed. His eyes are always closed in photos.

Merlin and his daughter watched Elf last night and he has officially given up on trying to help his daughter remember this: ”Remember that guy that came over in the Windbreaker that morning, that tall guy with the dark hair (Ben Gibbard)? He used to be married to that Elf girl!” (Zooey Deschanel). She doesn’t understand any of the worlds Merlin just said. Who is he impressing with this? It is like showing her the email from the one time he emailed Bill Hader and it was supposed to impress her. John is friends with Caspar Babypants and within the kid universe, ”he draws a lot of water in that seaside town”. He raised his son and daughter to this podcast.

Merlin just recently found out that his niece is going out with a guy who’s podcast is more popular than his! So infuriating! It is that name that Merlin sees turning up in various places. He can’t say if it is Travis McElroy.

Pedro the Lion is getting back together and they are going on tour. They are young enough that they could get into this. He is younger than John, everybody is younger than John! A lot of people get old young!

Nerd-culture disappearing (RL268)

John had an interesting conversation the other day with a good friend of Merlin and a friend of the program about a thought technology that Merlin or the listeners do not want to hear about: He felt like the up and coming generations, the kids who are walking into the world right now, do not have any loyalty to nerds! Like with so many other things in our lives, we think that this thing we have been living during the past 10 years is going to be the future forever. The skill John was really honing all through the 1990s, to be able to tell a 1954 Telecaster from a 1955 Telecaster, became less than useless to him later. It was not just obscure, but it was a way to make a living. Now who cares?

All of the investment that a lot of us have put into this idea of nerd culture and the rewards we have reaped! The supposition is that this is all going away and will transition into nostalgia culture. When it goes away it will not go away gently over 8 years, but it is going to go away pretty quickly. It may already be gone! For the young people coming up, ”nerd” is a meaningless phrase, because everybody is a nerd. Nerd culture is so completely universal that the idea of going on a nerd cruise being a nerd artist is not meaningful to somebody that is under the age of 25 anymore.

Part of the bonafide of people like Jonathan Coulton, They Might be Giants, MC Frontalot, or Weird Al is that they are talented in something that feels a little bit like an outsider thing for weirdos. Still, the talent will always win out! They Might Be Giants have definitely not suffered during the nerd years because they are great talents and they have figured out how to diversify their income stream. That music will always appeal to people, but not necessarily by reflecting to their own identity as a nerd, which is true of Jonathan Coulton as well. There are an awful lot of people out there who’s whole thing is built on the fact that they are a nerd. That is nostalgia already now! The thing is: We don’t remember all the times in the past where X has won, became just mainstream culture and we never think about it again. That is how hegemony works! As "nerd" passes, what’s next? John doesn’t know!

As John was on the submarine the other day, the captain told him that he can’t use sports metaphors because none of the 300 people of the crew understand when he says ”Let’s gain some yards on this!”, ”Let’s go in for a touch down!” He is 41 years old, everybody in his crew is a gamer and he has no idea what motivates them, because sports metaphors go right over their head. That is a language gulf and a comprehension gulf that exists now. John has never played a game like that! There are many people making a pretty good living being professional gamers and John will never be part of that. He has made it this far, he is doing stuff using apps and he knows enough to be able to disable in-app purchases, but as far as him being ground zero in popular culture: ”Check out my new song, it is about…” NERD!

Portugal. The Man (RL268)

John was in a store the other day and some music came on the Internet Overhead, which used to be called Muzak. Because it was a really good song and he had heard it many times before, he shazamed it and it turned out to be Number One, a chart hit by ”Portugal. The Man” (Maybe it was "Feel It Still?" That one was in the charts). The band is from Matanuska Valley in Alaska and they are John’s friends. The song does not feel like Indie Rock necessarily, but sounds like a CeeLo Green, or it could be an André 3000 song off of an Outkast record. It has such a hooky hook and is 2:40 long, which is a genius length that leaves the listener wanting more when it is done.

John’s friend Eric Howk told him later that he was playing in that band since 2015 and John didn’t even know it! The band has been together for 10 years, but they are still in their early 30s, although they are not young people. The whole vibe of it! The singer is wearing a post-ironic mustache that goes into a normcore mustache. John is super into it musically, but culturally it is just a little bit out of his reach. Facial hair music has changed a lot during John’s 40s. The only people who used to look like John were Grandaddy, maybe a Dave Bazan. You didn’t see that many bearded people, but now it is all beards!

The band uses weird punctuation and is spelled ”Portugal. The Man”, similar to ”Godspeed You! Black Emperor” with an exclamation point in the middle. There is another band using punctuation called ”...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead”. Merlin is thinking of the Friday Night Lights band called ”Explosions in the Sky” that is like the MTV version of ”Godspeed You! Black Emperor”. They don’t use weird punctuation, but Merlin likes their music fine, they are the Coldplay to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Radiohead. John hasn’t spent enough time in the canon of all of that.

Somewhere in the mid-to-late 1990s, in the year that didn’t exist, probably 1997, Merlin was supposed to really like a band called Tortoise and a band with a name like a Mexican cactus (was it Burning Nopal?). He didn’t get it, it felt like a jam-up. The music was slow and with a vibraphone, but what is happening? You could call Godspeed You! Black Emperor a Post-rock band, but they are doing a whole different thing. Neither John and Merlin have ever understood what Post-rock is.

There is that one guy John McEnroe (Merlin actually means John McEntire) who is in all those bands and who was one of the greatest vibraphonists of the year that didn’t exist (John McEnroe is a tennis player who later played the guitar). Wasn’t he married to Brooke Shields (No, she was married to Andre Agassi)? Merlin claims that John is thinking of Paper Chase with John Houseman, but he wasn’t married to Brooke Shields either. Merlin sings ”Look to your left, look to your right! All I got is this $20 bill” and was thinking not of Paper Chase, but of Paper Moon. John McEnroe (who is not the guy from Tortoise) was married to Tatum O’Neal from Paper Moon (but he still wasn’t the guy from Tortoise, that was John McEntire)!

Wasn’t that one of those long pillows with an anime character on it? No, John is thinking of that Neil Young album that is only available streaming on that orange box (?). The pillows are called Waifus? Like a ”spanky blue hair girl you sleep with” pilow. Hai… (Merlin is bleeping something there) Easy tex. Happy hollidays!

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