RL29 - Eventually My Scabs Healed

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Kiss vs Queen vs AC/DC, Village People (Music)
  • Roy Thomas Baker, good record producers (Music)
  • The Smashing Pumpkins, The Stone Roses (Music)
  • John being on a Beach Rave in Spain (Early Days)
  • John trying to hitchhike through the Sahara (Early Days)
  • John at the Oakland firestorm on 1991 (Early Days)
  • John getting robbed in Avignon (Early Days)
  • Being free from all possessions, envying those who go all the way (Early Days)
  • Citizenship is not a buffet, character alignments (Politics)
  • Zombie fantasies, The Wire (Movies)
  • Systems are complicated and not easy to change (Politics)
  • Pictures and articles on Wikipedia (Internet and Social Media)
  • Matthew McConaughey, Tom Selleck (Movies)
  • Stoners and Hippies (Drugs)
  • John’s grandfather in World War I (Family)
  • Merlin’s dad’s friend (Merlin Mann)
  • John being a pyromaniac as a kid (Early Days)

The Problems:

  • hippies vs. stoners; °
  • lost in Wikipedia; °
  • thumbing a ride to Kilimanjaro; °
  • the Petty Thieves of Avignon; °
  • John’s raving on a Spanish beach; °
  • when good battles nice; °
  • 24-track tape you could read through; °
  • the persistence of zombies; °
  • living with shaka brah hand; °
  • great monks versus garden-variety crazies; °
  • manning a booth down by the fish-throwers; °
  • alignment for non-paladins; °
  • finally a universe-saving theme song John can live with. °

The show title refers to John being robbed in Avignon and being full of blood for a couple of days from the chase, but eventually his scabs healed.

Merlin started the show singing: ”Do you want to ride on my John Roderick?” (Mercedes Boy by Pebbles), which is terrible. The alternative would be: ”John! Ahaaa!” (Flash Gordon), which is much better.

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

Kiss vs Queen vs AC/DC, Village People (RL29)

In 4th grade John had one eye on Kiss and one eye on Queen. His eyes drifted and he eventually ended up on Queen, but it could have gone either way. He imagined himself as a member of the Kiss Army, a champion in the Queen Navy, or a sailor in the Queen sub, but he was too young to realize that Queen was infinitely superior to Kiss in every way, both musically and in every other respect. In the end the heavy Kiss riffage tipped the scales.

If you strip away the makeup, the boots, the codpieces, and the blood packets, the ridiculous over-the-top unnecessary theatricality of Kiss was too much and John went with Queen. Merlin was always attracted to the theatricality, but he also lives in San Francisco. Village People have a song called San Francisco. John was a fan of them because they were fun.

The record covers of AC/DC in the 1970s were genuinely scary. They were sweaty men who looked vile like they wanted to put a finger in you and as a child John did instinctively not want their fingers in him. Angus has horns like a sneer on Highway to Hell. The day that record came out it was on the end-cap of every isle in Peaches and every other record store. It was on the stands at the same time as the Village People record and the Village People seemed much friendlier. They had an Indian and seemed like guys you could play guns with. John was at the Northgate Mall with his mom and all he wanted was a snow-cone.

Merlin was attracted to the comicbookness and cartoonishness of Kiss, but there is something in Brian May’s guitar tone that is the most organic sound. Even a little infant can understand it as the greatest guitar tone of all time and for Merlin it was the deciding factor with Queen. The sound of Kiss is the sound of handicapped people having sex while the sound of Queen is the sound of angels singing in the night and you have to go with Queen every time. John is feeling better! Kiss is more handicappable and they turned it around and made it a strength.

Imagine what Gene Simmons would be doing otherwise! Imagine him working at the DMV! He seems like somebody in venture capital or debt collection and he seems very business-minded. He is like Donalds Trump, they are the same man! Even an infant could listen to those two guys and know that they are an unholy union and their hair is the same Rhinoceros pubic hair. Merlin was going to say that Donald Trump’s hair looks like a Penthouse couch while Gene Simmons looks more like something from Japan, if it is not pixelated. Merlin doesn’t understand why they pixelate everything and he wishes the Germans would pixelate instead!

Merlin likes Queen’s theatricals harmonies. He saw the TV show and read about how long it took to do Bohemian Rhapsody. John has a DVD wallet full of Behind the Music things. For a while the studio nerds were trading around multi-track tapes of various great albums and they got the multi-tracks of Bohemian Rhapsody where you could actually solo the individual 24 tracks on that tape. Each one had been bounced down, there were so many harmonies stacked up on each one of them, and there were multiple tracks of that! Listening to the individual pieces of the puzzle in a studio through good speakers gets you one step closer to understanding how it was put together.

Roy Thomas Baker, good record producers (RL29)

Merlin has heard that you could place the tape in front of a light and see through it because they had been recording on it so intensely. Imagine if the tape broke after all of that! Back in the day cutting tape was a big part of making records. One time John went to a speech by Roy Thomas Baker who had produced that album and he could go up the river all the way to Cambodia talking about Bohemian Rhapsody. Merlin would enjoy that! The first Cars record produced by Roy Thomas Baker is something else!

He made a great Foreigner record, the Nazareth records, and the slightly underrated Chick Trick record One on One with She’s Tight, which is a pretty great song. John started singing it. He made the late-1970s Journey records like Infinity and Evolution and he fucking worked on Chinese Democracy (by Guns N’ Roses)! He is an incredible producer and he still makes records at his studio in England if you pay the money which John has thought about. He is a great hilarious dude and he looks awesome! His Wikipedia photo that looks like it was shot by his aunt or niece with a camera out of a cereal box. It is definitely done with one very bright flash.

He and famously Todd Rundgren have made some people sound really good, although he is pretty tough to work with, but a lot of people are. John would absolutely make a record with Elliot Easton. You could make a record with the guitar player of the Talking Head, Jerry Harrison, but he shows up at noon and leaves at 5pm. He was in The Modern Lovers. Roy Thomas Baker also did a bunch of Queen records, he did Devo, he did Infinity and Evolution and he did The Darkness, that controversial band.

Merlin confused him with Peter Buck who produced that record by The Feelies that he likes. He would be an interesting guy to have produced your record! He would have good notes on the songs, but John is not sure how well he would communicate that to you. He is a very nice man and a smart person who, speaking as a mental health professional, John would characterize as having social anxiety disorder. Merlin has friends who have that and John has spent time with them. It is almost a prerequisite and it is on the form that they don’t fill out because they don’t like pencils either.

The Smashing Pumpkins, The Stone Roses (RL29)

Merlin could do without the Smashing Pumpkins! Roy Thomas Baker made their record (Zeitgeist) after the fat bald kid (Billy Corgan) decided that people needed to hear what he was singing. They are a classic example of a band that is only liked because nobody can hear what they are saying. How did they get to be so popular? Corgan was a very good guitar player and took to the sound of Shoegazing, which was very popular in England, but there weren’t a lot of well-known songs except for The Stone Roses. It was a certain vibe and when it came to America there were no songs there, but just ”Mamanamanamanamana…”

The Smashing Pumpkins got that My Bloody Valentine thickness to their songs. Merlin likes their record Gish where his vocals were mixed way down and it sounded just like a wall of guitars with an echo-y singer. It was really compelling! John’s problem with The Stone Roses is that aside from their biggest hit Fools Gold their stuff felt like: ”Meh!” The problem with social anxiety people like Billy Corgan is that they are the smartest kids in the world who are very gifted, but they are insane loners, which goes for all these people with the exception of Prince. How about the Weezer guy?

Merlin had The Stone Roses record with Fools Gold. For three quarters of the Madchester records Merlin had no idea why people liked them and he still doesn’t understand Happy Mondays. A lot of them just didn’t age well, not even in the time it took the song to get from the speakers to your ears. The problem was that Merlin was not standing on a beach on Goa in 1989, super-high on MDMA with his body covered in DayGlo paint, because if he were, then the music would have made perfect sense to him!

John being on a Beach Rave in Spain (RL29)

In 1989 John had the strange experience of being in Southern Spain when Madchester was blowing up. He was taking a lot of little square pieces of paper, he was eating many little bits of Mescaline and he was smoking a lot of very Black Hash that had floated over from Africa, dancing on the beach to this music. John went through a whole month of Beach Raves in 1989 in Spain and the music was just exactly right for that. He and every one around him were so high, they could have put on Whipped Cream & Other Delights or Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk and he would have thought it was the most amazing thing in the world!

Merlin loses it because he just got the indelible image of John dancing earnestly to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. They even could have put on Flight of the Bumblebees. These Beach Raves were incredible things! They would have a grass hut and they would truck out massive speakers and colored lights to the beach and paint everything in crazy DayGlo paint. It was assumed that everybody had drugs. There was no: ”Hey man, have you got any drugs?”, but: "Here is the music! Here are some drugs! Here is some liqueur! Go!” Everybody was wasted, you could go into the ocean and the music was still loud and you could dance with the waves. They were young people then, there was a lot of touching, it was a magical time!

In the intervening 20 years Ibiza tried to recapture those experiences that John together with a few bold pioneers had in 1989. John had just been an accidental tourist on his own mission who didn’t realize this movement was happening. He didn't know it was a sound, he was just like: ”Wow! Drugs and girls!”, and it kept him there. This is frequently the case: The Summer of Love was maybe one month where it was fun to smoke pot and neck, but then it got ruined by heroin.

Being in the moment when it doesn’t have a name yet was exciting! John had never been to the South of Spain before and he thought that this must be how it is like there: A bunch of English kids listening to really loud music and tripping on Extaxy. He didn’t know that it was just a moment.

John trying to hitchhike through the Sahara (RL29)

When John was in Spain in 1989 he met somebody who asked him if he wanted to go to Morocco and John was happy to come along. Two days ago he had just turned 21 in Cadiz, Spain. He spent a month in Morocco and decided to hitchhike to Mount Kilimanjaro. He had to take a couple of Moroccan busses with a bunch of chickens in it and goats tied to the roof and he spent two weeks heading South, saying: ”I'm going to Kilimanjaro!”, but nobody was listening to him.

He got to the North edge of the Sahara, a town called Ouarzazate, which is pretty far down on the other side of the mountains. There were trucks coming through that were headed across the desert and John got a ride to Zagora which is pretty much the last town before the Sahara, an oasis with palm trees and a proper pond in the desert with frogs and stuff!

John asked the truck drivers in the hotel if he could get a ride across the desert, but everybody laughed. Eventually somebody grabbed him by the shirt and asked if he knew how long this drive across the desert was. They drew a little map on a coaster and said: ”Here is Africa, here is the Sahara, here are we and here is how long you have travelled in the last two weeks!”

It had taken John two weeks to go the length of his pinky fingernail and the route across the desert was from the tip of his finger to his elbow. Those drivers carry three weeks worth of water for each person, these trucks across the Sahara are not just semi trucks, but they are massive desert dune buggy type of things with huge tires.

No-one was ever going to pick up a hitchhiker in Zagora to travel 2.5 weeks across the desert. Those people are highly paid specialists, this is a massive undertaking, and John was way out of his league! The actual Timbuktu is on that road somewhere! Everybody in this massive and expansive land used to get all their stuff by camel caravan and now these trucks provide a living to all the people in Mali and God only knows!

Even now John barely grasps the way the world works and on this whole trip across Morocco he had not looked at a map, but he just kept heading South and figured that he would know when he got to Kilimanjaro because it was a mountain. Africa was so much bigger than he could have imagined and that trip would have been a lifetime undertaking, but he was trying to make it listening to the Traveling Wilburys on his waterproof Walkman. It was one of five moments in his life where he was completely out of his depth and he didn’t just need to regroup, but he needed to put some serious thought in how stupid he was.

Now he was in Zagora at the edge of the Sahara and he needed to go back North, but nobody was going North. He ended up getting a cab back at the public square in Ouarzazate and they negotiated for two hours with 25 little kids standing around them. The driver was not going all the way back to Marakesh, but he would take John to where his mom lived over by the Algerian border. It ended up being $40 or something like that.

The whole thing was such an incredible journey of stupidity! John was just following his nose, and he had done that for a long time. It is great if you end up somewhere that you couldn’t have planned to be, like for example he was in Berlin the day the wall came down (see RL238). He had been in Florence a few days before and somebody said he should go to Berlin. He has been to lots of places and a thing happened while he was there.

John at the Oakland firestorm on 1991 (RL29)

John was in Oakland the day the Oakland firestorm of 1991 started. He was having breakfast with a girl he knew and she looked out the window and said: ”Wow, the sky looks weird!” It was orange! They walked out in the yard and saw that the whole hill above her house was on fire, they jumped into the car with John behind the wheel and headed toward it and drove into Oakland until they came to a place where waves of fire were going across the street.

In order to continue up the street they would have driven under fire and they stopped and suddenly realized that this wasn’t like: ”Hey, let’s go up and look at the fire!”, but it was an absolutely uncontrolled conflagration and they were going to die. They turned the car around while people were running and holding their family pets, and they headed back down the hill with the fire on their heels.

They got to a place where the fire department had blocked off the road after they had gone past and they had to get through their road block in a massive stream of people. Over the course of the day they moved three or four different times from a place that felt safe, but every time the tidal wave of fire came back. Trees were exploding in the air! it was the craziest thing John had ever seen! Nobody knows what he was doing there!

The problem with traveling that way it that you could be 1.5 blocks away from the World’s Largest Ball of Twine (in Darwin, Minnesota) and you don’t see it because you have never opened a guide book and you don’t know it is there, but you are just traveling by the seat of your pants and you miss some of the stuff that would have been easy to see. During those times John was completely out of touch with the world for weeks at a time. It is interesting to Merlin that John can be okay with that much lack of roots and that he can be on the road for so long, not knowing when the next meal is. That is a little crazy and amazing!

John getting robbed in Avignon (RL29)

The most mind-flipping thing that ever happened to John was in Avignon, France, the site of the song Sur la Pont D’Avignon where the Demoiselles live (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso). For a while it was also a second pope town. John was sleeping in a park and woke up because a man was standing over him in the dark. John saw that his bag had been stolen and this guy was bending over him, trying to figure out how to get to John’s passport and money around his neck. John squirted out of this sleeping bag like Jell-o coming out of a Jell-o Squirter, the guy started running, and John started running after him in his bare feet.

They ran all over Avignon, onto the little freeway, down by the little river, and John was chasing this guy, swearing at him, but he was staying just in front of John the whole time. Finally he jumped over a metal-barrier on a Highway and John leaped and caught his toe right on the edge of it and slammed down on the ground, all bloody and the guy got away. John went back to the place where he had been sleeping and there was nothing left. They had even taken his sleeping bag while he was chasing this guy. They did leave him his shoes, which was a gesture of human kindness, probably because they thought they were not animals or monsters.

The guy was not able to nab the thing around John’s neck and John was just going to kick his ass and beat him to within an inch of his life. If John had caught him he would probably have knifed him with what had in his hand which surely was a Stiletto. John was stupid to chase him and while he was chasing him his friends stole John's sleeping bag and the guys who had John's backpack were probably standing 25 feet (7.5m) away in the opposite direction. John should have chased them, but he didn’t see them. He spent a few days walking around Avignon, now without a sleeping bag at night, looking in all the trash cans and down all the embankments and under all the bushes for them having stripped everything out of the bag. He was hoping they had thrown the journals in the garbage and he could get his journals back at least, but he never found anything.

John had his passport and the money that he had around his neck, and he was supposed to meet some people in Madrid in 8 days, people whom he had met earlier and who had said: ”Meet us in Madrid on the 15th!” John was not going to replace all that stuff, but he continued traveling with just the clothes on his back. Obviously he was covered with blood for a while, but he washed it out of his clothes and eventually his scabs healed. For another 5 months John traveled all around Europe like that. He probably smelled terrible, but he would wash his clothes at Youth Hostels in the sink, hang them up to dry and in the morning they were still a little damp, but he would put them on and they would be dry in an hour.

Being free from all possessions, envying those who go all the way (RL29)

Traveling through Europe with nothing but the clothes on his back was the most liberating experience in John’s life! He had not known that you could be this free! He would fall asleep on a train or on a park bench and after he woke up he would just stand up and start walking. There was no ”Let me get my stuff!” or ”Let me pack my sleeping bag!” and it worked quite well until Winter came and John was screwed.

The people he admired the most were the ones who were able to take it further than what he was able to do. They even severed their attachments to home, which John was never able to do. They either pretended very well or they truly did not ever want to go see their mom again and they never dreamt of going home and having Christmas at home with their mom.

No matter how far John would get and how much he was out, sleeping under a tree somewhere, if somebody had come along and asked him to go to Abu Dabi, he would absolutely go, but as he was sitting there under the tree he was dreaming of home. He had a mental connection to home that he couldn’t sever. There were people living that close to the edge of civilization who had a look of real dastardly self-possession and John did not sense in them any desire to ever go home. John envied that because he kept feeling that he was tethered and that he wasn’t brave enough to sever that connection.

In a way that connection saved his life multiple times. It was why he never did intravenous drugs. That connection to home didn’t interfere with his choice to do bad things, but there were certain bad things he never did. He didn’t ever steal, for example. He lived that life, but at the same time he had a personal prohibition to ever stealing, and shoplifting a yoghurt would have been beneath his dignity. It was thanks to his idea of home and in particular of one day walking back through the front door of his mother’s house. It saved him multiple times and at the time he recognized it as the thing that saved him from being truly wild.

John was sitting around the campfires with the people who were truly wild and he really admired them. He saw that look in their eye, but that might have been a put-on, too! People are capable of putting that look on. Merlin says that John is describing something very close to Monasticism or to the idea of being free of the yearning for things, not only not missing it. On the other hand John is talking about fucking psychopaths. It seems like the desire to have a place in the tribe goes way beyond people who are born in the 1960s and is a pretty old idea. It was precisely why John wanted to get away from it, because the line between being a true monk and being a total psychopath is a pretty nebulous line!

The great mystics are reviled in their own time, a lot of them are nuts, and a lot of them are burned at the stake for being nuts, but they do mystical work, pushing always outward on behalf of all people. Two generations later we revere them, we read their writing, and we think they were the great leaders, but they were chased out of their village.

John didn’t have a 1960s affectation past a certain point, he wasn’t trying to go further. People of their generation were the impetus, like: ”Hey man! Let’s go!” There was no Beads influence, John hated all that shit, but he loved Paul Bowles who wrote The Sheltering Sky and a lot of great short stories. He translated a lot of Folk Tales from Arabic told by his Moroccan house boy Mohamed Mrabet who ended up being a great Moroccan writer.

Citizenship is not a buffet, character alignments (RL29)

Citizenship is an all-in proposition. Many young people, not just the street punks on one side of the bell curve, but people all the way up to Hippie-dippie ”I don’t wear leather shoes”, are trying to limit the number of ways in which they are fully vested in their citizenship. This is also the Tea-Party problem. They agree that we should have driver’s licenses, but they don’t agree that they should have to have insurance. They are trying to set their own line in the sand with all the citizenship things that they personally agree to on one side and on the other side all the other citizenship things that they feel are unnecessary or too restrictive, or for whatever reason they choose that they don’t have to play.

John lived without ID for many years and he lived in the city, but he could not go into bars, he did not have a bank account, and when a policeman stopped him he had to explain why he didn’t have ID and get the inevitable lecture from the guy. You can be arrested for not presenting identification, but that kind of thing is really low on the cop’s list of priorities and you just get a stern talking to. John could verify his identity to them, but it would involve 45 minutes of explanations and telling them his social security number. He did not have ID because he had drawn the line somewhere on how much he was willing to participate in the civilization he was living in.

There was a person John knew who was very much opposed to cops and to laws and to the man. One time this person encountered some difficulty and called the police to help them and they bitched about the response of the police. When the police got there, they whined to the police and the police were like: ”Yeah, you kind of made your bed in this situation, but sure, we look for the guy who stole your weed!” They left and this person commenced talking shit about the cops again and John realized that if you want to live outside of the rules and don’t want to follow all the rules, then you should also not have any recourse to the benefits and you can’t call the cops if someone steals your weed.

Some people truly live outside the world and when somebody beats the shit out of them and steals all their stuff, they don’t call the cops because they recognize that the cops will never help them. They live desperate lives and if you are not willing to live at the edge of desperation, your only other option is to be fully vested as a citizen. If you have a driver’s license, you need to have insurance. John is saying it is not a buffet like they said during the marathon four hours that Merlin cut out of their discussion once before. You cannot refuse to pay your taxes but still drive on the roads and bridges. You cannot say that if you don’t have kids you shouldn’t pay taxes for the schools and then complain about the youth of America.

The decisions what constitutes full membership in society are not being made by one person up above, but we have made them collectively as a group over many hundreds of years. It is a lot of responsibility to be a fully vested human being, it requires all this stuff, and it isn’t the buffet. If you live in the culture, you have to do all this stuff and you are not a rebel by refusing to do one thing from column A and one thing from column B, but you are just a brat. If you don’t like paying taxes, you can absolutely make your case in the public square, but you cannot refuse to pay them. It isn’t an option and if you think so, then you are just being a brat and a baby!

John came to that understanding by living with thieves for a long time. He was not all the way out where if somebody beat him up he wouldn’t call the cops, but the cops would beat him up as well. He was on the fringe and living with people who were also living on the fringe, but they still sucked off of civilization and ultimately John found it disgusting.

Merlin thinks John might be Lawful Neutral, one of the most interesting alignments, and John agrees it is a Lawful Neutral revelation that he had within the context of ultimately being Chaotic Good, which Merlin always liked to think John was. Good is one of the most powerful words in the English language. Good is not nice, but it is the pursuit of understanding to the truth. Pursuing Good by any means necessary is Chaotic and often very counter to nice. When you aspire to being Good you can be in social situations where the social currency is one of really compromised ethics. Everybody in the group is getting along great, but they are all kind of liars and there is a tremendous premium just going on with the lie that they are telling themselves and that is happening at this party, going along with the overall lie that is governing our modern culture.

To truly be Good, you have to stand in that group of people and say ”No, I do not agree with your lie, I will not participate in your lie passively, just in order to make this a happy party or to make everybody feel fine!” A lot of times John is accused of being an asshole or being a caustic presence because he tries to stay the course of what he thinks is his own ethical responsibility in every situation. That is the pursuit of what is Good, not the pursuit of what is nice.

The system of law that governs us is deeply flawed. There are absolutely laws that John does not dane to follow, and he makes those choices all the time, like in this instance he is going to break this law because he knows better, and that is where that idea breaks down, but within the concept of government and the way that our society runs, the appeal to authority, the bureaucracy that keeps the lights on and that when you flush the toilet it goes away and doesn’t just empty out into the garden, John takes all that stuff as a whole system and he doesn’t brook a lot of ”I don’t pay my share of that because I disagree with the woman that got appointed to that job”

John always aspires to make the Good choice rather than the expedient choice and that is often in conflict with the law, which is a paradox. When he is sitting at a red light at 2am, he is looking in both directions and there is no car coming, he goes through the light. It is a choice that he routinely makes and there are traffic laws that at a certain hour of the day in certain situations go from being laws to being suggestions.

There is something dangerous about the true conscientious objector who says: ”I am breaking this law and I don’t even have to give you a reason why. The system can just feel free to shimmy up in its ass because that is the decision I have made!” Everybody is relying on people, hoping they don’t get caught, but if you truly have nothing to lose then society has no idea how to deal with you. Those people fill a monastic role and they are the ones who sit Indian style in the public square, pour gasoline on themselves and immolate themselves to protest the bombing of Laos.

John admires the conscientious objector above all else, not because he admires what they are after, but he admires the non-violent resistance like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It is why John doesn’t admire the Tea Party so much, because there is a lot of talk of violent resistance in that group of people and violent overthrow is a thing that when it is time for it, everybody knows it, it is not a thing that you sit out in your little hut.

Merlin talks about violence for a while. It isn’t a matter of going out with a gun and acting like a big shot, but your family is getting their throats slit in the night, or if you are completely out of control there will be no-one there to help you. Talking about change and trying to make something better in that situation feels at odds, and although there have certainly been cases where it has made a lot of difference, by and large it has cheapened the idea that if you care a lot about something you can see change affected by direct action. Kony 2012! Merlin thought John was talking about having a chili dog (the Coney Island Hot Dog). Imagining the worst case scenario is a failure of people’s imagination, but John has done it his whole life.

Zombie fantasies, The Wire (RL29)

It is very popular in youth culture to think about a war of you against the zombies and although Merlin is a pretty rational person it is hard for him to stop thinking about zombies once he started doing it. He doesn’t love it, but he sees it as a way of telling a story about something you otherwise couldn’t have told a story about, which is what makes this kind of thing so great. We don’t like people that we can’t reason with, especially somebody who is not even receptive to your plea why they should not eat your brain. It sounds silly and SciFi, but isn’t that ultimately what we fear? We fear loosely organized violence from people who can’t be dissuaded.

It is the fantasy that suburban whites have about inner city blacks: That you can’t reason with them. This is why everybody should watch The Wire! Merlin was in his 40s before it hit him over the head that everybody is corrupted by a system. During the opening scene of The Wire the guy on the DVD commentary says that The Wire is ultimately about the American city. In a recent interview Merlin's favorite character on the show David Simon said: ”Absolutely the city of Baltimore!” because it is this living thing and everybody in it is getting fucked up by some system. If you think being a cop is making you any less fucked up by a system than somebody who is selling drugs on the corner, you have no idea how complex this stuff is!

Systems are complicated and not easy to change (RL29)

John spent a lot of time for many years watching the container freight being unloaded off the ships and getting put on trucks or trains and driven away. He wondered where these trucks were going, he followed them, and he saw the route they took out of the city and the places they stop on the way. That whole experience just gave him the tiniest little thread of the complexity of the system of moving goods around the country and the world. Everything in John’s room has at some point gone into that stream and came back out of it, sometimes multiple times. Whatever you say about Capitalism, in some ways it is a neutral organic system like a river.

The Wire has a similar effect: The morality you brought into watching that show is not the morality you take out of having watched that show. What is right and what is wrong? What is ultimately good and what is not good? Those are forever flipped by your experience of thinking that guy was the hero, but it turns out he is the villain. That is true of every aspect of a city: As an environmentalist you think that trucks are polluting and truck drivers are cowboys or that it would be so simple to switch over to solar power.

Many people are making value judgements about things, but they have no idea of how complicated the system is, how entrenched it is, how massive it is, how many people there are, how many Oster Blenders there are being trucked right now from somewhere to somewhere else for people to make smoothies and what all goes into that. It boggles your mind! If you let your imagination go, every newspaper article takes you back to the dock and to the guy who is working at the plant where your poo goes and where it sits in various pools until the bacteria eat it and they dump it into the ocean where the little ocean bacteria eat the remaining poo and then it is nature.

No-one wants to think about the waste treatment plant, nobody wants to put themselves in a little ship and follow their poo and yet: If that system broke down for just one hour we would all be up to our necks in poo and we would be so mad and refuse to pay our taxes. It is amazing that the blood keeps flowing in all of our little capillaries of our systems.

Merlin recently had the insight that everything is an engineering problem and you can’t just change one factor of a thing and not have unexpected consequences. There are numerous examples in civics and in nature and it drives Merlin crazy. We try to change that one thing and we don’t account for all the knock-on effects of everything else that gets fucked up because of it. The same is true in inter-personal and intra-personal experiences. You can never change a thing about yourself in isolation and separate out the part you want to change, make the change, and put it back in.

People John’s generation for example read Manufacturing Consent (by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky) or Howard Zinn and they stand in the square of their university, looking at the person next to them who is insufficiently enlightened and they go: ”OMG, are you really wearing those leather shoes? Do you know that cows produce more methane than 1000 gas generators?", that kind of lame brain activism!

Merlin can’t find a fucking 200W lightbulb to save his life! His vision is dim and he likes a bright fucking room and now he is walking around with these little Fussili lightbulbs that put off just enough light to make everybody look like they have Jaundice. The difference between a 100W and a 200W incandescent light bulb is all the difference in the world! With 200W Merlin can see things clearly!

Pictures and articles on Wikipedia (RL29)

If Roy Thomas Baker would have his photo taken with the right lighting, he would look a lot better. John’s picture on Wikipedia is from when he was in Texas and has been sweating for 4 days and not had taken a shower. Of all the pictures that could be on Wikipedia of him it is this one. Merlin finds it a handsome picture, but he would be more than happy to Public Domain a photo of John that he has taken if John likes a different one up there.

A few weeks ago a story went around about a guy who had written a book about the Haymarket Riots (Chicago 1886). He is one of the biggest authorities on certain aspects of the topic, but his edits to Wikipedia were all rejected and they pretty much told him to go away because he wasn’t doing it the Wikipedia way. He went away and wrote a book about, but it still wasn’t enough. Wikipedia is not an author, but a librarian, and that is what people don’t understand. A librarian does not tell you what the book should say, but it says that this is what the book says.

The Wikipedia pages of John’s peers have a table of contents and talk about all this stuff, but John’s just looks like a paragraph that someone wrote. Merlin has a really good picture on his that his friend Graham took. It freaks Merlin out when he finds somebody who is one of his favorite people in the world, but their Wikipedia article is shorter than his.

At this point their recording is getting really weird because Merlin probably slipped into another dimension as he was talking about the Wikipedia article of the Minutemen. It sounded like Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. John doesn’t want to talk about Erin Gray because it would derail his whole train of thought. What about Gil Gerard? Like Tom Selleck he is out there trying to get work.

Matthew McConaughey, Tom Selleck (RL29)

Tom Selleck is very conservative. John did a little bit of research on him the other day, this is when Merlin had to walk away from him for a little while. For a while John had a thing going about Matthew McConaughey, but he can’t abide him.

Although John disagrees with Tom Selleck’s politics, if you were dating his daughter he would be your wife’s dad and even though you don’t agree on politics you still really love the guy. He is just a Republican. Matthew McConaughey played Bongos in his underwear and his politics are just fucking stoner politics because he is a fucking stoner. Legalize it, don’t criticize it, or: ”Dude, why are you wearing leather shoes? Don’t you know that cows produce methane?”

Stoners and Hippies (RL29)

If there is one thing that you can safely be reductive on, it is that stoners are fucking idiots, and John is speaking as somebody who was a stoner for many years. Merlin doesn’t mind stoners, but he just fucking hates hippies, although he tries to not say the word ”hate”. Hippies get under his skin the way almost everything gets under John’s skin: They are everything that is wrong with everything.

There are stoners all around you because too many people are smoking pot these days and it has to stop! Take a walk or make some macaroni, there has to be something else you can do! Every day, really? The first 400 times you smoke pot you are like: ”Wow, did you see that cat? That cat looked like Jerry Lewis, man!” It is amazing! But the 401st time it is over and every subsequent time after that it is over. They call it diminishing returns. Some people are using pot as a medicinal substance and take a little hit of pot every day as an anxiety reliever. John is not going to get in your bokeh about it, but stop being stoners!

If you talk to people in Holland you will realize that no normal person in Holland smokes pot. It is only for the tourists and for the losers. Pot is legal so that the mystery is gone and all they have to do is to see what happens when you smoke marijuana: It makes you a dope. 99% of the average Dutch people have no mystery about smoking pot and they don’t do it. It is for the tourists and for assholes.

Everybody in San Francisco eats Sourdough bread and Rice-A-Roni. They are throwing fish at the market, but how often do watch them throw fish? The fish throwing helps collect the detritus people around fish throwing so you can get down the stairs and through the market. John supports the fish throwing because it localizes where you would throw a hand grenade. He was thinking about having a little booth down there at the market and demonstrating a little hand grenade throwing.

John’s grandfather in World War I (RL29)

John’s grandfather was a hand grenade throwing instructor in World War I before he went to France to fight in the war. When he came back he still had all of his parts except for his mind parts. At the time they called it shell shock, he had a hard time, and he did not integrate into the world very well. John never met him because he died in the 1950s at a time when nobody had a lot of sympathy for that and so he went to Los Angeles to live in a Bukowski flophouse hotel Downtown and drank himself to death.

Merlin’s dad’s friend (RL29)

Merlin’s dad’s best friend back in Ohio, one of his hunting buddies, was big in the police department. He was at the Captain or Lieutenant Colonel level and his job was to teach people how to be safe on stuff that was super deadly. A dynamite cap blew up in his fucking hand and he ended up with a shaka bra hang loose deal with a thumb and a pinky to make shaka brah.

John being a pyromaniac as a kid (RL29)

When John was a kid in Alaska, blasting caps were a problem. They were apparently just lying around because there was a lot of dynamite from people mining gold and building track for the railroad and a friend of John’s dad had a big metal locker in his backyard full of dynamite. He had a padlock on it, but otherwise it was just sitting around. John's his dad worked at the railroad where they had all different explosive warehouses where they were blasting rock and stuff. They were also blasting rock on the highway the whole time John was growing up.

There were color posters of all the different plastic caps and it said: ”Don’t play with these! If you see one of these, don’t play with it!”, like that would help! It is like having a poster with boobs on them and saying ”Don’t think about this!” Because John was a pyromaniac as a kid he had this blasting cap poster on his wall and it was all he was thinking about. He had his eyes down on the ground looking for blasting caps, it was all he wanted to find.

The railroad had things called Torpedos, little sacks of gun powder and gravel that you would clap to the railroad track and when the train would run over it it would explode, not loud enough to hurt the train or the track, but to signal the engineer that there was something up ahead on the track. It would pop bigger than an M-80. Merlin wouldn’t like that at all!

John managed to scrounge a couple of Torpedos because he was in some warehouse shed with his dad one time with a bunch of men in hard hats and they all turned around to look at a valve or something and John was like: ”Aha! Torpedos!” and he stuffed the pockets of his jacket with them. The problem with is that they require the weight of a locomotive to set them off and you can’t just hit them with a hammer to get them to explode. John wasn’t hitting them with a hammer, he wasn’t an idiot, but he would throw them into a campfire and run. OMG, the things he used to do!

One of his favorite things was the source of much fear when his parents figured it out: When he was home alone in the house he would open up the flew in the fireplace and he would sit with cans of spray paint and WD40 and light a lighter and spray it into the fireplace making an incredible flame thrower. WD40 is an amazing flame thrower! He would watch the flame come up the stream of WD40 and right as it got to the nozzle he would let go. He could sit for hours at a time and just flame throw into the fireplace. He just loved the fire!

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