RL332 - Three Adjacents Apart

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Game of Thrones (Movies)
  • John showing Star Wars to his daughter (Movies)
  • Bad TV remotes (Technology)
  • Technological improvements going in the wrong direction (Technology)
  • People are not in contact with the world anymore (Humanities)
  • Allie Goertz being the editor of Mad Magazine (Factoids)

The Problem: It’s no fun to wonder, referring to Merlin being upset about technology not working the way it is supposed to and him having to wonder why it doesn’t work.

The show title refers to someone John knows who was never directly adjacent to the comedy people he knows, but adjacent to somebody else who was adjacent.

They start the show singing each other’s names.

Merlin’s scanner is not working, he has a lot going on this morning, which is difficult. He is doing pretty good in general, but sometimes he is having trouble getting the clutch thing to work with the transmission thing and he is revving hard and got the torque, but he is not always getting it into gear quite right. John is not late, but he is here, and Merlin has been using the time well and he feels good. He has been dealing with flies on his plant, he made a joke about the president, he is 5-by-5, doing just fine!

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

Game of Thrones (RL332)

There are a lot of dolls on Amazon for the Game of Thrones TV show and Merlin has ordered Daenerys Targaryen (Khaleesi), the mother of dragons. It is for his daughter and he didn’t get the one he would have preferred, but he got one for his daughter. This doll is not like the other dolls with the big boobs that Merlin has in his office.

The big boob one is on Merlin’s wish list, but he is not ready to commit to a scale-sized Daenerys. He got the doll for his daughter because she enjoys Game of Thrones by proxy in this weird way that a kid does. They continue to banter nonsense about Game of Thrones. Merlin has watched dozens of YouTube videos and there is a lot going on in the community right now because there are connections that go far back into the pre-history.

It turned out that the King in the North, King Jon Snow, the Lord of the Night Light, was a flimflam all along, but they didn’t know it. He is down on the knee for Khaleesi, but it turns out that he is a joint bender. Then there is the happy librarian who is getting new facts and who thinks it is time to bring the rockets. Ironsides is over here, giving the stink-eye to the guy on the horse with the three-eyed raven, saying: ”You are the one who pushed me off the wall!” All of a sudden Homeboy got dark hair and a dark beard, when did that happen? He was "le blonde before", but now we are just supposed to accept that the dad in the Brady Bunch is a different dude?

John showing Star Wars to his daughter (RL332)

Years ago Merlin read an article in the failing New York Times that he is referring to a lot in order to defend what he would call parenting. It was about the phenomenon by which little kids across the United States are very into Star Wars although they have never seen a Star Wars. John’s daughter was like that until two weeks ago. She knew all about Dark Vader and Princess Leia, and she even asked John when Leia would learn that Luke was her brother.

Merlin gets upset that John didn’t say ”Spoiler alert!” before he said that because now Merlin has to put in a content warning. By listening to this show you will get some spoilers. Many people have gotten in the habit of using "Spoiler Alert!" as a dependent clause, like: ”Spoiler Alert, blue guys in the flimflam house!”

John wondered if his daughter knew anything about what happens in the Star Wars movies, but she just said something indistinct and when John made Wookiee noises or a Yoda voice she didn’t know what that was. So he told her to sit down and showed her the first Star Wars. He had been putting it off and every other kid in her class has already seen it 100 times. She enjoyed it and she wanted to know when Luke and Leia found out that they were siblings. She had heard many of the situations, but she had not threaded them together into a narrative.

They were watching the movie as a family and every time some of the New Hope garbage came on the screen, her mother, sitting at the end of the couch was like: ”Nope! No!”, but John asked her to settle down because their daughter was like ”What? What?” Merlin thinks John would need to tell her the truth about Greedo, but these days Han shot 9th or 10th! They keep changing it every few months!

There is all this digitalis in it and Marlo’s mom just refused to accept it. She seemed to have the movie pretty well memorized to know that those 42 frames didn’t belong there. Everything around the cantina with that scum and villainy has all been just dog-humped by somebody up the chain, but their little girl didn’t know anything about it.

The following night they showed her Empire, which didn’t look like it had been trod upon quite the same way as the first one and John didn’t get quite as many ”No!” from the end. Merlin understands from people with technical knowledge and more information that this is the least trodden upon of the three original films by far.

After a few days they watched the third one with the Muppets, the Greebles, the Mogwai and that rat puppet that is now called Salacious B Crumb. Like a lot of the song titles of The Long Winters, the title does not appear in the song and nobody ever calls him Salacious B Crumb.

John’s daughter got the satisfaction of getting the back story, but all it changed in their household is that she comes around and says ”Do Luke! Do Luke!” and John is supposed to go ”Noooooo! I’ll never join you!” and sometimes John will say ”Luke, turn to the dark side! Give in to your anger!” and she adores it all.

John is really good at making Wookiee noises. Like every dad anywhere he is like a marionette and all she has to do is to wave her fingers. Many of these voices are just Frank Oz in a swimming pool. Now she is up to date with the canonical three and she is talking about it. They have shared it as an experience and it got integrated into their life, which is so perfect!

Her mom wants to explain her why she was yelling ”No!”, but John asked her to just leave it for a minute and not tell her already that this is wrong. She will have plenty of time to be disappointed in life. She asked why the Wookiee did not get a medal and why Leia did not get a medal, but Leia is handing out the medals. It is like tipping the owner of the restaurant: It is bad form! You don’t wear your own band shirt to the show! She accepted that the princess is the one who holds the key to the sash.

John wonders if he should take his daughter back to the one with the Rastafarian Llama or if he should pretend that those never existed, which really for all intents and purposes they didn’t, and jump ahead to Rey and the stuff that has come subsequently, the slim young woman dressed all in jute and linen who can jump up and down. Maybe she is Luke Skywalker’s daughter, "Spoiler alert!" Merlin thinks the prequels are not that bad.

Merlin will limit his daughter’s exposure to things that he doesn’t want to have to deal with a lot. For example they will not ever have the video game Fortnite for a variety of reasons including that every kid she knows won’t just get a little into Fortnite, but they will get all the way into Fortnite and then that will be all the thing they do. She can play a little bit of her Zelda game and that is fine, Minecraft she can walk away from, but the question is if you want 10 times more of whatever the thing is.

It has been theorized that the prequel movies are movies for kids, like it was a little bit with Jedi. Do you want to be watching the prequels a lot? What happens if she likes the prequels a lot more than the other ones? Merlin thinks it is fine to show them to her, but is the quality where you need it to be for this to become a thing and does it represent an attractive nuisance, where if she gets too into it you are going to want to throw something at a wall? Merlin recommends John to consider other Star Wars properties that are of very high quality and that are not the prequels.

John doesn’t necessarily think that things made for kids are good. When he and Merlin were kids, all things made for kids either involved a cat getting hit on the head with a mallet or a coyote falling to his death repeatedly, getting blown up or set on fire. Sometimes a fat-headed man with a side-lisp would try to shoot a rabbit or a duck, running in a circle, or the barrels of his shotgun would somehow get twisted or tied in a knot such that he would explode.

Sometimes teenagers including a saftig one that was cuter than the rest of them would get into a very cool van and a wicked landowner from a nearby town would dress up like a ghost, but they would find out about it. There was a dog with a cape who could fly through the air and was a hapless superhero, there were some Russian spies, but their plans always went awry and there was a super-dumb Canadian mounty. These were what they gave to kids and they lapped it up. It was wonderful! There was also scarcity and you couldn’t watch everything anytime you wanted.

John knows kids who have seen Frozen at least 100 times because every time anyone gives them a lollipop and they start to sugar-freak their mom sits them in front of Frozen. It is like eye-Prozac! Wasn’t that an Isaac Asimov record, the one Carl Sagan sent into space? It was Chuck Berry and Isaac Asimov, a gold record that had a guy doing jumping jacks on the front. What is John supposed to learn from people saying ”Hello!” in 400 languages? It helps him in no way, unless he was Jodie Foster’s dead father, in which case they know things that would blow your mind and she can still hear the lambs crying.

Merlin recommends a show called Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is animated and available on Netflix and it is very high quality. It happens in the run-up to episode 3 of the prequels that John hasn’t seen, but Merlin doesn’t think you need to watch the prequels. Episode 3 is the one where Anakin gets his comeuppance and Dark Vader goes into the lava pit and then comes out Dark Vader. He is basically the Black Knight, it is just a flesh wound (from Monty Python & The Holy Grail), and every time Merlin and his daughter would look at each other and go ”He is having a really bad day!”

Is the Black Knight the one with the car that turns into a motorcycle? Spiderman? Hong Kong Phooey? The lyrics from that show, Number One Super Guy, are problematic now. Scatman Crothers! John will never say a bad word about Scatman! Merlin loves the Scatman, he would kill for that painting he has in The Shining. Scatting is one thing, but to be a Scatman is a little bit Scheisse! It would be Das Scheisse Mann, and that is a different kind of film that comes in a brown wrapper.

John knows about the side universe of Star Wars fan stuff: The cartoons, comic books and other things, but his assumption is that it is just people running around in a circle because enough people want to see C-3PO and will read a comic book where he just runs around in a circle. ”Master Luke! Master Luke!” It can’t advance the plot or take the plot somewhere else because there are fixed points in time.

A Parsec is a measure of distance, not of time! You are never going to be able to change that. The man who shaves his neck, the bullfrog with the chin strap (George Lucas), is making decisions about the universe that the rest of us cannot control. Make all the comic books you want, but there is going to be a trade war, the universal congress is going to sit there in Woopie Goldberg hats, and they are going to make some choices.

If Yoda procreation works how we think it does there must have been multiple Yodas at some point in time. Marlo asked if Yoda was a boy or a girl, which raised a lot more questions. Yoda having a beard does not necessarily mean anything. That is super-woke of John, it is not his first day! What are we going to do when the question comes up of what happens when two Yodas meet coming through the rye? Yoda is 950 years old, but 840 years ago there has got to have been another Yoda out there, unless he is dying off like those Szechuan turtles (Yangtze giant soft shell turtle) where they just lost the last one.

Merlin noticed that John still has a lot of his Aloha left! But what comes next? Where do we go now? Do we go to the rye and look for two Yodas that happen to meet? Spooky Yodas at a distance? What happens now? There must have been two Yodas hugging at some point in pre-history, but then they probably joined a Reddit about Incells!

Merlin wonders if Yoda is the name of the character or if it is the kind of thing he is? The problem with Chewbacca is that he speaks Wookiee, but he has never actually said ”Chewbacca”, so how do we know that his name is Chewbacca? Who named him that? He is from Kashyyyk which sounds like a Welsh planet, and maybe they were calling him chief or ranger?

When Chewbaccas talk to each other, they just call each other (Wookiee noise). Han says: ”Chewey! Get us out of here!”, but where did that come from? That could be a slur! He could be saying ”Hey Ping Pong!” Where does the word even come from? There are lots of Chewbaccas, called Wookiees, but they have never said the word Wookiee either. The Jabb is the Hut, he speaks Hutteese, which might be his families language.

If John was going to read Star Wars comic books, he would buy a comic book about the Huts. Jabba the Hut is like Zorba the Greek: Zorba is a Greek, but there are other Greeks, and when Zorba is with his people, they will not call people for Benny the Greek, but they are all Greeks and it is not necessary in that context. The only reason we call him Zorba the Greek is the narrator who calls him that, who is the only non-Greek guy.

Calling him Zorba the Greek is very colonialist because he is only calling him that back at the Explorer’s club, talking to the other people not from Greece. We don’t say Gandhi the Indian, we don't say Churchill the Britain, but we do say Jabba the Hut because he is the only Hut on Tatooine. Merlin once had a sticker in a book of a little Hut in a back pack that was really cute!

Bad TV remotes (RL332)

Merlin uses an Apple TV to watch regular TV on Hulu and the combination of the Apple TV remote and Hulu is about the worst. It is like taking a shit on a shit! The service is good, but the app and the remote suck and every time he tries to do anything it flies off in some direction and does its own thing. Merlin’s daughter disagreed and he had to tell her ”You have never used a TiVo remote!” She looked at him like he was speaking Wookiee at her. All she knows is this dog-shit app! Is he supposed to pull her aside and give her the history of ergonomic remotes?

We have had the technology to communicate with televisions for decades. For a long time you had to get up and massage your TV set and move the rabbit ears, and John had set up an entire Rube Goldberg device to control his television: He could pull a string and it would rotate the knob, but only one way. Still, he could go from One Day at a Time to the David Letterman Mid-day show. ”This is life, the one you get. Go and have it all!” (lyrics from One Day at a Time) Flo’s Diner was from Alice.

This way to interact with a television was lightyears away from where we are now. The Rosetta stone to translate hieroglyphics into that middle hieroglyphic language and then into Greek had not yet been found, but you could go over and touch the television and it would understand what you wanted. There was never any misunderstanding what ”Volume” meant!

Then John’s dad got a remote where you could push a button to change the channel, but also that one only went in one direction. You could not go up and down, but you had to go all the way around the dial. It was an old-style chunka chunka button that went ”ka-chunk!” It was speaking to the TV, but it was still like ”Come on, televouz, chez ves bien, merci!” and the TV said: ”You want to go to channel 7 or 8? You only got a few options!”

By the mid-1980s the world opened up, the Babelfish went in the year and you could make a TV do whatever you needed. You could go to here and there and it happened instantaneously. The remote that came with Merlin's first cable box was very capable and the nanosecond you hit the button it moved to the next station. MTV was channel 27 in Anchorage at the time!

There was none of that stuff where you switch to a channel, there comes a little thing about what the show is, but the screen is black for another ten seconds, which is fucking annoying! You used to be able to go ”Channel, channel, channel, channel” and you would see a split second and go like ”Nope, nope, nope, nope, yes!” That is leaving aside the five remotes that are on the coffee table now!

The T9 system on John’s Verizon flip phone was able to know what he was trying to say, but a modern TV acts as thought there was never a Rosetta stone. Whoever that Lieutenant Colonel was who found it under a wall of bricks and thought: ”This stone seems important!” Then the British stole it from him and now it is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (actually, it has been at the British Museum since 1802).

Technological improvements going in the wrong direction (RL332)

Technological improvements are no improvements! We are moving in the wrong direction! Merlin talks to Marco Arment and walks around in those circles. Whenever John meets somebody famous in San Francisco, they will tell him: ”Oh, you know Merlin!” - ”You are the one who is a superstar!” - ”I owe it all to Merlin!” - ”How do you owe it all to Merlin?” - ”You have no idea! When he used to be Merlin Mann, when used to be talking into his wallet all the time!”

Merlin is the guy who invented the 3x5 cards, what problem could he possibly have with getting his television bent to his will? To quote their friend John Siracusa: ”It is worse and more diverse!” It is not improving the thing we want improved. The kids are not going to know, because they don’t know how it was. How about you used to be on the phone and you could hear everything the other person was saying?

Earlier today John was on the Internet, looking around, opening doors, like ”What is in here? What is in there?” and good friend of the show Matt Haughey was on there, saying he had finally solved his WiFi drop-outs, posting a picture of a stack of boxes that looked like Sonos decided to outfit your house. There were all these Ethernet hook-ups and the satellite dish from the top of the Millennium Falcon. This was really fancy!

John told him that he also wanted all his problems to be solved and asked what he was supposed to do, and Matt sent John something like 40 texts that came through really fast, saying that this was super-nerd stuff and all this prosumer stuff was in his past, but John was not even at the prosumer level! Matt got the stuff that tech-companies, schools and universities use and he was never going back. Does John want that? He just wants a magic box that does all the things. He just wants to say ”I want to see Helldivers of the Navy” (Curtiss SB2C) and he wants it to appear on the screen without having to think if it was on Hulu or wherever else.

Part of the problem is that it is no fun to wonder and John writes down ”It is no fun to wonder” on his list of potential lyrics that he is going to put into a song. Merlin reminds him to write down Fan Death because he will give it to somebody else if John won’t use it! (see RL310) John says it is an upcoming episode of The Omnibus.

It is no fun if something isn’t quite working and Merlin wants to be able to know what shit broke. Do you ever wonder about Siri and why that didn’t work? Did it not hear him at all? Did it make it to the Ubiquity WiFi? Did it make it to the cloud? Is it going to make anything of what he said? Is it going to return anything? It still comes back with: ”Bleep bloop! I didn’t understand something!” Why didn’t that do what he expected? Why did she run away (reference to the song ”I wonder why!”) You don’t want to wonder! It is no fun to wonder (they will come back to that in RL335)!

There are tens of thousands of young guys in the San Francisco area who are about 5’9” (175 cm) and every once in a while a package arrives in the mail with clothes that somebody has curated for them, like some brown shoes, and they are dressing like somebody sends them their clothes in a box. They have studied computer maths and carry between two and five iPhones and Androids on them at all times, making $280.000 a year doing something John doesn’t understand.

They are disrupters and yet none of this stuff works! We are worse than we were before! What are they doing? Stop disrupting and make the fucking television remotes work! Make us stop wondering and start reaping the benefits of the fact that Matt Haughey can talk to his garage door opener. Better, faster, stronger! Able to Leap Capital T in a Single Bound. It’s a word, it’s a plan!

Many years ago John got an Apple TV on Merlin’s recommendation and because he didn’t have a TV it wasn’t useful to him immediately. He gave it to his mom whom he bought a TV for on her birthday, she hooked it up, but none of them could understand how it worked. It turned her TV into an Apple slideshow at times when they didn’t understand why, but they couldn’t get it to do it reliably or to put the pictures up they wanted, nor could they use it to watch TV. It didn’t matter. There it was! One day she gave it back to John who at the time was watching shows on Amazon and iTunes. He plugged it in, but it was wrong and he found out on the Internet that it was not compatible with anything anymore and had turned into a fucking hockey puck.

Considering how much it cost it ended up just being a slideshow facilitator for a couple of years for a slideshow you didn’t really want. It is like the Flip camera that only lasted for 9 months! Merlin owned three of them, one of which broke, one of which he upgraded and it was the best! He doesn’t need an IKEA app for his Apple TV, but it is not Apple’s fault. Bad on him for downloading it! ”Chop chop, guys! Drop the Soylent and pick up the remote!” John is getting a newsletter from Kohl’s every day.

People are not in contact with the world anymore (RL332)

In the past when people used to smoke cigarettes they would spend a lot of time standing outside, talking to other people that they wouldn’t have talked to otherwise because they were also cigarette smokers. Pretty soon you had a relationship with somebody you wouldn’t know otherwise. At UCLA (University of California) they once closed the engineering dining room‚ all the engineering professors had to eat lunch with the English professors, and all of a sudden they solved for X. Turns out that was how they figured out that particlons wiggle in the moonlight!

Cigarettes slowed everybody down and made people realize that life was finite. People also don’t know how to stand in a line and how to be in public anymore because they don’t have to be in public anymore. Merlin is patient zero for this because he gets his paper towels delivered from a drone these days. He doesn’t need to talk to anybody, but if he was going to try to solve problems it would be nice to talk to people who do have the problem. Don’t make them wonder!

John had already been a full-grown adult for at least 10-15 years when he would still stand outside a phone booth, waiting for the person to get done talking on the phone, digging in his pockets for metal coinage to pay for the privilege of calling someone on a phone that they may or may not answer, not because they were screening their calls, not because they saw it was John and they decided to let it go to voice mail, but because it meant that they were actually not home at that point.

When you were mad and upset at a person, thinking they were hiding under their covers, not answering the phone, you could let it ring passive aggressively for 40 minutes, all for that same quarter! One time John called the Greyhound bus-station in Washington DC and nobody picked up the phone. He had this vision of Washington DC people sitting there, doing something else while the phone was ringing. He knew it was a bus-station phone that was loud and he was so mad at them that he just let it ring for 40 minutes until he realized that he was punishing himself because he was standing in the cold, listening to this phone ring, trying to send pure hatred across the country through the wires. That is how they lived!

How many times would you stand out in front of a phone booth and start sweating the person with your eyes because it was clear they were just having a la-di-da conversation when you clearly also wanted to use the phone, so ”Dude, show some curtesy!” and you would rattle the door. Now we have other ways of passive-aggressively bothering people, you could sign them up for a newsletter or something like that.

You wonder how much of any variety of micro- and macro-problems comes from just not enough exposure to other people. Merlin is going to pee on the third rail here, the whole ”Everybody who voted for What’s-his-name is a dingeling!”, but all these dingelings haven’t met enough black people in power and that is why they are the way they are! They haven’t met enough gay people who aren’t satanists. It is all lack of exposure to other people in an environment that isn’t dangerous. Increasingly there are fewer and fewer opportunities to be around people who aren’t exactly like you without feeling a little bit perilous. It is just not enough exposure to people who aren’t actually the worst and who aren’t actually dangerous.

There was a time when John would come over to Merlin’s house and they would sit in the back yard for an hour, smoking cigars. It takes an hour to smoke a cigar, you can’t do it fast! Eric was terrible at lighting it and he would get a bad light on it and then he would always try to smoke it like a cigarette, which was very upsetting to watch. It takes time to figure it out and you have to watch other people smoke cigars for a while before you can really switch gears.

John remembers smoking his first couple of cigars like a joint and then being sick for a month. Merlin is not trying to stand for cigars, but it does slow you down a little bit. The problem is that all the famous cigar smokers are mostly terrible and you don’t see Gandhi on the cover of a magazine smoking a cigar. You hardly even see him on the cover of a magazine, except maybe Passive Resistance magazine, which John used to subscribe to because he loved the back page.

Allie Goertz being the editor of Mad Magazine (RL332)

Allie Goertz is a young person, born in the 1990s, and John met her a long time ago because she was a comedy song person. She was adjacent to people who were adjacent to some of the comedy songwriters he knows, although never directly adjacent, but three adjacents apart. Now she is editor of Mad Magazine. John never thought he would know an editor of Mad, let alone the editor of Mad, and especially not that that person would be somewhere on the order of 25 years younger than him. What are the chances? It should be somebody Archie Bunker aged like Mort Drucker or somebody, or the Black Spy, or Alfred E. Neuman. He was the Stan Lee of Mad Magazine: Getting executive producer credit on everything, but then he made a cameo. He was in Up The Academy very briefly.

John wants to be the Stan Lee of something! It is the equivalent of being the retired director of the CIA. You don’t want to be the Sergio Aragonés of something because he is literally a marginal character. He is 142 years old and he is still at ComicCons, drawing things that people get tattooed on their buttocks. Wha does Stan Lee do? He does less work than George R.R. Martin! He must be so fucking mad right now. Everybody is all mad at him to write more books and the TV show lapped him and now what does he do? Sitting here with his dick in his hand?

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