RL347 - Pareto Olive Principle

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John has mists of uncertainty, referring to John having the last day in his house and moving out without having a new place to go.

The show title refers to the 80/20 rule of olives: ”How many different kinds of olives do you need?”

It is going swimmingly! John asks Merlin about the sound quality because he is back at his old setup. Sound quality is very important to him because he is a professional audio professional. For Merlin it is important that they act as if it was important. It is nice to be important, but it is also important to be nice! It is also nice to pretend to be important, but it is even more important to pretend to be nice and that is one of Merlin’s highest priorities. Those are the two lobes of the brain that interlock like his hands. He can open the church and see all the people. There is a lot of stuff that is important and there are so many priorities!

It is early.

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

Cake donuts, olive bars, food for the table (RL347)

John already had a donut today and Merlin had a bagel. John likes cake donuts and although no-one wants to order cake donuts, when the donuts arrive the cake donuts are the first ones everybody grabs. John cannot stand a glazed donut! If you open a box with a dozen donuts and there is not a cake donut in there John just keeps walking. Why not put a bowl of olives out? Merlin likes olives, but he is not sure if we need a whole olive bar, that seems like a bridge too far.

The 20/80 Pareto Olive Principle is: How many kinds of olives do we need? For John that number is zero, the null-set, but he suspects Merlin needs green and black. Merlin doesn’t see color, he likes an olive, but because he is from Cincinnati, Ohio he is always on the lookout for somebody trying to make him look foolish. You learn that early on when they put chili on your spaghetti and then they tell you that this is how they eat it everywhere.

In 4th grade you study Ohio, in 5th grade you study apologies and in 6th grade you look out for ways that people think they are better than you, at least in Southern Ohio. They put out all the fucking forks and spoons and knives and there is always a trap fork that you are never supposed to touch and only the suckers and noobs ever grab that fork.

Ohio is right between Kentucky and Indiana, which is the worst place to be. So many confederate flags! Somebody will tell you that you haven’t touched your muscles fork, but that means you have passed because there is no such thing as a muscles fork. That is how they test you out or make you a Schreiner. Muscles Fork is where they recorded all the great background vocals for the Lynyrd Skynyrd album down in Alabama.

Merlin needs no less than one and on the very outside no more than four different kinds of olives. Once you are getting to olives stuffed with anything more than the red Pimiento or cream cheese, pound for pound, we don’t need that many olives at the store. To John it sounds like Merlin is conflating preparations of olives with types of olives. He would just need two kinds of olives, and also Pimiento and cream cheese.

In Ohio they put cream cheese in fucking everything, but not in a Jewish way. They roll it up in a salami or put it on a celery. Ants on a Log is celery with cheese, peanut butter and raisins. John doesn’t eat a lot of cream cheese and the only times he ever had it was in a Jewish way. One time somebody tried to give it to him as a desert, but that was a prank: ”You think you are better than me?”

Merlin thinks people should enjoy what they like, hakuna matata! His life is like walking through a crowded crazy old hardware store where he doesn’t want his body to touch anything because everything has tetanus on it and it smells insecticide. He is just trying to get through here without snagging on anything. That is pretty much his whole life! ”Can I just go? Can I just get through here? I don’t want to buy anything, I don’t have an opinion, I don’t need any help, and I don’t really need anything!” It can be really exhausting. It is so important to sound nice and Merlin doesn’t want to sound judgy about anybody’s fruits, vegetables, or legumes.

What if somebody’s Memah died in the war, trying to save olive varietals and Merlin is up here with his privilege, pissing from the hot bar, saying that there are too many olives? Let’s take a moment of silence for Memah! ”Olive you!” John thinks that by interrogating olive bars you are on the right side of justice. Nobody is going to come after them and say that 75 kinds of varietal olives is a people’s thing. They are punching up, they are going after the real problems, after big olive bars and after big wine bar.

Merlin's guess is that all the different wines mean different things, but he does a lot of his shopping online because he is very overwhelmed by the jams in the jelly isle. That way he can reorder by saying it into the room. John says Alexa's name aloud to mess with the listeners.

They have previously talked a lot about food for the table. If you are ordering food for your small family, you don’t order extra speculative pizzas that no-one asked for. Nobody goes: ”Let’s also get two goat-cheese and olive wraps”, you don’t just order shit, who is going to eat that? The kids won't! When people order donuts they get fucking insane!

Back at a time when Merlin used to do things and go places he has been to company events where several pizzas were ordered for a group, and all the time after soccer games he had to talk people off the ledge, like: ”Triple the amount of cheese and pepperoni, do not get ricotta and inner tube! Don’t get cute!”

John has been at events where someone ordered 8 pizzas for 20 people without consulting the room and all 8 pizzas were vegetarian, which is a pretty aggressive move. One problem with the ”vegetarian pizza” is that lot of those veggies are going to sweat, which makes for a fucking wet pizza. Nobody really wants broccoli on a pizza, not because broccoli is bad, but because it embitters you pizza! Then you get some tomatoes on there and pretty soon your whole pizza is wet. There are all kinds of things that aren’t meat and you are putting them on a pizza only because you are thinking about things to put on a pizza that isn’t meat. That kind of food is not for eating, but it is conceptual food!

When a person takes charge of a situation, orders the pizzas, and then gets all vegetarian ones as though that was just a normal thing, we are back to We can all agree on cheese, assuming that the monad, the molecule, the norm is a vegetarian pizza. John was nowhere in the hierarchy of people who were making decisions about the pizza, he was just passing through, waiting for a bus, but he told them: ”You need to order one pepperoni!”, which is the second most popular pizza after cheese. They turned, there was a moment, and they said: ”Alright, get a pepperoni!” As the pizzas arrived the pepperoni pizza was instantly gone.

We can all agree on cheese, Bellinghamming (RL347)

This refers to a story told at length in RL20

They have talked a lot about Keep moving and get out of the way, but Merlin wants to go back to We can all agree on cheese, an anecdote where John was frustrated because he wanted to have a conversation about what they should order. There was a little tent on the table offering a Special Three Toping Pizza and John and his friends were trying to decide what the toppings were going to be.

The point of the story was not to never order cheese pizza, but the point was: Stop trying to act like there is a consent about cheese if there is not. It is important to have a conversation about what we want. John's friend Scott was trying to round it to the nearest tenth and claim that everybody just wants cheese pizza, but nobody ever said that. He never said himself he wanted a cheese pizza, but he kept implying that everybody wanted it.

Scott is a person from Southern Ohio, it wasn’t Pete Rose. You can see that a lot in the Northwest and there are two We can all Agree on Cheese-archetypes: One of them is a person who wants to help a group come to a decision and wants to be in a position of facilitation on behalf of everyone. Rather than let four people negotiate over the table they step in and want to take charge of the process.

They are a peace-maker, they don’t like conflict, but they do like being in charge, answering a question no-one asked. The four people in John's story had not yet arrived at an impasse where a mediator was needed. They are trying to end an argument that does not yet exist. It is called Bellinghamming (see RL27)! In this specific instance Scott wanted a cheese pizza and Peter while John wanted to explore the three toppings.

Three people can arrive at three toppings they want. There is a limited number of things you are going to try and you won’t go for sardines, onions and olives. Any honest American is aware of how controversial their preferences are. Even if you are a ”you can’t make it hot enough for me” guy, you know that you are being a little bit of a weirdo and you know how much you are willing to give away in service of getting a single pizza.

It is part of the process to through your most radical choice out there first because maybe you are with a bunch of foodies where you can suggest fish and ghost peppers, maybe you are with a team that is ready to ride the dragon or a couple of people who are not going to back down from a dare, but if the people are: ”I don’t think so, bro!”, then you back off.

Merlin plays an airhorn at this point which wasn’t really in any context

In John's story their one friend was listening quietly to the other two negotiating and he kept saying that we can all agree on cheese. He wanted one cheese pizza and they would all be: ”Great!”, but he wouldn’t say that. He also could have said: ”Why don’t you guys get a large, I will get a small cheese!” He was used to being the guy who when he sees disagreement wants to be the peacemaker. It was clear to John the whole time what had been happing because John had always been suspicious of him. He is one of these guys who everybody thinks is amazing and no-one ever has a bad word to say about this friend, just like all people in Hollywood talk about Paul F. Tompkins. Just the nicest fellow!

John knows this friend so well because they both dated some of the same girls. They both had serious long-term relationships with one specific lady who was very important to them. It was very complicated. The pizza-event was many years after that and scales fell from John’s eyes because he first got a handle on Bellinghamming. He realized that it can come from Ohio and it may even have started in Ohio, like calculus.

Merlin thinks that calling it passive aggressive would not fully encompass the subtleties and nuance of it because done correctly it does not feel anything aggressive. The overuse of passive aggressive is not the least bit aggressive, but it is passive manipulative, an attempt to steer the future in a direction that the manipulator wants without them ever stepping forward and putting their nose out. They don’t want to lose face if it doesn’t go the way they want.

For some people those small defeats when they want a thing and don’t get it in a group sting the most. If he is couching it in those other terms, then if he wins he has made it possible for everyone and if he loses it is because the other guys don’t want everybody to be happy and that is on them! At least he has tried! He has done those Jedi mind tricks many times over the years: ”The easy solution is that we all go back to my place!”, but he just wanted to go home and anybody in the group who wouldn’t want to go to Scott’s house would be looking like the guy who had ruined everything.

John sees it in his own life all the time now because he is surrounded by Bellingham. They are always thinking two or three steps ahead, looking at what you think you want and how they are going to let you think that you got what you think you want while also remaining in control of the whole situation. It is a herding mentality, but without the yapping or biting. Merlin feels unburdened that they can talk about cheese pizza without having it be code for something bad, or is it a 2011 4Chan code for a sex thing?

Something happens in the American human mind that makes us go weird and ambitious at times when it does not benefit us to be ambitious. If you are getting post-soccer-pizza for 10-year old girls, you do not need to be getting a lot of interesting things with olives. You get 5 cheese and 5 pepperoni and maybe one Hawaiian and nobody will be mad. The same thing happens with donuts: If you order half a dozen donuts for a family of 3, you will get exactly what those three people want and there is no margin of error because everybody gets two donuts. You don’t get an olive donut out of those six because nobody actually ever wants the olive donut.

When you order 4-5 dozen donuts for an event, don’t get cute! People are getting weird and cute and creative in a way that benefits no-one because it is not going to change the amount of people who want a regular fucking donut and not something weird. If you are ordering 5 dozen donuts you get a dozen plain glazed in a box, a dozen chocolate frosting, a dozen cake donuts, a dozen bear claws and a dozen cream-filled or you let them mix it up one time. The general rule is: ”Don’t get cute!” You are not impressing anybody and nobody gives a fuck about your little game! The people who ordered 8 vegetarian pizzas that didn’t get eaten don’t look at it and see the problem. It is like donut Nürnberg: Nobody did anything wrong!

There are people who like black liquorish. If you get soft drinks for people, unless you have inside information, don't make half of it be caffeine free diet cherry Dr. Pepper. People like plain Diet Coke! If you go to someone’s house and all they have is diet drinks, you are at their house. If you go to someone’s cookout, if they invite you to their house for an event, and all they have is diet drinks, they have made a pretty aggressive move either in the direction of: ”Fuck you, I only buy what I want and if you wanted something else you should have brought it!”, or: ”I do not think about the people I invite over and their needs beyond thinking of them in terms of them fulfilling my need to have people over!” and neither is a good look!

If you invite people over and all you have to drink is LaCroix (not Dasani, that is the Raccoon water) then get some pop, get some juice, make a pot of coffee! Something! LaCroix is basically canned aftertaste, but people love it! John’s daughter’s mother drinks it, John’s friend Jenny who rides the motorcycle (@hookersandpopcorn) drinks it.

If John was on a cross-country trip in an old car and there was a cooler in the back full of LaCroix and the car broke down in the desert outside or Barstow and the sun was beating down and John sat there, pretty soon it got really hot and there was no help, he was fanning himself with his straw hat, pretty soon he would start to get a little parched. At that point he might pop the lid off the cooler, look at the LeCroix and put the lid back on, trying to keep them cold, but he still wouldn’t be thirsty enough.

Merlin would sip the cooler water first, even if it had twigs and dirt in it. Later that day, when the sun went down and John’s skin started to get red and prickly, if he started to feel like he was suffering from heat stroke, he would take one of those cans of LaCroix out and rub it on his forehead, like a kid in an old Pepsi commercial, but he doesn’t know if he would open it.

The worst possible party John could be invited to was all glaze donuts, LaCroix and olives. He would leave the party, go to the store and buy actual things for this party. He is not going to bill them, but he is going to come back with a pepperoni pizza, some cake, various name-brand pop, Fritos and Cheetos. Merlin would also bring some Funyuns. Nobody thinks they like Funyuns until they have a Funyun in their mouth, it will fuck you up it is so good! John is not sure about them sitting there on a table because it seems like: ”Oh, you think you are better than me, Pork Rinds?” To Merlin those seem a little bit CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival, the band), a little bit fake working class.

Alan Alda, Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason (RL347)

John goes back and forth with CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival)because: Can you do Bayou music from LA? What makes Bayou music? Nobody from the Bayou makes that music! John used to ask Sean Nelson who spent part of his childhood in the South: "Why is there a deep South accent that sounds like Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners?" You can be from Chicago or Long Island and say ”toin” (instead of ”turn”) as well. John has gone on in the past about Scotsmen in the South and how they are so much of the problem, but Narlans (instead of New Orleans) is a Francophile-kind-of-situation.

With Jack Gleason you get that rat king of Italian and Jewish people, which doesn’t sound good at all. Sean does a phenomenal version of that accent. Jackie Gleason was born in 1916 and was only 5 years older than John’s dad! He was part of the greatest generation and he grew up in Brooklyn. Merlin thinks Groucho Marx is contemporaneous with his step-grandfather who looks like an 1880s kind-of guy, but he was born in 1890.

John’s dad’s mother was born in 1889 and she died a little bit before Groucho. Dick Cavett knew Groucho and they exchanged letters regularly. Did he have anything to say about Peter O’Toole? He wrote to Dick Cavett ”Did you ever notice that Peter O’Toole has two dick names?”, but the irony is that Dick Cavett also has a dick name. That kind of humor has since been lost.

Groucho would use dirty humor in interviews, but he said ”doity”, which was really cute. Alan Alda is from New York. John Siracusa's accent that Merlin thought was from New England is a Long Island accent. Groucho feels like if he was from a Burrow, but he was born in New York on the upper Eastside! Alan Alda was very famous for his Groucho impression. He is from the Bronx and he is 1.5 years younger than John’s mom and he has been married to the same lady since 1957, which is really cool! He is the guy he lets us know he is. They continue to talk about Alan Alda and what movies he was in. Sometimes he plays against type.

In the 1960s Alan Alda was very handsome! Nice wide-sad eyes is an attractive look, although if it gets too far it looks like Avatar. Merlin would kill for wide-sad eyes because he has the John Darnielle problem and his eyes are too close together, making him look dishonest.

John's problem is that he looks like a scallop: He doesn't have enough eyebrows, although the glasses help. John Hodgman is half-Italian and you would never know it until he grows a mustache. Alan Alda surely likes olives, otherwise he would have had enough control on the set of MASH to make Hawkeye’s affectation being a strawberry in his Martini. Alternatives to olives in Martinis are pearl onions or lemon skin.

30-50 feral hogs meme (RL347)

John has been enjoying online lately. He is back a little bit. He enjoyed 30-50 feral hogs in 3-5 minutes a lot because it was some fun on the Internet, not like the really old days, but still. The 30-50 was the fun part about it. Fish Tube was right on the heels. Combining them both is really rye and John has been really enjoying that and it has brought him closer to everyone, which is a good feeling.

George Clooney (RL347)

Merlin wonders what celebrity John would pick to get donuts. John has never met John Siracusa. Lately whenever Merlin says his name he is only whispering. John would pick Alec Baldwin, which is very close to Merlin’s second choice, but Merlin would go with George Clooney. He would be great at it and he wouldn’t be walking around, bugging everybody with: ”Actually you owe me $6.25!” and at the end there would be one half of one donut left because some jack-off only ate half of a donut and then nobody else wanted to eat the second half because it is a fancy party where you don’t go around eating half donuts.

It would be a bustling party and if John didn’t get enough cake donuts George would walk him through the swinging door into the kitchen where there would be a couple of people hired to do the catering. They would both titter and run out because the boss was here together with John Roderick, the fairly well-known Phoney-award winning podcaster.

George would open up the refrigerator and there would be a piece of Safeway 8-layer chocolate cake under a bell jar. He would offer to sit in the kitchen together and both have a piece of cake and a cup of coffee and talk about what John is working on. Merlin suggested that George actually would have an envelope in his jacket pocket with a cake donut inside and the name ”John Roderick” written on it, but John doesn’t believe that.

John losing his train of thought (RL347)

John was bringing up the 30-50 hogs to make a classic come-back-around Roderick on the Line digression, but as he was in the moment he got an email, he was looking at a picture of Alan Alda, he was telling the Fish Tube story, he got some donut sugar in his head and he couldn’t land the anecdote, which never happens to him and now he will never be able to get back to where he jumped from.

Having Alda’s face on the computer and seeing that email come up was the ultimate Roderick on the Line error: "Do not click on the thing because that is not what we are doing!" What is in the show is in the show, but John tried to do three things and now it is tears in rain because he doesn’t listen back to the show either in order to remember it when he hears it. John worries all the time how many hours he can sit and talk before he loses the ability. What happens if one day he just can’t talk anymore?

  • Don’t get cute!
  • It is important to be nice, it is nice to be important
  • Say what you want in life
  • Don’t Bellingham your friends
  • Don’t Southern Ohio your friends either
  • Keep en envelope full of donuts in your pocket in case you run into John

John having the last day in his house (RL347)

John is selling his house and he is going to wait out the buyers and see if there is some double-secret probation that they screw up by not taking occupancy by a date certain. No motorcycles after 3pm! Then John gets to keep the house. He has been selling his house for a full year, but like Jerry Seinfeld says: It is like tipping over a Coke machine: You don’t do it all at once (see this clip) John has been house-selling-adjacent for many months, but the ”it seems like it is mostly sold at this point” part is what felt the longest. It has been 2-3 months!

Tomorrow is John’s last day in the house and during the last 3 days he has been moving. After he is done with the program he is going to go over and he is going to move and by the end of today he should have the last thing out. Tomorrow he has a lady coming to clean the house, then he will lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling (he did), and then it will be done. If there are ghosts there to speak to him, this is their last chance after 11 years. It was the first thing John did and it is the last thing he will do.

John does not look back and feel like he ever made a bad decision, but he always knew he should move. He doesn’t want to live in the same place all his life, this is an opportunity, and things are going to get good. John is going to exercise more and this move is going to help him weed stuff out. He has to sell his house before he can buy a new one and all these things.

Along the way every choice he made was the affirmative choice, but the perfect house for him did not come along during that period. He could not have anticipated when he started this process a year ago that he would be moving out tomorrow and not have another place to go. He doesn’t have a plan or a house, but he is staying in the guest room (of his daughter’s mother’s house) and he doesn’t know how he arrived at this place.

John was fine! He lived in a nice house and now he is living in a car. He is not feeling seller’s regret because this is a bigger thing, this is a clutch of opportunities, but he had expected that at some point along the way an opportunity would present itself that would suggest what he was going to do next. If he was moving out of his old house into an exciting new place he would have less melancholy about it, but now he is leaving his beautiful house and ahead is only just mists of fear and uncertainty.

John just got an email from his good friend Showbox Chad, saying: ”You know what we need to do? You and I need to start an investment firm where we buy old houses and rehabilitate them. You are not going to buy a house, but we are going to buy some houses! That is the route to real wealth in this country!” because real estate is the only real wealth.

Maybe John is not going to get a mid-century beauty where he sits in a smoking jacket with his beslippered feet up on his bespoke hearth and he only has one piece of furniture per room, but instead he is going to walk around with a key-chain like Schneider, like a woke slumlord, and he is going to have 11 rinky-dink houses on the edge of town. He will be knocking at the door and then he will just open it because he has the key: ”I’m here to check the sink!”

At some point John could also pivot that into some kind of cable TV show, like hipster flippers. Merlin’s household is banned from watching any of those shows, but he knows that shows where white people put on goggles and bring hammers into a house are popular. John had a lot of restrictions on what his next move was going to be and those limitations were keeping him disciplined, but if Showbox Chad comes swinging in and he says: ”No, what we need to do is pool our resources and go buy 25 rinky-dink houses and become woke slumlords”, that is way too many variables now and they have to come to some arrangement.

Merlin thinks this sounds like a terrible way to address this problem, but if it were mostly for therapeutic purposes it could be good, like Notorious BIG said: ”You never get high on your own supply!” Merlin’s concern is that John just gets more supply to get high on. What we all want is a reason! There needs to be a reason for the season! The reason for this season is: ”Here we are in Spain and we are in the center of our middle agedness, our chronological Barcelona. What the hell are the next 40 years going to be filled up with? It is going to be filled up with something and you can’t just sit around drinking soda water all day, you got to have something to do!”

Merlin claims there is always stuff to do, but what if you gave yourself really something to do, like: ”Oh shit, I never thought about this before! What if I become a landlord?” Some the guy tied a bunch of weather balloons to his lawn chair and everybody celebrates him! It works, because they are talking about him right now. What if John buys five 900 sqft (80 sqm) houses, pinterests them, and then Airbnbs them or something? What about that? He would be in the housekeeping business. He will buy little houses in rinky-dink neighborhoods and turn them all into olive bars, which will transform the neighborhood. John almost bought a hair salon! (see RW154)

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