RL354 - The Hands of Control

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • The problems with recycling (Junk)
  • John setting a back hoe bucket with gasoline on fire (Early Days)
  • John hiring the husband of an old crush (Currents)
  • Merlin calling the junk boys (Junk)
  • Merlin being the trash captain at home (Merlin Mann)
  • Supertrain

The Problem: John always got free matches, referring to the cigarette machines in the 1970s having a button that would give you free matches after you bought a pack of cigarettes, but many people didn’t use it, so John could get those matches later.

The show title refers to John giving the hands of control in some situation to some proxy and tell them to bug him about a thing, but he will then just ignore them as he will ignore anybody else.

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

The problems with recycling (RL354)

Merlin got a 3-bin system at home where he is allowed to have trash: Landfill in the black can, recycling in the big blue can and the compost in the green can. They utilize all of the can, Merlin’s people use every part of the receptacle, and he does believe that the compost goes to a compost place. Merlin mentions episode 926 of Planet Money again where they talk about the fact that China is not taking our trash anymore.

What happened in the 1990s that created the recycling economy stayed in the 1990s and was a perfect storm of economic conditions where fuel and Chinese labor was cheap. When Merlin was in college they started a recycling program at his school and they even had to put different colored bottles in different things!

Merlin strikes the balance that his trash boys charge a lot and will come the same day, which give him the assurance that somebody is going to do the right thing with this. He believes them that they will take it to a landfill and his concern with getting a super-inexpensive junk-hauler is that they will just drop it off on a corner somewhere. They might put it in the same public trash can that Merlin would stuff his waste in and charge $175.

John wonders if putting composting stuff like coffee grounds into the regular garbage would be better because it would be adding dirt and organic stuff to the garbage garbage, helping the bad garbage turn into good garbage. The restaurants Merlin used to work at used to tell him not to break glass in the garbage because they sold the scraps to hog farmers in Pesco County. The cooking oil goes into 1980s Merceds Benz Diesels that drive to Burning Man all the time and smell like French Fries. When Merlin smells Diesel he always thinks of Disney World because the trams from Dopey 35 to the ticketing area have the distinctive smell of Diesel.

John setting a back hoe bucket with gasoline on fire (RL354)

John has been to Disney Land, not to Disney World, and there were trams. Growing up where he did, the pure amount of fuel smells in Alaska in the 1970s was massive. A guy would say: ”Hold my running chain saw while I fire up this Diesel generator to power my Diesel-powered Lighthouse with a bulldozer blade that I drive to work where I work on the titular pipeline” It was a very confusing time where everything smelled like burning gas.

One time John’s dad was seeing a lady who was running the office of some company that leased bulldozers in the middle of town, five blocks from John’s High School. In 1977 they drove over there and there were a bunch of bulldozers and back hoes and stuff parked around the office, right off of Lake Otis which at the time was a dirt street.

His dad went into the office and asked John to play with the bulldozers because he had some business to do. The office had 1970s wood panelling that seemed plasticy. Looking back John wonders if they were making out. This was probably some misdirection, like Go Practice The Car (see RL26), while they tongue-kissed.

He used to do this type of thing all the time: They would go somewhere on an important mission and when they got there, he would say: ”Here kid, go play in traffic” or he would give John a dollar and told him to go over to the bar and ask them for a shot-glass full of whipped cream while he had to talk to this important lady and 1.5 hours later he would come back and: ”Alright, let’s get out of here!” At the time John just thought his dad was so boring, but now looking back, he goes: ”Hmm!”

John did how he was told and played on the bulldozers at the bulldozer and back-hoe lot. It was during a time when any cigarette machine had a button on it that would give you free matches and at 9 years old John always had matches with him everywhere. As he was playing with the bulldozers he was lighting matches, pretending to bulldoze.

There was one back-hoe where the bucket was turned up in its parking position tucked under the arm facing up like a bucket and it was full of water right to the top. John walked over and was flicking matches and he flicked one into the bucket and it caught on fire because it probably was just full of fuel. It was like a cauldron. John doesn’t know why you would store 20 gallons (75 liters) of gas in the up-turned bucket of a back-hoe, it doesn’t seem like what you would do. How would you then liberate the fuel later on for use in a vehicle? Siphon it out of the bucket?

John obviously was a pyro and he had succeeded in creating a very pyro situation, having set this bucket of water on fire. He was standing there, doing his little incantations, warming his hands over it, ”I got a bucket of fire!” and he got back in the back-hoe, pretending to back-hoe fire, having a blast, and no-one was monitoring him.

There was a big window right there and if they were inside doing some kind of business they should have noticed, except, and this makes John suspicious about his dad’s mission, they were there on a Saturday and for some reason there was no-one else there. John played with the bucket of fire for a pretty long time to leave a 9-year old just having his own fire time until eventually his dad came out with the lady, completely blasé, and said: ”We need to put that out! Let’s go!” It seemed that they had noticed John setting it on fire, but they were fine with it to let it play out while they continued to conduct their business, which again makes John suspicious.

Merlin talks about Jonathan Goldstein’s podcast Heavyweight that was back with an episode about a time in the 1970 when kids were encouraged by their father to take a 3-day bike trip to another town. It was another time!

The kids in Merlin’s wife’s family were told to leave their house in a very safe Rhode Island neighborhood and not come back until the street lights came on. You may not watch television, you may not pass ”Go!”, but you need to be outside until it is nighttime! Merlin’s mom would have been happy to keep him in a bell jar if she could because the woods were full of knives and child-molesters and Merlin stayed in the house and read Family Circle Magazine, the lady’s magazine, not Family Circus Magazine.

John hiring the husband of an old crush (RL354)

This weekend John was at a gathering where he met the husband of a friend. There was a time when he wanted to date her, but she didn’t want to and it was cool and they are now friends. She married this extremely handsome guy who makes James Franco look like Sid Caesar and he is also handy because he got hands and veins in his wrists that make his hands go stronger. John talked to him, being a little uncomfortable because of their history, and he said he had a contractor license, but doesn’t like to be a contractor, he just likes to do all the work himself.

John was: ”Really?” because he is always looking for somebody who wants to do some work himself instead of ”you know…” He had a thing wrapping up and after that he was looking for a thing to do and John had a little list, some electrical stuff, some plumbing stuff, a little bit of tiling, some ruff-in carpentry. They were talking and he was totally into it. His wife walked up and asked what they were talking about, they told her and they looked at her and said: ”… if that’s cool!” And she was like ”You mean: Is it going to get weird?” - ”No, it is not going to get weird, it is fine!” and then John realized that he and the guy both needed to get final approval on this.

The problem with having him as John’s guy to call next time John got another thing, is that he is the husband of a friend, a peer, and that becomes a little complicated. It is one thing to hire a friend, but another thing to hire the husband of a friend. If there would be some disagreement about the quality of the job it could be awkward and that is what she meant when she asked: ”Is it going to get weird?” She was implying that she will adjudicate any dispute because both trust her. That was the treaty.

Merlin calling the junk boys (RL354)

Merlin might have to take a call during the recording, but he promises to let John hear his end of the call. The junk guys are going to come, which is a therapeutic thing for Merlin, and they will call to confer. One of Merlin’s problems is that he cannot have trash service at his office. His landlord has superstitions and doesn’t want Merlin to have access to the garage where the trash cans live, which puts Merlin in an awkward situation.

He doesn’t think it is a Steve Banon thing where he is dissolving bodies, but he wants to give Merlin plausible deniability, which they also call compartmentalization in the intel community, and if somebody’s wheat whacker or the kids’ motorbike is missing Merlin isn't even a candidate. Merlin has been at this place for 10 years, but his landlord would just not move on this and Merlin has to keep calling the trash boys. John can’t believe it has been already 10 years, but the kid had to have a room!

There are mostly a lot of fizzy water cans, the cardboard that the cans come in and some boxes that he flattens. Merlin doesn’t really cook there, but he uses take-out containers for lunch and - like a monster - he takes those to a public trash receptacle on the daily, except when he doesn’t. Merlin utilizes a well-known franchise chain of junk removers (probably 1-800-GOT-JUNK) and they are really expensive, but you can get them on the same day, which forces Merlin to alter how he looks at his world and everything becomes potential trash.

John mentions that although he and Merlin are very different and have different methodologies, they both like to set things up where they are forcing themselves to be forced to do the things that they need to do. Friend of the show Jesse Thorn is like this as well and Merlin heard him say how much he loves an unmovable deadline.

John constructed his life in a way that all deadlines are movable and so he has to set a clockwork in motion where somehow he can take the hands of control off of it and even though it is him in control he will put the hands of control onto some proxy, some other party, like: ”The trash guys have to…” until there is a displacement somehow and then he will respond. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t just call somebody to make a thing happen.

Another flavor of it, which Merlin thinks is a little silly and a lifehacker.com kind-of-think, is for ”I really need to stop smoking” or stop doing a thing or start doing a thing situations. There are websites that provide an external referee to what you are doing and if you don’t do it you donate money to a cause you hate, like Lindsey Graham. John went to lifehacker.com and read some of the headlines on that page.

Sometimes John empowers his friends to bug him about finishing a project, but he ignores them just as easily as anybody else. This is Merlin’s beef with New Year’s resolutions: If you were actually going to do it you wouldn’t need the resolution, but you would already have done it.

Calling the junk boys is not quite a Lindsey Graham level of commitment for Merlin, but he will shift from: ”This is all stuff that I live with” to a point of view of: ”Wow, to make this worth my while”, because it is a racket and they have a very expensive minimum. They say that you don’t even need to sort stuff because they have people for that. John assumes that it all goes into the same bin, but that is a whole different podcast about what goes on with recycling these days.

John also has a junk hauler, a team of guys who are colloquially referred to as The Samoans, an uncle who came from Samoa and became an anchor relative and all of his cousins and nephews and presumably nieces came after him in a chain migration. He has access to a seemingly unlimited number of nephews. If you need some stuff taken out of the garage he will show up with a nephew. If you have a swimming pool full of wet lumber and cinder blocks he will show up with four nephews. They also have a Rag Tag fugitive fleet of trucks and other vehicles: Sometimes they show up in a pickup truck or two pickup trucks or a box trucks or a flat-bed truck.

John had a relationship with them for many years and it is all very friendly, they know all the deal, they have talked about everything and John knows all about their family back in the islands: who is going to college and who is not. It is not a by-hour thing, but the #1 uncle surveys the scene, lifts up a thumb like an old-fashioned artist, squints one eye, and says $400 and John always pays exactly what he says and is not going to haggle with him because John has zero nephews.

They have become like members of the family and when John doesn’t know what to do with some things, they will call the Samoans who also do other things. They do skilled work, unskilled work and all work in between. They just tend to be good at all the stuff that Merlin is not good at and he will pay handsomely for that. John likes to have friends do stuff, if you can.

John fell out with the Samoans a little bit because they didn’t have all the terms of the treaty hammered out. When John said: ”I have all this shit in the bottom of my pool!” - ”Great, I will get 4 nephews and it is going to cost you $800” and he showed up, they worked and worked and worked, but at the bottom of the pool John had forgotten to mention that at some point along the way he had thrown 15 bags of concrete down there that because of the wet had become 15 solid bags of solid concrete.

That wasn’t in the bid he gave John and John asked how much extra he would need to do the concrete that John had forgotten to tell him about, he threw out another number and John agreed, but he said: ”I have to come back tomorrow!” and then he didn’t come back.

They had come so close, right up to the concrete bags, but it was the day before the open house and when that finally happened there was all this stuff at the bottom of the pool. The problem was that John didn’t call the junk guy until the day of. Still, John and the Samoans will always be good!

Merlin had to call AT&T for things where you have to call them and he got a really good person who was very nice although the thing took about an hour to fix. Merlin doesn’t need another friend, he would like to just say: ”Here is my problem, charge me whatever ridiculous amount you are going to charge me, and the only dignity I ask you is that we don’t turn this into something that is convivial!”, not because he is a hard-hearted man, he likes people, mostly. The junk guys will be the same way and go through all their routines to inform Merlin about things that he already knows because he has been ruined by them many times.

Merlin thinks this is the kind of service that most people call once in their lifetime when a family member dies and they want to get their shit out of the house, like a crime-scene cleaner. You don’t need them on a monthly basis, hopefully. Merlin is pretty sure it is a franchise business where you buy into this franchise which gives you the right to use the name, it is not corporate McDonalds, but it is very similar each time and it seems like they are used to dealing with people who have never done this before. They are very explainy and one of the big values they sell is that they clean up when they are done and they sweep.

One of the most eye-rolly thing to Merlin is that they have a minimum charge of let’s say 10 units, and every time at the end they were able to bring the price down and are able to charge him 9 units. Merlin had some big hauling jobs where daddy didn’t put out the trash as often as he should and they will say: This is going to be 35 units and in the end they say: ”We can bring it down to 32 units” as if Merlin is supposed to be grateful for their unit reduction. They do it every time as if Merlin is never going to understand that is part of their racket! Don’t they understand they got a live one?

Merlin has made paths in his office although John never thought of Merlin as a hoarder, but just as someone who had a lot of post-it notes. Merlin did a big clean some months ago, which is a therapeutic thing for him. He has to balance that he doesn’t like to have 1.5 contractor bags full of garbage, even if it is in a bag, with the 10 units. Merlin has very little dignity left, but to pay 10 units to have somebody take away 1.5 contractor bags?

Merlin being the trash captain at home (RL354)

Merlin is the supply sergeant and the trash captain at home and one of his numerous household duties is to make sure nobody ever has to say: ”That trash sure is full!” John just googled ”trash captain” and there is actually a Captain Trash who is dressed like a sea captain and looks like a pirate, but he is about trash.

John feels weird about a half-full garbage bag, he feels like a garbage bag has to be filled up all the way before he can throw it away. John won’t put a garbage bag in the garbage can until the garbage bag is full. He will keep it around or he will find things to throw away. Merlin doesn’t like to waste half-full garbage bags either.

Merlin hoisted the bin that they used to use for recycling back in the day, a 1.5 foot (45 cm) tall bucket thing that exactly accommodates an IKEA blue plastic FRAKTA bag. Merlin buys them and uses them for lots of things. He keeps a clean folded-up one in his suitcase because you are always going to need another bag. Things fitting perfectly into other things is a Tumblr. There is also a very good one called Just Two Things with terrible pop-culture mash-ups, mostly T-shirts. There are common sizes for things and things have sizes and they fit.

Merlin lives above ground floor and as the Trash Captain he has to carry a lot of heavy trash down every time. There is a narrow passage way that he calls the kill zone, the area of trying to get down the steps and out the door where they will die when they will trip on their children’s shoes. Merlin has to navigate that with the FRAKTA bag while also grasping the receptacle that has the compost bag in it, trying to get down those steps without tripping on the children’s shoes and dying, so he doesn’t do it as much as he should.

Those bags are recycled already and now it is also reused, it is the banana bread of receptacles, all it needs now is to be reduced, but Merlin doesn’t reduce, he buys them in amounts, because the half & half is going to get in there and now you have a half & half bag and how much time do you want to spend cleaning half & half out of a FRAKTA bag? Not a ton! Sometimes Merlin puts that right into the recycling and now he has recycled, reused, and re-re-recycled a FRAKTA!

Supertrain (RL354)

John wonders what will happen to Merlin’s trash when Supertrain comes. Merlin imagines it will go into the slurry if they will let him have a slurry. His trash is a lot of things used to bring water to him. He likes Canada Dry fizzy water.

Merlin mentions the Planet Money episode 926 again where they say it may be better if the plastic went to the dump to power Supertrain. In a few generations people will say: ”Grandpa, what was trash?” because there will not be any trash anymore. Supertrain actually does reduce-reuse-recycle. It separates all those things out and turns some of those plastic bags into gold dust. If somebody threw away a bottle of Goldschläger with a toy ballerina in the middle, Supertrain is going to find that gold and spit it out and that is going to be the gold that pays the tolls. If you have an old idea of trash, you also might have an old idea of value. We might be discovering things with Supertrain that are way more valuable than gold.

If you are cooking hamburgers and you don’t want a bunch of grease, in the moment when you pick up the hot pan off the stove you have the choice of having a diamond or an empty carton of Ben & Jerry’s to pour the grease in. What do you pick in that moment? Most people might say ”diamond!” but in the future things might be valuable according to their utility instead of according to their fanciness, and which is more scarce? There is only one empty Ben & Jerry’s pint in the garbage at any one time, maybe two, and you pull that out and your helper is there. You are not going to reach for the diamond! You could throw the hamburger on the floor, take the diamond and storm out, but it is still just a rock.

The logo of reduce-reuse-recycle is an ouroboros, like a double Möbius-strip, which means that after recycling you reduce and reuse again. It is madness, it just never ends! In space there is no bottom, unless that is the arrangement that you have with your partner! According to 7-Eleven, it is recycle, reduce, reuse, renew when they are talking about their gasoline called RENEW. The recycling symbol of Taiwan is 4 arrows pointing to the center.

With Supertrain they will be down to one arrow that points to the train. It doesn't matter if it is green or blue because we have to pop out of that color-centric mentality! Merlin imagines Supertrain being pitch-black while John thinks black & orange, although those are the Halloween colors. There is a special patented black that absorbs light, the super-dark black, and they could have a super-dark Supertrain with a pin-stripe of orange for a visual pop.

Right in front of the train the tip of an arrow will point at Supertrain, but Supertrain is also the arrow. If you are pointing at Supertrain, Supertrain points back at you! It is pointing at the future, at the trash, to useless fucking diamonds. You are the arrow! Be the arrow! See the arrow! There will be fewer options for saying ”No!” and you need to literally get onboard with this program!

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