RL458 - Beck’s Situation

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • John getting anxious on a plane (Anxiety)
  • The US should be 100 states, many states being very different on a detail level (Geography)
  • John visiting Hawaii, staying on Moloka‘i where there is no tourism industry except for one abandoned hotel (Hawaii)
  • John trying to apply the energy he brought home from Hawaii to other parts in life (Hawaii)
  • Clash of the Titans (Movies)

The Problem: You’re responsible for keeping the swimming pool clean, referring to the abandoned hotel complex on Moloka‘i where people still live in condos after the hotel closed and the ownership company is still responsible to keep the swimming pool clean.

The show title refers to leprosy that is now called Hansen’s Disease because Beck had it at one point.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

John getting anxious on a plane (RL458)

As John answers the call he is concerned about his volume in his headphones. Merlin used to be concerned more about his mass, but now he is concerned about his volume, the space he takes up. John was just on an airplane yesterday, so his mass is really well established. The airlines are really trying to keep all their friends, so they gave him an upgrade to a window seat, which John does not prefer, but beggars can’t be choosers, and he was sitting towards the bulk head and overheard two flight attendants candidly running down a list of the insane events that have happened to them in the last 8 months, rolling their eyes so hard, looking at the people in the plane to gauge who will barf or throw a pie.

Next to John was a 7 year old boy with his dad and they were packing up all their video games and John thought: ”I can’t be here! Get me out of here!” It felt like someone was bricking up the wall and he was looking for the bottle of wine. He had to do what he was trying to learn to master his panic. He was thinking about throwing his phone in the ocean a long time, but now he pulled it out and was looking for some kind of brick breaker or card game he could be playing. He did have headphones, but they were in the bag he had pushed under the seat in front of him and he didn’t like the prospect of bending down. For Merlin all of his other senses will feel overwhelmed until he can dead with what he hears, and noise cancelling headphones will take the edge off. When pulling something over his eyes he will still hear all the stuff.

John has been on a hundred billion trillion flights, but this time be became aware of a low frequency noise that was going through the plane the entire flight. It was a familiar sensation and for a long time he was trying to figure out what was exactly happening, it was probably not some piece of machinery. He is still 100% thumbs up on flying, though. Last week he flew a couple of times on a much smaller airplane, a Cessna 208 and he was all about it. He was sitting behind the pilot and his knees were touching the back of his seat, which he didn’t like, but then the pilot came in and pulled his seat forward and all of a sudden John had 10” (25cm) of room and he felt much better, just thanks to that small change.

The US should be 100 states, many states being very different on a detail level (RL458)

Knowing things about Hawaii is a specialization, and Merlin has lived on the west coast for 20 years and he should know more about it, although there is so much to know about California and there are still tons of things he doesn’t know about it. If someone asked him to write down all the neighborhoods of Los Angeles he could probably do 6.

California is the 9th largest economy in the world, about the size of Italy. Cars not taking leaded gas anymore can surely be traced back to California. Many people also don’t know that it is not a blue state and they elected Ronald Reagan and no matter what you know is probably wrong or not complete. Merlin was a weird kid and in early High School he was reading a book called Megatrends about 10 big things that were likely to happen in the US based on movements, and a lot of them turned out to be true.

Merlin continues to talk about the demography of California that is different than you might think. Merlin lives in the politically most conservative in San Francisco, at least at a recent point, because it is a lot of upper-middle-class Chinese people who have a world view that is not the same as people who moved into a place in SoMa (South of Market) last week. Any kind of rounding up we try to do about people tends to fall apart as soon as you get a count of how many people were being rounded up. You don’t say ”California is…” because what is California and what is ”is”?

John thinks that California should be 7 states (actually 6) and the United States should be 100 states. Then everything would be fine and we would love each other a lot better. Think about fucking Ohio! Both Merlin and John’s mom are from Ohio, but whenever somebody says: ”Ohio is…”, Cincinnati is unique in the true sense of the word, especially as a city in Ohio, because it is very conservative, very close to Indiana and Kentucky, and more culturally to those similar in many ways. Merlin’s family is from Kentucky, they were not born in Toledo, while John’s mom is more from a Midwestern farm area.

But if Ohio is 6 states and you want to have 100 United States, then you would also have to lose some states, like Delaware is really just part of Philadelphia. Merlin’s wife’s whole family obviously is from Rhode Island which could be folded into three different states. Merlin’s wife is from Barrington, which is a dry city and you can drive into Massachusetts, which takes 3 minutes, to get beer on a Sunday. Both Rhode Island and New Jersey, both states where Ted Leo is from, could be easily folded into other states. Merlin suggests that this should be a class for the entire year of 5th grade: Discuss 6 different ways to reorganize the United States arbitrarily. It would be much more interesting than Indian burial grounds and Papier-mâché maps of Ohio! It is a Randall Munroe thing and John usually gets a kick out of it.

John has never been to Australia and although he knows some things about it, when people ask him about the geography, that is really the extreme example. New Zealand is actually beneath it, not just to the side, and there are two New Zealands!

John staying on Moloka‘i where there is no tourism industry except for one abandoned hotel (RL458)

John was in Hawaii for the last 10 days and he went to Moloka‘i, which he had never been to, the one that everybody thinks of the Leper Colony island. Although the actual historical leper colony was a tiny peninsula on a very large island John thought as a kid that one of the islands is only for lepers. Now it is called Hansen’s Disease because Beck had it at one point, Merlin calls it Beck’s Situation, and there has been a cure for a long time, but some people are still living there who have lived here their whole lives. It is a bacterial infection and you can get antibiotics for it.

In the old days, they would just declare you dead, take you from your family, and put you on this island where you could never leave again. Like in the movie Cool Hand Luke, any hard labor they made you do was just to make your life miserable and potentially kill you. It is not a resort, but also not specifically like a prison, and you do have the risk of your nose falling off. You could live there for a long time with the disease, but also after you were cured you might not want to move from there. You can’t really go down there because there are no roads and you have to take a donkey trail, which John didn’t do. It is a very different experience than going to O‘ahu or Maui or The Big Island. Merlin has only been to Kauai where John has never been.

Moloka‘i is an example of an island that is very complicated to describe. The roads that appear on the map like a grid of a city are ghost roads, the farms are abandoned, and you need to be in a 4-wheel drive truck to make it down the roads. Kaunakakai is the big town with a population of about 1000 (actually 3500). The entire island has a population of 7000 people. O‘ahu next door has 1 million (about 20 times the density). The experience on Moloka‘i feels like Hawaii and the people are Hawaiians.

John was staying in a giant and super-awesome complex at the far Western edge of Moloka‘i called Kaluakoi Villas that is basically an abandoned hotel and golf course that looks like a 1970s version of a Hawaiian village. It couldn’t look more like a 1979 idyllic golf course hotel and it had a 4-lobed swimming pool (actually 3-lobed) like the ones they invented skateboarding in. At some point the entire island was a giant ranch, dating all the way back to when there was a king of Hawaii. They grew cattle, sugar cane, and pineapples, but all those industries one by one… when John was a kid they grew so many pineapples and so much sugar cane on Hawaii until it became easier to do that in Asia and Latin America.

In 1970s TV ads for special offers at Kmart or Sears they would always say ”Prices differ in Alaska and Hawaii” at the bottom of the screen because the supply chain is very complicated, and that is still true. There are only 4 grocery stores on Moloka‘i and none of them are what you would recognize. The biggest one is like a neighborhood grocery store, and it wouldn’t be the one that you went to. Most of the stuff for Sale still has its CostCo price tag on it with another price tag put over it.

The resort changed ownership several times until it was in the hands of a succession of corporation who tried to develop it as a luxury resort and as home sites for millionaires and billionaires, as is true in every direction. What made it difficult is that there is not a lot of water on the island. Nobody in Hawaii wanted it to become an incredibly expensive vacation destination, but i happened on Maui and on O‘ahu in ways that took everybody by surprise, like a third wave of colonization. Hawaiian culture had always been super-hierarchical where the top 1% owned 99% of the land.

That development in the 1960s/70s didn’t happen on Moloka‘i because it was owned by the giant pineapple ranch, and when all of the economy fell away it was late enough in the game that the Hawaiians of Moloka‘i did not want this to convert into a millionaire-resort anymore and they actually fought a resistance movement where they blew up the water pipes and tore down the street signs. If that resort had been opening in 1978 it would have been a killer place, but the people of Moloka‘i put up enough of a fight that they decided to just shut it all down.

Now there is no tourism industry on the island and the only hotel is a Magnum P.I hotel that still feels like 1969. It doesn’t quite feel like a reservation, but there is no money there. There are even signs in people’s yards saying: ”Visit! Spend! Leave!”, all the restaurants are catering to local people, and it might be the only place in America where there is not a Sushi, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, or Italian restaurant.

John spent a couple of weeks there and it was a lot of food for thought and he was profoundly wondering about Hawaii which he has a lot of experience with. He is always looking for Aloha, and there is lots of it there, but it is in a different package. There is no place there for escaping history. Back in the 1970s John could stand on a beautiful beach with no sign of human beings or habitats or development at all. You are never far away from signs of war, violence, resistance, and anger.

In other places in Hawaii you can put your head under the water, the turtles are prehistoric, and you are in an environment of Aloha while the anger is just up above the water if you lift your head up, while in Moloka‘i it is always there. There are still $5 million homes that would be $20 million on Maui, but those people would have to fly their food in every day because there would not be food in the stores across the island on the level you are accustomed to. John also realized that he belongs in an abandoned hotel that feel post-apocalyptic and tropical at the same time.

You can get a 1-room apartment there for $150.000 and if you don’t want to go to a restaurant or a movie and you want to be in seclusion and have access to the natural beauty of Hawaii, this is one of the last places in the world where you could be in paradise, you just have to navigate the sense of living in a ruin where people don’t want you there. When they closed down the hotel, the people in the condos kept living there in half of the buildings with new roofs, and they sued the company because the bylaws still said that the company is responsible for keeping the swimming pool clean, and they won in Hawaiian court, so there is now a perfectly maintained swimming pool looking out over the cliffs and John’s daughter went there every day.

They just put the entire property for sale for $260 million, which seems like a rounding error for Larry Ellison and all these Silicon Valley people that are buying resorts on Lanai, infuriating people for buying thousands of acres of land. But when they do they due diligence and realize what the vibe is, there has not been any buyer yet and probably the State of Hawaii should buy it and turn it back into a park or something. It was really a head-trip for John, he didn’t come away with a clearer picture of everything or a solution of how it should or shouldn’t be, he was just walking up and down he beach chewing on the side of his cheek, going: ”Hmm… wow… what would you do?”, which is also a form of Aloha.

Merlin talks about how ”Measure twice, cut once” sounds like a very good idea until you realize what it really means. It is not about a 2x4, but that something has happened in your situation is now irreversible.

John never came back with a head full of Aloha and used that energy to reorganize his kitchen or actually managed to banish anxiety, but it is just a lot of food for thought. He doesn’t know how to vacation by sitting on a beach and relax, but he is always going to be with his head under the water, looking for something.

John trying to apply the energy he brought home from Hawaii to other parts in life (RL458)

John is watching the war in Ukraine on Twitter and he is reading all the threads of 1000 armchair experts all commenting on exactly what is happening and what should be happening and what NATO needs to do and what Ukraine needs to do, but coming back from Moloka‘i he has that feeling of honestly having no idea what he would recommend. He understood the ground rules of it, but this is not its final form and this cannot be what their hope is for anyone living there, it is not Moloka‘i in its purest form, but it is in a state of change, and normally in situations like that John’s instinct is to have a plan.

John could talk for years about Israel and Palestine, he has a plan for everything, for his neighborhood, what his next-door neighbors should do, that is what makes life interesting to him, but when it comes to Moloka‘i he doesn’t know enough and couldn’t know enough to have a plan, and that means it is probably out of people’s hands and whatever is going to happen is going to just happen. It is good to be confronted by things in the world where the only thing you can do is say: ”There is no solution to this that I know of, except for the passage of time!”

Maybe that is the thing John can bring to the rest of his life, like the dispute with his neighbors. He is constantly in trouble because he is looking for solutions, and that is so baked into him that he is struggling even to know how he could look at it directly, it is like looking at an eclipse. Finding a way to live where you are not looking for solutions is not something you can do in a long weekend. Looking at everything as a problem is what John does: He wakes up, puts his belt on, hikes up his pants so you can see his socks, and he walks out the door and goes: ”Who has got a problem? These street lights should have been 3 meters taller!”

Clash of the Titans (RL458)

”They call him Johnny Solution, they used to call him Alphabet Gun!" Merlin is very proud to remember the name Perseus, he almost said Harry Hamlin (who played Perseus in the movie). John is impressed, and he just read the Ovid a year ago. Merlin loves Clash of the Titans with Laurence Olivier. It was a long time since John saw it. When Merlin lived with his step father they had cable for certain times and they did not always have both HBO and Showtime, it was almost $40 a month, but in 1981/82 the movie came on HBO or Showtime all the time, Burgess Meredith was in it, it was one of the first movies from when Merlin was getting into Siskel & Ebert on PBS.

John was going to show it to Marlo, but Merlin thinks it has not aged well, although it got some (Ray) Harryhausen in it, the guy who did the amazing Stop Motion in 1960s Hercules movies where he fights the skeletons, but John’s daughter is not into any of that. Lately she has been watching I Love Lucy and is cracking up about it. Every episode Lucy got a scheme, she is going to pretend that she fell down the stairs and has a cast so that Ricky… and that is how they discovered once again that Fred Mertz has killed a prostitute.

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