RL49 - A Red Light in Strange Town

This week Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: Would you like to donate a dollar for penis cancer?, referring to chatty cashiers at Merlin’s grocery store who ask him if he would like to donate his change, but Merlin likes penis cancer and would like it to prevail.

The show title refers to John not stopping at red lights he knows well, but he will stop at a red light in a strange town.

During the show John was standing up to swat a fly with a map of Central America and it worked!

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

John having his coffee with vanilla ice cream (RL49)

John and Merlin routinely push back the beginning of their podcast. John always assumes that Merlin is pushing back because he has many things to do in the morning and John is always pushing back because he is still asleep. This morning John made a pot of coffee and realized he didn’t have any cream. He had to use vanilla ice cream instead, but as good as that sounds, he does not like to start his day with vanilla ice cream in his coffee. It is like having to eat popcorn for breakfast. Having vanilla tasting coffee is a bit like sissy coffee. It introduces a whole new level of flavor, temperature, and a greasy texture, which is the Xanthan gum talking.

Out of respect for Merlin and the listeners John even got some clothes on, he got his mug of coffee that says Spatenbräu München on it, but then there was no cream. John can drink black coffee, but it is not how he prefers it. If he would not have been so sleepy and had spent a second to think about it, he would have forgone the ice cream and would have just had black coffee, but he made a snap decision and now he is drinking Xanthan gum. There was a white funk band called Xanthan Gum in the mid-1990s, but it never took off. John was in it, but he doesn’t remember what he played. John cannot walk to the 7-Eleven where the junkies are (see RL47), but he has to get in the hooptie and drive there. He might either have a very strong tea, or maybe he should live in a different place!

Diversity in John’s neighborhood (RL49)

John lives in the most diverse county in America and there are just as many white people as there are South-Pacific islanders, Native Americans, or any group you could care to name, which even bears out on John’s block. On the pie graph of Westchester County, New York, there is going to be a pretty big white piece: 80% White people, 20% Jews and .3% Other. Merlin wonders why John would break out the Jews, but they would probably do this in Westchester County to give the appearance of any diversity. In Seattle they probably don’t count jews as a separate group and John’s neighborhood just looks like a clock with 12 slices.

The West Coast is very diverse in the first place with numerous waves of migration, not only from Europe, but from Asia and beyond. Seattle has the best Thai Food in America! They would probably break the pie chart down into Tongans and Samoans. In a lot of places those would go into the same slice of pie, and South-Pacific Islanders would not even rate as a slice of the pie, but lumped in with Other. Merlin says that for the longest time it used to be a thing with voting that you had to check off a box that was either White, Hispanic, or Black non-Hispanic. Maybe they introduced Asian later, but for a long time it was a form of Black. Nowadays you would need to break down the Pacific islands in some very specific ways.

Merlin has traveled extensively and has been to at least 6 states and 3 countries. When he was in Hawaii he was completely baffled that all the food seemed like a joke on the white guy. Shaved ice was the only thing! Fried spam sounds like a pretty good deal on the face of it, but there are a lot of joke foods in Hawaii and they keep the good food for the locals. They are eating some pretty big rib-eyes, but Poi? "Here is some terror root!"

John’s local Bodega (RW49)

There is a Bodega two blocks from John’s house. It is licensed and John walked there during the first week he lived there. There was a Korean kid sitting behind the counter, playing a video game, and John asked ”Where is your Half & Half?” and the kid looked up and said ”What is Half & Half?” They literally don’t have Half & Half there!

It is one of those Bodegas that sells Fuego Menthol cigarettes, lottery tickets, 75 different kinds of malt liquor, but they don’t have one milk that isn’t flavored with Strawberry Quick. He said ”My folks own this place and I’m just waiting to get out!” Merlin doesn’t like to be ping pong, but that sounds like something from a rejected Spike Lee movie.

John lives in a working neighborhood, apart from John himself, but what are those people drinking in the morning? How are there not more people who need Half & Half for their coffee? Are his neighbors all putting vanilla ice cream in their coffee? Has he just crossed over some invisible line and has become a local? It had never occurred to him!

This store does have frozen goods, but only in the ice-cream sandwich and popsicle variety. They don’t have a carton of ice cream. They don’t have any staples like a bag of flour. Maybe you could buy a bag of ”flour” out front? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a little rack of artisanal cheese and an olive case, some local wines and a little hand-picked produce?

This kid would put his video game down and put a white apron on. He would hand John a little paper cup with a toothpick sticking in some kind of little chopped fish and he would ask ”Would you try our Kimchi of the day?” - ”Hurray!” Instead it is just a bunch of donks parked out front and everybody is coming to buy juggalo foods.

This is basic economy, like Howard Friedman and Milton Burrow, who would take out just enough to beat you, or was it Thorstein Veblen? That name sounds like one of these skinny Norwegian countries, but John has all the Norwegian countries pretty well mapped out and Thorstein Veblen isn’t one of them. Iceland is one of the Norwegian countries.

Eric the Green misnamed them on purpose! It turns out that Iceland is the one that has Fins in it and Finland is the one that is icy (John is losing it and almost chokes on his breakfast) To this day throughout all of the Swedish countries only Vikings put their lottery tickets into their coffee.

Merlin goes through things that you find and don’t find in John's Bodega:

  • Lottery tickets: Yes!
  • Funyuns: Absolutely!
  • Faygo: This is a juggalo drink that is located more or less in the South. You can get it in Seattle at Ezell’s Famous Chicken, but he imports it specially. You can probably not get Faygo at this store, but you could get Orange Drank or Grape Drank, which is off-brand sugar pop.

Merlin has been intrigued by generic store brands like Professor Peppiet (?) and stuff like that. It is the soda pop that you get when your business does not shop at Costco wholesale. There are flavored things, there is probably a huge amount of Xanthan gum and high fructose corn syrup, and the ice cream is mostly limited to ice cream sandwich type things. There is a freezer case with weird off-brand ice creams, like a rabbit that kind of looks like the Trix rabbit, but his nose is longer like Joe Camel had sex with the Trix rabbit. It doesn’t look appetizing and John doesn’t want to eat that ice cream sandwich! Silly rabbit, your nose looks like a penis!

This store is absolutely useless unless you are six guys in Carharrts on a truck covered with dry-wall dust. They jump in there and get a Faygo, a lottery ticket, an ice cream sandwich, a pack of cigarettes, a brown bag with some kind of booze in it and they get the fuck out of there. They are making a living, but they are also dragging down the whole neighborhood.

There is a vacant acre (4000 sqm) of land not far from John’s house that they are converting into a P-Patch, a community garden, which is going to bring the community together in a way that this Bodega has been tearing them apart. Pride of ownership! People are going to have fresh vegetables and it is only a matter of time before somebody will open a little store with an olive-bar and six different kinds of organic coffee creamers.

Merlin is always concerned that something is a trick when you are not from a place where you know a lot about what is fancy in the right way, and he is constantly parsing things for tricks. For example, olive bars are a fucking trick! You have given this much real-estate in your store to things that look and smell and taste like rotting toes? Pull anybody out of their Prius, give them an artisanal blindfold, sit them down, give them six fucking olives and they will not be able to tell you ”Oh, this is salty and tastes like olives!” You give them a plate of locally sourced chopped-up human toes that have been soaked in formaldehyde for a year and they will call them for olives.

Scrimshaw, railroads and steamers always say something about the community: We learn about the language and the way people dress by these regional things that take a long time to go away. Even though they are not there anymore, even though we are not building ships in this place anymore, there is still a ship-building culture. They are not pushing out as many jets at Boeing as they used to because they have outsourced it. The tail-assembly is manufactured in Japan and the wings are made in Italy and then they bring them all here to Seattle and try to bolt them together.

GOP (Grand Old Party) Capitalists would tell you to go in there every day and ask if they have any Half & Half until the guy finally gets Half & Half (Merlin) or shoots him, but he is not going to shoot John. He might shoot him with his virtual video game! According to the capitalist model, if enough people want Half & Half, they will get Half & Half, but it has been five years and as far as John knows nothing has changed.

Does it matter enough to him to get Half & Half two blocks away instead of 15 blocks away? Not enough! Merlin says that sometimes a Bodega is more than just a Bodega: It is a Harbinger in the Nexus of cultural diversity. John might be in a potential retail inflection point for effecting a lot of change. In this particular neighborhood John is the diversity, he is apparently the only one who wants Half & Half at this grocery store. "Where is my parade? It is so hard to be white!"

Metric and Imperial units (RL49)

A couple of years ago Boeing sent plans to Italy, but nobody converted them to metric. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars to tool up and build some parts and when they got them together they didn’t fit. It also happened on the Space Shuttle, it happens all the time! If they would do this podcast in Milan, they would be saying ”Why does America have this measurement that no-one else uses?” Metric is used by everybody! What is America’s problem? No-one in America has ever heard of another country and most people don’t even believe other countries exist.

Merlin’s wife texted him and asked if she can sign him up to change the strings on a guitar in his daughter's school - absolutely! She was doing some tapping on the guitar. Merlin had Yngwie-d his own guitar with a rasp and made a scalloped fingerboard (see OM126). Which strings are was he supposed to buy? Electric or acoustic? Merlin asked her to send him a picture of the guitar. It is silly that they didn’t get the conversion right, but it is even sillier that they assumed they didn’t need to check the spec better. It is like somebody saying ”Paint my house!” and all you got is green, so you will just use green. Nobody is using slide rules anymore!

In the corporate culture of Boeing, as is true of the corporate culture of everywhere in the world now, there are 42 different levels of management and then you got 3 guys who know how to use the equipment. Those specs surely went across 40 people’s desks until it got to the guy who was supposed to build the tool and the guy kind of assumed that if there was a problem, somebody along the line would have picked up on it. Merlin doesn’t mean that in a ping poing way, but there were surely nerds along the way, working in Microsoft Excel, who wanted to make it really clear to people that it was in Inches, but their boss said ”Don’t be a dick!” What helps John navigate all of this stuff is the cartoon Dilbert.

Grocery stores (RL49)

John’s theory of American cities is that the North side of the city is always nice and the South side is always bad. If people ask about East St Louis and West St Louis John will ask back about South-East St Louis and they will agree with him. The other day John went to a grocery store in the North part of Seattle. There was Muzak playing and a guy in an apron walked by John and said ”Good morning!” It looked like the grocery store where John Denver worked in Oh, God! At the deli counter they asked him if he would like a stuffed pepper that they just made 20 minutes ago.

This was a grocery store and these people were grocers, it was amazing! There were more people working behind the deli counter than there were customers in the store. People buy their houses in nice neighborhoods because they get nice grocery stores and the cops don’t fly helicopters over their houses in the middle of the night. The reason people buy houses in poor neighborhoods is because they can’t afford buying houses in rich neighborhoods. It was a real eye-opening experience for John! People in the North-side of town who have more expensive homes and better jobs make more money than the people who have not as nice houses, and they have nicer things in their stores.

Then John realized that he lived in his neighborhood because he didn’t have a lot of money. He got a lot of house for the dough, though, and it is a pretty nice place! What blows Merlin’s mind is that a place can remain profitable with something like 80 square feet (7,5 sqm) of olive bar. When John picks a Faygo off the counter that says $0.99 for 2 liters of Faygo, he is much more conscious of how much money he is spending and what he is getting for that money than at an olive bars where they say that a cup with 7 olives is only $14.99. You are lulled into a feeling that these are luxury items and it is worth it because you are getting high quality.

Self checkout counters at the supermarket (RL49)

The other day John went to a different supermarket, not a nice one, but a regular shitty one, and there were a bunch of people in line to this new check-yourself-out thing. Neither John nor Merlin use those things because whatever amount of money John is paying to this store, he wants the human interaction and he wants the person to touch his cans, ring it up, tell him to have a nice day and hold up the receipt at the end and say ”Oh, Mr. Roderick! You saved $14.99 today!” It is factored into the price of the goods. They don’t give you a discount to go over and check yourself out, but you are screwing yourself out of money and time! John will not go over and do it himself and talk to a robot unless he will get 10% off.

There were seven people with carts, somebody was outfitting a ship that was going to sea for a year, and John couldn't wait in line over there to talk to a human being. He only had a handful of items and he went over to the electronic checkout. It was telling him to do all this stuff he doesn’t want to to, like put his items in the bagging area! The thing was resolute and didn’t listen to reason. There was a Safeway employee there, John leaned over and asked them to help him with this, but this employee was having an argument with another employee of Safeway and they did not want to be interrupted by John! They were giving John the hand and John was about to say ”Where is your manager?”, but one of them was the manager.

John was standing in between this robot that was giving him orders and a manager of a grocery store that was not only having a public argument with one of her employees, but who was also giving him the hand. As a result of this John stole an onion! Merlin thinks they had so much more coming than that and John let them off easy. He could have demanded a lot of satisfaction and given a very extensive and penetrating course in managerial procedure to that young lady, but instead John just put some produce in his bag that he did not weigh and pay for. He felt ashamed of himself, but at the same time this is the cost that the grocery store was going to incur for putting John through this. This was his 10% off, this onion was their tithe!

John didn’t even know what kind of onion it was and that is why self-checkout is a cluster-fuck! There are 14 kinds of onions even at a shitty Safeway and John doesn’t know the fucking difference between an onion! This is a yellow onion, this is a white onion, is he supposed to pick it for the color? He is going to throw it into a soup anyway! He just wants the right onion, but he doesn’t know how to tell the right onion. He looks at these onions and ends up just picking one that looks friendly.

Merlin thinks it is not super-complicated: The question is just how much you want it to taste like an onion. There is a continuum and on one end there is the white onion that is useless because it doesn’t really taste like an onion. There is the purple onion with a sweeter taste and there is the classic yellow onion, which is the onion you should buy. The Bermuda onions are funny because they are so big, but John will be fine with just yellow onions. John assumes that if a vegetable has more color, it will have more stuff in it. He buys yellow onions instead of white ones because the yellow represents ”stuff” You want the darkest color of thing you can get.

Self-checkout is for suckers! Merlin has friends who insist that it is faster and more efficient and more pleasant, but Merlin tells them: ”You are full of shit!” These people are the Juden-rat, the people who are complicit in their own enslavement. They are the ones who say ”They made me the sheriff of Nottingham and now I agree with their policies!” They have this app on their phone to pay for gasoline without taking their credit card out! Self-checkout-lines are always longer because everybody is waiting for the convenience. Have you ever been to IKEA? What is the deal with shopping carts? Who is coming up with this stuff?

Merlin has tried to go through self-checkout on maybe three occasions ever and he had precisely the same experience every time. It is a very long line of people who think of themselves as Mavericks, the people who all have Bluetooth telephones. You have tall guys buying name-brand fucking non-sandwich-style ice cream. There are a variety of people who are all stupid. Some people have had transactions that went without a hitch, but 79 out of 87 times there is some glitch and the robot yells at you. It didn’t like your card? You want to buy some Vodka?

People who are good that the self-checkout have gone through a self-training and have spent the time and energy to be trained by this machine how to use it. If they do it 40 times the machine trains them and then they are good at it. Of all the things John wants to be trained in, all the welding classes he could be taking and artistic Macramé he could be doing, the last thing he wants to spend his mental and emotional energy on is being trained by a supermarket computer on how to buy onions that he doesn’t understand from robots that think they are better than he is.

There are lots of things that John has allowed himself to be trained to do. Using a Macintosh computer, which everyone says is so user-friendly, is only user-friendly if you sit in front of it and let it train you to understand its impenetrable internal logic. John has been using them long enough to understand how the dopes in California think who designed the way this machine thinks. He was forced to let this machine train him to use it because there is no way to interact with human beings anymore if you don’t know how to use your stupid Macintosh computer.

Self-checkout counters make it seem like they are good for you when it really is just easier for the company. It is cheap because you don’t have to pay that idiot manager to sit there and run your groceries over the scanner. This happens to us all the time and is part of how we are domesticated so we can live with one another.

John has been trained to recognize: ”Here is a red light. Stop!” and the same unconscious training happens even if the only point of that training is to improve the profit margin of a company that he hates, and that is where he rebels! When John goes to the supermarket checkout line and talks to a real human being he is conscious of the fact that it is actually costing the store more.

John is aware that his interaction with this person aggregated over 10.000 interactions will cost the store more than if he had gone through the self-checkout and in certain stores and in certain retail encounters John uses that as a punitive measure. He will go through the process in the most labor-intensive way possible as a way of punishing the company. It is a small thing. If only you could directly punish the company! There have to be ways other than setting them on fire!

Sometimes Merlin picks up a magazine, a yoghurt and a handle of tequila. Then he comes to the front and the lines are going all the way down the aisles and he will give it to the man by just putting all these things down and walking out. That will show them! All he is doing is making work for someone who has to clean that up. It is a shame that John’s onion could not be registered in a way that could express his dissent in a more muscular way than being just short an onion.

Merlin wished that self-checkout worked. It is the thin end on a surprising wedge, a stupid fucking hack on top of something from the 19th century, which is waiting in line to have somebody ring up your stuff. If you were to abandon that paradigm it wouldn’t be a shittier version of a shitty process, but it would be to do something smart, like with Amazon: You make a giant grocery order and pick it up somewhere or a guy in a brown suit is going to show up at your house with your groceries.

Stopping at stop lights (RL49)

Even though a stop-light at an intersection is not a natural thing for John, he has been trained to recognize that red light is not just an alert about a potential danger, but it has become a thing that he acquiesces to without thinking. He will stop at a red light even if there is nobody around because he has trained himself to do it. At least for the most part during the day at an intersection that he doesn't know well enough to know that the red light doesn’t belong there, like a red light in a strange town. There are plenty of red lights and stop signs in this city that John has determined to be superfluous to his needs and he won't stop at them.

John’s mom being a computer programmer (RL49)

John and his mom were good friends his whole life. When he was 8 years old she would come home from work, excited of having solved a problem in a Mainframe computer the size of an oil-tanker. She would start talking to him about it and John would sometimes put his head down on the table because his head was so full of numbers and lines and she was just so excited about it and wanted to talk to him about it. The last time Merlin talked to her he was trying to be cool and show-off, but every single old technology he came up with, she would say ”Oh no, this was before that!”

For the first 40 years of computers they worked into the night to make sure that no user ever experienced an error. They tested and tested until there were no errors! As soon as Microsoft took over the world and the software became the technology the policy has become ”Send the errors out, people will find them and that is how you improve your product!”

Your users will report errors back to you and you will refine your product based on people out there using a thing they paid for that doesn’t work. It drives her freaking crazy! They were using computers to put a man on the moon, they did not have the luxury of errors, but now your machine crashes, your device goes tits up, your this happens, your that happens, you can’t get it to log on. Run the diagnostic! It says that it doesn’t work!

There is no earthly reason why they could not make these products error-free and the only reason they don’t is because it would be more expensive. They push it out the door, they know it is not ready, they know it is not good, and then they send you an update. It is a product of 5000 people being so frustrated that they are pulling their hair out.

John's mom is 78 years old and she has seen it all! She has a feeling about the lives that we are leading and the interactions we have with machines. We are interacting with someone on the other side of the corporation who decided it wasn’t worth the extra 50 man-hours to make the thing work.

Consumer products that are broad enough to sell to a lot of people have to do so many different things! The more stuff something does the more there is to test and the more things can go wrong. When you buy a car with power-windows, that is something that is going to break. Don’t get a car with power windows! What are you going to do if you go off a bridge and your car is sinking? You need to have one of those window hammers! Your car is sinking in a cold river in the middle of the night and you are going to find that fucking window hammer that you have in your glove box? You will have to rehearse, but then the car will be training you because of the false luxury of an automatic window.

Merlin has never gotten the hang of most voice recognition software. He has friends who are listeners to this show (in particular John Siracusa) who have written 50.000 word pieces using dictation, but they have to train the dictation. John has tried it one time and the dictation program produced four pages of the most incredible dada poetry that John mined for lyrics for 10 years, but it never once produced a sensible paragraph. You have to train the software, but the software is training you! When you open up Dragon Dictate it shows you about 34 pages of things you are supposed to read and it tells you how well you are doing. It recommends you to speak like a newscaster.

John is probably not a big Dead Kennedys fan, but again: Trust your mechanic! John’s dad needed a car so he could drive to his mechanic every week to find out what needed to be fixed on his car. It typifies the cultural problem of learned training by various societal robots. A lot of people’s relationship to alcohol is like that, too: They need alcohol to get over problems that are being caused by needing alcohol.

Customer Service experiences (RL49)

It happens to John at least once a day or on a bad day 5 times a day: He comes up to the counter of a store, he sees that a store is run badly or that a commercial situation is being managed poorly and it costs them John’s business. He was about to spend x number of dollars here, but because he doesn’t approve of the way the store is being run, it is costing them his business.

It is a mute thing, he doesn’t go to the manager and says ”You know, this is costing you my business!”, but he just sends his mind-bullets out (see RL38) and says ”Boom! I’m not buying this now! I’m not shopping here!” A lot of people go into commercial situations and let the frustration build up in them. They think they need the thing they were there to buy and they endure the shitty exchange, they store up all the anger and frustration in themselves because they put their needs above any other consideration.

For John the need is below the desire to have a positive exchange. If he can’t have a positive exchange, then the needs goes away. It is his way of keeping himself sane in a world that does not care about him as a customer. By saying ”You are not getting my business!” he has a moment where he reevaluates. Sometimes if he actually needs a thing he will go across the street, down the block, or across town rather than have a bad customer service experience with a store that is being run poorly.

It is a small thing, but if more of us thought this way, this would be precisely capitalism as it was meant to work or capitalism as Thorstein Veblen would discuss it. This is precisely why John never ever goes into this little Korean Bodega by his house. He went in there five years ago when he moved into the neighborhood, and the kid looked up from his video game and said ”What is Half & Half”? and John never went back!

It is the same with Merlin and the racist firemen bar (John hears Reese’s Fireman bar) down at the corner. Merlin was so excited to have a place that he could call his own with his own little chairs, O’Conner’s, and he walked John past there the first time he met him and said ”That is a racist firemen bar and I never go in there!” He was so excited because it was cool and kind of blue collar, but within the first couple of second he heard ”Ah, the n-word is sitting around all day watching TV” and Merlin was like ”Well, check please!” They really let it peel and it was just okay. Apparently these folks just watch TV and they keep getting promotions.

There are several places in Merlin’s neighborhood that he returned to only in the last couple of years, after the initial ”Wow!” experience. Money Hands, the dim sum place, is amazing. Merlin has an inside man here in the neighborhood who is in the merchant association and tells him all the dirt. That place is not just purely amazing that they had cats in the kitchen, but they didn’t mind it. There just happened to be cats persistently in the kitchen and it was just a thing. That is the dim sum place where they go to all the time and it is the best dim sum in the world.

He never washes his hands, he is constantly touching money and he has now cats in the kitchen, but somehow San Francisco is fine with him and they never shut him down? The entire health inspection thing is surely a total racket. Two places where Merlin has been a lot of times have been shut down in the last couple of months for some fairly egregious problems. The Vietnamese place Tu Lan had live and dead roaches, they had eggs that had been out for three days, and it was really pretty bad. They even had live and dead mice. Pick one!

The other day John had very delicious dim sum for breakfast. Merlin was jealous when he saw the photograph with six Shumai right in front of John. They were shown to their table, John was putting the baby in her little baby seat and there was already a woman there with a cart, trying to foist sugar-covered pork buns on him, but he still had his coat on and hadn’t even sat down. She looked at him like she didn’t speak English. Come on!

Breaking people’s patter (RL49)

When Merlin is at Safeway with some yoghurt, some tequila, some lime juice and four rib-eyes, he is often greeted in this incredibly grim way, like ”Did you find everything you need today?” - "Why the fuck do you even care?" - ”Are you enjoying your day?” - ”Yes, thank you!” - ”Did you have a loyalty card, could you type in your phone number?” - ”Yes!” - ”Debit or credit?” - ”Cash!” - ”Would you donate a dollar for penis cancer?” - ”No, thank you! I like penis cancer and I would like to see it continue!” - ”Did you see we have M&Ms on sale?” - ”I did, thank you!” - ”Mmmm, steaks! Yummy!” - ”Yes, yummy” - ”Hmm, lime! Are you making pie!” - ”No, I’m putting it in the fucking tequila, you piece of shit!” - ”Did you bring your bags?” - ”No, I’ll put it in my backpack” - ”Thank you for saving a tree! Here is your receipt!” The receipt is 16 feet (5m) long with 7 coupons that he will leave sitting there. "Fuck you!"

John hates to be the one to tell Merlin he is doing something wrong. He takes the same approach to cashiers that he takes to taxi drivers: "Welcome to Safeway! Do you have your customer card?” - ”Yes, right here! So where are you from? Where did you grow up?” - ”Oh, I am from around here!” - ”Really, right around here? The neighborhood?” He turns the tables on them and pretty soon he finds things out about them. The guy behind John who is trying to buy a pack of Emodium is like ”You know what? I’m not going to shop here today because this is bad customer service!” and so he puts his Emodium down in the US Magazine rack, steals an onion and is out the door. That is how John does his part!

John doesn’t let a clerk give him his memorized patter and as soon as anybody gives him memorized patter, his goal is immediately to break it. If somebody comes to his door and wants to talk to him about Jehovah, he doesn’t let them get 3 words into a patter, but he gets all Rob Delaney on them, like ”How hairy is your bush?” In most cases they end up coming in and they are getting to know each other.

Merlin had a friend Jenn who was a college radio DJ at WDFS. If she would say anything more than back-announce what song it was and what was coming up, even on Sunday morning acoustic with Shawn Colvin and shit, then Dave, another friend of Merlin's, would call her on the phone and say ”Less talk, more Rock” and she would be in tears every time. That could be the onion replacement or a companion piece to Keep moving and get out of the way. Like "Heil Hitler!", something everybody can understand!

Merlin really gets the suggestive sales at Walgreens. He shared a photo on his Internet site of a big rack of M&Ms that he has been pointed to. Phan is one of Merlin’s checkout-guys, not to be confused with Peo, the guy he trades X-Men comics with. He was Jason for a while, but he has gone back to Phan Mellencamp. ”Did you see we have M&Ms on sale?” - ”Yes, I did, but as you can see here, I am buying a quart of chocolate fudge browny ice cream, so I think I am good!” Best of all, there is literally a sign can next to the M&Ms and the Snickers bar where you can donate for Diabetes research. It is no penis cancer, but it is something.

Trying to make the waitress like you (RL49)

As awful of a person Merlin is, especially in public, he is not such an awful person in private. John has seen Merlin and Scott try to make the waitress like them and it was hard to watch. Merlin genuinely wants to be liked and Merlin’s problem with the onion is that he wishes there was an onion he could throw directly at Pleasanton, California. He doesn’t want to hurt the Safeway cashier person because that person is just doing a shitty job and Merlin feels bad having to tell this woman who looks like a Manatee ”Less talk, more Rock!”, because she is just reading off the fucking card. What happens when we all start reading off the fucking card? Sudetenland or Vichy or Juden-skater!

John hates to constantly be the voice on this podcast that sounds like some crazy Tea Party who doesn’t understand politics. There are many of us who are never going to read off the card. The thing about somebody working in a store or restaurant or anywhere, and this is the thing about the waitress-appeasers Merlin and Scott that John keeps trying to get through their heads: They are working the same 5-hour shift whether or not you send them back to check to see if there is blackberry pie or not, and whether or not you put your Imodium AD (Loperamide) down in front of the US magazines and walk out of the store and somebody has to take it back. It is the same 5-hour shift!

The mentality that waitress-appeasers bring into the world is that this cashier or this waitress has something very important to do or her time is somehow so valuable that you don’t want to bother her asking her to go back and check again to make sure they really don’t have one slice of blackberry pie. Merlin points out that he does not do the liberal ”Oh, your job is really hard!”, but he just wants her to like him. John agrees that you don’t want to send her on a wild goos chase, but she is there anywhere on her 5-hour shift and if you send her on a wild goos chase, maybe she goes back there and has a menthol cigarette before she comes back out.

Pork advertisement in front of the kosher food display (RL49)

John is still mad at his iPhone about something that happened 9 months ago when he was at the grocery story late at night, looking for a rib-eye or something. There used to be a grocery store in John’s neighborhood with a very big kosher section because in addition to all the South-Pacific islanders there is a large contingent of orthodox Jews living nearby in an enclave that is surrounded by a wire.

Then they decided it was not a good use of square footage or whatever happened, and all of a sudden there was a diaspora of kosher food and every little grocery store in the neighborhood had to start stocking some Glatt Kosher Ground Beef in order to accommodate this community of people who cannot eat food that the rest of us eat. They are like vegans, except it was written in a book a long time ago.

John was looking at the meat counter and there was a kosher food display with a refrigerator with all the beef that had been bled in the correct way. Right in front of it there was a 6 foot (1,80m) tall cardboard stand that said ”Special this week! Pork loin wrapped in bacon with pork sauce and pork garnish” almost leaning against the kosher food. It was just one of those things! There is surely one guy in this grocery store, probably the assistant manager, who has never put any thought into religion or culture at all. John was looking at this thing and it was the greatest synergistic moment.

If John would be on Instagram this would have been his Instagram moment! He got his iPhone out to take a picture, but the iPhone shits the bed. "You fucking thing! You god-damn thing that I have invested myself emotionally!" It had been a great iPhone until John upgraded the software and it became a crap iPhone. He upgraded it again and it became a shitty little thing. It is a 3GS, there should be nothing wrong with it except that Apple has plannedly obsolescensed it. John should use it to level his refrigerator, stick it under one corner of the fridge to keep it straight.

10 years ago, before phones with cameras, John would have stood at this kosher display with the pork sign in front of it, he would have appreciated it, he would have gone ”Man, wow!” and maybe he would have walked over to the assistant manager and would have said ”Hey, did you notice that you have a pork advertisement in front of the kosher foods display? Maybe you should think about that again!” or maybe he would have just grabbed the sign and moved it somewhere, he would have taken that responsibility.

But now John’s first impulse is to take a fucking picture of it and put it on the Internet. He has been trained by the machines that this should be his reply to this and then the fucking machine doesn’t work. John is like a duck caught in a plastic six-pack container: He is out in the water, can’t get his wing to work and ”What the fuck happened to me?” He doesn’t want to put this on the Internet and make a joke out of it, but the first thought that is supposed to come into his mind is ”Boy, I need to go down and spend $500 to get a new phone or I don’t miss those opportunities!”

It is fascinating to Merlin that a failure of technology caused John’s Hebraic direct action to be thwarted. 5 years ago with a feature phone John would have gotten all fucking Menachem Begin on that shit and moved it out of there, he would have talked to the manager and would have given them a brief lecture on Judaism and cultural sensitivity and he would have gotten his rib-steaks and New York super-fudge junk, he would have gotten in his car, and he would have said ”I did my work for today!”

Instead he was standing there with his impotent phone and some plastic wrapped around his neck so he couldn't use his wings, thinking ”I need a more expensive phone so I don’t miss these incredible opportunities!” It happens on a daily basis and none of us are conscious of how much we have been trained by a stupid world to be complicit rather than to ever use our own brains.

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