RL51 - In Pursuit of an Errant Leaf

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • Foreigner 4 (Music)
  • John starting school a year too early (Early Days)
  • Music in the early 1980s, the advent of MTV (Music)
  • Lacy bras (Personal Development)
  • John’s transition from youth to adulthood (Personal Development)
  • John’s best friend Kevin putting leaves down a girl’s sweater (Friends)
  • John staring at a spot on the wall as a child, refighting World War II (History)
  • The transformation of the Liberal idea over time (History)
  • Celebrities doing cocaine in the 1970s, Steve Martin (Movies)
  • Zooey Deschanel asking people not to take her picture (Movies)
  • Is John living up to his potential? Celebrities with disapproving parents (Children)
  • National treasures in Japan (Factoids)
  • Holocaust survivors, how all humans are more alike than they are different (Humanities)

The Problem: We may very well be the first generation of fruits, referring to parents in the 1970s thinking that if you are too nice to your kid and spoil them too much they are going to end up as fruits.

The show title refers to John’s best friend in High School stuffing leaves down the front of a girl’s sweater and then getting them out one by one.

John starts the show singing ”It feels like the first time, like you have never felt before” (Feels Like The First Time by Foreigner).

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

Foreigner 4 (RL51)

America’s introduction to Thomas Dolby was Foreigner 4. Many people were aware of him from The Golden Age of Wireless, but he was also the guy who played the keyboards on Foreigner 4. Merlin has a pretty good idea what John thinks of Foreigner 4, but he can see him go either way.

”This night is different from all others” - ”We have eaten the bitter herbs” (reference to the Jewish passover). John has a tremendous soft spot in his head where his skull did not form completely all the way that allows Foreigner 4 in and lodge like a succubus. He can’t say a bad thing about it! It came out in the summer of 1981, which was right between 7th and 8th grade for John.

Merlin guessed ”Yes!” that John would probably have a soft-spot for Foreigner 4. Yes had a song from that very era called Leave It with the guy from The Buggles (Trevor Horn), which should be one of the theme songs for this show because John constantly tells himself ”Leave It!” It was the song where they discovered the orchestra stab.

Thomas Dolby did not get writing credits on anything on that record, although it has many keyboards! All the credits on there are Lou Gramm and Mick Jones. There is also a Mick Jones in The Clash, Hitler would have taken care of that, that is unacceptable! Jones was in Spooky Tooth and wrote all the tunes and then they found Gramm who was the guitar player in a band before Foreigner that was supposed to be huge, and he was writing tunes for other bands. Spooky Tooth was like Stillwater (John says Sweetwater) in that Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous: They were meant to be big, but they weren’t.

Mick Jones wrote all those tunes and then they found Lou Gramm somehow and then he writes some of it. Lou Gramm is a Christian Rock guy now. Foreigner 4 was originally titled Silent Partners. Hipgnosis did the cover who did all those great Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel covers.

Thomas Dolby wrote all the keyboard parts, but didn’t get a single credit. Imagine what kind of dough he would have today! The record sold 6 million copies and got 6x Platinum. 100.000 records is a massive achievement now and the only Indie Rock bands that have sold that many records are Death Cab, who have had a Platinum record, The Decemberists, Bon Iver, or Mumford & Sons who have sold fucking 3 million records in America, let alone in Europe. For bands that are John’s peers, Nada Surf never sold 100.000 records.

Then there are those who actually have arrived at the top of their capability. They are just fucking there and are just putting out records that sell 20.000 copies and that is as good as they ever meant to be. ”That’s it, buddy! 20.000 records? You should be proud! Not just proud, but you should wake up every morning, pick up your kid, kiss her on the forehead and say: Your daddy has done the best that he could!”

John starting school a year too early (RL51)

When John started 7th grade he was still a 6th grader because he had the misfortune of being born in September and when it came time to make the decision to put John in Kindergarten as a 4-year old or to wait an extra year and put him in Kindergarten when he was a 5-year old, he was a big and precocious kid and John’s parents were sure that he will be fine, so John started Kindergarten at 4. His best friend in High School had his birthday in the first week of December and he was 10 months older than John. There was a kid who was a Junior and John was a Senior and they had the exact same birthday.

John spent his whole school life fronting that he was ready for this. It is like your first day in the cell block: You scoot up your courage, maybe you took some courses, and John went to the biggest kid who already had a mustache and clocked him, like: ”Come on!” It is very noticeable when everybody else is going into puberty and you are still playing with Hot Wheels cars, but it is also noticeable in 3rd grade.

John was always big and articulate, but he did not have the emotional maturity to be there. He graduated from High School when he was 17 and he was not ready to be set loose on the world, or better: He finished and left High School. Only the French have a word for being asked to leave High School with credit, it is called ”bien sûr il y a la porte!” There is no English word for that.

John's parents could have held him back a year from school and he could have started Kindergarten at 5 and turn 6 during the first few weeks. He cannot imagine anything else that would have made his life more profoundly different than having been one of the oldest kids in his class rather than one of the youngest. Merlin is glad he held his daughter back and her do another year of the before-Kindergarten stuff.

There is no reason to ever push a kid if you can hold them back. Merlin’s mom was born in November and she was in the same position as John having been jammed in early and she hated it as well. She was already small and she felt like she wasn’t super-duper smart, but they dropped her into public school. Merlin was also born in November, Eleonor (Merlin’s daughter) was born in October, they are all in that area.

John was born in September, so it wasn’t that crazy. The school people asked them if they were sure about this and at the time in the early 1970s the idea was to push him. Merlin loved being late. He is not a big person and he wasn’t larger, but he was always on the older side which made a huge difference.

The shrimpy kids who had gotten in too early already had everything against them and it just made it 1000 times worse. They got Konrad Lorenz:ed by the schools and the kids and they were always the shrimpy kids until they left and probably became a tower sniper and they never got a good handful of leaves (reference to John's friend Kevin stuffing a bunch of leaves down a girl's sweater) unless they dragged somebody out to a culvert or something.

The 1970s brought some new technologies to measure a child’s intelligence, but no-one had really formulated the idea of an emotional intelligence that matured at a different rate. It is staggering for Merlin to think about what public school was like for him when he was 10 vs what it is like for a 10-year old today because this was back in the days when they still had funding out the butt and for some kids the school was their parent.

They got free breakfast at 7am, they stayed for after-school programs and for sports. At least you knew that if you put your 4 year old into Kindergarten it was going to be okay, they were going to get a hot meal and they are not going to end up in jail. Merlin is also from the age where you were not supposed to be nice to your kid or they will become fruity. Breast feeding is inconvenient and you are going to make a fruit out of them. Don’t be too supportive!

Music in the early 1980s, the advent of MTV (RL51)

Up until 1980 John was still listening to his parents’ music which in his dad’s case was Big Band music. Right about 1980 he became suddenly hyper-aware of Pop music as a thing to differentiate who he cool kids were and it suddenly became a monolith that was sticking out of a gravel field that The Who had just peed on. Foreigner 4 was among the first records that John was aware of in that moment. It wasn’t ”Hey dude, you should listen to The Beatles!”, but it was a record that had just come out. The other one was Back in Black (album by AC/DC), both produced by the same man, Robert John ”Mutt” Lange. 1980-82 were big years for him.

He also produced The Wall by Pink Floyd in late 1979 while Merlin was in 7th grade in military school and the guys in the next room had it. There was also High and Dry by Def Leppard. John does have a tremendous respect for those records and he can’t imagine what his workload must have looked like. There are many myths about him, particularly that he would record guitar chords one string at a time because Def Leppard’s chords sounded too muddy and he let them fret each note individually and he would mix it together. It doesn’t make any sense at all and sounds like coming from somebody who has never played an instrument.

High and Dry came out on July 11th and Foreigner 4 came out one week earlier on July 2nd. On that day John was almost surely playing Dig Dug at the Tastee-Freez at the corner of Lake Otis and Northern Lights in Anchorage and he was not sucking on a Chili Dog because that record came out right around that same time, too (reference to the lyric: ”Suckin’ on chili dog outside the Tastee Freez” in the song Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp). That was the beginning of John’s consciousness for Pop music because he did not like the John Cougar record, but he did like the Foreigner record.

This would be a month before MTV stared. When Merlin got it a year later, John Cougar, formerly Johnny Cougar, not yet John Mellencamp, was on every 5-6 minutes with Hurts So Good and Jack and Diane. This is John and Merlin’s April of 1865. The war is over, it is a month unlike any other, and they are beginning reconstruction as they have become teenagers. Anchorage did not get MTV until 1982. John’s aunt Martha worked at the cable company in Anchorage, but probably your aunt at the cable company does not make your neighborhood to be the first to get cable in Anchorage.

Initially John had to steal it from his betters, but that was the one they beamed into chicklet-shaped antennas on your roof. When cable finally came, John’s house was in the first 50 families to get it because their neighborhood was where they started and John was one of the first Alaskans to get MTV. He just sat there in Indian style with his nose 2 inches (5 cm) from the screen.

Merlin watched MTV every conceivable minute of the day and he even wanted to watch MTV before school. He would already get up late because he was a teenager, so that was super-controversial and he always wanted to watch just one more video, see what the next one was. It could have been Stand and Deliver by Adam and The Ants, it could be Wot by Captain Sensible, it could be Video Killed The Radio Star (by The Buggles), it could have been any of those, but it would probably be Only The Lonely by The Motels.

Lacy bras (RL51)

Cable TV of the early 1980s introduced John to Benny Hill and his 8th grade brain could only barely grasp that there was such a thing as Benny Hill. He was John’s Mel Brooks and he perfectly expressed the exact amount of tits and ass that John’s brain was capable of handling, which was to say that Benny Hill would run past a girl and somehow her nurse’s outfit would fall off and you could see her pantyhose and her lacy bra and they would ran after each other to funny music. Merlin has maybe seen two lacy bras ever in person.

At one point in the early 1980s, right in that bra window where ladies would still wear those Merlin had a chestly gifted lady who wore a lacy bra and you don’t look back from that. If Benny Hill had not come along, they would have needed to invent him. Lacy Bras is Merlin’s new pole dancer name. For whatever reason lacy bras did not click with John, despite growing up in an era of looking at girls’ underwear ads in the Sears catalog. They should have been in John’s wheel house, but as he grew up and started seeing them for the first time as a young adult they gave him no thrill. To this day when a young lady does the big reveal and she has on fancy underwear he has no reaction to it.

At this point they should probably seize all discussion of ZZ Top videos because they reached the moratorium level. Lacy bras were imprinted on Merlin like Konrad Lorenz and the ducks (actually geese) and now he is chasing ducks, like learning to fly behind an ultra-light. Merlin got many shots at lacy bras and he went through a lot of catalogs and was hoarding them, even before he understood what to do with them. When he eventually did figure it out he realized that was his duck (reference to RL43).

What imprinted on John from the ZZ Top video (of Sharp Dressed Man) was the neon-pink mini-skirt, which was a thing he literally could get behind, and John doesn’t use that word lightly. That girl had lacy ankle socks and shorter hair and she was a mix. You can tell that one of them is twice as dirty as the other ones and the other ones are already pretty dirty. The long blonde-haired one is never as dirty as you want her to be, but it is always he kitten-ish one with the tousled hair and the ankle socks.

You have to be careful where you meet people! Do you want to go out with somebody you met at a place you go to all the time? When you break up you will have to see them all the time! Don’t shit where you eat! If you accidentally went to a class in learning Latch Hook rugs, maybe that is something you can enjoy. But if you meet somebody who is really comfortable taking off their clothes and has fancy underwear: Red flag!

Merlin can enjoy underwear and taking-off-the-clothes-fast, but those two together could result in a stress bump. You are not the first one and you can gauge how your relationship will end based on how your and that person’s other relationships have ended, because you will never be any different, and neither will she, unfortunately.

John’s transition from youth to adulthood (RL51)

John is still confused that he went into puberty with a lot of ideas about how it was going to go. He was not somebody upon whom adulthood snuck up unawares. A lot of kids get 10 years old and all of a sudden they have these feelings and have no context for them and they are just following their instinct.

By the time John became an adult he had read and thought so much about being an adult and had prognosticated so much how being an adult would feel that when adulthood arrived he had too many plans and he did not have an instinctual response to puberty or to the transition from youth to adulthood.

He was trying to push it and get there faster. He thought he already knew how it was going to go and he was trying to get in between himself and adulthood and make some changes before it went wrong, but he was fucking it up as he went. A 13-year old girl would walk up to him and say: ”Do you want to go with me?” and John would say ”Go with you where?” (see RL232). He was not paying attention to what was happening, but he was trying to make sure he didn’t get duped or led astray.

John’s mental picture was that relationships were going to be hard and you didn’t want to be led down a primrose path by a fast girl, but you also didn’t want to get stuck with a prude. In reality all the girls were 13 years old and the difference between a fast girl and a prude at 14 is a stack of pennies. John had all those abstractions that had no basis in reality, which is a little bit like trying to do guitar tablature on a tennis racket. You are certainly going to pick some things up, but until you actually hold that guitar it is not the same thing.

Merlin adds that John had stipulated previously that he never wanted to study up on intercourse, but a lot of people made the same mistake that John was just describing, but with intercourse. They thought that they could get a VHS copy of Porky’s and know what to do, but John said ”Leave it!” and studied Kramer vs Kramer divorce porn and knew he was in for a rocky road.

John’s best friend Kevin putting leaves down a girl’s sweater (RL51)

John’s best friend Kevin in High School was a year older than John and a year more advanced in all the emotional ways. They were peers in the sense that they were in the same grade, but Kevin was way out in front. One time he told John that he had been hanging out with Rachel the other day and he had grabbed a bunch of leaves and stuffed them down the front of her sweater.

John just said: ”That wasn’t very polite!” and Kevin continued that she wanted him to get those leaves out of there and he reached down in front of her sweater and pulled the leaves out one by one. John just said: ”That sounds like you might have touched her boob!” - ”Yeah, exactly, like 15 times! I shoved 15 leaves in there and she had told me I had to get them out!”

He was a genius. She was in a position to say: ”Get your God-damn hand out of my shirt!”, but they were conspiring and she was not leave-averse. Instead she said: ”You need to get those leaves out of my sweater!” John was listening to this story aghast and he started to lecture Kevin, like: ”Are you sure you are ready for this? Touching boobs is a serious step! Are you prepared to honor that commitment to this person?”

In John’s eyes, by touching her boob in the pursuit of an errant leave Kevin had entered into a tacit contract with this girl and he needed to man up an honor the code. ”What are you talking about, man? I felt some boobs?” - ”Yeah, but are you ready to get married?” John was so backwards on it!

John wasn’t even worried about getting a stress bump, but he was worried that the fast girl was emotionally hurt and her fastness was an expression of her emotional hurtness and John was an honorable man and wasn’t going to take advantage of that. Also, you got the broken paradigm of fast! None of them is fast, they don’t know what the hell they are doing!

Putting your hand down the front of her shirt when you are in 8th grade is like: ”Come on! What the hell!”, but it is certainly not an expression of being fast or emotionally damaged or on the way to working in a red light district in Jakarta. She is a girl who wants you to touch her boob and you want to touch her boob.

Maybe she just wanted to see what it is like and she didn’t go into this, thinking ”Oh, I want boob-touching!”, but she didn’t know what the fuck this was and these leaves provided adequate cover for her to find out how this goes. She didn’t go into it thinking: ”Maybe today is the day that my boob gets touched!”

That is exactly the way John was approaching his teenage life: ”Maybe today is the day that I find a way to brush up against a boob where no-one owes anybody anything and no-one is going to end up divorced?” By the time he finally did touch a boob, it was like: ”Come on! Jesus Christ! That was a long time coming!” and the girl was: ”Come on! Get real! Seriously!”

John did too much thinking as a way of trying to get in front of all the fear that he felt about all these transitions. He admired the progress of some of the other kids and the rapports they would get, which also started in 8th grade, like: ”Did you hear what Derek did?” - ”What? What did Derek do?” You would get back from summer and hear a lot of intel about what went down, like people got finger-banged and all these terrible things. Merlin’s second-best friend at the time did some finger-banging over the summer. "Was anybody hurt? That sounds really violent!"

Merlin still thought at that point that vaginas were at the front of the pelvis, like a USB port or a third eye. He was imagining the logistics of that and you got popcorn and got to eat it. It was a morass for him and he was scared to look for the longest time. It was a mystery, he would try to draw it from memory, even though he didn’t have any memories, and he would look in books. If Merlin’s friend had told him about a leave incident he would think about that for three days and he would get mad. He would obsess over it for a week and just get more emotional about it.

It is funny how being mad was the response. The next day at school John was unable to look at her and he would be mad at her because she allowed herself to be violated by John’s best friend. Those were much more sophisticated feelings than he had any right to have, they were above his pay-grade and he didn’t understand them. Why this was his response is still a mystery to him, but they affected what he did next and in that way they changed his life and he still feels them as a burden even in his 40s.

John staring at a spot on the wall as a child, refighting World War II (RL51)

The main argument between John’s parents about his upbringing was that his mom really guarded the time he spent sitting and staring at a spot on the wall, while his dad's reaction was: ”What is the matter with that little fruit? He has been sitting and staring at a spot on the wall for two hours! He needs to get the fuck up and go out and throw a ball around!” while his mom would jump in front of him and say: ”David! Shhh! He is doing something. It is not clear what, but we need to respect this!”

”God dammit! It is not right! There is something wrong! Look at him!” while John was sitting there absolutely catatonic, staring at a spot on the wall and in his imagination he was commanding a flotilla of space battleships, or he was refighting World War II. He started that in 1974, he has been refighting World War II ever since, and he has fought every battle of World War II 1000 times in his imagination and every aspect of it he could have done better. If he was Herman Göring, he would not have let the Battle of Britain go the way it went, let’s just say that, leaving the invasion of Russia aside, that is another show.

Merlin wonders if John were Hitler, would he have cracked down on the SA a) a lot sooner, b) a lot later or never, or c) just in 1934, the Night of the Long Knives? How was Hitler’s timing on dealing with Ernst Röhm and the SA? He needed the support of the various captains of industry, BMW, Baer, Cyclon-B people, or Krupp. They were all way more into Hitler after he got the Goons out of the streets, but he never would have gotten there without the fucking Goons (Goons = SA = Sturmabteilung).

We underestimate how difficult it was for Hitler domestically, particularly because his constituency was not just the Germans in Germany, but the Germans in all of Central Europe that we forget about. After World War I there were Germans in Czechoslovakia who did not think of themselves as Slavic, but as displaced Germans. They had been there for 700 years before that! There were Germans all over Europe who were Hitler’s constituency, whether they actually were or he just believed that.

It isn’t like in England where the borders are water all around. There is no big community of English living in France, but England is like a castle with a big moat. Germany is a fried egg that has splattered all over, even the Swedes identified as Germanic and felt a lot more common cause with the Germans than they would like you to remember.

The other day John was reading an interesting thing on Metafilter about the question of why the intelligence agents of Germany failed so spectacularly, why the British had such great intelligence, and why the Germans had such terrible intelligence. One of the comments was that a spy is a special kind of person and all the great German spies were busy spying on their fellow Germans and the partisans in all the countries they occupied. They were not spying on the British, but on each other and that fucked them up in the war because the British knew what the Germans were doing and the Germans were fooled multiple times by intelligence operatives who would say the British were going to invade over here, but then they would invade over there.

There were a lot of Nazis who didn’t like Naziism. A lot of Germans were forced into swearing an oath of allegiance to Hitler. Merlin thinks that a lot of those brown shirts just liked fist fights and a lot of them were Goons. Ernst Röhm liked dudes, which is awkward. The Nazis came to power by bullying everybody and a lot of people in Germany resented them.

Somebody in a trench-coat just sidled up to them in a dark alley and said: ”Hey, things aren’t looking good for Germany. After the war we will give you a special place if you just let us know where you are keeping the 50 gallon drums of heavy water!”, and some guy were just like: ”Yeah! Fuck these guys! Here are the secret plans!” because they were never Nazis to begin with and they had no allegiance or loyalty to the party. The British on the other hand were just defending their homeland and it transcended party politics for them and no Brit would betray England unless he was a real antisemite or nutcase.

The thugism and brown-shirtism had a lot of repercussions in the short term in the 1930s, but long term the first people the Nazis brought under their boot were the Germans. There were all kinds of fanatical followers and some of the aristocrats that Hitler really could have used on his team were playing both sides against the middle. Merlin says that what made the Night of the Long Knives so successful was that it was sending a message. He had trouble all along with the military and the generals were extremely suspicious at best of him even until as late as 1934.

The German Army command in the 1930s still had huge feathers in their hat. Up until 1868 all the countries in Europe were ruled by kings and had been for 1000 years. There were fits and starts, different countries went parliamentary and disposed their ruler after the French Revolution. We lost kings gradually: First the French and then little by little the aristocracy was declining in power.

In the early 20th century class still played a huge role in how Europe thought of themself and he military was traditionally where the high-born people went into the officer corps. Hitler was just some rat, some orphan in a gutter snipe, and these people had no respect for him at all. It was the rise of the industrialists and a lot of them were aristocrats, but a lot of them were also self-made men.

The transformation of the Liberal idea over time (RL51)

The social currents in Central Europe throughout the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century had to do with the sense that if there were no more kings, what was going to govern us? Was it going to be according to the idea of Marx and Engels who had envisioned the whole exchange between men and written it down in a couple of books? Ideas like that are stronger than tradition and any first-hand experience that anybody might have had.

This idea was an overlay and people were starting to look at their lives in light of this concept. It let the mice out of the box and now everybody had an idea how capital and labor interacted with each other. People were literally fighting about it in bars, not just in Germany, but this was the world John’s dad grew up here in Washington state where you would be getting in fist fights in bars with people in arguments over the relationship between labor and capital.

Today we live in a world where these ideas have been hacked at with sabers from both sides, but thinking about the Tea Party or the election in America right now, people still have a national argument about it, but nobody has a common language anymore. We are yelling at each other about specific points of light, rather than anybody coming at it and saying: ”Here is my philosophy!”

The Republican party is saying that their philosophy is laissez-faire and they want to let everybody do what they want to do, and the Democrats have been called communists for 90 years, they can’t stand up and say: ”We have got an overarching plan that addresses the relationship between labor and capital and here is what it requires: Some people have to take it in the shorts because we want free lunches in our schools!”

Merlin thinks it is difficult for a group to function if you agree more on what you don’t like or don’t even know what you don’t like rather than knowing that you have a frame that you want to fill with a certain kind of picture.” You either give them a good fight or you give them a good show!” and the Conservatives tend do better fights and better shows.

The Liberals have appointed themselves as the guardians of everyone who has a grievance. They went from the idea that there are inalienable human rights to a much more watered-down idea that everyone has the right to redress for what they perceive to be their injuries. Those are not the same idea of what constitute rights!

When the Conservatives talk about your rights they are always talking about the right of property, the right to bear arms, but when Liberals talk about rights they talk about what originally was the concept of civil rights, like the right to vote and the right to be protected by the police that is now being translated into not just the right to be a Bronie, but the right to be a Bronie and not have anybody tease you, which is not a right.

”When you say things about Bronies, you should apologize to me and I will let them know!” Nothing turns anybody into a gelding minority better than having white people apologize and defend them and become an existential lawyer for people who never asked for council.

Merlin always thinks of Olive Oyl’s father in that terrible Popeye movie: ”You owe me an apology!” John thinks it was a great Popeye movie and even when you watch it on DVD the cocaine literally shoots out of the thing into your eyes. Robert Altman just decided he was going to do a musical about an unfilmable cartoon that nobody watches anymore.

Celebrities doing cocaine in the 1970s, Steve Martin (RL51)

A lot of the 1970s and into the mid-1980s can be explained by cocaine. The decline of Chevy Chase is all cocaine, but somehow Merlin’s good friend Bill Murray survived it. He did a lot of cocaine, but he kept his sense of humor.

Merlin listened to Steve Martin’s autobiography on tape and enjoyed it very much. He also just heard him on Fresh Air in a repackaged edition of multiple interviews that they had re-edited from a reedit for the DVD re-re-re-re-release and Dave Davis was in there for Terry Gross who was in for Dave Davis. In that interview he sounds like he should have done cocaine, but may not have done as much.

Steve Martin was shagging some babes in the 1970s, but not without thinking about it. He didn’t just shag a babe, but he shagged a babe and thought about it a little bit and he didn’t tell anybody because he is a very private person. He probably tried some cocaine, but he never descended into that pit of hell. Everybody knew he liked art, but he wouldn’t talk about what art he owned.

When he was just out having a meal and he didn’t want to be bothered, but people would come up to him anyway he used to give those people a pre-printed card that says: ”This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny!”

Zooey Deschanel asking people not to take her picture (RL51)

One time before she had her TV show John was at a restaurant with Zooey Deschanel. Afterwards they walked out onto the sidewalk where there was a little group of Indie Rock people with skinny pants and big chunky glasses. They had seen them go in and had waited patiently outside for an hour or two for them to come back out.

They were ”OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG!” and Zooey was very gracious with them and she signed all their things. Out came their cameras, but Zooey said: ”Hey, you guys! I really don’t feel like having my picture taken right now because I am just out having lunch with a friend. Is that cool?” - ”Oh, totally! Of course!”

Nobody took her picture and off they went. It was a very human encounter and all they wanted was a card from her that certifies they had a personal encounter with her. The picture was going to be that, but then when Zooey asked them not take a picture in a very nice way, that became the card and now they had a story and they didn’t need the picture anymore. They honestly didn’t mind because now they had a story.

If John walked up to Steve Martin: ”Hey, I am a huge fan!” and he said nothing and handed John this card and winked at him and went back to what he was doing, John would walk away with that card and would show it to everybody for a year, it would be plenty enough.

Merlin has been on both sides of this situation and the problem is that it will never stop escalating. There could be a playful jibing at first, then a: ”Hey, you are that guy from the thing!” and then it is going to be a picture and pretty soon that person wants to move in and they have their penis on your pants. John and Merlin have a mutual friend who is awfully good at being exactly as gracious as he wants to be and then making it very clear that we are done now, and they have several other mutual friends who envy that ability. If you have a certain kind of taciturn public image you can get away with that more.

Is John living up to his potential? Celebrities with disapproving parents (RL51)

The other day John had a very strange lunch with a friend who owns a local record label and they were talking about themselves and how difficult it is to be happy sometimes. The friend said that his dad was a jerk his whole live because his dad believed that he was destined for bigger things than the things he had in front of him. He was mad about it and was a jerk to everybody.

Recently he realized that his whole life he was not failing to live up to his potential, but in fact his potential was just not as great as he thought. He had been living up to his potential the entire time and he should just have realized that and been happy.

John wasn’t sure which part of that hurt him more and was harder to swallow. Maybe John is living up to his potential right now and is miserable for no reason, which fucking sucks! Is the lesson here that he just needs to be content and happy with what he is doing now and not aspire and not be on top of himself all the time, trying to charge forward and be better?

The alternative is that his whole life is miserable and when he is old he will look back and realize it was all for naught. John grabbed his friend by his shirt and said: ”Do you think I am living up to my potential? Tell me!” - ”No, no! Not at all!” - ”Thank you! God damn right am I not living up to my potential. Fucking A! Don’t you start telling me that I am living up to my potential!” What a terrible thing to say to somebody!

Steve Martin’s dad was pretty much on his death be before he ever said anything really nice about his work. He was a ridiculously huge success and he was able to walk away from his career to just do something else. He was the first and maybe only comedian to play stadium shows with 40.000 people. His first album came out in 1974, the year he first appeared on Saturday Night Live, which was his career maker, and his last one was 1981.

He did all of that arrow-through-the-head-guy stuff and then just walked away and said: That’s it! The Jerk is much closer to Steve Martin doing stand-up than Steve Martin in Roxanne, but he was what Spy magazine would later call a celebrity refusenik.

The father of The Jackson 5 was a total dick. Murry Wilson, the father of Brian and the boys (The Beach Boys) had a glass eye and would take it out and make Brian look in the hole. He had inserted himself into every aspect of their career because he was a failed musician. When Brian was still pseudo-lucid he had more talent in his pinky than his father had his entire life. You hear these stories over and over, like Gypsy Rose Lee. Merlin and John will have to steer around this with their kids!

In the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi they said that one time he slept in late on a Sunday and one of his kids thought there was a stranger in the house because he would leave for work at 5am and come home after 11pm. He continues to work every day, even at 80+ years old. If he goes to a funeral, his son who is 51 and works for him fills in. His Sushi restaurant has 10 seats, it is $300 a plate, it takes about 15 minutes to eat this in a normal situation, it is booked a month in advance, and it is the only Michelin 3-star place of its kind in the entire world.

He said that you have to push your kids out of the house and tell them that they don’t have a home here anymore. Merlin had been eating 4 cup-cakes and was feeling a little under the weather and he was thinking that he was warming up to this whole ”Don’t say: Good! Good!” to your kids, but to say: ”You don’t have a home here anymore!” seems pretty fucked up. Merlin did not get pushed out of the nest and he will always have a home there. His mom would keep his room in situ if she could, still with the ”No girls allowed” or ”Dungeon Masters only!” signs at the door.

John didn’t get pushed out of the nest either and a lot of the decisions he made in his early 20s were all attempts to push himself out of the nest, but it was very hard for him to do that successfully because he would leave home, he would sleep under bridges, he would say: ”I don’t need money!”, he would get covered with lice, people would hit him, he would have a perpetually runny nose, and he looked like he lived in a bilge.

At a certain point when there would actually be little families of sea monkeys living under his fingernails he would say: ”This sucks!” and he would find a payphone, dial collect to Alaska and his mom or dad would accept the call with ”Yes, OMG!” and John would go: ”Hi!” - ”Where are you? Where have you been?” - ”Oh, I am in St. Louis, Missouri!” - ”What is wrong with you? Why haven’t you called?” - ”I am lonely!” - ”Argh, my God! Why don’t you come home?” - ”Okay!”

Merlin finds John’s mom to be a fascinating person who always surprises him. It is amazing what she will and won’t put up with and then what she won’t and will put up with. She suffered John for so long so gladly and so graciously. On the other side she was tough as hell and she made him do his homework. That was a generational shift because when she was that age she promised herself never to go back to Ohio and she left Ohio and never went back.

John left Alaska and said that he will never go back to Alaska, but in fact he did go back multiple times. Part of him kept waiting for them to slam the door on him and say: ”You don’t have a home here anymore!”, but that never happened and John was not able to do it himself and slam that door in his own face.

Maybe John and Merlin were the first generation of fruits, maybe it was the revolution of 1848 that set in motion a chain of events where the Kaiser was deposed and eventually John became a fruit, maybe it was Foreigner 4, he doesn’t know what it is, but somehow he and Merlin were not pushed out of their homes and they also never really severed those apron strings themselves. This may be another example of John being too hard on himself and when he is 75 he will sit with his child and say: ”I should have been a lot easier on myself because I was doing the best I could!”

Maybe he just never realized how low his standards should be and how low his potential truly is. What if he was actually doing better right now than what he should be doing? That whole time he was eating meatball sandwiches in the bathtub and tweeting about it and feeling like that was a career? That actually was a career! That was as good as he could do. That was it! That was peak him. He became his own Harry Chapin song. The whole idea of that is going to dog Merlin down the line.

National treasures in Japan (RL51)

Last night Merlin watched the first half of the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi and liked it okay good. It is about a little guy in Japan who makes the best Sushi in the world. There is a cultural imperative in Japan to find the craftsperson who is the best in each of the traditional Japanese arts, like the best Woodcutter in Japan or the best Barrel Maker in Japan, and identify him or her as the best X in Japan and shower this person with money and accolades.

There has to be a uniform culture for you to be able to say that barrel-making or calligraphy is a great art of our people. There is the greatest calligrapher in Japan and he is a national treasure. A lot of things in Japan that people are very concerned about feel like a Mr. Show sketch to Merlin. People see distinctions in things that are lost on Merlin.

When you start talking about ”the art of Sushi”, then you have to ask yourself: Is there an ”art of French Fries” or an ”art of bugger picking”? You probably can get into a fist-fight in a bar over in Japan about these are concepts, it is what makes Asian so inscrutable, not to get Ping Pong. If you do something long enough, do you become a master at it? Is that the road to enlightenment? If you just sit and press your finger into your taint, the soft area between your pooper and your genitals, and you do that for 40 years, will you achieve higher consciousness?

Philip Glass: How many more songs can he get out of 1:5? Merlin first thought it was a joke.

Holocaust survivors, how all humans are more alike than they are different (RL51)

There are only a few holocaust survivors left and they are dying at a rate of 50% a day. Think about what they endured! Then they then re-joined human life, lived in towns, went to the grocery store, and watched some shows on TV. You want to think that what they endured made them into a different and unprecedented kind of human being and that the suffering and trauma they endured must make them utterly other, but in fact the gulf of human experience between John and an 85-year old holocaust survivor is not that wide.

What John’s mom experienced in her childhood and the pain she was capable of enduring seems inconceivable to John who has never walked 5 miles on a broken foot or had 15 root canals with no anesthesia. You imagine to endure those things she must be utterly different, but in fact she is a human being with the same capacities as John has. Certainly a holocaust survivor has a lot of other things going on, but the crazy thing about humanity is that even across cultures the difference between rich and poor are miniscule. We are ultimately very alike in capability and in experience.

This is why John objects so much to the idea of white people problems or first world problems. That phrase drives him crazy because the relative experience of suffering is actually relative. To look at a person who worked their entire life in a Mercury mine and then say a person who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth doesn’t know suffering is incredibly condescending.

In fact, the person who worked in a Mercury mine his whole life and died at 30 danced and sang and enjoyed his food. Suffering is not on some measurable scale. To say that the person who has suffered has a nobility that the person who has suffered less has no access to is to misjudge what it is to be human.

When John was wandering across Europe he was one time sitting in a girl’s apartment in Romania where the shower pointed at the toilet and the light in her apartment came in through a bare wire that went over the shower, through the door, and to a light bulb hanging over her palette of a bed. The cement walls of her one-room apartment were sweating moisture and John was sitting on the floor because she had let him come there and sleep that night. She was sitting on the bed and they were talking without having a common language because she didn’t speak English and John doesn’t speak Romanian.

After a while she looked at John and said: ”The only way that you can do what you are doing and have the thoughts that you are having and walk across Europe in this way and think about this world in this way is because you are rich! This is a luxury and you are doing a thing that only a rich person can do!” - ”But you and I are here and I am using your hospitality tonight. If it weren’t for you, I would be sleeping outside on the ground, but I am sleeping here in your apartment. You have the luxuries in our relationship!” - ”Yeah, you are rich enough to deny yourself luxury!” and John chewed on that for a while.

The people who wrote the Declaration of Independence were rich enough to deny themselves the luxury of becoming tyrants and we can’t look at them and say: ”They had white people problems!” In the story of human beings the difference between a rich person and a poor person seems incredible because we are here and we are in it.

If you were flying overhead in an UFO, looking at somebody sleeping in a mud hole and looking at Donald Trump, you might not see there being that big of a gulf between the two lives because we are all living in a mud hole here. Donald Trump’s solid gold bed is not that different from a mud hole if you get high enough in the sky.

We all have to poop! If every time Donald Trump poops it feels like he is pooping razor blades, which John hopes is the case, and then in contrast you think of someone who lives in a shack they made out of grass that they cut themselves and they sleep on a dirt floor, but every time they poop it feels so amazing, which one of those two people would you rather be?

Merlin counters that it is one thing to think that people are different and it is another thing to have a strong opinion about what that difference means to make them different. There is certainly more to the lives of all the people than how they feel when they poop, although that is a big one for Merlin. Part of the Liberal problem is to look at someone and say: ”You are a person with dark skin and therefore I must defend you!” - ”No, I could be your boss! Thanks, but no thanks!”

Merlin doesn’t try to be all (Jacques) Derrida, but: You know the person is different, but if your whole paradigm is that dark people need to be defended by you, then the thing that made that person different is apparent to you. They are black and you are white. You are taking it upon yourself to be their protector, consequently using what you see as the difference to not allow them to be different in the way that they want to be different.

It is one thing to say: ”Girls are softer than guys!” or ”Guys are taller than girls!” because there are certain things that are biologically accurate and there is a chromosomal difference. If you don’t acknowledge that, then you are not a learned person, but you get real stupid if you try to make that scientific fact into something it is not, which happens a lot. As animals we are constantly looking for distinctions to help us stay alive and help us thrive, make babies, and get a meal, and we are always looking for: ”this vs that”. That is where it gets complicated!

At least the Conservatives have ground cover in that they are monkey balls crazy a lot of the time. A lot of Merlin’s friends who are really smart think that they got a lot of stuff nailed down pretty hard, but they haven’t asked around. Before he was born people would still say: ”That person is a cripple, a gimp! They are fucking crippled!”, then we started saying: ”No, that person is not crippled, but that person is handicapped!”, and now we are saying: ”No, that person is not handicapped, but that person is disabled!” and so on and so forth. You can take it to the point where it gets sillier and sillier.

But really it is a person! We all got fucked-up stuff about us, it is just that this person has a wheel chair. ”OMG, they have a wheel chair, it is so sad!” - ”No, it is not sad! The fucking wheel chair helps them get around and they are doing great!” Merlin is always cracking wise about that new term ”abelist”. If you are an unsighted person or if you are an unhearing person, if you are on a spectrum of problems, you have every right in the world to stand up.

Merlin has a pretty good friend who does constantly make him aware of what it is like to be a blind person and you realize how much something like an iPhone is like a dick to use if you are blind. The folks that Merlin is railing about are not trying to even really help anybody, but they are trying to look good, and they are trying to say something that nobody could disagree with which helps fucking absolutely no-one!

For all of human history we clung to the idea that we are not animals because the evidence that we are animals was right over our shoulders all the time. If you lived on a farm, you woke up every morning and put on a freshly ironed shirt that was heavily starched and a black suit. You couldn't let that slide and start dressing like a slob and wear sweat pants because the difference between you and your pigs who were living right outside your window was a distinction that you had a real vested interest in maintaining. Your pigs are right there and the similarities between you and your pigs are there for all to see unless you maintain this separation.

Human civilization was built on some big ideas that came from the top down, like ”God said X and the law says this and the king says that!” and as time has gone on, on the Liberal side of the equation we don’t allow ourselves to have big ideas that govern us anymore. Somebody is blowing a bunch of bubbles and we are trying to pop each bubble individually, because each bubble is its own super-important point that we need to make.

The Liberal side of the aisle feels incorrectly that a lot of the big governing ideas and concepts are resolved, they are the educated side of this equation, and they know what the deal is. They have rejected God, Nietzsche, Oligarchy, and everything except seeing it how it really is.

Just in the course of John and Merlin’s adult life, the first thing they did was reject all the great books because they were written by the wrong people and they encoded privilege. They rejected all of the world’s wisdom, they certainly rejected the idea that there are some people who are better, like the Kennedies. They are not better, but they had unequal opportunity.

They rejected that anyone is a natural leader, they rejected basically any idea that each of us is not a kingdom in and of ourselves and each of us is not entitled to rule our own kingdom with an iron fist and have everyone around us respect the autonomy of our principality and have reciprocal trade agreements with our own little principality that is being governed, and we each have to acknowledge one another’s one-person monarchies.

If you say: ”Well, interesting, but Plato covered all of this 3000 years ago!” - ”Plato, huh? White male!” This person over here is living according to the Christian Bible and this person over here is living according to the tenets of My Little Pony, but the two things are equal and you suggesting that the two world-views are not commensurate is discriminatory, there is nothing worse than that, and it is unsustainable!

This is why we are starting a new reality, a new muscular liberalism that stems from an overarching world view and we welcome all people as long as they can take a punch in the nose to have the world run a little bit better, and if you are ready to take that, then you are on board. Keep a small bag packed!.

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