RL52 - The Choad Building

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: It’s time we change business culture with a scimitar, referring to John dreaming of being hired as the CEO for a tech startup for people who can't look another person in the eye and having a scimitar on his belt and a blunderbuss in his suitcase.

The show title refers to John looking for office space and calling the people working in downtown for choads who are working in a choad building.

John starts the show singing Merlin’s name. For some reason his headphones are a lot louder today and he can’t hear himself in his headphones. He loves it because it sounds bold. Merlin sounds like Twiki from the original Buck Rogers.

One time John yelled at Merlin to call 911 about this guy’s busted-ass sports car: ”That is what it is for!”

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

Jimi Hendrix’s penis (RL52)

Merlin saw Jimi Hendrix’s penis as a plaster cast on Cynthia Plaster Caster’s entirely Flash-based site, it is quite a thing! John’s understanding is that Jimi’s penis curves to the side. Merlin just saw a side shot of it and he thinks it might be regarded as a Chode, not a fire plug because it is considerable and long-scale, but it is real big around.

John’s impression is that a chode is shaped like a safety cone. He has used that word to refer to so many things in his short life and its original meaning might be lost. Merlin was told that it is a penis that is bigger around than it is long, which sounds like a child’s block, like a wheel of cheese, like a Japanese man. Can you have a Japanese choad?

Merlin thinks it is a great word! It is not a word you would use while meeting your local candidate for Lt. Governor. You would get a lot of snickers in the room or the guy standing right behind him whose job it is to move him from conversation to conversation would lean forward and say: ”That is not what chode means, sir!” and you wouldn’t have a chance to correct yourself because he would already be talking to three old ladies.

Hiring a personal handler (RL52)

Merlin could really benefit from having a handler like political candidates have. John sinks into his chair in frustrated exhaustion at the thought that he doesn’t have a handler. He has never heard a story from any of his friends that didn’t sound scary, where the person did not get what it took to handle them, and they end up having to handle the person they hired to handle them, and the handler passing the handling back to them with all the good parts filtered out.

Merlin has attempted to find handlers professionally and personally and it has been very hard. First of all you have to want to be handled and you have to be open to the changes required to make a handler effective. If you don’t want to be handled, you are not going to have a good handler, unless you are in a Roger Waters / Pink Floyd situation and you are such a basket case.

Shane MacGowan (singer from the Pogues) probably has a handler, but his handler has a fire hose and a tiger whip, and he wakes him up with the hose and whips him into the shower.

John looking at office space (RL52)

Yesterday John decided to look for office space away from his home, imagining himself waking up and commuting to different neighborhoods in the city where he would sit in a room with a window, the whole point being that he would write. He could be in a creative office space with other creative people like painters and dance choreographers, where he can lean in the doorway of his office with a cup of coffee, waiting for somebody with clay on their shirt to walk past.

Like the school in the movie Fame where there is a lady stretching in leotard and there would be somebody in a beret painting and John would ask: ”What is the word for when a penis is wider than it is long?” and the lady stretching would look up and say: ”Choad!” - ”Choad, thank you!” and go back to writing.

Or does John want a space up in a garret where nobody can get to him and somewhere underneath him people are using saws? Or does he want to go Downtown where literal chodes are working in the insurance and mortgage industry and rent office space in the Choad building where he in the morning will be crowding through the door, past guys with suspenders under their suit jacket that they call braces and there will be a security guard, saying: ”Good morning Mr. Choad!” and John will take the elevator up to the 7th floor.

John can’t decide, and as antisocial as he is, the whole reason he would be doing this is to put himself out into the actual world. He doesn’t just need some physical distance from this room full of Real Dolls (see RL21), but he needs to be out in the world where he is getting coffee and there are other people there. Merlin has faced a similar challenge many times with many different things and it sounds like John is on the horns of a dilemma. Get off those horns! Leave it! Merlin recommends John not to bring his red leather chair with him, but to remove it permanently.

John imagines the scene in the Billy Joel music video Allentown where the guy is moving big wrenches and you pan up and see an office manager up above on a railing wearing a tie and his pants are pulled up pretty high. John will have the office next to that guy. Merlin suggests John should also have a clawfoot bathtub because if he is not going to record he might just have a big bathroom in someone’s house, but John doesn’t know how to put that into Craigslist.

”Wanted! I want to rent your large bathroom all day! You need to be cool with strange sounds coming from the bathroom all day!” John will be there at the crack of noon and he needs that space for however long it takes him to finish his work. It would be helpful if that bathroom also had a little kitchenette in it.

Merlin’s office is like a dorm, and he is not by any means saying John should do anything like the literal personal holocaust that is his office, but he got a little hot water maker, a Sodastream machine, a microwave from Target and a pretty good-sized dorm fridge. That is pretty much what he needs to do basic stuff. At the point when he will bring in a hot plate he will need somewhere to hang it.

John’s ideal situation is a master bathroom with a kitchenette, situated over a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich company in an industrial area colonized by artists, with ladies stretching over here, guys stripping and repainting furniture over there, and a coffee shop across the street full of writers.

The problem is that John doesn’t know what he does. He doesn’t need to quit his present job in order to pursue his fantasy job because he doesn’t even know what his fantasy job is and he doesn't need to start doing his fantasy job until he is having so much fun and success at it that he has to quit his real job because his fantasy job has taken over.

John is trying to get himself out of the house and into a workspace so he can begin to work for the first time in many years. He both thrills, but also despairs at the prospect of sitting down at a desk at a new space that he is now paying money for, staring out the window and saying: ”Now what? Now what do I do?”

Merlin suggests John to set up something in his barn. He could have some ladies come out and stretch, just to get the lie of the land. When you want to walk across Europe, the first thing you do is buy a map, but when John walked across Europe he did not buy a map first. The walk still turned out okay, except for the bag and the boots.

He got off the airplane in London and walked over to the little news agent there at Heathrow and started looking through his rack of road maps, trying to figure out what route he was going to spend the next six months walking. Then he picked the road map that was cheapest and walked out of there, across the parking lot, and continued to walk into the same direction for six months and bought maps by the same method along the way.

John imagining himself in a corporate structure (RL52)

When John gets thrust into a situation where he thrives, he is like a Marine who has all of those skills, like a CIA operative who has those skills waiting all the time and when he is not in the shit his mind starts really going.

John has a friend, a lady he knows (he does not acknowledge Merlin asking if it is his baby momma, but it probably is), who works in a corporate office. She is now in a position where her boss has just quit. He had been working there for 15 years and he weaseled his way into a vice presidency at this company, but really he was just a frat boy and they gave him the vice presidency out of a feeling of obligation after he had been there so long. He quit and went to work at a pet grooming place and now there is a vacancy in the corporate structure and there is no vice president of marketing.

John’s friend is ideally positioned within the company to assume this job. She might not be promoted to Vice President of Marketing, but she certainly can be the Director of Marketing. Although she is incredibly talented she does not think of herself as ambitious in a corporate way. She doesn’t start sharpening her fingernails in the morning in order to gash the necks of her competitors, that is not how she imagines herself, although she has the competitive skills to succeed in that world, she just needs to unleash it.

In talking about her work situation John got very excited because he has those traits that would make him succeed in a corporate life, but he doesn’t have the opportunity to exercise them. He would love to be in a boardroom situation where other guys are competing to have their plans implemented and John was using all he knows about Machiavelli and The Art of War and all this shit that he read over the years and thought about without any intention of every becoming a corporate person. He just wanted to understand how they thought and he likes to read books that are part of the cannon of certain areas.

John felt like the scene in The Godfather: ”Listen, the person who invites you to that meeting, that is the one who wants your head!” You need to be on the lookout for the person who agrees with you and then doesn’t come to the first meeting you schedule because they were too busy. They are the one who is going to try to thwart your progress. Tattaglia is a pimp, it was Barzini all along!

A lot of Generation X people John’s age have told themselves over and over as a culture that the real things in life that matter are our friends and music and these things. They convinced themselves that their jobs are just these dumb things that didn’t matter, because they were the ones who really enjoyed life and they have to just go to their job 8 hours a day, but they really come alive when it is miller time.

Then they got 40 years old and no matter if they were duped or not, they still spend 40 hours a week in this place and if they don’t take their job seriously and understand the actual culture, not the fantasy culture of work, then they are going to top out and are going to be the 50-60 year old who is doing a job that the 26-year olds are doing better.

A lot of people are in the situation like John’s friend where there is a power vacuum and they should go to their higher ups and ask if they should fill in that power vacuum, but if you do something like that you are not growing your power, but you will be just a proxy for their power. Instead you need to climb into that power vacuum and fill it and by the time the higher ups notice you are already doing the job.

This is a big part of being a weasel and the important part of it is to make things seem like someone else’s idea. She could be a sleeper cell and nobody has ever suspected that she would ever want the pet grooming guy’s office because she is the nice girl, not the one kicking doors down.

The challenge are the choads at your level who can’t do that job, but also don’t want you to succeed at it and who become petulant about taking suggestions from you, especially when you are a lady. John was advising her to start scheduling meetings above her pay-grade that are her meetings and make a coalition throughout the office, tell every one of these guys: ”Hey, I am really looking forward to this meeting on Monday and I really hope that you will be there because I think your ideas in this are invaluable and we need to hear from you before we move forward because you are the gatekeeper for this segment!” and just stroke them with one hand while they feel the pressure of your knife point under their ribs but they are not exactly sure whether it is a knife or you are just trying to give them a strong hug. You give them the out where they decide they better go to that meeting.

John thinks he would be a great corporate boardroom person. A company operates according to a business dynamic, but ultimately it is a human dynamic and John sees through those things, he has X-ray vision about interpersonal stuff like that. John is an outsider while all those other guys are mired in that malignant culture and he is not going to take any of that bullshit, but he is just going to drive right past it. He likes to fertilize a garden and watch it grow, but he doesn’t mind wallowing in a bucket of blood, gnawing on the shin bones of his enemies. Somewhere in between there is basically what a CEO does.

John keeps waiting for a tech startup that is run by a bunch of college monkeys who don’t know how to talk to each other and who have never looked another human in the eye except while they were searching their mother’s face so that she would put her boob in their mouth, and John will be put in contact with them because they need somebody to talk to other people for them because they are busy making this 3D digital printer that specializes in Cynthia Plaster Caster’s Jimi Hendrix penis.

John doesn’t even need a contract or a mission statement because he has a scimitar tucked into his exceptionally wide leather belt that is part of his corporate uniform. ”This guy seems like our friend, but he has a scimitar!” and then he opens his briefcase and there will be a blunderbuss in there.

Imagine the eyes around the table in an all-hands meeting where they have craft services in the big room and fucking artisanal coffee, and a middle-aged man in a bathrobe walks in with a large leather belt, a scimitar, and a surprisingly costly briefcase that rattles when he walks, and he is missing a front tooth: ”Allow me to introduce you to John! He is going to run the company from here on out. Any questions?”

Then it turns out that John actually has a head for business that no-one could have foreseen. The first thing he is going to do is to move the company out of the choad building. After he got a couple of those under his belt he can come in with a list written on a Subway wrapper with a 14 point plan called The Scimitar Agenda. He spreads it out, flicks off a bit of green pepper with his finger he, and he shows them how it is going to go.

Merlin has some friend who are making techs and teching makes (reference to RL25) and sometimes as their company grows this exact thing happens. The culture is all fucked up and they bring in a fucktard from somewhere else to fix the culture. It is fighting fire with fire and it never works.

You need an agent of change who is not just one of the shitty ones who is going to come in there and hand out copies of the Starbucks book, which literally happened. The middling ones at least pretend to listen for a week, but with the great ones it is from day one like fucking George Patton is walking in and he is not just here to listen.

These people have started a business and got it to the point where their incompetence is the only thing in their way. John has been dealing with those people in another form for 25 years because that is Rock’n’Roll, people who can’t look another human being in the eye and there were 7 people in the room with 7 different agendas and everybody is acting like we all agree.

The second there is a power vacuum it is going to turn into Lord of the Flies and there is only one person in the room that matters and that anybody should be paying any attention to, and that is the guy with the idea, the guy who has the song. If the drummer is the loudest guy in the room with all the opinions, then somebody needs to take the drummer for a walk.

What if instead you could hire one man who would literally come to the office in a bathrobe? John is going to lay the scimitar down, open the briefcase, and get on a video call. What if it were a 3D projection of John? What if an actor or Ken Jennings walks into a board room, everybody looks up, he sets down a little black box the size of a box of crackers, and he says: ”Lights, please!” and John appears in a robe with a scimitar, slightly larger than life-size and he will walk around the room and look everybody in the eyes.

They can’t quite look John in the eyes because his eyes are just black orbs, like Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit with totally black eyeballs, and it amplifies John’s voice so it is coming out of speakers in the bottom of everyone’s seat. At the end Ken Jennings will just put the black cracker box back in his briefcase and say: ”Thank you, gentlemen, you have been served!”

Ken Jennings made the dough on Jeopardy that enables him now to write books for a living. He wrote a book about crazy people who are really into quiz shows, just like that book about Scrabble people, except about quiz show people, and his most recent book is about maps and geography, which is a wall inside John’s wheelhouse, it is the opposite of a safe word. Ken is a classic gentleman and he is very nice to the point of being a little bit on the Mayberry side and he and John are just getting to know each other better.

Ken has surrounded himself with friendly but incompetent people and he turned out great. He had the advantage of living in the South, which John doesn’t have. John sees in him the potential of being John’s consigliere, but Tom Hayden was not a wartime consigliere and John doesn’t know if Ken wants that much blood on his smock. He would be an extraordinary General and John will talk to him about this as the work progresses, just do a little spec work to see how he likes it.

15 years from now when Ken Jennings walks into a board room and everybody hits the dirt and is crawling under the table: ”Not me! Not me!” he doesn’t even have to have the box anymore. Pretty soon you get Rob Delaney walking into a board room, puts a box on the table, and Ken Jennings in 3D shows up.

Substitute teachers, classroom dynamics (RL52)

Back in school there were two kinds of substitute teachers. Either it would be someone extremely old who mostly reads a magazine or a really young teacher who was super-dumb, has read some books, and wants to stick to the lesson plan. Then there were the times when you walked in and the substitute teacher was a 40-guy with a crew-cut and a mustache!

Merlin was always happy to not be causing trouble, by and large, at least for the first 10 years. When the class gets a little out of control it turns immediately into Lord of the Flies, but when it gets too bad she will pick up the black phone and in walks Frank Kufahl, somebody who is a known hard-ass, somebody who puts weights on a tennis racket and swings it in the cafeteria.

When you walk into the classroom on the first day of school you scan the chairs and you think: ”Which chair is mine?” A lot of kids grab the first row of chairs because they are do-gooders and they want to sit up front. There are the guys with mullets and baseball hats on backwards grabbing the last row of chairs because they are the guys in the back, and then there are all the people who just fill in and take a chair and it doesn’t matter, even though you are going to sit in this chair for the whole school year.

John was always looking for the power desk which is toward the back, but not all the way in the back, close to the windows, where you are in a position to control the temperature of the classroom. It is the opposite pole of the teacher’s desk. It doesn’t need to be on the opposite side of the room, it is going to vary heavily by setup, but it is the power pole that John would try to find because his goal in every classroom was to be the opposite pole of the teacher, to be the negative terminal to their positive terminal.

The first few days of school John would just be so quiet and calm because he wanted everyone in the class to get into a groove and develop relationships with the teacher. John was patient because he knew that his time would come. There would be people who would chose a seat in the same vicinity because they wanted to be part of the fun, and kids who sat away as far as they could because they didn’t even want to get in reflected trouble.

If John were to be a substitute teacher in a High School he would walk into the class and scan the room as the students were sitting down and still making noise and looking at him with side-long glances. He would be sitting up at the black board, trying to identify that opposite pole because you can see it take shape in a classroom of kids as they come in and sit down, how they look at you and how they look at each other.

That power pole is the only chair that matters in a classroom that you are trying to teach for one day. It differs in every classroom, it is not always the comedian or the shit disturber, but there can be a lot of variations on this. It can be the disgruntled girl who thinks nothing is ever right. It depends, but you can feel it!

If you walk into a boardroom or any kind of room where there are 25 people who know each other and you are new, you look for that pole, that center of gravity that exists in the room, and that is the axis that you have to focus on. You can’t just start talking to the front row, like: ”Hey everybody! How is it going? I love to see your bright and smiling faces!” because you are going to hear a sound from the back of the room that you don’t like, somebody making a raspberry, and then you have lost it. As a substitute teacher, as a guy walking into a corporate boardroom, just as he does every time he walks into a room that is unfamiliar, John is scanning people as they walk in, watching for his opposite pole who thinks the room belongs to them.

John is empowered by that guy from Saved by the Bell and could potentially come in and cut off someone’s left hand, maybe you just take a pinky, like Al Capone with the baseball bat, like: ”Hey, great to see you! I couldn’t help but notice that you made a fart sound a second ago!” and *whack* that is one finger and you got 9 left. There is not enough capriciousness in leadership. People don’t understand what the word ”decimation” means. The Romans would come in and say: ”Who tried to put feces in the soldier’s well?” and they would kill one out of every 10 people and say: ”Let me ask you that question again!” until somebody is willing to tell what you want to know.

People being scared of being sued (RL52)

Everybody is scared of getting sued, even people who are never in their lives ever going to get sued. Not very long ago John was backing into a tight parking spot in front of a hair and nail salon and he did not make it all the way in, which is embarrassing for him to say, although it was an awkward spot, and he had to pull out and start again.

In the course of doing this the people in the salon, both the customers and the staff took an interest in this and got up out of their chairs and came out onto the sidewalk. The car in the back belonged to one of the people in the salon and as John was backing into his spot a second time, one of the people said: ”If you hit my car, I am going to sue you!”, which was a fascinating study in the way people think the world works.

As John got out of the car and people were still standing there John said: ”I would like you to call the police now so that we can begin this lawsuit process” and there was a lot of shit-talking back and forth between John and these 11 girls because that is how John does it sometimes.

The car they thought John was about to bump into was a 1994 Ford S10 Pickup and John felt like opening his wallet and throwing the money that the truck was worth at her and demanding the key. The thread of a lawsuit has filtered down in our culture to the point that she did it straight-faced because the thread of a lawsuit is the new: ”I am going to call the police!”

You scale that up to a world of companies where lawsuits actually do happen and people actually do sue for discrimination or wrongful termination or sexual harassment, and you apply the fact that the thread is more real, but we are all carrying around in the back of our minds the possibility that a lawsuit is a thing that we could be hit with at any moment. It creates an inhibiting fear of just doing what needs to get done and being who you are.

The reality about a lawsuit is: ”Fuck you! Really?” It is a rare occasion when you can get an actual lawsuit off the ground. You need to have the money, a case that makes sense to everybody, a real burr in your saddle, and yet John talks to people all the time who say: ”Yeah, I would love to do that, but we are probably going to get sued!”

Sometimes you need to take the risk, even if it is conceivable you might get sued, but that is a risk you need to take. Likewise, people who threaten make-believe violence or accuse other people of being hypocrites are mainly scared of the thing they are threatening you with and assume it will work on you.

There are so many business situations where everybody in the company knows that this one person is the problem and they need to go, and yet they can’t get rid of him because he might sue. In their corporate boilerplate they have all the reason you need to amass in order to properly fire somebody and you have to follow it to the letter, even though this is just your internal policy.

John’s mom talked about this 30 years ago where there was one guy in the place who needed to go and they ended up paying him for another year until they could come around to his performance review again where they had documented his behavior. It is like trying to catch a dog that is shitting on the rug: You have to spend all of your time walking on egg shells trying to finally catch this guy doing the thing we know is actionable. In some cases you just have to fire the guy and he is not going to sue, or if he does he is going to lose and you get on down the road.

Otherwise you stop believing in yourself, you stop believing that you are doing the Lord’s work because you see every day how you are being hamstrung by someone who is intentionally disruptive and you need to get the cancer out. John’s dad used to say that that is what lawyers are for.

Celebrity Process Service, celebrities delivering subpoenas with Ken Jennings (RL52)

John had lunch with Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy champion. They had a good time going around dressed as doctors, knocking on people’s doors, offer to give them exams, and they had the brilliant idea of a company that hires celebrities to deliver subpoenas.

A lot of people know who Ken Jennings is. Imagine he comes to your office, goes: ”Hey, is Mark Miller here?” - ”Aren’t you Ken Jennings?” - ”That is right! Here to see Mark Miller!” - ”Let me get him!” and the guy comes out and Ken Jennings hands him the little blue folder and says: ”You are served! Boo yah!” No-one is ever going to see that coming. Celebrity Process Service!

A lot of celebrities have a lot of downtime and they start to wonder about what their place in the world is and what is the point, if they are doing good and are part of the world anymore or if they are just living in their solid gold bathtub. If they were out in the world, meeting people, serving subpoenas it would frame their life in a good way. John could probably put that together because he knows a lot of recognizable people who are down on their luck and are between projects. ”Weren’t you in that one band?” - *SLAP*

Uncle Cal flying to a board meeting to decline raising minimum wage (RL52)

John’s uncle Cal was a lawyer who grew up in Washington. His father would drive around and buy strawberry fields and put together an agricultural empire. Uncle Cal started working in the lumber business in the 1950s and 1960s when cutting down trees was still seen as environmental work in the Northwest. His generation believed that being an environmentalist meant that you went out into the forest, breathing deep of the mountain air, and chopped the fuck down some trees because that was the hardy outdoorsy man that made America strong. The idea of conserving trees had never occurred to them.

Uncle Cal ended up being the vice president of Weyerhaeuser at a time when the president was still George Weyerhaeuser himself and when companies did not have a CEO, but they had a president and one vice president. Now you look at a company and they have a CEO, CFO, COO, CPO (Chief Petty Officer), EVP, EVP, and 17 vice presidents. Who are these people?

Eventually uncle Cal became president of MacMillan Bloedel, Canada’s largest timber company and he was president for many years until he entered the world that John aspires to be a member of and ultimately king of, the world of people who used to be Generals of the Army, retired senators, the president of Princeton university, the former head of the CIA, and professor emeritus.

Uncle Cal was on the board of directors of Seafast Bank, then Bank of America, and it became a spore situation where all of a sudden what he did was being on the board of directors of 20 companies and back in the 1980s and 1990s he was paid a lot of money for every one of those positions. He was a Republican, a person who believed in business and he would tell stories that he did not realize how ironic they were because he was living in a world where this seemed perfectly legitimate.

He would drive down to the airport in the morning, get on a Lear Jet where he was the only passenger, fly to California where a car would pick him up and take him to a board meeting, spend 1.5 hours whether or not to raise the minimum wage at their company from $4.25 an hour to $4.40 an hour and they would decide that they couldn’t afford it because it would jeopardize the company’s bottom line.

They would vote it down and an hour later he would be driven down to the airport again, into a Lear Jet where he was the only passenger and flown home so he could have dinner at home. The irony never occurred to him that the cost of that wage increase was contained in the aviation gasoline costs of all the Lear Jets of the board members who came to that meeting.

They squandered that pay raise and 1000 more like it, just in the nuts and bolts process of doing American business that way. They could have had that board meeting over speaker phone or via registered letter, there was no reason why those people all had to be in a room together to debate and make that decision because they had all made up their minds before they arrived. That Lear Jet was also either standing by or had to fly up to get him.

When John pointed it out to him, his reaction was the same as every time John pointed anything out to him and he would say: ”That is how business is done and you don’t understand that it is necessary!” Ultimately it all works out in the wash because that gasoline and that flight was tax deductible and ultimately they don’t pay for it and it is free because of course taxes are terrible.

John was a 23-year old idealist who enjoyed very much sitting in his uncle’s palatial living room because there was usually someone in a white shirt handing him some food in a tray, and it resonated in his head that the pay-raise goes right up the smoke stack of the cost of doing business.

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