RL69 - Campfire Spaghetti Party

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: People would treat you so differently if you were literally riding a bear, referring to some banter where they talk about that a dog that would be big enough for John would be a bear and John could be riding around on that bear.

The show title refers to an event during The Big Walk in the Czech republic.

Merlin asks John if he needs a little drink, but John has quit drinking 18 years ago. It has been a long time! It has been the duration of the life of a person who could serve in the military since John had a drink last!

John spent the whole last week reading about Hitler and getting ready for the podcast.

John’s keyboard is still broken, but he ordered the thing that Merlin told him (probably the solar powered keyboard).

Merlin sings a very short song and plays the guitar for John. It almost made John cry, just like the original called ”Waltz #2 (XO)” by Eliott Smith. It is one of Merlin’s all-time favorite bridges. It got Eliott through his divorce. The record XO is about him being divorced from his mom. Both Merlin and John are lucky middle-aged guys who are lucky to be alive. Ever since they were trying to do this podcast at night… Merlin continues with his guitar and happens to play Fade to Black, the Suicide song, but he happened to sing lyrics from One, because every Metallica song is essentially the same. It is not like Nickleback-crazy, but it starts out with a single guitar and then you get two or three more guitars, especially on the early records.

Merlin sometimes wonders how long they would be able to do this show, but they he realizes that John literally has 1000s of stories.

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

Campfire Spaghetti Party in the Czech Republic (RL69)

As John was walking across the Czech republic in 1999, he ran into some teens while he was out in some fields, a boy and a girl who were out there smoking cigarettes or looking for a place to neck. They adopted the crazy American they had found, started walking with him and took him back to their small little village. Eventually they offered him to hang out with them on their campfire spaghetti party and to stay at their house afterwards. John was very intrigued because he had never heard of such a thing and Merlin laughed out loud when he heard about it. John accepted and hung out with these kids as the sun went down. They were leading him through the village and there was a bonfire with a bunch of 25 other kids. As they were sitting around, pretty soon somebody whipped out a guitar and pretty soon somebody showed up with a pot of spaghetti. Everybody got a bowl and - to John’s everlasting horror - a bottle of ketchup got around. The meal was just noodles in a bowl and the only sauce they expected everybody to use was ketchup. They must have seen this in the movies!

The kids had been telling their friends that John was a musician and they were hustling to get the guitar to him, pushing him to play any songs. The only songs he knew were the songs he had written, but nobody around the campfire wanted to hear any of those for sure! John knew better than to play any of his songs, but he was really on the spot and so he acquiesced shyly to play one if his songs. The only song he could think of to play at this moment was Mimi, which is truly not a campfire song for a bunch of Czech teenagers. He was getting the non-acceptance vibe and he closed his eyes while the sweat was beating up on his forehead. John had really blown it with these kids! This would have been the big moment to audition his music to these kids, but as he got to the end of Mimi, there was nothing but a polite applause and some grimaces.

The teenagers who a moment earlier had been so proud of their big catch the American guy were now just embarrassed by him. The guy sitting next to him almost grabbed the guitar out of John’s hand and he launched into Metallica's Enter Sandman. All of a sudden the whole vibe changed! It was like James Hetfield was there: They were all so thrilled that this guy could play Enter Sandman and John's presence became kind of creepy. He was 10 years older than the oldest person at the campfire and he sat there stewing in his own flop sweat and shame, trying to eat as much pasta and ketchup as he could because he had been living on leaves and snails for the two weeks prior. Also: John didn’t drink, which is extremely suspect in any campfire situation: He was the old creep with the molester glasses who doesn’t drink and played this song!

At the end of the night it started to rain and the campfire party split up. The kid who had offered John to stay at his house was now really reluctant because John had become an embarrassment for him. He asked John to wait in front of the house, went in, came back 30 seconds later and told John that his mom had said ”No!” Now it was the middle of the night and it was pouring rain. The kid walked him across the street to a grain warehouse owned by his grandfather, but he couldn’t open the door and offered John to sleep on the covered loading dock. John unrolled his sleeping bag on the concrete floor under a loading dock light and thought that he was at his bottom. This was it! He had been shown up by a Czech boy playing Enter Sandman. He had found his bottom, here it was! But John hadn't even been close to his bottom, he had no idea!

The road covered with frogs (RL69)

The morning after John was at the campfire spaghetti party, John started walking early to get out of this shame hole. It was an absolutely beautiful morning! The rain had stopped and those small country roads had steam coming off of them while the sun was on its way up. John reached a one-lane black-top road that was completely covered with tiny frogs the size of a silver dollar. He couldn’t walk on that road without stepping on frogs and he just had to stand there for an hour of his life to watch this frog migration, this tide of emerald-green silver-dollar frogs. Then a car dove by and killed 10.000 frogs, but it was just a day in the life, it happens to John all the time. Merlin often has the streets covered in snails.

Being good friends with lesbians (RL69)

John got some listener mail from a kid in college who said that he had been following John on Twitter and John had said something about men being worse than women, it must have been in response to some other tweet. The person said that he is a young straight guy but all his friends are lesbians who always tell him how bad men are. He wants to stand up for men and wants to be a good example of a good straight guy, but sometimes he wonders if it is even possible. Can you advise? John's advise to him was to stop hanging out with lesbians and get a girlfriend! The best way to demonstrate that straight guys are good is to be a good straight guy to one person. Start being nice to one gal that you like. Don’t try to impress all the lesbians at your school. After John had replied to him, he never wrote back and is probably stewing over John’s advise. Merlin suspects that those ladies had to sit and listen to him a lot about why girls don’t like him. Merlin had been that guy a lot and had been looking to protect everybody’s rights, which was not good for anybody. John remembers a time when all his closest friends were lesbians and he was their straight boy mascot, like the first fag hag, or the less press. Maybe John was hoping that some of them would get over being lesbians, but that was probably not it. It is the same thing with the fag hag: You get to interact with somebody of the opposite sex where the issue of sex is not present. It makes a lot of sense if you just want to go out and dance.

Merlin says that both of them were angry or envious of their friends who were sexually potent and were going out finger-banging and stuff. John is still mad at them for that! Without respect to any given gender and sexual orientation mixup, everybody is always thinking in their back of their mind that they are going to be able to flip the client at some point. You see it on all conceivable sides, it could even be somebody who is married and who is secretly hoping that they are going to divorce their spouse and will finally be able to live on the Isle of Man together. It is probably not so far away from being guitar guy: You sit around and have a really mixed-up idea about where you should be focusing your attention and what you should do once you have gotten that attention. The times when Merlin got it really really wrong are the times that make him cringe, the times when he was guitar-guy or the times when he though he was speaking truth to power because he couldn’t finger-bang.

The difficulty of going down the street arm-in-arm (RL69)

There was pretty long period in John’s life when he was in the company of a girl he liked and she liked him and they were going down the street together, walking somewhere. John would put his arm around her and she would put her arm around him and they would attempt to make their way down the sidewalk in that three-legged race cadence of a tall guy with his arm around his girlfriend and her arm around him. There is absolutely no tempo or pace that they could walk comfortably in that configuration. Her hip was bumping into him and they were crashing into each other like two battleships tied to the same dock in a storm. The sidewalk was just this stormy sea and yet, because they are young and they are in love they feel that they should be walking this way and should be embracing each other as they walk down the street. John realized that it was 15 years ago since he had made the mistake of thinking that you could walk down the street side-by-side with your arm around somebody. It is not a problem anymore because it is simply something he doesn’t do, but for the first 10 years that he was romantically involved with girls, he was always in this posture, like two pool-balls in a crown royal bag. There is no way to make this work!

Riding a bear (RL69)

Trying to walk arm-in-arm with your girlfriend is like trying to walk two differently sized of dogs, like an Akita and a Shih Tzu. It is impossible! What you should do in this situation is to put a saddle on the Akita and put the Shih Tzu in the saddle, then you are everybody’s fucking hero! Those dogs live in people’s purses and they can surely ride other dogs! The problem is that a dog big enough for John to ride would be the size of a brown bear, but the dog that is the size of a brown bear is a brown bear. He would look like a Molly Hatchet album with a battle axe and a helmet on! Why can’t John do that? He could if he would trade in one of the hoopties and made a down-payment on a bear! John has seen a lot of bears, he has known a lot of bears, but he has never seen a man ride a bear. If a man had ever ridden a bear, John would probably have seen a picture of it. He has seen bears playing footsie with Husky dogs, he has seen a bear dance to a violin, but he has never seen a man ride a bear.

There was a TV-series called Gentle Ben with a trained bear. You can stare down an animal with dignity and respect, and in time you could not only get it on your side, but it will get you on its side. You could build a relationship that would allow you to literally go bearback on the bear and just wheel right up to Josh Rosenfeld’s office on a bear. People would treat you so differently if you had a bathrobe and a Cimetar and you were literally riding a bear. If John could ride a bear, the last place he would go to is his Indie Rock record label. He would be so far away from Indie rock because he would be the guy who could ride a bear. He would be a fucking parade everywhere he went and would immediately go to Downtown Seattle! He could go to that library he doesn’t like, but the traffic flow is so constricted that there is no place you could ride a bear into that library. You would ride this bear right into an Escalate or Alcove (Escalader Alcove?).

John saw a picture of a ferret that had been given some kind of steroids. It had grown really long hair and looked like a toy poodle. Picture that ferret with a big white afro in the size of a bear and now you talk cover of Heavy Metal Magazine in 1982. They would restart the franchise, because apparently there is a man in Seattle who literally rides a bear. It seems that once you become for example a horse-person and get a horse, it is kind of like comics, models or rubber girls: You want to get more and soon you have a stable of horses. John has a big barn that is just full of Vespas right now, meaning that he is the horse-person of Vespas. Couldn’t John with his Rock ’n’ Roll money get a stable of bears that his whole family could ride around on? A bear is bigger and tougher than people think. Even a small bear is big and they are pretty clever, like racoons. Racoons are little nz-bears. If you picture a bear, you picture a large elegant sleek animal with giant claws, but they are actually really blobby, almost like a big whale with a horse-like tapered neck and they are super-scary. Even a bear that is doing nothing is terrifying.

The bear at the cabin in the woods (RL69)

John doesn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of all the times when he has literally been tracked by a bear, but here is one of the stories: John has a very good friend that he has mentioned on the podcast before, but never by name. He is by far John’s closest friend who still lives in Alaska. His father built a little cabin at a small lake in the shadow of Mount McKinley (Denali). The family named the lake after themselves, because if you have a lake, what else are you going to call it? The lake is large enough to land a float plane on, but it is too small to take that float plane back off, so the plane would live there forever, like a float plane lobster trap. This sucks, because it would be pretty amazing to get into this place so much easier if the lake was just a little bigger. The cabin would be the Hilton of Alaska cabins, but as it is, there are only two ways to get to this cabin. First, you can float down the Chitina River to the Chulitna River to the place where the Chulitna forks into the Talkeetna River and then pull your rubber raft off and hike 5 miles through the Devil’s clubs.

Second, you can land a ski plane during winter time on the swamp that is 2 miles through the forest. The problem with that is that the swamp never completely freezes, because there are always some methane earth farts that keep the ice from being solid, meaning you have to keep the plane moving a little bit, because otherwise it will sink into the slush. If you keep it moving, it stays on top of the snow and you are just floating along on a cushion of snow. It is very easy to take off again as long as you keep the plane moving. The plane only seats two people, the pilot and the passenger, so you have to go up in multiple trips if you want to be several people up there. The plane lands on the snow, the pilot has to keep the plane moving slowly on the swamp and you open the door and throw your bags out into the snow and you throw your snow shoes out and jump out of the plane and the plane keeps moving and the pilot hits the gas and flies away and you are alone on the swamp. It sounds like a John Carpenter movie, you wait for 45 minutes until Kurt Russel comes and then there is a dog that has been infected with some kind of alien super-bug.

When you leave the cabin, you have to leave it via the same method one at a time. You climb up on the ski, climb in the plane and off you go. Back then they didn’t have cell phones and there would be no cell service there anyway. Instead they would have a pre-appointed time when the plane would come and get them, like for example he would fly by noon on Sunday and they were supposed to be waiting. While at the cabin, they had seen a bear over at the forest edge and John’s friend’s dad had multiple encounters with bears at the cabin. The bears can’t tell the difference between a window or a door or a wall, so they would just kind of hammer on the outside of the cabin and you would be inside hoping that the bear wouldn’t figure out that a window was less solid. At one point John’s friend’s dad went out with a sawed-off shotgun and shot the gun in the air to scare the bear, but the gun exploded in his hand and his hand was all shredded, so then he got the short wave radio out from under the cabin and fired up the gas generator.

One time John drew the short straw and was the first one out on the day they were leaving. He went out with his snow shoes and his bag and snow-shoed out across the little frozen lake for a couple of miles. It is a trudge, but they would snow-shoe a lot longer than that. It is not high up, so the air is not thin, but it is 30 degrees below zero (-35° C) or something. You snow-shoe across the lake and through the forest and you will come out on the other side of the forest and into the swamp where the plane arrives. So John is like dub-di-doo-di-doo and just as he clears the forest on the other side, he hears a shotgun. It is not the craziest thing to hear in Alaska and John has a pistol, so he has his hand on his pistol in case. If the shotgun were a crazy trapper or somebody would be shooting John’s friend, he wasn’t out there with a pack of chewing gum and a sling shot, but he was still wondering about the shooting.

15 - 30 minutes later his friend Peter comes with the shot gun. He is out of breath and has been running like crazy. He asked John to come with him, they walked back through the forest and as they get back half way through the forest, he describes that he had timed to leave the cabin 30 minutes after John and as he was walking across the lake he sees big huge brown bear tracks that were walking perpendicular to John’s snow-shoe tracks and they stopped at John’s snow-shoe tracks, turned and followed John’s tracks into the forest, so as Peter arrived at this point he started shooting his gun in the air and started running towards John. Halfway through the forest, the bear had left track of John and went off into the bushes. All this was in the course of 30 minutes. John would not have heard the bear or been aware of it, it could have been behind him, and who knows?

Merlin has been doing things like car camping where you pull up your car, take 10 steps and put down your tent in wave-gravy California. They were very clear about making sure to use the bear box. This is not like a funny thing to amuse the tourist, but there are literally bears there who will come to your camp site and smell your food. Bears will smell everything, so keep the food in the bear box! They are not scared of humans, at least the California car camping bears. It must have been black bears, because there are no more grizzly bears around in California, although the state flag has a grizzly bear on it. Black bears are much smaller and much more berry-eating. They like a bowl of müsli and yoghurt, they like to talk about their feelings, they like to rummage in the Foot Locker looking for the bug spray, they are a gentler, smaller kind of bear, but John would still not go up to a wild black bear and hug it.

Merlin’s zoo is very poorly made, it is like a mall and wherever you are standing, you think you are standing in the back of what you are supposed to be looking at. For some reason, somebody threw a shit-ton of money at this Grizzly bear display and it is very spacious. There is one little sad polar bear in what looks like a kiosk from the mall, but the grizzly bears have got this entire giant area that includes one of those sea-world-kind-of-things where you can look down from under the water and see them. When you go to the water area, they have put bear-sized foot-prints in the concrete and they are at least 8 inches across. They are ambling around like a fat man who used to do Kung Fu, but had three martinis. They are ambling, but there is something about them where a glancing blow knocks a fucking tree down. They have that prehistoric vibe with that weird tapered dinosaur neck.

There was a polar bear at the Anchorage zoo for many years with the name of Binky. Every once in a while, some drunk kid would scale the fence to either taunt the bear, or on a dare because the bear seemed to be sleeping all the way across the enclosure, or for some other reason that some kid thought it was a good idea to climb the fence into the bear enclosure. Routinely, Binky would go from fully asleep, balanced on a truck tire 200 yards away, to on this kid in the blink of an eye. One time he got a kid and the newspapers reported it as delicately as they could, but the gist of it was that Binky had bit that kid’s dick off as the kid was halfway back up the wall and Binky got him right in the package. There is a famous picture with Binky carrying that kid’s shoe in his mouth. They couldn’t get the shoe away from him. The zoo was mortified because a bear carrying a shoe in its mouth is not a thing that you want people seeing who come to the zoo. It is a bear! What do you expect?

On Christmas day a couple of years ago, somebody broke into the tiger area at Merlin’s zoo. Merlin's family is a member of the San Francisco Zoological Society, which means they pay $100 a year and can go as often as they want. It did not turn out great and their zoo lost its elephant credentials. One of the big draws of a zoo is having elephants. At least one elephant died at the zoo. They kind of spaced it. It is a really weird zoo.

Elephant paintings from the elephant sanctuary (RL69)

Five or six years ago, John tried to be a hip bachelor. He bought a house, he was going to get some leather couches and a big-screen TV, he was going to sit in the house with a velvet smoking jacket and he was going to fill his house with art, sort of like a mini Hugh Heffner or Patrick Bateman. Then John realized that he didn’t want a leather couch and that he didn’t have a lot of use for a big TV. He was kind of at sea, but he wanted his house to be full of art. John’s good friend Jason Finn, frontman of the Presidents of the United States of America has a very great art collection. You would not believe it by looking at him, because he is a terrible person! A lot of people with crazy eyes have great art and he has been collecting it for 25 years! He goes to student art shows and he has developed an eye enough that he buys a painting for $100 and a couple of years later everybody is talking about this artist. What an asshole! How dare you being successful at this! Jason is a model for John and kind of a mentor. John is going to get some art for his house other than posters of topless girls that had been lacquered to plywood and burned around the edges. John has a house full of thrift store art, but he wanted to get some art art and he doesn’t know anything about it. He is going to art galleries, but he doesn’t feel part of that culture.

Then he learned that elephants make art. They give them paintbrushes and then sell those painting to pay for elephant chaw, meaning that the animals are actually working for their bowl of food. John has seen it actually happen! The elephants are super excited and they express themselves in paint and do those amazing paintings. John doesn’t care enough about student artists to pay $1600, let alone $20.000, but John will totally buy a painting from an elephant. The copy is written by an elephant trainer, not an art curator, and the descriptions are terrible, but here is the problem: Just as John got into Afghan war-rugs, all the ones that he really liked that had Mig-27s in them were sold already and all the elephant paintings that John really liked were sold. The ones that were still for sale were all these brown ones.

So John followed the elephant thread and discovered an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. These people bought 50.000 acres of rolling Tennessee hills and they take all these elephants that spent their whole lives working in the circus or who were living in a tiny little cement room or were chained to a 6-foot length chain that gave them permanent scars on their elephant wrists from being chained to a floor for 20 years. They take all these elephants with PTSD that had their babies taken away, like child soldiers meets Dumbo. They are traumatized, they are brought into this elephant sanctuary and they are turned loose to live out their lives just frolicking in Tennessee, which is the Africa of America. They roll in the mud, they party with other elephants, they get to know each other, they play slap-and-tickle, they do whatever elephants do and they are very social elephants. A lot of them are girl elephants, because the boy elephants are bigger and meaner.

John is a big supporter of the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee and he goes to their website all the time. Every time he sees an elephant in a zoo or one that does some work somewhere in the world, he whispers in their ear ”Elephant sanctuary”.

Merlin’s next door neighbor in Junior High in Pasco County Florida was collecting elephant-related things. Merlin realized what a gift it is to have a collection because there are so many things one can give you as a gift, like a braille Playboy, a cowboy hat, a nice brass candelabra, Ray Bans! You could give anything elephant-related to Merlin’s friend and it would be a wonderful gift. It is specific, but it is nice to be specific.

Merlin is not really comfortable talking about it, but he thinks he got scammed by an animal artist recently. Like a lot of white people, he heard a thing on NPR about Cheeta, the chimp from the Tarzan movies. Chimps can get very old and all of a sudden you have an insane shit-throwing 5 year old that gets 80 years old. Elvis learned this the hard way when his monkey masturbated in front of his friends and thought it was funny. Cheeta is being cared for at a sanctuary. Of all the people in the movie, the monkey is still alive! The way they were subsidizing Cheeta’s keep was that he did paintings for his Cheeta chow. Merlin was able to go to a site and chose what colors Cheeta was going to use and he commissioned and bought a Cheeta painting. There has been some controversy whether or not the painting monkey actually is the canonical Cheeta. The painting Merlin got back was on canvas back with purple and yellow and it looks like a chimp made it. It might all be cheating and some dude might have made a fake Cheeta painting and makes a lot of money from it. If John would buy an elephant painting, he would at least like to see a 6-second video of the elephant painting his painting, because the elephant sanctuary that does the paintings is in Thailand.

Merlin doesn’t want to make this about Hitler, but he is very interested in the idea of provenance. He first heard it in college in painting class where you look at the chain of custody for this particular piece of art. Merlin is not the "pics or it didn’t happen" guy, but for example the comic artist Jean Grey whom he likes a lot drew a custom cover for him that came with this little authenticity thing. Merlin knew it was real, but it is very interesting in general how you prove that anybody did anything? You need to have a video of the elephant making the art! They also need to hold up a newspaper so you know what date it is. Merlin wants them to mention his name in it and wants them to tell what the Billboard #1 song is this week. They are faking Van Goghs right now in the Viet Cong! That’s how they keep that war going that was mostly underground.

25 pairs of Levi’s (RL69)

John never throws anything away. For many years he only wore Levi’s. He was making the classic mistake that many young guys make: He found one piece of clothing that worked and while it didn’t look the best on him, he could get them cheap at Sears. John would get the unwashed kind, the raw 501’s. That was until recently when the Levi’s company was taken over by skinny-pant hipsters who have no sense of history. They are now making 600 different pairs of pants but they can’t make their iconic jeans anymore? Merlin has Levi’s from Chile, Mexico (they are always taking a nap), the Dominican Republic, Equator, Chinese Levi’s (not me, not me, I’ve got no soup).

John would wear his Levi's until they were completely white, the knees were blown out, the crotch was blown out and you could almost see through them, like he was in the cast of Hair. For 30 years he had been wearing these jeans and every time when it came to the point where he looked like he was in a band called Hippie Big Buckle and he needed to go to the store to get new jeans, instead of throwing those super-patchy hippie-pants away, he would just carefully fold them and put them in a drawer. Now John has a hope-chest at his house with 30 years of jeans. He has 25 pairs Levi's that are completely patched, but all made-in-America, worn from tin-denim level all the way down to this tissue paper. They are all 36 waist and 36 length and sit in this foot locker. Once in a while he looks at his whole life expressed in pants. Everything he ever did he did in those pants. Every song he ever wrote, every tour he ever went on, that was all in these pants.

John doesn’t want to go through the rest of his life with this submarine full of jeans! It is like a 3-man seal submarine, and one day he will be out, his lady is going to poke around, she is going to open this big cedar box and she will find 35 years of pants. Those type of pants are exactly the type of pants that girls like to steal from boys and wear cinched around their waist with a cute little belt. It is so cute, but John doesn’t want it to happen to his jeans archive! He could have a Jules & Jim situation in his bedroom, she could draw on a mustache! His sense of history is clouding his vision! Maybe he should have given away those jeans to girls in the last 25 years, maybe he has missed a big opportunity, but instead he has been protecting these jeans and now he has a time-capsule of jeans.

Then it popped into his head: He could put those jeans on eBay as a lot. 25 pairs from the last 30 years, all made in America, all worn to paper-thinness, but then he thinks: Who is going to buy that? And what are they going to do with them? Maybe a costume designer who is rebooting Hair, that would be cool. Or he could sell them to Levissniffer56, a guy with an efficiency apartment, but he probably would sniff girl’s Levi’s. What if he put them on eBay with a provenance like ”These are the jeans that he wrote the song Cinamon in” or ”I played Mimi around a campfire and ate pasta with ketchup in these jeans” and a bunch of extremely creepy single men are holding up ping pong paddles!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License