RL74 - The Omnibus of Wilburforce

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John was out walking in the cold, trying to conjure an orb, referring to John in 7th grade thinking that there might be some real magic in him and he was focusing on getting anything to happen, even only a single orb.

The show title refers to books you have in your bathroom to read for when you are on the toilet and John thought Merlin would have a book about superheroes and Wilburforce is the guy with swords coming out of his hands.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Pronunciation, words you only have read but don’t know how to say, pshaw (RL74)

John starts the episode by singing the theme to James Bond Goldfinger. There is no good option for a normal guy like John to be Goldfinger unless you think that peanut butter is gold. The same way how you get to Carnegie Hall (Named after Andrew Carnegie): ”Practice, practice, practice!”, ”How to win friends and make it to my hall” (actually by Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People). He is the steel magnate, that is a different Carnegie (Andrew).

Recently John has been called out on his pronunciation of dearth //(pronounced like dirth) because he says ”darth”. They already have an episode called Darth of Options (see RL39). Merlin never used to worry how he pronounces things, but now he has become self-conscious about it, like clítoris/clitóris is like tomato/tomáto.

John finds Merlin’s pronunciations to be one of the great things about him because he does it intentionally. Merlin worries that it hurts his credibility, although there are plenty of other reasons not to take him seriously. Being book-learned is nothing to be ashamed of and people get their panties riding high because you mispronounce something, but if you are using the word properly it just means you learned it from a book and there is no shame in that. For example GIF/JIFF. John says it is GIF.

John’s communications professor at the University of Washington 20 years ago said that when the definition of a word is the sound of the word it is called onomatopoeia (?) and John raised his hand and said he has heard it as onomatopeea and his professor leapt up on his desk and said: ”Exactly wrong!” Everyone pronounces it wrong and now John pronounces it differently for the last 20 years in homage of this guy. Artis-anal has roots in this.

Much of what Merlin has almost finished reading in the last 10-15 years has come from the Internet and although he might have read a words dozens or hundreds of times and knows so much of this topic or read this person’s name, the first time he finds himself vocalizing this word he has no clue how to actually say it.

The most embarrassing example for John was when he was 10 years old and was with his dad at a Rotary Club meeting with lots of guys in bolo ties (?) and somebody replied to some conversational gambit in a way that seemed to John’s 10-year old mind slightly dubious, and he went: ”Hoho, pshaw!” (see OM97) and it was like the stylus across a record and 10 fully-grown adult men look at him aghast and John’s dad said: ”Did you just tell me to piss off?” - ”Ha? No! Pshaw!” It is a comic book rendering of ”pschhhhhhh” It is not a word, like pressa fressa snagel brezza (?), but it is just a sound you would only think was a word because you read it in comic books.

Merlin thought it was a Scarlett O’Hara thing, something that ladies say when they are discounting what you said. John’s dad laughed, but it was a hard laugh and he explained it was not a word, and John was tomato-red because some of these guys in 1980 Alaska had killed a moose with their bare hands and they turned so fast. They heard ”Piss off!” from John and the room got ice-cold and John tried to explain that it was like in Mad Magazine when somebody says: ”Snorkelfrass”, but they were not having it. Once they understood that it was just an example of precociousness, which means that you have read more than you can support, they were disposed more kindly to him.

John realized then that there were tons of words that he was saying very confidently, but when he really looked at them in books he realized that he had transposed the vowels or he had left out a key syllable or he had added an extra syllable to words because i made it a much better word than the actual word. The word physiognomy he pronounced wrong for a long time and couldn’t figure out the correct pronunciation and now he mostly leaves it out of conversation because he can’t say it.

Dictionaries and Thesaurus (RL74)

Merlin finally bought an actual Webster’s Dictionary because he loved reading reference books and encyclopediae. He used to think that it is lazy to look things up in a Thesaurus because you want to sound fancier. The actual Roget’s Thesaurus is almost philosophical and John kept one in the bathroom for a long time and he would just browse i and read it because it is full of beautiful things, just like Style (by F. L. Lucas) or On Writing Well (by William Zinsser). Merlin has a book on the Unix Operating System and a book on writing next to the toilet and let’s be honest a Penthouse. John was going to say the Omnibus of Wilburforce, the guy with the swords coming out of his hands (actually called Wolverine). SNIKT!

When looking words up you might learn that there is an implication to that word that you might not know and you might find if there is a better, shorter, or more precise word that will let you remove other words. If you get into the habit of doing that you will not only build a vocabulary, but you will become a better thinker because that is how you learn. Synonym might even be a misnomer because every single one of those words conveys a different temperature.

When they were talking about World Wide Words the other day (see RL72) the guy who runs the newsletter contacted John because he had gotten a lot of new subscribers from that. John talks in a Brompton accent when pretending to cite the letter. It was lovely! The more etymologists, the better. Merlin really loves Geoffrey Nunberg, the guy on Fresh Air, who wrote a book about the history of the word Asshole (Ascent of the A-Word). Merlin looked at Wordnik.

Merlin read an interview on cursing and there are many funny phrases like Jiminy Cricket or Cheese and Crackers that allow you to avoid saying Jesus Christ. Most themes in cursing are irreverence about God, scatology, and the sexuality of people in your family, and it tells you something about the culture. People have become a lot more permissive about a God Damn or Jesus Christ. There was a time when you legitimately said Gosh Darn, but then it became so opey that you might as well just say God Damn.

Using comic book sounds in real life (RL74)

John was a devoted reader of Mad Magazine throughout his whole childhood, starting at 5 years old until the quality of Mad declined, and he would still be reading it if it hadn’t gone in the shitter. Don Martin was the king of onomatopoeia and his way of writing sounds was key to his story telling and for a many years John had a whole separate lexicon of sound effects and he will still punctuate his day with audible sounds effects like ”Pow” or ”Zing” when he is alone at home because his experience was so touched by reading Mad. He is also doing it with his 2-year old little girl and add exclamation points to things they do.

Merlin has so many of those. Before his daughter became a handy way to blame his sound effects and his various foley work. There are many repeating ones, like Bonk that can be used for many things. John uses Bonk 50 times a day. He also does a lot of game show sounds. There are so many different ways to talk to yourself, there is a whole spectrum. One time he heard a lady at the library having a very heated conversation and when he came around the corner he noticed she was talking to no-one, she was talking to Dewey Decimal. You could also think to yourself so much that you could as well be talking to yourself.

John’s constant companion is the Welsh Troll (see RL55), like: ”Good job!”, ”Nicely done!” in a sarcastic way, like the wickedest stepmother there ever was. ”This is a spill that will be easy to clean up!”, ”We are awarding gold ribbons today for the guy who can’t load the dishwasher and you are the number one contestant!” It is what John listens to instead of the radio. It is a blast! Every once in a while he will rise up and go: ”You know what? Shut the fuck up for once, why don’t you?”

Merlin used to think that he doesn’t talk to himself, but if you are really honest with yourself there are various way you talk to yourself. There is a song he always hums when he puts his daughter on his shoulder and they walk together. Gameshow sounds are heavily based on comics and cartoons because they have to over-express things that have to be conveyed to the reader.

The old day with the sweatshirt that said ”Don’t yell at me!”, the ”Don’t yell at me!” music period (RL74)

The classic example is the woman John was walking past on Broadway one day, a little old lady at maybe 65 years old, and she had a sweatshirt on that she had appliquéd with flowers and sequens (?) and colorful paint and she had very carefully stitched in big letters across the front: ”Don’t yell at me!” (see RL9) She was just out for a day by herself, standing at the corner of Broadway and John St, holding her purse, and John was wondering whom that message was for. She either made it for her husband’s benefit and somehow she got out of the house wearing it, or she made it as a general announcement because she prefers not to be yelled at, or whether she was sending this message to forces that the rest of us can’t see or comprehend.

John incorporated that motto into one of the earliest Long Winters T-shirts which was based on the white castle hamburger logo and right in the center it said in small letters: ”Don’t yell at me!” He also called Barsuk the ”Don’t yell at me!” label and there is the ”Don’t yell at me!” music (see RL27). All of Indie Rock at that time was ”Don’t yell at me” music, like: ”We are not going to yell at you, so please don’t yell at us!” Maybe half a dozen bands that were amongst Merlin’s absolute favorite bands were part of this genre.

The quiet period of Rock (RL74)

From 1980 to 1994, no matter what genre of music you chose to pursue, everybody was going for full bombast all the time, Pop, Rock, Metal, Country, they were all getting bigger and bigger. Punk Rock music was loud and screamy, Heavy Metal music was loud and screamy, there were no moments in a Duran Duran song where they got real, Merlin’s friend Richard used to say it is all Overture and there isn’t a lot of development. Grunge was huge and by 1994 there was a whole generation of musicians for whom the idea of making music that sounded like Seals & Crofts was radical and revolutionary, a complete overturning of the old guard.

It was the removal of distortion, yelling, and masculine singing, replacing it with breathy acoustic quietness and quietude of thought, all the way back to Pink Moon (album by Nick Drake from 1972) and imagining that it was the foundation argument of a whole movement that at the time didn’t happen, and just starting at Pink Moon as if it was contemporary and making music in that vein, trying to exercise what was 20 years of swinging cock music. Contrast David Lee Roth (from Van Halen) and Elliott Smith, both guys in their 20s trying to impress the world with their inner life. It is like they are different species.

The first time John heard Elliott Smith it scared him, it was spooky. He was making records at the time, and coming out of a whole lifetime being indoctrinated to think that as a musician he was supposed to convey sexual power and total confidence that he didn’t personally fell he had or understand, and all of a sudden as an adult when he was 30 all around him there were 23-year old guys singing in a whisper about their Teddy bears, making their guitars sound as plinky and whispery as they could, guys who were playing the Glockenspiel not as a joke but as their primary instrument, like: ”I play the vibes!”

It was the era where you would go to a show and just the noise of the bartender working would overshadow the music. So much of the tension of the show is the tension you are carrying, like: ”Please don’t let some drunk girl start talking!”, or ”If the guy next to me says one more thing I am going to say something to him! Shhhhh!” John was at the Knitting Factory (venue in Brooklyn) one time watching Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia when they were in their quiet phase. He was making super-quiet music and John turned to some guy and said: ”Hey man, if you want to talk, why don’t you go walk around the block!” - ”It is a Rock show!” - ”It is clearly not! It is a guy making quiet music, and we can all hear you!”

At the time John saw Iron & Wine the first time at South by Southwest in a room full of people talking on their phones while he was up there whispering into the microphone in a way that felt aggressively quiet. He was making quiet music in a room full of monsters, and it was a form of attack. Nobody is enjoying it, it is as angry and as ugly as if you were standing up there, flinging shit at the audience. It is like a corporate power gamesmanship where you talk really quietly and it makes people lean in. Among the people who were making it there was no overt acknowledgement that this was a power game or that this was an aesthetic choice that was born out of anger and frustration and desire to overthrow the old guard, but even in the innerest of inner sanctum it was presented as: ”No man, this is my thing, and I love your thing, too, man! This is just amazing, so beautiful” and John was standing there with his David Lee Roth pants, going: ”Oh yeaaaaah!”

Van Halen, Post-Rock, The Bun Family Players (RL74)

Merlin’s daughter was watching the video for Unchained (by Van Halen) the other day. There was a video going around of a really detached looking 14-year old girl playing Erruption really well and Merlin wanted to play her the real thing, but in any video of Eruption the solo alone is 8-45 minutes long and it is different any time and in varying quality because he has his bag of tricks, but he brings something different to it every night. That led Merlin to take a step back and go to Oakland 1981 and there are only 3 videos that exist from that.

Pixies is one of Merlin’s all-time favorite bands. The DVD of their tour was called loudQUIETloud, which is the joke about them, alongside the Albini production (Surfer Rosa), which was a perfect match for them. Silkworm was the same thing, or Disability, you think stuff in the 1980s was in your face? Welcome to serious in-your-face music! Even in the quietness in Pixies you still felt the anger, something disturbing was always on or near the surface. It is what makes Elliott Smith compelling, but in a lot of the generation of Indie Rock that John came up in the menace is not present.

Merlin thinks that Post Rock is a weird name. Post Punk oddly enough was very meaningful to him because there is something in common with bands like Mission of Burma. A lot of Post Rock felt like a prank, like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Merlin would sound like such a dumbass when he would say he just doesn’t understand Tortoise. All of his friends were name-checking this one record with this 15-minute Glockenspiel song on it (probably Djed from the album Millions Now Living Will Never Die), but he just didn’t understand it. He does get Godspeed You! Black Emperor because it sounds like he would listen to that on the subway and feel like everything literally in the entire world was about to collapse in ashes.

John was staring a stage with a lot of those bands, getting a lot of rolled eyes about his theatrics. The first time he ever met Josh Rosenfeld in his capacity as a record label owner he sat down with him in a pizza restaurant and told him that his band The Western State Hurricanes was not really his thing, but his wife really liked him. For his taste it was too many distortion boxes, although John just had the one. One is too many! Merlin thinks that Josh’s band This Busy Monster was challenging.

Influences for The Bun Family Players (RL74)

John’s band before, The Bun Family Players, was exactly in the family of Josh Rosenfeld's band This Busy Monster where every song had not just 5 different time signatures, but also 4 different genres. The verses were Country Swing, then it went into double-time Ska and then it went into a 3/4-time Oompa Waltz chorus and then a Hardcore Thrash bridge, the song was about Bernoulli’s Principle and 11 minutes long and the audience feels like they just took an intensive summer course.

That was their reaction to Grunge, which was so self-serious and along with the loud Bombast through the 1980s/90s. As soon as David Lee Roth (from Van Halen) went away even the Spandex Metal dudes forgot that they were clowns. By the late 1980s those guys in Nelson for example really thought they were legitimate artists, but they were a joke on a joke on a joke. Every Rose Has It’s Thorn! You are wearing your mom’s make-up!

The Bun Family Players definitely were a reaction to the self-seriousness of Winger and Soundgarden. Part of the mythology of Seattle is that Mudhoney and a lot of the early Grungers were so ”take the piss” and so fun, but being in the middle of it did not feel fun to John at all. It was a firehose of ”Fuck you!”, it didn’t feel like they were saying ”Fuck you!” to everybody and there is something less fun about that, certainly not as fun as you imagine like being at the first Red Hot Chili Peppers shows. The Southern California version of Punk Rock fun was very different from the Seattle version because in Seattle it was a so much: ”We are losers, we suck!”

Maybe at 21 years old John was a massive downer and he failed to see the fratty humor of it, but it felt really college-radio superior. It was so reverent of the stooges and there was a reverence in its irreverence that was exclusionary of most… it was ”Wohoo!”, but also: ”You don’t get it!” The Red Hot Chili Peppers were just white guys playing Funk music fast and the one guy can’t sing, there was no subtext, there was barely a text. It was just: ”Let’s take Acid and dance!”

Grunge was much more: ”If you don’t have the following records, then you are not going to get what this is about!” You are already outside, you can’t be inside it because the only guys that are inside it are the two guys who have decided what the canonical records are. That was John’s take on it and a lot of the bands in the middle-period of Seattle before Indie came out were spasmodically reacting to Grunge. Grunge was so oppressive, particularly the Heroin element. There is nothing less fun than making all those guys junkies.

The Bun Family Players said: ”Let’s play every kind of music at the same time and we will call ourselves The Bun Family Players so that no-one can possibly like us!” You could not sell a single T-Shirt for a band with that name, there is nothing cool about it. This Busy Monster was the same: They were so uncool! Of course John was hoping that this hyper-uncoolness would be cool because following the inextricable logic of Punk: As you plummet into profound uncoolness you get closer to the source of truth, but that wasn’t the case and his band was just deeply uncool and impossible to listen to and enjoy.

The bands they talked about that they both really enjoy, especially the ones that John has mentioned as being very influential on his taste and style, like ZZ Top, AC/DC, Def Leppard, or Judas Priest. John thinks he sounds like such a tool who puts his clippers on his balls. For Merlin it wound be the Ramones. What all these bands have in common is a lot of directness and even when Rob Humfort is singing about in Grinder ”Looking for meat” (song by Judas Priest). It is why the first Ramones record is still goofy and stuff, but those 3 chords on some songs have a certain directness, and sometimes people are embarrassed to like things that are direct, just like the they are embarrassed to like something byzantine.

John adds that nobody likes Steely Dan except that everybody likes Steely Dan. Merlin thinks that 49% of the population like Steely Dan. He has met women who claim to like Steely Dan. John could swear that Merlin’s friend Alison Agosti likes Steely Dan. They talk about how to pronounce her name and make the connection from Agosti to lobster, which is ping pong.

Mötley Crüe, Adam and the Ants (RL74)

Mötley Crüe seemed really dangerous to Merlin, but they never did to John. Their first record did have a Pentagram on it (it was their second album Shout at the Devil), but they were wearing roach clip feathers in their hair and Adam and the Ants makeup. Adam and the Ants felt dangerous to John because they were desperate but not serious. Merlin thinks that their album Kings of the Wild Frontier is still so odd and although it was his favorite band it gets odder and odder every year. He was mugging for the camera, he was dangerously bisexual-seeming, but also so beautiful that you felt: ”Well, yeah!”

They had two drummers, that crazy Burundi drumming, it was menacing! But Adam Ant didn’t take himself seriously, but he was clowning around like Fee Waybill (from The Tubes). Each of the first 4 records was a different version of himself. Going from Pirate guy to foppy Prince Charming. He was playing to the last row and it was willfully theatrical. By the time Merlin was a Senior everything on the charts was so rough.

Phil Collins, how it is impossible to give a note to a drummer (RL74)

Merlin visited with some friends last night and he said such complementary things about Phil Collins. He really stands up to the test of time in a way that you can’t say Glenn Frey (from the Eagles) does. Those gated snares sound killer! Merlin had to explain to Jason Finn when he talks about… everybody forgets Invisible Touch. Literally every Sunday morning Merlin is in the shower as long as it takes to listen to Turn It On Again 5 times. They looked at Wikipedia and listened to it on their phones and came up with what the time signature is. Depending on how you count it, it could be 13/8, it is totally bananas.

Jason is obviously a pro drummer and he is tight, but the thing about drummers is that they are all these pro time keepers, but they are not, they get in their boxes just like anybody else. John has worked with some of the best drummers in the business and a lot of them get into their way of playing and then it is very hard for them to… even the ones who claim they have studies Afro-Cuban for two years. It is exactly the same with guitar players, but for drummers this is their one job. It is hard to give a note to a drummer sometimes, which is why John kept the fire extinguisher right next to his monitor. Whenever he would need to give a note to the drummer he would hit him with the fire extinguisher first and as the shock wore off he would say: ”Hey, maybe ratchet down the hi-hat a little bit!” - ”But, but…”

Johnny Carson, Hitler and Mussolini (RL74)

People want John and Merlin to start a music show. Maybe they should split it into Food, Hitler, Music, and Mental Illness. John wants to talk more about Johnny Carson. In a way he was the Hitler of Late Night. Like television progeny David Letterman he is a tough nut to crack. Merlin says that when you sit in a bar it is okay to look lonesome, but you must never look lonely, and he thinks that Johnny Carson was a little lonesome. John thinks he was desperately lonely. All those guys like Jack Paar, Steve Allen, and Letterman, none of them went home at night and sat and stared at the floor in the way that you feel Carson did.

He was so beautiful on TV, but you get the feeling that he got in his car, drove home, went into his room, and sat in a chair and stared at the floor and waited for sleep. John is a little bit obsessed with him right now and there is a good PBS documentary about him right now (called Johnny Carson: King of Late Night). It is like a Hitler documentary where you see inside the man and think: ”Oh Jeez! If I could go back in time and tell him not to invade the Soviet Union!” That would not be the right thing to do historically because you would be helping Hitler. Wonderbane (?) would say you have to go back and kill Hitler’s father.

Hitler’s dad was an asshole and Johnny Carson’s mother was an asshole. If you go through history and make a catalog of all the great war criminal, they are all dudes with mustaches. What about Mussolini? Merlin thinks he is a bit of a hanger-on, but he was in power a long time before Hitler or Stalin. He is the Canada or the Oakland of dictators: If he had been off on his own, like a Franco, you would think he is a real asshole, but next to (Hideki) Tojo, Hitler and Stalin he doesn’t really stand up, not in terms of atrocity.

In Italy and Spain the standard of achievement is different because those people are easily distracted by a nice dinner and a nice bottle of wine. They get started on an atrocity and then someone rings the dinner bell, or in Italy your car breaks down, you get the Chinese guy over here, we got ”No soup!”, they plan to get started on it tomorrow but then they forget. When Merlin was a kid he heard that Mussolini and his mistress had been hung up in a public square with piano wire and it haunted him in his memories. There are photos of that. They did the same thing to Ceaușescu in Romania because the Romanians are very close to the Italians in a lot of ways. Merlin thinks they should also do a show on Geography.

Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin (RL74)

John was listening to the first Black Sabbath record the other day, not Paranoid, but the eponymous one. There are a lot of great tracks on there, but also some embarrassing moments where you get the sense that Ozzy is trying to be scary. They all understand that they are making a new kind of music and that it is scary sounding, and Ozzy is trying to sound like he is being tortured by the devil. Maybe in 1969 that would be genuinely frightening, but you would have to be 10 years old.

They were panned by the critics initially. From today’s perspective Sabbath sounds how it is meant to sound and in the context of the later Sabbath you understand its place and what Ozzy is doing, but if you heard it for the first time you think there is some guy trying to make Halloween music. They are trying too hard to sound spooky and it just sounds dumb. Yet, they are one of John’s favorite bands and have been a massive influence on him in terms of who he worships, in terms of God vs the devil. He has it on good authority that fairies wear boots.

Trying to listen to that record and to Led Zeppelin I with fresh as if you had never heard those records or those bands and you are a guy who is buying records in 1968 and wants to check out these new bands, it is not hard to imagine why music critics were like: ”What? He have gone too far and Blues and Heavy Rock are being made for kids now!” Only later can we go back to those records and say: ”Yeah! That is tough!” Not to overuse the term clown-act, but in contrast to how serious the Blues were being taken in 1966 that music is pretty funny.

There is a Norwegian Black Metal band that has the most ridiculous music video Merlin has ever seen in his life. They have created their own mythology where they are druids protecting a kingdom of their own design, and in the video they are standing knee-deep in a Czech creek, in brackish water with their guitars not plugged in, hiding behind piles of leaves and being druids. To John that sounds like the first Keen video.

It is funny what feels dangerous to people at a certain time. Judas Priest and the lawsuit they had to go through, the suicide ”Do it!” message (Better by You, Better than Me). Everybody remembers backmasking (see OM26) where you play your records backwards and sometimes those messages were deliberate. Merlin’s grandma who was on the slide to Pentecostal would buy cassette tapes from TV ministers and shared one with Merlin about what all of this music actually meant. At the time it felt so booga booga, the same way as Dungeons and Dragons felt booga booga. Sitting around with dozens of dice and books, casting spells, throwing people in the back of a van could hardly have been more nerdy.

You can see where it freaked out someone of Merlin’s grandmother’s generation when all of a sudden it is all the rage among teenagers to be practicing witchcraft. There isn’t anything comparable now culturally except that the Internet is a blanket there-be-dragons for old people. They don’t know what the kids are doing on there, sending SnapChat pictures of their cooters to each other. Cooter-snaps! That is their billion dollar app idea. Get Marco (Arment) on the phone!

Trying to conjure an orb (RL74)

This is mentioned as well in RL199, RL303, and RL331.

One time during the Dungeons and Dragons hysteria around 7th grade John was walking home from school and he was really focusing all of his psionic ability to test whether or not he actually did have some kind of magic power. It was 40 degrees below zero, there was no-one on the streets, not even cars, because no-one is crazy enough to go out, but John walked home from school every day and it was a couple of miles and on those really cold days it was like he was in a nether world. The air freezes in front of you and you get so cold that you get confused.

When John got home his sister was home, which she otherwise never was, his extremities were numb and he was completely groggy and confused and he was struggling to get the key in the lock and she opened the lock: ”My God, what are you doing outside!” and she rushed him in and put him in the bathtub. John was 12 and she was 9 and she didn’t usually take command of him that way, but she got him undressed and into a hot bathtub.

John was out there, walking home pretty slowly, focusing his attention on making magic. It was a version of: ”Show me a sign, God, if you are real!”, saying: ”Conjure an orb! If you can just conjure one orb that will be the beginning! Conjure a glowing orb!” John imagined that magic might be the solution to his girl problems or to dealing with bullies. It was at the time in John’s life when he was the most bullied. Because he started Kindergarten when he was 4 it was right at the puberty corner where you notice that some guys in the same grade are a full year older than you and they have deep voices and growing mustaches while John was out, walking in the cold, trying to conjure an orb.

He is not some dumb kid that gets swept up in a fad, but there was a proximity to magic and to the realm of dice and people were talking about it in Time Magazine, adults were concerned about kids toying with dark arts, and if the adults are so scared of it, then there must be something to it! John believed his whole life that if there was anyone who was born with magic it had to be him, for the love of God! If there were really mutants and there had been some other kid at his school with a legitimate mutation or he had laser beams shoot out of his eyes or he could touch you and make you cold or had a cool white stripe in your bangs or control metal, and John had not been one of them and had just been a normal, he would have not only been heartbroken, but he would have gone to war against mutants.

Merlin explaining D&D to his daughter (RL74)

Merlin tried to explain Dungeons and Dragons to his daughter today. They were out playing and for the last week she was Captain America and he was Iron Man, but he wanted to make a switch because he was getting more into Doctor Strange. He was trying to explain how in D&D everybody thinks they can do magic, but they might not call it that. She is convinced that she can know the future, for example. She knows that things are going to happen and she is constantly wrong, but she throws those out and remembers where she did predict the future.

Whether or not it is wanting to hypnotize girls or make a bully have diarrhea, it is a time when your life is so confused and full of dark grey magic that you might as well piss on a spark plug because you never know what might work. You concentrate on so few things other things that want to make you masturbate, that is the closest thing you get to meditation when you are 13, or you want to stop time. The colors of cars had a big bearing on Merlin’s life because he would try and make decisions and see signs of God, but he would also use it to test whether or not he could predict the future.

Merlin was explaining classes to her and how you can have different kinds of fighters. John is looking at his D&D dice right now. Between Adventure Time and Doctor Strange Merlin has been feeling more and more drawn back into it. They should get Wil Wheaton on this podcast, but if you are not careful you are going to conjure Paul and Storm. Merlin has been reading The Infinity Gauntlet (comic book series) which is full of crystals and magic. They played the most boneheaded Ramones version of D&D that they could play. They didn’t do psionics, they didn’t follow turns, nobody wanted to be a cleric or an illusionist, you might as well be a second-level fern. They continue to talk about D&D for a while.

John wanting to be a Chess kid (RL74)

John saw a recent movie where the bad guy was playing Chess with himself. Merlin thinks that if you are looking to be a Bond villain then Chess should figure heavily. Nice people don’t choose to play Chess, but they are challenged to Chess. It is like wearing a narrow jacket or owning an island, these are great indicators that you are a Bond villain. John really wanted to be a Chess kid, which is like being a high IQ kid: You get to wear a dark turtleneck, you get interviewed, you can have crazy Bob Dylan / Einstein hair, and it is like having magic or being the Chess kid.

You are immune to the vagaries of childhood, you can go right to grown-up status and skip all the in-between. Merlin has never won a game of Chess in his entire life. John doesn’t like all that thinking ahead and you still get your ass handed to you by a random 30-year old who is not even trying. Merlin doesn’t understand how people do it.

Of all the bugbears of the 1970s and 80s like D&D, heavy asthmatic kids with dice, Mötley Crüe, or 5th generation glam with temporary tattoo satanism, the real fucking maniac is a guy in the Rotary Club who dresses up like a clown. John Wayne Gacy did not have pentagrams. It is banality!

They get down to pronunciation again like in the beginning of the episode and Merlin brings up the Horst Wessel Lied, but John doesn’t want to talk about that. You can talk about Naziism in Germany, it is all they talk about in Der Spiegel, but you can’t talk admiringly about it. You could even sell Nazi items, as long as it is to a museum of anti-Nazi history.

Stick fights in an arena on a boat (RL74)

See also story in RL164.

John was thinking about a new thought technology: What if he got an old oil tanker, a giant ship, and he constructs an open arena on it that seats 15.000 people and he parks it in international waters and he holds tournaments where teams representing various religions will stick-fight to the death? The first question is if there are international waters in the Mediterranean or is it too small? (There are not) John would park the ship somewhere off of Crete.

The Internet is international and you don’t have to go on any national television, you just accept applications for teams from Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, and Orthodox Greece. There are no restrictions, you put together a team of 5 and make it the best mixed martial artists or the most ruthless criminals in your country, and we are just going to settle some stuff. You couldn’t keep the Irish away and the Norwegians. They will be simulcasting this around the world pay-per-view over the Internet, and they will probably design an app so you can watch it on your phone. Marco might be looking for projects!

You are all wearing T-shirts with the emblem of your religion, the Star of Davids against the Crescent Moons, the Catholic Cross vs the Orthodox Cross, and they are stick-fighting the shit out of each other on this waterworldean supertanker. In the beginning this would look like some gross bloodsport, a sensationalist American Supertrain-based fake problem solver, but over time the most militant people of every culture, the ones that are most agitating for violence in their respective cultures would gradually start directing their energy toward the fight boat.

Because it is a boat they could go down to the Falkland Islands in the Northern Winter, and there is a lot of stick fighting they could do in the Indian Ocean. Just around the Gulf of Mexico, the people in Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and Texas! Just park off the coast of Galveston and people would be settling Texas grievances for an entire year! It extends on so many levels and everybody likes cruises. Merlin compares it to Hunger Games. It is all completely voluntary because John tries to attract the people who have this in their blood and who want to settle their grievances this way, and he is giving them a venue for that.

Think about all the guys from Finland, not to mention the people from Central Germany who traditionally went and fought other people’s battles! Should there be ringers? Probably not. There should be a test of faith in addition as you get onboard, you measure people’s noses, take a look at their Johnsons, they would be open to women of course, maybe you could have them wear clothing that is tight-fitting enough to see if they have been circumcised, which also adds a sexual component to it that people would really enjoy, like for example T-shirts with the religious emblems and no pants!

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