RW185 - The Dynamite Guy

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • TV shows playing in Seattle, Frasier, Cheers, Kristie Alley (Movies)
  • John wanting to be in New York during the lockdown (COVID)
  • Dan hitting an explosive charge on an abandoned construction site when he was 10 years old (Dan Benjamin)
  • How there were explosives everywhere in John’s youth (Early Days)
  • John imagining one day being the Dynamite guy (Early Days)
  • John learning how to drive at Circle Hot Springs (Early Days)
  • The legality of having a chimpanzee as a pet (Factoids)
  • Dan taking the test for a concealed weapons permit (Dan Benjamin)
  • Dan’s Punk period (Dan Benjamin)
  • John getting sent to Outward Bound (Early Days)

Bonus-content for Patreon supporters:

  • Buying a new guitar (Music)
  • How Dan learned not to overcommit to too many projects (Dan Benjamin)
  • How does John switch modes between different shows? (Podcasting)

The show title refers to John imagining as a kid that he would one day work with explosives and being the guy responsible for setting off the dynamite.

John starts the recording making a lot of noise like he was still setting up his microphone.

The weather is nice in Seattle, the times are times, things are things.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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.

TV shows playing in Seattle, Frasier, Cheers, Kristie Alley (RW185)

There is a television show that used to take place in Seattle called Frasier. How accurate is that show? John never understood how their dad was a Brooklyn-talking cop, but they both had Mid-Atlantic fancy Harvard accents. It made it funny. The view out their window of the Space Needle is not very accurate. That looked like it was made out of construction paper. They had a talk radio show, Dr. Frasier Crane was a therapist.

John is trying to remember the 1990s in that context, not the one where everybody was drunk all the time and was wearing loser sweatshirts, but psychology was happening still and people were really into… John doesn’t have a lot of Fraiser material. It came on after John wasn't watching TV, so he has only ever seen it in reruns. He doesn’t dislike it, but he also didn't bond with it. The Seattle John really doesn't know is the one depicted in the medical show (probably Grey’s Anatomy) that is very popular. It is set in Seattle in an emergency room or a hospital and John can't even name it, although it is something he should have an opinion about.

Dan enjoyed Frasier, although not as much as he liked Cheers. Was Dan a Kirstie Alley Cheers or did he like Diane (played by Shelley Long)? Diane was great, she had the right personality, she was a great foil for Sam, she was very cute. Kirstie Alley wasn't Dan’s type, but she was fine. She was great as Lieutenant Saavik in Star Trek, but when she didn't come back to reprise the role Dan lost all respect for her and she was dead to him. She regretted not coming back and it was the worst decision of her career.

John wanting to be in New York during the lockdown (RW185)

There is going to be a giant snow storm in New York and on the East Coast this week and John is concerned that he is not going to be there for it. New York is not the place that anyone wants to be right now, but it is exactly the place John wants to be. One of the things John is the most frustrated about in this Corona shutdown is that he really wants to be in New York when the city is shut down. Some people like to find abandoned factories and stuff, like Dan’s son, and it is so neat, but New York City in particular when something happens and the town shuts down, like after the hurricane when all the lights were out and after 9/11, all these times when New York is faced with a crisis and something about the city dramatically changes John just wants to be there.

A lot of friends are sending him pictures of themselves walking down the middle Third Avenue with no cars, which is exactly how John imagines himself. He doesn’t miss seeing other people, he doesn’t miss going to the movies, he just misses being able to travel, not necessarily to see other people, just to walk up and down Manhattan Island during the shutdown. Now they are going to have a huge snowstorm and the island is already shut down and John can't go see that either. It is small potatoes compared to other people's problems, but it is frustrating.

Dan hitting an explosive charge on an abandoned construction site when he was 10 years old (RW185)

When Dan was 10 years old he lived in a development in Florida with not that many houses, two dozen at the most. At first they were still breaking ground, doing more construction on the second phase to put in 12-20 new houses, but then they stopped doing construction there and one time Dan just wandered in there.

There were some nail guns that you would use to drive a nail into something instead of hammering it. It goes a lot faster and can have a lot more force behind it so you can nail into concrete or really thick, heavy wood, or if you just want to nail something without hammering on it for an hour. They have a little explosive charge embedded in a little plastic sleeve that feeds through and as you are putting the nails in it is advancing that little plastic strip forward to engage a new explosive charge behind the nail to drive it through.

Dan didn't know any of this when he was 10 and he found these little explosive charges on that construction site that looked interesting, and he hit one with a hammer that was also lying there abandoned, so he whacked one of these things with a hammer and to his surprise it went off in a violent explosion. The first thing Dan noticed was that he couldn't really hear anything, but the hearing came back after some time. There was a tiny bit of smoke. Dan hit the charge in such a way that he had a gunpowder burn on his knee and lower on the same leg there was blood pouring out of the leg.

Apparently a piece of the casing around the explosive part had flown out and lodged into Dan’s leg, which he didn't quite know right away, but he just knew something had happened and he went home. After a little while he realized this wasn't just going to go away so he reluctantly told his mom about it and they determined he needed to go to the hospital. The doctor wanted to remove the shard from his leg by reaching in with some L-shaped tweezers to pull it out, but he couldn't get it out so he started sticking needles in like a sewing needle in and X-rayed the leg to determine that the second needle was pointing closest to it, but he still couldn't get it out.

They couldn’t give Dan any more X-rays because he had too many, so they had to put him under a fluoroscope, which was like a live X-ray so that they could look and see what they were doing while they were pulling the thing out without having to cut him open. Dan never did that again and that is why he doesn’t go to abandoned places.

How there were explosives everywhere in John’s youth (RW185)

When John was a kid in Alaska his dad worked for the railroad and he was around the railroad a lot, wandering around the tracks there. There was the headquarters, the railroad terminal building, the main station in Anchorage where the headquarters of the corporation also was and there was a whole complex of the rail yard, the different places where they repaired the engines, the machine shops, all this stuff. Often while his dad was at work John would just go down there, walk along the tracks, kicking stones, playing on his harmonica, just a normal kid stuff.

John was a pyromaniac and a fireworks nut and the railroads used to have a lot of stuff that wasn't quite fireworks, but also wasn't quite not. One of the things was called a torpedo, like those little tiny spit wad fireworks that you throw against a road and they pop and explode, poppers or something, not to be confused with the amyl nitrate poppers. They use those on the railroads in the form of little bags the size of a Mounds bar that had been hit with a supersized ray to expand it. It had a metal clips on it and you would clip it onto the rail.

The point of it was that if you were repairing the tracks somewhere up the road, you would run down and put one of these torpedoes on the track and when a train rolled over it it would go ”Bam!”, it would pop like a popper, and that would alert the engineer to put on the brakes. John is not sure exactly how they were used and why he would sometimes find them lying on the ground, but there were also flares and all this other stuff.

John imagining one day being the Dynamite guy (RW185)

In Alaska there was a lot of dynamite being used all the time to do things, which is a feature of the American West, it was true of Texas, too, maybe still is in parts. People used to use dynamite routinely to do things, like there is a stump that you want out and you put some dynamite under it and blow it up. There is a bunch of mud or rock that you want out of a hole and you go down to the store and get some dynamite and blow it up. It was a long time since he has seen dynamite, but when he was young you used to hear dynamite go off and there was dynamite all over.

Around the Alaska railroad there were signs, and John was specifically given a poster by one of the guys at the machine shop at the Alaska railroad that showed every kind of blasting cap and the poster said: ”Do not play with these. If you find these blasting caps, leave them alone, they are explosives!” and this poster probably had 50 color photographs of different kinds of blasting caps and they were beautiful, all different colors and different shapes and sizes with colored wires coming out of them (see RL29).

John was studying this poster and everywhere he went he was looking for blasting caps because the presumption of this poster and of the signs posted all around was that people were dropping blasting caps right and left, that he would be walking around the railyard and he would just be find blasting caps, which is crazy, but what this poster really was was a Easter egg hunt. John never actually found a blasting cap. At one point when he went through his pipe bomb phase he ended up making his own blasting caps.

The same part of John that felt like he should join the army and that regrets now not having joined the army also believed that one day he would work with explosives. He would either be in fireworks or in demolition or in mining, some aspect of life where he was the dynamite guy. He really had a vision of it, but looking back now, he never ever once had been responsible for setting off dynamite to break up a rock or to dislodge a stump or to create a hole in something, to take a building down. John feels he has squandered his life.

There are people in the engineering fields that use dynamite, or people that are engineer-adjacent. At some point along the way John did not ever think of engineering as a direction. Engineering, architecture, those disciplines did not appeal to him, which is funny because he spends a lot of time thinking about engineering and architecture now when he travels the world, he is conscious of engineering all around him, and when he sees wonderful engineering he investigates it and studies it.

John is not fascinated by poets although he spent a lot of time studying poetry when he was younger and when he encounters poetry in the wild he does sometimes stop to admire it, but not as much as bridges and culverts. Is there a field trip that John could do where somebody could give him a 3-day course on dynamite? They probably don’t use it anymore except for road construction.

John learning how to drive at Circle Hot Springs (RW185)

John used to work at the gold mine up in Arctic Circle as a summer job in a placer mine, which there weren’t shafts dug down into the earth and there was no canary they had to be watching. It was not a hard rock mine, as they say, but a placer rock mine. Placer gold has been worn out of its vein through earth processes and has found its way into the rivers and then has been washed down in the riverbed and dispersed in the gravel along the length of a creek or a river. This is the gold panner's stuff.

John’s dad had a good friend, an Alaskan guy who at some point in his life said he was going to start mining gold. Maybe he had been doing it all through the 1970s, he certainly wasn't new and he had a claim up by Circle Hot Springs in Alaska near a town that is called Circle because it is on the Arctic Circle and on the Yukon River a long way out North East of Fairbanks. Circle Hot Springs is an Old West town and they built a cool-looking ramshackle gold rush hotel because there were hot springs and a spa that you would go to in Y’Olden Times.

John’s dad's friend had a gold claim there and he had about 5-10 guys working for him. John’s dad told him one time that his kid needs a summer job and he wanted him out of here because he was driving them crazy and so John took the train up to Fairbanks, Bob picked him up in Fairbanks in his 1971 Ford F-250 and they drove this long, bumpy dirt road for hours and hours and hours and hours up to Circle Hot Springs and John lived there in a log cabin and his job every day was to go to the mine.

They had cut down all the trees 200 feet up the side of the hill on one side of the creek and they would bulldoze the dirt off the side of the hill down to the creek and use the water to wash the dirt through a giant sluice box while destroying the creek and everything else in the process. This style of gold mining was just total destruction. At the bottom they would collect paydirt, a black sand and gold nuggets and this pretty rich, heavy dirt. They didn't just reach down and pull big nuggets out, but it was nuggets mixed in with all this sand and other stuff. This was a big operation, they weren't looking for like: ”It's a nugget!”, but this was an industrial process.

Then they would take all that that dirt and put it all in big 50 gallon drums and process it there with liquid mercury as part of the process. There was a shack, they had the dirt, they had the mercury. John didn’t know how it worked. This was the time when if you had a quart oil that you didn't want anymore, you walk down and poured it in the river, nobody was trying to be nice. And they used dynamite all the freaking time up there. Dynamite was going off left and right! The house of John’s dad’s friend in Anchorage had a shed in the back where he kept his lawnmower and he had another shed that said ”Dynamite” on it where he kept his dynamite.

John at the gold mine was just the teenage boy, the mascot who just went around and did all the shit work that nobody wanted to do. They haul ass around the mine all day in a big D9 Caterpillar that is as big as a house and then they were done and this thing would be up to the gunwales in just solid clay mud and they would hand John a hose and a shovel and a pickaxe and say: ”Clean the cat!”, which would take all day, especially if you were a young teen with the work ethic John had, which was not that great of a work ethic, but that is where he learned to drive.

He took John out one time to teach him to drive when he was 13-14 years old. He put John in this F-250 truck and the first lesson was to drive backwards using only the mirrors, not being allowed to look over the shoulder, drive really slow around this dirt flat area outside the hotel. He was a stern guy, he wasn't super-gentle, but he got John started driving backwards. John drove his first three wheeler there back when three wheelers were not illegal, the original Honda ATC. Dan’s friend Pete Tommasino had one of those and he never let him ride on it, but only let him ride with him, which is always a little weird because you had to grip the person who was driving it really tight.

John definitely wrecked the one that he was driving by rolling it off the road down into a ditch, and this was a road where you could go off the road and no-one would find you again, but John was down in the brush and this thing was on top of him and John was screwed because he hadn't been able to make the turn and the thing had tipped and they went off the road together with it on top of him and landed in willow brush, which is everywhere there. The next person that came along the road either came along quickly enough behind John that they still saw dust hanging in the air, or they saw that the willow brush was pressed down, or for some reason they pulled over and came running down the hill and rescued John. That was his first car crash.

The Google Maps picture of Circle Hot Springs appears to have been taken in the winter by a spy satellite from the early 1970s and everything is snowed out. The runway is over there to the right and you have just the very smallest little place there under the red dot where it appears that two streets are running parallel and it looks like it might be the town. Where the main road curves there is a big snowy place and down at the bottom of a little pantie shaped parking lot is the hotel with a swimming pool next to it fed by the Hotspring. It never freezes and smells like sulfur.

If you head to the left, northwest out on the main road and you follow that road until you come to the first main left-hand turn onto a road that is clearly its own road, not just a street that goes nowhere, after a while it comes along side the creek, which isn't going to look like a creek for a minute from the air because it is all full of ice, but it is the big creek and the road follows along. Then you will see how the area around the creek is cleared of trees back a considerable distance from the creek bed. That is where the mine was, called Ketchum Creek.

The Pokémon trainer is called Ketchum, which is funny because he his name actually winds up being the power that he coincidentally accidentally inherited. What would Dan’s Pokémon be? Dan doesn’t know much about them and John knows zero about Pokémon.

The Fort Yukon picture was taken in the summertime. Why would Fort Yukon on Google Maps be a summertime picture and Circle Hot Springs be wintertime?

Some of their listeners are in the engineering fields and in mining resource extraction. There are miners and 49er listening to the show and maybe one of them is going to reply and offer to give John a 3-day dynamite class?

There must be a reason why they are not using dynamite more these days. Was it just too messy or too loud? Were the neighbors complaining? The world has gotten a lot more careful than it used to be. If the next door neighbor had a shed in the back that had a sign on it saying ”Dynamite” and it was actually full of dynamite, he would be in violation of some code. You can't just have dynamite sitting there, it is dangerous to have dynamite sitting.

The legality of having a chimpanzee as a pet (RW185)

In some jurisdictions you cannot have a chimpanzee because that would not be fair to the chimpanzee because they become sexually mature and you got a whole series of other issues. If somebody wanted a chimpanzee they wouldn't be allowed to just have one and John is curious about that and wants to know what the restrictions are on his liberty. John is not saying that the restrictions are good or bad, he just wants to know if he can or cannot have a chimpanzee in this neighborhood South of Seattle incorporated King County.

They live more than 50 years! Dan found an article: ”Even though they are quite endearing, chimps truly are wild animals and it is illegal to own one in most states in the US. Still, you may be able to obtain a license in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and North Dakota and a few other states may have no regulations at all against owning primates. However, it is best to check with state authorities before signing up for chimp ownership.”

Would a chimp truly be able to have a happy, long and normal primate life in your home? Will you be able to afford to care for a pet that will live almost as long as you do? How will you keep your chimp safe from the public and vice versa? It says that they do not make good pets. There are many current owners that can attest to this. It says that if you are interested in pet chimpanzees, instead consider a raccoon, a skunk, and a wallaroo. Skunks are great pets. You just get them deskunked and they are great! John doesn’t think it is legal to have a raccoon or a skunk.

How to legally own a pet raccoon (article): ”It is illegal to keep them in many states. States that do allow raccoons as pets usually require permits. All you need is a permit.” There is a summary document under the website with a state-by-state list. Washington is probably the most restrictive of the states.

Washington gets category B: ”No person may possess or breed a potentially dangerous animal after July 2007. A potentially dangerous animal includes, but is not limited to, large cats, wolves, bears, hyenas, non-human primates, elephants, alligators, crocodiles, water monitors, crocodile monitors and various species of venomous snakes.”

Texas is category L: ”No person may possess a dangerous wild animal without first obtaining a license, which is a certificate of registration. Dangerous wild animals are defined as lions, tigers, ocelots, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, bobcats, lynxes, caracals, hyenas, bears, coyotes, jackals, baboons, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas or any hybrids of the animals listed. However, there are no requirements for a person possessing all other animal not listed above, such as monkeys, wolves, et cetera.”

Dan could get himself a wolf, but he couldn't get a lynx without a permit, but he could get the permit and he would be good to go. John suggests that Dan should not get a wolf.

Category B is a ban on private ownership of exotic animals, non domesticated felines, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates. L requires the ”owner” of the exotic animal to obtain a license or permit to register the animal with state or local authorities to privately possess the animal. Dan can have all these animals right here, he just got to go and fill out a form. That is basically the way Texas is, you can kind of do anything you want here, you just fill out a form. It is basically the same as getting a concealed weapons permit, except you probably don't even need to take that much of a test.

Dan taking the test for a concealed weapons permit (RW185)

Dan has a license to carry. He was number one in the class as far as the shooting test with only one, miss. They call it a full day class, but it's not really a full day. The first part of the class was the instructor, who is usually a retired police officer or detective or of some kind of law enforcement / military background, and they basically walk you through a booklet that goes over the laws. The laws are pretty common sense and are pretty straightforward and a lot of time was spent talking about other ways that you can solve problems without your gun.

There was a lot of discussion of: ”Here are ways to de-escalate situations!” and every single thing was: ”Step 1: try to de-escalate the situation! Step 2: Continue to try to de-escalate the situation” They go over the laws, when you can carry when you can't, and the rules around how to carry it, where it can be in your vehicle, where it can't be and all of that stuff. Then there is a written test based on that, which was very easy, and then they take you out to the gun range where you have to prove that you can both follow instructions and hit a target a certain number of times. You are standing there and they will say something like: ”Load five cartridges!” and have to load them and they will say: ”Aim!” and you have to aim while he is standing there watching everyone do everything.

You have to shoot in different ranges that are a certain number of yards away and then you have to go back twice as far and in each one of those you have to hit the target in a certain way without a certain number of misses and then you have to go back and count how many were in the target and there is a certain number of points that you earn based on how many shots are landed inside of the target and how many are missed and as long as you get a certain number of points, then you pass. It all happens in the same day and then you are good to go.

There were a couple guys in the class, one guy was a big talker who was machismo-tough, but when they went to the range he was shaking, he couldn't hit the target, he was terrified like he had never shot a gun before, and then there was a woman there who never shot the gun before, still had it in the original box with the wrap and stuff on it, and she was waving this thing around and people were ducking underneath it and the instructor ran over and held her arm up. She got her license, and so did the other guy. The guy who was really shaky was permitted to retake the shooting test afterwards and just made it by one shot. Everyone else passed no problem.

Dan’s goal wasn't to pass because he had been shooting many times and knew that he would pass, but he wanted to get a perfect score and he was one shot off from a perfect score and it bothers him to this day. Dan still has the target, he saved it, and it has one bullet hole outside of it that was from the farthest distance away. If he had known he would have brought his Smith and Wesson 626. He had watched people at gun range tests where they had to roll on the ground and shooting at a target and then they had to punch someone in the face and jump down and open a parachute, he didn't know they were just going to be standing there.

The 626 is like a cannon and it is impossible to miss with that thing. The barrel on that thing is a mile long. If he had known he would have gotten that and would have taken his time. He thought about joining a shooting club, but it is an expensive hobby because ammo is very expensive. You could load your own, but there are too many stories of things going awry for Dan’s tastes. If you don't load it just right you can have lots of problems and Dan doesn’t want to mess with that. He doesn’t shoot that much that it would be worth it. He just wants to maintain his skill level, he doesn’t need to compete or anything.

John has friends that are competitive shooters and they even listen to this program. He had friends growing up whose fathers loaded their own ammo and out in the garage they had the black powder and the press. Dan doesn’t want to have black powder around. Black powder is so fun! John used to not have any sense and now he has more sense and it would be dumb for him to have black powder. It used to be great though, back in the days when you could just get dynamite and would have some black powder in a coffee can in your garage!

What used to take place in basements and garages would shock modern people! What took place inside of Fred Meyer would shock people. Dan doesn’t have Fred Meyer, but he knows what it is because of the Dead Kennedys song, the one where he is talking about the truck with the KC lights when Ray's guitar string broke (called Night of the Living Rednecks)

Dan’s Punk period (RW185)

Was Dan a Punker? They have talked about this and John had told him that he was not because he didn't love being in mosh pits and that was part of the Punk Rock experience, because Dan didn't love getting elbowed in the face that meant that he was not a true Punk Rocker. He did go into the mosh pits from time to time, he loved the music and definitely wore the clothing, Army Navy Surplus store knew him, he pulled off the look pretty well, but he didn't really enjoy getting elbowed in the face (see RW167).

Dan had a mohawk, although not an extreme mohawk in 1987/88. Another thing that would show that he wasn't truly a Punk Rocker was that he didn't listen exclusively to Punk Rock. There were other things he liked and the people that were hardcore, especially those who were straight edge, would never have listened to anything else, which was what kept Dan from really being part of the community. John would like to see that photograph of Dan and Dan promised to look for it.

John doesn’t remember saying that Dan couldn't be a real Punk Rocker if you didn't go into the mosh pit, but they got it on recording and they would have to dig it up. There is this cool dude that chronicles every single thing that John does and has a wiki on him, there are six or seven of them, that one guy in particular that has the definitive website (Jochen) would know in which episode John said that (it was the Aftershow of RW167). Capn Mariam also is pretty good at remembering things and finding finding old quotes.

John is just trying to picture teenage Dan in Florida in the 1980s. There is such a huge difference between a 1985 Florida Punker and a 1985 Philadelphia Punker.

John getting sent to Outward Bound (RW185)

John went to Outward Bound in 1983 (see RL160), which is a program based on not a Boy Scouts model, but it is a wilderness survival leadership training program. In theory it is the place to go learn leadership skills, outdoor skills, to go into the back country and pick up the base level skills of how to fend for yourself, how to make a camp, how to cook for yourself, how to travel via canoe or on foot through the wilderness, to live in the wilderness for a period of time and come back to the world having gained both the knowledge of those skills and also the insights into oneself that come from that experience. You bond with your little cadre of fellow travelers, you learn that you have to count on one another, it is team building.

That is at a base level not a remedial or punitive program at all, but it is just a thing that you would take if you were going to be a Boy Scout, if you were going to join the Army, if you were going to be a forest ranger, or if you were going to be a backcountry guide. The problem is that Outward Bound got perverted in the same way that 12 step programs did along the way. Instead of something that you would seek out if you were in trouble and needed help it became something that the court could order you to go do, which is meaningless. If you are forced to go to a 12-step meeting if you get it healthy there, it is going to be by accident.

Outward Bound became a thing that guidance counselors who were dealing with troubled kids would say: ”You know, maybe an outdoor leadership training would snap this kid (back in place)”, it wasn't created for that purpose, but it became a thing that they used for that purpose, although it is still not that. People go to Outward Bound as a great adventure. Kids who want to go to Outward Bound are inspired to go live a life in the forests or in the country. There are multiple Outward Bound and the one John went to was the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada in the land of 10.000 lakes up there.

The problem is that Outward Bound wasn’t really qualified to deal with truly delinquent teens. The counsellors, the the guides at Outward Bound are generally kids in their 20s and 30s that like making campfires and know how to tie ropes and want to teach you how to row canoe and how to bury a fire-pit and how to make dinner out of fern tips. They are not generally reform school teachers.

What happened in John’s case was that in 1983 his parents didn't know what to do with him. He was not on drugs or having sex or sleeping out at night or stealing cars or doing any kind of crimes at all or smoking cigarettes, he wasn't even especially defiant, he certainly wasn't violent, he just wanted to be left the fuck alone. ”Please, just leave me alone! Let me read and play quietly and go on long walks! Please don't bother me!”, but that drove his parents crazy because he also had that attitude about his teachers. ”Please, I'm here at school. Just let me read quietly! Please don't make me do assignments or ask me questions or interrupt me when I am talking!”

John was in trouble all the time and everybody was trying to figure out what to do: Guidance counselors, the psychiatrists, the schools, his parents, and somebody floated the idea: ”What about Outward Bound?” This was during that period when it was suggested maybe he was going to go to reform school and if they had actually succeeded in sending him to reform school it would have been the worst possible thing they could have done because all he would have done at reform school is learn to smoke and drink and steal cars.

What they had was a kid that they couldn't control, but John was self-controlled. The whole problem was he didn't do what people wanted. It wasn't even that he didn't do what he was told. He just didn't do what they wanted, and what they wanted was for him to excel at things, and in failing to do that he was all of a sudden a discipline problem because he wasn't doing what they dreamed. It is crazy to think back at! They sent John to Outward Bound and they told him that it was like a wilderness adventure camp.

John didn't want to go. It sounded not that fun. When he got there he realized that there were two Outward Bounds at the Boundary Waters canoe area in 1983 and at the time the program was called The Voyagers. There was a kid in his group who had been escorted there by a representative of the court system of Minneapolis and there was a kid from Chicago, there was a kid from Los Angeles, there was a kid from Florida, and they were all a little older than John, they were 15/16, and John was 14, he was the youngest.

They were thugs, they had been sent there because they were real thugs, and this was a thing where team building and leadership skills were going to transform these kids in a period of two weeks from being cigarette smoking Rock’n’Roll listening, convenience store shoplifting urban punks. This was the magical thinking of the of the 1980s, like a TV movie. They were going to learn to love or something.

John had been placed in this group because all of this was happening via brochures. Somebody in Alaska got a brochure like the ads you used to see in the back of Sunset magazine: ”Send your kid to weight loss camp!” and there was some brochure that said: "If you got a troubled teen consider the outdoor leadership school!” All around them on that initiation day when they flew into Duluth and were picked up and taken out to the camp and there were hundreds of kids. John looked around and realized that they were dividing up into probably 20 different groups and only one of those groups was made up of delinquents.

The rest of the groups were mixed gender and seemed like fun kids who had decided in their summer to go to this cool outdoor leadership school, and then there was John’s group. It was like the beginning of a 1970s Disney film like Bad News Bears. John’s group was 12 or 13 boys who refused to line up, they were sitting in the dirt sullenly, and when the camp counselor blew the whistle and everybody else got into their groups they intentionally walked over the line. John was there for the outdoor leadership school. Nobody had told him he was a delinquent. He was standing on the line at attention: ”You guys, she blew the whistle!” - ”You are a nerd!”

It took John the first couple of days where they were teaching them the basics of stuff to realize that he had not gone to outdoor leadership school, but he had gone to reform school, and it sucked. These kids were all bigger than John, they were all mean, none of them wanted to be there, and John watched as those other 20 groups got into their canoes, singing the Waka Waka fight song, and paddled off into various ventures out into the boundary waters, while John and his group and their six canoes and their two counsellors headed off into the woods and it was the beginning of two weeks of total Lord of the Flies.

One of the counselors was a real skinny ginger-haired hippie with a long beard who had never been confronted before and he knew outdoor leadership, but he was a total winner. The other little dykey counsellor was a real super-capable outdoorswoman, a granola-kind of hippie, but she was 5 feet tall and most of the kids at 15 / 16 years old were fully grown dudes. John wasn't, he still hadn't had his growth spurt yet, but a lot of them were full on and they weren't afraid to be physically bullying.

It was two awful weeks and John was bullied relentlessly. They were living together in tents, miles and miles from anywhere. There are no towns, there was no anything, this was the whole outer leadership aspect of it: You are responsible for cooking for each other, building fires, cleaning up, traveling together, working as a team, and it was it was the exact opposite of that. Kids were stealing food, kids would refuse to work, they would sit down and say:" "You pack the camp!”, they had snuck contraband in, a kid threw John out of a canoe, he got beat up.

One time they were sitting in their canoes and another group came over the horizon in their canoes, the first people they had seen in days, they paddled up to them, they were boys and girls in their group, and they looked so happy and they were like: ”Oh my God, you guys! It is so great to see you!” and they tried to talk to them, but John’s group was so sullen and like: ”Whatever!” that you could see on their faces that they were like: ”Oh, nice seeing you guys, I guess!” and got grossed out and paddled off. It was two weeks at that. That was Outward Bound for John. It is not what Outward Bound is. It is a wonderful program, but John just got brochured.


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