RW228 - Cal Knudsen?

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to John meeting a guy at a baseball game who was the son of a woman that his Uncle Cal was acquainted with and they were almost cousins if she and Cal had gotten married.

This episode was probably pre-recorded on July 8th and had been available in the CMS 10 days prior to release.

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 Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first!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

Weather in Seattle (RW228)

It is typical Seattle weather now at 61 degrees (16°C) with a light breeze off the ocean, it is what Seattle Summers used to be, but the last five years they haven't really gotten it. His daughter had swim practice this morning, but young people don't have feelings and can swim. If John got out of a swimming pool and it was 61 degrees he would turn a block, but she didn’t even want a towel. Dan’s son will wear shorts and a T-shirt until it is in the 50s (10-15°C).

Cargo shorts and tevas (RW228)

John has noticed that it is the style of the Cargo Shorts and Tewas dad to wear that outfit 11 months out of the year. At some point in a person's life they transition from. ”What looks good?” to ”What is functional?” and kids can be to blame for that for many people. We are going out to eat? I will spend the time to actually put together something that is not just purely function, like Cargo Pants and Hoodie. Dan doesn’t understand the appeal of cargo shorts or pants, maybe if you are in a very specific scenario where you have lots of small things that you need to keep physically on you for the duration of this particular mission, then you need that. Dan is not going to wear a life jacket just around, but only in rough seas.

When John did his long walk he wore cargo pants because it seemed like he was going to have quite a bit of cargo, and it isn’t self-evident to the 85% of American men that wear cargo pants or cargo shorts, but a big pouch in the middle of your thigh is not where you want to carry things. It bangs against your leg, it pulls your pants down. What John carried in his cargo pockets ended up being a handkerchief, a lightweight compass, you can only put very lightweight things there. If you put a bottle of water there the rhythm of your walk is going to be screwed up.

John doesn’t know what the military uses them for. All the things that would be heavy that you would want access to you would put on a bulletproof vest that have all the little pockets. Maybe put some crackers in there or some tater tots or a snack, something like that, the little crackers that come with peanut butter, the little plastic red stick that you are supposed to eat as a spreader with cheese (probably Keebler Sandwich Crackers, Cheese & Peanut Butter), it is like lunchables.

John admire detectives or ever-ready people who carry a little pistol strapped to their ankle, which seems like a tough thing to carry. You could do that under anything but skinny jeans, which is why John watches out for people in bellbottoms, although there are a lot of reasons to watch out for people in bellbottoms. Women in bellbottoms he watches out for a different reason because he loves bell bottoms on women. It has a lot of flair, a becoming style that is attractive not on everybody but on a lot of different people.

Skinny jeans only look good on a tiny fraction of the population, John not included, because you look like a lollipop in them and not most people don't have legs and butts and thighs for that, men in particular. Low cut skinny jeans? No! Better than low-rise jeans where your underwear sticks out at the top. But this isn't a fashion podcast anymore than it is anything else.

Where there is progression there is also regression (RW228)

Dan wonders what is so bad about cargo pants, but John puts it back to him and asks what is so bad about the decline and fall of Western Civilization? Just get on the back of that dolphin and ride it to the center of the ocean if you don't care. We are on the way, and even if we all put the brakes on, even if we all started wearing reasonable pants and shoes, there are still a lot of other factors. Why not just wipe that Cheeto dust right on your face? Why even use a napkin? Just wipe it in your hair, get on the back of that dolphin of decay and ride it. John stands athwart civilization and yells: ”Stop!” (quote by William F. Buckley, Jr. who founded the magazine National Review), but that is a quote that doesn't serve him because you would think he would have a better quote than that.

William F. Buckley said that his magazine the National Review stood athwart history and yelled: ”Stop!”, making a joke at the expense of conservatives, but of course he also admired the mentality. Conservatives don't want any kind of progress, they want things to be like they were 25 years ago and that has been true throughout history. John does not want things like they were 25-30 years ago because he is a man of progress. He wants people to progress, but where there is progression there is also regression and dressing like a little boy is regressive. You get to be an adult, you take on new responsibilities, your clothes and your attitudes reflect that.

You don't just pull up and block the entrance to a parking lot because you are waiting to pick up somebody, and when people pile up with their blinkers on, trying to get into the parking lot that you are blocking, you don't just sit there and stare straight ahead, especially if you have a nice car, you don't just sit there because it is not your world, it doesn't belong to you, move along, but everyone is a child now and that is not progressive. Cargo shorts and T-shirts are conservative. It feels like a liberal fashion, like: ”I am just a cool dude. I am not one of those uptight dudes!”, but no, you are dressing like a little child who is playing Army man, and that is intrinsically conservative. You want things to be like they were. You want to be 10 years old again. Eventually you are going to be somebody that is like: ”Why did things have to get different than they once were?”

That is not John! He wants everybody to dress in space clothes. He was promised that we would be in silver-colored unitards, and if you showed up to drop your kid off at the swimming pool wearing a space suit John would stand and applaud, if you looked like Daft Punk, that is the future that was promised. It may sound conservative, reflecting back to 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but John’s future is a conservative future.

When John was a kid REI sold great mountaineering gear made out of cotton and wool, and it was cool looking. Then Gore Tex was invented and Gore Tex jackets were cool, but they were cut like they were made out of sailcloth, just made of Gore Tex. Somewhere along the line the fabrics all got technological, polypropylene and all these fabrics that claim that they wick away sweat, that is one of their favorite things, and yet they keep you warm! They are better than wool because wool keeps you warm but it wicks nothing. When polypropylene first came out it was used in long underwear and it looked like long underwear.

But then when they started making clothes that weren't underwear, they were supposed to just be your shirt, it still looked like long underwear. All they did was put a little Nike logo or something on the chest, but it still looked like underwear. Then all of the fabrics that REI became technological fabrics, which is incredible, everything is wicking now, we are in the future, we are wearing tech-fabrics, but what didn't evolve was the style, so we are wearing tech-fabrics, but everybody looks like they are in their underwear. God bless yoga pants, but they are underwear and God bless your jogging clothes, but they are underwear.

If only somebody took these technological fabrics and made a cool unitard with big Elvis collars, but practical Elvis collars, that you could zip up and turn into a turtleneck, but not a mock turtleneck, something cool, make it funky, boot cut, something that doesn't look like underwear, but everywhere you look people are either dressed like a 10 year old boy playing Army man or like they are in their underwear. It is a style failure because fashion people have been in retreat for decades and now they are in a tiny little world where they are making fashions and who cares because all the kids are going to Old Navy and buying cheap new versions of their mom's clothes, and middle aged people are just in their underwear or dressed like little kids, and old people still give a try, some of them. They are the last ones that do.

The vast majority of clothes are cranked out by the lowest common denominator, ”How do we make this the cheapest possible thing?” and it has no defining characteristics, it looks like everything else, it is the same colors of blue and gray and black, it all looks like underpants and we sell it because apparently the fabric is magic and it does all these magic things. The one magical thing it doesn't do is make you look like you are not wearing your underwear in public, let alone on an airplane.

John’s daughter being on a swim team (RW228)

John’s daughter is on a swim team, which has been amazing for her, but now John is in a posture for the first time where he is not in an elementary school setting doing picking up or dropping off, which is the major thing you do as a parent, but he wants to go to her swim practices and sit there in the bleachers. The other parents are all looking at their phones because the hour of swim practice isn't long enough for them to go do something.

John is studying them: ”Who are you? Who are the kids that are on this swim team?” And the kids are all great, they are just kids, they are all funny and weird, but their parents are not funny or weird, they are just dull, they are drags! Who knows what they see when they look at John, do they think: ”Does that guy cut his own hair?” They probably don't even put that much thought into it. Who cares what they think!

Is John judgmental? (RW228)

John was having a conversation with a friend of the show who is part of the community on his Patreon. She had asked: ”Are you judgmental?” and John said he would never judge you if you were having an affair, he would barely judge you really if you embezzled money from your company, based on who you vote, he is not judgmental that way, but he does judge. The whole way he looks at life is that he sees a thing and puts it on one side of a scale and weighs it against something else. ”Is this preferable to that? Is this good relative to evil?” Even if you are embezzling money from your company he likes to hear why before he will determine whether or not you are an agent of evil.

John is judging all the time and you would have to say he is judgmental because every person that walks by he thinks: ”Those shoes? Those are the shoes that you picked this morning? Wow! Tell me more!”, but if you were like: ”Yeah, I have been having an affair for the last eight years with my secretary!” John would say: ”Tell me more! What is going on with you? Where is that coming from?” He wouldn't automatically say: ”Oh, you voted for Richard Nixon? You are on the wrong side of history!”

Meeting an almost-cousin from the Knudsen family at a baseball game (RW228)

John went to a baseball game yesterday (on July 7th, three weeks before this episode was released) where the Mariners were playing the Yankees and his friend Maria Semple was throwing out the first pitch. She is a writer and wrote ”Where'd you go, Bernadette?” and in that sense she is a Seattle literary celebrity. She did a good job and then John was sitting in this group of people, most of whom he knows, but there were a few people he didn’t know. They were all switching around seats, you sit somewhere and then you move, you sit somewhere else, you talk to all the different people in the course of the game because baseball games are very long. You have to find a way to make it social if you don’t score the game like a weirdo, or you can go get a hot dog.

John sat next to a gregarious preppy guy who communicated in every aspect that he has money. If you look at him and his wife sitting next to him, you go: ”Oh, you people have money!”, but he is a fun guy at about John’s age, although he has money and people with money look like a different age. He doesn't look younger or older, he just looks like from a different place. He goes to Bring a Trailer like John does and all of a sudden they were talking about cars, and so on, and as soon as he said what neighborhood he lived in, John knew he had money. He lives on Money Street USA.

He had just bought a car on Bring-a-Trailer, an old BMW 2002, a cute car, not a very expensive sports car, not like a Maserati from the 1960s. John always wanted to buy a car on Bring-a-Trailer and they continued talking about all kinds of things. It came to: ”How long have you people been in Seattle?”, which is a favorite topic of people, and he says his family was involved in the timber industry. Of course John perks up because his family was in timber. They were deep in the timber business in Canada. John’s uncle was the CEO of MacMillan Bloedel, Canada's largest timber company, and the guy’s eyes go wide and he says: ”Cal Knudsen?” - ”Yes! That is my uncle!”

Then John realized the guy’s last name was Ketcham. Sam Ketcham was a Canada timber baron, an American who went up to Canada with his brothers and made a fortune. John knows the Ketcham's well because the Ketcham's and the Knudsen's were very close. John said: ”Wait a minute! You are Sam Ketcham? Are you the son of Janet Ketcham?” - ”Yes!” and it turned out he and John were almost cousins. Janet Ketcham’s husband died tragically in a plane crash and John’s uncle Carl's wife died in the 1990s and the two of them were very close, probably in love, but they couldn't acknowledge it somehow because it was forbidden love for some weird rich people problem.

They may have been in love before they each married their respective spouses, they might have been in love in the 1940s, but fate intervened. Now John was am talking to Sam Ketcham, he is the same age, his mother and John’s uncle had this storied relationship, and they have been at the same parties for their whole lives, they were at the same parties when they were five years old, but they never made a connection. John never looked at him at one of these parties and said: ”Well, there is a kid my age. Why am I not talking to him?” Part of it was that they had money. John’s uncle and cousins had money, but John was from the side of the family that didn't have money, and if you look at John you don't think: ”Oh, that guy got money!”

John might have looked across the room at these parties and saw a kid across the room that looked like him and he had money and so John didn't know what age he was. Who knows! He might be only five feet tall, but 40 years old. They were sitting and chatting, talking about their relatives, he was asking about John’s cousins and he knows them intimately, so all of a sudden they are talking very intimately, like: ”Whatever happened to David? I always thought he was very sad!” - ”Well, you know, his father…”

John’s Uncle Cal being offered to head the SEC, never giving any advice (RW228)

John learned yesterday that his Uncle Carl was tapped by Richard Nixon to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, he was going to be the head of the SEC for Nixon, and then he got embroiled in some political shenanigans and his candidacy lingered on and on and on.

John was inspired to go home at night and read up on these few people. He googled Janet Ketcham and his Uncle Cal, and he read various articles about them until he came upon an article in The New York Times that was talking about Cal having been tapped to head the S.E.C., a story John had never heard. Cal was always a Republican, he drove John’s dad crazy because they were super close, but they were politically completely opposed. All of a sudden John realized that Cal was going to be in the Nixon administration, a thing that John’s dad fought against with a flaming sword.

The reason he didn't get the job is some political machinations, some pork barrel thing, and by the time it was time for him to get the job they gave it to some guy who was then almost immediately indicted as part of the Watergate conspiracy and he retired in disgrace, so Cal somehow dodged a bullet there. John was reading an interview he gave at the time and he was so chatty, he was about John’s age now and he had been appointed as the CEO of this company with 20.000 employees.

He was talking about business reform and he wants everybody at the company to call him Cal instead of Herr Knudsen, and The New York Times is like: ”It is a new style of business! The old guard, no one could even see them, they walked in through a gilded tunnel and if you even caught a glimpse of the CEO you were banished to an island. And now this young revolutionary is streamlining the process!” and he talks about how he puts together an open office plan, he wants all of the executives to work on the same floor where they can collaborate, he wants everybody to call him Cal, and this is not the man John knew.

The Cal Knudsen that he grew up with, which would have been the same years, at every party he stood in the kitchen with a towel over his shoulder and a wooden spoon in his hand, stirring some source in a Le Creuset pot, that was his safe place. John’s aunt was the entertainer, a bunch of people in the house, everybody about his aunt flitting around, and Cal in the kitchen, stirring this pot with a little napkin over his shoulder, some kind of cheffy thing, and if you talked to him he would give you a one or two word answer. Throughout his life every once in a while John would go to Uncle Cal and ask for advice and he would say: ”Well John, you got to just do what you think is right!” - ”That is not advice! You are giving the least amount of effort. I am your nephew!” - ”Well, do what you can!” He gave John zero advice in his entire life.

Many years later John was talking to his youngest son and said: ”I tried to get advice from your dad and he never gave me a single piece of advice!” - ”He never gave me any advice either!” and they both sat there and rued the tragedy. In this article he is giving everybody in America advice, and in Canada, too!

John read the Saturday Night Live Oral History book, which was really the great book and he got into his mind he was going to do some oral histories, so he called his Uncle Cal and said: ”You worked in the timber industry in its heyday here and in the West, you worked for Weyerhaeuser, McMillan Bloedel…” He got his start when he bought some rinky dink plywood company in Aberdeen, Washington. ”Do you mind if I interview you about all this stuff?” and Cal said: ”Oh, I don't remember anything!” He didn't quite have a mid-Atlantic accent, but close because he was a Scandihoovian who grew up in Washington country, but he went to law school and lifted himself up by his bootstraps. He came of age in 1940 when mid-Atlantic was the way proper people talked and he picked it up, but also he had that Scandinavian laconic ”Why say two words, if one will do?”

He said: ”I don't remember anything!” - ”You were there, you were witness to history, come on!” - ”Oh, I hardly remember anything, but good luck with your book!” - ”Come on! God!” He gave The New York Times more in one article in 1977 than he gave John in his whole life. The one thing he taught John was how to cook mushrooms, and no-one else ever tried to teach him how to cook mushrooms because they didn’t know how, but Cal had a way with mushrooms. It is not hard, you just have to have a pan full of butter, and Cal’s secret was to quarter the mushrooms instead of slice them.

He also said you should never wash them, but you have a special brush. Water makes them slimy. He quartered him on the top, turned them into little pie slices. And then he threw them in the peanut butter. John thought you don't want a big chunk of mushroom, but it turns out you do. He actually went on to own a mushroom company, Ostrom’s Mushrooms because at a certain point in his life he became one of these people that just is on the board of directors of things. Any time John’s dad would pick up the newspaper and go: ”This company is behaving irresponsibly!” Cal would go: ”I am on the board!” and then they would argue, except Carl would go back and stir the pot with his wooden spoon.

Even if there were only four people in the room Carl was stirring a pot with a wooden spoon. He never just sat with his one leg crossed over the other and talked about business because business was his private world, weirdly. You would think that would be his public world, but that was his private world. But his private world wasn't his public world. John will never understand them and it is too late now, that whole generation is dead and there is no understanding any of them any better than Joh does, except for having read this article.

Later in Cal’s life this New York Times article was in a frame hanging in the garage with a variety of other newspaper articles that were all framed and hanging in the garage, and John suspects that they were framed and had formerly been hanging in his office somewhere and when he moved out of that office, these things all ended up in a box and someone came and hung them up in the garage.

John remembers walking past and reading the headlines many times of the articles, but he never stood and read them all the way through, or if he did it was at a time when it wouldn't have made a major impression on him because the man himself was standing on the other side of the door. Also, John was never encouraged to loiter. When you were at Uncle Cal and Aunt Julia-Lee’s house you weren't encouraged to loiter, you were on your way to somewhere in the house and once you were there you would be stationed there.

John’s aunt Julia Lee, how John’s grandparents met in France in World War I (RW228)

This guy Sam Ketcham knew those people very well. He said he loved John’s Aunt Julia-Lee very much, but she always used to scare the shit out of him. She also scared the shit out of John and he wouldn’t even say he loved her very much. She was ferocious. She was one of 3. John’s dad was the oldest, Julia-Lee was in the middle, and John’s Uncle Jack was the youngest.

Her father's family were Welsh immigrants. Her father, John’s grandfather, was second generation from Wales, his parents had come from Wales. He went to Wooster College in Ohio and picked up manners from the rich Presbyterians that went to Wooster and he went off to World War I and in the course of going off to World War I he reinvented himself. When he was in France during the war he would have this education and he transformed himself, he was no longer the son of Welsh coal miners, he was now an erudite and he changed his story so much that he told people he was from Scotland. He was with these Presbyterians and they were all Scots and in his story he became a Scotsman.

People in America couldn't tell a Roderick from an O’Roderick, so people bought it, and in America back then in 1915 people cared about where you were from. John’s grandmother went to France in World War I to sing for the troops. She had studied opera in Paris before the war and she went back to France to sing operatically and play piano for the troops as part of a pre-USO thing, she was squired around in an open car and went various places and sang for the troops. John’s grandfather was a lieutenant and they met somewhere along the way.

If you read John’s grandmother's autobiography (A Nightingale in the Trenches), every general in the Army was trying to woo her, General Pershing would come by and brought her an elegant fan from the Orient, but of all of the wonderful officers with whom she had danced the night away, the one she picked to marry was Lieutenant Roderick. She came from people who had come from the South after the Civil War, they had moved out west because they had lost everything in the Civil War because they were on the wrong side and at the end of the war all of their fortune and all of their land and everything that they had built on the backs of slave labor and of plantation culture in Kentucky all got taken away by the new Northern regime.

The sons of that generation moved west and came out here and retained a White-Russian sense of themselves as displaced aristocrats. They didn't have anything, but they believed that they were elevated people, they were from good stock. They were from people who had come to America in the 1600s, they had multiple ways to trace themselves back to the very earliest days and had all this extra presumption and a lot of airs. John’s grandmother who had studied in Paris before the war and had a self-image of herself as a Southern aristocrat met John’s grandfather who was posing as a Scottish intellectual, a man of culture, a Shakespeare-quoting elegant young officer.

John’s sense is that they bamboozled one another in Paris. They convinced one another that each was their secret ticket. John’s grandmother thought that this dashing young officer is the perfect mate and she would be able to reclaim some of the family's glory by marrying this dashing Errol Flynn, and he thought she comes from money, culture and power, and he would marry into this family and then his aspirational American story would be that his family will have in two short generations gone from mining coal in Cardiff to ballgowns and Parisian so-and-so. They bamboozled one another because neither of them had a goddamn thing, and it was only maybe two years into their marriage that anybody realized: ”Wait a minute, neither of you have any money or any of the skills that would be necessary to earn money!”

John’s grandmother's older brother married the heiress to the Buster Brown shoe fortune and he moved back to Connecticut and they lived in a big waterfront home and he had fulfilled his family's destiny and had been reinstated as a Yankee burger, a prosperous Yankee merchant, although married into, but John’s grandmother had tripped along the way and had married this Welsh pretender. John is not sure she ever knew he was Welsh because at the time the Scots were long enough established in America that at least you could feel like some of them had read a book other than the Bible. Not all of them, not most of them, but some of them, but the Welsh had nothing to recommend themselves. They were seen as crappy hardscrabble immigrants with dirty faces. They barely had letters.

He became an alcoholic, he became a wastrel, and she ended up supporting John’s dad and his siblings as a music teacher, and she maintained her airs throughout because her parents had built a big house in Seattle in a nice neighborhood. John’s great Great-Grandfather had done the thing… they were all lawyers, they got law degrees at some college in Kansas City and they came out here and Seattle was so new, like Alaska in the 1950s, you could just sort of waltz in and say: ”I am a judge. No, I am a banker!” and people would say: ”Well, here is a bank!”, so they were prosperous enough.

Of the 3 children of John’s grandmother and grandfather, his dad, his aunt, and his uncle, only his aunt Julia Lee understood that what really needed to happen here was that somebody have money. Cal Knudsen in law school had a humble origin story, he had grown up on a strawberry farm, but John’s Aunt Julia Lee saw in him an innate desire to prosper and the two of them joined forces and had a contract when they were 22: ”You go to work and kill it and I will handle everything else! You never need to worry about our social station, about the art we buy, or the pattern on the couch or our friends or what is on the record player, you go practice the law and become a business murderer!”, which he did.

By the time John was born they were prominent people and their money enabled Julia Lee to retcon the whole history and all of a sudden her father was a Scottish prince and her mother was a Southern aristocrat because she had taste, which came from John’s great-aunt Marguerite who actually had taste. Everything that Julia Lee touched was made perfect, in fact her catchphrase, her signature line was that she would look at something and she would go: ”Perfect!” with a long purr and she would actually purr it. If you got a perfect for aunt Julia Lee, it was maybe not like getting an Olympic medal, but certainly a High School track and field blue ribbon.

John didn't get it very often, but she was fierce and scary because she was looking for perfect in everything and John was not perfect, he was always a scruffy raggamuffin who had been raised by… John’s dad was the prince of all of them, but he was a socialist, his response to his mother's aristocratic racist heirs was to become a radical civil rights lawyer, union agitator, and socialist legislator and general major thorn in everybody's side, except he was the prince, they all loved him, he was the scion of the whole clan, the oldest boy, so they forgave him everything and his socialism and his radicalism were just considered eccentricities and they were confused.

John’s dad renounced his membership in the tennis club because they wouldn't allow Jews and he was in the newspapers all the time because he was down on the docks trying to unionize the stevedores, he was just not playing along with the narrative. They ended up blaming John’s mother who was considered socially not up to their standards because she had come from Ohio and had been raised on a farm. John was a scruffy raggamuffin, not because his father was a scruffy raggamuffin, let's be honest, but because his industrious farmer mother was not sufficiently steeped in the legends of the United States.

What they didn't realize because they never bothered to find out was that John’s mom’s people had come to America before they had. The Rochesters rolled in here and 1640, but John’s mom's people were here in 1617, but she wouldn't play that Daughters of the American Revolution game with them and they looked down upon her and by association looked down on John. Every time he used the wrong fork,… he knew which fork to use, but every time he held it wrong, every time he slouched or walked through a wedding reception with a toothpick in his mouth or whatever it was, there was always somebody to look over the their nose at him and go: ”Well, it is his mother that didn't teach him right!”

John’s mother had no airs, none, because her Pennsylvania Dutch Quaker mentality was the absolute sparest aesthetic. The Quaker religious ceremonies are where everybody goes and sits on a hard wooden bench in an uninsulated room, and no one talks until God taps them on the shoulder and says: ”You have something to say about…” John went to a Quaker service in Philadelphia one time, and this sounds really familiar to Dan, sat in a big Quaker church, which looked like it had been basically carved, for all the lumber someone started with a tree and a hatchet, and at the end they had a beautiful building.

John sat on this hard bench with the friends who brought him and they all sat in silence, hundreds of people, until someone stood up and said: ”We are having a bake sale!” or whatever. There was nothing evangelical about it. Somebody would stand up and say: ”The humble butterfly shall be an example to us all!” That was John’s mom. There was nothing classist about her and there remains nothing classist about her. John’s grandmother's family, all they had was classism and racism, the two nest neatly.

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