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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Jerome Phillips


THIS IS NOT A TEST, with your pal and confidant Michael Jerome Phillips

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood – THIS IS NOT A TEST #24 (transcript)

Published June 6, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Oh me oh my, here we be again children, sneaking through the cornfield trying to stay clear of the crows. What does that make us? Cowards or geniuses? I believe we are the latter. Meaning we are geniuses. Former and latter used to confuse the hell out of me when I was a kid. And since it confused me I wondered why people would even use the terms, but now I can see there really isn’t an elegant replacement for them. Kind of like you and me, there’s no elegant replacement for us, so we’re here together again, as we should be.

40 percent of Americans hate President Obama because he’s black. Only 10 percent of that 40 percent will admit that, but it’s true of the whole 40 percent. Another 40 percent of Americans are disappointed by President Obama, and 20 percent don’t know who you’re talking about when you say “President Obama,” and if you showed them a picture of him and they were forced to identify the person in the picture they’d say, “Is it Bill Cosby?” I voted for Obama in 2008, and it was the first time I ever voted for the winning Presidential candidate, so by 2010 I was disappointed too. But only for a minute. When I started to feel disappointed I had to remind myself how foolish it was to have that feeling toward a politician. It was like being disappointed in the Los Angeles Clippers for finishing last in their division, or in a really good year, losing in the playoffs. You can’t be disappointed in them because they’re The Clippers, that’s what they do, they lose. That is their natural state. Along the same lines, you can’t really be disappointed in a politician because they are all pieces of shit. No one should be disappointed by a piece of shit. That’s apropos of nothing, really, I just wanted to say it for the official record.

I installed a new audio player on the THIS IS NOT A TEST website, and while I was doing that I learned something new about this wonderful world of podcasting. Did you know some people listen to podcasts speeded up? Like at twice the speed they’re supposed to play? And some people listen even faster than that. I installed the new player and there was a little button on there with a 1 and a circle arrow thing and I said to myself, “Self, what the hell is that?” so I clicked it and the audio started playing double time. I clicked it again, 3 times normal speed. 4, 5 – would this go on forever? No, I clicked again and the audio started playing at half speed. What the hell kind of thing is that? Who can listen to the sound of people talking at 2 or 3 or 5 times normal speed? It’s like listening to a tape fast forward. What’s the point of that? Are you so high powered and important and busy that you have to compress everything you take in because there’s just no time, damn it! Is that you? Is it? Well calm the fuck down. You’re not that important, and you’re not that busy. Really. You people sometimes.

My neighbors are doing construction. I’ve talked about my neighbors before, the loud family, well, they’re doing some kind of inept construction. It started a couple of months ago when it looked like they had a big plumbing problem and possible sewage disaster. There were plumbers – I think they were plumbers – around late at night digging up the yard and the foundation of their house. Then the loud family disappeared for about a month. We speculated and wondered where they were, but mostly we just enjoyed the peace. Then, of course, they came back. And they came back with a vengeance, undertaking the weird construction project that’s going on now. It started in the bathroom, which wasn’t surprising, considering the plumbing problem I mentioned. Well, first thing they did was move the tiny bathroom window up to the top plate of the wall. Meaning they removed the header that’s there on top of the window to reinforce the opening in the wall and moved the window up to the top of the wall with no header. Now I say “they,” and I don’t mean the loud family themselves. They have some…carpenters? working on the place.

I guess they’re carpenters. I mean, they have hammers and shit. I think one of them has a Sawzall. But let me back up for minute. I have done construction, and I’ve built walls and structures and roofs and floors and I’ve taken apart old buildings, an activity that goes by the fancy and impressive name of demolition. So I know which end of a hammer to hold. I’m no craftsman when it comes to wood and nails, but I wish I was. I used to watch Norm Abram’s New Yankee Workshop and I still watch reruns of This Old House. Watching real craftsmen, people who are good at what they do, working with wood and dangerous tools and machinery – that’s my pornography. I could watch that stuff all day. I have what you might call an appreciation for skilled craftspeople. Which is why what’s going on next door is so painful to experience. So it started in the bathroom – and all of this, everything I’m telling you about here, is happening 10 feet from my back door. When you’re standing at our back door you can see right into the little shower window in their bathroom and the window in the back bedroom. Well, you can see right into two of their bedrooms from our back door, but the back bedroom is where the building action is. I’m pretty sure they’ve now decided to build an addition to the house. It looks like they dug for a foundation anyway, and the entire back wall of the house has been peeled open and left exposed for weeks. Now they moved up the bathroom window – probably because it does look right at our back door, I don’t know, but they also moved the bedroom window five feet from where it was. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I suppose it’s got something to do with whatever’s going on in that room.

So they cut a new window-sized hole in the wall, cut the existing window out of the wall a few feet away, and moved it over to the new hole. Then of course they had to fill in the hole where the window was. Now, like I mentioned, I’ve framed a wall or two. I’ve installed windows. So I know what’s involved in the process. But one day last weekend – yes, this crew works on Saturdays and some Sundays – well last Saturday I woke up at 8 a.m. to some pounding. Heavy, hard pounding on the wall that’s 10 feet from us. Not unusual, these guys start early, but the pounding kept going. After about 10 minutes I got up and looked out the bathroom window, where I have a prime view of the construction site, and I saw the top of a guys head in the previously moved bedroom window, and he was doing the pounding around the window frame. I’m not sure what required hard pounding around that frame. But it kept going. It kept going for two hours. I kid you not my friends, this genius craftsman pounded – hard – on the wall around a window for more than two hours. There isn’t anything – there’s not an element of a wall or a window that requires that. There’s nothing in the history of sticking windows into walls that requires two hours of pounding.

They were still grinding and pounding in that bedroom this morning. It’s been a few weeks now they’ve been working in that room. And I can see what’s going on in there. You know what I see? Four white walls and a few recessed can lights in the ceiling. I could have taken my little dog Gemma over there as my assistant and done everything they’ve done in there in four or five days. Myself. Well, me and the little dog. But these guys, a half a dozen of them, just keep pounding and whacking and sawing and grinding and drilling and every other noisy thing you can think of in there. Day after day after day and you’d think they were painting a reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in there, or covering the walls with bottle caps, one at a time. But they aren’t doing any of that, they’re just…I don’t know what they’re doing. But they’re sure making a lot of noise doing it.

Last week I talked about the people who built the old European cathedrals and the pyramids and how someone could spend their life working on a project like that and not see it finished. Well I think these guys next door are into the same kind of job. I don’t know what else it could be, man. You can build a house from scratch in three or four months – a big, complicated house – and we’re already two months in to this, whatever’s happening over there, and they haven’t even poured concrete into the foundation hole they dug yet. There’s a big stack of lumber and roofing material for the addition, but no foundation. They moved the hell out of that window though. That window has been moved, baby. I think they all stand around that thing for a few hours a day just making tool noises and laughing and slapping each other on the back. “Look at that son of a bitch!” “We moved that fucker, boys! That is one moved window!” But if it took them two months to move a window and install some lights in an existing room, I’m afraid to think how long it’s going to take them to build an entire new room. A year? Two years? They don’t even have a ladder tall enough to work above the ceilings in the existing room. I saw one of them out behind the house last week standing on the top of a step ladder, wobbling around trying to cut through a stud in the wall. They are building an addition to a house and all they have is a god damn five foot step ladder. I almost brought my 10 foot Gorilla ladder over there just so that guy wouldn’t kill himself. Almost.

I’m not sure why I complain to you about the neighbors. Your neighbors are probably worse. Neighbors seem to be a 50/50 thing, half of them are okay and the other half are either insane or criminals or insane criminals. When I met Carol I was living in a second floor apartment over near Inglewood. It was hot in that place and there was no air conditioning so I bought one of those heavy duty security screen doors and dragged it up the stairs and hung it somehow by myself. It helped with the airflow in my place, but it was still hot in the summer, so I kept the solid door open almost all the time and just locked the screen door. Well, my neighbor there, his door was right next to mine, we were at the corner of the building, so right next to mine at a 90 degree angle – so when he was unlocking his door he would be standing right in front of my door. Before I put up the screen door we’d nodded to each other now and then but never really spoke, the way good neighbors do. But man, once that screen door went up, he became my nosy grandmother or something. It was a small apartment, so looking in through the screen door you could see my couch and the table where I worked, you could see everything except the kitchen and the bedroom. To make things worse, I worked from home at the time, so any time I wasn’t sleeping or out buying liquor, I was on display to the neighbor.

So we never said a word to each other until that door went up, then for some reason he became chatty Cathy this guy. “Oh, helllloooo!” And I’d wave my hand – yeah, yeah, okay, go away now. Once I was sitting on my couch and I hadn’t shaved in a couple weeks, “Oh, look at your beard! Oh my!” Every day he’d say, “Look at your beard!” What the hell, man. My beard? Well, he was a middle eastern guy, so maybe the beard really turned him on or reminded him of a cousin or an uncle who fondled his balls when he was nine years old. I don’t know, but I started blatantly ignoring him, but ignoring him didn’t make the comments stop. “Well you look cool in there in the dark…” or, “Having some wine?” or, “Thank god it’s Friday, right?” After a couple of months of that I went out and bought a rod long enough to run across the ceiling of the place and I attached the rod to a couple of the walls and flung a giant piece of fabric over the thing, so it would hang between the door and the rest of the apartment. It was set back about five feet from the door so I’d still get air, but it effectively put an end to the zoo viewing of the bearded wonder. Well the neighbor, he didn’t like that one bit. The first time he saw it I could hear him say, “What is that? Is this for real? Oh my god, you’ve got to be kidding.” See, he didn’t know I could hear him saying that because he couldn’t see me. And for months after that, whenever he’d have friends over he’d always point out the curtain, “Look at that, can you believe it? My neighbor is antisocial, hahahahaha…” So cutting off his view didn’t stop the comments, but at least he couldn’t see me flipping him the bird every time he opened his mouth.

Before that apartment I lived in a house in Redondo Beach for a few years, and on one side of me was a Russian couple and their 12 year old son, they were classical musicians and played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and on the other side of me was some sort of mouth breathing pedophile tweaker. I built an eight foot tall cedar fence around the entire yard of that house, and when I got to the tweaker side of the yard I took down some corrugated fiberglass that had been stuck on top of an old brick wall between the houses. Now I was building an eight foot fence and he had built an eight foot fence on his side, so the old brick wall was between the two fences. I ripped out the corrugated fiberglass because it stuck out over the top of my fence and it was ugly. He couldn’t see it from his side. Well the next day there’s a knock on the door and it’s tweaky mouth breather and he’s saying, “Did you take down part of my fence?” I said, “Yeah, well, I didn’t know that was your fence. And you know, there are two fences now and that corrugated just looked like shit from this side so I ripped it out. It wasn’t doing any good there, you can’t see through the fences anyway…” He wasn’t having it though, and he said, “You have no right! That was $100 worth of material!” The stuff was at least ten years old and I could have replaced it for $15, but I wasn’t about to put new corrugated fiberglass up between two other fences, because I’m not insane. “You’re going to pay me for that material!” he screamed at me and I said, “No, no I’m not.” “Well I’ll be contacting my lawyer then, you can expect to hear from him!” And he stood there, you know, he was waiting for me to say, Oh no! Please! Not a lawyer! But instead we just stood there in silence for a minute, then I said, “Well, you’d better get that lawyer on the phone, get the proceedings started,” and tweaky stomped off promising that he would.

Now I’m not proud of what happened next, but I may as well tell you. Tweaky had got me wound up so I went out to the garage and looked around for something that I could use to irritate him. What I wound up with was a 12 foot long piece of pvc pipe and a Styrofoam head, like the head they put wigs on in a wig store. I took a sharpie and drew huge eyes on the Styrofoam head and suck it on to one end of the pipe. Then I took the post hole digger and made a two foot deep hole, stuck the other end of the pipe into it – with the head and eyes facing the neighbor – and filled in the hole around it. The head stuck up two or three feet over the top of the fence, staring at tweaky. Well, about five seconds after I’d finished filling in the hole I heard tweaky’s back door slam, and he shouted, “You asshole! Take that down! Take that thing down or I’m calling the police!” I said, “I can seeeee you,” and went into the house. Through the kitchen window I could see him swinging at the head with a 2×4, trying to break it down, but every time he’d hit the head the pvc pipe would just flex and sway and the head would bob away from him. He couldn’t kill it. I left it up for three weeks. He eventually moved out of the house – not because of the head…I don’t think – and rented it to a nice couple. They told me that when they took over the house it was as if he just walked out one day and handed them the keys. There was old food in the refrigerator, dirty dishes in the sink and, maybe most disgustingly, a thick ring of hair pasted to the walls of the shower. They said it was as if he shook his head from side to side after showering and whatever hair came off stuck to the walls in a neat horizontal design and he never cleaned that hair off. It just accumulated there. Oh, and they found evidence of a grow house in the garage, so that might explain his paranoia over anyone being able to see in.

Well, good fences make good neighbors, right? I agree, unless the neighbor is screwy. You know who said that, good fences make good neighbors? The Internet says it was Ben Franklin, but the Internet says everything was said by either Ben Franklin, Mark Twain or Gandhi. Well it turns out no one said good fences make good neighbors, it’s something people in a lot of cultures have said forever, because it’s one of life’s truisms. When people say we’re more antisocial now and we don’t know our neighbors like we used to, that’s not true. Most of us never wanted to know our neighbors. And that’s natural, to want to be social on your own terms, you know, when you feel up to it. Not whenever the neighbor sticks their head over the hedge and says something about your beard. And speaking of hedges, that’s something Franklin did say, “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” A wise man, that. If you have a good neighbor story leave it in the comments at thisisnotatest.com, we’ll commiserate.

I saw a bus stop ad for a new movie called Pixels. Sorry, I’m kind of bouncing around here, not staying in one place too long, forgive me, apparently I have a lot on my mind this week. Anyway, the poster for this Pixels movie is just a big Pac Man head that looks like it’s made out of Legos. Not to be confused with the Lego movie, of course – Pixels is no Lego movie! – but I guess those chunky squares are the pixels. Now I don’t know anything about the Pixels movie and I don’t want to know anything about a movie called Pixels, but I looked it up anyway, because I’m a glutton for punishment, and I see that the star of the thing, you know, besides the Pixels, is Adam Sandler. Now there’s a cat I could never warm up to. All of his idiotic baby talk characters on Saturday Night Live – that was the low point of Saturday Night Live, his era, like a 10 year span there when it was a shitty frat house churning out shitty frat house humor. The show was dead until they brought in some strong women, then it came to life again. But Sandler, jesus christ, man, talk about hitting the show business lottery. Is he related to someone? Did he blackmail someone to get his moment in the sun there? because I can’t explain it any other way. I looked up a list of his movies because I wanted to be able to say, “Well, he was good in…whatever,” but I didn’t see most of the movies in the list, mainly because he was in them, so I can’t say I’ve liked him in anything. Ever. Comedy, comedy. So many really funny people out there, but they still elevate hacks and chumps like Adam Sandler to some glorified star status. No wonder no one takes comedy seriously. Har har.

Speaking of Saturday Night Live, they’re kind of undergoing another rebirth, even though many of the strong women that rescued the show from the grave are gone, but interesting things are happening over there because they’ve actually hired a lot of black cast members. It’s amazing to see a skit on there that can be all black people. They never could have done that, not at any time in the past 40 years – unless they had three black hosts at the same time or something. Or brought in a bunch of extras. It’s been a really white show for a really long time. Which is kind of weird when you think of some of the great black comics that came out of there, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan – but they still wouldn’t loosen up – or darken up, so to speak. Well now they have for some reason, and the show is better for it. Which brings me to Marc Maron’s TV show. Of course. No, the episode that just aired was about Maron not having many black guests on his podcast and it was pretty funny. And aside from being funny, it’s really not a subject most people want to talk about, and certainly not something most actors or “stars” would do in the way that he did it, the way he was owning up to the racism in himself – or his character, which is essentially him. The subtle racism that we all have toward each other even when we think we’re “cool” and evolved. There are still little crusty threads of ugliness hanging off the most egalitarian and equality-minded of us. It’s no fun to think about those things or be reminded of them, which is why it’s unusual and a little surprising when anyone does it. On a mainstream cable network anyway.

Well, I probably shouldn’t talk about it either. because, you know, I’m not racist, man! Some of my best friends are black! Ha ha – yeah, man. It’s funny, even when that’s true, as a white person you can’t really say it without sounding like an idiot or a bigger racist than you really are. It’s a punch line. But we’ve really made it kind of hard to talk about our differences, whether those differences are color or politics or who you like to lay down next to at night. This is the modern world and you’d think as the old people continue to die off things would change, but they aren’t. Well, that’s not true, they are changing, but they’re changing slow, man. Bob Dylan sang about it in 1963 or 64 and it seems like a lot of things changed pretty quickly back then, then all the change stopped. Well, at least we have great movies to watch, like Pixels and Joe Dirt and Joe Dirt 2.

Stop that train, I want to get off – before I derail the fucker! Join me next week my friends of all races and denominations, as we discuss whatever it is we end up discussing. Until then, Aloha!

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