Janelle Jolley 0:18
Welcome to What's Left To Do? I'm your host, Janelle. Y'all know the internet meme "get you somebody that can do both?" Well, this week's guest is someone that perfectly embodies just that. Dan earned his new nickname, Grumpy Gus, from me during the Sanders primary campaign, 'cause homeboy would just be like walking around the office, skulking, wishing a motherfucker would. Little did I know, I could have just as easily began calling him Gentle Ben, as he is extremely fond of being in touch with his emotions and the emotions of others. Who do we have on today? Super glad you asked. I'm gonna describe him first before I say his name. Now, you're a leftist. You're a progressive. You mean business. This is the man you want volunteering on your campaign because he will haze the fuck out of everyone who comes in that office, so that everyone is on their P's and Q's. Does everyone have a mental picture of like a pledge master in college who'll just get in your ass just to make sure, you know, you know what it is? Well, that's what this gentleman does. He's so committed to climate change as an issue that he never wears pants because he wants to never forget how his body is exposed to the elements. He's angry, but for a purpose. Pants, they don't exist in his world. I think that mostly covers it. Though, the Instagram for this is going to be real dumb. So tune in. Grumpy Gus, everybody. Say hello.
Hey, how you doing?
Janelle Jolley 2:08
He's exactly that mean in person, so just, that's what we're dealing with. How are you?
I'm doing great. Actually, the no pants comment reminded me of something from my childhood when my family moved from St. Louis to California. I would help this old man across the street put up his Christmas lights each year. Same was Mr. Posthauer. And he was kind of deaf, wore hearing aids and stuff. And he would call over and one time my mom had him on speakerphone. And he just said into the phone, "Is Danny still not wearing long pants?"
Janelle Jolley 2:53
The answer is yes. Danny will never ever be wearing long pants. And that's just, that's his business. I mean, who am I?
Gotta let these calves be free, you know?
Janelle Jolley 3:01
You know, get a little sun on them 'cause he's a porcelain prince. Anyway. So I got to know you. He, 100% and I'm not even exaggerating. The first time I met him in the office, he cussed me out, and I was just like saying hello. And I was like, "Oh okay. I don't know why he's so angry." Little did I know, it was his prophetic view of the bullshit that was to come in 2020. So we should've all been that angry even though we won California, but that's fine. So I met your mean ass during the 2020 primary campaign and you were in the office every day, kind of like me, you were full time. You're a full time guy. So, I would like to understand, how do we get to that point? We're gonna rewind the tape. And I want you to start from the beginning. The day that you were born, frowning, and you maybe slapped the shit out of the doctor that slapped you on the butt, right after you came out.
So I was born at a very young age. And I was born in St. Louis, Missouri.
Oh were you?
I was. St. Louis Missouri. Go Cardinals.
Janelle Jolley 4:17
I don't care about sports anymore. And I lived there 'til I was 10. I've got an older brother and a younger brother. And my dad worked for Budweiser in sports marketing. So if you've been to a sports stadium around the country and seen a Budweiser sign, chances are good that my dad did the deal to put it up there.
Janelle Jolley 4:38
Is your dad from the Midwest?
My dad's from Omaha, Nebraska. My mom's from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Janelle Jolley 4:43
Okay. All right. Proper, proper white America.
I'm a proper white man. I'm so sorry.
Janelle Jolley 4:58
The edit is gonna have to be so tight on this. But yeah, please continue.
And so then my family moved to California when I was 10. What's that?
Janelle Jolley 5:04
We're going back to St. Louis. That's like zero to ten. What was that like?
Right on. I really loved growing up in St. Louis.
Janelle Jolley 5:11
My family lived in kind of like a big cul-de-sac thing with a beautiful park in the middle and there are a bunch of families in the neighborhood.
Janelle Jolley 5:20
This is sounding real Sister Wives-ish. Is this the time that you want to come forward?
Sister Wives? No.
Janelle Jolley 5:25
Like an FLDS child or...?
No, actually, we were Catholic.
Janelle Jolley 5:29
My dad is still quite Catholic.
Janelle Jolley 5:33
You're not Catholic?
Janelle Jolley 5:35
Or are you culturally Catholic?
So that's an interesting thing. I don't know I guess I could say that. I feel like Judaism is the only religion where somebody could say they're like an atheist Jew. I wouldn't say like, I'm an atheist Catholic, you know?
Janelle Jolley 5:48
Are you an agnostic Catholic?
Yeah I also wouldn't say I'm atheist at all. I'm agnostic. Super down to talk about spirituality and religion and stuff. I love thinking about that and talking about it, but I don't know that this podcast is about that.
Janelle Jolley 6:00
No, no, no. We're gonna...where it all goes together.
Janelle Jolley 6:03
'Cause that's probably connected to why you so deeply love the earth.
Yeah actually. So we went to church every Sunday growing up at-
Janelle Jolley 6:14
Were you an alter boy?
Naw. I went to church every Sunday growing up at St. Louis University Church. Go Billikens. There's a Jesuit church, and talking about service and stuff, the Jesuits are what I've heard one priest refer to them as the loyal opposition within the church.
Janelle Jolley 6:31
Huh. What does he mean by that?
So the current Pope is a Jesuit, and everybody likes him. Well not everybody, but many people like him. In large part because they are sort of the more progressive, more in service of the poor, arm of the church. And so the loyal opposition, they are Catholic. They love all that shit. But they really pull against the sort of stalwart, dogmatic, 'sitting in their ivory tower' bullshit that a lot of other Catholics do.
Janelle Jolley 7:00
How would you describe living in St. Louis as a child? Did you think that most other people in the world grew up like you? Had lives like you?
No. So I'm certainly quite privileged. But my family spent a lot of the holidays, the church we went to was in the middle of St. Louis.
Janelle Jolley 7:27
Like inner St. Louis?
Yeah and so St. Louis in the early mid-90s, especially downtown, was not doing great. And so a lot of the holidays we'd spend, we would deliver like Christmas dinners to folks who weren't doing as great. Give out Christmas gifts, Thanksgiving dinner, stuff like that. So my parents made sure that we kind of had the window into lives that weren't quite as privileged as ours.
Janelle Jolley 7:54
But how did you understand that as a child? Is it just like, "Ah! This is what Mom and Dad make us do?" How did you understand that level of service as a child, do you think?
Huh, man, that's a great question.
Janelle Jolley 8:07
Yeah, I know.
God you're good at this. How did I understand that level of service as a child? I don't really know. I'm trying to think back. I just saw those families as families like ours. It felt kind of weird. I remember this one instance when we delivered Christmas dinner to somebody's house. It didn't seem like they were super poor. It was just a smaller house, but it felt strange to be going in their house and it felt a little embarrassing. Like embarrassed on their behalf maybe or something like that. So, yeah, those are the feelings that I remember.
Janelle Jolley 8:48
Understanding maybe their embarrassment for being given food or...?
Needing help. Yeah, needing help. So yeah, that was a lot of childhood. Went to public school. It was a really good school. For some reason, a few of the kids who I went to elementary school with are famous now.
Janelle Jolley 9:10
Yeah! Do you know Claire Saffitz? She's become famous for being this dessert baker.
Janelle Jolley 9:17
Oh! Does she make bread?
She makes a whole bunch of baked goods.
Janelle Jolley 9:21
I think I know who you're talking about.
So she came out with this book, Dessert Person, and she's super popular with a bunch of people who dig baking and shit. And it's strange because I remember being in elementary school with her and I know that strong, independent women are often called bossy. She was repeatedly called bossy.
Janelle Jolley 9:39
As a child?
Janelle Jolley 9:41
And she's probably annoying, let's be honest.
Yeah, she went to Harvard and then went to culinary school and became like a YouTube sensation or some shit. Anyways, so this woman, Joanna Firestone, who's a comedian and she's fucking hilarious. She's so good.
Janelle Jolley 9:57
Were you in class with her? Or she just went to the same school as you?
She and I went to preschool together. Claire Saffitz and I were in class together in elementary school. I have a memory with Jo. We were making plates together and shit as little kids. She's rad. She's cool. She's also in DSA.
Janelle Jolley 10:16
New York. Yeah, but anyways, that was kind of growing up in St. Louis.
Janelle Jolley 10:23
How would people describe you as a child, from 0 to 10, in St. Louis? Describe yourself as a child. Were you like hell on wheels? Were you like a Goofy?
No, no, I'm a good boy. I'm a good boy.
Janelle Jolley 10:32
Okay, that's not true so let's-
I think it kind of is, but it's like-
Janelle Jolley 10:39
Were you good because you're the middle child and so you had to fit in between your two psychotic brothers?
That's a good way to describe it. So I'm like a stereotypical middle child, like the mediator, the facilitator, the peacemaker. Somebody who just wants everything to be calm and good.
Janelle Jolley 10:53
Because, what? What was your context of being the middle child mediator? Were your brothers hell on wheels? Were your parents like-
My older brother was definitely not as emotionally intelligent nor did he give as much a shit about that. We're quite close now, but he is kind of like a bulldozer and he's really good at achieving his goals. He runs ultra marathons. He played college sports. He majored in liberal arts degree and then went back to school and did a whole shit in engineering and now he's a water resource engineer. He actually started the 'defund the police' movement up in Redding.
Janelle Jolley 11:39
No, Redding, Northern California. And so he's moving insanely clear sighted toward his goals. Whereas I'm paying more attention to kind of what's going on with people. So to go back to your question, "What was I like as a kid?" my parents would talk about they would be able to put me in a baby carrier, just sit on a counter during a party, and I would just sit there and look at people. Just smile. And it's still true now. I really, really- my happiest place is being around people I love and they're all chatting, having a great time, and I'm just sitting there watching. So I'm a lurker. Yeah, so yeah.
Janelle Jolley 12:23
The Lurker of the Left. That will be the title of your show. You know, that's not problematic. Not at all.
But it kind of extends all the way. What I really like to do is kind of help facilitate and empower people to be kind of the best versions of themselves, and then get the fuck out of the way. So I think that who I am as a person now, and what I want to do professionally, is rooted in that kid who just wants everybody to be mingling and happy at a party.
Janelle Jolley 12:54
Sure. Can't we all just get along?
You got it kid.
Janelle Jolley 13:01
Did your mom work outside the home?
She did on and off in different ways. Throughout my childhood, she worked at this company called Merits. I have no fucking clue what they did. She was in marketing too. Both my parents are very smart, hardworking people. My mom graduated high school in three years and college in three years. She's since worked in a couple different capacities but right now does development work for a private high school down the peninsula in Woodside. So it raises a bunch of money. Interfaces with people you probably met at Google and gets them to try and give money so their kids can have a fancy school. But, yeah.
Janelle Jolley 13:45
So after 10?
So after 10, wow. After 10, we moved to California. Moved to Menlo Park.
Janelle Jolley 13:53
Huh! What brought them out there?
My dad had been working at Budweiser and doing marketing work. And I think that a juncture came up in his career where his boss was leaving and so he and another peer were up for promotion to that boss's job. His peer got the promotion and his peer did not like him. So it was either, get out quick and find another job or end up getting let go at some point. That's my understanding, at least. So he got a job at VISA doing marketing and that brought us out here.
Janelle Jolley 14:30
What were your recollections of the differences and the changes from St. Louis to California when you guys moved? Other than not really needing pants.
Yeah. "Is Danny still not wearing long pants?" Differences. I feel like people in the Midwest are just kinder. I saw this thing on the internet the other day that said "people on the East Coast are kind and people on the West Coast are nice." Which pisses me off as somebody who now identifies as a West coaster, but, I think is directionally true. But Midwesterners are both nice and kind.
Janelle Jolley 15:10
Depending on where you're at.
Like, not North Midwest.
Janelle Jolley 15:13
Like, there's 'Minnesota nice'.
Yeah, not that shit.
Janelle Jolley 15:15
That's different than Missouri.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I just I remember having the idyllic childhood of baseball games in the summer, and snowing on Christmas Day, and all that stuff. Then coming to California, and I remember the first Christmas and my dad has one of those old janky video tape recorder things. I'm 33, so you can do the math. And it was just green and beautiful outside on Christmas, and I was just like, "This is kind of bullshit." So I remember that. We moved into Sharon Heights in Menlo Park, which is a pretty nice neighborhood. My dad jokes that the average age of residents there is deceased. A lot of old people. So there weren't a lot of kids on the street. Where I'd grown up before, it was just, you could walk to school or ride my bike. I deliver the newspaper to an old lady. I helped other old ladies like sweep up their leaves in the Fall and stuff.
Janelle Jolley 16:18
In Menlo Park?
No, no, in St. Louis when I was growing up. I never really fit in middle school and didn't really feel like I- I mean, again, does anybody feel like they fit into middle school? I don't know.
Janelle Jolley 16:27
I mean, I did. Though, why do you feel like you didn't fit in?
I don't know. At first, when I first moved there. I just felt like I didn't grow up with these people and there wasn't a ton of welcoming energy. I don't remember that. Then I felt kind of out of place.
Janelle Jolley 16:48
Meaning it took you a while to understand the kids around your age and or feel welcome with a group of kids around your age? Is that what you mean?
Yeah. Which I never felt that way in St. Louis. In St. Louis. I felt extremely comfortable.
Janelle Jolley 17:03
All the time?
All the time. Yeah, I remember actually, it was kind of funny. Two weeks before my parents told us we were moving to California, I have this distinct memory of being in the car with my mom and being like "Mom, I really love living in St. Louis. I hope we never leave." Literally two weeks before she was like, "Fuck!" Yeah, goddamnit.
Janelle Jolley 17:22
What about the kids out here? Maybe it was like an inchoate kind of like- I can't really describe it. But if there is language for it, what about the kids out here made it difficult for you to kind of find your place for a bit?
It felt cliquey. I felt like there were popular kids and pretty girls and athletic boys and the whole sort of social strata that didn't feel like it existed in elementary school or middle school. Maybe that was I left after fourth grade and that stuff starts to develop in middle school. So it would have happened in St. Louis too, but I would've been like more of a fixture of it and so wouldn't have been able to examine it from outside, I guess. But then entering into it at that stage, it was like, "Oh, this shit." 'Cause there were some kids who were super nice like the fat kids were really nice and the nerdy kids were really nice. I've got a belly so I can say that.
Janelle Jolley 18:25
Shout out to the nice fatties from middle school.
Hey, I'm one of them. So, what's up my people? Just had a big ol' bowl of tortellini, support our troops. That is not a dirty word all right? Fuck that shit. It's another topic we could talk about for a long time. I got a lot of opinions about that.
Janelle Jolley 18:45
No, listen, we're gonna hear all of them. That's why I have 18 layers of clothes for when the temperature drops.
Janelle Jolley 18:51
When you did find your niche, socially, who was it with? And why do you think that became yours?
I'll be honest, so I'm gonna skip one step. When I went to high school, I went to high school 30 miles away. I went to a Catholic high school. Jesuit Catholic School in San Jose.
Janelle Jolley 19:18
Private. The only people from my middle school who I continued to be friends with or keep in touch with or were the same people who went to that high school, which was like five guys. It was an all boys high school. Meaning that I don't know that I ever really found my social niche in middle school. I was friendly with some people and I remember this one guy. We'd play like Pokemon cards after church on Sunday sometimes. But I ended up going to high school together and weren't friends in high school. The- pretty much one guy, actually. His name's Adam. He's rad. He's super into aquariums and Corvettes now. Smokes more weed than anybody I know. He's a good man. Yeah, he's a good man.
Janelle Jolley 20:04
Did you want to go to a private high school or your parents wanted you to go to private high school?
I have an older brother.
Janelle Jolley 20:11
The bull in the china shop?
The bull in the china shop. The very headstrong soccer player. The high school I went to, Bellarmine, at the time had the best high school soccer team in the nation. It's an all boys high school of like 1400 boys and it's one of the oldest schools in the country. So there's just these long standing traditions and so then it becomes a funnel school. So he went there, and so then my parents wanted all their kids to go to the same school. Also, he'd had such a lovely experience the first year, so. I think single sex education has its pluses and minuses and certainly the idea of an all boys school producing emotionally intelligent, thoughtful, kind, young men seems maybe incompatible with the way we consider male dominance.
Janelle Jolley 20:55
Really? Why do you say that?
Because I think that we often consider male dominated spaces to not be that sort of thing.
Janelle Jolley 21:00
But why? I mean, I'm pulling on a yarn here. Why? In your understanding?
I don't know. Well, I guess my understanding- It's a tough question because I'm making an assumption about what other people would think about something that I experienced and wasn't the same thing.
Janelle Jolley 21:19
And why is that thought there?
Yeah. "Why is that thought there?" I don't know.
Janelle Jolley 21:29
You do know!
'Cause, I don't know. "Men are trash?" I don't know. I hear shit like that all the time? I don't know.
Janelle Jolley 21:34
And you believe it?
I don't know. I hear it all the time. No, I don't believe it. But that's what I'm saying is that I feel like this is what other people may think and so that my experience was contrary to what I think other people may think.
Janelle Jolley 21:43
So describe your experience and disabuse that notion for people.
Great. That's an easier question for me to answer. So it's an all boy Jesuit Catholic school. It was a, in general, really loving environment. I never saw a fight in high school, which I think is atypical. You start your high school experience off with the freshmen retreat, where it's a couple night retreat. And there are a lot of really emotional things where you talk about, I think, for lack of a better term, your trauma, your family history, with a group of 14-year-old boys and led by seniors. And so you have that sort of behavior demonstrated to you by these people who are super intimidating and elevated. So you're shown it's okay. Then you've got teachers who are there as well who are facilitating this stuff.
Janelle Jolley 22:35
All male teachers?
No. Mostly male teachers. But the female teachers are fucking rad in general. If they enjoy teaching in that environment, they tend to be some pretty awesome people. Like the current principal is a woman and she was my freshmen high school English teacher. She's cool. So yeah, so that freshmen retreat is a really big thing and is talked about for years afterwards by a lot of people there.
Janelle Jolley 23:02
Because it's such an indelible bonding experience?
Totally. And it's, I think, an opportunity to be vulnerable.
Janelle Jolley 23:13
That most American male children, who are presumed to be heterosexual, are not allowed?
Yeah. Or told you're weak if you do so. Or you're a sissy or whatever the hell. And we all love Brené Brown in this household.
Janelle Jolley 23:31
I don't know. Is she canceled? What, do I not know something?
Janelle Jolley 23:36
No, I'm just- No, go ahead.
Okay. Well, you know, vulnerability being the invitation to intimacy that it is, I think-
Janelle Jolley 23:44
He goes "I don't know. Is she canceled?"
Did I miss something? I don't know! The look on your face. Sorry, you can't hear looks on faces in the podcast, so you don't know what I'm dealing with right now. So anyways, vulnerability being the invitation into intimacy that it is is a nice moment to share intimate moments with 14-year-olds. Your fellow students. Yeah. Which is shocking and also liberating. Because then you can be your full self. And being a preteen in seventh and eighth grade, going through puberty, getting braces, being chubby, you don't feel super great about yourself and not fitting in and all that kind of stuff. And by you, I mean, me.
Janelle Jolley 24:33
No, I was chubby at that age too. No braces, but I'm still chubby.
Yeah, you have beautiful teeth. Yeah, you can't hear that on the podcast either but perfect teeth. So anyways. And so then having that experience for me to be in a place where I wasn't being judged. Where there weren't these social strata that existed that I was being thrust into. Where I could share how I felt with teachers or students or maybe even some upperclassmen because your retreat leaders stuck around, they're still there, was wonderful, especially for a sensitive boy like me.
Janelle Jolley 25:16
Why do you say you're a sensitive boy?
'Cause I am, Jesus Christ. I cry all the time. I mean, you call me Grumpy Gus and say I'm mean, but underneath that gruff exterior is a gentle man.
Janelle Jolley 25:30
There's gonna be such a dramatic reenactment of how not gentle he was in the office. So please tune into the IG for this fucking episode. Anyway. But as an adult, you would describe yourself, even as an adolescent, as sensitive?
Janelle Jolley 25:46
Why are you laughing like that!
'Cause I think it's so funny that your perspective of me is what it is. I mean, I'll tear up watching pretty much any movie or TV show that has the slightest bit of sensitive stuff. I mean, I cry watching the Great British Bake Off on the regular. Like, "are you kidding me?"
Janelle Jolley 25:56
But you were that sensitive as an adolescent?
Janelle Jolley 26:21
Why do you think that was?
Oh, "Why do I think that was?" I dunno, I see myself as a man and I see my dad and I see how similar we are. I remember this memory, of the first time I ever saw him cry, was when he was watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. "Move that bus!" I think I got a lot of it from him just being a sap.
Janelle Jolley 26:51
Do you think your dad made it okay for you to emote? Is that what it is? Seeing him be emotive like-?
That was after we'd moved to California? So it wasn't an early lesson I learned. I mean, I don't know how you would define early as but I don't know when that was on TV? But I was maybe 11 or 12? So maybe, I think having those models is super important. But I think also, I don't know, I feel a lot. I have two brothers. My older brother is the bull in the china shop. My younger brother is like the best athlete in the world and super competitive, but he also feels a lot too. We all do, but I think it was my role in the family. I felt like it was my role in the family to be in touch with how everyone was doing. And be the kind of conductor of that. Maybe it was a middle child thing, maybe it was a codependent thing. Who knows? I don't know, I have a lot of memories of male role models not displaying their emotions properly, like uncles or, well, uncles. And just not understanding why they're angry or why they're behaving the way they are.
Janelle Jolley 28:05
Do you think your behavior was in response to that? Like, "I don't want to be that?"
Totally. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I see this in myself what I see it in my brothers too, which is like an impatience for people to figure their shit out and be considerate of others and understand how their actions affect others. And so when other people aren't self aware of how their behavior is affecting other people, it's like, come the fuck on. Figure it out, you know? And so yeah, for some reason, part of growing up in the way we were raised, we're just like super attuned to how other people are doing. For better and for worse, I think.
Janelle Jolley 28:44
Do you think that as a child, using your words, you're feeling a lot was like the locus of that was your family and maybe your immediate social circle? Or was it just broad in terms of your understanding of the world at the time? Where was that? How big was that?
At what age?
Janelle Jolley 29:11
Let's say high school.
High school? High school, I was still Catholic, and going to church every Sunday. Jesuit school too. So this high school is pretty rad, actually. So I was a freshman in high school in 2001. And I remember we have these things called CLCs, Christian Life Communities. Which were basically clubs, but they would have a teacher facilitator. And we had a gay/straight Christian Life Community at my Catholic high school 20 years ago, all boys, and had a ton of progressive teachers and they even put on like a mass. And not in a repressed "Oh, being gay is a sin. We're gonna help you out" way. It's like, "No, you're great. Put on a mass" way. And my high school was rad in the sense that--I'll get to your question. I'm not avoiding it. We do sponsored protests like going to the what was formerly known as the School of Americas but is now known as the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security and Cooperation. Which is at Fort Benning, Georgia. And went to a protest there and have helped run, fundraise for our- We have a sister community in El Salvador called Agua Escondida and built a preschool there and help pay for a teacher and help spray for mosquitoes and stuff to keep malaria rates down and all that kind of business. And so the school is pretty fucking rad. And all that.
Janelle Jolley 30:39
It instilled some notion of a practical Christianity.
Yeah, the motto of the high school is from a quote from a priest named Pedro Arrupe, which is "Men for others."
Janelle Jolley 30:51
I'm too mature for that. Go ahead.
Well, "men and women for others." How's that? But I went to an all boys school. And so yeah, so it was a big part of it. There was a service requirement at our high school. You had to do 25 hours of service each year. I think the first year was with homeless folks or maybe the elderly, kids. And then I forget which one it was. Freshman, sophomore, junior year, then senior year, you can pick your own and do 30 hours. So anyways, I, through high school, would pray every night before I went to bed. Or actually, when I was in bed. And I would pretty much do the same prayer every single night, which I've since learned is a pretty rad meditation I like to do now and I somehow landed on it on myself. Which I would just basically make the sign of the cross and then lay there and think about myself as like love leaving my body and sort of like growing from my body and infusing everybody on Earth and the whole planet. And just everybody being infused with love. And so in high school, I felt a lot for not just my family and my local community but I felt this kind of conflict. I mean, when did the Iraq War start? When was 9/11? It was 2001, right? So I remember, I was like a week or two into high school and that's when 9/11 happened. And so, so much of high school was framed in a global context of understanding. Like, I didn't even know what the fuck the Twin Towers were when they got hit. I'd never been to New York. But then your worldview broadens like "Oh okay. What is Iraq? What is Afghanistan? Okay."
Janelle Jolley 32:34
Why do they matter? Why are we sending people there?
"And why are we sending people there and why did they fly planes into these buildings? So what's going on?" And so kind of broadening our understanding of what's going on in the world and why it's working the way it is. And, again, going back to that idea of me being that kid sitting on the counter, wanting everybody to just have a good time at the party, and people are not having a good time at the party. And so then feeling like, "Okay, what can I do to kind of help us get there?"
Janelle Jolley 33:03
Where did the majority of your sense of service and/or your desire to emit love to the entire world come from? Was that kind of the exposure to social inequity that you got from school and high school? Was it kind of just your Catholicism that started before you got to California? Was it your parents? If you had to try and pinpoint or locate where the most of that kind of instinct came from, where would you say it came from?
Having trouble coming with a concrete answer. I think that Catholicism thing is a big part of it for sure. I mean, service rooted in that. I know that 'service' isn't the word du jour nowadays, but that's what we talked a lot about back then. Now it's working for our collective liberation. Yeah, which feels a lot less patronizing. But yeah, the Catholic thing I think I don't often reflect on it, but certainly had a big push on it because my parents are good people and also they didn't really do like a ton of service work. And it wasn't a super big topic of conversation around the house. I knew my parents cared about politics, my dad more than my mom.
Janelle Jolley 34:29
How would you describe their politics? Or how did you understand their politics as a child?
Democrats. I mean, for us now that's a full answer, but back then- my dad has become more progressive with age. Which I fucking love about him.
Janelle Jolley 34:46
Really? He didn't mellow out? He got more radical?
Yeah, my dad voted for Bernie and wore Bernie pin to the classes he takes at community college and wants to use the right pronouns for people and so he's asking me how to how do you navigate pronoun conversations. And I look like him except he has whiter hair and more wrinkles. Otherwise, we're very similar looking. And so yeah, I think something I admire about my dad so much, something we both share is we have very strong opinions until we don't.
Janelle Jolley 35:20
Meaning you leave your mind open enough to be changed?
Sure! I love having spirited discussions and talking shit. But if you're right, then I'm super down to change my mind. And I think he's similar. Like, we'll have a heated argument about something, and then the next day, my point of view will be incorporated into his worldview. He won't admit it but it's like "oh, it's not his idea." Which is fine. So he's way more into politics. My mom-
Janelle Jolley 35:47
And he's always been way more into politics? In your words?
As far as I can remember, yeah. Now my mom's super down with other stuff. Like she has always had a lot of gay friends.
Janelle Jolley 35:58
Because she's an artist? Or just because that's the kind of gal she is?
She's a musician, also. She was in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and she was in the choir. So I think a lot of her gay friends in St. Louis were gay men from the choir.
Janelle Jolley 36:11
The Catholic choir?
No, this is the orchestra.
Janelle Jolley 36:14
Oh, like the city orchestra? Like the grand orchestra of St. Louis?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So a couple of her great friends from then were gay men from the choir. And so she was pretty tapped into HIV/AIDS stuff. Like yeah, so in the 80s and 90s even. My uncle with whom I'm closest with has been married to his husband or with his partner for as long as I can remember. So gay rights stuff has been a pretty big fixture of my worldview for my whole life. And so I haven't heard her talk as much about politics stuff. She certainly cares a lot and we talked about it more this election because, I mean, who the fuck didn't talk politics with this election?
Janelle Jolley 37:03
You're saying your father was more explicitly political?
Yeah, I mean, he's tapped in MSNBC and has that shit infused into his brain. But she is interested in like- you know, reads about it but is less directly interested in that stuff.
Janelle Jolley 37:16
Describe your high school experience or your teen years? 'Cause it sounds like those were better times than your preteen years after just moving out here?
Well, pluses and minuses. I definitely felt more comfortable socially. At the same time, it was a high school 30 miles away from where I lived. So I took Caltrain every day.
Janelle Jolley 37:41
Yeah. And there's a stop there that was literally right at the high school called College Park. And so get off at that stop but the problem with that is, you get back on the train at the end of the day and then you're 30 miles away. And so having a social life outside of school was quite difficult, until I got a car and was able to start socializing with people. And so pretty lonely for the first couple of years, but then I joined a shitload of extracurriculars. That's how I play music. So I was in the band.
Janelle Jolley 38:09
What'd you play?
Janelle Jolley 38:11
Okay. Like the symbol? The triangle?
Sometimes, but mostly like marimba and xylophone and shit. You know, I do what needs doing, Janelle.
Janelle Jolley 38:19
So you joined the band. What else?
I joined the band. I joined Junior Statesman of America. That was nerdy as shit. Which was actually the coolest thing about that is that there were girls there. So there was a dance that they had and they were dancing. I was like, "Fuck yeah, this is great." The one conference I went to, I was in a debate about, I think, the resolution was that "cutting taxes was the best way to stimulate the economy" or some shit.
Janelle Jolley 38:51
How did young Dan think about that?
Oh, I was against it. And I won.
Janelle Jolley 38:57
Thank you very much.
Janelle Jolley 38:58
Okay. Mic drop.
Mic drop. So there's a ton of addiction and alcoholism in my family. Which might also tap into the codependence, 'want to solve all the problems,' stuff.
Janelle Jolley 39:14
Or that's part of it.
Part of it. And so I was in a- you know MADD, right? For high school, it's called SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions. And so I would like legit go to middle schools with other SADD students and talk about- Yeah, it's pretty funny. Drug use and drinking and stuff like that.
Janelle Jolley 39:38
Were you hyper vigilant about that because you are aware of your family history?
Two things. One, family history, and two, my dad was scary with that shit. He was super not okay with us doing that. Maybe because he knew. So it's not his side, it's my mom's side. And so I think he was hyper aware of those issues.
Janelle Jolley 39:59
Yeah and so smoking pot or drinking was a terrifying proposition and me being the Goody Two-Shoes that I was, I wasn't about to not do-
Janelle Jolley 40:07
You didn't step outside the lines on that, at all, as a teenager?
Second semester, senior year of high school, I smoked weed for the first time and drank for the first time.
Janelle Jolley 40:17
Ah, okay. Were you super nervous about it? Were you like, "Ah, I might be awakening the dragon!"
It was interesting thing. It wasn't a conscious part of my math at that point. And it really wasn't for a long time until I realized that I--I don't drink or smoke anymore. And I realized that I was starting to head down that path. So I'm like seven or eight years sober?
Janelle Jolley 40:42
Thanks. So I started to realize I was heading down that path and saw a therapist and-
Janelle Jolley 40:52
Nipped this in the bud?
Yeah, well, maybe it was more of a blossom than a bud.
Janelle Jolley 40:57
Sure, sure. But you nipped it?
Yeah. I got involved in student government and was class rep for a couple years and then I was student body president. Thank you very much.
Janelle Jolley 41:07
Is it because you rolled up on bitches like they owed you money?
You goddamn right I did. Goddamn right I did. Somebody's got to run this ship. Jesus Christ! The plane is crashing into a mountain and I'm gonna take control, all right Janelle? Somebody's got to make sure these people have a good time at the party and if it means that some people at the party are gonna have a bad time. Well, that's your own fucking fault.
Janelle Jolley 41:27
Well I'll be that guy. Does getting involved make all the difference for you?
Janelle Jolley 41:34
It was really helpful. I have some pretty introverted tendencies. But I think-
Janelle Jolley 41:40
Yeah, can you believe it?
Janelle Jolley 41:42
Please. Listen, this is all an act, okay? He looked up the demographics of this show. They don't exist, but let's just walk through here. He's like, "You know what, it's 60% ladies. I'm gonna play it up and see what comes back."
Yeah exactly. Strong silence type.
Janelle Jolley 41:59
Would you describe yourself in your teen years as kind of the beginnings of a political awakening?
Janelle Jolley 42:10
In a political awakening to what end?
I fucking hated George Bush. Fuck that fucking guy.
Janelle Jolley 42:16
Fuck that guy.
I mean, it's so fascinating to hear people talk about like, "Trump's the worst president ever!" No, he's fucking not.
Janelle Jolley 42:21
No he's not! Not by a mile.
Oh my god. Yeah, Jesus Christ. I mean, did he kill a million people? No. Well, I mean, with COVID. Depends on how you do the math. We're getting there. But all the same, like holy shit, do you remember?
Janelle Jolley 42:33
That's right. How did you understand at the time, the whole post-9/11 kind of realignment and ensuing Iraq War thing? How do you think you understood that then?
So, I mean, it changed, it changed. So I remember after a piano lesson, my dad picked me up and he said, "They started bombing Iraq." I remember that distinctly. And I remember the feeling in me was a little excitement because "Oh, we're the good guys! And we're gonna go get the bad guys!" Because I was fucking 14 or whatever. And over time, as it just got worse, and then Katrina happened. And it was like, "Holy fucking shit." And seeing the pictures from Katrina. It's like "Those aren't... Is that the U.S.? Is that our country? Like we did that? We can't help people? When we're not helping them?" It was really intense. And I remember more feelings than I do remember thoughts, but I remember just the constant pit in my stomach and anxiety knowing that George Bush was president. I remember that he would never ever- I think the thing that drives me nuts as like somebody who's very justice minded, is he never admitted when he was wrong and he never said he was sorry. I mean, Trump does the same thing. Trump took everything that he learned from Bush and the Bush administration, and turned it into whatever he turned it into. But he never admitted when he was wrong and it fucking drove me nuts. It was such a bad example of leadership. To my eyes, everything that I knew what it meant to be like a good honest person in society was everything that guy was not doing publicly. I fucking hated him. I remember- so I was involved in student government as- you'll love this, too. I was in all boys high school, we didn't have cheerleaders, we had yell leaders. I was a yell leader. And we were unloading this thing from the back of this dude's truck. Just stuff for a game. And he had a bumper sticker on his truck. He was a sophomore in my high school and I was the fucking student body president. And he had a bumper sticker that said, "I'm proud George W. Bush is our president." And I just looked him in the eye. I was like, "Why?"
Janelle Jolley 44:59
"Bro, you're never getting laid."
Yeah, exactly. And I was just like, "Why?" And he was a little shocked and walked away.
Janelle Jolley 45:06
Oh he couldn't even answer? He didn't have an answer?
I was a couple years older than him and it probably wasn't a super tactful way for me to go about having that conversation at the time. But I couldn't really help myself.
Janelle Jolley 45:19
What are some of your fondest memories from being in college, if you have any?
Oh no, I have a lot of very positive memories from college. So I had the drinking and partying thing. But then sophomore year, I got into this volunteer group called 4Boston, which is a service learning group where you were part of a placement and did 4 hours of service a week at that placement. And then you had 1 hour reflection with your fellow volunteers in a group setting each week. And my placement was at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston. And that's when I got super into prison abolition stuff.
Janelle Jolley 45:58
Why? What did you see? What did you come away thinking? What were the thoughts that developed?
The reason I got into it to start with is I wanted to be doing service work and 4Boston was the most intentional, thoughtful one. It wasn't just like, going to a homeless shelter once a month and serving soup. Which is fucking no shade on that, actually. Super fucking important. But it was like an investment in the community. It wasn't just like coming down from your ivory tower, wants to feed us, make yourself feel better. It was actually seeing the same people, developing relationships, working toward collective liberation. Instead of gifting of myself. And so I looked at the placements and the really popular placements are like children's hospitals, because a lot of the pre-med kids wanted to do that. Or tutoring kids and all that. And that's rad and that's good but I have a pull toward the, I don't know, rough and tumble. I don't know.
Janelle Jolley 46:53
I don't really know.
Janelle Jolley 46:54
Yes, you do.
Let me think about it. Let me say "I don't know first." That's part of my process. I worked in restaurants. We didn't talk about that at all, but when I was 15, I started working in restaurants. I was a busboy at this fancy restaurant in Palo Alto called Lavanda. And it kind of just blew my mind. People doing cocaine and talking about sex and like-
Janelle Jolley 46:58
The patrons or the staff?
Staff. And being super crude and cursing at work. And I was like 15 with braces and I just deeply love these people who don't fit in with what society says is the right way to live your life but who are really deeply loving good people. Maybe because I see that a lot in my family members I've had who have addiction and stuff like that. And one of my personal joys is talking to somebody and getting to know their solid gold center. And I find that to be even more satisfying with people who have a rougher exterior because it takes a little more work, but then when you do find out how amazing that person is, it's so much more satisfying. And I also just felt like it was a badass fucking thing to do. Like, "I go to a fucking prison. Fuck you. You go to like a tutoring center? Great. That's cool. I go to the fucking prison. Yeah. All right. I'm a badass."
Janelle Jolley 48:28
So your love of the badass came from your job at 15?
I think that's part of it. Yeah, yeah. I guess so. I also grew up in a fancy ass suburb and went to a private Catholic school and all that kind of stuff. So the deviant, the socially unconventional had its appeal to me. And so I felt drawn to it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah, so I was drawn to it. And also the kids who are in the prison group were just the coolest fucking raddest, raddest people at BC. So I had my friends who I talked about who are working Goldman Sachs, or finance or attorneys and stuff like that. But then I'd met these friends who are people who you would interview on this podcast. Who are just some of the most amazing people in the world.
Janelle Jolley 49:33
Why are they amazing to you?
My housemates call me out on this a lot, but whenever I talk about somebody I really like and admire, one of the first few words I ever use "smart" or "intelligent." That's certainly a value I have. A lot of the kids who were in this group for one reason or another were some of the few kids at BC who were on full academic scholarships. Part of this program called the Presidential Scholars Program.
Janelle Jolley 50:00
What did you do after college? What was it like leaving school?
When I graduated school, I went to go work in Alaska with my older brother. I was a dishwasher in a national park. Glacier Bay.
Janelle Jolley 50:13
Why was that something that you wanted to do?
You've asked me a few times if I knew what I wanted to do when I was in high school or when I was in college. The answer is "fuck no." And that persists.
Janelle Jolley 50:25
But that's a separate question from going to fucking Alaska and being a dishwasher. So I'm saying why did that seem appealing?
My brother had traveled around a lot after college and seeing the way he lived his life seemed really fucking rad to me.
Janelle Jolley 50:36
He was kind of nomadic?
Kind of. He got his master scuba diving license in Honduras. He taught English in China. He worked on a farm in Uganda. He worked with some folks in Jordan. He was all over the place. Actually, with one of my housemates now, he worked on her Fulbright project in Kenya building a water reclamation project. Which is started how he's now a water resource engineer. And so yeah, so that seemed rad. I actually had visited him in Alaska when he had been working there a summer or two before and saw that it was awesome and also a good way to make cash. And I didn't have any money and I didn't know what to do. So why not go do this?
Janelle Jolley 51:19
How long did you do that?
For the summer.
Janelle Jolley 51:22
Okay, what did you do after that?
Immediately following that, we went to the Midwest where we went back to St. Louis and visited some people who we hadn't seen in years. I went to St. Louis and saw some college roommates. We took the train from Chicago to LA to visit my grandma, who since passed this year. Rest in peace, Grandma. And went to Halloween in West Hollywood. I dressed in drag, got my butt squeezed a lot. That was fun.
Janelle Jolley 51:51
You must send me a picture from this time.
Okay. Don't share with anybody though, right?
Janelle Jolley 51:57
No, I will not.
Yeah, of course not.
Janelle Jolley 52:00
Did you shave your beard? Were you in heels? And what was the outfit? I need you to paint a picture.
Did not shave my beard. Did wear makeup. Was wearing a dress. Did not wear heels. I can't walk in heels. I do have a distinct memory of standing in line for a porta potty. A guy coming up behind me squeezing my button and telling me I was very pretty though. Reader, just so you know, I'm not pretty. Yeah.
Janelle Jolley 52:30
But he blushed and he felt pretty.
Yeah, I felt like the belle of the ball. I can understand how a lifetime of that would feel pretty degrading to people who do endure that. But at the moment felt pretty good. Anywho. Then I went and taught English in Spain.
Janelle Jolley 52:50
For how long?
6 months in the Basque Country.
Janelle Jolley 52:53
Did you feel rudderless during this time? Or did you feel like early 20s adventurous?
Early 20s adventurous. There were moments of rudderlessness, like when I was waiting for my visa to go to Spain, hanging around my parents house, just fucking farting around. But then I got to Spain and the Basques are the fucking raddest people ever. If you wanna know some fucking rad people, Basques. They're the shit. And so I spent 6 months there teaching English. And by teach English I mean, I went to class and spoke in English with them. I barely did anything. I lived on a farm for a month after that near a town called Irun. And the farm was a community of super fundamentalist Christians/hippies. It was this organization called Twelve Tribes or Doce Tribus. Here comes that Spanish again, you know, it just rolls off the tongue. And they came out of the Seventh Day Adventists and decided to put together intentional communities of people where all aspects of life were- it feels culty, it sounds culty. Well, so I actually don't understand the difference between a religion and a cult. And I've kind of struggled to come up with a good differentiator between the two. They didn't drink Kool Aid and there wasn't a single male figure who was in charge. Except for Jesus. Praise be. And I was very happy there. People were loving.
Janelle Jolley 54:26
What did you do with this-?
I worked on the farm.
Janelle Jolley 54:28
Like as a farmhand?
Manual labor. Yeah, manual labor. So I broke up a boulder with a sledgehammer one time or I planted tomatoes or I collected potato bugs and killed them.
Janelle Jolley 54:41
How long did you live among the people on this-?
Janelle Jolley 54:45
Oh okay, just a month.
It was pretty cool.
Janelle Jolley 54:47
After you were done teaching or while?
After I was done. Because after that, then I was traveling to Southeast Asia with a friend of mine from college. We ended up dating for like a month. We went to Vietnam and Laos for a month. I swung back around. I lived in Michigan, where my manager from Alaska was and had a job for me. I was totally broke and so I went there and waited tables on Mackinac Island, Michigan.
Janelle Jolley 55:10
That sounds terrible.
It's pure Americana tourism.There are no cars allowed on the island. There are fudge shops and novelty t-shirt shops. And it was terrible because Michigan was one of those states that, at least at the time, was legally allowed to pay you below minimum wage if it was a tipped position. So I made $2.60 an hour. This was in 2010. Mind you, folks, this still exists in your United States of America. So I made $2.60 an hour before tips and if I didn't make, I think the actual minimum wage, something like $8.50, if I didn't make that with tips then I had to go to HR and request that they bump up my pay.
Janelle Jolley 55:46
Wow. How long did you do that?
Just for a couple months to recap some money and figure out what the fuck I was doing next.
Janelle Jolley 55:52
How old were you at this point in Michigan?
22? You know that scene in the first Christian Bale Batman movie where he goes to the mountains to learn his own martial art shit? Similar to that, except this was me getting sober.
Janelle Jolley 56:10
Ah. While you were back home?
When I switched from Simply Hired to Tune In as a rep, but right about that time when I stopped drinking and smoking, and started going to therapy every week. And my principle focus was like, "Okay, I have a steady job. That gives me good health insurance and housing." It's like mental health, emotional well-being. All that kind of stuff was the work to be done at that moment. Had to get my mind right.
Janelle Jolley 56:38
If you're comfortable saying, what was the like 'Moses in the burning bushes'? What was the thing like, "Whoa, okay, this needs some attention."
It was my birthday, 8 years ago and I'd made plans to hang out with some friends who were coming from the South Bay. And then my uncle called me and invited me to lunch and I was like, "Oh, great. Let's have lunch." So, went over and had lunch. My family came up and we had a lovely lunch in--my uncle at the time had an apartment over by the Ferry Building. And had a lovely lunch and walked around. Then he's like, "Okay, you come back for dinner, we got a cake for you and everything." And I was like, "Oh, but I made plans for the evening. I wasn't planning to-." "Oh," he's like, "Oh, you can just cancel them." I was like, "I don't fucking cancel plans on people normally and also these people were driving like an hour to hang out with me on my birthday." So I was like, "I can't cancel them," and he got upset with me. And I was just like all twisted up. And then I ended up leaving and I went to go hang out with my friends and I was smoking weed like nobody's business trying to make myself feel better. But that was just, at that point, having the anxious effect. And I just remember lying in my bed that night, my eyes wide, heart beating out of my chest. Just like "This is not how I should be feeling," and kind of realizing objectively: I've got a good well paying job. I have a nice apartment in one of the more desirable cities in the country. I have a loving family. I have good friends. And I feel like absolute horseshit. Objectively, my life is good. Subjectively, my life feels fucking terrible.
Janelle Jolley 58:21
And there's room for betterment?
There's something off. And so I had had this contact information for a therapist. So I sent him an email. Went in for my first session. Told him everything. And he was like, "Well, we can do a lot of things to make you feel better, but the first thing you can do is to get sober." And I was like, "Goddamnit," because I knew that's what he was gonna say. I had moments with smoking pot where I would, beforehand, be bringing the pipe to my lips. Like "Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why am I-," then smoke it and forget why. And sit there and have fantasies about the kind of life I wanted to lead, like having a garden or being in a relationship or getting in shape. I play piano and I hadn't played piano for a year. All these things that depressed people do. Yeah, I think I was really struggling with a lot of things. One of them, having this sense of wanting to live a special blessed life. And suddenly I'm working an office job in Silicon Valley. And like, "Is that my life?" I've been traveling around doing all this rad shit. And then, this is what it is? Talking about the agnostic God piece, it was around then, in combination with both smoking a ton of pot and having an existential crisis. And this one video, which is really fun, highly recommend watching it on YouTube, which it basically like starts looking at a woman who's lying down in a field and it zooms out. So you see all of Earth and it zooms out so you see the solar system, then it zooms out so you see the galaxy. Then it keeps zooming out all the way to the edge of the known universe. And I saw that and I was just like, "How The fuck can God be a real fucking thing?" Like, "Who the fuck can see this and think that God exists?" Like, "Fuck you. Come on. That's some bullshit." I understand if it's like 16th century and the entire world was everything you know and the sun is a messy bitch who causes drama or whatever. But like, "If that's all it is...?" But, I don't know, it was tough to believe in God seeing that video, then being at that point in my life when I was both depressed and anxious and having an existential crisis altogether. So all that combined was kind of that moment. Like 'come to Jesus' moment.
Janelle Jolley 1:00:44
And these are 'come away from Jesus' moments.
There you go.
Janelle Jolley 1:00:48
But this is all happening around the time where you started to work as a quote, "professional?"
You got it.
Janelle Jolley 1:00:55
Interesting. Just so you all know, I will not rest until I find evidence of that night that Dan was in drag. All right. We're back tomorrow with Captain No Pants here, being raked over the coals by yours truly. See you soon.