Two Sweet Sand Pigs: A Recap, and some pondering

It has seemed like forever, but the wait was over this week, with episode 8 of Season 2 dropping on Tuesday. Maybe it was the return of Rob, maybe it was the tropical setting of Hawaii; maybe it was a wonderful double-dose of Karens. Most likely, it was all of those things combined, that made this my favourite episode so far this season.
There is a new candidate in the search for The Real Karen, some pretty rewarding research for Josh and Sara, an interesting insight into Uncle Albert’s role in this adventure, and a right cracking pair of coconuts.

Before all that though, Helena was having her usual struggles with internetting, trying to find a route to the Boulders shopping centre. Dot weighs in, helpful as ever. What Helena needs to do is google Google on Yahoo, then google MapQuest on Google.
Seems a bit of a convoluted route to get to where she wants to go…
Probably representative of how the journey actually went. I’m pretty sure that Helena is a regular sufferer of road rage.

Whilst we’re on the subject of travelling, Helena is bemoaning the fact that she never gets invited to see her daughter Ellen in Seattle.
Dot chips in with the fact that she’d like to visit Seattle too, but doesn’t have time.
(Let’s be honest, it probably takes Dot 2 hours to write each Facebook comment. Between that and the curtain-twitching, there’s not going to be a whole lot of spare time for road-trips. Even if she does know how to use MapQuest.)

Helena portrays Ellen as someone harbouring a big grudge, and full of anger.
(Not sure where she could possibly have got those traits from, Helena!) This doesn’t sound like the Ellen we have come to know and love from the letters. But then, we all know that often the biggest arguments, and most serious of falling outs, often occur with those closest to us. Nobody could blame Ellen if she had disowned her mother, purely for being a huge embarrassment on social media. She wouldn’t want a misplaced rant about balding newsreaders, or the latest antics of the neighbourhood floozy, accidentally being posted on her holistic treatments’ business page.

Someone who is keen for Helena to visit, is Ellen’s sister in Hawaii. This is who, after some more caffeine/wine-fueled late-night Facebook stalking, Josh feels is a great fit for being the Karen that we’re looking for. Even better, she’s married, to an excellent Rob-candidate. They’re one of those couples that has a joint Facebook profile. Of course they are. It’s probably one of those written without any spaces either. “KarenandRobRedacted.”

These two are living it up in Hawaii, working for the Coast Guard. Aloha Karen, worryingly, doesn’t understand why swimming would be a necessary job requirement. Because, you’re on a boat right? Nowhere near the water…
Buuuuuut, she persevered, and managed to learn; despite the added hindrance of the salt in the water. Aloha Karen now seemingly defies science (as well as logic) and instead of gaining buoyancy from the salt water, apparently it pulls her down. You’d think she would float really well, on account of all the hot air she’s filled with!!!

Aloha Rob is so perfectly Rob. It’s almost too good to be true. Obviously a bit of a petrol-head, but seems to have as much luck with vehicles as he did with household appliances, back in the 80s. He has a cherished photo of himself with his convertible Corvette, which sadly he crashed and wrote off. He no longer has his precious “Choppers” either. Aloha Rob has obviously made it in life, as he was lucky enough to have 2 Harley Davidson motorbikes. Alas, they too, are no longer in his life. For once though (as far as we can tell) there was not a calamitous ending. Aloha Karen put her flip-flopped foot firmly down, and made Rob get rid of them. She feels he would be dead now, if he had kept them.
Perhaps, for the first time in her life, Karen is right! Rob, riding around Hawaii with complete abandon; a big, powerful, beast between his legs; would never have ended well. Karen describes the bikes as “crude, stupid, and make a lot of noise.”
Oh wait… Is she talking about the motorbikes? Or Rob?

Helena told us earlier that, as well as being mad at her, Ellen was also mad at her sister.
She’s obviously not so mad, that she turns down an opportunity to visit Aloha Karen in Hawaii.
We know that she’s been there, as, in keeping with one of the themes from early on in our Karen and Ellen journey; something has been misplaced in the kitchen. It’s Ellen’s bra and, unfortunately for her, Rob is the one to find it. How her bra came to be discarded in the kitchen will remain a mystery. But with these 3, anything is possible.
It would be interesting to know what kind of bushes they’ve got growing in their front garden. That’s all I’m saying.
I’m not sure Ellen will want the bra back now, after learning that Rob was parading around in it for an entire day. It’s pretty hot in Hawaii. There would have been sweat.
Gross.

Also, why are they discussing this on Facebook? Over-sharing on social media obviously runs in this family! Aloha Rob takes this to a whole other level, when the bra-talk prompts him to sing the praises of Karen’s “assets” publicly. The full, long, varied, and astounding list of names he has for them, can be found in the episode.
The least vomit-inducing of which, is probably “Hawaiian coconuts.”
I will never think of cows and sweaters in the same way, ever again.

We also hear from Rob, about how it was always his ambition to join the Air Force, just like his late father. This desire was born in childhood, and lasted all the way up to when Rob was a “new adult.”
(I’m presuming that this is referring to his second attempt at adulting; after the first resulted in the destruction of The Busy Beaver Christmas Tree Farm).
Unfortunately, Rob failed to get into the Air Force, so the Coast Guard became his destiny instead. His Dad once told him that his brain was more suited to being in the Coast Guard. I’m not sure that this says much for the standards of the Coast Guard’s employees!

Rob’s impassioned piece about how his Dad inspired him, moves Karen. She tells Rob that he always was “the writer in the family.”
This does fit with the Rob from the letters, as boy, did he like to write those letters to Mark. Even when Mark flatly refused to enter into any correspondence with him; he bulldozed on regardless.

We know that Letters Rob had a certain fascination with the Coast Guard. During the final episode of Season 1, Ellen tells Mark all about it. Karen, Ellen, and Rob; unable to distinguish fact from fiction (I feel their pain); used to ring the Coast Guard Station in Astoria every week when they were young.
They were obsessed with the TV show, “Gilligan’s Island,” and wanted to give The Coast Guard tips on how to rescue the stranded characters on the show. Karen, of course, wanted the reward. She was furious when the Coast Guard called their parents, and snitched on them. Rob’s Great Uncle told Rob that he should join the Coast Guard. If we are to believe that Aloha Rob is our Rob, this is a huge tick-in-the-box for known connections.
There is also a short clip at the beginning of episode 7, which I think from listening again, must be from “Gilligan’s Island”?
(We never had it over here, due to being out of jurisdiction.)
Anyway, the quote is, “Gilligan, I’ve got a bite.” So it seems pretty likely? Another subtle clue, of the kind that Josh likes to drop in, then rubs his hands in glee when we all completely miss it!

Something else that is reminiscent of Letters Rob, is the way things seem to also break in Aloha Rob’s presence. This time, it’s the remote control for the garage door.
(Honey being involved, is pure speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t bet against it.)
Poor Karen is having to get out of her car, to open the garage door manually. Can you imagine? The extra steps towards the daily Fitbit total, are definitely not worth the inconvenience. The remote for the golf-buggy door though? That one is working fine. Rob obviously had his priorities in order, when he was choosing one to be sacrificed.

It makes me laugh, how, just like Dot and Helena, they are having this discussion on Facebook. Even worse, because these two live in the same house!
Again though, is this a sign of old habits dying hard? Writing to complain about things, or deny responsibility for things, is the predominant theme of most of Karen’s and Rob’s letters to Mark.
Rob is keen to ask Karen, “How can I break something that I wasn’t even working on?”
I love to think that in the 30 years since we last heard from Rob, everything he touches has constantly been falling apart. Or exploding.

Which leads us on to surely the most compelling piece of evidence yet, as to Aloha Rob being our Rob:
He is obsessed with watching explosions on YouTube. Obsessed.
It’s his favourite thing ever, and he does it for hours.
He talks about one such video, where a firework was placed under a plant, to blow it up.
Could the Christmas Tree Farm explosion have perhaps not been an accident after all???
We will never know. But knowing that this sort of thing really floats Rob’s boat, (pardon the pun), definitely gives extra credence to the theory that this is THE Rob.

But then, where does that leave Karen Crochet Pants?
She is also a great fit for being Letters Karen.
We have a quick check-in with her, to see what she’s been up to. That dangerous pastime of crocheting has left Karen Crochet Pants with a bad back; so whilst it’s recovering, she decided to join Facebook. She marvels over how many hundreds of people she could invite to be her “friend.”
Good for you Crochet Pants. You wouldn’t want to be one of those saddos with only 50 friends; like Catfish Karen’s mother-in-law.
My ears pricked up, when I heard the names “George” and “Mark.” Especially when we learn that the Mark in question, is someone that she corresponded with in the 80s.
Could it be the “George” mentioned in the mystery letter, from the incarcerated woman?
And more importantly, could it be our Mark???
They are very common names, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.
After adding all these people, Karen Crochet Pants isn’t at all worried that she’ll be spending too much time on Facebook. She describes it as “a controlled addiction, that I can walk away from, any day.”
Oh Crochet Pants.
Little do you know.
I innocently clicked “join” on one facebook group, and now look what’s happened!

Just as I was thinking that Aloha Karen seemed to be the most likely fit for Letters Karen, Crochet Pants comes up with some ridiculous ramblings, definitely worthy of Letters Karen. She flits from one subject to another, with little sense or connection.
She’s talking about a trip home, then some strange hallucination about being on a plane full of Women Of A Certain Age, all doing crochet.
Then we jump to the self -proclaimed Yarn Goddess of Illinois having lunch with a random child, and planning ahead for her next 6 years of crocheting adventures.
Our Karen or not, I would definitely like to continue hearing from Crochet Pants and her blog. It is filled with more gems than Patti-with-the-crystals’ (possibly stolen) handbag.

Josh reminds us in this episode, that Karen Crochet Pants, as well as Fish Ellen, can be traced back to the cottage, but that they hadn’t found exact dates as to when.
In an inspired move, Sara contacts the Oakland Public Library E-Answer Service.
An extremely helpful Clerk, (brought brilliantly and vibrantly to life, by the extremely talented Nicki T), provides some really useful information.
She gives Sara and Josh the names that she has listed, for residents of the cottage between 1979 and 1991.
Some are redacted, or missing, but the Caldwells are listed as living there between 1986 and 1991. (No mention of the cats though.)
More importantly, a “Karen” is listed in 1987.
The Clerk has also found something else that Josh requested, but of course he did not share that with us this episode.

Not content to leave us with one cliffhanger, the episode ends with another revelation, that lends itself to provoking more questions than answers.
We’re back in 1989, and Uncle Albert is writing to Mark.
He has “redrafted” everything. And wants to check that Mark is happy for certain names to remain unchanged.
These include: Hal, Bonnie, Annette, Karen, and CW.
The address will also remain unchanged.
Uncle Albert urges caution on Mark’s part; and implies that he feels that some of these details should definitely be altered. He is wary of any verifying information being left in, such as local business names.
(I for one, will be very upset if “Positively Electric”, and “Reliance Appliance”, are made up!)
Albert warns that “anyone with a good reputation” wouldn’t “move forward” if identifying information is included.

What for? Publication? Pitching it to someone? To David and Leslie?
I know a lot of us had a feeling that at least some of the letters had been embellished, or made up. Mark was always the prime suspect, with Bonnie high on the list of subjects also. But dear old Uncle Albert? He certainly snuck in under the radar! Something is definitely a-foot here. Suspicions grow further, when we hear Uncle Albert’s list of which letters he has removed:

•Ellen’s letter regarding her mother and sister
•The updated lease
•Karen’s original notice to vacate
•The Trespassing Correspondence
•The Coast Guard Series

Totally frustrating, as of course, we are now desperate to know what was in these letters!
What secrets did Ellen disclose about her mum and sister?
Did Mark issue Karen with that eviction notice, that he kept threatening her with?
Who trespassed, and where?
Was Rob caught impersonating a law student at Tufts University, that doesn’t even have a Law School?
Was Annette prostrating herself on Mark’s porch late at night, begging him to listen to her suicidal plans, just one last time?
And here’s the Coast Guard again!
We definitely need to know what that is all about, after this episode.

One thing’s for sure, Uncle Albert is a lot more involved than I think any of us had realised previously.

So what do we know about him?

We first meet him in episodes 4 and 5 of Season 1, with Mark asking Albert to write to Karen, on University headed paper. To help her get to grips with the difficult issue of jurisdiction. Mark also shows him some of Karen’s letters.

By episode 7, listening back, knowing what we know now, there are definite hints that Uncle Albert is possibly “doing” something with the letters. He states that he has been inspired to “write some of the letters we’ve written in our minds, over and over.”
At the time, I thought he meant responses to Karen, like the one he sent regarding jurisdiction.
But now, it takes on a whole different meaning. Is this where he and Mark started “creating” their own versions of the letters? Albert also says that he has shared the letters with various friends and colleagues, who all found them highly entertaining.
Is this what sparked the idea that there was perhaps an opportunity that could arise from these letters?

In episode 10 of Season 1, Mark is found writing to Albert, and an unknown person called Benji, sending them quotes from the girls’ letters. Also, sending notes from phone calls he had with them.
During the Season 1 finale, Mark sends Ellen’s homework to Albert too.
Again, I thought at the time, it was because, like the rest of us, Albert and friends just found it all highly entertaining. He is obviously a lot more canny than I gave him credit for.

Of course, Bonnie is involved as well. Mark gives her the complete low-down on Karen, Ellen, and several other previous tenants. I think they were all in this together!

Re-listening to all of that, Josh also implies that Charlie Worthington plays a big part in what goes on as well.
This is also yet to be revealed!
There are a lot of “TBA”s that need wrapping up in the final two episodes.

Over to you, Josh!

 

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Behind-the-Scenes on Episode 6

  1. My one and only note to Sara Beth for this episode was: Ellen doesn’t seem to understand how hashtags work.
  2. Anyone with an advanced murder board should be able to figure out quite a lot about how people are connected and how certain stories came to be after hearing this episode.
  3. I was originally going to hold the exchange between Fish Ellen and Patty with the Crystals for episode 7. I sent the episode as you heard it to the bloggers and asked for their input. They unanimously agreed I should keep the exchange in episode 6; but under one condition:
  4. That there would still be a big reveal in episode 7.
  5. There is. A huge one.
  6. The reveal in episode 7 was originally going to be held until the very end of episode 9.
  7. I have spent so many hours trying to remember if in 2012 I ever saw or encountered a woman in front of my old apartment building whose car had been broken into.
  8. As it turns out, I did remember that there was a week-long rash of break-ins there. I even talked to a few people. I can’t remember what they looked like or who they were. It’s something that haunts me often now.
  9. The majority of the recordings in this episode were done within a week of releasing it. I had originally planned to do most of this stuff after the holiday break.
  10. I felt the perfect way to follow-up a Karen-centric episode was with an Ellen-centric one. So, we rushed production.
  11. I was writing and putting together episodes 6 and 7 simultaneously, and still struggle sorting out what material ended up where.
  12. I think the biggest mistake an active listener could make during this episode is to assume all of these exchanges are happening in the same timeline.
  13. Here’s a big hint: The Dot & Helena stuff spans over 5 years. The Fish Ellen stuff is mostly contained to the last year (save a few relevant posts).
  14. Prepare for a more cohesive merging of those two timelines next week.
  15. This episode represents a real turning point in how these people are presented. The show will begin feeling more grounded.
  16. At this point, you have not heard the last of anyone, except for the acting troupe.
  17. Sara and I record most of our conversations and send each other voice memos all the time. But because so much of our investigating is discussed or fleshed out over Messenger, we end up having to record a lot of pick-ups for better exposition. We could not make that happen this time, and had to make do with what we had from our recordings. It felt very apropos of the whole series; I had some real Tim Gunn moments.
  18. “Darren” did not want to be recorded or use his real name. Since he and my friend Matt do not know one another and have very similar mannerisms and senses of humor, Matt seemed like the perfect fit. It has been really confusing having one friend portray another friend, under a fake name. I never know what to call him.
  19. This is only one of two episodes not featuring Laila at the beginning. I like keeping people on their toes; and since there were so many animal references in this ep, Paul seemed the perfect opener.
  20. That Sudio ad took me FOREVER to write and record. I think I spent 4 or 5 hours on that damn thing.
  21. My favorite piece from this episode is when Ellen/Sara B opens a new FB post with:

    “This is a 6 foot painting of over 37 cats.” Every time I hear it, I burst out laughing. It’s never not funny to me.

     

Behind-the-Scenes on Episode 5

  1. This episode took longer to produce than any other episode of Karen & Ellen.
  2. Episodes usually take a total of 6-8 hours, Karen Karen Karen took 16.
  3. When we learned one of the random tidbits mentioned in the Dot & Helena conversation, it connected a lot of our dots and answered a lot of our questions.
  4. Originally, Dot and Helena were never going to be featured in the same episode. I just thought this episode needed a little more levity and fun; so we gave them five minutes of conversation to open the show.
  5. This was my least favorite episode to produce. I could not figure out how to narrate it, what to include vs. what to hold back on, or how to fit all the necessary information together in a cohesive way.
  6. I legitimately worried that the episode would be so bad that people would stop listening to the show.
  7. I initially thought I couldn’t cast Chris Green as David, because of his brief appearance as Email Main in season 1. Then I thought it would be a fun way to toy with people and make them think David was Email Man.
  8. When I first received those Karen emails in 2012, a friend of mine swore up and down there was no way they were real. We all told him he was crazy.
  9. The conversation between Sara and me in this episode is actually pieces from 4 different conversations edited together.
  10. It took me a very long time before I became open to Crochet Pants as being a possible Karen.
  11. Her blog is as crazy as it sounds, and chronicles over 7 years of her life.
  12. It’s still current; her latest post was the 23rd.
  13. I spent hours and hours trying to figure out which roomie was the catfish.
  14. I never did.
  15. I often wonder, given her interest in the mystery, whether she created a new/fake account and is a roomie again.
  16. Episode 6 will be just as, if not more, revealing as episode 5.
  17. The bumper stickers read by Sara are the exact bumper stickers from Crochet Pants’s car. She even posted a photo of them all on her blog. The kitchen sink one still totally mystifies me.
  18. We’ll hear more from my Karen contender in future episodes.
  19. This episodes had more possible titles than any other episode. Here’s some of them:
    The Catfish
    Yarn Goddess
    I Ate A Kitchen Sink
    A Fish Without A Bicycle
    Crochet Pants
    Better Than Berkeley
    Bush Quayle 88
    Loud And Proud Lesbian
  20. At the beginning of the production, I created an episode guide, which outlined each episode. I have strayed so much from it that it’s not even usable anymore.

Behind-the-Scenes on Episode 3

  1. Episode 3 was originally going to be the season premiere, excluding Dot and Patti. I was going to reveal David and Leslie, and what exactly was going on somewhere in episode 3 or 4. I decided to push it back a few weeks before the season premiered, because I didn’t want to alienate folks. So, we started with the mystery of David and Leslie, and paid it off later with the actors.
  2. Patti was never supposed to be a voiced character, just someone referenced. Then something strange happened, and we decided it was important to give her a voice. Holly was cast the week of the premiere.
  3. When I decided to include actors playing our favorite letter-writers, I knew immediately that I wanted familiar voices playing those parts. Deana as Karen and Steven as Mark were the first people that came to mind. Then Donna. Then Cory.
  4. The only notes I gave our podcasters were not to try to imitate Sara, Sara, Jeff, and Matt. Play the parts in any way, with any interpretation, they liked.
  5. Along with Nina as Bonnie, we decided that during promotion for season 2, we’d give them all pseudonyms so that their appearances would be complete surprises. I chose similar names: Dana Hammers, Diane Milner, Steve Maple, and Cody Sisco. I can’t remember my original pseudonym for Nina, who requested Rita Colby instead.
  6. The muffled sound of the audio at the beginning was intentional. I wanted to make it clear it was a flashback to audio from season 1; I also wanted to stress the most important piece from it, and fade out during the second most important piece; both serving as clues for what was to come in the episode.
  7. David (played by Chris Green) is based on a real person; but since I know very little about him, other than his work, I based his personality very largely on an old boss of mine. When I was casting it, about 6 different people sent in audition tapes. Before listening, I thought Chris was the least likely. But his rendition sounded frighteningly like my old boss. It actually made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I hired him immediately after listening.
  8. The conversation you’ll be hearing between Sara and me is multiple calls spliced together. On the longest of those calls, we recorded immediately after a PLAYLIST recording session, and I am very inebriated. If you listen closely, you can probably pick out which pieces.
  9. When I found out Patti lived in New York, I almost immediately started planning a recognizance trip up. I was very promptly talked out of it.
  10. There are multiple different people singing karaoke throughout the season. The woman from episodes 2 and 3 is hands-down my favorite.
  11. This was the first complete episode; but I began editing the sound design later, which made it the longest episode in post production. Sounds/music were super important to me this season.
  12. The reasons I used the letters I did in the acting segment, was because it was the only season one episode that included 2 or more letters from each letter-writer. That ended up being a very lucky coincidence though, because some of the content of those letters thematically enrich the storytelling in this season.
  13. Sara knows about 95% of what I know; the 5% she doesn’t know drives her up the wall.
  14. It was really important to me that hardcore listeners did the Aftershow for this episode, which is why I decided to make it the first Roomie Aftershow.
  15. I would put this episode in the top 3 of my favorite episodes of Karen & Ellen that I’ve created. I am really happy with the way it turned out, the way the story was told, and the doors its about to open.
  16. I almost didn’t include the Dot letter in this episode; but changed my mind because I didn’t want it to be totally disorienting.
  17. I did however make some formatting changes, because I didn’t want people to rely on certain mainstays. I wanted to keep people on their toes.
  18. Patti’s piece is eerily close to something “the real Patti” wrote. Like, I only changed what was necessary. I did not add anything to it.
  19. The Dot/Helena story has been my favorite one to tell this season.
  20. There’s one more similarly WTF episode around the bend.