Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
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Like my brownhouse:
   Adams Morgan
Wednesday, March 28 2001
We woke up and cleaned ourselves as best we could in Jessika's showerless but fully bathtub-equipped bathroom. Jessika had already headed off to her job at the recycling center and Johnny Boom Boom lay sleeping on the couch. I tried to drink some coffee but it had been electrically cooked too long from below and tasted horrible.
We packed our belongings and hit the road, heading north to Washington, DC on good old US route 29 North. It's sort of a treacherous highway, what with all the cops hidden within the landforms waiting to crack down on people exceeding the 55 mph speed limit, but somehow we made it without incident. We stopped at a gas station for gasoline and horrible gas station coffee and I noted that the place was hiring. Recession? What recession?
As we made our way through Arlington on I-66, we were sick of our mix tapes and found ourselves listening to a Hip Hop R & B station. At least two songs came on that seemed to be hybrids of R & B and classical music. This one song done by a woman or band called "Cantrelle" (I can't find it on the web at all) was particularly intriguing. In addition to classical and R & B, she also seemed to be drawing on a sort of 30s-era housewifey jazz sound. If anyone knows the song I'm trying to write about, please email me. It would be a cool thing to look for (its title translated into Pig Latin of course) on Napster.
In downtown Washington D.C., as we drove gradually northward from the Mall, we passed a gentleman operating a yellow machine with a jack hammer on the end of its hydraulic arm. He kept pounding the stout metal prod of the jack hammer eighteen inches or so through the asphalt in places where there hadn't even been a hole. There was simply no way to look at that and not think of sex. It looked so delicious to be able to fuck the pavement with that machine.
Gretchen left me in the car in a couple places and went off on foot to track down one of her friends who works as a temp in the Justice Department (or some such place). While I waited, I amused myself by listening to Christian fundamentalist talk radio. The fundamentalists were delighted with recent Bush administration directives, though obviously much more needs to be done on behalf of unborn larval humans (the sorts of things that would not look out of place in a box of Chinese food). Gretchen never did manage to track down her friend.
We drove further northward into a hip neighborhood of Washington called Adams Morgan, a place where all the restaurants serve Ethiopian food and all the kids are into emo hardcore. You can tell these kids because dye their angularly-cut hair jet black and they wear dark blue jackets. These kids don't move at all when they're rocking out to their favorite tunes.
Gretchen is all about Ethiopian food, so we dined at her favorite Adams Morgan restaurant, Meskerem. I'd never had Ethiopian food before, but I fell into eating it easily enough. It's served without utensils on a big platter that two or more people share. Small torn fragments of a rubbery fermented bread are used to scoop up various combinations of spicy vegetables (we were doing the vegetarian thing of course). It's sort of like South Indian cuisine, but without any rice. I particularly liked the bread. Its rubbery consistency and hexagonal air pockets made it look sort of like octopus hide, and we've already discussed how much I like to eat calamari and other cephalopods.
The air was cold enough that we didn't really want to linger outside or walk on the shady side of the street, but when we got back into the funky-smelling rental car, the greenhouse effect was working miracles and we started making out. One thing led to another and we decided we needed to go somewhere and fuck without delay. So we set out on foot, hoping to find a Starbucks.
Instead we wandered into a coffee establishment called Tryst. It was just our luck that one of the restrooms had an out of order sign on it. We went in there and it was perfectly clean, so we locked the door and got to it. In a bathroom, I don't care how clean it is, it's best to always do your fucking standing up (or at least use the sink as a handy horizontal structure). When we were done we rearranged our clothes and walked out of Tryst like nothing had happened, satisfied.

Driving up to Silver Spring, the location of Gretchen's childhood home, Gretchen had it in mind that we'd stop at one of her old favorite hangouts, the Tastee Diner. One doesn't go to the Tastee Diner for anything but the quaint accidentally kitsch atmosphere. The food not prepared in especially sanitary manner, is greasy, unhealthy and not æsthetically appealing. The staff are uniformly overweight and over the hill. They don't ride around on roller skates. The lemonade, which Gretchen was especially craving, is made in a completely haphazard manner from powdered lemonade mix, some of which can reliably be found undissolved at the bottom of every glass. But when we got to the location of the Tastee Diner, we found instead an enormous hole in the ground. Some sort of redevelopment effort was underway; the headquarters for the Discovery Channel would soon be rising from this hole. Initially Gretchen was appalled and aghast, but she saw a sign saying the Tastee Diner had been moved several blocks away.
But it wasn't the same Tastee Diner. Sure, the old railroad car that had housed its main dining area had been moved, but it had sprouted new wings and taken on things that were disturbingly deliberately kitsch, such as little faux-retro CD players at every table. We ducked inside, looked around and then Gretchen shook her head and said "definitely no," so we left. She seemed almost heartbroken that the place could have changed so irredeemably from the way it had been back in the day when she and her friends used to hang out there. The only authentic element remaining was the fat waitress out in front smoking a ludicrously long cigarette.

See Gretchen talking about the Tastee Diner (Windows Media only; sorry Mac people!)

Gretchen's parents live in a fancy neighborhood at the end of a cul-du-sac in Silver Spring, right beside Holy Cross Hospital, the place where I was born. When we arrived with our V8 Juice and such, Gretchen's mother was there. When we arrived she seemed really exhausted and sort of depressed, probably a consequence of her fibromyalgia or the no-carbohydrate Atkins Diet derivative she's using to treat it. She was so low-energy in fact that I found myself losing steam sympathetically (but still trying to come off as a charming suitor for Gretchen). So I delivered all my jokes with the deadest of deadpans.
Gretchen's parents own two big Standard Poodles, all with ugly poodle haircuts and proper poodle grooming. One of the poodles is the mother of the other, and while the mother seems bright and well trained, the son is obviously a doggy retard. You can see it in his eyes, just like you can see it the eyes of the current leader of the Free World. Anyway, Gretch and I took the dogs for a little romp in the nearby park and half the time we were there it seemed like the stupider of the two dogs was about to haplessly get himself into some sort of trouble, either by terrorizing a child or chasing after a jogger.
In the evening Gretchen's father came home from his job in the Public Health Service (he has to wear a C. Everett Koop-style Surgeon General uniform as part of that gig) and we all sat around talking some more. He was a lot more animated than Gretchen's mother and seemed to communicate better with Gretchen. The love of books thing is a strong common interest, and their conversation about books, poems and literature was so intense that it left me feeling lost and a little bit ignorant.
For dinner we went to a place called Thyme Square in nearby Bethesda. It's a sort of a yuppie health-oriented American restaurant, complete with indications of which dishes on the menu are vegan. Being almost a big a fan of mushrooms as I am of calamari, I went for the wild mushroom soup and the wild mushroom lasagna. Topics discussed included whether or not calamari is kosher (it could be if one considers a squid beak to be comprised of scales) and the pervasiveness of religious education in the public schools of Redneckistan. Later in the meal Gretchen's dad brought out his Palm Pilot and quizzed us about the relative ratings various DC-area restaurant had received. He had a database of all the ratings right there at his fingertips.
As we left the restaurant, we crossed the street over to a corner Barnes and Noble. We saw a cane there on the edge of the fountain and joked that a cripple had come there and been healed, but then I thought better of it and demonstrated that the cane was actually firmly attached to the concrete wall of the fountain. And then I suddenly realized that I'd been there before, back when I was housesitting for Nancy Firedrake. This was the famed Bethesda Avenue.
Further down Bethesda Avenue, past that bagel shop which should probably be selling the "nothing bagel" to Atkins Diet adherents, were various clothing retailers selling absolutely hideous fashions. Neither Gretch nor I could imagine anyone wearing these raw, baggy monstrosities, not even grandmotherly Dave Matthews fans. But of course you have to consider the fact that we're super-hip bicoastalistas with fabulous fashion sense and Bethesda is peopled by chortling squirrels.
On the other side of Bethesda Avenue we went into the Discovery Gallery to look at contemporary art. The gallery was featuring the prints of a painter named Rob Gonsalves. He paints intriguing Escheresque landscapes interleaving two different scales of reality seamlessly in a way (according to the curator) that appeals to people "from 2 to 92." The curator would have liked to sell us a print, but of course we were only just looking. But maybe we were interested in an original. One has to sign up two years in advance for one of those, and they go for $38,000. Still, the curator had an original handy and unframed behind the desk and she brought it out to show us.

[This account was written on April 7th, 2001]

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