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
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

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Like my brownhouse:
   Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Thursday, July 19 2001

setting: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Gretchen and I spent the whole day doing Pittsburgh things with her brother Brian and/or Brian's fiancé Jen. It all started when Gretchen and I walked from Squirrel Hill down into the more collegiate part of town nestled at the foot of the ominously gothic Cathedral of Learning. On the way we passed many fine old houses and Gretchen kept pointing out which ones she liked and talking about the affordability of real estate in Pittsburgh. I couldn't understand why it would be so much cheaper here than, say, in New York City or Los Angeles and she said it was all about proximity to the coasts. People just don't get all that excited by the idea of living close to the source of the Ohio River. Though Gretchen had told me that lower Squirrel Hill is a big gay/lesbian district, the most obvious cultural standouts were Orthodox Jews. They were everywhere.
We met up with Gretchen's brother Brian, dressed as usual in blue hospital scrubs, in front of a restaurant called Lu Lu's Noodles, where we planned to have lunch.
I thought Lu Lu's was pretty normal Chinese food, but the ambiance of the place was a little hipper than usual. For one thing, it made the claim that its cuisine was "Panasian." For another, it featured large black and white photos on the wall depicting various photogenic multi-ethnic people dumping noodles on top of one another. Gretchen liked what she'd ordered, although she thought it a bit "too goopy."
After lunch, Brian brought us along when he went to the doctor's office where he works. The office is in a neighborhood near the cusp of an Italian neighborhood and a Polish neighborhood, not far from "the only Polish restaurant in Little Italy." Brian's principle task was to check in on one of the pregnant patients to whom he has been assigned. Her name is Brandy, and like many suffering from pregnancy, she is only seventeen years old. Her imminent delivery has been the one thing preventing Brian and Jen from being able to visit Brian's parents in Silverspring, Maryland. While Brian was off dealing with work-related matters, Gretchen and I got a chance to check our email on some internet-computer-equipped doctor stations. We also got a chance to meet Brandy. As expected, she had a rather thick Appalachian accent and frosty white eye shadow, both contributing factors to pre-adulthood pregnancy. I asked Gretchen how she thought her life would have turned out had she delivered a child back when we first met in Oberlin in 1988. Why would anyone deliberately truncate their irresponsible youth so prematurely? There are alternatives!
Suddenly the bidding on my condo back in Los Angeles had heated up and my realtor Jesika had two $294,000 counter-offers for me to sign and return via fax. We took advantage of the Doctor's Office fax, but Brian had to be extra-sneaky about it; the mustachioed grand pooh bah, a man not known for his sense of humor or tolerance of monkey business, had decided to come over from his private office and try out the swivel chair near the front desk, right beside the fax machine. And those real estate counter offers, they're 13 pages each, and there were two of them both to receive and then resend. As he did what he needed to do on our behalf, Brian had the slightly sick look of a child who knows he must eat his green beans before getting any ice cream. But Brian is a real trooper, and as risky as his task was, as close as he was coming to getting a tongue lashing from his supervisor, he did his part and my counteroffers made it to Los Angeles, thereby eliminating an expensive trip to Kinko's.
With Brandy examined and the faxes behind us, Brian was free to drive us around Pittsburgh and show us some of the things he loves about the city. Brian clearly loves Pittsburgh and part of his pitch contained a trace of the message that we should move to Pittsburgh ourselves. And as far as American cities go, it's definitely tempting. A guy like me could live like a king there.
Brian drove us up to the southwest highland overlooking the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers (forming the Ohio). Gretchen and I couldn't help but remark on the sheer number of iron bridges we could see from this vantage point. In a city with so much available steel, people seem to have built bridges in places where bridges probably wouldn't have built bridges in other cities. When the main solution you know how to build is a steel bridge, all your problems start to look as though steel bridges could solve them. Gretchen thought we should ride the Duquesne Incline down to the river and when Brian didn't want to, she taunted him with the rhetorical question, "Where's the kid in ya?" So we climbed in and rode the thing downhill, having the entirety of the antique car all to ourselves. At the bottom we were supposed to pay, but the withered old lady staffing the counter wasn't paying much attention and whenever anyone asked her about money she motioned toward the semi-informal collection receptacle and said "I don't touch the money." We asked her about where we might be able to go from the bottom of the incline, and she gave us all manner of mostly unhelpful advice in her slightly trembling Pittsburgh accent. "Down" became "dahn" and "town" became "tahn."
Next Brian drove us to a hip-but-seedy South Side neighborhood and we spent considerable time in Groovy! Pop Culture Emporium, a store featuring toys and other cultural artifacts from the early 1980s. It's interesting to compare the surface details of two different plastic scale models of the Millennium Falcon. Some cover its surface with little rivets and hatches and others use more lavish networks of pies and cables. One of the interesting things about Pittsburgh is that commercial real estate is so cheap that people can be much more creative with their use of storefronts than they can be in a more competitive retail market such as New York. When you're able to buy a whole commercial building for $80,000 and it comes with three bedrooms and a storefront, you actually have the freedom to say, "What the hell, let's open a ball bearing museum!"
Brian defeated me twice at a bar room pool in a pub some doors down while Gretchen did the devoted girlfriend/sister thing and rooted for us both (but mostly for me) while drinking a hard lemonade.
Brian dropped us off in the snootier Shadyside neighborhood and headed back to his doctor's office and Gretchen and I walked around with his fiancé for a change. There wasn't much to do except eat icecream and drink coffee, since it was after 5pm and all the retail stores such as Pottery Barn were already closed. We ended up at Alexander's, Jen's favorite Italian restaurant, and waited around for Brian to show up again, nibbling on bread, eating hors d'oeuvrs and sipping sensibly on glasses of wine. For some reason Jen makes me feel unusually immature whenever she's around. This was, for example, possibly the first dinner I've ever had with people in my age group where individuals (in this case both Jen and Brian) didn't finish their glasses of wine.
Eventually Brian showed up, then the calamari I'd ordered materialized and there was no way I could eat it all so we had to seal it up tight so it wouldn't treif Brian and Jen's kosher kitchen with its squiddishess. Throughout the meal Gretchen and Brian kept telling jokes that involved cultural references to the movie Airplane!, which I had never seen. So on the way back to Squirrel Hill we rented a copy and watched it. It was pretty funny, though it was just a little over the top. "Famous Jewish Sports Legends" indeed!

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