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").


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Like my brownhouse:
   Hyde Park, New York
Tuesday, December 31 2002

Today Gretchen's parents took Gretchen and me across the Hudson yet again, this time down near New Paltz. Our outing today was to be more uplifting and educational than commercial; we were to see the estate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park. First, though, we stopped for brunch at an imitation 50s-era diner called Eveready. It looked fairly authentic, particularly the many square feet of stainless steel, but when you looked carefully you started seeing the perfectly-fitted insulated glass and then the truth could not be contained: it was built in 1995. Our hostess was thin and looked like a Mediterranean supermodel, but our waitress was an enormous cow of a woman sporting an American flag tie, a black miniskirt, and the most disturbing eye makeup that side of the Hudson. Supposedly their coffee was legendary, but it wasn't any better than what I get when I run a second pot of water through yesterday's grounds.
As for FDR's mansion, from the outside it could have passed for that of any petty military dictator in a backwater tropical paradise. Its façade was featureless stucco accented with mint-green shutters, a combination virtually unknown in the United States, particularly at this advanced latitude. We took the guided tour behind a plump little National Park ranger. He was all decked out in green and wore a ranger hat with a perfectly flat brim, a look that is so unchanged that I found myself subconsciously wondering, "Do they still have to wear those uniforms?"
The mansion was unremarkable save for the artifacts that had been preserved related to Roosevelt's polio-induced disabilities. His tiny wheelchairs, stiffly uncomfortable but heavily-worn, spoke for themselves. Gretchen drew my attention to a blurb near the doors of one of the rooms. It talked about how in this room Roosevelt had held discussions with politicians, diplomats, artists, musicians, labor leaders, etc. Knowing the sort of brutes being entertained by our present chief executive, it hurt a little to learn how much more progressive the past could be.
At the end of the tour, we came down the stairs and were immediately issued out the door by a pair of unfriendly park employees. Like most people working today, they would have been much happier to be getting a head start on New Year's Eve. Gretchen wanted to have a second look at FDR's office, but they refused to let her. She objected, saying she'd paid her $10 and she ought to be able to have a second look. But they were adamant, lying and saying that another 50 person tour group was waiting for our tour to end. When Gretchen went back to the first building to use the restroom, she found a small tour group of four people only just beginning to assemble.
Next we went over to the FDR museum and milled around for awhile, reading the various exhibits. Gretchen and her parents seemed to genuinely respect FDR, particularly in comparison to some of the Presidents who have come along since, but no matter how long they search the mansion and the museum they can find no answer to the most troubling question they have about FDR: why did he turn away the St. Louis (a ship full of Jews escaping the Holocaust).
It wasn't long before I was completely weary from the museum experience. The subject matter wasn't particularly interesting to me, and I was learning nothing that I hadn't already known (except that Eleanor was a lesbian - but Gretchen had to tell me that; the museum was silent on that issue - other than that she used to drive a Subaru).
Heading north up US 9 we passed several other massive Hudson Valley mansions, particularly that of the Vanderbilt estate, through which we took a detour. Oddly, though, there were also a number of particularly hideous high-density condominium developments sprinkled in between the estates all the way up to Rhinebeck.
We had plans of stopping at Lowes on the way home, but instead we stopped at a big hardware/general store out on US 9 called Williams. Some of their wares were much cheaper than those at Lowes, particularly ethernet wall jacks. I particularly needed mortar with which to re-install the tiles I'd ripped out yesterday, but the Williams employees were in conflict as to whether they even stocked the stuff (they did, but only in 50 pound sacks - not that it mattered with Gretchen's daddy paying for everything).

In the evening we all went down to the Hurley Mountain Inn for dinner. The place was all cleared out for a New Years Eve dance party and there was a massive dude at the door checking IDs. There was also a cover charge of $10, but that was waived for us when we said all we wanted was dinner. We ate a usual meal of pizza and fries, though we also drank more than the usual amount of alcoholic beverages (Gretchen's parents are sort of puritanical). Gretchen's father actually became noticeably intoxicated, to the point where his speech was actually somewhat slurred. It tended to loosen him up and make him even more of a comic showoff than he is usually. He repeatedly made attempts to joke with our waitress, but it was a waste of time. She was polite but obviously in a foul mood, forced to work on New Years Eve, wear a ridiculous Hurley Mountain Inn New Years outfit, and (to top it all) she'd developed an angry-looking zit in an uncomfortable place on the side of her neck.
Back at the house we spent an alcohol-free New Years instant in front of the woodstove. Gretchen brought out her guitar and played a few folk songs and I sang along until I was too tired to continue.

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