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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dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
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Like my brownhouse:
   Sally gets quilled
Monday, May 3 2004

setting: Portland, Maine

This morning Gretchen and I started our drive back home to the Hudson Valley, but we stopped along the way in the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts to take a tour of the urban revitalization going on in this blighted former-factory town, once the center of American clothing manufacturing. We'd heard good things about Lawrence's revitalization from Gretchen's friend Nina, and had actually met Tamar, one of the revitalization's planners, at Nina's wedding in Long Island. Like Nina, Gretchen, Johnny C., Anna H., and me, Tamar was once an Oberlin student. She went on to study urban renewal at MIT.
Gretchen called ahead and arranged to meet with Tamar at her office in the heart of Lawrence's industrial jungle. Approaching the city, we could see its clusters of brick smokestacks looming like anachronistic capitalist minarets in the distance. Closer in, we could see the actual factories, most of which were beautiful brick buildings stretching for several multi-story acres. Along the approach from the turnpike, Lawrence has a well-kept appearance, with the brick factories all sandblasted clean and already repurposed for a second life in modern times. Tamar's office building was one such building. Back at the turn of the century when factories were built of brick and iron, even the captains of industry seemed to be in it for the long hall. Aside from the drywall partitions, most of the interior looked to be a cleaned-up, repainted restatement of the original. The only signs of wear were the raised heads of nails in the floor boards, preserved as rounded little Monadnocks against the erosion of millions of footfalls.
Tamar introduced us to her various co-workers and showed us around the offices, which included computer and sewing labs for adult education and scale models of Lawrence neighborhoods to facilitate urban planning brainstorming. Everything looked to be going swimmingly for the revitalization of Lawrence, but I'd yet to learn what Tamar and her people were up against. Gradually she made it clear. For starters, there is very little industry of any sort in Lawrence, yet it has over ten million square feet of factory space. The Lawrence textile industry was already under globalization pressures in the 1970s, and in a last ditch attempt to keep their factories operating, they undertook a massive recruitment effort in the Caribbean, encouraging poor Hispanics to move to Lawrence to work in the mills. The campaign was successful, and immigrants continued to pour into Lawrence well after the mills had closed. The population went from being predominantly Italian to 60 percent Hispanic. With few jobs opportunities, Lawrence experienced all the usual symptoms of urban blight. Turning that process around is going to take a lot of corner playgrounds, affordable housing, computer labs, and probably a massive influx of gentrifying queens as well. I suggested that Tamar try to get a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation but to be sure to use the money to buy Macintoshes.
We had lunch at a Lawrence Vietnamese place and conversation changed briefly from urban renewal to Gretchen's anti-child attitude. People are always a little taken aback by how strong Gretchen's feelings are on this issue, and Tamar was no exception. Gretchen has several reasons for not wanting kids, but the most unique is one about choice. She doesn't believe she can be the one to decide to bring someone into the world when there's a chance that person might not want to be given life. She reserves particular disdain for depressives who bring children into this world. What kind of selfishness is that?
Next we did a little shopping in adjacent Vietnamese grocery store, mostly because, having been reminded that it exists, I wanted to get a bottle of Rooster Sauce.

On the drive back to her workplace, Tamar drove us through the neighborhoods she's in charge of revitalizing. She showed us a corner playground, renovated homes, and a set of row houses that, though modular, fit in perfectly with the Lawrence architecture. She also told us about the underlying dysfunctional politics of Lawrence, which is still dominated by various Italians who are struggling to maintain their control against the demographic tide.

Well-scrubbed factories in the heart of Lawrence's revitalized zone.

An attractive Lawrence building. Town hall, perhaps?

Lovely old textile factory.

Tamar drives and tells us about urban renewal. Notice her leopard-print fuzzy dice.

Children getting out of school in a blighted Lawrence neighborhood.

An old brick building.

On the way home, we stopped at Pasta Sauce Tony's house near downtown Hurley to pick up our two dogs, Sally and Eleanor. For reasons too complicated to discuss here, they'd actually had three caregivers during our absence and they'd spent the last day of their weekend with their "Uncle Tony," who loves them.
But they were so crazy and full of energy from their lack of exercise that I immediately took them for a walk down the Gully Trail, even though it was raining.
I was doing my usual trail maintenance at the headwaters of the furthest gully when I noticed that, some hundred feet away, Sally appeared to be carrying something white in her mouth. I thought she'd found a dead animal and went back to my work. But when I looked over at her again I realized something was wrong. She couldn't drop whatever was in her mouth - it appeared to be stuck to her face. So I walked over to look and was horrified to see a dozen or more Porcupine quills protruding from her muzzle. Seeing such a horrifying thing gave me the shock of cognitive dissonance - for some reason I'd thought there were no Porcupines in this region (I would have expected one of the dogs to have encountered one by now if they were around). No matter, I knew time was of the essence. I got on my knees in front of Sally and began yanking the quills out in handfuls. Some came out relatively easily, although there was usually an uncomfortable tug as their backwards-pointing scales bit into the surrounding flesh and resisted eviction. The most disturbing quill was one that had lodged in Sally's nostril. I yanked it out and she yelped in pain. Then there was the deluge of a momentary nosebleed.
As the quills became fewer in number, I experienced increasing difficulty getting them out. Sally was starting to come out of shock and didn't understand why she had to go through the pain of me tugging on them. Sometimes she'd become frantic and paw madly at her face, but if anything this just made the quills sink in more deeply. When she no longer trusted my hand, I pulled a few quills out using my teeth. She trusted my face much more than she did my hands.
I'd been trying to keep Eleanor close, but at some point in all the craziness I lost track of her. Fearing she'd gone off for her own encounter with the Porcupine, I kept hollering her name. When I got home, I found her there, perfectly fine. I'd always thought that if one of our dogs was to get quilled by a Porcupine it would be Eleanor, who tends to be clueless, relentless, and oblivious to pain. At least with Sally there's a chance she'll learn from the experience.
Once home, I rallied Gretchen to the cause of removing the last quills from Sally's muzzle. Gretchen was feeling ill from the flu, but this was a crisis and the body is good at rallying temporarily. I pulled a few additional quills out, but for the last two or three Sally wouldn't hold still. So we gave up. I noticed Sally making uncomfortable motions with her mouth, but now at least she was comfortable enough to eat and drink.
Later I tried again to get the quills, this time while she was sleeping, but she immediately woke up and it was hopeless. Then she opened her mouth and I saw it - a quill an inch and a half long hanging from the roof of her mouth. It was evidence of something that was almost cute; she'd spent her life trying to catch elusive chipmunks, but finally she could sink her teeth into something big, juicy, and slow! I had little difficulty getting my hand into her mouth and yanking out that quill, which felt like it had been softened by Sally's saliva. There were still two quills left in Sally's right upper lip, but the emergency was over. Gretchen paged our vet and he told her to maybe bring Sally in tomorrow.

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