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

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   PostIt paranoia
Friday, August 12 2005

setting: Hogwaller Neighborhood, Charlottesville, Virginia

I drank some coffee Jessika had made and helped her with moving some pictures to her new laptop. Though it was Friday, always a day pregnant with portent in Charlottesville, tonight I had plans to spend it in Philadelphia with my old Los Angeles housemate John. I'd be missing out on whatever craziness would come from Slate Hill Phil playing at La Taza in gentrified central Belmont. I wouldn't get to see whether or not it was true that Christian Breeden's girlfriend can't actually play bass but is so fucking hot that it doesn't really matter.
Jessika, who (of course) hails from the Philadelphia area, recommended that I take I-81 instead of US 29. Since this would place me near Staunton, I decided to stop one more time at my childhood home to straighten out a computer glitch that my father had reported. But it turned out that there was no computer glitch; he'd irretrievably destroyed a document due to his own errant typing. Meanwhile my mother had taken delivery of an updated version of my Cannon Elf digital camera, but the interface had changed so drastically that I was of no help in showing her how to use it. What I'm saying here is that my brief visit to my childhood home today was a complete waste of time.
The Shenandoah Valley is a long one, but it always seems to go quickly. Before long I was on the slow piece of road in Carlisle that connects I-81 with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Channel 19 on the CB radio was full of chatter from all the trucks crammed in such a small area. One voice was advertising XXX porn and for some reason our all-powerful God allowed the waves from his CB radio to propagate through the ether. As landlords go, they don't get much more absentee than the Lord God Almighty.
A few cell phone calls were necessary to establish the directions to John's house. I got off on 309 northbound and couldn't get back on it to go southbound, which were John's amended instructions. A cop was following me for part of my search for a way back onto 309 and this had me wishing I'd thrown out those Budweiser cans on the floor of the passenger side. One or two of them had been the procrastinated cure for the hangover I'd woken up with this morning. Once the cop was gone, my enemy was whatever municipality I was driving through, which didn't seem to feel the need to label the roads. They'd also made an effort that seemed particularly worthless: they'd put up signs for the first part of a "309 bypass" but then stopped with the signs well short of where 309 actually ended up being. It all seems kind of trivial in retrospect, but at the time I was insane with rage.
John's new house is a duplex, one of many found in urban Philadelphia. It's set on a spacious tiered lawn that stretches into a long backyard. His neighborhood must be on top of some highlands because here and there among the houses are scattered ærial farms and antenna nests. "I get great cellphone reception!" John bragged.
Inside, John's house looks a lot like my old 1,400 square foot condo at 12121 Rochester Avenue in West Los Angeles, the place where John and I lived together as housemates for a year starting in the late summer of 2000. The stairs, living room, and bedrooms are in analogous places, though the kitchen and dining rooms are swapped and there's a partially-finished basement with a tiny powder room. John is planning on tearing down the non-load-bearing wall that separates the dining room from the kitchen to satisfy his strong preference for an open floor plan.
Soon after I arrived John was showing me around his garden, which was an impressive riot of several breeds of tomatoes, peppers, and various members of the squash family. While I'd been arranging lifeless rocks and drainage tile, he'd been harnessing the power of biology to bring food to his table. True, there won't be any evidence of his hard work by late November and the things I built this spring will outlive me, but his example nevertheless made me jealous and little guilty about my agricultural abdication.
I could tell John had obsessed about his garden at some point in the recent past; there was a huge pile of mulch in his driveway, far more than he would need in twenty years of intensive farming. Knowing John, he will have moved far away two years from now.
John was self-effacing about his own gardening effort and immediately took me into his neighbor's garden. This was the neighbor with whom John shares a driveway, not the other half of his duplex with whom he shares the building and a firewall. The neighbor's garden was huge and was heavy with fruit, many examples of which we ate right there. I'm not usually a big fan of unadulterated tomatoes, but these were their own kind of delicious.

It turned out that, aside from the avid gardener next door, most of John's neighbors are special education teachers, and John himself has been a special education teacher at times. It's probably a demographic fluke, but it also reflects the sheer number of teachers required to educate Philadelphia's special needs community. This begs the question: why are there so many special children in Philadelphia? Could this have anything to do with its position as de facto capital city of the American pharmaceutical industry? I'm just throwing that out there, like a strand of possibly-undercooked spaghetti, just to see if it sticks.
An immediate order of business was the securing of alcohol, since John loves to drink when I'm in town. We walked to a bar some blocks away. I'd seen so much over-the-top gentrification in Charlottesville, it was a relief to wade into a thick cloud of smoke, blink a few times, and then take in a room of cheap finishes, cracked dart boards, and highly unphotogenic people leaning over glasses of thin, cheap American beer. There were quite a few people there, but the youngest person was probably in his fifties. Only one of the customers was a woman.
We bought four big 32 ounce bottles of Yuengling, the local beer, and headed back to John's place.
Before long John had prepared me a delicous meal of soft-shelled tacos filled with a bean and pepper concoction topped off with goat cheese.
At some point John's older sister, mother, and a niece and nephew breezed by, but only for about five minutes (they all live in the area). It was just long enough for John's mother to give John some ceramic pieces of questionable utility and to chide him for not believing that Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sins (even though none of us in the room had actually committed any sins when Jesus died). A brief, though intense theological argument broke out, with John's mother hoping to at last convince her son of what she held to be theological truths. She wasn't being especially convincing, though she was somewhat flexible about what doctrines John would have to hold in order to satisfy her. Obviously those of Roman Catholicism would be best, but she'd accept Methodist or even Lutheran. At some point I chimed in about how unusual it was to actually be witness to a live theological debate; such things, I explained, almost never happen "because everyone I know is an atheist." Surprisingly, John's mother didn't seem especially horrified by what I'd said. As she was leaving, though, she said that I would be added to her prayers.
After drinking Yuengling for awhile and shooting the shit just like the good old days, we went to a small evening gathering being hosted by one of John's coworkers. They all work at a Philadelphia web development firm, though John has recently been reallocated to work for a major pharmaceutical company. ("He's working for the Devil," was how Gretchen later interpreted the present state of his career.)
Now the background for tonight's little get together is a practical joke that John had played on the get together's host. That host, let's call him Suspicious Simon, is a human factors specialist and is cursed with unusual paranoia. A guy like that is just begging for someone like John to come along and push his buttons. So John took a tiny PostItTM note and stuck it over the optical sensor of Suspicious Simon's optical mouse. When Simon next went to use his computer, it refused to respond when he moved the mouse. Assuming his computer had frozen, Simon called in IT. Eventually, somehow, Simon discovered the problem. And he discovered something else. On that PostItTM note John had written "Someone here thinks you're a doosh [sic] bag." Well, you can imagine what a paranoid personality type would do with the input of that data. First Simon accused another of his co-workers (not John) of having done this. And when that guy wouldn't fess up, Simon went to Human Resources.
By the time we got to Simon's place tonight, he already knew that John was the author of the joke, and he had begun to find a way beyond it. Still, though, the story kept popping up throughout the evening. Simon's paranoia wasn't helped by fact that a joint kept circulating round and round his living room.
I've never seen a guy like Simon in my life. One had to be careful with everything one said around him, and if one was not, you'd see this look form on his face and you'd know what he was thinking, "They're picking on me!" These days he has a good job, an attractive wife, a television as big as a garage door, reasonably good taste in music, and he's a handsome man. But you can tell by the way he behaves that he suffered from hundreds of wedgies and swirlies back in high school.
Simon seemed especially sensitive about his music, which is not a good way to be when you have it playing randomly from your iPod. Eventually Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," came on and he jumped up to change it, saying, "That's a little cliché." But I was singing along as he stopped it and I just kept singing. There was that look again, this time joined by a little black storm cloud over his head.
Aside from such muted fireworks, the gathering was actually kind of dull. Conversation mostly consisted of office speak incomprehensible to those who don't know the people, procedures, and politics of their work environment. Interestingly, over the course of many paragraphs of dialogue there were almost no references to the things that their company actually produces. In the world of office politics, the means justify the ends. But at least I wasn't the only one excluded by all the in-conversation; Simon's wife didn't know what they were talking about either. She was, however, conversant on the differences between the big language groups of China. According to her (with a little help from her paranoid husband), Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese are as similar to one another as Spanish and Italian. It's also interesting that such vastly different and unrelated languages as Chinese and Japanese can have a very similar written language. In this way, the ideographic forms of written Chinese are like handsigns among the deaf: they liberate the written (or signed) languages from the details of the spoken languages that share the regions in which they are used. This is why the deaf in America can understand the deaf from France but not those from England. Thinking about these things has me picturing colorful meme maps that are also Venn diagrams.
The other guy there kind of reminded me of Matt Rogers, though a bit more gay-acting and more inclined to wait for the perfect moment before launching into a long extemporaneous paragraph of logically-consistent complex-compound sentences.

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