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:
   keep track of losables
Saturday, July 29 2006
My old buddy Josh came over to my parents' house today for a brief visit. For those who don't remember, Josh is an unusual gentleman with a blue collar backwoods pedigree but an unusual curiosity and openness to the world. He befriended my brother Don in the late 1980s, became close friends with my parents (who refer to him as their adopted son), but then ended up first in prison and then a mental hospital after firing a shotgun into a truckful of nemeses. Now he's on meds and off alcohol, but he still likes the metal rock and roll we used to get together to listen to and emulate back in the early 1990s. He wanted me to be sure to listen to the new Morbid Angel album.
Josh works these days as part of a sanitation crew in the City of Staunton. As a side benefit, he occasionally gets free equipment that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Today I tried hooking up two different combo DVD-VHS decks he'd found for my parents, but neither worked.
I went up "Mueller's Mountain" to the back pasture partly to gather beautiful nodules of tangled quartz crystals, which just lie scattered throughout the fields (these have come out of either a Beekmantown or Chapultepec limestone/dolomite matrix). The other reason to go up the hill was for cellphone reception so I could call first Nathan (in Charlottesville) and then Gretchen (carrying a birthday cake for her great aunt Helen between trains somewhere on Long Island). Originally the plan was for Nathan and me to put in another whole day of 20th high school reunion activities, but Nathan was now elbow-deep in a baseboard molding project and had had enough of his old high school chums. Flaking on the rest of the reunion was fine with me, so I decided I'd be spending most of the rest of the day (and the balance of my vacation) over in Charlottesville.
It hadn't been too hot at my parents' place, but when I arrived in Charlottesville it seemed to be in the grips of something of a heat wave. I sought the air conditioned comfort of the Mudhouse for most of the time it took to drink a cup of ice coffee, tapping into the free WiFi with my Vaio laptop as I did so.
I tried calling my various friends (Nathan and Jessika) but no one was answering so I ended up at Barracks Road Shopping center, where I bought a new pair of shorts. I'd been parading around in swimming trunks up until then. I found myself somehow wanting Barracks Road to be as alienating as the impersonal malls of the San Fernando Valley, but they just aren't. People in Charlottesville, say what you want to about them, are more willing to be outside walking around, in similar heat but with far worse humidity. And the testimony of the parking lot is that Charlottesvillians are more receptive to hybrids and smaller vehicles than the folks who get their Starbucks Smackaccinos at the Fallbrook Center in Woodland Hills, California.
Eventually Nathan called me back and I went to his place. His wife Janine was in Ohio at the time, but he had three dogs with him, only one of which was not a foster dog. He and I took them all for a walk at the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College. Nathan has a great memory for jokes, but for once I remembered one long enough to tell him:

So there was this zoo with a female gorilla who was causing no end of trouble, hurling feces at visitors and wrecking her pen. A vet was brought in to examine her and he quickly diagnosed her problem, "Your gorilla is in heat and she won't calm down until she has sex." This presented the zoo with a quandry. They only had one gorilla and no possible mate of her own species. The administration brainstormed for awhile and then hit upon a solution. Jimmy Ted was an affable gentleman from northwest Georgia whose job it was to clean the cages. Burly, strong, and open to new experiences, perhaps he could be convinced to serve as a makeshift lover for the unruly gorilla. So Jimmy Ted was called in and a deal was proposed. Would he be willing to engaged in unspeakable intimacies with the she-gorilla for $500? Jimmy Ted was not easily surprised or shocked, but he was somewhat taken aback by the proposal. He stood there thinking and then issued a list of his own conditions:
  1. I don't have to kiss the gorilla.
  2. None of my friends can ever find out about this.
  3. The resulting chil'run will be raised in the Southern Baptist church.
  4. I need a week to raise the $500.

Our walk took us, as it had the last time I'd come here, to a large artificial pond situated before a wall of upscale townhouses, their air conditioners humming like a million pissed-off insects. Though home to hundreds of people living in antiseptic conditions, none of them were visible and certainly none were cooling off in the pond. Anyone seen there would be assumed to a trespasser.
Back at Nathan's house I went out on the astroturf-covered deck and, attacked continuously by unseen mosquitos, sanded a half dozen pieces of floor molding for the ongoing attic renovation, a project that is now several years old. Little visible progress is evident since I'd last seen the project a year ago, after the drywall had gone up. Since then it's been painted and the stair treads have been finished. Suddenly, though, there's a new urgency to making the upstairs habitable. A new human life is on the way in the form of Nathan and Janine's biological child, currently gestating at month five or six. Old plans about moving into the basement and renting out both upstairs floors have been abandoned.
When we were done with that we headed out on a foot for a Saturday Night on the Downtown Mall. We dined in the outdoor section of a restaurant near the center of the mall, waited upon by no-nonsense waitress of the sort who inspires flattering-if-degrading sexual commentary the moment she steps out of hearing range. Then we went to Atomic Burrito, which at this hour had already shut down its kitchen and had made a complete conversion into a hip, overcrowded dive bar, a place where Pabst Blue Ribbon is the favorite drink and is served in cans with extra holes added by the bartender to facilitate the sort of rapid consumption usually outgrown by legal drinking age.
Nathan and I were sitting at the bar and the crowd was the sort of sweaty tattooed crowd in which I should have recognized people, particularly here in Charlottesville. But evidently I'd been gone too long and I knew no one. Then I happened to recognize a tattoo on the band's guitarist, a bald head peaking out of the neck of his shirt. It was Scotty the Hill Billy Werewolf, erstwhile boyfriend of Jessika. When the band finally started playing, it wasn't much more than peppy mud of drums and bass, with incomprehensible lyrics and unheard guitar. To my ear it sounded like early-60s garage, but it would be hard to say for sure.
At some point Matt Wilner sat next to me and even bought me a drink. A few months ago he'd stumbled upon the Big Fun Glossary and had assumed that the "Bad Beef" character was him and was even flattered to have been included (despite his generally negative description). But no, Bad Beef is someone else, and for awhile the picture of Bad Beef in the Glossary wasn't even Bad Beef but an overweight woman who looked like Bad Beef to whom I had digitally added facial hair.

After awhile we stumbled through the tightly-packed crowd and out onto the street. For some reason Nathan wanted to investigate a new bar on the southwest side of the mall, but as we approached it, the place looked overilluminated and basically dead. There was a young woman in a bridesmaid dress out in front who sassed us as we passed. And then I saw Jessika sitting by herself in the window of the place, evidently the only customer. So we immediately went inside.
Soon we'd met Jessika's new boyfriend, Aaron, who was stumbling drunk at the time. They were together with the woman in the bridesmaid dress; they'd all been to someone's wedding where Aaron had been one of the informal photographers. In the state he was in, Aaron depended on Jessika to make sure that he didn't lose his camera equipment, though she was hardly in any state to keep track of losables either.
When it's behaving the way it should, Charlottesville can be like Alice in Wonderland. You can be bored out of your mind on the Downtown Mall one moment and then someone you know happens by and suddenly you've fallen down the rabbit hole. Nathan and I had just fallen down the rabbit hole.
Jessika and Bridesmaid led the rest of us down Water Street to the C&O. As we walked, Aaron casually chucked his beer bottle into the street where it immediately shattered into a million pieces. The Bridesmaid whipped around to see who had done this and I jokingly took credit. She responded by running after me and hitting me.
The reception for the wedding had happened in the C&O, and though the bar was closed there were still some stragglers hanging around. I was still sober enough to feel out of place at some stranger's wedding reception, particularly after Jessika and the Bridesmaid stepped out of the room. So I went and found them and complained about the people at the other table looking at me askance, as if I didn't belong. So they marched me back into the room with great fanfair to show that I wasn't just some homeless guy. We were out of drinks by now, but Jessika thought the bar would be reopened now that a celebrity was in the house. "What celebrity?" I asked. It turned out that the Bridesmaid was Dave Matthews' wife.
A little while later Dave Matthews himself showed up, having just flown in from a tour in New England. This was the first time I'd ever actually seen him. His first question upon seeing me was whether or not I was Jessika's brother, since he thought we looked alike. (Jessika says she's been hanging out with him socially lately; she met him through Aaron.) When Dave Matthews shook our hands, he introduced himself as David.
For ten or twenty minutes we all sat together at a table, talking about whatever drunk people discuss. (The average sobriety of the table had ticked downward with Dave Matthews' arrival.) Meanwhile Nathan had somehow scared up a pair of Stella Artois beers from the unlocked C&O kitchen.
By the time the evening ended, Aaron had vanished and Dave Matthews was offering the rest of us rides home in his spacious SUV. Nathan and I declined since we didn't have far to walk.

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