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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Sunday, July 27 2008
Ray appeared during my continued pre-party cleaning jihad to whisk me away to greater Phoenicia (30 miles to the west), where I would be informally inspecting a house he and his wife Nancy are considering buying for use as a weekend retreat. The house in question was two and half miles from Phoenicia on 214, the road north to Tannersville. It was a cute yellow house with deep porches, but once inside I couldn't help but notice the crazy topography of the floor. The house was a hundred years old and included at least one addition, but the floor was more warped than it should have been for that age. Ray had said it didn't have a basement, so now I was wondering how exactly it was connected to the ground.
Already at the house were Nancy, Nancy's two parents, and a scrawny realtor lady who had, Ray had been surprised to learn, passed four babies through her narrow bony hips. Nancy's mother managed to find me a flashlight, and I managed to find a chink between the rocks piled beneath the house to shine it and have a look. Scattered about underneath were bits of rock, old boards, and soil. There was no real foundation of any kind, just stacks of rock here and there to support the house in various places. Though the clapboards had been widely hole-sawed and cellulose insulation blown into the wall voids, there was no insulation beneath the floor boards. The stacked stone around the edges of the house didn't look sufficient to keep winter winds from blowing beneath the house, and I wondered how cold its floors could get. I also wondered what remedial action could be taken. The lack of a proper foundation seemed to be causing all the house's other problems: the warped floors, the uncloseable doors, and a little rot on one side of the kitchen where the floor was even with the level of the ground outside. To me, the only workable solution was to jack up the house and build a proper foundation beneath it, perhaps using concrete blocks. The foundation could actually be constructed further from the road (which is far too close, despite a thick bushy barrier) and the house could theoretically be moved to it. A jack 'n' build is a project I might attempt myself, but Ray and Nancy would have to hire someone, and the price could easily be $20,000. It wasn't looking like a practical purchase. (The realtor, by the way, had been told that the house sits upon a slab, which looked to be a complete fabrication.)
Behind the house (and on the same property) was another house, one that had fallen into serious disrepair (Nancy described it as "total Blair Witch Project"). The only way to get to it was by wading across a languid temporary stream that was about four inches deep today. Inside, I was surprised to see this relic of a building had a proper basement, but wasn't surprised to see that it was home to several feet of water. On the floor above the basement was a table saw and several insulated window units which might have come in handy in the main house (where all the windows are single-glazed).
After we left the house, the five of us who were not realtors converged on downtown Phoenicia, hoping to get a table at Sweet Sue's. But no place is more popular than Sweet Sue's during Sunday brunchtime. The array of humanity spread out in front of it wouldn't have been out of place at a similar place in SoHo. We ended up at the spillover restaurant across the street, which is more of a pizza and burritos kind of place (yes, they have both). The crowd there looked only a little less Manhattanian, though the waitresses, selected by less demanding Charles Darwinian and Adam Smithian forces, looked more conventionally Catskillian. Both Nancy's mother and I ordered the portobello burger even after Ray assured me there'd be no spies reporting my meat eating back to Gretchen. (He himself ended up ordering the meatless nachos — only Nancy's father ordered something made from thinly-sliced pieces of an organism that once had possessed a face.)
It was a good thing we'd gone to the place across the street from Sweet Sue's and not attempted to eat outside. A cloudburst came while we ate, and dribbled on even as we headed for our cars. Recently a hotel had been torn down next to Sweet Sue's, leaving a pile of rubble at least a storey high. Nearby was some concrete foundation, forelorn, without anything resting upon it. If only foundations could be dumpster-dived, the house we'd looked at today would be worth buying.

Ray and Nancy drove me back to my place, where Gretchen had been cooking and wondering what the hell had been taking us so long. I continued my cleaning jihad while Ray and Nancy went to Penny and David's place to pick up their grill, an errand that somehow took them well over an hour. When the grill arrived, I had to clean all the animal grease off it so that the barbecue we'd be having would actually be vegan.
About twenty people attended our barbecue. The youngest was an adopted racially-ambiguous baby of about 22 months. The oldest was, well, I probably shouldn't say. There were also three children about ten years of age, and at some point they discovered the trampoline, which hadn't had any customers since 2004. They bailed out the accumulated branches and four years of blackened pine needles and began jumping. I wondered if years of ultraviolet light had weakened the trampoline's surface, but it held up just fine. Lucky for the children, this particular year there were no hornet nests underneath it.
Meanwhile I was eating my second portobello mushroom burger of the day. It contained cheap pickles and Vegenaise and was delicious.

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