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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Irving housing

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   robot anthems on corporate airwaves
Friday, August 6 2010

location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York

Today was the day I would be leaving for Virginia, and coincidentally I was awaken by a phone call from my father. That was unusual enough, but more unusual still was its content. He said he was in an emergency room, that he'd had another horrible night's sleep followed by a panic attack that had led to another incident of his calling 911. This time, though, he said he didn't expect to be able to return home, and that he'd probably be ending up in a nursing home. He said that Hoagie (his wife and my mother) was gravely ill from some well-concealed terminal illness (such as cancer) and that, though they had tried to leave me alone to live my life, the family was now going to be needing my help, partly to straighten out financial matters, partly to make sure that the survivors would be looked after. Someone would have to take dog's new dog Maple (whom I'd not yet met) and, almost as an afterthought, there was the subject of my brother Don. He's big and strong but doesn't have quite enough sanity to ever hold down a job or look after himself. Would I take him? I didn't know what to say except "yes." But I wasn't yet done processing what my father had said about my mother and the dreary future he expected to soon be experiencing in a nursing home.
Of course, it was possible that my mother was perfectly fine and that what I'd just experienced was father's hypochondria metastasizing beyond a concern for his own health into a similarly alarmist concern about the health and future of the aging and dysfunctional people in his household. When Gretchen got up, we discussed these things. Something I'd sort of known but not really thought about was the expense of a nursing home as a place to rot away one's final years. They're luxuries of our wasteful poorly-prioritized times, in which amount of time living trumps all other considerations.
After knocking off some last-minute (and somewhat unexpected) tasks, I loaded up the car and began driving towards Staunton.
I don't think I'd gone down the Thruway as far as New Paltz before Gretchen had called me on the cellphone I was carrying (which actually was her cellphone, since I don't have one). She'd just gotten off the phone with my mother Hoagie. Her version of what had happened this morning went as follows: she had been sleeping across the road (at "Creekside," the double-wide trailer bought several years ago) and hade been awaken to see the rescue squad and several sheriffs' deputies had shown up response to yet another of my father's 911 calls. This time, though, he'd told them that his wife was gravely ill and that they should take her too. When the rescue squad people had tried to load my mother into the ambulance, she'd refused to go and there'd been a big scene where my father had pleaded with her to go because she was gravely ill and needed treatment. Gretchen had begun her conversation with Hoagie with a need to uncover what her health was like without asking directly. She'd managed to uncover a bad reaction to a blood pressure medication, a mammogram that had been so unpleasant she'd had to walk out of it, a rash on her arm, some tests indicating borderline diabetes, and some achy joints. But there was nothing to indicate that she was dying. The evidence was that my Dad had given me incorrect information. Perhaps he'd awaken from a bad dream. Or he confabulating, which might well be a sign of increasing dementia. In any case, he's in a nursing home now and that was what I was driving down to Virginia to experience.
It's only recently that I stumbled upon the best route there, one that gets me from the Thruway to I-81 via I-287 and I-78. I managed to hit some bad traffic a few times, particularly around Harrisburg (which I passed during rush hour). Though I was only about half way to Staunton at that point, I still managed to get there before dark.
At some point down I-81 in Virginia the battery on my MP3 player went dead and I was forced to listen to the radio, an increasingly sad source of media in the homogenized heavily-corporate airspace of what Sarah Palin refers to (perhaps appropriately) as "Real America." I found my way to a station calling itself KISS-FM, that being a pop radio format owned by one of the two radio monopolies. What they play is current pop hits. Somewhat surprisingly, all the music was at least a little familiar to me. There was that Katie Perry song about California. Then there was that Black Eyed Peas song singing repetitively about how "to^night's^ going to be a g^ood night." (I use those carets to indicate the places in the words where their pitch has been unnaturally shifted by autotune.) There was also a really rocking song with a female vocalist that sounded like Christian rock; that was actually the first song I heard on the station, and since it was such a rocking song I'd never heard before, I assumed at first it was Christian rock. But on listening to it I realized it was far too overproduced to be Christian. Christian music, no matter how much it aspires to be contemporary, always lags the culture at large by five or ten years (which is still less than Country, which has finally reached the late 1980s). This is partly due to the fact that Christians (at least those who make a point about being Christian) tend to resist change. But it's also because the B and C-list producers cranking out Christian music tend to be produce-by-numbers types not known (or hired) for their creativity. In the Christian world, creative is a liability, not an asset. So in this unfamiliar hard rocking song, to hear the vocals being constantly manipulated by variois digital effects (especially autotune) told me this was a contemporary pop song. In ten years Christian rock will sound like this too. But not now.
To my ear, raised on the music of the 1970s and 80s, today's pop music sounds like the anthems of a futuristic robotic dystopia. The extent to which voices (and other organic sound sources) are manipulated in production: pulled, pushed, twisted and molded as a puttylike raw material, makes it difficult for me to focus on things like melody, rhythm, and dynamics. On some level it doesn't even register as music. To my ear that Katie Perry song is more of a soundscape than a song. Mind you, I've occasionally had this feeling about music before, even in the distant past. I never quite grasped the music of Prince for similar reasons.

After getting off I-81, I bought a sixpack of Budweiser, the only drinkable canned beer in the Greenville Avenue Exxon across from the Staunton Mall. This gave me a bit of refreshment for that last couple of miles.
Back at my childhood home, everything was fundamentally the same except that my father wasn't there. If anything, the house itself was a bit less cluttered than it had been. I was pleased to see that Hoagie had decided to sign up with DirectTV so as to have a broader assortment of crappy television to watch. Oddly, though, the boneheads who had installed the dish and HD receiver box had elected to connect it to the screen (an HDTV flatscreen) with a single crappy RCA cable. So the picture quality was far from HD just for want of a proper HDMI cable.

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