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:
   old man in the nursing home
Saturday, August 7 2010

location: five miles south of Staunton, rural Augusta County, Virginia

This morning I walked around the fields and swampland near the house, marveling at the legacy of the beavers whose civilization had risen and fallen since I'd last lived here. The ruins of their culture remained: numerous canals and skid paths, pyramidal stumps, and dead and fallen trees. But as for the beavers themselves, they were gone. Nobody seemed to know what had happened to them. Had they been trapped, poisoned, or fallen prey to illness? While they'd built their society on the property of sympathetic humans (the Muellers and the Vesseys), there was at least one crazy Greek lady downstream lacking basic knowledge about hydrological science, and it was known she feared there was enough water in the beaver dams to pose a flooding hazard. That crazy Greek lady used to be mortal enemies with my family, but today when she saw me she gave me a big happy smile and wave.

Today I went to visit my father at his new nursing home. On the drive into town, I saw two interesting things. The first was along Route 872 (Mill Creek Road): a small group of Black Vultures (historically we'd had Turkey Vultures, not Black Vultures, and I hadn't known that the latter species was around here; perhaps they'd moved in while I'd been away). The second was a beautiful perfectly-circular fairy ring of white (and probably very poisonous) Amanita mushrooms in hayfield along Old Greenville Road. This was directly across the road from a rotting doublewide trailer that has been languishing without a foundation for years.
The nursing home was called Envoy of Staunton. It was as I expected, clean and well-staffed and, despite a few superficial attempts at cheerfulness, inherently dreary and depressing. There's just something about walking down a hallway full of elderly people plodding along in wheelchairs. They stared back at me, sometimes with drooling mouths agape, though sometimes their responsiveness would be surprising. They might just nod a hello. There were also a surprising number of younger African American gentlemen missing one or more limbs, as if they'd accidentally fallen asleep on a railroad track. These, my father would tell me later, were the casualties of black America's diabetes epidemic.
I almost didn't recognize my father when I first saw him. For one thing, he was wearing a hospital gown and was thus a bit more naked than I am used to seeing him. Underneath it, through the split in its back, I could see that he was wearing a large adult diaper (or perhaps an adult version of a Huggy Pull-Up; he's a big kid now). That might be the only underwear permitted in the facility, but it nevertheless seemed to undercut the dignity my father has normally enjoyed. Other differences from my father's normal appearance included unexpectedly clean and somewhat-long hair and a full white Santa Claus beard (instead of just the moustache; he's a creature of a particular unfashionable phase in the history of American facial hair). Normally my father's arms are mostly covered by his farmer fashions, but today they were exposed well above his elbows. This revealed a crinkly translucent layer of skin that resembled filo dough. That skin was peppered with injuries that I would later learn had come from Hoagie's rambunctious new dog Maple.
My father said he was feeling pretty bad. He was anxious, mostly fearing that he was losing his hearing. Sounds didn't just sound quieter, but they also sounded distorted. I suggested maybe getting a hearing aid, to which he asked, "But what if I lose my hearing entirely?" This is a good example of the crippling fear of what might happen that keeps him from thinking rationally about the present. Such fear seemed to lie at the root of his concerns that Hoagie was dying. Much of my visit today was to reassure him that Hoagie was quite healthy. For the most part, he seemed level-headed and rational. In the absence of his anxieties, he'd be very much the man I've always known him to be.
I asked my father if there was anything I could get him. Did he want to watch teevee? Would he be interested in music or talk (I didn't use the words "MP3 player" or "podcast"). He said he wasn't interested in reading or watching anything on television, but classical music might be nice. Also, the food in the nursing home was proving horrible (he'd been eating a bologna sandwich when I'd arrived), so he asked if I could bring him in some baby carrots and cherry tomatoes.
In the room with my father was a 72 year old man named Ralph who had once worked as a commercial truck driver. Diabetes had led to the amputation of one of his legs below the knee, and his wife, who had grown used to him being away most of the time, had decided to place him in this nursing home, at least until he learned how to walk with his prosthesis. Ralph was a talkative guy, taking up much of the conversational time I'd hoped to spend with my father. Like my mother and others, he had a "greatest hits" conversational style, returning frequently to the same little fragment of a story to tell it again. His greatest hit these days is the story about the time the doctor told him he'd have to amputate. "Please, doctor, don't take my leg! Is there any other way?" Ralph had said, to which the doctor had replied, "It's either your leg or your life." At one point Ralph asked me what I thought of our current president, hoping perhaps that I'd say something either racist or otherwise negative. My father had probably scoffed at the mention of Obama, having so soon forgotten the entity that Obama had replaced. But I wasn't falling for it. "He's alright, I guess." "I guess I won't talk any more about it then," said Ralph.
As I walked out of the nursing home, I could feel tears coming to my eyes. One would have had to have had a pretty bleak childhood to be happy to see a parent in a nursing home.

My next stop was Young's True Value Hardware in Staunton, where I bought various glues and epoxies with which to possibly fix my Subaru's gasoline fill pipe, which has been leaking after every refueling. It had leaked so badly upon refueling near Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) that I'd felt the need to flee the station for fear of getting in trouble.
I'd brought my laptop with me, so my next destination was Blue Mountain Coffee, where I could take advantage of free wifi and get some remaining web development work accomplished. Despite the small size of my netbook screen (1024 X 600 pixels), I managed a fairly elaborate window choreography between Homesite, Firefox, and Filezilla. Normally, for the particular client I was working for, I'd also be using TortoiseSVN, but that was an added level of frustration I thought it best to avoid. With such cramped window real estate (less than a twelfth of what I normally use), the key to success was taking advantage of tabs, particularly in Filezilla. I don't normally make much use of tabs even in Firefox, but in this environment I could have used tabs in Explorer windows too (that is, the windows that Windows XP provides for browsing directories; I have to clarify in this way because of Microsoft's boneheaded decision to overload terms such as "Explorer" and "Windows" with multiple meanings, as they would later do with the term ".NET").
Blue Mountain Coffee didn't have many customers, but they did have a few vegan-friendly options. Because they didn't have non-dairy cream cheese, I went with a toasted bagel with hummus and tomato. It was better than I'd expected.
The two young women working the place seemed cool and hip just because, well, they were working in a coffee shop. But then I overheard one of them talking to a male friend and I quickly realized that mostly all she cared about was Christian youth stuff. She was talking about how "awesome" a new song was that she'd just learned in her church. This made me realize that the mainstream use of the term "awesome" probably represents a rare case of Christian culture influencing greater pop culture. Of course, now "awesome" is about as fashionable as "groovy," and anyone using it, particularly a teenage coffee shop girl, seems very unfashionable indeed.
Some things about Staunton are refreshing, such as the third-world pricing of coffee shop faire. Other things are a bit infuriating, such as the fact that Blue Mountain Coffee closes at 5pm. I ended up having to finish up my work while sitting on a fire escape outside.

Back at the double wide, I cooked a big pot of beans for my brother Don and Hoagie. For the first time ever, I included a squash in my cooking. It was one of the long yellow ones from the Hudson Valley CSA, and I sautéed it as I would a bunch of mushroom. It turned out to be a great ingredient. Historically I haven't been a big fan of squash, but some good experiences at restaurants, particularly in Oregon, have made me come around and accept it as a vegetable as worthy as the others I like. As such, it represents my most recent extension of likes into the word of vegetables. Though I still don't like beets, it's becoming difficult to find a vegetable I won't eat.
I served the bean glop as vegan burritos in toasted flat bread, adding lettuce, soy cheese, and uncooked tomato. Both Hoagie and, more importantly, Don, loved it. Later I drank a long series of vodkas with orange juice while the three of us sat around watching Outlaw Josey Wales on my tiny computer screen. For sound, I was using speakers from the computer I'd set up for Don, which he never uses anyway (and which now turns out to be non-functional). Don doesn't really have a sense of the generalpurposeness of computers, mostly thinking of his in terms of its erstwhile ability to play one particular multimedia CD-ROM that had been included in a plastic sleeve inside the cover of an extremely expensive book about ants.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next