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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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Like my brownhouse:
   pizza in Oberlin
Saturday, May 28 2011

location: Burton Hall, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

I don't know if I'm getting too old to successfully sleep in a college dorm, or if Burton Hall is unusally noisy (it's a somewhat older, grander dorm, so this seems unlikely), but I didn't sleep well last night. People out in the quad were making lots of noise, fireworks were set off at least twice, and the hallway and stairs outside our door seemed to funnel distant building sounds directly into our room. As for Gretchen, she wore earplugs, a face mask, and had taken an Ambien, so she slept just fine.
There was a "Continental Breakfast" for our reunion cluster out in the middle of Burton, but the bagels were terrible and the coffee not much better. So we walked into town to get coffee at the Feve (which is more of a fancy sit-down type place than it used to be, though they can still do coffee and fresh-squeezed juice to go). Next we went to the Ben Franklin, which isn't using all of its space and so has leased part of it to a completely different business: a bookstore. It was there that Gretchen bought a copy of a book by an Oberlin poet whom she knew and hoped would be at a reading she was about to participate in.
We walked over to Wilder Hall for the reading and a smattering of people showed up, though the crowd seemed unlikely to fill the large space provided ("Wilder Main"). Eventually, we were urged to move closer to the front and the readings began. Gretchen was to be the only poet, and her reading went particularly well. Also reading today was someone I vaguely remember from my freshman year in Harkness (Jennifer Steils, who wrote a memoir of life in Yemen), a woman who wrote a novel partly in the voice of a Thai roustabout, the memoir of a woman who taught in a Texas school system, a weird fantasy Sci-Fi novel by the guy we'd seen yesterday in that kilt (he was wearing it again today), and Gretchen old off-campus housemate Johnny Carrera, the guy who uses traditional printing technologies as his media (we attended something at Waltham, Massachusetts his studio some years back). Johnny showed up at the last minute with his wife and three kids, one of whom started making loud screechy kid noises during a poem Gretchen was trying to read concerning the potential for and absence of human empathy visa vis non-human animals. As for Johnny himself, he has delightful stage charisma, the infectious kind that can excite and inspire. He makes you want to run out of the room immediately so you can make art. The content of what he was saying, however, was almost impossible to follow. I'm sure it was brilliant but it was so convoluted and continually surprising that I just had to give up on parsing it. It had something to do with using old print blocks to jog creativity by making random associations between disparate things. The book he was hawking is called A Pictorial Webster's, and uses public domain print blocks from 19th Century Webster's dictionaries. We bought a copy and it is gorgeous.
After the reading, I ran into a couple of people I knew and Gretchen got some great feedback, so we started having a good time. Maybe coming to this reunion was not such a bad idea after all.
We walked down to the OSCA picnic (OSCA being the Oberlin Co-operative association) at Old Barrows, but the line stretched well out into the yard and there didn't appear to be a vegan option other than hummus, which was quickly exhausted. So we went into town to try out the burrito bar (called Agave Burrito Bar & Tequilaria). It operates sort of like a Subway: you pick your tortilla and then what you want in it, so you end up with exactly what you want. Unfortunately, there was no vegan sour cream, and since Gretchen doesn't like jalapeños or guacamole, she ended up with a fairly flavorless burrito. Mine was excellent. And while her mojito tasted like chemicals, my margarita straight from the frozen margarita machine was pretty good.
We'd run across Gilley (our friend from Portland who is also an Oberlin alum) at the OSCA picnic, and she later met up with us on the street in front of the Co-op bookstore. By this point I was wearing a pair of not-terribly-comfortable flip flops I'd bought for $1.30 at the Ben Franklin. We stood there talking and others passing by stopped to join us until there was a substantial knot of humanity, an impromptu sub-reunion. I didn't know any of these other people except for Gilley, though some of them remembered me from my bad old dissolute days in Oberlin. I'm was apparently so notorious that I have managed to live on in legend; the present OSCA president was actually asking to have me pointed out for him at the OSCA picnic, though I had already left. To echo down through 20 years of campus oral tradition takes some real doing, and it made me feel a little proud of myself.
Much time passed and eventually Gilley, Gretchen, and I managed to walk down to the aluminum box redevelopment, that place where Gretchen and I had first landed yesterday. There's a coffee shop there called Slow Train that reminds me of Tryst in Adam's Morgan, Washington, DC. It's popular, so (unlike Tryst) you have to stand in a long line to get anything. Though it's a little slow (it's called Slow Train, after all), we were not disappointed by their ice coffee.
I left Gretchen with Gilley and headed back to Burton to take a nap, though I don't know if I actually ever fell asleep. Gretchen returned at some point and informed me that there was beer in the ice tub in the middle of Burton, so I went out to get myself one and then another. I was still feeling shy without Gretchen around, so I mostly drank these back in the room while surfing the internet on my netbook. (Oberlin provides pretty good campus-wide no-nonsense WiFi.)
Gretchen and I had originally planned to go to the Chinese restaurant and eat pad thai tonight, but Gilley and her friends were set on going to Lorenzo's for pizza, and she wanted us to come with her to do that. Gilley and her friends seemed like a fun crowd, so I lobbied Gretchen to make a change of plans. And that was how we came to be seated with six or eight other people in an expansion patio area Lorenzo's had made into the parking lot to accommodate commencement crowds. Gretchen and I were the only ones at our table interested in vegan pizza, so we had a whole pie for ourselves. It was delicious. I was delighted by how unreserved our table was when it came to ordering beer and even scavenging abandoned pizza from other tables. These people, though I hadn't known them 20 years ago, would have been my friends back in the day. (I wasn't bothered as much as Gretchen was by the obliviousness with which they devoured pizza containing pepperoni.)
We ended the evening at the Raskeller 'Sco in the Wilder basement, where the same obese woman checks IDs at the door. Tonight she was wearing spaghetti straps, perhaps because she thought she was looking good. We'd later learn that she is presently 53 years old, which would have made her about 30 when we first met her. She actually looks pretty good for her present age, though she looks almost exactly the same as she did 23 years ago. (She didn't look very good as a 30 year old.)
Gretchen and I danced with our friends, though mostly we danced with each other. We were drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, which the 'Sco has on tap for $1 for a plastic cup. Eventually that guy with the mullet-mohawk and kilt showed up. I'd predicted he'd be doing some wild martial arts moves on the dance floor, but in that environment he was mostly a dart-playing wallflower.

Back at our room in Burton, I was feeling a case of acid indigestion coming on, a condition I generally treat by taking an antacid such as baking soda. But I had no baking soda and neither did Burton. I decided to walk over to Keep Cottage and stage a good old-fashioned raid (as we used to do 20 years ago). Keep was once somewhat remote from campus, but a number of large facilities (a dining hall and a supposedly eco-friendly dorm) have been built nearby and much of its surrounding open space replaced by a parking lagoon. Like Harkness, Keep is a co-op with a kitchen and various storage rooms. Surely they'd have a box of baking soda (and perhaps some Star Trek memorabilia). My key card let me in and the kitchen was helpfully unlocked and undefended. I found a number of cleaning fluids, cooking oil, and a large container of wheat germ, but no baking soda. In the past I would have looked for something, anything, to steal so that my visit would not be a waste, but I'm older now and probably a better person.
As I left Keep, I remembered that incident some years ago along I-295 in New Jersey. I'd eaten a couple Burger King Veggie Deluxe burgers with fries and had begun to feel uncomfortable. I remember not knowing whether I would throw up or explode diarrheacally. In the end I did the latter, at which point the desire to vomit miraculously vanished. Perhaps taking care of business at one end of the alimentary canal takes care of problems at the other. Admittedly, the problem of acid indigestion is considerably milder than nausea, but maybe it too could be solved by spending some quality time on a pot. So when I got back to Burton, I headed for the bathroom on our hallway. After taking care of business (and working overtime), my acid indigestion vanished. This is, of course, only one point of data and there will have to be more to know if defecating really is a treatment for acid indigestion. But I'm suspecting now that it is.

We saw two white squirrels on Oberlin's Tappan Square this morning. They may or may not be albinos.

Gretchen doing her reading today in Wilder Main.

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