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

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Like my brownhouse:
   Mystery Woods
Friday, July 12 2013

location: Off 5th Street (Ridge Street), Charlottesville, Virginia

I slept on the couch in the Jessika and Aaron's teevee room, and at some point in the late morning I was joined by Ramona, Jessika's little Boston Terrier. She's a snuggler but also a very loud snorer, probably because of the cramped conditions within her head.
For morning coffee, Jessika broke out the espresso machine, though Sara had to restrict her caffeine intake to black tea. Since Jessika only had soy milk on hand, Sara was forced to try it for the first time since soy milk started being a perfectly acceptable substitute for cow's milk. As with my reaction to modern electronic cigarettes, she found herself pleasantly surprised by the technological advances she hadn't been aware were happening. Neither of us knew it at the time, but Sara was also putting an enormous amount of sugar in her tea, turning it into something I would later dub "hummingbird food." We would wonder how Sara could go for so long without eating, not aware that she was running on sugar water and caffeine.
Our first activity of the day was a walk in "the Mystery Woods," a parcel of forest south of I-64 and just west of State Route 20. I'd known about the Mystery Woods from the many mushroom pictures Jessika has posted on Facebook, but I'd assumed they were part of the parcel she and Aaron walked to through the new development at the south end of Ridge Street, but it turns out it's a completely separate patch of woods (though the two are actually connected via Biscuit Run Trail, which runs beneath I-64). The Mystery Woods appears to be ancient reforested farmland, comprised mostly of second-growth forest-grown trees amid many enormous ancient trees that clearly grew up surrounded by open fields. On this day, every possible place for a rivulet or streamlet contained running water, the remains of last night's extended downpour. I'd noticed on the drive down US 29 that the Virginia countryside was unusually lush and green for this time of year (some years it can be quite dry and yellow in mid-July). In the Mystery Woods, this lushness came not just in the form of vegetation; it also manifested as many species of mushrooms in various stages of fruition and decay.
Eventually Jessika led us down to the site of an old house, all of which was gone except for its chimneys, basement foundation, and exotic trees (a Gingko, for example). It had been thoroughly reclaimed by the forest. Looking at the ruined remains in the basement, I saw what looked to be a woodstove having a design from the 1920s. My guess is that the house was abandoned during the Great Depression.
Nearby (37.995043N, 78.518591W) there was a long-forgotten graveyard with fallen and broken headstones commemorating people who had died in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These were members of the Buck family, whom Jessika had researched but not found much about.
On the edge of a mature pine plantation (it looks to be centered at 37.990455N, 78.520703W), there were a number of old trash piles, some of which contained rotting car remains dating from a time when cars still included a number of parts made of wood.

Jessika (left) and Sara at the edge of the foundation of the Buck farmhouse in the Mystery Woods. Click to enlarge.

During all the time we were walking around, nearly all of what was being said was coming out of Sara Poiron's mouth, and most of it concerned the transitional years of her life between Big Fun and rock bottom. There was something in there somewhere about a woman with some sort of cervical issue, though I forget now what it was about.
The one other topic Sara kept returning to was the idea of a story to explain the Mystery Woods based on the various artifacts (the ruined house, the forgotten cemetary, the old cars, the pine plantation, even the fallen chain of utility poles with their stout aluminum wire). Jessika had such a story (or the makings of a story) to explain a similar forest back in Malvern, and it's always fun (even, on occasion, sublime) to impose a fantasy backstory on a place you love. I've done it myself numerous times. In this case, though, there seems to be an idea of maybe producing a short film. Such things are actually doable these days for Jessika and Aaron.
I'd taken a 12 hour time-release Adderall capsule, so I was perfectly happy not talking. Mostly all I cared about was sassafras; I gathered a number of roots for use in making flavored vodka (something that had worked well on my last visit to Charlottesville). But my eyes were also tuned to anything out of the ordinary; recently I've found myself more observant when walking in the woods. One unexpected delight today came when I found a bracelet consisting of dozens of small cylindrical rare-earth magnets stuck together. It must have been $50 worth of magnets, and it fit around my wrist perfectly.
Back at the house, I shaved the sassafras roots using a fine grater and then dumped in 160 proof Devils Springs vodka and did a little shaking (though not nearly as much as I had three years ago when making something similar). Finally, I diluted the whole concoction to half its original strength, bringing the proof down to 80. It was good like this on ice, though it's possible the vodka was a little harsher than the Svedka I'd used three years before.
Aaron drove us all around Charlottesville so we could see the things that had changed. This was mostly for Sara's benefit, since she hadn't seen the city since 2001. I'd told her, for example, how hip and happening Belmont had become. She'd remembered it as a sleepy neighborhood of crowded weathered buildings, a tire shop, and perhaps a place with bad coffee. At this point, though, there's a part of it that looks like Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon, only cleaner. Up until we drove through it, I think Sara had thought I'd been kidding.
But Charlottesville is changing everywhere and it's doing so faster than ever. Construction sites and cranes are everywhere as old, crappy buildings are replaced by modern ones with simple lines and colors that are, for the time being at least, considered tasteful. I don't know where all the money is coming from, but it definitely doesn't seem as if Charlottesville is experiencing any lingering effects of the Great Recession. Thanks, Obama!
We ended up on the Downtown Mall, where Aaron and I both got coffee at the Mudhouse. The people there all looked the same, but its interior had received a gritty industrial remodeling sometime in the last three years for the first time since it was opened in 1995. From there, we made our way to the base of a massive unfinished office building along the central part of the mall. The building had been unfinished three years ago and remains just as unfinished today, its concrete walls and floors exposed to the elements. There's something compelling about a ruin this new. A monument to hubris is all the more monumental when the timeline of rise and fall is compressed within my irregular schedule of visits. Aaron said something indicating that the building hasn't been completely useless; he directs music videos for the Dave Matthews Band and had his visual effects guy multiplied the floors so as to turn the building into a sort of Tower of Babel for one of a video's brief segments.

Across the street from Charlottesville's monument to hubris today. From left: me, Aaron, Sara. Photo by Jessika. Click to enlarge.

Sara is looking like a hippie and you can see the monument to hubris behind Jessika. That Homer Simpson gut of mine should be a wake up call. Photo by Aaron. Click to further engorge.

Eventually we decided to have dinner at Mono Loco (that means "crazy monkey" or "crazy cute"), which is sort of a Mexican restaurant, although for some reason they put bottles of sriracha (Thai "rooster sauce") on all the tables. It being Friday night, there was a wait for a table, so I went in got a round of drinks for the three of us who were drinkers. Sara was our non-drinker, and the presence of so many people started triggering her agoraphobia (something she might have developed just from years of rarely leaving her house). So she headed out to the sidewalk and called one of her old buddies from the bad old days; a guy who occasionally serves in the role of "sponsor" (in the recovery sense of the word). [REDACTED]
It was handy that Aaron and Jessika are part of the Charlottesville scene, because it meant our chips and salsa were free. I ordered some sort of mushroom burrito and it was surprisingly flavorless given all the fun things in it. Sriracha definitely helped.
Sara eventually rejoined us and sat there sipping water as we ate. She found herself watching and being entertained by a table of young adults, most of whom were young blonde tequila-shot-drinking women. But there was also a single man at the table, and he seemed like the sort who was mapping out which of the women he would bed tonight. Indeed, he seemed to be thinking (based on Sara's reading of his body language), he might end up with more than one of them.

Our next destination was Aaron's office on the Downtown Mall. It's on the third floor of a building near Miller's (the bar), and it's where the videos for Dave Matthews are produced (among other things, including a feature-length movie Aaron directed). The office is tidy set of dot-com-style workstations beneath a high ceiling. Aaron's office, though, was in a weird loft set behind a cozy low-ceilinged television viewing lounge reachable by a low ladder through a half-height doorway that reminded me of the seven-and-a-half floor in Being John Malkovich. Behind Aaron's workstation is a ladder that leads to the roof of the building. We all went up there to sit beneath the stars and chat about various things. For some reason I found myself telling the whole Dan Reitman story, a story that was already old seventeen and a half years ago when I told it at Big Fun and introduced the meme of "Ehrm...Go!" into Sara's promiscuous lexicon.
Eventually we went back down into the building and watched a series of videos shot on an old VHS videocamera I'd "borrowed" (she would say "stole") from my mother. They were of Big Fun and the Jehu End of the World Party. We didn't actually watch the videotapes themselves; I'd ripped them to digital files and given Aaron copies. What a walk down memory lane they were! There was Sara, just months before her life started going very badly, being her incredible, adorable, infuriating self. And there was Jessika, on tussin some of the time, but mostly just herself, looking and acting almost the same aside for the presence of persistent baby fat. There was so much in there and in its own way it was hauntingly beautiful. It was, after all, of a youth (even my less-youthful youth) that is forever gone, and that cannot be a trivial thing no matter how trivial the things videotaped happened to be. But some of those things were far from trivial; there are few things, for example, as magical as Zach and Raphæl's performance of "Rain Gorgeous" at the Jehu End of the World Party. It would be hard for anyone to look at those clips of video and not see that there was once something strong and ineffable running beneath the surface at Big Fun. Of course, all but one of us present tonight were already aware of all of that. To the extent this impressed anyone, it must have been Aaron, who came into all of this after it had already passed into history. I got the sense tonight that by watching the videos, he finally got Sara, and got her relationship to Jessika. She, he finally realized, was so much more, was so much more complicated than whatever he'd gotten from her up until then. It was a bonding experience, and, back at the house, it kept all of us but Jessika up a bit longer than one might have otherwise expected. That's the thing about smoking cigarettes out on the deck.

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