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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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   sandwiches for my crazy mother
Monday, July 15 2013

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

The other day Gretchen had sent me an email telling me that my brother Don had tried to call me and that she'd tried to give me her cellphone number (since I had borrowed it for this trip to Virginia). But Don is fairly incompetent about things like writing down numbers, so he'd never managed to call me. So the other day (maybe yesterday) I'd called him. I was curious if, despite being crazy himself, he was trying to work around our crazy mother (Hoagie) to maintain familial connections. I'd managed to get Don and not Hoagie, but all Don said was, "I can't believe you stole that book about Mammals from our mother." Then he announced that he was busy watching television and ended the call. Evidently, then, Hoagie had managed to conscript Don on her side in this monumentally-stupid family quarrel.
The original plan had been to drive back home today, dropping Sara off in the Philadelphia suburbs. But both Gretchen and Sara had been urging me to drop in on Hoagie. It might be years before I return to Virginia, and I really should see what the situation is back on the banks of Folly Mills Creek. And Jessika thought a good ice breaker might be to show up with sandwiches. I don't know why, but the idea of dropping in on my own mother made me nervous. She'd taken such a turn for the cold and irrational that there was no telling what she might be capable of. As for Sara, he kept wondering aloud if we were going to end up spending the night in "the hoosegow."
It took awhile for Sara and me to hit the road. First Jessika and I made ourselves a breakfast of vegan BLTs. They didn't contain any lettuce but they did have avocado and they were delicious. And then Sara launched into one of her endless monologues about the bad old days while Jessika nodded her head occasionally and said "Hmm."
On the drive out of town, I made another attempt to retrieve the magnet bracelet from Mono Loco. But evidently that place is dinner-only, because it was 12:30pm and they were closed.
To follow Jessika's idea that I take sandwiches to my evil mother, I stopped at the BP Station on edge of Belmont off Route 20 (near where it crosses I-64). There's a Blimpie sandwich shop inside that gas station, and a sandwich artist with severe strabismus assembled the two foot-long vegetarian sandwiches I ordered. If I'd thought my brother would actually eat something vegan, I might have gotten him something else, but just the fact that he would be putting something not containing meat into his stomach was a small victory for the vegan gods (despite the provolone). It turned out that years before Sara had worked as a sandwich artist in this very same Blimpie shop, and she tried to engage the guy with strabismus in small talk about the job, reminiscing with horror about the difficulty of cleaning the onion slicing machine. But the sandwich artist was a mumbler and I didn't understand very much of what he contributed to the shop talk. Moments earlier Sara had tried to cause a riot out by the gas pumps by condemning not the George Zimmerman verdict but BP's culpability in the gas drilling practice known as fracking (she'd recently seen Gasland II, and now her prescription for Celexa is nowhere near enough to keep her from despondency).
Though it was a bit more than forty miles, the drive to my childhood home took less time than expected. When we rolled up to Creekside, even Sara was taken aback that we were already there. I parked at Creekside and led Sara across to the thicket growing across the street. Initially it wasn't even clear that there was a house there, but then Sara saw the rusty roof of my childhood home rising over the enormous overgrown boxwoods. "Oh my Cthulu," Sara whispered, "It looks like a house Jessika would want to explore."
We climbed up the rough concrete steps to the front porch, whose every surface was covered with Virginia Creeper and other species of climbing vine. Otherwise the porch was unchanged from the last time I'd seen it. The same dingy furniture was there, as were the same faded cardboard boxes. Through the screen door I could see the televison was on (as it nearly always is). So I knocked. And before long, there was my mother Hoagie, and she didn't even seem particularly surprised to see me.
Hoagie came out on the porch, soon joined by her beautiful new striped cat (the old cat, "Coleche," was hit by a car and killed since my last visit). And she was nothing but nice. She's the sort who papers over problems and never discusses anything unpleasant, and she's even more that way when there are visitors. But her form of extrovertism will never stop being embarrassing. On seeing Sara she said, "You look really nice in that dress. I don't know, you are, so I said so." "She's an attractive woman," I agreed, though I was wrinkling my brow too. I made the introductions and we prattled back and forth a little. It was a perfectly normal social interaction save for the fact that it was taking place on a vine-swallowed porch in front of an unspeakable hoard.
I gave Hoagie the sandwiches, which were probably so high in sodium that Don would end up eating them all. She suggested that we go across the street, so that was where we ended up. I had to piss and Hoagie had closed off the master bedroom suite where I normally sleep, so I had to use Don's nasty never-cleaned bathroom instead. I took a picture of the sink, festooned as it was with the mummified remnants of many bars of soap.
Offered a beer, I went to the refrigerator, which still had some beers in it that I'd bought during my last visit. I popped open an IPA and it wasn't great but it wasn't any worse than a Starr Hill IPA ever is. Those hops might not be to everyone's liking, but a beer containing them can never go bad, just so long as it stays out of ultraviolet light.
Though their styles are different, Sara and Hoagie are both the sort of people who like to prattle on and on without paying much attention to whether other people are listening. So it was comic at times to see them both talking over each other. I even commented on it at one point.
Sara eventually had to go outside to smoke a cigarette, leaving me in the house alone with my mother. I talked again about the stupid field guide theft issue, telling Hoagie yet again that if she wanted me to buy a field guide she thought I'd stolen that I would. She was pleasant about it all, but the fact that she would be acting the way she is acting about it suggests a deep psychological problem. I'm so lucky to have had the chance to have created a family of my own, one completely independent of the grudging parenthood of my mother.
After another beer (a Dos Equis that I did not enjoy), I announced that we needed to get going if we were going to make it to Philadelphia before it got too late. Hoagie had said that today was Don's day to blow money in town, so I would drive to downtown Staunton and see if I could find him. But before I left, I hugged my mother and told her that I loved her, something that I felt like I was just saying. Without the moderating effects of my father, she has turned into a monster that I do not recognize. But she is still my mother, and her being alive means I'm not yet saddled with my brother, the one thing I can be sure I'll inherit from her (along with a huge mess to clean up).
I drove Sara and me into Staunton on Middlebrook Avenue and eventually took a right on Johnson Street. Though she'd only seen him in photographs, Sara saw Don before I did. He was crossing Augusta Street on Johnson Street heading west directly towards us. So I busted a right on the Augusta Street corner in front of him and told him to climb in the car. "I'm going to a restaurant now to eat!" he said by way of refusal. So I parked the car and jumped out, as did Sara. But Don didn't want to talk. Still, I got a chance to introduce him to Sara, and he shook her hand with a hand so clammy that I probably haven't touched it since the 1980s. "Where is your wife Gretchen?" he demanded. "This is my other wife," I said. "Really?" he asked. It seemed anything was possible with his little field-guide stealing brother. "No," Sara interjected, obviously concerned that Don's psychological condition couldn't take such joking around, "Gretchen couldn't come. I'm Gus' friend from Philadelphia and we were just over in Charlottesville visiting Jessika." "Well, I have to go to a restaurant now and eat," Don said, as if the restaurant might be about to close its doors forever. "Come on Don, I'll drive you." "No, it's just over there. I'm going to walk!" He was adamant, just like Hoagie had been about me never again spending the night at my childhood home. And then he started walking away with that sweaty fascist gait he's been using ever since he was a teenager and decided Hitler was cool. Sara and I jumped in the car and drove around the back side of the wharf in hopes of catching up with him. But he'd disappeared. Oh well, what could I do? So I decided to call it a day and head north, catching I-81 up in Verona. "I think he was terrified," Sara observed. What a thing, my mother has convinced my own brother not to talk to me!
As had been the case on our drive down to Virginia, there was no need for podcasts with Sara in the passenger seat. We had some music on, but it was strictly background, only occasionally drawing enough attention to itself to warrant further discussion. On I-81 in Virginia, it was mostly contemporary pop. Later there was a little country followed by only three songs (all Sara could take) of Christian. At some point we encountered right wing talk radio, where the on-air assholes continued to trash the memory of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager made famous by being killed in his own gated community by a man who got away with it. It was hard to listen to that and not scream at the radio, so there was a lot of that, mostly from Sara.
We also discussed and digested some of the things we'd just experienced in Virginia. At some point Sara said, "I'm not sure exactly what Aaron does for a living." I hadn't been sure either, but the night before last while on tussin I'd had a conversation with Jessika about it. For some reason I'd thought maybe Aaron was a film editor, so I'd told her about my friend Doug (husband of Jenny at the farm animal sanctuary in Willow) who is also a film editor and has worked with Erol Morris and Metallica, among others. "He's just a film editor?" Jessika had gently scoffed. It turns out that Aaron is actually a director and has a feature-length film to his credit in addition to several Dave Matthews Band videos. In fields about which I know relatively little, it's hard to keep track of who does what. It's the same when people look at what I do and decide I'm a "web designer," which I always find insulting. The impressive thing about Aaron is that he's a film school dropout who had been studying to become a mailman when he got his big directorial break. As for Jessika, these days she does a lot of costume and set design work for Aaron's productions. Many of her masks have appeared in videos made for Dave Matthews. "Jessika and Aaron have a good thing going," I observed. "They sure do," Sara agreed. What is a better outcome in life than being paid to be creatively weird in precisely the way you are wired to be?
While in the midst of an especially terrible segment of right wing anti-Trayvon-Martin radio, we stopped for lunch at the Burger King in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. We both ordered fries, and I also ordered the veggie burger with no mayonnaise. As I waited for the order to be fulfilled, Sara, who had just reglued her teeth, emerged from the bathroom and put a cardboard Burger King crown on my head, accidentally causing a mini crownslide on the counter in the process. Despite the mess, this random bit of impulsive oddness delighted the long-suffering woman working the cashier. Because Sara needed to smoke, we ate out in an outdoor corral that could be locked to prevent the theft of trays. It was so hot out there that both of us were soon gleaming with sweat.
There was a bit of levity further up the road when we heard the hilarious news report about a stupid California television station that had fallen for some fake Chinese-sounding pilot names given to them by a prankster of the Asiana airplane that crash landed the other day in San Francisco. The names were as follows: Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow (I don't get that last one).
Sara slept for most of the drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Carlisle to Greater Philadelphia, and I listened mostly to Terri Gross podcasts during that time (which passed surprisingly quickly).
We arrived at Sara's Brezhnevian basement apartment at around 10:30pm. Sara was delighted to find it in a fairly clean state. Her roommate and co-parent Dennis was asleep on the bed they timeshare, though her kid Joey was soon up and about, delighted to see his mother again. He was making lots of nonsense noises, which is apparently something that ADHD kids do when they're overstimulated. Meanwhile I was cobbling together a network connection between my laptop and Sara's desktop so I could copy all of Game of Thrones: Season I to it. Once I got the copy going, I went back to the car and got myself a warm beer to drink because it felt like Miller Time. (Sara and Dennis do not drink and do not stock beverages of that sort.)
I still had three hours of driving left to do before I was home, but it went fairly quickly when it was just me, my podcasts, and another warm beer that I drank somewhere along the NY Thruway. Interspersed with my podcasts were a few music MP3s, some of which reminded me how awesome Centro-matic is.
Back home, the dogs were off somewhere in the woods when I arrived, so when they wandered home and saw me it came as an unexpected delight. Unfortunately, though, Ramona had just rolled in something unspeakably fragrant, and she was going to want to cuddle in the bed. So Gretchen and I gave her an emergency bath. The time was about 2:00am, but we stayed up for awhile with me telling Gretchen about what all had happened, how Sara is doing these days, and how awesome Sara thinks she is just based on the things I've said.


Sara telling Jessika about the bad old days on Jessika's back deck. Click to enlarge.


Aaron and Jessika compile picture books of the Mystery Woods and other things they like to photograph. A douchebag developer recently built himself a Russian-mafia-style castle atop Carter's Mountain and his name is, ironically, Wood (of no relation to the Mystery Woods). Mostly, though, what Mr. Wood builds is ugly developments and commercial properties in the ugly northern part of Charlottesville. I've never met anyone who actually likes such development, but evidently those people exist. These signs appearing in one of Aaron & Jessika's picture books are not sarcastic.


Hoagie and Sara walking across the street from the hovel of my childhood home to the double wide trailer at Creekside. Click to enlarge.


Inside creekside with Sara and Hoagie. Click to enlarge.


The sink that Don uses in the bathroom that nobody else uses inside Creekside. Click to enlarge.


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