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:
   free dinner at Guido's
Wednesday, May 20 2015
This morning I drove the newly-fixed Subaru out to the rental house on Wall Street in Kingston to fix a problem one of the tenants had alerted me to. A downspout had become detached from a gutter high above the ground. Though it a required a ladder, it would be an easy fix. After I'd put the ladder in place, the nice lady who lives in the little cottage next door offered to come out and hold the ladder while I climbed it, so, sensing how important this was to her, I said sure. She could also handed me things I needed, which was very helpful. After I'd fixed the gutter and secured it with a screw, I said that perhaps she had saved my life, and that every time one climbs a ladder one is taking a small risk.
I did a little shopping Uptown before returning home with canned beans, penetrating oil, and some surprisingly cheap tools I'd found in a bin near the cash register in Advance Auto Parts. Not yet entirely confident in my Subaru fix, I hadn't brought the dogs with me. But the car seemed to be handling great and not making unusual noises.
The day was unseasonably cool, and today when I went out to mow the lawn for the first time this season, I actually wore a jacket. This was, by the way, the latest into May that I'd ever performed the first mowing of the season. The cold early Spring, followed by drought, has retarded the growth of grass. Add to that the recent trip to Asheville, followed by the more urgent matter of repairing the Subaru and my rare and unexpected illness, and you can see where the delay came from. The grass was more than 12 inches long and the electric mower struggled with it in places, but I managed to do it all in about two hours. Grass at this time of year is tender and easier to cut than it is in the heat of summer, something that worked in my favor. I still wasn't feeling 100% and probably should have a waited a day or two, but the other day Gretchen had gone to sun herself in the lawn and brought the matter of the length of the grass to my attention.
At least now I was healthy enough to take drugs like pseudoephedrine, which (given my symptoms) was precisely what a doctor would have ordered. Of course, I took my usual 120 milligram recreational dose because of the things (particularly mowing the lawn) that I wanted to get done.

In Kingston, we have a young gentleman named Brian in charge of our investments. Those investments are now much smaller than they used to be, since we took more than $100,000 of them and converted them into a rental house (which, so far at least, has been a much better investment than all the socially-conscious stocks Gretchen used to go for, some of which returned a percentage lower than inflation). Recently, Gretchen got a bulk email from Brian saying there would be an event hosted tonight at Frank Guido's Little Italy, where we'd receive investment advice, whatever that meant. She'd decided that we should go, and so that was where we went for dinner, which was to begin on the early side: 6:00pm.
Guido's (which we've been to twice before — May '07, in another location, and July '09 — but always forget about) is located in a surprisingly-spacious building full of polished wood and understated charm. When we said we'd come for the investment thing, we were directed upstairs to another high-ceiling floor full of polished wood. There were about 50 other people there, almost all of them grey-haired, pear-shaped Caucasians aged 55 and over. Gretchen looked at the handout, an expensively-produced collection of pamphlets inside a pocketed folder. Flipping through it, she began having doubts that we should even be there. It looked to her as though the thing being promoted was a single investment product, and not one we would be interested in. The corporations listed included all the familiarly-evil ones, such as Exxon-Mobile, Proctor & Gamble, and General Electric. It didn't have a single arguably-neutral one such as Apple or even JetBlue. In possibly-embarassing situations like this, Gretchen's way of talking to me is through unmoving teeth, so as not to be lip-read by onlookers. "What should we do?" she asked me. By this point, I'd already ordered a beer (a free one at that), and I kind of wanted to stay if only for that. By this point, Eric had walked up. When Gretchen voiced her doubts, Eric assured us both that the presentation would be general and not product-specific and also that it would be "short." He said that thing about it being "short" several times. "Worse-case scenario, you get a free dinner and leave," he concluded.
So we decided to stay. By now, the rush to the buffet was over and we could examine the options. A waitress happened by, and we explained our unusual dietary needs to her (tellingly, she wasn't immediately clear on what it meant to be vegan). It turned out that the only thing vegan in the buffet was some undercooked green beans. But the waitress hadn't forgotten us. She soon came back with special dishes made just for us: generous salads slathered in a sauce built upon a base of balsamic vinegar, and heaping, obscenely-oily plates of penne pasta with vegetables (mostly eggplant and mushrooms). They were delicious; I've paid good money for much worse. Though she hates eggplant, Gretchen was able to pick out the little cubed pieces of that not-so-deadly nightshade and enjoy her pasta as well.
We sat at a table with sausage-eating strangers, who must have wondered why our plates came special from the kitchen. It was a little uncomfortable, like a first dinner with Republican in-laws. The youngest people in the room were our investment guy Eric and the gentleman doing the presentation, and the next youngest people were us. But it wasn't just our age and dietary habits that had us feeling deeply out of place. More on that in a bit.
The presentation was functionally a PowerPoint presentation, though the stock photos and fonts were higher-quality and there were no distracting transitions screaming "Hey, look what a computer can do!" between slides. Apparently the whole point of luring all these old fogies with a free early bird special was to convince them of two things: investing in technology is a prudent, and there are more opportunities to invest in fast-growing companies in marginal countries abroad than there are in the good ol' US of A. I could see it being difficult to convince people of this generation (many of whom probably get all their information about the world from Fox News) to adapt with the changes of technology-driven globalism. The presentation started out with some opportunities for audience participation, encouraging us to come up with "stories that are in the news." All the stories we (though Gretchen and I didn't contribute) came up with were bad. But then our presenter said that not all news is bad news, and with that he showed a slide juxtaposing a picture of Pope John Paul II's funeral with one of Pope Francis' coronation. The main difference was that everyone in the crowd in the second picture, taken only eight years later, was holding up a smartphone or tablet. The takeaway, which didn't necessarily strike me as "good" news, was that technology is coming, and it's a good thing (at least if you're an aging investor stuffing your face with free Italian food).
At one point, our presenter showed a slide of a woman getting into a cab. It was the backdrop for asking the audience for a show of hands from anyone who "would get into the car of a stranger." Both Gretchen and I had been in the car of a stranger not two weeks before, so we shot up our hands. But of course, we were the weirdos in the audience, and our hands were the only ones in the air (because, really, we just didn't care). I don't think the presenter expected anyone (particularly anyone of the investor demographic) to respond affirmatively to that question, and his point was actually that we willingly climb into the cars of strangers whenever we take a taxi, and it's simply a matter of trust. This was one of the other puzzle pieces he was snapping together in the meat-sauce-addled minds of the assembled. We don't just give our money to anyone to invest, but when we do, we trust them to do the right thing based on their superior knowledge of the world of investing: a world where technology is developing rapidly and America's time as a hotbed of investing opportunity is over.
We got out of there the moment it was no longer impolite for us to do so. On the way to the car, Gretchen said the experience had reminded her of other dreary experiences having dinner with aging average Americans, such as assemblies of the Rotary Club. The food and the people are always like that, and it's a completely different culture from the one we've managed to find for ourselves. For me, though, the experience had been sociologically interesting nevertheless.

On the drive back home, we went a little out of our way so we could drive south down Hurley Mountain Road from Route 28 and walk our dogs (who'd been languishing in our Prius outside Guido's) in the Esopus Valley fields using a farm road that I didn't know about (41.943173N, 74.056882W). Unexpectedly, we found the field there planted in some sort of non-maize grain (wheat or perhaps rye). The crop was already so tall that it prevented the dogs from running anywhere but on the farm road itself, although they were delighted by the opportunity to be in a fun new place with fun new smells. Eleanor's joy marked the biggest emotional swing amongst us. Normally Eleanor is anxious and uninspired, but this evening in this field, her ears relaxed against her chassis-like skull and she frolicked about like a puppy (to the extent her joints, given the known limits to their range of motion, would allow). Perhaps she was responding to the novelty of the place, the coolness of the air, or the lateness of the day. Come to think of it, Gretchen had remembered other times in the recent past when it had seemed like Eleanor had wanted to go for an evening stroll while being reluctant to set out on a morning one.
Several hundred feet to the southeast, the wheat or rye gave way to a dense planting of red clover, with a plant that appeared to be German Chamomile growing lushly on either side of the farm road. Were these all just cover crops, soon to be plowed under so as to add carbon and nitrogen to the soil?
Eventually the farm road goes all the way to US 209 (I noted that it would be a possible shortcut should Hurley's bridge across the Esopus ever be flooded or otherwise closed, as it has been in the past), but well short of that, we turned around, walked nearly back to the car, and then went for a short walk on another farm road heading northeastward. This road separated the crop fields from a glorious acre-sized marsh (41.944349N, 74.055248W: complete with lots of Red-winged Blackbirds and probably a good number of Snapping and Painted Turtles). The view either direction on this road is divine, particularly at this time of year when some species of tree up on the Hurley Mountain escarpment livens up the forest backdrop with occasional splashes of very light sage green.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next