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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:
   Thanksgiving on Overlook Mountain
Thursday, November 24 2022
I gathered and split a backpack load of dry chestnut oak this morning before the day's events got underway. It was a good day for that kind of work, with sunny conditions and so few puddles in the forest that I could wear my Crocs.
Originally our plans for Thanksgiving involved Gretchen's parents coming up from Washington, DC and visiting the cabin for the first time. But they had some sort of fiasco trying to charge their electric car at the Joseph R. Biden Welcome Center in Delaware (where, it turns out, there are only chargers for Teslas) and they'd been so traumatized that they'd canceled what would've been a much longer road trip. Some time after that, our friend Paula (the nurse who got us our first covid shots and who visited the cabin with her husband at some point this summer) asked if we wanted to join her and her family for Thanksgiving. Gretchen didn't want to attend any non-vegan Thanksgiving, and told Paula so, saying she never again wants to participate in the "worship" of a corpse. So Paula went to her family and asked how they felt about a vegan Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, they were all agreeable. This was how we came to be driving to Paula's house this afternoon.
At the beginning of our drive, we came upon Georges at his mailbox. He asked if we'd received a small handwritten note in our mailbox complaining about its appearance and asking that it be fixed "as soon as possible." As you may remember, we did, and it came from our least-favorite neighbor, the one, we told Georges, who had called the police on our barking dogs on several occasions. Georges says he's not going to take any action for now, but if there are further complaints, he may paint the rusty framework it sits on. Interestingly, our obnoxious neighbor didn't complain to Kacey, whose mailbox is on the same framework as Georges'. But she likes Kacey.
Paula lives just north of the point where Mead Mountain Road (the northward extension of Rock City Road out of Woodstock) reaches its highest point on Overlook Mountain. This summer, Gretchen had regularly gone swimming in Paula's pool, so she was familiar with Paula's place. But I'd never been there before. It's in a gorgeous mountaintop house with an uninterrupted view of the wild unbroken Indian Head Wilderness (which lies between Paula's place and Elka Park, far beyond the rugged Catskill ridgetops to the north).
As we carried in Gretchen's contributions to the meal (an extensive vegan cheese plate, chestnut soup, and a vegan cherry tart she'd bought at the vegan bakery in Kingston), we were introduced to the other people in attendance. These included one of Paula's similarly-retired-but-doing-art friend Nancy and Nancy's bicycle-obsessed husband Michæ, who apparently had a brief speaking part in one of the episodes of the Sopranos. Also in attendance were Paula's two 30-something adult children: Eleanor, who has a popular podcast, and Harry. Harry was there with his girlfriend Jasmin and they'd flown in from Tennessee. Eleanor lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend Forest, who is an editor at a well-known online news source. All of us sat around low table in the living room grazing on a variety of vegan cheeses Gretchen laid out, with everyone making the appropriate noises. I was drinking a glass of beaujolais, the one serving of alcohol I would have at Thanksgiving.
Later we moved to the dining room, where Paula had assigned our seats. She'd put me between the young woman Jasmin and Paula's husband Howard, thinking we'd have techie things to talk about (Jasmin does QA for a website). I'm not a big fan of Thanksgiving food, so I wasn't too excited about the lentil loaf, the brussels sprouts, or the five spice carrots. But I ate everything on my plate. At some point the conversation turned to the subject of how various people were blugeoned by religion in their childhood. I, of course, had the tale of showing up at a public school in Virginia only to immediately be led with my new classmates to a bible trailer for religious instruction. And, when I never returned to another bible class, I had to deal with the unenlightened attitudes of my classmates as they tried to process my difference. It's the sort of pressure on minorities that public schools are not supposed to foster. Similarly, when Howard was sent off to a Boy Scout camp near Gloversville (it may well have been Woodworth Lake, where, decades later, we would build a cabin and a dock), he refused to participate in the many Christian activities because he was raised Jewish. So then the camp counselor (who was not Jewish) fashioned him yarmulke out of a hankerchief and forced him to wear it, the sort of humiliation that reminds me of Germany during the rise of Hitler. Howard also recounted the time he decided to stop going to Jewish Sunday school because it made no sense. "I wanted to know why there were once miracles and then they stopped. Nobody ever had a good explanation."
After dinner, we retreated back to the living room, and a coffee course was served. I ordered a double espresso, knowing I would be able to sleep like a baby despite it. Later desserts were served, and, oddly, I had enough of an appetite to eat couple slices of pie.
Paula and Howard took the older of us (that is, Michæl and his wife and Gretchen and me) out to their studio, which is where Paula does her painting and Howard tinkers with his e-bike. It's an insulated building, but soon it will be restructured to give Paula more space. There was a ladybird beetle on Paula, which she brushed away and I picked up from the floor so nobody would step on it. Paula is unusual in that she hates ladybird beetles, claiming they "bite." But it was vegan event, and she said if she killed it, it would be tomorrow.
Back in the house, Howard showed me a closet containing the house's geothermal heatpump system, which disposes of cold by pumping it deep into a well. He says it saves them hundreds of dollars a month on their heating bill.
Back in the kitchen, Gretchen helped put things away (an effort I didn't contribute to at all) and packed up leftovers that we would be taking. I hate the back-and-forth of dinner leftovers, where someone who genuinely didn't like a good item is pressured into taking it home anyway to be polite, their resistance to doing so interpreted as politeness even when it isn't. Meanwhile, the four thirty-somethings were on the couch watching the Will Ferrell vehicle Elf (which, like nearly all Will Ferrell vehicles, was not very good). Stretched out comfortably on the furniture, they looked like teenagers, and there was even a bit of the adult-teenager dynamic between them and us older folks. But they're accomplished adults, with real careers, in some cases writing widely-disseminated articles. Evidently the roles we have in a family are more fixed than I'd imagined.

Back at the house, I drank a fair amount of booze by myself in the laboratory. When I finally emerged, Gretchen knew what I'd been doing and commented about it. But it turned out that I'd made myself less drunk than she'd expected, and we ended up having a fun joke-and-laughter-filled conversation as we lay there in bed with the dogs (and probably Oscar as well).

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