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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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   the stuffy architecture of Charlottesville
Saturday, January 5 2002

setting: Charlottesville, Virginia

The future is a mysterious place. I didn't really know that until I started playing the stock market. One of many possible futures is my returning to Charlottesville, this time with Gretchen, Sally, Noah, Edna, four or five computers, a DSL router, a $100 world atlas, and a considerably larger bank account balance. To explore this possibility, Gretchen and I left Sally back at Huxyz and Faxxa's place and went for a walk around the upscale neighborhood just north of the Downtown Mall. As we walked, I kept trying to smoke the Cuban cigar I'd been given yesterday, but it kept going out and I kept having to relight it. If the only issue is Cuban cigars, it doesn't look like lifting the embargo is going to have much of an effect on my miserable life.
Back when I was just barely eking out a marginal life in Charlottesville, I rarely stopped to notice whether or not the town has any real beauty to it. I did know one thing: that it wasn't anywhere near as beautiful as Staunton. This must be something of an absolute truth, because, as the stifling hometown outside of which I spent my adolescence, Staunton should have inspired blanket irrational loathing of its every aspect, especially in comparison to Charlottesville, a town that I've always respected. But today, as Gretchen and I walked around looking at properties that we might contemplate buying, we realized there really is something fundamentally wrong with the look of Charlottesville's architecture. Perhaps we can blame it all on the knee-jerk classicism of Jefferson and the clunky, soulless way it's been imitated throughout the town. Perhaps the problem comes more from the gentile southern sensibility; almost every older brick house in Charlottesville looks as if it is trying to elbow out a plantation for itself. The main problem, though, is that Charlottesville architecture appears to have been utterly unaffected by Victorian, Gothic and other Germanic styles. I'm a big fan of ornamentation through baroque details, not faux structural elements (columns). (In Park Slope, for example, the newer brownstones with their harsh angles and lack of ornamental details leave me unimpressed.) Mind you, one can occasionally find beautiful houses in Charlottesville. Kappa Mutha Fucka, for example, was a cute little gothic villa, and nearby houses on Observatory Avenue were similarly attractive. But by and large, Charlottesville architecture is ostentatious while also somehow being dreary and cold. As I was to find out later today, this is even enforced by law in some places.
Gretchen and I walked down the Downtown Mall to the Mudhouse, picking up a copy of the latest issue of C-ville on the way. When I looked at the cover, not only did I feel like I hadn't been gone long, I felt like it was 1995 all over again. There he was, on the cover, Matthew S. Farrell, C-ville's hands-down favorite Charlottesville nobody. (I was one of their less-favorite nobodies, featured on the C-ville cover only once.)
We sat around in the Mudhouse drinking coffee and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice while reading nearly every item in C-ville's the "Best of 2001." Farrell was best wanna-be celebrity as well as something else. Best pickup lines include "I know Dave Matthews" and "Did you make that necklace?" Gretchen thinks there's too much de facto segregation in Charlottesville and she's right, so I was happy when several random African Americans happened by. But then, as usual for Charlottesville, they didn't interact with any white people.

Gretchen and I walked east down the mall and then went over to Market Street until we came upon a used bookstore called the Avocado P!t. Browsing the small selection, Gretchen was struck with the quality if not the quantity. Meanwhile the manager was talking loudly into a telephone to someone about a website he is designing. Both Gretchen and I could hear in the manager's voice the distinctive cadence of someone who spent just a little too much time playing Dungeons and Dragons as a child. He explained to the caller that his website would have "content" to keep people there, and there would be links, but the big thing about these links would be that they wouldn't just go to other sites but would actually go content within the site itself. He didn't think links were interactive enough by themselves and said what he wanted was "real interaction": "chats, messageboards and content." "It won't happen overnight, but that's what I'm shooting for." Then he asked if the person on the phone wanted to talk to his new website's one paid employee, his wife. Gretchen perked up immediately; she had to get a glimpse at what sort of woman would be married to a man who talked like that. Later Gretchen said she got a glimpse at the woman: she was a pleasantly plain woman with long stringy hair and arms whose intrinsic lumpiness could clearly be seen through her sweater.
I'd left a message on Jessika's answering machine and she called while we were in the bookstore. Since it was so fresh in my mind, I immediately began describing the bookstore manager to her. Because of her job as a "recycling engineer" at the recycling center, she knew exactly who I was talking about. The bookstore manager is but one of a group of people who spend their days hanging around the recycling center like vultures, prepared to swoop in and inspect every load that comes in. Since there are usually several scavengers there and everything is free, they often get into fights about who gets to take what. "Nearly all of those people have something wrong with them mentally," Jessika said. "Eventually I just have to tell them to leave."
Jessika explained how to get to her house by foot and, in twenty minutes or so, we were there.
When one has an interest in finding valuable items in the trash and one has, as Jessika now has, an endless supply of high quality trash, after awhile the older things in the trash, the antiques, start to stand out simply because they are less common. And one someone starts collecting antiques and filling her living space with them, the past begins reinforcing itself in a positive feedback loop. After a time, the trash picker becomes an antique collector, then the antique collector is transformed into a willful anachronism. This seems to be taking place with Jessika. She has so much stuff she can be selective about what decorates her home, and increasingly this amounts to relics from the 50s and 60s. The music she's listening to seems to be from the same period.
Few people can bring off a house cluttered with found objects quite the way Jessika can. It helps that Daryl, the guy she lives with, seems to have a similar æsthetic (and a willingness to dust on occasion).
The highlight of the entire house was a small room beyond a curtain of hanging film trailers. In its middle sat a comfortable zebra-stripe couch facing a television festooned with a variety of plastic horror figures. The walls were lined with posters and Daryl's massive videotape collection. He'd also covered the ceiling with old CDs held in place by thumbtacks. "He needed a thimble, his thumb got so sore," Jessika explained.
We sat around in the kitchen, Jessika and me drinking beers and all three of us discussing the subject of knowing when to stop collecting and begin throwing things away. I realized somewhere in the conversation that Gretchen and Jessika work two different ends of the same process: Gretchen, as a factotum for wealthy Manhattan poets, helps them decide what to throw away. Jessika, in her position as "recycling engineer" accepts the things people throw out and organizes it so she and other people can take it away again.
Jessika had to work tonight at the Jefferson Theatre, but first we three decided to go eat dinner somewhere. Amazingly, Jessika has a driver's license and a car these days, an old Subaru Brat in fact, and that's how we went.
As we were passing a brand new brick shopping complex abutting the Downtown Mall, Jessika pointed out the archways over the side doors. They were simple round Jeffersonian arches capped with large white keystones, ho hum. "Originally [the developer] put in these really beautiful gothic archways there, you should have seen them, but the city zoning people made him replace them with those," Jessika said, pointing. "They never would have made him do that in Staunton," I said. "I know. I think I'm going to live in Staunton some day," Jessika agreed.
We ended up eating at Rapture, the place were Johnny Boom Boom works. He wasn't there but Aaron the SHARP was, with such a thick mane of hair that I didn't recognize him. Jessika wondered why he wasn't taking the opportunity to carry through on the threats he used to make back in 1996. I was so wrapped up in my fish and chips that I really didn't think much about it.
For Gretchen and me, the plan was to see the Royal Tenenbaums at the Regal Theatre on the Downtown Mall. Gretchen had been wanting to see this movie in New York, but it's always been sold out.
Gretchen is a big fan of Rushmore, the other film by Wes Anderson, and she liked the Royal Tenenbaums as well. For me, though, they didn't speak to me. In both movies, I kept feeling like I wasn't paying close enough attention to understand what was going on. I think these movies resonate more with Gretchen's childhood than with mine. She grew up as an overachiever in a family of even more extreme overachievers. Conversely, my family is characterized more by fiercely independent underachievers, or those who achieve unexpected or unwanted achievements.
After the movie, we went to the Jefferson Theatre and hung around for awhile talking to Jessika and my old Dynashack housemate Andrew. I'm continually amazed by how stable their employment has been at the theatre. Beyond that, how does that place manage to stay in operation? I mean, I think it provides a valuable public service, but is it also some sort of tax shelter? A front for something more sinister? The mind boggles at the possibilities.
Suddenly Johnny Boom Boom Mancini and Morgan Anarchy showed up. Morgan looked exactly the same as ever, except now his hair is slicked up into some sort of ironic blond pompadour. These days Morgan lives with Anna (Nemo's mother) in an industrial part of Brooklyn near Williamsburg, and I keep meaning to look them up but I never seem to have the information. The story on Morgan is that he's become a successful decorative painter, though he's had a number of challenges since I saw him last. The most spectacular of these was the time he was drinking beers out on a roof holding a leash attached to a big dog when suddenly the dog fell over the edge. Unable to get the leash off his wrist and seeing the dog choking to death on the other end, he decided to jump over the side and save the dog's life. Happily, the dog wasn't injured, but Morgan broke his back. From the look of him today, though, he appears to have made a complete recovery. The experience had a sobering effect on Morgan, literally. These days he has more of a survival instinct and even a slight fear of heights, if you can believe that.
When I expressed a desire to maybe go have a few drinks with Johnny and Morgan at Millers, Gretchen said that she'd be heading back to Huxyz and Faxxa's place alone, and so she left. [REDACTED]
I ended up showing Jessika and Andrew some of the satirical web pages I made while out in California: The Trenchcoat Mafia Website, the Timothy McVeigh execution videotape, and also the John Walker, patriot page I made recently. Sometimes there's nothing as fun as show and tell. I never did go to Millers.

Back at Huxyz and Faxxa's house, Huxyz was in the process of recovering from a serious hardware crash. A year-old Western Digital drive was suffering from the ominous, unrecoverable "click of death." Luckily, Huxyz had managed to back up all crucial files before the Grim Reaper had finished his work.
We got to talking about how little average Americans understand about their computers and how this benefits the industry. Over time, fundamentally faulty operating systems like Windows 98 accumulate more and more junk code that slows it down and makes it crash more and more often. People don't know what is wrong with their machines and attribute their problems to "age" - as if age alone makes a computer go bad. All that needs to happen, of course, is that the hard drive needs to be reformatted and all the software re-installed from scratch, at which point very few people would discern the difference in performance between a 0.333 GHz "old" (two years old) machine and a 1.7 GHz "new" machine.
When you think about it, it's fascinating how the shoddy Windows operating system has been fueling an accelerated (and completely unnecessary) upgrade cycle which has in turn fueled the operating system upgrade cycle. In general, at least in good economic times, it's been a mutually-beneficial arrangement between shoddy software makers and commodity hardware makers. Indeed, hardware makers don't even have to make improvements to their machines to participate in this feedback loop. In their ignorance, people simply assume that age is the problem.

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