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
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Irving housing

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   legacy of a cowboy electrician
Thursday, October 17 2002

setting: rural Hurley, New York

Kristen Ma$$on is, for those who have forgotten, the New Paltz woman who lived with Gretchen and me in Oberlin’s Harkness Coop back when we first became acquainted, in the Fall of 1988). Now that we’re only one easy Thruway stop away, Kristen will probably assume a greater role in our lives. Indeed, it’s such a small world up here that one of the girls in the history class Kristen teaches was actually one of the former residents of the Hurley house.
Today Kristen brought over her boyfriend, a Senegalese drummer named Mustafa, to help with the painting of the house. Though it was built in 1994, the few years that have passed since then have not been kind to the house’s interior paint. This was mostly due to the activities and carelessness of the three children, including the one who is now learning history in Ms. Ma$$on’s class. There are plenty of nails in the walls, bits of tape, decorative glow-in-the-dark stars, and that special putty that college kids use to stick posters of Jimmy Hendrix to their walls (do college kids still do that?). There was even a little graffiti. Reading this graffiti I learned that Mike loves Greta and that this house will be the [name of former resident family] “forever.” Judging by the recalcitrance of the wallpaper, this didn’t seem far from the truth.
Mustafa looked a little like a gangsta or a thug when he showed up, dressed as he was in his puffy winter coat and baggy jeans. But before getting started he changed into a pair of colorful African pants. This choice of painter’s clothes seemed to disappoint Kristen, since she didn’t see any point in getting paint all over something so beautiful.
While Mustafa was painting, I took advantage of the improved weather to attack the security system on my truck, which was still so offended by Tuesday’s perceived break-in that it was refusing to start. I looked under the hood for anything that might be a security “brain” but could find nothing. The big break in the case came when I found the siren horn, which, due to its odd downward-facing orientation, I’d been mistaking for something more intrinsic to the function of the vehicle. I traced its wire back into the cab of the truck, where it disappeared into a tangle of boxes and cables behind the dashboard. Only after tearing the entire dashboard did I find the alarm system. It was a black plastic box about the size of a pack of cigarettes and had a big connector on the side of it. All I had to do was pull the damn thing out and the truck forgot all about security, allowing me to start it once more. I love my truck, but it’s clear that the guy who owned it before me didn’t have a set of compatible ideologies. The first thing I had to do once I got the truck was rip out two plastic American flag stickers. Then I discovered a black and white photograph of the Pope stuck inside the plastic thing you fold down to block out the sun. Now I’ve had to deal with an alarm system.
Gretchen and I loaded up the truck with trash and headed out to the dump, which is only a mile or two further up Dog Hill Road. When we got there, though, we found it was closed, so we parked at an adjacent park and took Sally for a walk. It was an oddly urban park, complete with fancy plastic lawsuit-forestalling jungle gyms and a scaled-down train made entirely out of wood. We walked through the adjacent forest, past a variety of very organized dumps. One contained nothing but segments of large plastic pipes. I kept smelling a weird funky fungus and shit smell and was wondering where it was coming from. Only when we got back to the truck and loaded up Sally did we realize that she’d rolled in something both brown and horrible.
In the evening I was replacing the ugly dining room chandelier with a simpler Southwest-style inverted pyramid and I made a shocking discovery about the electrical system in this house: the wiring was done by a complete incompetent, some cowboy electrician who knew enough to get the lights working, but not enough to follow the color and switch conventions essential to safety. In household wiring, the black wire is considered the “hot” wire and has a 120 volt potential with respect to the ground, which is carried in a white wire called “neutral.” There is also a bare copper wire which also carries ground for safety purposes. But inside the light fixture, I found that the two wires going to the lamp were both white. Only through experimentation could I ascertain which one was hot and which was neutral. Then, to make matters far more dangerous, I discovered that the light was switched off by turning off the “neutral” wire. This means that if one works on the light after switching it off, one is still not safe, since the hot wire is always alive. One must turn off the circuit breaker or be very careful.
Interestingly, though, the actual wires used in the electrical work are of an unusually expensive type. Nearly all of them carried an additional red wire, which can be used to do fancy stuff like have two switches control one light. There are so many switches and electrical outlets in this house that it’s going to take a long time to learn how to turn on all the lights and outlets (many of the wall outlets are also switched). In most rooms there is a bank of three switches by the door, and it’s not obvious what they all do.

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