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:
   Traveler's Delite
Saturday, November 29 2003

setting: Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

There was a plan today to do a number of fun and educational things. I was going to show my brother-in-law Brian how to use a butane torch. We were all going to go see an Imax movie, The One About Chimpanzees (all Imax movies have titles that begin with The One About...).
After breakfast a number of us sat around the dining table having a prolonged and often hilarious conversation. At first we were discussing the nature of the word "ironic" and its misuse by such people as Alanis Morissette. Jen volunteered that one of her friends (let's call her "Judy") doesn't stop at misusing "ironic" - she uses the hammer "Catch 22" to drive screws, remove wallpaper, fry fish, and balance her checkbook. For example, Judy thinks nothing of saying something like, "Looks like somebody broke our new vase. That's such a Catch 22!"
The irony conversation led Gretchen and her brother Brian to debate a difference they weren't really having. Gretchen actually could agree with Brian that it was ironic that punk rockers and goth kids were conforming to their own subcultures every bit as much as mainstream people conform to Abercrombie and Fitch and the Tau of Diet Pepsi, and Brian actually could agree with Gretchen that punk rockers and goth kids suffered in the mainstream world for the way they looked. But each acted as if the other wasn't agreeing with his or her point, and kept providing supporting arguments that did little to address this fundamental flaw in their debate. Briefly the exchange became heated, but then it veered off into a civil discussion of the fundamental problems of humanity: people banding together against others, media consolidation, failures of the educational system, the false hope of the American Dream, and how all of this leads a significant fraction of the American electorate to vote in ways that are contrary to their economic interests. It was a fascinating conversation, with all parties having things to contribute. But then people began leaving and it turned back into a dialogue between Gretchen and Brian, neither of them leaving much room for anyone else to interject their opinions. Both were talking in their usual styles: Gretchen was animated and intense, shouting at times and gesticulating wildly, while Brian talked calmly and wore a frown of earnestness or occasionally smiled to himself. After awhile their points became entirely stylistic, each of them critiquing the other's manner of presenting his or her arguments. I'd never seen such a nuanced intellectual discussion deteriorate over such a shallow, prolonged decline.
This matter was brought to a head by the arrival of Jen's friend Judy, the one who misuses the term "Catch 22." [REDACTED]
Judy had brought her little two year old son Abe, whom Gretchen thinks is very cute "because he looks like an old Jewish man." As for Abe, well, he'd brought his guitar. Abe is obsessed with the guitar, and he strums his continuously, never moving the fingers that fret the three thinnest strings. He often stands as he strums, bending one of his knees to use as a support, since his guitar lacks a strap. I could see that being one of his artistic tics if he should go on to become famous.
Without his guitar, Abe is a relentless bundle of energy, always jiggling or running around. The guitar keeps him relatively peaceful.
The other thing that can induce calm in Abe is someone else playing a guitar, preferably extremely quickly. He was stillest of all when I exhibited that thing I do where I sweep the backs of my fingernails up and down rapidly across all the strings. It makes a quiet, metallic whirr on an acoustic guitar (I was playing Brian's) but on an electric it can be used to make a solid melodic roar.
Because of the unscheduled delays, I never did get to show Brian how to use his butane torch. And nobody made it to the Imax theatre. A little before sundown, all of us went our separate ways (including Brian and Jen, who would be attending Jen's high school reunion in Johnstown).

As our car gradually climbed up the Allegheny Plateau from the west on US 22, snow began falling. After awhile there was enough of it on the road to impede our travel, and I slowed to 40 miles an hour. As a consequence of the enormous quantity of coffee I'd drunk earlier, I had to piss really badly, so we pulled over at some roadside restaurant and went to urinate around in the back. There were a good four inches of snow on the ground, and more than that in the drifts.
From there, Gretchen took over the driving. The weather stayed treacherous until we came down off the plateau in the vicinity of Altoona. Below a certain elevation, there was no precipitation at all and our speed could resume its normal 80 mph average. In Altoona we caught I-99 (the latest pork barrel interstate, whose number sits well out of place in the interstate numbering sequence). I-99 eventually peters out and one is forced onto two-lane US 220 for the final thirty miles up to I-80.
We were running low on gas (or so I thought - Gretchen didn't think so, but I-80 has some remote stretches and the weather was brutal). So Gretchen called out on CB channel 19 to find out a good place to get gas within the next ten miles. A trucker helpfully told us about exit 173 (exactly in the split between the road atlas's maps of eastern and western PA). He also suggested that we get our gas at the Pilot station. So that was what we did. We also decided to get a motel room and pack it in for the night.
There didn't seem to be many motel options, so we resigned ourselves to franchise predictability of Comfort Inn. But right there in the driveway of the Comfort Inn, Gretchen saw a sign for a different motel, the kind she prefers. It was called "Traveler's Delite." Gretchen likes her motels to have signs with dead neon letters and names with misspellings (as long as they don't include gratuitous use of the letter "K"). The special thing about Traveler's Delite was that it also had a full cocktail lounge. It was as dreary, wood-paneled, and low-rent as they come. Inside a big sign read "Hunters Welcome."
So we got our room and ordered a pizza for delivery from a nearby Papa John's while we both sat at the bar drinking hard liquor. Gretchen was in a surprisingly decadent mood: she matched me shot for shot. Eventually the old man who had been semi-incompetently tending the bar was replaced by the woman who'd been running the motel desk. She told us about her relationship with the Comfort Inn, which is run by a bunch of Indians (from India). Apparently there isn't much rivalry between the two motels, since the Traveler's Delite only has 12 rooms while the Comfort Inn lacks a bar.
We made the mistake of ordering a pizza with three topping on it. I hadn't really thought about it before, but (as Gretchen pointed out) a pizza parlour can easily rip people off when they order a pie with so many toppings - every additional topping has an additional price, but the pizza people can get by with putting on only a fraction of the usual quantity of each topping. This appeared to be the case with the pie we ordered tonight - I only really remember the banana peppers, though it was supposed to have mushrooms and onions as well. If we'd been smart and told the pizza people how we were on to their classic trick of not putting on as many of each topping when there's more than one, we probably would have gotten an additional secret topping we wouldn't have wanted.
Gretchen and I retreated to our room and ate our pizza, drank Yuengling beers, and watched junky television as the Entertainment Network counted down the last of the 101 Juiciest Hollywood Hookups. It was exactly the kind of programming Gretchen wanted to watch. (I probably would have been happier with the broadcast of Fatal Attraction, but I have seen that movie before.)

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