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:
   vast growing haystack of noise
Friday, January 11 2008

setting: rural Augusta County near Staunton, Virginia

Today was the day Gretchen and I would be driving back to Hurley, so before I left I wanted to gather some of my old things I'd developed a need for since last time I visited. Some months ago I began consolidating a huge archive of classic Macintosh software I'd collected in the early 1990s (mostly from computer centers on various college campuses in Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania). I'd realized, though, that I didn't have nearly all my old Mac disks, so today I wanted to obtain the rest of them. A large motherload of them were easily found near the Windows workstation in the Shaque, but I knew somewhere in the house was an additional cardboard box of them.
So I went looking. Mind you, the house has changed since I squirreled those disks away back in, I don't know, 1995. A few years ago the nasty old shag carpet was ripped up and replaced with hardwood floors and a lot of things found their way into a set of large plastic bins out on the porch that have never been moved back in. I went spelunking under the coffee table (where I'd originally hidden the disks) but there was nothing of value under there. I mean, there was nothing. This is not to say that there was the vacuum of intergalactic space under there; instead it was completely occupied by the accumulated strata of years of junk mail and magazines, paper that no human eyes will gaze upon again. Any paper that comes into the house in the form of junk mail or mailings ends up in places like this or on the paper stalagmites stretching ceilingward, and gradually the meagre space of the house (which is only 700 square feet in size) is choked away, leaving narrow paths among the paper pillars. It's a sad cat-lady end for my parents, and (as with all cat ladies), they see nothing the least bit wrong with it. The chaos and clutter around them snuck up on them gradually, beginning as a simple lack of tidyness. Most of it comes from my mother, but my father has been like a frog in a gradually-heated frying pan about it. He sees nothing abnormal, but I see it in snapshots spaced apart by a year or so and to me it's grotesque. In the past I've suggested throwing away some of the old catalogs just to open up some room and my mother has literally screamed at me to stop bugging her. She doesn't want me to throw anything away for fear she'll lose something "impahwtant." But she won't take the time to go through the clutter herself either, and so it accumulates. Layers of new paper gradually conceal the few things that are "impahwtant" and they're lost forever. A few glittering needles of signal are loss in a vast growing haystack of noise.
In the end my search yielded nothing but a glum feeling. This was compounded by my mother's reaction to a polite suggestion that she "could really benefit from a home organizer." "DON'T BUG ME!" she screamed, but this reaction even seemed to shock her and she calmed down immediately.
As I walked back to Creekside empty-handed, I found myself wondering about my parents' decisionmaking abilities. In the past I had complete faith in them, but over the years I've come to see them as unnecessarily stubburn and dogmatic. And on this trip I've come to realize that my mother's reluctance to discuss anything contentious or stressful ("soah points") has led her to repeatedly kick a large number of issues down the road, never really addressing them. Take my psychotic brother for example. What the hell am I going to do with him after my parents croak? This has never been discussed, and I'm sure my mother's will hasn't been updated since he first went psycho back in 1985, so when she dies I'll be forced to sell the farm and spend down his inheritance to pay for his upkeep, because (under the rules of his particular federal assistance program) he cannot receive his monthly checks if he has more than a token amount of assets. Then there's the issue of how my brother is being treated for his mental problems. For some reason my mother is very much against anti-psychotic medication and chooses to treat my brother with vitamin supplements instead. (I suspect this is because she hasn't been keeping up with advances in medicine and thinks antipsychotic medications remain unchanged since last she studied them in the early 1970s.) My mother has been dispensing vitamins to Don for many years and I think the evidence is in: they don't really seem to work. Twenty of my brother's best years have passed and she and my father are content to let him be Staunton's muttering town crazy, walking in twice a week to blow his allowance on cheeseburgers, plastic models, and books about dinosaurs and dictators.

We gathered our things, packed up the dogs and the Baby and hit the road. I modified the usual route back to Hurley, this time going through Philadelphia instead of Scranton [though now I see that Google maps suggests going through Allentown]. We didn't encounter any bad weather conditions or traffic, but still the trip took eight long hours. Eventually we had to stop for road food at the Burger King at the last rest area in New Jersey on the Garden State Parkway. The BK Veggie is a perfectly good sandwich, although I don't get the feeling this particular Burger King sells all that many of them.
For most of the ride (down to Maryland, over to Staunton, and back to Hurley) we listened to archives of This American Life. I'd heard them all before, but most of it was new to Gretchen.

The source of so much conflict, Bob's Auto Body at "Creekside Manor," now a near-ruin owned by the people it once made miserable.

It's strange to look back at my childhood home from this perspective.

The last owner was named Shifflett, about as redneck as a surname gets (there are several different spellings, leading me to wonder if, when an enlightened Shifflet marries a Shifflett, the resulting name ends up Shifflet-Shifflett).

Gretchen with the dogs (Sally, left and Eleanor, right) on the floodplain behind the Creekside Trailer.

Gretchen with the Baby (aka Marie) and the two dogs Eleanor and Sally.

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