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
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Irving housing

got that wrong

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Arduino μcontrollers
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Friday, November 28 2008

setting: Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland

David and Penny slept over last night in Gretchen's brother's old bedroom. But David hadn't been feeling well, suffering from waves of nausea that were making it impossible to enjoy his vacation. By this morning he'd pretty much decided that he and Penny should abort their plans to drive further south. With two doctors in the house, it wasn't hard for David to get a diagnosis for his ills. He'd been taking an anti-inflammatory drug for his elbow (which, because of gout or exertion, had swollen up like something you'd see in a cartoon), and Gretchen's brother thought the nausea was probably a side-effect. After some discussion about perhaps heading down the Delmarva Peninsula (I suggested visiting a Hampton-Roads-area fossil pit I'd been to on a high school field trip back in the 1980s, but sadly the web tells me that it's been closed since 1989.)
This was the day that Gretchen wanted to spend walking slowly through museums. Gretchen is much happier spending time in museums and theaters than I am, and though I indulge her passion for these places, I quickly tire of them. After Penny and David headed off, ultimately for some kind of eastern Pennsylvanian trip, Gretchen and I drove down to the Silver Spring park and ride so we could catch the Metro.
The Park and Ride is in a parking garage, each space of which is equipped with a meter. But this is where things diverge into the nonsensical. Anyone taking a trip on the Metro expects to be gone for several hours, and because the meters only accept coins, this means you have to carry several dollars in coins with you to use them. I don't know about you, but carrying lots of coins is just not something Gretchen or I do. We ended up having to bother some cabbies parked nearby. As it happens, not even cabbies stock all that much in the way of change; we had to ask several before we had the necessary $2, and that was only for three hours.
We took the Red Line down to Chinatown and then set off to find a restaurant. I had a hankering for Indian food, so we tried to go to a well-recommended place, but it had just closed, so we stumbled into nearby Oyamel, but the place had the iodine stink of shrimp, vegetarian options were weak, prices suggested a non-recessionary paradigm, and there was too much fussiness to the process of ordering (always indicated by the waitress asking, "have you dined here before?"). So we ended up in a chain burrito place called California Tortilla. Being a few steps above a Taco Bell, we didn't exactly have the foodie experience Gretchen prefers when traveling. But I was impressed by the collection of salsas and hot sauces available, many of them obscure boutique brands like "Scorned Woman" and even "Colon Cleanser." Speaking of colons, at one point one of the customers behind us asked one of the employees where the restroom/bathroom was, and it was immediately clear that there was a language barrier to be overcome. All Gretchen had to say was "baño" and the confusion evaporated.
The first museum we hit was the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which was running a wonderful exhibit of folk art. I love folk art, because you can never predict what you'll see, and by definition all of it is outside the box. Sure, you have your typical perspective-challenged paintings of farm scenes and villages, but you couldn't have anticipated the glorious altar made mostly from tin foil and burnt-out lightbulbs, James Hampton's only work.
Later we walked to a glorious old Greek temple of a museum that appeared closed. It was the Historical Society of Washington, DC, a museum dedicated to the city's history, and it was open. While the American Art Museum had been crowded (particularly the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit), we were the only ones in this place. Nobody except George Pelecanos cares about the history of DC, apart from how it relates to the history of the country into which it is votelessly embedded. We toured an exhibit documenting the riots of 1968 and, after I couldn't get the movie to start, we went to look at a huge map of the city sealed beneath transparent floor tiles.
So many things had gone wrong on this excursion that we half-expected to find a ticket on our windshield when we got back to the Silver Spring park and ride, but even though the meter had run out of time, our windshield was ticket-free.
Only a few blocks from Gretchen's parents' house is a restaurant called Mrs. K's Tollhouse, in a structure that had once served as an actual toll collection outpost. Nobody in Gretchen's household had ever been inside, partly because of some connection between the owners and the Nazi party (the original German one). But recently it had been sold to a new owner and completely remodeled.
Upstairs, the restaurant looked like a dowdy cream-colored place filled with elderly people cutting steak into bridge-chewable morsels. But a stairway led us down to a glorious basement hewn partially into the bedrock. Where the walls weren't made of stone or brick, they held rack upon rack of wine of all prices and descriptions. The bar was a cozy place and soon we'd ordered glasses of affordable happy hour wine. A guy with a basket of bread kept coming around to offer us tiny fresh-baked loaves. It was a special place, and an unexpected delight to Gretchen. The bartender said that the wine bar has only been open for about eight months and already it's provided a venue for many neighborhood people to meet one another (an otherwise rare event in semi-urban suburbia).
Gretchen got a call on her cellphone from her house; evidently we were late for tonight's dinner. So we headed back and it turned out that it was a proper seder, complete with professional-quality cantoresque singing by my brother-in-law and the saying of the ha motzi by my four point eight year old nephew. There's no getting around it: I married into a family of superjews.
Later there was much playing of guitars, banging on the piano (both tonal and atonal), and endless roughhousing among the children (which included a nearly six year old third generation friend of the family who, though she appeared to be hurtling toward a somewhat premature puberty, had not yet mastered the skill of sitting in a ladylike fashion). Some of this roughhousing involved thousand dollar guitars, something I and others found difficult to watch or countenance.
At some point my father-in-law (who wears a hearing aid) told me about advances in hearing aid design that have allowed auditory specialists to fine tune the devices by simply measuring physical responses made by the ear itself. Similarly, these days an optometrist can mechanically generate an eyeglass prescription using a device that simply analyzes the appearance of the retina viewed through the subject's biological lens.

I should mention that although today was Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of this economically disastrous year, I made zero impulse purchases (unless one were to count the $13 we blew at Mrs. K's). Gretchen and I did see a gentleman on the Metro carrying a freshly-purchased crock pot, which reminded us that I need to keep my eyes open for a crock pot the next time I go yard saling, perhaps next May.

Gretchen pays for three hours of parking at the park and ride in Silver Spring with $2 in scrounged-up coins.

A detail of James Hampton's glorious tin foil altar at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

A Sarah Palinesque diorama at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's folk art exhibit.

Gretchen finds the lifeless Historical Society of Washington, DC building isn't as locked as it looks.

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