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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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Like my brownhouse:
   'leftovers' and a 'puppet show'
Friday, November 27 2009

setting: near Sligo Creek Park, Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland

For lunch Gretchen and I went out with her brother and sister-in-law for lunch in the nearby neighborhood of Takoma Park, ending up at an eatery called Mark's Kitchen. It's a diner-type place, with a warm hearted older waitress who might as well refer to everyone as "hun" even if she doesn't. The coffee is bad, the air is greasy, and the ambience is crowded and bustling. What is odd, though, is the food, which is decidedly Asian (though none of the staff appear to be). There are also a number of American breakfast comfort foods on the menu, though many are offered with a vegetarian or vegan twist. For example, I ordered a tofu club sandwich with avocado and it was delicious.
We'd driven to Tacoma Park in a borrowed Prius, and the dogs were hanging out in the backseat. That would have been fine. It was a cold, sunny day, so we'd left the windows cracked. But then out of nowhere, dark clouds rolled in and a frigid downpour commenced. So I found myself having to run back to the car to roll up the windows. And then later, out came the sun again, and I had to run out to crack the windows again.
We were in the very middle of Takoma Park's central business district, and Gretchen and her brother were getting all nostalgic about what was still there and what had left. The fact that any storefronts at all were available for immediate rent seemed to indicate that the depths of this particular recession are bathyspheric indeed.

As always for the day after Thanksgiving, Gretchen's parents had arranged for their closest family friends to come over for "leftovers." But most of the food from last night had either been eaten or given away, so Gretchen found herself slaving away in the kitchen preparing yet another feast, this one built upon two different kinds of pasta. Neither of us were much in the mood for another night of social eating, but at least it wasn't my job to cook. I thought it might be empathetic to at least hang out with Gretchen, so I holed up in the a shelf-lined cul-du-sac near the stove. Gretchen was using a bottle of riesling to flavor one of the sauces, and we both found ourselves taking big sips of it. Occasionally I'd come out and wash some dishes. My little nephew tried to convince me to go play video games with him at one point, so I used the "Gretchen needs me to help in the kitchen" line as an excuse. (At six years old, my nephew is reasonably handy with the mouse, though he quickly gets lost if he should accidentally click on a background window; he doesn't yet know to use tabs to bring a buried window forward. Gretchen has noticed that parental controls have been installed on her parents' computers, though as far as anyone knows, my nephew's only interest is cars, preferably the kind that talk.)

After the meal, my little nephew, who had been playing in the basement, suddenly announced to those of us not in the basement that a puppet show was about to begin. So we all shuffled down the stairs, Gretchen and I both grabbing a last glass of wine before the craziness. It seems that the kids had all been taken to a puppet show while the parents and, aunt, and uncle (me) had been in Tacoma Park, and they'd been inspired. Child puppeteers included not just my nephew, but his nearly-three-year-old sister, and the seven year old granddaughter of the family friends who had come over for "leftovers." To say that what followed was a puppet show would be too generous, though there was a table covered with a blanket and three kids were under it, loudly arguing about how to proceed. I turned to Gretchen at one point and said, "Line!" as if ventriloquising one of them blanking on a hypothetical script. As it the performance devolved into a show and tell about toy cars, Gretchen and I took the dogs for a walk in Sligo Creek Park.
Later there was a period when just adults were hanging out talking in the living room. Inevitably discussion turned to a Malcom Gladwell book, in this case Outliers. I floated the idea that perhaps the story of Albert Einstein contradicted Gladwell's thesis, which I otherwise consider fairly sound.

As the evening grew late, Gretchen and I slipped upstairs to her parents' teevee room, with its enormous HD television and two oversized reclining chairs. Gretchen poked around through the DVR's menus and found some trashy cop shows to record. At some point the kids (the same three who had given us a "puppet show" arrived. I don't know about the seven year old, but I do know that my little niece and nephew don't get to watch all that much television. This was more exciting for them than it was for us, though what they wanted to watch was Animal Planet. That's not a channel Gretchen watches; she finds it depressing, exploitative, or some combination of the two. So somehow we started watching a musty old version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (one of Gretchen's least favorite Sherlock Holmes stories). As the moody music swelled and a dog bayed across cloudy wind-swept moors, I asked the kids if they liked scary movies. They most emphatically did not. At that point my little niece (who, remember, is still not even three) delivered over a paragraph of information about all the restrictions her "mommy" placed on her teevee watching. Interestingly, "princesses" was among subjects banned. At her age, my niece is evidently not in a rebellious phase, because the way she stated these restrictions was to imply her own whole-hearted concurrence.
It wasn't long before the spookiness or the tedium of The Hound of the Baskervilles caused Gretchen to track down a show more to her liking, one called White Collar, about a house-arrested master criminal in the employ of the FBI. Since the show is mostly about high-end property crimes and the criminals who commit them, Gretchen thought it would be sufficiently non-violent and non-scary for the kids. But the particular episode we were watching featured a scene in the lair of a brutal Asian mob, and our sister-in-law just happened to walk in as the bad guys all pulled out their guns to threaten our hero. This horrified her, and she ordered all three kids into the other room, where she proceeded to subject them to the early-onset-Alzheimer's known as Baby Einstein (which, to the two older kids, must have been an experience akin to being waterboarded).

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