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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

got that wrong

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   getting out of a Verizon Store
Saturday, November 19 2011

This morning Gretchen wanted me to come with her on her dog walk so she could show me something interesting. It was a surprise, but not like the time she showed me two dead coyotes arranged as a sick art project in the crotch of a Chestnut Oak. Recently Gretchen has actually been taking the dogs on a short drive to the place she's been hiking. It's on a little private drive northwest of Dug Hill Road called "Lorenz Road." (Google Maps inaccurately labels it "Reichel Road," which is actually the next road south.) Lorenz forks into two halves, with the southernmost fork leading to the large abandoned bluestone mine Gretchen and I have walked to on foot via the farm road. Particularly in deer hunting season (which began today), Gretchen prefers walking that area, because she has never seen evidence of hunters there. Also, at her advanced age, it's easiest to get Sally to walk if she is driven somewhere (no matter how close).
We walked back to the mines, a rock-strewn treeless area roughly ten acres in size, bordered on the north side by a 15 foot manmade bluestone cliff, the old face of the mine. The only other feature of the mine is an anomalous abandoned swimming pool, a big in-ground suburban-style structure. Today, though, as we walked through the mines, I could see, just through the trees, what looked to be the ruins of a house. This wouldn't have been visible a couple weeks ago when more leaves were on the trees. The abandoned house (41.927853N, 74.121709W) was what Gretchen wanted to show me.
It turned out that there were actually two abandoned houses. One was a large mansion, which mostly only existed as a stone-and-mortar foundation, though one wing was entirely intact, complete with a shingled roof, two skylights, and a planked floor. The other was a large house whose roof had rotted through, causing the structure to give way. It was a tangle of lath, risers, studs, tile, shattered glass, and tar paper. You could really see the difference here between the weathering of traditional an modern materials. While the old plaster walls, where they hadn't collapsed, looked like they might be salvaged. But a recent remodeling in drywall looked like it had been finished in rotten cardboard. Though the houses had been successfully evacuated before being abandoned and there were no human valuables inside, they nonetheless contain a surprising amount of salvageable pieces. I'm guessing that the pool, the mansion, and the collapsed building (as well as a third building nearby that was apparently carted away off a set of foundation columns) were the residence attached to the bluestone mine.
In the overgrown "yard" that had once surrounded the houses, someone had dug a number of pits to perform percolation tests. An abandoned bluestone mine adjacent to two ruins is not the most pleasant place to build new houses, but during the recently-collapsed housing bubble, it might have been a brilliant plan.
We lost Sally near the ruins and then, on the walk back to the car, we also lost Eleanor. Sally is deaf and calling for her is futile, but Eleanor wasn't responding to our calls either. I decided to drive back to our house to see if Sally was headed that way down Dug Hill Road.
But no, Sally wasn't back at the house, and when I returned to Lorenz Road, Gretchen still hadn't found Eleanor. So we decided to drive all the way out to the ruins (the road isn't great, but it's possible to do this even in our Civic Hybrid) to look for both of the dogs. And then, not finding them, we drove back to our house again. At this point we were getting a bit desperate, so I drove us to the end of Reichel Road and back (it runs parallel to Lorenz) and, just as I was getting back to Dug Hill Road, I saw a flash of purple, the color of Eleanor's winter jacket. There she was, sitting in the woods, looking forlorn. Evidently she thought she'd been abandoned. Upon seeing our car, I saw a look in her eyes wondering if perhaps these people stopping were nice. I called out to her and her frown turned upside down. She came charging at the car and leaped in across my lap.
Sally was still missing, of course. We assumed she was probably finding some alternate way home, but she's so old and addled we couldn't be sure of anything. We headed home and waited about twenty minutes before driving around again (this time in the Subaru). We went up and down Dug Hill Road and then drove down the Farm Road (near our house). We were less than a quarter mile down it when we saw Sally coming our way. Again, she looked first perplexed at the presence of a car and then excited as I opened the door. Like Eleanor, she leaped in (but, being old and arthritic, she needed help). This was, by the way, the first time we'd ever felt the need to send out search parties looking for two dogs.

This evening Gretchen needed to get some baking supplies from Mother Earth's Storehouse and, while she was out, she also wanted to get an Android smart phone to replace her old stupid phone. She wanted to make a night of it: I'd help her with shopping and getting the phone, and then we'd go have a semi-ironic dinner at the Olive Garden (all these places are together in King's Mall, a particularly-dreary 1970s-era shopping plaza).
We got to Mother Earth's and found it had just closed, but the Verizon Store was still open. The Verizon Store is definitely trying to cultivate a hip Apple Store kind of vibe, though the customers at an Apple Store don't look like they eat so much meat and potatoes. And the employees have, one hopes, sweeter-smelling breath.
Our particular employee, Rick, was a thin little man no taller than five feet two inches and a transparent salesmanly vibe. He did, however, convince us that 3G phone with a dual processor was better than a 4G phone without. And once he showed us the power of the phone's speech-to-text capability, Gretchen decided she could do without a physical keyboard. So we decided to go with the Droid X2.
At that point, unfortunately, the upselling began. Rick wanted to interest us in perhaps also getting a tablet (no, I said, if my wife wants a tablet, she can always borrow my iPad). Not getting a tablet is pretty normal for the often financially-marginal customers of the Verizon Store. Far less normal is getting out of there without buying a car adapter, the little rubber protector that goes around the phone, or the little plastic sheets that go over the glass. The phone itself is sold at a loss, but the real profit comes from selling these extras ($12 pack of glass cover protector sheets — really?). When I saw the absurd prices being charged for them, I shot Gretchen a negatory look. We played hardball with Rick and decided not to get any of the extras. At that point, the manager came over and asked us how we liked working with Rick. Gretchen said that he was nice enough but he was giving us a bit too much of the hard sale. She apologized and said that the employees usually try to feel things out to see if they should or shouldn't do that. But then she, the manager, gave us essentially the same hard sale. She stressed that she didn't like selling a "naked phone," that it was really a $500 device and she'd hate for us to accidentally break it while waiting to get a protective case from a cheaper venue. She offered us an even deeper discount than Rick had, but still we wouldn't budge. Still, it was like trying to buy something at Best Buy without getting an extended warranty. The manager even tried to appeal to our community spirit by urging us to "buy local" (as if anything about a Verizon Store can ever be local in any way). At some point I made the observation that I hadn't expected to be haggling at a Verizon Store and that reminded me of a Turkish Bazaar. Eventually, though, the manager broke us by offering 50% off on a bluetooth headphone and 40% off on both the case and glass protector sheets. At that point it was easier to just buy these extras than trying to find them from a separate, cheaper source.

We ended up having a great meal at the Olive Garden. We both got different vegan pasta-and-tomato-sauce dishes, I had the minestrone soup, and Gretchen had the salad (and we both got refills). And my "Italian margarita" came with a shot of amaretto on the side. We kept joking about how much the place reminded us of our trip to Tuscany, which was all the more absurd given all the pasty land whales in the other booths and the glowing Bed Bath and Beyond sign shining through the window.
Our final destination for the night was Hannaford, where Gretchen managed to find all the baking goods she'd hoped to buy at Mother Earth's Storehouse. But when we got back to our car, we found that Sally had shamelessly eaten all of the Olive Garden pasta we'd hoped to snack on tomorrow.

Playing around with Gretchen's new Droid, I was impressed by its responsiveness and the quality of its apps, particularly one designed to provide GPS functionality. What's the point of having dashboard GPS when most people these days have a smartphone with much better navigational capability?

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