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
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Like my brownhouse:
   Staunton Mall, 2011
Sunday, December 4 2011

location: "Creekside Doublewide," Stingy Hollow Road, south of Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia

I only had two drinks last night, so my stomach was completely back to normal this morning. Despite the time of year, the weather has been reasonably warm and pleasant during my visit so far, and it seemed likely to remain that way today.
Hoagie (my mother) had been talking about wanting a plasma cutter for her welding shop, so today I drove her around looking for one. (Several years ago in a welding class, she had a good experience using a plasma cutter to make a clever statue of a horse.) Though Hoagie was hesitant to allow it, we brought Maple the dog along. She can be nervous when riding in a vehicle and, when younger, had a tendency to vomit. Today, though, she mostly just panted and looked out the window. Our first stop was Lowes and we brought Maple inside with us on a leash. There was a tiny little off leash dog in the self checkout area who charged Maple aggressively. She was taken aback and stressed out enough that she subsequently dropped a couple logs over in Tool World. Hoagie had some tissue paper and was able to scoop up the dog turds, but then she couldn't find a trash can (they facilitate shoplifting). When she asked an employee where she could place it, the employee offered to take it. "Oh God, you really don't want it," said Hoagie. Plasma cutters are expensive somewhat-esoteric devices, and Lowes didn't have one. But we managed to get one for about $850 at Tractor Supply. While we were loading it into a car, an unusually scruffy-looking homeless guy walked up to me and said he was "trying to bum some money for food." "How much are you hoping to bum?" I asked unethusiastically. "Oh maybe ten dollars or so." I ended up giving him five and my mother gave him an additional one. There never used to be bums this far from the center of Staunton. Then again, a bum would look out of place on Beverly Street these days; æsthetically, they make more sense out where pro-growth policies led to check cashing places and Burger Kings.
When we returned to Creekside, I drove directly to the garage and set up the new plasma cutter. It was a little tricky to use, constantly crapping out on me in mid-cut. The key technique proved to be to hold the cutting plasma very close to (but not touching) the surface to be cut, but even then it was difficult for me to make a precise cut. That garage is an unpleasantly cold place at this time of year, and I'm never in there long before I feel chilled to the marrow. Fortunately, today was warm and I could go sit out in the sun dangling me feet off the wooden bridge across Folly Mills and read the plasma cutter's instructional manual. There really wasn't much to know; it's a simple model made by Hobart and has no controls whatsoever.
I drove into town and ended up drinking coffee and eating a bagel at Mugshots (Coffee on the Corner is closed on Sundays in the winter). The place was packed, and after awhile I felt guilty about taking up a whole four-person table, so I left.
I was in a inquisitive mood, so on the way out of town, I took Staunton's most depressing exit, US 11 (aka Greenville Road). After driving past the check cashing places and fast food franchises, I decided to see what the Staunton Mall looks like these days. That mall was an important part of my childhood, both when it was an open-air plaza and then later after it was enclosed in the 1980s. The last time I have any documentation of having gone there was nine days before 9Eleven and, before that, in 1997. Even back then it had been a freak show, and I was curious what ten more years had done to a place so clearly going to seed. I entered the mall through Belk, the anchor store at its north end. Outside of Staunton, I've never heard of Belk, and it never even existed here until the 1990s, so I have to assume it's some sort of obscure regional off-brand. One of many depressing things about the Staunton Mall is that its anchor stores are all either off-brands or brands with dubious distinctions: Belk, something called "Peebles," Gold's Gym, and J.C. Penney (famous for its mom jeans). Even the smaller stores tended to be of franchises I'd never heard of; it was as if the monotony of American consumer culture had come full circle and somehow lead to an age of retail diversity, though of a most unappealing kind. For example, as had been the case many years ago, the only bookstore in the Staunton Mall is a Christian bookstore (that is, a bookstore for people who find books suspicious).
Indoors, I walked the length of the mall and back (it's mostly just a single corridor). There weren't many people in there: a couple guys with an indoor elf railroad and places for kids to have their pictures taken on a costumed pædophile's lap, a few people in what passes for a food court, a couple old people staring past each other in an open square, and some greasy middle-aged mullet-sporting gentleman feeding money hopefully into a claw machine. Though my height is almost precisely average for an American male, most of the people I passed seemed to be shorter than me, with the exception of a woman with an apparent pituitary malady. Every now and then I'd pass a store and see Justin Bieber staring eagerly back at me, and then I'd realize I was looking at his cutout. For some reason his cutout has become an important part of this year's holiday marketing blitz.

On the drive home, I decided to take the long way around the square-mile "block" that includes Creekside and Pileated Peak (but not Muellers' Mountain and my childhood home). This involved continuing on Old Greenville Road past Mill Creek Road through an old apple orchard that had been remade into a residential development during my early years living in Virginia (the late 1970s). In keeping with development standards from that time, the houses are ugly modest-sized brick boxes at the ends of long driveways that often run closely parallel to the driveways of their neighbors (in other words, they could have saved a lot on snow plowing and road maintenance had they decided to share some of the lengths of those driveways).
I took a right onto McPheeters Road, where there has been some recent development during the McMansion Age (1994-2008). The houses here are all big architectural chimeras sitting on large lots devoid of trees. Happily, there are only four or five such houses, and then the landscape turns into exactly what I remember it being back when I was a kid: a jumble of low, steep overgrazed hills. I rode through here many times on a school bus and by bicycle, so going through it years later in my own private car made it seem like a little scale model of how I remember it.
I took another right on Stingy Hollow Road so I could approach my childhood home from the south. There are a couple new houses along this route, and they're all decidedly low-end (either trailers or the nearest things thereto). From there, though, the drive is really beautiful, with the forested cone of Pileated Peak on the right and my father's beloved Folly Mills Marsh on the left.

Tonight I made a pasta stir fry that was mostly Chinese in character, though the noodles were rotini pasta. My brother Don was hanging out with me as I cooked, and since he is the only grown-ass man I know with an interest in 1/6th scale model army men, I thought I'd show him the copy of the movie Marwencol that I have on my netbook. Marwencol, for those who don't remember, is the documentary of a gentleman from Kingston, NY, who experienced a severe beating one night at a bar. Lacking funds for therapy, he built a 1/6th-scale village in his backyard, a fantasy WWII-era Belgium town called Marwencol, a place where he can work out his frustrations and fantasies, occasionally stopping to take beautiful photographs. At some point in the movie, it is revealed that our hero had the shit kicked out of him because he likes to cross dress. While his alcoholism and drawing ability were lost in the beat down, the desire to cross dress remains. As for my brother Don, he has difficulty sitting still for anything that doesn't involve continuous footage of either goose-stepping warriors or bloodthirtsty carnivorous dinosaurs, and he found the non-sixth-scale parts of Marwencol something of a bore. He also complained about the absence of Soviet troops. "It's set in Belgium," I tried to explain, but he was staring into space and muttering quietly to himself.
The food was perhaps a little spicy for Hoagie, but she went back for seconds anyway. By this point Marwencol was over and I tried to interest Don in watching something else. But he's desperately picky. He mostly only wants to watch documentaries on WWII or dinosaurs. Nothing else appeals to him. Or so I thought. I remember him liking horror movies and science fiction only a few years ago, and it turns out he still likes horror, but only if it involves the supernatural. So I began explaining the premise behind Being John Malkovitch in hopes that the weirdnesses of my favorite movie might appeal to him. I was explaining the failed puppeteer getting a job at a peculiar filing business located on the seven and a half floor, and how the puppeteer found a hole in the wall that turned out to be a portal into being a totally different person. That was it, my brother wanted to see it. But again, Being John Malkovitch was too full of nuance and scenes that didn't involve gunfire, and Don wandered off before the puppeteer ever got a chance to have sex with Maxine via Malkovitch's body. Still, all was not lost. Hoagie hung around to watch the whole thing, and I even realized along the way that there is an important similarity between Marwencol and Being John Malkovitch: both involve a protagonist who is skilled at manipulating miniature models of real humans.

Sunset viewed from Creekside (looking southwest).

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