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
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Irving housing

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Like my brownhouse:
   four-person pizza party
Friday, May 24 2024
This morning I was drinking coffee with Crazy Johnny and talking about various house repair headaches, which for Johnny were numerous in his old farmhouse from the 1800s northwest of Washington, DC. My best story from my life was my experience digging out around the southwest corner of the our Hurley house to prevent what turned out to be the slow collapse of the foundation wall under the pressure of poorly-drained water. I hadn't really talked to Crazy Johnny alone before, and he's fun even if he tends to be a bit scattered, constantly opening up conversational parentheticals that might not necessarily close. He also frets too much about unimportant things like whether the coffee he made this morning with our (for him) unfamiliar equipment was too strong or too weak. Later I showed Johnny my laboratory, and he absolutely loved it. When I showed him my collection of cat fur balls, he ran off to get his phone so he could take pictures.
Johnny and Gretchen took the dogs for a walk, and while they were out, Isaac from the Albany roofing company came by to pick up a $14,000 downpayment for two different roofing jobs. He told me that a lot of the slate work his company ends up doing is on church steeples, which checked out.
After Johnny left, I went out on to do a minor landlording chore in the third floor apartment at the Downs Street house. A damn chandelier, one I'd rehung once before, had fallen out of its electrical box and was dangling by its highly-twisted electrical cord. This time, the blue plastic of the box itself had failed, leaving little shards of blue plastic on the threads of the screws that had held it up. Matt, the tenant, helped out as I improvised a solution, which involved sending the weight-resisting screws at weird angles to find structure to burrow into.
After that, I drove out to 9W to see if Lightlife "Smart Bacon" could be bought at the 9W Hannaford (it couldn't it turned out). While in the area, I decided to return to Adam's Fairacre Farms to try again to buy pizza dough. Apparently the Friday before Memorial Day is a particularly bad time to visit Adams, as I was stuck in a traffic jam just trying to find a place to park. Fortunately, this time they had pizza dough, meaning Gretchen wouldn't have to make it from scratch for tonight's dinner activity.
Chrstine, my first cousin once removed, was en route with her boyfriend Andrew from their place in Buffalo. Christine had been planning this trip for weeks, and originally she'd wanted to stay for two nights, something that I managed to wriggle out of (though probably not without pissing her off a little). But Christine and Andrew aren't great guests, and the prospect of planning all the meals and coming up with something to do for both of them for two nights was not something that delighted either Gretchen or me. The main problem is that they're young and perpetually broke, so it's not like they can take us out to a restaurant. Since it would be awkward to go to a restaurant at all, we end up having to prepare all the meals at home for the duration of their visit. That was how the idea for the pizza party came about: we'd each get a lump of dough and make a custom vegan pizza from a selection of toppings. This is something we did once with Powerful, and it went well, so another time not too long ago, Gretchen and I did it just by ourselves.
At some point I discovered that the barrel that collects water from the woodshed roof was empty, so I needed to hook up a hose to the outdoor faucet (which is connected to the house's plumbing) to water the garden. Once I had that set up, I turned on the hose, and it seemed to keep running even though the end of the hose was closed. Where could the water be going? Something made me go down to the basement, where I saw water pouring out from beneath a closet door. I quickly turned off the hose and then went into the closet to see what mess I'd just made for myself. Evidently there was a leak in the pipe supplying the outdoor faucet. That's one of those frost-resistant faucets with a long stopper system designed to stop the water back inside the house where it never freezes. But after Gretchen and I mopped up what we could of the water (which had gotten some things wet but not destroyed anything), I went up in the basement ceiling (through a plumbing repair hole I'd never actually closed) and found that the pipe near the faucet had split open in exactly the way that it does when ice breaks a pipe, but it had done it downstream from the reach of the long stopper. This means we'd apparently left freezable water in the hose a little too late into the Fall.

Christine and Andrew arrived at 7:00pm, and of course the thing they'd brought was a couple half-drunk bottles of liquor [that they would ultimately want to take with them as they were leaving]. They also had a few single cans of soft drink for mixers, though there was also a sugar-free Monster energy drink, which is how Andrew begins his day (as opposed to with coffee). Before we started making the pizza, Gretchen put out a cheese and cracker plate with grape leaves, the latter of which Christine and Andrew were completely unfamiliar with. We also started drinking, mostly from a bottle of Gretchen's Lillet ("They're gonna drink it all!" she whispered to me at one point.)
Christine and Andrew are funny, but conversation with them (especially Christine) mostly consists of her telling stories of how people have wronged her. Often the subject of such stories is her mother, my cousin Carol, who has terrible social skills, hates people, and does things for absurd reasons. One absurd thing she recently did was fly from her home in Fairbanks, Alaska to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she bought both a truck and a trailer that she then used for her annual drive across the lower-48 (one of her stops was my brother's Creekside trailer south of Staunton, Virginia).
Something about Christine and Andrew seems to make them suckers for scams, and they'd been scammed twice recently. Once was by the moving company when she was moving from her house in Paducah, Kentucky to Buffalo to begin her life with Andrew. Once her shit was loaded into the moving van, the movers suddenly slapped her with a bunch of upcharges, claiming (for example) that the furniture was oversized and voids in its space (such as between table legs) could not be used for other items. Since they had her stuff in their truck, she felt like she had to pay these upcharges, which came to over $700. They then ran off with her stuff, storing it for six weeks in a storage unit when all she wanted was to have it taken to Buffalo. Surprisingly, they eventually produced it, but not after first making her pay a storage fee. At every point along the way, she found she was dealing with different companies and subcontractors, so it was hard to figure out who was conducting which fraud. (ChatGPT calls it the "hostage loading scam.")
An even more recent scam came when Christine took her beloved dog Olivia to a Buffalo-area emergency vet for heavy breathing and shortness of breath. The vet there said the dog had a grotesquely enlarged heart and that $1700 was needed. Christine doesn't have that kind of money, probably not even with credit cards, so the best she could do was fork over $1000 for some subset of what needed to be done. But then Olivia recovered spontaneously, and her normal vet could find nothing wrong with her the next day. Meanwhile, the emergency vet is refusing to release the x-rays Christine paid for.

The pizza-making experience went better than expected, mostly because it was possible to bake four different pizzas in our oven. Each couple shared a big pizza pan, and I managed to make my pizza as rectangular as possible so as to maximize my use of the oven real estate. Andrew has almost no experience preparing food, but he did okay by rolling his dough with a rolling pin, as did Christine. We had a lot of good toppings, including tempeh crumble, faux pepperoni, olives, pickled banana peppers, sauteed onions, and sauteed onions with mushrooms. (Christine and Andrew do not like mushrooms, while I'm not a big fan of olives.) We ate our pizza out on the deck, where conditions were reasonably favorable. Chrstine gave us an interesting deep-dive into the crazy fundamentalist religious sect she was raised in (and to which she still belonged all the way through bible college). In that world, rape is always brought on by the temptress nature of women, and men are to be obeyed. (I still find it astounding that my cousin Carol married a man from that world, a horribly abusive kook who continues to ruin the lives of people to this day. But Carol doesn't really understand humans and so apparently lacks the tools for avoiding the bad ones.)

Later we sat around in the living room talking until nearly midnight. Gretchen talked about her recent work training an artificial intelligence to write better poetry and her more recent volunteer working allocating money to desperate women in need of abortion. Andrew works for Cathlolic Charities, mostly on refugee resettlement in the United States, and he says that a lot of his co-workers are, like him, atheists. They mostly support abortion access, as does the local diocese. But as a Catholic organization, it has to be nominally anti-abortion. So this leads to a lot of carefully-worded speech to guide women to non-Catholic organizations that can help them.
Andrew also told us about how he's used artificial intelligence to speed up the production of forms, which otherwise is a highly labor-intensive and error-prone process.

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