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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:
   Darting back to Charlottesville
Sunday, March 1 1998

place: Malvern, Pennsylvania


ara Poiron (dressed in a long transparent skirt with nothing much on underneath) chatted with me in her typical manner as I fussed over my car. She was temporarily fascinated by my revulsion with the line "everybody needs a bosom for a pillow" (it's from a reggæesque pop song), and she even found a bosom metaphor under the hood of my Dart. I was creeping around with a grease gun, and she was horrified by the transluscent sluglike excretions it was producing.

I went to start my car, but it couldn't idle no matter what I did. Last night I'd had my doubts I'd even make it to Malvern, let alone back to Charlottesville. Now it seemed I really was stuck, unless I could master the black magic under my hood.

Teri, Jessika's mother, came out to have a look. She's had a little experience with ancient cars and provided some advice. But the situation looked and sounded pretty bleak. I could get the engine to idle after a fashion, but it did so extremely roughly and usually stalled the moment I gave it a little gas. We decided to make a trip down to the Paoli Pep Boys to get some spark plugs and a new air filter.

One of the many life lessons of this particular trip to Malvernia was that auto parts people really aren't very smart. We got all the way back to the Dart with a set of six new spark plugs and two different kinds of air filters before I realized there was no way in hell those plugs were going to fit my engine. They were metric for one thing.

We were joined on our second Pep Boys run by Jessika, and we stopped on the way back at Balled Andy's new place. As you may recall, he was evicted from his home in a Malvern garage at the beginning of January. Now he lives in a tiny two story dwelling in Paoli's commercial district. It's a cute little house, but I wouldn't say it looks like a good deal. He's got no yard at all and only about 600 square feet of space, but he's paying $600 per month rent. The floorplan of his house prevents him from having any housemate who values personal privacy.

As I installed the new spark plugs, I set their points by pressing them against a telephone pole. Lucky for me I happened to have my feeler gauge with me.

When I started up my Dart with all its fresh new equipment, it performed even worse than before. I was nearing the end of my rope, but like Homer Simpson in a traffic jam, I still had an ace up my sleeve.

I knew that one of the spark plug wires was in bad shape. It had pulled loose from the connector that attaches to the ass end of the spark plug, and I'd improvised a repair. I decided to rework my improvisation, and this time success was had. My Dart roared to life with an unwavering smoothness that it's never before exhibited. It seems that a bad spark plug connection leaves a secondary spark gap, which in turn affects timing. One thing that had tipped me off about this particular bad connection was that when I disconnected the wire entirely, the engine had actually performed better than with it attached; it was making the piston fire at such an inopportune moment that it was weakening the engine's output.


y this point Jessika had been joined by her childhood friend Jody (from just down the street) who was there to say goodbye. To me, it felt like I was just visiting Jessika like I have done zillions of times before. I didn't yet have the sense that I was picking up a housemate. To the others, Jessika was leaving. Moving out is a big deal to most people. They go through crazy ritualistic gymnastics at such times, even though this wasn't exactly the first time Jessika had moved out.

I was so excited that the Dart was finally working, I took Jody and Jessika for a big drive "around the block."

Since the car was finally behaving itself, the unease lifted, and we started packing it with Jessika's stuff. She was trying to travel lightly, but somehow she managed to assemble a whole car load of "necessities."

We then sat around waiting for Johnny Boom Boom to come over with the $25 he owes Jessika. Johnny normally doesn't get up until late in the afternoon, and waiting for him is always a form of torture. Let's just say, when you're waiting for Johnny, you don't want the cab's meter a'running.

In this case, actually, the meter was kind of running. It was afternoon and the sun was already swinging low in the west. I didn't want our ride to take place entirely at night, not with the Dart's performance as sketchy as it has been. So we decided to go to Johnny's house and pick up the money ourselves.

When we got there, Johnny was, as usual, in his room with the door shut. Also, as usual, he told us he'd be out "in just a few seconds." "A few seconds" to Johnny Boom Boom is an eternity to anyone else, and I grew uncomfortable and restless (as I always become at Johnny's house). My impatience telegraphed to Jessika, who pleaded for him to come out, asking "why do you always like to make people wait?"

But Johnny wouldn't come out. He contended that he was busy changing a light bulb, and we'd have to wait until he was through. Johnny is Obsessive-Compulsive, and things have to follow their scheduled order or he goes nuts. There was no way in hell he was going to interrupt his light bulb changing to open the door, even if it took him a half hour to change that bulb. And every little task takes Johnny ten times as much time as it takes anyone else. I had to go outside. I had my own neuroses to deal with, and mine seemed a lot more legitimate than Johnny's.

Somehow we managed to get out of Johnny's house with only about fifteen minutes wasted. I was amazed. I half-expected this ordeal of the light bulb and the closed door to stretch well into the night.


ith no further errands to hamper our progress, we headed west on US-30. The car was performing flawlessly, and I was a little giddy with joy that everything seemed to have worked itself out.

I got on state route 10 and headed the Dart south-westward through a zone of hard core Pennysylvania agriculture. We were on the fringe of Pennsylvania's Amish country and even saw a horse-drawn buggy. There are a few cute little towns out there; Oxford struck us as particularly quaint. I saw a group of young black kids on bicycles and told Jessika, "look, black Amish people!"

In Oxford, route 10 died away, and we found ourselves on much smaller roads. I didn't really know where I was going, so I always chose to go south at every junction. We ended up backtracking significantly eastward. Had we managed to go due south from Oxford, we would have hit I-95 somewhere near the Susquehanna in Maryland, but instead we ended up some 30 miles to the east near Delaware. But at least we'd completely avoided the Delaware turnpike and the humiliation of having to drive through a tiny little state nourished by the value of dynamite.

Southeastward on I-95, we stopped in a little town south of Baltimore called Dorsey to give the car a break. We wandered around in a strange little disembodied food court, much like one you'd find at a mall. It had several fast food restaurant stands set up around a court, but there was no mall feeding into it. We bought various forms of junk food and continued on.


t wasn't until I-66 west of DC that my car started showing trouble again. It was doing that sputtering thing from yesterday, but other than that it was moving along just fine. But it was enough of a distraction that I missed the last US-29 exit and started heading into the Blue Ridge Mountains before I caught myself and made a U-turn in one of those "authorized vehicle only" places. We got gas and beer in Haymarket, and I fiddled some with the spark plug wires. The car behaved itself for most of the drive from there, enough so that I felt confident enough to drink two beers on the way, chucking the cans out the window when they were empty. Jessika called this technique "Hayduke Stylee" after one of the protagonists in Ed Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, which she's been reading. I'd forgotten that Hayduke measured traveling distance by the number of cans he threw out the window.

Every now and then along the way, I'd mention to Jessika what we'd do if we should break down. When we were out of Teri Flint's protective umbrella (30 miles from Malvern, she said), I'd said we were on our own. When we'd punched down to within 40 miles of Charlottesville, I pointed out that we were within range for Deya to save us should the car break down. Jessika was dismayed by my pessimism. She had far more confidence in the Dart than she had any reason to. To her the Dart was another living breathing being that had our best interests foremost in its thoughts. On JPA, though, she joked that we could just walk home if we got in trouble. At that point the car stalled and had to be restarted. She didn't say any more for the last several hundred feet of the ride.


eya, Nicholas the Cat and Wilbur the Cockatiel were hanging out as usual when we came through the door. All was well at Kappa Mutha Fucka, and Matthew Hart and Angela were completely moved out. We downed a few beers, drank some Sambuca (a licorice-flavoured liquor), and watched premium cable teevee. It didn't take Jessika long to move all her crap into her new room.

I don't think words can express how surprised I was that the Dart had completed this adventure. Yesterday I'd been kicking myself for my stupidity, but today I felt like I'd won some kind of bet.

one year ago

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