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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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   Charlottesville's Dogwood Festival
Tuesday, April 21 1998

  rode my bicycle to the Downtown Mall to get the rest of my payment for the sale of the painting Spook Central. On the way, some guy in a scratchably shiny black Toyota hollered an aggressive insult. He was, no doubt, a chunk of the shit these musings are forever stirring up. Let's keep stirring, folks. There's a diamond ring down there somewhere.

At the Downtown Artspace, I came across Nikolai, and he invited me out to smoke a cigarette. It was another of those crisp clear sunny April days, and the mall was filled with relaxed pedestrian traffic. Nikolai knew a fair proportion of these people, and, in his unique affably aggressive outgoing way, he would recruit them to come down and look at the art. This show has been good for him; he's sold about a dozen works and is so unexpectedly rich that he can afford to wire his absentee girlfriend a spare hundred.

While we stood there, a fellow local online journal keeper named Wendy introduced herself. We've corresponded a few times, but we'd never met in the real world before (though we have been in the same room on occasion). She had this unusual style about her, little and thin and today she wore bright green and pink clothes and retro eyeglasses. She tooted on a kazoo as a form of conversational punctuation, twisting names into uncomplimentary phrases that sounded similar. For example, Nikolai became E. coli.

Jen paid me off what she owed me and then we went to Higher Grounds for a cup of coffee. I hung out for awhile in the Artspace, especially when it seemed that Nikolai had managed to interest a UVA English professor in my painting Toby Far Afield.


ack at Kappa Mutha Fucka, Jessika and I put together some very spicy, peculiar spaghetti. When I say peculiar, I mean it had tahini and cinnamon in it. Jessika thinks I'm weird for eating salsa sandwiches, but hell, she eats frozen vegetables right out of the bag and cooks with tahini and cinnamon . We made some extra spaghetti for Deya, but then realized quickly that she'd never be able to choke down anything like that.

Morgan Anarchy came over, and we all made plans to go to the Dogwood Festival, a multi-day fair over in Charlottesville's Macintire Park. Today you could ride all the rides for one lump fee, though we soon learned (from Wacky Jen of course) that the one price was $10 each. That's a lot of dough.

Deya was sleeping or something, so Morgan and Jessika rode with me in the Dodge Dart. Morgan had bought a 12 pack of Löwenbraü and he brought those that remained with him.


t Macintire midway, we killed off our beers and grabbed another for the midway. The place was overrun with young people. They all looked remarkably similar, which is to say they looked like youthful redneck types, not the kind you see on the Downtown Mall. I think, though, that I saw Leslie Tapeworm at one point, which is appropriate since she is pretty much a redneck. She didn't notice me, though, which was good.

We ate some hotdogs and considered whether or not we should buy some tickets. We couldn't really afford any; none of us have jobs after all. We noticed that those who had paid $10 for "all you can eat" rides wore pink arm bands. If only we could get three of those...

We went to the parking lot, hoping we could catch someone on his way out and maybe buy an armband. Some daddy with two kids looked at us suspiciously when we approached him, so we decided not to ask. That's when I found an armband just lying on the ground. Then another, then another! We all had armbands, but they were all wrinkled and fucked-up looking. They'd need tape or something to make them stay around our arms. So back in my car I rooted around found just the thing, an old "Bob Goodlatte, Republican, for U.S. Representative" bumper sticker. I tore it into little pieces and attached our armbands. If your vision wasn't too good, they looked almost legitimate. They worked just fine for all the rides we saw fit to try.

The first ride we got on was the High Roller. Picture a simple little roller coaster train going round and round on an oval, vertical track. Now picture the track itself being spun on its axis. That's the High Roller. It didn't go too high or too fast, but it looked weird, like something creepy you'd behold on a bad acid trip. Jessika and I got in one car, Morgan and some goth dude (we'd run across Gopahl and a happy herd of familiar goths) climbed into another. I made the mistake of carrying my partly-drunk Löwenbraü with me in my pocket, and once we got going, despite my trying to seal the thing with my thumb, the beer went everywhere. We got centrifuged in all kinds of different ways: forwards, backwards and especially sideways. It was a good ride, except the view was shitty.

The second ride was the Skymaster, run by two guys, one of whom resembled Hapless Mike ("Skymaster Mike" has cool ring about it, huh?). In the Skymaster, people ride in a car that sits fixed at the end of a long arm that pivots several dozen feet above the ground. The arm can go in a complete 360 degree turn, and when it's as high as it goes, the passengers are completely upside down. It had a way of just lingering in this vertical position, then careening downward with alarming speed. I wanted to "stop the ride and get out" the moment I lost my keys. I'm sure those operators make good tips from the pocket change the Skymaster shakes loose from joyous children. I rode with Jessika, and before the ride began, the teenage girls in front of us had an obnoxious conversation through us with the teenage boys behind us. "Do you spit or do you swallow?" was one of the things said.

The third ride was The Zipper. It had the most complicated mechanism of all. Individual cars were carried in a long narrow ovoid revolution by a conveyor belt-type mechanism. The cars were free to revolve passively on their own independent horizontal pivot points; and riders could add their own power to these revolutions. Once the cars got up to speed, the center of the conveyor track would itself be spun in a huge vertical circle. The forces acting on people in the individual cars were so chaotic that this ride, more than any other, challenged the sense of predictable force that we normally take for granted.

We were somewhat disoriented after the Zipper, just standing around in front of it chatting with one of the heavily-spiked goth dudes. Nearby we saw some especially tiny kids riding with their parents on the "Space Train," a tranquil little train that went round and round on a small oval track. The picture on the front of the ride depicted little guys in space suits riding off on some sort of space commute. The rest of the evening, I used "Spacetrain" as a term meaning a ride which I considered lame.

Jessika sat out for the fourth ride, the Scat. It was a relatively simple device; two bowl-shaped cars, each on their own vertical axis, were spun additionally around an another vertical axis between the two, sort of like two quickly-rotating hollow planets rapidly orbiting one another. Everyone faces each other in both bowls; it's more social than most rides. Morgan and I were far and away the oldest people boarding. Two boys, maybe 12 years old, were either side of me. They asked if I was drunk, saying I smelled like beer. When I told them about my little mistake of smuggling a beer aboard the High Roller, they acted like they thought I was pretty cool. Once the ride got going, I made a few attempts to defy the incredible centrifugal forces pushing my back into the cushion behind me, but I gave up when I feared I might rupture something. When I got off, I felt unstable on my feet. Human centrifuges aren't especially exciting, but they leave lingering effects.

Jessika billed the final ride as "the scariest of them all." It was the carrousel, with plastic horses and a completely mechanical music box (little drums on either side of it were pounded by automated drum sticks) plinking and tooting continuously. There really is something kind of scary about a carrousel that the macho g-force rides lack, though I can't put my finger on exactly what that is. Jessika seemed to think the little grinning clown faces all around the middle of the wheel had something to do with it.

There's something wonderfully primitive about circus rides. They're creaky, well used, and since they probably aren't inspected very often or thoroughly, they seem to have a real potential for danger. Yet they're run by people at the fringe of our society (many of whom smoke pot, no doubt). They're an anachronism in this country, where even the most improbable dangers are suppressed in the name of public safety (and for fear of litigation).


hen Jessika, Morgan and I returned to Kappa Mutha Fucka, Deya was wondering what had become of us. She ended up going out with Wacky Jen to the Outback Lodge on the off chance that they'd get to see Nikolai perform. Meanwhile, we who had been on the rides watched Loveline on MTV. Like most things on MTV, it was mostly advertisements.

one year ago

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