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
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   church of cards
Saturday, July 4 1998

veryone had to get up early this morning to get ready for the parade. Thom headed out first, of course, since he's a terrible insomniac and needed to help with getting the float driven from Woodlawn to the parade staging area.

By the time Wacky Jen and I were sitting up, the girls (Dawn, Stephanie and Lisa) were nearly finished dressing up in the costumes they intended to wear. They had little flags in their hair, big puffy skirts, and all kinds of red, white and blue. Lisa was wearing a little dress festooned with red, white and blue sequins.

Wacky Jen outfitted herself in a fashion similar to the others, but she also had one of the girls spike up her hair with red, white and blue coloured glue.

I didn't have any provisions for making a costume, but Dawn had a big bag of old clothes left over from the artificial textile golden age. I put on a cream and gold polyester sweater and some glittery silver pants, instantly becoming what Lisa considered a "Mr. Firecracker." To complete the outfit, I modified an antenna headpiece (the sort often worn to Space Parties past) using silver pipe cleaners so that it looked like fireworks tracers were sprouting from my head. Dawn made little hollow pipecleaner stars for me and I attached them to the ends of the tracers. It worked better than expected.

We joined up with a few similarly-attired freaks and weirdos and walked off through parking lots and down alleys toward the parade staging area, illegally gathering flowers as we passed them to add to our costumes. A pair of military jets soared in tight formation low over the city, the roar of their engines terrifying small children patriotically.

When we made it to the float, the "church of cards," we found Franz and Elizabeth from our very own Charlottesville. "Woo-hoo, Virginia!" Elizabeth shouted. This parade had to be good; we'd come a long way.

The church of cards, which represented the so-called, "Westlawn Crusaders" was one of the lead floats, just in front of the "Mothers of Multiples" (it's important in the midwest to celebrate the sows who replenish the heartland). Inside the church was an electric organ (powered by a generator and played by one of the crusaders) and a drum kit (powered by Krazy Thom).


uddenly we were given orders to start moving. Paul, the guy who'd done most of the work building the church of cards, had designed it so that the top of one of its turrets could be removed to fit under a low bridge at the start of the parade route. Once we were past that, Paul's wife (who was driving the truck towing the float) slowly cruised down the avenue past the throngs of people who had come to watch.

The drums and organ musically merged to form a peppy, if somewhat sinister, marching tune. I was told later this tune was loosely based on "We Shall Overcome."

Elizabeth mainly sat on the hood of the truck towing the float, moving her hands almost gothlike to the music. But the rest of us either rode on the float itself or gayly danced around it. We were all full of energy and pumped up on the excitement of the crowd, so dancing came easily.

What a strange, rag-tag ensemble we were! This wasn't the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Fathers of Lost Children, The Boyscouts of America, or the Kiwanis. Our flags were not clean and our logos weren't printed at a graphics studio. It seemed to me at the time that I was participating in the unabashed subversion of the very idea of parades, and it felt wonderful. It was also gratifying to see lots of my musings promotional flyers still up and obviously in view of many an eyeball.

Wacky Jen was the most evangelical among us, urging various bystanders to join the parade. And so they did, all of them freaks like us.

As we neared the end of the parade route, a deluge of rain fell upon us. As hot as we were from dancing, it was anything but uncomfortable.

The only thing I regret from it all was that I missed out on seeing any of the other floats. Perhaps there were other people as subversive as us, but I'll never know.

At this point, Jen and I got separated from Thom, "the Division Street girls," and Elizabeth and Franz. For some reason Jen and I stayed with the float and the Woodlawn gang and didn't go off to do the Krazy Thom fandango.

The ride back to Woodlawn was unexpectedly relaxing. To hang my feet off the edge of the float over the swiftly-moving asphalt, to have the wind blowing hard through my polyester clothes, I felt I could have ridden for 200 miles.


nce we were back at the Woodlawn House, we immediately started ripping the float apart. It was built solidly and didn't go down easily. Crowbars, hammers and brute masculine strength were all very important in this effort.

A little kid named Josh, the son of the guy who'd been playing the church of cards organ, was eager to help out in any way he could, even though he had absolutely no skills whatsoever. He mostly just whanged boards with the hammer at random and had to repeatedly be urged to avoid dangerous piles of naily boards.

Josh looked to be about six years old, and he seemed to have the skills of a six year old, but he was, I learned somewhat later, only four. I guess his tender years accounted for the crying fit he threw when his balloon escaped and wafted high into the sky. He reacted as if a kitten had been hit in the road or something equally tragic. I guess he had big plans for that balloon. No matter what his father said (including an explanation of the inherent mortality of balloons), young Josh could not be consoled.

When most of the float had been deconstructed, the tar paper and small pieces of wood were loaded back on the trailer that had once been the float's base. The plan was to take these random worthless pieces off to a random dumpster somewhere and surreptitiously dispose of them there.

The Woodlawn crusaders worked Jen and me pretty hard. When all the float pieces had been sorted out, they took us around back and had us do similar policing to the chaos in the backyard. By the time we were done with that, we were all completely famished.

But even when urgent biological necessities nag us, nothing happens swiftly on July 4th. Josh's grandparents suddenly materialized, for example, and not only did they have to fuss over their grandson, they had to coochy coo the several random babies also present (I believe these were fathered by Paul, float-builder extraordinaire).

When we finally got to a restaurant, a wholesome family diner called Abe's, I found myself sitting across the table from young Josh, who ordered himself batter-fried chicken, toast and chocolate milk. After a prolonged sip from his glass, Josh indicated to me how much he'd been able to suck up with only one sip: about a tenth of the glass. He sucked again, removing another tenth, and again pointed to his glass, saying he had drunk it all in "only one sip." It didn't do much good to point out that he'd actually taken two sips, since it seemed he was only interested in how much lower the level of the milk had gone since his previous sip. Talking about all this seemed to excite him a great deal, and at one point he gesticulated at his glass with such enthusiasm that he knocked it over. He only managed to rescue about a tenth of what remained. After his dad cleaned it all up, I pointed to Josh's nearly empty glass and said, "See how much you drank with only one sip?" He got a real kick out of that notion, and it seemed to make the disaster of the spilled milk much more bearable.

For my part, I had two Coney Island hot dogs and a hearty pile of fries. I kept them close to my chest lest Josh knock over his replacement chocolate milk.

Back at Woodlawn House, somebody got a case of beer. Wacky Jen and I sat out in the front yard, lethargic from both food and lack of sleep, sipping our beers all by ourselves while the others hung out indoors. Eventually Krazy Thom, Dawn and Stephanie showed up and joined us. Thom was exhausted from lack of sleep and exertion, and he fell completely asleep soon after going horizontal upon the lawn.

While Thom slept, Paul drove the load of scrap wood and a small party of us out to a nearby industrial park. On the way, various pieces of wood fell off and ended up in the road, but the vast majority ended up being split between two dumpsters at the industrial park.





ack at the Division Street Apartment, one of the afternoon's many conversations was one in which Thom and the Division Street girls did their best to convince Wacky Jen and me that everything that's of note in the world came out of the greater Detroit area. The list is fairly impressive:

  • The three major American automobile makers
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Iggy Pop & the Stooges
  • Ted Nugent, "the Motor City Madman"
  • Grand Funk Railroad (okay, so maybe they're not of note)
  • General George Armstrong Custer
  • Malcom X (though it was me who remembered this one)
  • several varieties of Polish ethnic food I'm unfamiliar with. Thom and all the Division street girls are, you see, proud carriers of Polish genes. I've known very few Polish Americans in my life, since I've never lived in the industrial heart of the midwest.

But Detroit isn't especially known for its artists and scientists. I expect some readers will want to correct me on that.

Lisa was to leave tomorrow on a road trip, so she spent considerable time cooking road food in preparation. But when she turned on the oven, a thick cloud of burnt candlewax filled the apartment. Some months ago, it seems, someone had let a candle fall into the stove. We opened windows and turned on fans, but this didn't do much to clear the air. Pretty soon the smoke alarm went off, and none of our fanning and gyrations would make it fall silent. I even used a little draw-string pastel girlie doll flying propeller toy. When we disconnected the alarm speaker, we could still hear the alarm coming from other apartments downstairs. Evidently, the alarm system was on a local network, perhaps a requirement stemming from the presence of an Indian restaurant in the basement. Eventually the smoke cleared, the alarm went quiet, and we could carry on as before.


n the evening, Thom, Jen and I continued our low-key but altogether interesting experience hanging out with the Division Street girls. For awhile Wacky Jen went up on the roof to appreciate the Ann Arbor skyline, dominated by a single high-rise apartment near "the Diag" (a kind of village green). I joined Jen for awhile on the roof and we talked about how frightening it was to imagine someone sitting on the roof of the high rise, dangling his feet off the edge, with a stiff wind at his back. We debated for awhile whether there'd be any chance of survival if someone should fall from that height if they were to land in a tree. Regardless what most people's chances would be, we agreed that Krazy Thom would almost certainly survive such a fall.

The sun was still in the sky, but the clouds and occasional drizzle of the afternoon had been replaced with an unusual chill, the kind that requires sweaters at the minimum. I mean, here it was, July 4th, but it felt like late October. This isn't Virginia, I know, but I hadn't expected the Arctic either.

Dawn made a big pot of homemade split pea soup, which was perfect dinner for both the weather and the ambiance of this particular July 4th evening, especially when combined with broken-up pretzels.

Suddenly the girls got out a tiny little tape recorder and passed out instruments: a penny whistle, a flute, a kiddie metal-tube xylophone, a guitar, and best of all, one of those bloated Yamaha keyboards that can play anything virtually unassisted.

It was at this point that it really sunk in that all these girls were just as weird, random, whimsical and fun-loving as Krazy Thom and Wacky Jen. It's a kind of personality that you don't just see every day, but it seems that when you do encounter it, you find it likes to travel in packs.

The girls began to sing. Well, Lisa and Dawn did, while the somewhat less enthusiastic Stephanie mostly just ran the Yamaha. They had a bunch of songs already semi-rehearsed (including one strongly cautioning against the stylistic abomination known as white leather), but they were open to new ideas, and would go with whatever popped into their minds, exactly in the manner of Krazy Thom last night. Interestingly, Thom himself seemed to have over-extended his creativity last night, and about all he did during this musical extravaganza was play chords on the guitar.

Meanwhile, Jen played along with a flute until her head spun with oxygen deprivation. For my part, I tweeted along on penny whistle, imparting a Muzak quality to the instrumentation. (Later, Lisa lavishly and sincerely praised my musicianship, which was odd but flattering.)

The Division Street girls have decided to call their band "Suckmahoochie."


fter we'd spent many hours hanging out indoors, we decided to hit the streets. I didn't have a sweater, so I borrowed a retro-70s sweater lined with genuine animal fur (not the best outfit decision in this liberal town, but whatever).

We went to some other house occupied by several people including a Persian. The Division Street girls are always talking about their Persian friends, some of whom actually live in their apartment building. I find it somewhat amusing that Iranians in America identify themselves as "Persians" so as to escape the prejudices that attend the word "Iranian." We sat around looking at a bunch of crazy photographs taken of and by and with the Division Street girls.

We all walked down to an ice cream place, and while the others ordered ice cream, I sat and watched people. I wasn't much in the mood for cold sweet food on this chilly night, but Stephanie kept giving me spoons of her overstuffed cone.

A smelly bum came right into the ice cream place and shook a paper cup in my face, saying "Happy Fourth of July." I stared at him in disbelief, and he moved on. He went right up to the counter, and when the counter staff weren't looking, he hassled a guy standing in line, winning a whole dollar for himself. Jen and I were amazed. We figured that if this bum went into every store and did that as well, he could probably afford a nice apartment, and maybe even join the ranks of the moneyed elite. This could make for some interesting conversations, such as "didn't I see you at the country club?"

We kept seeing this bum on the streets even after we'd left the ice cream place. We took a certain pleasure in beating him to the punch on his line, "Happy Fourth of July."

We all bought alcohol down at the "Party Store" (in Michigan, I was surprised to learn, much of the alcohol of all kinds is sold in special stores called "Party Stores" - you can't get it in gas stations though.) I got myself a 40 ounce Schlitz Ice and it cost me well over $2. That's far more expensive than the same purchase made in Virginia, though ten cents of that price was a bottle deposit. The streets of Michigan are littered with lots of crap, but you can't find bottles or cans anywhere; returning them for ten cents each is what keeps many of the Michigan homeless alive.

Back at the Division Street Apartment, as we drank our overpriced party supplies, we watched several short no-budget films on videotape. One of these was about a woman building herself a motorcycle and complaining about the unfairness of congenital male mechanical aptitude, a point that had Wacky Jen nodding her head in ardent agreement. A later film was made by an arrogant friend-of-a-friend and featured lots of scantily clad babes. Not surprisingly, it had a formulaic script designed to appeal to unimaginative gothic dilettantes.

Interestingly, aside from the parade and brief airshow, the city of Ann Arbor did little to celebrate the Fourth of July. The only fireworks, for example, were some large contraband rockets that must have been smuggled from a foreign country (but not Canada).

See pictures of the church of cards and the Ann Arbor parade.


one year ago

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next