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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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   defensive driving alone time
Friday, June 6 2008
Gretchen somehow convinced me to attend a defensive driving class today so I would be gone from the house from 9am until 3pm. The ostensible reason for my taking the class was to trim our automotive insurance rate, but my absence for an entire day would also be a big plus.
So there I was, driving across the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge on my way to Bard College. I wasn't even wearing a seat belt, but at least I wasn't driving like an asshole.
The class was held in the student center of Bard College and was attended mostly by Bard students with campus jobs and scruffy older Bard employees, all of whom are required to take the class every three years in order to continue operating Bard vehicles. There were a smattering of others as well, mostly folks who had lots of points on their records who needed a way to get rid of them. Six hours sitting in a movie theatre watching grainy old defensive driving videos is enough punishment that it automatically deducts four demerit points from your driving record.
I was nervous that the instructor would be a total bore, but this guy was animated enough to maintain my interest, even if the subject matter was a complete rehash of what amounts to vehicular common sense. In this way, the ordeal reminded me of a Passover seder: a ritual of information sharing to be endured on a regular basis as part of the price for being a member of the community.
As it had been during grade school, the highlights of today's ordeal came in the form of video. The lights would dim and we could sit back and enjoy goofy little dramas designed to teach us about such things as the difference between ABS and non-ABS brakes. The one about ABS brakes was done in the style of a hard boiled murder mystery and featured a heroine named Shirley Taken (a setup for "You must be mistaken!").
More funny than the otherwise groan-inducing attempts at humor was how dated the videos were. They all dated from the 1980s and it's amazing how long ago that period looks now. It wasn't just the angular flatness of the cars and the bigness of the hair; ties had tiny knots but otherwise seemed excessively wide while shirt collars seemed to protrude unexpectedly high and with uncomfortable stiffness out of sports coats. I was a teenager during the 1980s, so though weird and remote, depictions of things from that period don't seem entirely irrelevant to my world. But what about younger people? You would think a defensive driving program would want to stay relevant, but continuing to use 25 year old videos is surrender to irrelevance.
We had several breaks during the day's class, enough for me to keep abreast of news developments from an internet workstation out in the lounge. Evidently, though, we'd actually been given fewer breaks than are normally permitted, and this allowed our instructor to end the class a little after 1pm, nearly two hours early. But I didn't head home immediately, stopping at four different places along 9W first.

For our ritual pizza and beer night, we had six people over, although one of these was only seven years old (for some reason kids that age only eat plain cheese pizza). Aside from our neighbor Andrea, the people over tonight were from connections made by Gretchen through Bard College. One couple consisted of Kevin and Akima, who are living in Hudson but looking for a new life, perhaps in Philadelphia. Kevin is a graffiti artist and breakdance instructor/performer. He and I got along unusually well; after dinner our group went for the obligatory evening stroll in the forest and Kevin and I got to talking about architecture and the integration of buildings into landscapes.
Later we all went on a tour of the laboratory, and four of us made it up to the solar deck (it was the first time a child had ever been on it). The process of climbing up to and down from the solar deck reminded him of his early days as a graffiti artist, when he'd be hanging off some structure hurriedly trying to paint something that would look good from the street.

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