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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:
   through snowsqualls to Batavia
Thursday, February 5 2015

location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York

Gretchen is working on a new collection of poems, this time inspired by her work in the New York State prison system (and perhaps also the Ulster County jail system). As part of the research for the collection (and, yes, research is occasionally necessary for poetry), she wanted to interview a prisoner at Attica in Western New York. Josh, the prisoner in question, had been one of her star students in the Bard Prison Initiative, but he'd gotten into trouble related to unauthorized computer use. (He'd found a way to hide music files on parts of a server or workstation file system that he shouldn't have had access to.) As a consequence, Josh was thrown into solitary confinement, and eventually moved to Attica, which is one of the places where the worst of the worst in New York's correctional system end up. [REDACTED]
Gretchen had made arrangements to visit her former student on Friday, and since Attica is so far away, she'd decided to make an overnight trip of it. I'd agreed to come along, and we'd even be bringing our dogs Ramona and Eleanor. This morning, I filled the woodstove with wood, cranked the air supply back to minimum, and raised the thermostats in two of the household zones to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the cats. Then off we went, heading north to Albany and then west to Syracuse across an intrastate vastness unusual on the east coast. There's a small "fast casual" vegan eatery called the Strong Hearts Café that had delighted us on our way both to and from Buffalo back in May of 2010. So that was where we went for lunch in Syracuse. I got a bowl of delicious two-bean, pasta, and tomnato soup (it was too green-peppery for Gretchen) as well as a cajun seitan sandwich and a big cup of coffee, my first caffeine since Saturday. Gretchen's sandwich a big goopier. They seem to use a lot of vegan mayonaisse at Strong Hearts, which works in some things better than others.
Eleanor hadn't pooped since we'd left Hurley, so I ran her around the huge traffic island (which is more of city park) in the street out in front of Strong Hearts, but she just wouldn't do it. Fortunately, Gretchen had scheduled a visit to Wegmans Good Dog Park outside Syracuse. I don't know how good a dog has to be to use the park, but it was miserable bleak day with face-numbing wind and eight or more inches of fine, dry snow, so it was no surprise that the only other people at the park were grounds maintenance workers, the kind of people who don't care if dogs are off-leash outside the confines of the dog park itself. Our dogs ran around the park and investigated the many agility-training obstacles (some of which shelted spots of precious snow-free ground). Eleanor took two enormous shits while we were there, which made us feel much better when we hit the road again.
West of Syracuse, we drove through a series of small local snowsqualls falling from dark low-hanging clouds. I took these to be the engines of lake effect snow that give the Syracuse-Buffalo area its uniquely snowy climate. Perhaps because the area gets so much snow, locals and municipalities appear to be more comfortable with it. For example, several streets in Syracuse were covered with heavily-compacted slush and snow that nobody seemed to be in a particular hurry to plow out of the way. And drivers drove across it as through it was asphalt.
Our destination tonight was the Clarion Hotel in Batavia. It's dog friendly and has an indoor waterpark, our only chance of bathing in warm water in the entire region around Attica. We checked in and let our dogs in through a side door (off leash, as always) and of course they immediately mobbed a housekeeper. But she was delighted, saying it didn't even matter to her if they pissed on the carpet. We knew right away we were going to like staying at the Clarion. You can say what you want about big impersonal chain hotels in flyover country, but those tend to be our favorite places to stay.
Our room had a teevee and two smallish beds. I immediately started drinking scotch, because, hell, I was on vacation. Eventually we decided to go down to the indoor waterpark, because that was part of the reason we'd chosen the Clarion to begin with. It cost extra, but for some reason our room had cost $30 less than expected.
When we arrived ,the indoor waterpark was mobbed with prepubescent children. There was some sort of event happening that had brought all these kids to the park, and though that sort of sucked, it turned out that the park would have otherwise been closed. The place was mobbed with scrawny children and their (for the most part) ponderous semi-tattooed parents. Most of them looked to represent the white working class of nearby rust-belt cities. Perhaps as a compensation for the failures of its dream, America is a deeply-obese place, and the demographic visible in this waterpark showcased it in something approaching a statistically-solid sample. There was a snackbar attached to the waterpark, and it seemed to draw the more shamelessly-heavy of the park's patrons. There was the fat woman eating nachos and the gentleman whom Gretchen witnessed chasing a hamburger with a hotdog. After stripping down to our swimsuits, we went up several flights of stairs to the entrance of a pair of waterslide tubes that went out into the outdoors, wriggled back and forth and spiraled around down to the waterpark's mainspace, where they ended in a series of splashdown trenches. An employee at the top only allowed people into the tubes if they were at least forty two inches tall and if the traffic light at the entrance indicated that nobody was in the tube. Gretchen took the fast slide and I took the supposedly slower one. Though the feeling of being whipped around helplessly by gravity in a wet curving tube is not really to my liking, I was willing to do it once. After that, we tried out the hot tub lagoon, which wasn't nearly hot enough and contained a great number of small white children in close proximity. Eventually we'd had enough and headed back to our room.
When we stay in hotels, a tradition that we've developed requires us to order Chinese food and have it delivered. Unfortunately, Panda, the one Chinese restaurant in the area, did not deliver, so I set out in the Prius to fetch it after Gretchen ordered it. Gretchen had recently installed the windshield suction-cup gizmo, so I had head-up navigation to help me get there. It might seem like a small thing to just put the navigation in an easy place glance at it, but it makes a huge difference in its ease-of-use. For some reason, though, I couldn't find a feature to reverse directions for the drive back to the hotel. Luckily, though, I'd remembered that we were staying at the Clarion in Batavia.
Our expectations are never great for random Chinese restaurants, but aside from the overly-salty noodle dish, the food was good. We watched an old evergreen episode of Shark Tank and then parts of other shows, bouncing around to avoid ads the way one has to when not equipped with a DVR. Actually, though, at this point I see ads so infrequently that I kind of want to see what they look like. As one would expect in a world where watching them is often a deliberate choice, they've gotten weirder and more engaging. Another observation that came from watching a small amount of classic Seinfeld: the early 90s looks more peculiar with each passing year. It's not just the highlighting of bald spots by letting the remaining hair grow, it's the poofy excesses of hair even among the non-bald and the lumpy form-erasing clothing. Then there are the white sneakers and mom jeans, unnoticeable features of casualwear then that shriek across the decades at our contemporary sensibilities.

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