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   virtual incest and virtual children
Friday, January 11 2013

location: rural Hurley township, Ulster County, New York

Before we set out on our last-minute trip to the Adirondacks, I did a few last-minute chores to make our house pleasant for our house sitter. This included shoveling the snow off the walkway. It had compressed, and melted and thawed numerous times, producing a slick, potentially-treacherous surface. It would impossible to remove it with a conventional snow shovel, so instead I used a gardening spade. Once it started coming up, it just pealed off the ground, from which it had become detached.
Our house sitter arrived in the early afternoon, at which point we got in the car and drove. It's never pleasant to leave the dogs behind, but if we have to do it, it's always better if they have some other human to hang out with.
Our first destination was the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa in Saratoga Spa State Park, but before going there, we decided to drive into Saratoga Springs to get some provisions from Four Seasons Natural Foods, a store we knew to be there. It's your typical little hippie grocery store, complete with that unique bulk-foods-cum-incense fragrance I've been familiar with since the early-mid 1970s. In addition to nutritional yeast, non-dairy creamer, and non-dairy cream cheese, we also got some snack foods including some peanut noodles from the lunch buffet (they were delicious), a kind of corn chip that tasted like Pakistani body odor (in a good way), and a product I'd never heard of called Kale Krunch. Kale Krunch is a kind of dehydrated kale that has been slathered with a number of spices and various mystery (though completely vegan) substances. The flavor we got today was "Cheezy Chipotle" and it was impossible to stop eating them.
Saratoga Spa State Park is just south of Saratoga Springs, and the Gideon Putnam is hidden at the end of a long forested drive. It's a surprisingly large Federal-style building. Initially we were placed in a room on the ground floor with access to its own private porch. But at this time of year a porch is of limited utility, so even before I could eat all my peanut noodles, Gretchen had gone down to the main desk and arranged a different, cheaper room for us on the third floor. Other than it being cheaper, I don't know that it was better; it was definitely smaller, had no porch, and it had two full beds instead of one queen, but it seemed important to Gretchen that it not be on the ground floor. Back, briefly, to the beds: they were unusually short, measuring no more than 72 inches in length. With a couple pillows at the head, my feet tended to cantilever off the end.
After some relaxing in the room, we decided it was time to go into Saratoga Springs to track down some sort of vegan dinner. Conveniently, the Gideon Putnam runs a free shuttle service into the downtown, which makes it a lot easier to get ones drank on. Our driver was an affable gentleman named Rich and unfortunately we spent most of the ride into town talking about veganism. I would have much rather heard more about the Rich's shuttle-driving experiences, but when I'm with Gretchen and a third person, I tend to be the quiet one. The one scrap of a story Rich told was that not too long ago he'd dropped Mike Love (one of the Beach Boys) off at Karavalli, the Indian restaurant.
We walked around Saratoga Springs' downtown looking in the windows of various prospective eateries. Karavalli had seemed promising based on its website, which had heavily promoted its bar. Though I was somewhat off my feed regarding curries after a dreary experience last night with two unpleasantly-seasoned pre-packaged Trader Joe's Thai dishes, perhaps we could have some mulligatawny soup and samosas and drink the kind of fruity beverages we were missing out on in the Dominican Republic. But when we looked into Karavali, we could quickly see that, despite the presence of bar stools, the small clinically-illuminated bar was the not the kind that anyone would ever sit at. So we checked out Scallions and an Italian restaurant before decided Scallions was our best option. I hadn't liked Scallions from the outside, but inside it was plenty cozy and inviting. We split a bottle of wine and I had the vegan panini while Gretchen had the braised lentils, and we both enjoyed our food. At some point Gretchen looked around and realized we were probably the oldest people in the restaurant. Most of the other customers looked to be women from Skidmore college. Oddly, they all had exactly the same hairdo: straight shoulder-length hair in whatever color was (or appeared to be) natural and no bangs. [During our entire visit to Saratoga Springs, we would only see one or two percent of the 18-30 year old women with their hair in any other style.]
Dinner discussion took an odd turn when Gretchen declared that, given the history of insanity in my family, my genes were probably less desirable than hers. Though we're not having kids, nobody likes to hear his genome so casually dissed. So I said that it's hard to look at a family and say for sure what is good or bad in its collection of genes. After all, most things that are good in moderation are bad in excess, and often the worst and best expressions of genes comes from unusual concentrations of alleles. My brother isn't a fully-functioning adult not because of any one particular thing; his problem is that he's been dealt a maladaptive genetic deck. But some of the things that are doing him harm are probably doing me good because my deck (for whatever reason) ended up being more balanced. That is the essence of hybrid vigor. I said that actually her (Gretchen's) genes complement mine and mine complement hers, as demonstrated in the workings of our household. She's good with logistics and people while I'm good with materials and information. Indeed, our household is something of a "virtual child," since it reflects a union of both of our genetic virtues. That idea seemed to blow Gretchen's mind, in a very practically-romantic sort of way.
My other good insight tonight was that dating sites like Match.com are slowly working to thwart the virtues of the incest taboo. By connecting people with others who share their traits, such sites forge households with a minimum of genetic breadth, creating "virtual incest" between similar strangers. The lack of hybrid vigor from such unions is perhaps a big reason why Silicon Valley has such high levels of autism.
After our meal at Scallions, we ducked into the only bar we found that lay in the Goldilocks zone between overcrowded and dead: the Living Room. The scene inside was populated with sedate Skidmore kids, the ladies of which all wore their hair in the regulation Saratoga Springs fashion. One of the women had a voice that sounded like a six year old girl, though this wasn't a turnoff to her male suitor. I ordered a meh IPA and Gretchen had a coffee porter of some sort. Later I had a Jack Daniels on the rocks. By this point, Gretchen was very excited to find a number of vegan options on the Living Room's menu.
After catching the shuttle back to the Gideon Putnam (a phrase we could only pronounce with a posh British accent), we lay around in bed watching snippets of The Other Guys, one of our favorite recentish movies.


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