white rabbit at the Hurley Mountain Inn
Saturday, April 20 2019
I was feeling chipper after getting up this morning, and I puttered around washing dishes and other little chores. I had the french presses of Saturday morning coffee (both decaf and regular) done before 9:00am, and Gretchen was a little disturbed that I announced it was ready so early.
It being the second day of Passover, this morning I ate matzo and little else. I thought I'd up my game by making a matzo pizza with tomato paste and refried beans instead of faux cheese, a combination Gretchen found horrifying. But it was good, especially with a sprinkling of sliced pickled Italian hot peppers.
For the past week, Gretchen had been wondering about the strange radio silence from her brother. She'd half-expected him to maybe help her set up a reading of her new poetry collection in Pittsburgh, but instead that promotional work there had been taken on by Gretchen's old girlfriend Barbara (and one of Barbara's sisters). Today that radio silence ended with a form email her brother sent to all his friends. It unexpectedly announced that he and his family (including, it turned out, his mother-in-law) would be moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas. What the fuck? It seems he'd been offered a great job as a dean at the University of Arkansas. And the kids were supposedly excited about the great Fayetteville school system. I would've expected them to perhaps face (as I did) prayer in their public schools. But supposedly the high school there has something like 26 AP programs, including music theory (a somewhat-esoteric interest of my nephew). To our ears, this all sounded a lot like rationalization. I looked at Google Maps and saw that Fayetteville is essentially in the middle of nowhere. The nearest real city appeared to be Tulsa, Oklahoma, 100 miles away as a vulture could fly. What did this all mean? It seemed unlikely Gretchen and I would ever want to go visit them in such a remote place in the middle of the country. We couldn't even imagine what airports might be nearby. Usually if we're near Arkansas, we're 38,000 feet in the air. It's one of the few states east of Texas I've never been on the ground in.
Gretchen was feeling the need to discuss this matter further, so she tried calling her parents but couldn't reach them. So then she impulsively called my childhood friend Nathan and his wife Janine (they're still living in Charlottesville). Their big news today was that in just a few hours they would be adopting a 12 year old girl. They, of course, joked about it and said Janine would be giving birth to the kid despite the lack of a uterus and other absurdities.
Up in the laboratory, I did some tinkering with my collection of Linksys WRT54G routers. I have six of them in total: one is newer crappier model 7 that is bricked, while the other five all run open-source DD-WRT firmware. I kind of hoped I could at least get a serial output on the bricked one, but it appears to be too bricked for that. (In the world of tech, being bricked —that is, dead— is a contiuum reaching from mild reversible lifelessness to hopeless physical damage.) I also hoped to get some output on the serial port of a Securifi Almond router (which comes with a gimicky touch screen). But I ended up going down a rabbit hole after accidentally hooking up my USB TTL-level serial adapter's 5v output to the ground of the Securifi Almond. After that, the serial adapter didn't seem to work. It actually seemed worse than that, as it seemed to be destroying every serial port it came into contact with. In the end, though, it turned out that I was just freaking out. It seems half of my Linksys routers had serial ports that were rotated 180 degrees with respect to how they were on the other half, meaning my tests had been invalid. Another issue was that while the default baud rate on a Linksys serial port is 115200 and the default baud rate on a Securifi Almond is 57600. Once I had this information, I could use a magic marker to label the ports for the next time I try to use them. To my delight, I was getting an interactive serial session on the Securifi Almond, allowing me to do ordinary Linuxy things. Supposedly there's a way to install OpenWRT, though apparently nobody has gotten the touchscreen working in that environment. It would be sad to waste such an unusual feature.
As I worked on these things I felt myself becoming at first anxious (as if I'd had too much caffeine) and then vaguely nauseated. The nausea manifested mostly as waves of distressing acid-reflux pain. I wondered if perhaps I'd overdone it on the matzo this morning. In any case, I eventually climbed into bed and hoped relaxing on my back would restore my health. Within an hour or so, I was back on my feet puttering around, but then that acid reflux returned. I returned to bed and slept for awhile.
When I next awoke, it was closing in on 7:00pm, and I didn't want to miss out on date night no matter how bad I was feeling. And I wasn't actually feeling that bad at this point, though my guts were not completely settled. Our original plan of going out for Indian food now seemed like a bad idea. So we decoded to go out for Japanese food instead. The restaurant this time would be the old Kodomo in the King's Plaza. As we drove through Old Hurley, we saw an unsettling sight in the parking lot of the Hurley Mountain Inn. Standing there with a goofy look of joy frozen permanently on his face was a human-sized white rabbit. He a large rabbit head, a humanoid body, and a poof of cotton for a tail. Presumably he was there as a secular symbol of Easter. Gretchen let out a sound of horror and I commented that this was not the sort of thing that can be unseen.
For some reason Kodomo now goes by Kotoni, though everything else (including the menu) is the same. I wanted a clean meal with lots of vegetables and not too many starches, so I ordered two vegetarian sushi rolls (one avocado, the other tempura asparagus) and a bowl of bland tofu-vegetable soup. Gretchen ordered her usual things, including dumplings, edamame, and a plain broccoli dish. For the first time since the origin of date night (I don't think the ritual is even a year old), neither of us ordered alcoholic beverages. Meanwhile on one of Kodami's flatscreens, the movie was Django Unchained.
We'd unfortunately arrived at King's Mall too late to get faux cheese at Mother Earth's Storehouse. But Gretchen came up with another side mission for this evening's outing: to see what the new cineplex at the Hudson Valley Mall was looking like. The old cineplex had shut down several months back, leaving us to wonder where (if anywhere) one would be able to see movies in Kingston. But some other theater company (NCG) had come in and scooped up the old mall cineplex, redid a bunch of things, an opened it back up, meaning Kingston had been without a movie theater for only a few months. It was operational when we arrived tonight, though there were heavy machines like Bobcats and frontend loaders behind a chain-link fence adjacent to the building, suggesting there had been major construction.
While the cineplex itself seemed busy, the adjacent food court was a sorry shell of what I remember it being the last time I'd been there (which may've been as long as a year ago; the only businesses I visit with any frequency there are Target and Best Buy, which are both possible to enter without actually venturing into the bowels of the mall itself). The size of the food court hadn't changed, meaning there's still seating for over a hundred people there. But while there used to be as many as a dozen merchants in the food court, there are now only two: Savona's pizza and the Chinese restaurant where I used to go for egg rolls. The locations for all the other merchants had been completely sealed away behind solid walls that had been covered with inspirational quotes and photographs of local scenery.
To see what other changes had come to this dying mall, Gretchen and I decided to walk down its main T-shaped corridor to see. Right away we were struck by other places that had once been businesses that were now sealed away behind walls covered with quotes and photos. This included the Old Navy and Sears, which had once been major anchors at the east end of the mall. There were a sprinkling of other survivors in what was now a mostly walled-over corridor. These included Hot Topic (where Gretchen had bought her wedding dress in 2003), a store that sold discount DVDs, Victoria's Secret, and two different unisex hair salons. The photos and inspirational quotes on the sealed-over businesses were surprisingly successful at giving the corridors of this dying mall a cheerful vibe. But part of the problem was the lack of food traffic. On this Saturday night, the only people present were a few scattered Hispanic families who had apparently come to take advantage of the large well-let, empty space. Their kids seemed to be having fun at least, though there wasn't really anything to do.
With the decline in foot traffic, it seemed the existing businesses would gradually come to conclude that there was any reason to stay. Already, it was difficult to see how the mall could pay for the necessary upkeep and taxes with just the income generated by the few remaining stores. Both Gretchen and I were pretty clear on what the problem was: the things people used to buy in malls are now the sorts of things they now buy online, particularly from Amazon. For example, the rubber jacket for my first smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy Core Prime) was something I bought from a vendor at the mall in March or April of 2016. The rubber jacket for my next smartphone (a Redmi Note 4) was something I bought online in January of 2018. I wondered allowed if anyone might find a use for all the large walled-off spaces in the mall. Someone could maybe live in the Sears. That would be a lot of space for the right sort of person.
On the drive back home, the creepy weirdness of the day was capped by news of a murder/near-beheading that had happened in Brooklyn. "I'll probably be hearing the interrogation," I sighed.
Back at the house, Gretchen had a long phone conversation with her parents, mostly about her brother's plans to move to Fayetteville, Arkansas. With a little more backstory, the move started to make a little more sense. Apparently Gretchen's brother was having trouble with his new boss, a bitchy provost who was blaming him for things without ever actually talking to him. And despite its connections to Walmart and Tyson Foods and its lack of vegan restaurants (Gretchen had looked it up on Happy Cow), Fayetteville did have some things going for it. For example, there's a non-stop flight from National Airport in Washington DC (not far from the Watergate where Gretchen's parents live) right into Fayetteville, which will make that an easier trip for the parents than driving to Pittsburgh. They'll be selling their Pittsburgh apartment, of course, and they don't anticipate replacing it with one in Arkansas.
The south end of the Hudson Valley Mall. The Payless Shoes is still open for business.
The center of the Hudson Valley Mall, looking north. Note the photos and inspirational quotes.
Creepy Boy Scout manikins in the Boy Scouts of America office in the mall. They probably picked this location because it is cheap. Note that girls are now allowed in the Boy Scouts.
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