Apocalypse Mall

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Sign of the apocolypse: Alcohol abuse

 I had to touch base with our tax preparer, and the outfit is located at one of the local shopping malls, which has been decimated by a decade of online shopping and Walmart.

Even with the pandemic, my take was that the mall is a safe place despite the edict against gatherings of 10 people of more. 

I was met by a notice on the door that mall walking was prohibited because of the virus. Apparently, the mall would meet the definition of a “health club” if people were walking around inside, and health clubs are closed under state order.

Also apparently banned — mall sleeping. The guards caught a guy who took advantage of the closures to take a nap in a sleeping bag a few days earlier.

Inside, only the tax place and a clothing store were open (since closed). Maybe At Home — the lights were on, but the glass doors were closed. The mall is usually at less than 50 percent occupancy, but this was surreal. It was hard to tell the difference between the stores that had been shuttered for months from the ones closed because of the upcoming outbreak.

Growing up in the ’80’s, malls were a focal point, more so for me because I lived a block from one. When I got bored, I simply walked over, walked around. The mall was also a de facto refuge a few years back when a massive ice storm knocked out power to parts of the city. People left their frozen homes a hung out at the mall to soak up some warmth and let their kids run around in the play area. 

No such natural disaster camaraderie this time.  

I did a quick lap around the mall taking it all in, trying to not be noticed by the two security guards. I couldn’t help but think the security industry will be booming. So much closed property to be guarded until the virus blows over.

Paper Apocalypse

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  The apocalypse started with toilet paper.

Actually, it started with germs half way around the world, but for most Americans, it didn’t become real until the Charmins began disappearing off the shelves of their favorite big box stores.

Sure, there was news of China shutting down entire cities and locals stuck on cruise ships that were quarantined upon entering port. But our leaders were downplaying it, making fun of it, calling it a hoax.

Not long after that, cases and deaths started popping up in distant states inside the union, then in nearby states and finally in home states…

My teen son loads groceries part time at the local Big Box, and he told tales of people buying cases of toilet paper and pallets of bottled water.

The onset of the toilet paper panic hit just as spring break was staring for the kids. I already took the week off to hang out with them, so I was at a safe distance while work struggled with how to function in the pandemic. The CDC guidelines are to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, and my take is that work would be a safe place because corporate cuts had already throughly decimated our staff.

My plans for spring break had been modest. Drag the kids out once a day for a little fun. We don’t have any money in the budget for travel, and my wife is working through to figure out some computer coding. But everything is closed. No movies, no museums, The indoor pool closed. The restaurants only have carry out, if they are open at all. And it’s the Midwest, where spring is called “second winter.” Nothing to do outside. It actually snowed on the first day of the break, and it’s been cold and rainy ever since.

I was able to score a four-pack of off-brand paper at a downtown gas station that was immune to the hype a few days in. There were two on the shelf, but I only bought one. Only as much as we reasonably need.

The Big grocery store still hasn’t been able to keep it in stock. Yesterday, I dropped by the small, independent neighborhood grocery — the one with the healthy selection of Eastern European and Pacific Island and Southeast Asia fare. They had paper, but not on the shelves. I had to ask for it at the register. And then they only sell it one pack at a time. As the clerk went to the locked cabinet to retrieve it, she told me there was almost a fight over the stuff the previous day.

Occult hand

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(C) 2017 J.S. Reinitz


I was looking through some old photos and came across this panorama shot of vintage WWII aircraft from a fly-in at the local airport. I had never noticed the dismembered hand artifact floating in the air before. These type of anomalies pop up when doing panorama and other types of layered photography.

As an aside, this photo was taken in July 2017. The B-17 Flying Fortress at the left crashed during a fly-in in Hartford, Connecticut, in October 2019.

IMG_5693 edit

(C) 2017 J.S. Reinitz

Photo: Foggy bridge

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After heavy show and record low temperatures, a swing to 40 degrees F floods the area with fog. (C) 2019 J.S.Reinitz


Video: Waterfall fountain

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Time for a mandatory waterfall break. But because this is the Midwest, and there are few waterfalls, we are going to have to settle for a city fountain.

The upside to the smaller, contained waterfall — less chance of breaking a toe.

The Bag

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There comes a time when you have to ask yourself if the stuffed-and-tied grocery-sack-turned-trash-bag you are about to pick up off the street contains a head.

There are many indications that you can consider, little bits of information you piece together to get a glimpse of the whole picture — like the long, black, curly hair protruding through the knot. But in the end, the only way to be sure is to reach inside and poke around.

It started last weekend after our renter neighbors of about a year decided to move on. I never met the woman, but I had seen her when she would come home from work late at night and back her Chevy HHR into the driveway so her headlights would shine into our living room window. Her teenage son was decent, polite, worked at a Mexican-themed national chain restaurant (a nice, sit-down place, fajitas, margaretas, no drive-through window) and occasionally tried to mooch our wifi password.

They left (or were evicted) without saying goodbye, my only clues to their departure were the lack of midnight headlights and the pile of belongings next to the sidewalk in front of their house. I gave them a day to return and collect their possessions. Then I gave the landlord (who I’ve never met in the 14 years I’ve been here) to figure it out and take care of the mess.

One afternoon, a car stopped next to the mound, and a woman in a red devil-horn headpiece — the kind one might wear to a Halloween party with a matching scarlet-lame tail and a plastic pitchfork — got out and started to rummage. On such occasions, one trends not to ask questions and simply hopes she will take the mattress. After some foraging and discussion with her husband/boyfriend/guy in her car, she decided on the metal bed frame and a few bags of crap.


Pants derailment update

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Murnau, train & castle. By Wassily Kandinsky. 1909. (Somehow available as free clipart. I imagine this is what the derailment would look like if it was painted by Wassily and happened in Murnau near a castle)

About 24 hours after the train derailment notice, the UPS tracker showed my hiking pants had survived the carnage and had presumably hopped another train, arriving in Kansas. So, they may still make it in time for the trip. 

Way to go UPS!

I had assumed the pants were lost in a crushed box in a debris-strewn ditch or charred beyond recognition in a smoldering heap of rail cars somewhere in the Great Plains.

Not to say that my life is so shallow that I have nothing better to do than sit around fretting over the progress of a pair of clearance pants I bought online. I was just intrigued by the derailment notice. It brought up so many questions. I searched around for any mention of a train accident an hour out of California but was unsuccessful.

And you have to wonder how common these derailment notices are. Does someone at UPS key that in on a case-by-case basis, or does it happen enough that they just check the “train accident” box and hit send? And what other disaster-related updates do they have? “A German U-boat attack has delayed delivery,” “A vulcanic eruption has delayed delivery,” “Your package was left unattended in an airport terminal, and police detonated it as a precaution. Delivery will be rescheduled.”

Also, I tweeted the delay when it first happened, and UPS tweeted back, telling me to continue to check the tracking site for updates. 

 So they apparently have staff that patrol Twitter for such mentions.

I’m eager to hear answers, observations and theories on these mysteries. If you have some, feel free to share in the comments section below.


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It looks like the hiking pants I ordered won’t be arriving in time for the trip. 

Prairie plans on hold

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clipart. Not sure what’s going on with the codpiece.

 Someone has shredded the prairie restoration project I had planned for the property next door. The house is still without any inhabitants, but at some unseen time parties unknown took to mowing, decimating rare dandelion species, removing several weeks of hard earned wild growth and destroying vital habitat for neighborhood critters.

What isn’t known is if the owner dispatched the mower, if the city instigated the work under the nuisance ordinance or if it was the work of a fellow neighbor who tired of the eyesore.

There is still a “for sale” sign in the yard, so if anyone out there is looking to buy …

It is unclear if the mysterious third-party lawn care arrangement will continue the purchase.

On a related note, buyers will get a backyard pile of last autumn’s fallen leaves as a bonus.

Plants vs House

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(c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

 The house next door is available if someone wants to buy it before nature reclaims it.

The last tenants moved out a few months ago, back when shoveling sidewalks was a thing (in fact, that’s how we noticed the vacancy — snow-covered walkway), and two weeks ago the owner, apparently ready to get out of the landlord business, put up a “for sale” sign, which is about to be swallowed up by the dandelions that have overtaken the front lawn.

My wife talks about calling the city to complain about the overgrowth, but I kind of hope we’ll just let nature take its course. I’ll even spring for some native prairie grass to top off the transformation.

Snow problem

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  Editor’s note: I am cleaning out my notebook. This was written a few weeks ago when they weather was crumby, or they wanted us to believe it was.

You know the blizzard is going to be lame when the weatherman makes a point of bringing up the fact that the term “blizzard” has nothing to do with the amount of snow and more about wind.Technically, he explains, a blizzard means blowing snow and crappy visibility, where you can’t see so many fractions of a mile in front of you because of whiteout conditions. It doesn’t mean tons of snow.

You hear it once in a forecast, you find it interesting trivia. But if you hear it several times a day as the storm approaches, you start to realize they are trying to cover for something. They are trying to maintain confidence so the public won’t think they are full of it when they hear “blizzard coming” on Day 1 and wake to one measly inch of snow on Day 2.

It might also have something to do with they fact that last week they started ringing alarm bells for the Snow Storm of the Century, causing schools and businesses and public services to be shuttered, only to have a below-average snowfall. Twice.

Ice-covered roadside assistance

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How to change a flat tire on an ice-covered road in the frozen Midwest:

Step 1) Don’t live in the Midwest. Live somewhere that’s warm year round. If somehow this step has failed, proceed to step 2 below.

Step 2) Pull over and check the tire. If it’s flat, make sure no one is in the car, moving around when you change the tire. If you 9-year-old daughter is in the car, this means you have to drive several blocks to get home because you don’t want her to freeze on the curbside while you take care of it. Plus, you are wearing shorts because you just came back from jogging indoors (because it’s too cold to take your daughter jogging outdoors). On the plu side, the mushy snow on the roadway should mitigate damage to the rim when you drive.

Step 3) Make sure the donut spare buried under the spare coats and emergency blankets in the trunk is in good condition or is at least inflated.

Step 4) Loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the car. Tugging on the nuts while it’s in the air might bring the car crashing down.

Step 5) When you have trouble pulling that last lug nut loose, adjust the tire iron and stomp the crap out of it to finally get the nut to budge.

Step 6) Find the almost undetectable notches in the frame that mark the jack points. Mistaking a scrape in the body from that time you jumped the curb while adjusting the radio for a jack notch could result in tearing off the quarter panel.

Step 7) Make sure the jack is placed on a stable surface, which doesn’t include several inches of snow and ice. This is why we recommend Step 1. In the event you are unable to find a dry, solid surface in a hospitable environment, continue while keeping yor distance in case the jack slips and the whole affair comes crashing down.

Step 8) Being careful to avoid having your skin adhere to the bare metal handle, jack the vehicle into the air, remove the lug nuts and the flat tire. Place the temporary spare and return the lug nuts, but don’t tighten until the tire is back on the ground. 

Step 9) Return home and take you chances with a new repair shop because it’s Saturday afternoon, and your regular mechanic is closed. Don’t worry about the warranty on the old tire because driving home while it was flat probably voided it.

Special thanks to Mechanix gloves for making this repair possible.

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