November 1, 1984
I taped over the cricket's bright red eyes but can't do anything about its stupid grin.
It's day four of the great technical support experiment. The phone has yet to ring. I'm sitting here staring at the screen doing nothing at all or reading inconsequential magazines and newspapers. It's all about the election, which is itself inconsequential. Everyone hates Reagan, but he's going to win again.
So instead of staring at a blinking cursor waiting for the phone I decided to see what this little machine can do. I loaded up something called Wordstar and began writing it all down. I'll tell my story until the phone rings.
My name is Paul Trout, but I am known around here as Hamster. My name changed when I was twelve, when Artie Connors and I were hiking through the woods and met David Steel and his pals. Steel, the very model of a modern major bully, was wandering around the forest looking for animals to torture. Instead he found us.
I was about five feet tall at the time, and round. My coat was a big brown thing that made me look like a blimp. I was wearing a fur hat with long black earmuffs that usually tied below my chin but were flapping around because I didn't need the extra warmth.
My cheeks and nose were bright red, with a trail of snot dribbled on my face.
Steel, a year older and a foot taller, was dressed in a shiny black leather jacket that went halfway down his thigh and a wool cap covering his arrogant head stubble.
"Look at the little hamster," he sneered, pushing me. I wobbled but didn't fall down. "Someone left their stupid pet in the rain."
Steel had pushed me around before. I knew that a wisecrack response wasn't productive. He would do whatever he wanted. The only strategy was to wait until he lost interest. If the past was any indication that would occur in about four minutes.
"He needs a new name," Steel snarled. "How about 'Ham-hole? That fits him better than his coat and hat."
He pushed me again, and I fell on my ass with my hands in the snow and legs extended.
"Hamster-hole," he went on.
"You can't come up with anything better than that?" Artie's voice was quivering. Shut up Artie. You should know better. I got up and dusted myself off. Which might have been a mistake, because Steel would probably knock me down again.
"Like what, grandma boy?" Artie was about my size and had no more ability to challenge Steel than I did, but would regularly kick Steel's ass in English class with his articulations. Steel would mangle the language in class and Artie would jump up and correct him. It was the opposite in math class. Steel was an astonishing numbers prodigy who could figure out algebraic equations in his head. He could probably do calculus pretty well, but he sneered at his own ability as if he were ashamed.
"Don't you mean grammar boy?" Artie said, his voice stronger.
"Hamster hole," Steel said again. "I'm gonna put you two in a cage and throw it off a cliff."
"It would be really heavy because they are both really fat," a crony named Billy said, his own voice wavering. I realized that Billy was as scared of Steel as we were. He needed to say something and was hoping that it was funny.
Steel laughed. Billy's shoulders relaxed.
We were all quiet for a while when Steel spoke quietly.
"Little Paulie here is just a little Hamster-fuck."
I was astonished that Steel knew my first name while hoping he did not remember my surname. In that case there'd be an extended round of smelly fish jokes. Also disturbing was how four minutes had passed and he was still here.
Steel's laugh was interrupted by three gunshots, in close range.
"Let's go," he said, pushing me hard. I rolled down the hill. They started running toward the gunshots. I was already halfway down the hill and continued to the bottom. Artie tagged behind me.
"What kind of idiot runs toward gunshots?" I asked Artie. I thought that it would be a good thing if he got shot and missed school for a few days.
I blamed myself, then, when Steel didn't show up for school the next day, or the next. After two weeks I was starting to relax. Billy wandered around the school looking lost, like a nervous rat who lost his master. Two can play this rodent game. We soon heard that Steel had moved away, that his parents had kicked him out. It was possible he had some real problems. I began to feel sympathy, recalling how some kids that are bullied one year become friends with their tormentors the next.
I hoped that "Hamster" had disappeared along with Steel and was still a little paranoid, to the point of hearing something that sounded like "Hey-Hamster" when I was walking through the halls. It got louder and more frequent, until it was accompanied by eye contact and lip movement. After someone said "throw Hamster the ball" in gym class I knew it was here to stay.
How did this happen? I was going to ask Billy about it but every time I looked at him he scurried away. Steel's other cronies weren't close enough to hear the conversation, or bright enough to remember what was said.
I figured it out. On the first day of Spring I turned my so-called best friend and said "Artie. What the fuck?"
Over the summer we'd zigzag up the mountain, which was littered with abandoned artists' cabins. If the window or the door were unlocked we'd go right in and make ourselves at home. Turns out they might not have been abandoned after all. We'd go through their stuff but would never steal anything, which made it OK. That was the rule, one time we brought another guy, Bruce, on our little hike. We slipped into a little house, one we'd been in before, he took a jackknife from a table and put it in his pocket. He glared at us, daring us to do something. We didn't, aside from not inviting him along again.
We'd look at the house from far away, hiding in the woods to see whether it was occupied. With no sign of life we might move a bit closer, look into the window and make up a story about what's inside. If someone was moving around we would make up another kind of story, like the guy who had no shirt on a cold afternoon. His little multi-building lot was really a nudist colony, he heard us coming and didn't have time to put on all his clothes. He moved around as if he didn't know we were there, but we both knew otherwise. There was a creepy air, everywhere.
One old lady lived in a house surrounded by goats, so we imaginatively named her "The Goat Lady." We'd get on top of a hill with binoculars and watch her for a while. She had long, white hair, a billowing garment, and a craggy face.
We wrote her whole history in our heads, casting her as a witch who controlled the goats through spells. It was obvious to us that the Goat Lady was capturing kids and turning them into goats. We looked at each other and had the same thought as we heard something move.
A goat was heading toward us from the meadow below. When it got closer we saw that it had one eye and a single antler along with a marking that looked like an S on its face. It was snarling at us. It charged into the brush and started kicking us, but the attack stopped after a loud whistle. Right then, the Goat Lady stood up in her garden, looked straight at where we were hiding and waved for us to come down.
"Did you see that goat's face, the S over his eye?" Artie whispered. "The goat is fucking Steel, transformed."
We walked down the hill, expecting her to start yelling, or worse, call our parents and complain about our trespassing that had happened before. Instead she smiled, invited us to sit down at a picnic table and poured us some lemonade.
She told us her name, Mrs. Babian, adding that "many people just call me the goat lady, and I don't mind that." Obviously she could read minds. She had most of her teeth, but there were several hairs coming out of her chin and cheek that she didn't seem to know about. She couldn't possibly, as they were so weird that no one in their right mind would go out in public like that.
Or maybe sitting outside her own house on her own land she really wasn't in public.
She asked us what brought us up this trail, and what we knew of the town's history. We said we did, a little, and started squirming, figuring out a way to get out of there. It was too far in the woods to say we heard our parents calling. We looked at our watches and saw we didn't need to be home for another two hours. Lying wasn't an option as Mrs. Babian had already proven she could see through us.
We began to fidget, but everything changed when she began to talk. She was 73 years old and had lived in here since her mid 30s and remembered how it was before anything got developed. She talked slowly and clearly. We got sucked in right away.
Everyone thinks their home town is unique and special. But Wheeler's Blue Notch really is.
When you approach the mountains from either direction, west or east, there is the expected hills and bounces and a wide, flat space about a third of the way down. That's where our town is.
There are breaks in the mountains, fifty miles north and eighty miles south of the big notch, so a cross-country drive means that it will be either on the left or the right. There are cutoff roads that take you to closer, although from the east it is a smooth four lanes while the western path is a rough route that alternates between pavement and dirt.
The easier eastern access resulted from more development at the foothills and how industry insinuated itself into the area. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although what happened on the ground had some negative effects on those of us living in the sky.
Early settlers saw the mountains from a distance and the north and south passes, so it didn't occur to them to go up through the middle. Someone eventually did, maybe to avoid the crowd, crawling up a four-mile trail to end up on a plateau that measured ten miles wide and from one to three miles deep. There was nothing up there aside from an astonishing view, to the east or the west. The land was good enough to grow some vegetables, but there was ready protein available from the earth (deer) and the sky (birds).
The original crew, arriving around 1880, wasn't seeking gold or new opportunity, just a gentle, quiet place where they could live their lives and create.
They were all artists, so they were surprised by the harsh weather and what it took to survive. Fortunately some of their kids and rebelled and learned how to build houses and roads.
The notch looked razor-straight from a distance. Up close there were nooks, crannies, and hills, in which people built shacks and artist sheds built inside the small canyons. They built a small downtown area, dubbed Notch Boulevard, with the necessary stores and businesses. Old photos look like the TV depictions of western towns I watched when I was growing up. Instead of cowboys and fancy ladies there were men in dresses and pointy beards and women with short hair and sharp teeth.
But Mrs. Babian knew many of the historical details, aside from what we had heard or made up. She told us how the settlers, seeing the layout of the land, chose north or south for their western journey.
Except a guy named Silas Wheeler, a spoiled New York City rich kid who headed straight to the middle and settled at the bottom of the hill. He claimed the surrounding land and began ranching, not before establishing a "town" at the foothills and naming it after himself. He brought in dozens of his spoiled friends who were itching for a Western adventure, and was surprised when they arrived in Wheeler and were expected to herd cattle. Most of them had nowhere else to go so they played along and, surprisingly, began earning a good living. The rest of them crawled up the four-mile trail to the plateau and joined the already thriving artist colony.
Twenty years on Wheeler—the man and the town— was thriving, and the artist colony had grown to a few hundred people. The artists depended on Wheeler for food and supplies, while Wheeler's citizens were eager to place the artists' painting and sculpture into their new homes.
Wheeler, the man, built a 300-room four story hotel and ballroom, modeled after the posh resorts that dotted New York's Hudson River Valley. He called it the Wheeler Mountain House. Guests trickled in for the first few years until one of the visitors, a writer, published a piece in a New York newspaper about the magical west. It was not all stagecoaches and dust, the article stated, there was culture in those plains and mountains. Not very many people came from New York for a vacation, but many travelers on a westward journey would stop in for a week or two, even if it took them 100 miles out of their way.
They all asked the same question, whether there was a more direct route to the other side of the mountain. Sick of saying the same thing repeatedly, Wheeler printed up a leaflet. Yes, it was possible to cut through instead of going around, but required a four-mile trip up a dusty dirt road. The views from the top were astonishing, but not really worth the trip (to demonstrate he attached a grainy photograph of the landscape). Once on the plateau travelers would need to practically crawl down the other side, on trails that were barely visible but you couldn't get lost as long as you headed straight down. Mrs. Babian had one of these flyers.
She somehow knew that I lived in the Blue Notch Mountain House. She asked whether I was aware of its history. I said that I knew some of it.
In the early 1920s Arnold Wheeler came to town. He was Silas Wheeler's spoiled rich grand nephew who had just graduated law school. After "an indiscretion with a young woman," as Mrs. Babian put it, Arnold was dispatched westward to act as the town's first attorney. He got richer, brokering and muddying land deals while running a gambling room in the back of his office.
Unlike many Wheeler residents Arnold traveled for months at a time, seeing the sights and exploring different cultures. On one trip to Amarillo, Texas he stopped at a restaurant and ordered a chicken fried steak. He liked chicken and steak; so this was bound to taste great.
There was no chicken involved, as the recipe coats a small slab of beef with a layer of batter normally used for fried chicken. On his return to Wheeler Arnold approached his uncle with a request to serve the newly discovered delicacy in the hotel's restaurant. He even brought back an extra order in a wooden box for Silas to taste. Except when he opened the box the food was half-eaten by rats.
Silas was not convinced. He was getting sick of Arnold's whining and could not indulge his nephew. Silas told Arnold that the Wheeler Mountain House would serve chicken fried steak "over his dead body"; instantly regretting the comparison. Arnold was approaching this idea with homicidal fervor.
Silas would often contradict Arnold just for sport, but this was a matter of principal and taste. He looked down on hamburgers and fried chicken as food for the poor and uncultured. Combining them was like crossbreeding a cat and a cockroach. He was about to use the argument that the recipe was a waste of good meat before realizing that the beef contained was often of the worst quality.
Still, Arnold persisted. He'd come in every day for lunch, pondering over the menu for a while, and then ordering chicken fried steak. When he was told that it was not available he would stand up angrily and leave, not paying for his coffee.
The waitresses were generally tolerant and participated in the charade, but a few refused to go through the motions. Hazel Earnshaw, then a mature fourteen years old, would cry every time she waited on Arnold. Silas, who fancied Hazel but was too proper to make a move, noticed her discomfort and came up with a plan.
The next day Arnold came in and began the little word play. When he placed his order Hazel didn't start crying but said "wait a minute, sir" and left the room. Silas returned moments later, sitting down and looking Arnold directly in the eye.
"If you want a chicken fried steak you should open your own fucking hotel."
Arnold became very still. Silas got up and walked back to the front desk. A few moments later Arnold left quietly, leaving a dollar coin on the table. Quite a tip for a five cent tab. Silas split it with Hazel, 70 percent to 30 percent.
Arnold never came in again. Silas didn't miss the business, since there wasn't much, and surely didn't miss the aggravation. Arnold abandoned his law practice and was rarely seen in town. In the spring Arnold came into Silas' hotel and paid for 20 rooms in advance, putting five people in each room. This crew of 100 began building a road up the mountain, using the dirt path as a guide but using switchbacks to ease the ascent. During construction, people noticed a small rectangular rise in the center of the notch, which grew taller as the months went on.
Arnold had taken the dare and was building his own hotel.
"Do you name your goats?" Artie asked Mrs. Babian.
"I do," she said.
"What's that one over there?" Artie asked, pointing to the S-branded creature who was still snarling at us.
"That's David," she said. "He showed up in the spring out of nowhere. I asked him his name and he said "Daaaaaaaave."
`"We gotta go," Artie said.
I need to state a few things, right up front. I’m happy with my life the way it is and resent being told that I would be happier doing something else, or something more. I live at the top of a mountain in a house—actually, a hotel—that I more or less own and manage. There is no pressure in my life and my obligations are not at all strenuous. I am free to walk through the woods, read a book, watch old TV shows, write down my thoughts and impressions with no fear of publication. All while smoking copious amounts of pot or drinking beer. Or both.
I like writing stuff down, and a lot of my stuff is pretty good. That’s what comes from reading a lot. Plow through 70 books a year and your own writing is bound to improve. Right now, I’m being paid well to sit here and answer a phone that may never ring. So I rebel, and plan to spend the idle time writing. If Artie wanted me to write about my life and thoughts while I was waiting for the phone to ring I’d spend the whole time doing something else.
Rachel, one of the waitresses at the cafe, calls me “orn’ry.” Which sums it up, pretty much.
When I went out to start the car today there was a piece of brown construction paper taped to the windshield with "SMUG must die" stenciled on. I ripped it down, tore it up, and put it in the trash.Where did this come from? It was ridiculous, anyway. The old band was not getting back together. SMUG had less chance of reuniting than the Beatles.
I need to put this in context, why I'm not exactly chuffed about Artie's little assignment. I'm not doing much else, but that's irrelevant. I really don't have the same accomplishment drive as people my age. Or any other age. It is my choice to do as much “nothing” as possible. I don’t see why people want to try to change that.
When most people graduate high school they want to go out and see the world. Make a contribution. Make a change. They realize soon enough their relative importance and strive toward their own sustainable happiness. When they get a realistic idea of how much they can do for the world they come home to where they started and build a contented life.
I sought a short cut. I skipped going to college, hitching around the world, getting a job in the big city, getting married, having kids only to be defeated by life and return home.
So I never left. And I don't need to hear about far off places like Israel or Alabama I could visit. It's not that I'm lazy, or completely unmotivated. I need to work, stay busy, but helping to run a hotel is a path to a varied life. I own the place so I can do as much or as little as I want, and implement my own ideas without having to run them through a boss or a board of directors.
Aside from my so-called job I like it up here. The air is clean, the view is great, and I can have anything that I really need delivered. If it's something that remotely connects to the hotel I can get it as part of the business. As for the more frivolous things; books, music, clothes, I can call ahead for them in Wheeler and have someone bring it up to me the next day.
Wheeler is getting too crowded, too crazy. So you don't want to hear what I have to say about big places like Albuquerque or Lubbock. I went to Washington DC once for about a week and almost lost my mind with all the crowds. All the energy and information flowing in simultaneously like a firehose. You have to jump aside, or it will knock you over.
You walk into a newsstand and see papers from New York, San Francisco, and Dallas to start. Do you have the time to read all of them? If you don't do you feel left out or uninformed? And the magazines. News from all sizes, and news about celebrities. I get lost reading People, then realize I haven't read Us. The Enquirer and the Star provide more depth, detail, and viewpoints. Where does it end? Do I really need to know everything?
So by staying out of the way, living in a town where there are no fancy-ass out of town newsstands protects me from this deluge of stuff. I've seen people who can't go to lunch without a magazine or take a shit without a newspaper. The human brain is only so large, but we are told we need to stuff it full until it bursts.
Not my brain. I don't want to change the world. Some days I don't even want to change my socks.
Soon enough, Artie and I hiked up to see Mrs. Babian again. We were about to knock on the door when she threw it open. She looked as if she had just gotten up, so we immediately thought that we should have called first.
"Oh, Paul," she said. "Arthur." I broke my glasses and didn't recognize you right away. You want to come in, or sit on the porch?"
It was a little chilly so we chose inside. Artie picked up her broken glasses without asking, sat down and pulled out a little toolkit. After about 45 seconds he handed them to her, repaired.
"Thank you Arthur," she said. "Do you boys want tea, coffee or lemonade?" We chose tea, and she picked up where she'd left off before.
There was something about the inside of the house. It felt familiar, and creepy. I know that I'd smelled this combination of wood, textiles and overcooked food before. I got used to it after a few minutes, when it became oddly comforting.
I knew the rest of the story, since it was my own.
Arnold opened his mountaintop hotel, visible for miles on both sides of the mountain range, in 1926. It wasn't as large as the Wheeler Mountain House with just 60 rooms, but it was as glorious. Giant featherbeds. A sparkling ballroom adjoining a fancy restaurant. And a cafe that was nearly as large as the restaurant, serving gritty, tasty, "working class" food. Which included chicken fried steak and hamburgers.
He hired Hazel who now had around 10 years of food experience, to run the place. She quit her job at Silas' and took some rooms at the hotel. The same rooms she occupied years later when I knew her, as my grandmother.
Since the new hotel was actually on the mountain and Arnold's last name was Wheeler it was christened as "The Real Wheeler Mountain House: On a Real Mountain." Arnold was still pissed at Silas, apparently. No one else cared about the feud since the story had been told a million times. Arnold sensed this, opting for the simpler "Blue Notch Mountain House."
Like the original Wheeler Mountain House, the new place was priced beyond the means of the locals. Silas didn't care since he had plenty of traffic from the outside world. The townsfolk also lacked class, so Silas allowed as few of them inside as possible.
Blue Notch was farther out of the way, though cars could now drive up the zig zag road to the summit. Arnold had also bought the land next to Silas' place which he used to locate the bottom stop of a cable car that shot right up the mountain. It never really opened for business because they could never get it to work reliably and correctly. But the sign "This is the path to the Blue Notch Mountain House" is still there today.
The Notch, as it was soon colloquialized, never got the chance to flourish. It was higher and colder than the place at the foot of the hill, with the added disadvantage of a shaky electrical system. Arnold had put a powerful wood stove in each room, but the guests were less enamored of wood heat than the innkeeper.
Arnold didn't know how to run a hotel, so it was lacking in finesse. His one wise decision was to finance the hotel himself, without involving any banks. This ended up as good news in the long run. When the stock market crashed no one could take it away from him. Less so in the short run as he had used all his money to build the place with not enough left to operate it properly.
The only exception was the Blue Notch Cafe, which Hazel had turned into big business, relatively. This was a brilliant move, as locals who could not afford to dine in the restaurant, sleep in the suites or rent the ballroom for a wedding flocked to the place all day and all of the night. Which translated to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The cafe even kept the hotel afloat after the 1929 stock market crash. Arnold could have at least kept the hotel open should anyone have the $20 discount rate. But it was too much work, and he'd grown bored. Using the crash as an excuse he said he was going to New York City to work in Wheeler's, a family owned department store in lower Manhattan. Prior to this, the few people who heard Arnold talk about his New York family got the feeling he didn't like them very much. He became the absent manager, returning once or twice a year to inspect the property.
On his last trip, around the end of 1935, he deeded the entire Blue Notch Inn—the hotel, restaurant, cafe, land and the cable car— to my grandmother with no strings attached. Other than she would need to keep the place going and pay the property taxes. This wasn't much of a change for Hazel who had been running things for a while.
Hazel was glad Arnold was out of the picture. He continually took on new projects he couldn't handle, made commitments he could not honor and took too much food at the hotel buffet. Hazel was the opposite. She carved out a wing for herself and her staff, closing down 60 rooms and the restaurant. This stayed pretty much the same until she died in 1966, although there was a rotating cleaning crew that kept things from getting too musty.
Instead of spreading herself too thin Hazel channelled her efforts into the cafe. That, and raising her infant son, Walter. My father.
Right before Arnold left Hazel married Jack Trout, the restaurant's gourmet chef. Pretty soon people who ate at the restaurant only on special occasions came in a few times a week. It was the same food at one fourth the price.
Sometime in the 1930's the town was incorporated as "Wheeler's Blue Notch" but ended up on the map as "Wheeler's Notch." People living "in the Notch" had to go down the hill to shop for anything other than the essentials. The Notch had its own elementary school, but after sixth grade I made the trip up and down every day.
The phone rang in the middle of my last sentence.
"Cricket Computer user support. This is Paul. How can I help you?"
"Paolo. Que Pasa?" Ironically, Artie was one of the few people who didn't call me Hamster. He never called me Paul either, it was always something like Paulo, Pablo, Pavel, Paul-boy or Pauley-wanna-cracker.
"No one's called yet," I said.
"They wouldn't have," he said. "It'll be a few days. We are having a little delay getting them ramped up for delivery. The packaging isn't perfect."
The packaging sucked to begin with. The computer didn't look anything like the competition. Instead of an off-white or beige color they were pale green. Instead of a separate computer, monitor and keyboard the monitor slid into a groove on top of the computer and the keyboard extended from an attached drawer. Both the computer and the monitor had small plastic molded crickets on the front, with the eyes lighting up red when the power was on. It was creepy.
The really stupid part: At startup, instead of an innocuous beep it emitted a strangled chirp.
Artie asked what I thought.
"Most people don't like this shade of green," I said. "It looks like frog's blood. Even if they like green they surely hate bugs. You might as well call it the cockroach. And that chirp is annoying."
"They'll get used to it," he said. "When you compare it to the competition this is a really cool design. As for the chirp, people need to learn to leave the computer on all the time and not turn it off at night like a TV. If they hate the chirp enough it will motivate them to follow the instructions."
My best-ever friend wasn't very good at listening to other people or notions that his grand ideas missed the mark. I knew he would ignore my feedback, that asking what I thought was reflexive to him and his mind was already swirling around the next idea. That didn't stop me from speaking up, just once. Not that ever saying "I told you so" would have made an impression.
"Something else," I said. "I got this weird note today, a piece of brown paper with 'SMUG must die' on it. I don't get the point here, since SMUG is as dead as Jesus. I hope no one thinks we're going to do this again."
"Yeah, I got one too," he said. "I'll bet that Randy and Sparky got them, but I doubt they got through to Lois with the security and all."
He took a breath.
"Sooo," he drew it out. "I'm guessing that you haven't picked up your bass or given any thought to what I told you about this opportunity for the band."
"I thought you were joking," I said. "What I heard was about the computer project. I thought you gave me the bass because you thought it was something I wanted, and that I was sorry for selling my old one."
"You never listen to me, man," he said. "We've got to talk about that sometime."
Mrs. Babian was in her kitchen, with the afternoon light turning the smoke from her cigarette into a multicolored mist. It swirled around her and she stared into space for a moment.
"You are the one they call Hamster," she said after a while. "It fits you."
That statement really didn't require a response and didn't get one.
She picked up her story about the town and the family history. I had grown up with the generalities, outline of the family history. How Jack had joined the army just before World War II as a cook. He served, literally, until the end of the war. He survived the battles but never returned to his wife and son.
The Blue Notch Cafe continued to thrive and became the only decent restaurant option in town. When Prohibition ended Hazel turned what was once the hotel gift shop into a liquor store and began serving spirits at the cafe, over the counter. She renovated the old restaurant and offered it rent free to Mark Connors, Artie's grandfather, so he could relocate his general store. She planned to clear out the ground floor rooms and turn them into small shops, but that fizzled when the war started.
I heard all this before and was starting to doze a bit. Mrs. Babian chose that moment to deliver some real news.
"Mr. Trout, Your life is somewhat more interesting than you imagine," she said adding that Jack Trout did not die in the war, as I was told since childhood. He survived, but did not return out of disloyalty or sloth. Rather, he had met another soldier, Arnold Wheeler Jr. Mr. Wheeler was aware of Blue Notch and the hotel because his father had brought him there when he was very young.
Arnold Junior was raised in New York but only saw his father sporadically until the depression. Jack figured out that Arnold Senior always had a family in New York, which he never mentioned while he was in Blue Notch. His defection to New York was not because he couldn't handle the stress of the hotel business but because his wife had given him an ultimatum. Return to New York now, she said, or never come back again. I will raise our son alone, and you can be in charge of the other one when it arrives.