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02.15.02 4:56 p.m.

You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you're going to live. Now.


  - Joan Baez  




The Holiday Chaucer Didn't Invent
Last night, Emily and I - like most of North America - celebrated Valentine's Day. I have never been a huge fan of the holiday, honestly. It's all commercial and strange. Often a source of pain for the coupled as well as single. Another night, I will express to you why, personally, I have issues with it. But not now.
After class, we went back to her apartment to get changed into our pretty people clothes. I was still lazing about in my t-shirt and jeans when M came out of the bathroom. She was ravishing in a short black dress, stockings and, oh yes, the fuck-me boots (what did you think was holding that ankle up?). I did what every self-respecting gentleman would do when approached with a ravishing creature in fuck-me boots. I tried to help her and her boots earn their respective titles. The spirit was willing, if you understand my meaning, but the flesh was weak (it has been a difficult and nerve-wracking week for us both). So we ended up blowing the kind of bubbles that don't pop and being cuddly. Then I realized we were making ourselves late to our evening.
We started our night by going to this great little restaurant across the river from New Paltz called the Nick-L Inn. Only, it wasn't actually there anymore. In its place was a heavily lit green thing called the Plough and Stars. In front was a spotlighted, restored plough. Nothing piques my hunger like antiquated farm equipment. I was, understandably, a little baffled. I loved the Nick-L Inn. It was so quaint and romantic.
The brash man at the entrance assured me I would be pleasantly surprised, right after he happily told me that the prior establishment went out of business. I realize that this was now his restaurant, but I don't really think joy is the right emotion. I really liked the Nick-L Inn. The woman standing next to him insisted she remembered me from my previous visits, though I somehow doubt that given I'd only had two and hadn't been back in well over a year and a half. This is the restaurant I wanted to take Eileen to last last Valentine's Day.
Inside, they had done away with the piano area and the booths, both fixtures I enjoyed in my prior two visits. And the walls were a dense shade of forest green that I could not find myself able to like. I kept thinking I would fall into them and be assimilated with the liquid greenness.
We were seated at a tiny table next to the kitchen. Where is the love? When last I was here, we got a booth with wooden benches. Granted, it was still next to the kitchen, but at least I had room enough to lie down, should the mood strike me.
While I am playing the eternal critic, I didn't like the selection as much. I wanted yummy foods with complex names. Complex, foreign names they had in spades. However, a lot of it seemed like seafood wrapped in bacon wrapped in seaweed, covered in mint jelly. We ended up getting some sort of seafood dish that I will call Mussels Diablo, owing to the fact that is was immensely and secretly spicy. Emily got some sort of hard cider, because no one bothered to card us (though we are both legal to drink, we should still be asked) and she felt she should. This justification didn't suit me, so she confessed to how it is like vampires in novels that order warm beverages just to hold them and smell them. See, you just have to speak to me on my level.
When it came time for the requisite dessert, we realized Emily could eat absolutely nothing owing to an allergy to eggs. The waitress, feeling bad, asked if it would be okay to serve M strawberries and whipped cream. Her eyes lit up and made the forest green paint a comely shade of green like the seas off a tropical island. This would do nicely. I had homemade vanilla ice cream with raspberries and blueberries. This would do very nicely. We fed the desserts to one another, in cinematic romantic fashion, a lot more pleasant a vision than choking on the fire mussels.
I had promised M a surprise since the beginning of the night and, actually, Evan was integral to pulling it off.
I led Emily around in mental circles, which was no small feat, considering she was the one driving to this surprise. I directed her around the mall parking lot in a very erratic fashion. Finally, I had her park a good distance from the theater and shut her eyes tight and cover her ears. However, she was so terribly nervous about where I was leading her that she refused to walk faster than a snail's pace. I removed her fingers from her ears and told her to trust me. I wasn't going to lead her into a pothole that would further break her foot.
When we got inside, I stuck her fingers back in her ears. I looked at the largely apathetic cashier and asked where Evan was. He mumbled that Evan was in the booth. So, clearly, I could just walk in. Which I did. I have moral objections to paying money to enter that theater, frankly. My friend works there, thus it is free. I guided Emily to a seat in the back of the theater, still blind and mute, and rushed to find Evan. He wasn't in the booth, though I encountered him on the way back to the theater and thank him enthusiastically for suggesting this movie.
And what movie were we seeing? None other than Waking Life. The cultural system in my area does not allow artistic movies to play in normal theaters. Often, one must go to Upstate Film or even so far as Woodstock. However, for some bizarre reasons, most of the quality art films end up in what is colloquially known as "the cheapies" or "the two dollar theater." I never said I understood the system. Anyway, Emily was thrilled that I had taken her to see this film.
Frankly, after watching it, I have to say I am pretty thrilled I had taken myself to see it as well. It is almost indescribable, in that the description in no way does it justice. Still, I'll give it a shot, but I am telling you that you should go see it no matter how pathetic my description of it must be. It is about this boy, traveling around talking to people about the nature of life, reality, and dreams. I know, you think it is pedantically philosophical and frankly pointless. And, for some, it might be. The important thing is not to try to take it in all at once. You can't possibly. You have to let the movie wash over you. It may seem like you are taking a passive seat by not trying to understand it totally, but that it the ideal way. How the movie was made is almost as important as why. Normal footage was taken, I think with cheap video cameras. Then it was loaded onto a home computer and all of it was animated and painted. It looks like very impressionistic animation of people speaking. There are also abundant visual "jokes," few of which you see the first time. Afterward, Emily and I were discussing them and both saw different things. I must have this movie on video. It is the sort of thing I would put on to keep people quiet for two hours at a time.
Emily thanked me for a great night, her first Valentine's Day with the person with whom she was going out. (My, that's an awkward phrase.)
What is strange, and a little bit wonderful, is that Eileen and her boyfriend Jared were at the same theater as us at the same time watching the same movie, yet we didn't encounter one another. But how perfectly great that this coincidence occurred.

Xen Wins: FRIENDSHIP!
Okay, I'm going to give you a quick story, just so I can take it off "Soon in the Journal:"
I have decided to stalk people to make them my friends. Only not anywhere near as scary as you are likely imagining. There is this girl that I have seen around campus. As she is never without scarf, we shall call her Scarf Girl. And, you know, I haven't the slightest clue what her name is. But that step come soon.
I had decided upon my course of action weeks ago. I would, through a series of coincidental meetings, work myself a wee bit into this girl's life. I would observe her from a safe distance (though only when she appeared at a safe distance, because I am not about to do work here) to make sure she was indeed the sort of person that I get along with. Mr. Xen is an acquired taste, you see. Probably because he refers to himself in the third formal person and calls his attempts at acquaintanceship "stalking."
Anyway, I was in one of the coffee houses on campus and I saw her and her friend. As this was the first time I had been in close proximity to her, this would largely be a recognizance mission. I would observe her in her natural habitat and note her social interactions with members of her species... I mean, friends. Friends. Mostly I was just reading a book though. Because, again, I'm not psycho. She seemed sweet, a bit silly, and, I guess, emotionally soft (in a good way). I think she is the sort of person to whom I could wave hi. She passed the preliminary test I made up on the spot and completely in my head.
I was not planning on making any sort of move to enter her reality, but the moment fell upon me. It was her friend's coat, actually. It is the sort of clothing that had red fur on the inside. So I commented to her, "I like your coat. It looks a bit like a skinned Muppet." She replied, "Most people say it looks like Elmo." Thus we shall call her Skinned Elmo. Then I turned to Scarf Girl, the real object of observation, "not that you don't have a fine coat. It's all light purple in its goodness." She smiled, more kindly than scared.
I went back to my book because it is in baby steps that this mission would be accomplished. The slowness and social psychology of it all is what amuses me. That fact that this girl has very little idea that I am purposely slowly trying to get to be someone she knows. It's not a romantic thing, because that would be stranger. The slowness would be significantly less. It's merely that it is a fun game and I am the only person playing it. By the way, if Scarf Girl eventually becomes my friend and reads this, I'm really not creepy. I just have to seek amusement where I may. Of course, if she should become my friend, I imagine she will realize all of this.
So, a few days ago, coming out of one of the building where I had to drop a class I was seriously grooving on, I saw SG and SE with other friends. I had seen them on campus a few other times, but was not in the mood to resume the game quite then. They were going in the direction I was, so I walked a little faster. The plan... actually, there wasn't any plan aside from observing them from behind and figuring out from their method of walking who they were as people. I do this a lot with people every day out of curiosity, but I don't feel the need to tell you about it. These two are special, you see, and afford you a chance to know my thinking better.
From what I observed, SG is a slightly insecure girl, likely smart. I think she comes from upstate or somewhere it snows a lot. She is likely happy, though slightly overwhelmed with the college experience. They both smoke, which is interesting. SE is shorter, though her steps seemed to go a little farther. She is brasher, I think. Possibly from Long Island, though she too could be from upstate. Less upstate than SG though.
I was late to the class I needed to drop and couldn't afford to get there too late (I needed my teacher's signature to drop), so I was scurrying along at a brisk pace. As I passed them, I heard SE say something to the effect of "...why don't I just grab my crotch and hop on one foot?" Despite myself, I gave a stifled laugh and, grinning, apologized for having heard the wrong part of that conversation.
As my cover may be blown and I feel I exist somewhat in SG reality, I think I will introduce myself to her the next time the moment strikes right. Something like, "Hey, I've seen you around campus a few times blah blah blah I'm Xen blah blah." Nothing too outlandish, I don't think. We'll let Fate decide.



Soon in Xenology: I tell you my displeasure with orbs being ghosts, except when they are. I fill you in about Dances With Bunnies, my psych teacher. I drop a class I was starting to love. I try to decide if I am massively geeky or actually kind of cool. Or I could be like Weezer and be both. I likely avoid interaction with Kate, especially in person. M has a party.



last watched: M blink
reading: Illusions, Richard Bach
listening: Best Of The Early Years, They Might Be Giants
wanting: to stop leaving my presents in the back of M's car.
interesting thought: Eileen reads many entries at a time so she can feel, for a little while, like she is inside my head.
moment of zen: trying to adjust the light levels in something that is a little too phantasmagorical to not be a dream.
someday I must: never be an ant again.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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