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09.13.02 10:48 p.m.

Our Creator would never have made such lovely days and have given us the deep hearts to enjoy them unless we were meant to be immortal.

 -Nathaniel Hawthorne  

Previously in Xenology: I was once intelligent.

I had been trying to remember for much of last weekend the meaning to some nonsensical word (heteroglossia) that I should have learned in my Literary Criticism class. It finally struck me today, though it didn't make much more sense. I tend to learn things better when I have forced myself to have a vague obsession. Right now, I can tell you that the nonsensical word was summoned out of nothing by Bahktin, a student of Russian Formalism who was born under the reign of Stalin, and it refers to the levels of... no, wait, I lost it.
My other car is a GENIUS car!  
We'll have a positively GENIUS time!
I almost felt like I could handle this class for a moment. It is a graduate level course, a fact of which I was decidedly unaware when I agreed to take it. Not only is it a graduate level course, but it is one of the final classes English graduate students need take. As such, everyone else has a background in what in the name of Mneme he or she is expounding upon. I sit in the back and try to chase away the pressure in my head that comes from being thrown with ankle weights into a sea of terminology that should be familiar and might as well be Greek for all the sense it makes to me.
I have never before been the stupid kid in a class. Even when I took physics, the bane of my high school existence, I was remarkably adept at the conceptual side, just unable to put the concepts into practice when numbers worked their way in. Friends assured me that I can handle and rise above this situation, and I am currently convinced they are not lying to me, but I still think "heteroglossia" should mean something that is very shiny in different ways.
I used to be smart. I distinctly remember being entered into programs called Center for Talented Youth and SPARKS (though I do not remember, if indeed I ever knew, just what that acronym meant). I even got a free ride at Dutchess for two years because I was in the top 10% of my graduating class. I at least possessed remnants of it then, didn't I? I still tell the anecdote about being in kindergarten and firmly believing I was to be given away as a present because I was labeled as "gifted." Increasingly, as I learn more about educational and developmental psychology, I understand that I was advanced in my maturity and language skills. I was formal operational in some fields before I could do the multiplication tables (clearly the fields were not mathematical. I was advanced in linguistically, logically, spatially, interpersonally, intrapersonally). I was this special little ball of specialness and I knew it. What happened, exactly? When did I become more or less mediocre? When did I cease to be brilliant and advanced and become faintly illustrious and average? Is there anyway I can totally quit myself of blame and lay it on the metaphoric shoulders of my dilapidated, inner-city public school? It seems like such a good choice.
As I think I make no secret, I want to feel advanced and literally excellent. I do not wish to be common, because there are a lot of people decidedly similar in one or more ways to me and I need to have an edge. It informs my personality and I am certainly not due for another psychosocial crisis until a few years out of college.
I do not wish to be another useless intellectual that prattles on about the examples of dialogism according to Bahktin in "Ode to a Nightingale." I have encountered enough of them to know that they are far worse than the terminally ignorant for they presume to know everything and will explain this to you in the largest terms possible in an attempt to exclude you from knowledge. I am tired of graduate students who claim I made the word "storgic" up while they lick the undead boots of theorists who create obscure terms and infuse their paragraphs with these unpronounceable Russo-Greek abominations. Oh, sorry, different rant.
To return to my point, I no longer feel the velvet hum of "giftedness" caressing my lobes. I somehow lost this distinction. Is New Paltz to blame? It is arrogant of me to believe that I am not suffering from a little fish in a big pond syndrome? No, I don't believe so. I did not conclude these things through a means of comparison. One really cannot compare two people with any honesty and it is further ridiculous to commit this act against oneself. Compared with myself at an early date, I feel somehow less. Certainly I would wish to feel as innately intelligent as I once did, but how can this be accomplished as a near twenty-two-year-old college senior? Aside from somehow getting some amazing job as an editor or research assistant, because I am not delusional.
I don't know and maybe that's the problem.

Maiden, Mother, Crohn's
Last weekend was... hmm... well, it should have been good, in theory. Just like Communism. I was supposed to go to the home of Emily's parents, have a nice dinner, get painted by her artist father who can sell his painting for $10,000 with impunity, go unconscious for 7-10 hours and then have a wood hauling/barbecue with several on my friends, Emily, and her father. These sorts of things rarely go well.
The dinner was very late and much of it could not be eaten by Emily, whose stomach is seven kinds of unhappy. Beginning the weekend, our theory was an ulcer, which would not be wholly ridiculous as she has heaps upon heaps of stress and little outlet for it. Not enough physical sparring in her life and too much verbal sparring with her parents, to whom she is fiscally and emotionally beholden. The theory then became that she is allergic to wheat, which is not unlikely. However, at the moment, it is believed that she has something called Crohn's disease. I am in no way medical. I just know she is the only being I have ever witnessed having both Mylanta and Pepto, depending on the meal (white wine or red wine?), and who drinks it straight from the bottle. It is a bit like watching an alien that has assumed her body and is unfamiliar with what earthlings consider a beverage.
I could not sleep through the night, for reasons I won't go into. I had frightened Emily a great deal by engaging her in a conversation about the mythological and religious antecedents of a paranormal phenomena called "Shadow People." Basically, shadows that move without you. As such, she insisted the bathroom light be kept on. My belief that this would create shadows was summarily ignored. I chit-chatted with her unconscious form until into the wee hours before encircling myself with a separate blanket and cozying against the wall.
The next morning, Conor and Flynn were supposed to drive to visit us and help us haul wood and be rewarded with a party. But Flynn's mother CiCi (one of the most feared entities I have ever met and with good reason) forbade him to drive to us. Conor, who lacks both the skill and the means to drive, later called my home and whisperingly apologized to my mother for bailing on us. However, my mother says that he called from Colorado, so there may be a bigger mystery. Emily wept and cursed their names for a bit for not having told us this much, much sooner. I sat back and tried to think up reasonable solutions to soothe her. Then, mood swinging back to normal, she decided she wasn't really upset with them, just the situation. Her father, for whom we were to haul said wood, handled this well and it was rescheduled.
The rest of the story, which doesn't much deserve to be expounded upon in detail, involved us shopping for school clothes for M and returning to her New Paltz apartment to watch the banned version of Lolita, which caused me to exclaim, "Oh, I see the best punishment for pedophilia! Having to deal with a fourteen year old girl!" This, evidently, was witty. I supposed if you have seen the film, you understand that it isn't exactly about some pubescent sexpot as ignorant pedophiles everywhere seemed to assume.

September 11th, Redux
Tuesday night I spent in Emily's apartment. She didn't wish to spend the night before September 11th, 2002 alone and I cannot say I blame her in the least. We couldn't know what the following day would bring and a close companion would certainly be welcome to the point of necessity.
I carefully weighed what could possibly be appropriate on the eve of the anniversary of one of the worst tragedies on American soil and decided that a garbage bag full of various comfort foods (and two bananas for Leah) and about twenty-five videos were approaching the proper level of comfort. And, of course, a two foot tall Jack Skelington doll in his pajamas. There is nothing quite as soothing as a plush skeleton in PJs. No one quite knows why.
Leah, M, and I spent most of September tenth watching The Daily Show and enjoying Jon Stewart's masterful advice (and I paraphrase, "Laura Bush advised that we keep children away from the TV tomorrow. I agree and might I recommend adults as well? And teens and old people?"). Frankly, I have to say his beginning speech did a lot to assuage my anxiety. After The Daily Show had ended, we watched Clerks, the most socially irrelevant of the completely irrelevant films I had brought as mental comfort food. This, indeed, provided the necessary psychic balm by forcing us to laugh at the tiny ridicules of daily life rather then cry at the numbing powerlessness we felt 364 days ago. Also, Kevin Smith is funny. Emily kissed him once.
The entire day made everything seem too real.
I awoke the next morning, just in time to realize that it was very nearly 8:46, when the first plane hit. Emily was already calmly watching CNN, as she felt they would provide the least amount of tower collapsing footage. We certainly have very little interest in watching the sudden deaths of thousands of people. I don't dig up my grandfather on the anniversary of his death and I certainly don't see any reason to do the emotional equivalent to these victims now. We watched the formal ceremony and Bush's regime make various threatening remarks, though only the latter made us feel terrorized. Shortly after the time second tower had collapsed last year, Emily and I did the same on her bed. Some how, being conscious for the exact amount of time it took for the attacks last year was exactly equivalent to having been up all day on a particularly stressful and painful day. You know, like last year. It also may have been that Emily was fearful that there would be some terrorist act during the ceremonies and was emotionally empty from the worry.
We awoke several hours later. Despite desperately desiring some sort of physical union in order to feel like we were connected and to chase away the shadows, we decided that our intentions were not proper. We wanted it so we could feel something other than the emptiness and fear, not because it was right. Given that I was already putting such acts on hold for a while in order to keep myself sane, it wasn't as difficult a decision as we might have otherwise found it.
We decided that we needed to get out of her apartment and see how the universe was reacting to all of this. It was honestly quite a beautiful day out. The wind was romancing the desiccated leaves to dance tarantellas of joy in front of our feet. Pretty. The clouds were swirling gray interspersed with rays of sunlight. There was definitely a surreal element to all of this, but the entire world did not seem to be on the brink of cataclysm.
We walked past an Italian restaurant offering all one can eat for a couple of bucks. Emily became brighter than her usual luminosity and insisted that we eat there immediately. I stood still for a moment as the awareness dawned on her that tomatoes with their acidity and pasta with its wheatiness were most certainly verboten to her. She frowned and quickly decided Chinese buffets would provide her with all of the culinary satiation she could possibly need. I tried to ask whether the proprietors would likely use wheat, but she refused to listen to me further, having resolved herself.
Crossing an overpass that had been covered in the caramel shards of drunken binges past, we discussed what superpowers we would want, had we the choice. I said I would want to be able to instantly evolve into whichever environment I was immersed. I would call myself Darwin. Emily decided after some deliberation that she would have the ability to shift reality at will. This seemed like a good power, though Emily wanted it so she could have a house. We argued over whether it made more sense to just cause the house to exist or to buy a house from the money made off of a huge emerald that one "finds." We are pretty much dorks. I stated that such powers would have to come after a long period of being normal or one would become quite insane and unbelievably dangerous.
We stood for a moment among the glass fangs about us on the overpass, watching the cars and trucks speed under our feet. It was strange to see people honestly going about their business on a day where we wanted to just be together and hidden from the universe.
The Chinese restaurant indeed soothed us further from our journey. (Hey, it was a stressful walk. I thought the glass had cut me.) The food was average fare and Emily seemed to think some of it would actually be edible to her. Eating for her has become Russian Roulette, save that biting the bullet results in chugging chalky liquid rather that making the wall into a Jackson Pollock canvas. I decided that our eating here was immensely American. We were patronizing an establishment that feeds us as much food as we can swallow, surrounded by what American's believe to be Chinese cuisine and decoration, because we had the money to do so. It really made me sort of happy. As we ate, I listened to the volunteer ambulance drivers at a nearby table groaning lustily after the "tits" of some woman one of them had treated a week before. It certainly does make one feel a little wary, despite the fact that these are the only sort of people who can help one in an emergency.
After we left, Emily desired to check the health food store for wheat-free, gluten-free, acid-free, food-free groceries. The store had a post-apocalyptic hippy air, a little like in a role-playing game. There were numerous tubes and much vegetation espousing to fulfill any number of health concerns. I purchased a tube of translucent pellets made of coffee that claims it can put me to sleep. All it does is give me unusually intense dreams. Emily moped because most every item that could have been palatable was infused with wheat. Evidently, even Twizzlers are made of wheat, which gives M so much less reason to live. After a serendipitous conversation with a nice hippy gentleman, Emily decided that whole food is the way to go. I decided that herbal gum and chapstick was. Though I suppose they wouldn't sustain her for very long.
We browsed through town, more of less feeling that everything was going to be okay. It was as though this was the first time we actually realized it. The world was actually recovering. We didn't have to freeze every time a siren sounded or feel uneasy upon seeing a low flying plane. It really was a normal world.
While we were in town looking for whatever it is that non-alcoholic college students look for in town, I ended up buying a silver, sparkly cigarette case in which I will keep my gum. How cool would it be to whip out a cigarette case and offer people sticks of gum? Pretty darned cool, let me tell you!
Snake in the grass.  
I am lazy
fruit of knowledge  
she is merely cooperating
We didn't tarry long in town, as we wanted to get back to my house in time to join my father at the special September eleventh mass at his church. However, mere yards from M's apartment and thus our cars, I decided that I was very tired of walking (we had only walked three or so miles so it was likely just that I was lazy) and plopped down in a particularly well-manicured field and began to stare at the sky. Emily stood over me, trying to plan our weekend using a magazine and intermittently taking pictures of me. As vengeance, I took pictures of her. I can be quite cruel.
We ended up arriving late, just as my father was leaving. As we were nowhere ready to enter a church in our current states, we decided that the candlelight vigil we had heard about was more our speed. We quickly called Zack, who agreed to come with us because we gave him very little choice in the matter. The vigil had a rather small turn out, considering that it was being held at a firehouse. I somehow thought there would be more firemen there. Also, did you know one is required to bring one's own candles to a candlelight vigil? I hadn't the slightest clue, so I just stood and tried to look somber while experiencing deep envy that I lacked a candle. The man leading the ceremonies had not done a very good job preparing as best evidenced by the fact that he read an e-mail forward about God creating firemen as though he were reading from the Bible. Here it is in its entirety:

When the Lord was creating fire fighters, he was into his sixth day of overtime when an angel appeared and said, "You're doing a lot of fiddling around on this one."
And the Lord said, "Have you read the specification on this person? Fire fighters have to be able to go for hours fighting fires or tending to a person that the usual everyday person would never touch, while putting in the back of their minds the circumstances. They have to be able to move at a second's notice and not think twice of what they are about to do, no matter what danger. They have to be in top physical condition at all times, running on half-eaten meals, and they must have six pairs of hands."
The angel shook her head slowly and said, "Six pairs of hands... no way." "It's not the hands that are causing me problems," said the Lord, "it's the three pairs of eyes a fire fighter has to have."
"That's on the standard model?" asked the angel. The Lord nodded. "One pair to see through the fire and where they and their fellow fire fighters should fight the fire next. Another pair here in the side of the head to see their fellow fire fighters and keep them safe. And another pair of eyes in the front so that they can look for the victims caught in the fire who need their help."
"Lord," said the angel, touching his sleeve, "rest and work on this tomorrow." "I can't," said the Lord, "I already have a model that can carry a 250-pound man down a flight of stairs to safety from a burning building, and can feed a family of five on a civil service paycheck."
The angel circled the model of the fire fighter very slowly, "Can it think?" "You bet," said the Lord. "They can tell you the elements of a hundred fires and can recite procedures in their sleep that are needed to care for a person until they reach the hospital. And all the while they have to keep their wits about them. Fire fighters also have phenomenal personal control.
They can deal with a scene full of pain and hurt, coaxing a child's mother into letting go of the child so that they can care for the child in need. And still they rarely get the recognition for a job well done from anybody, other than from fellow fire fighters."
Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek of the fire fighter. "There's a leak," she pronounced. "Lord, it's a tear. What's the tear for?"
"It's a tear from bottled-up emotions for fallen comrades. A tear for commitment to that funny piece of cloth called the American flag. It's a tear for all the pain and suffering they have encountered. And it's a tear for their commitment to caring for and saving lives of their fellow man!"
"What a wonderful feature. Lord, you're a genius," said the angel. The Lord looked somber and said, "I didn't put it there."
What was especially unfortunate, aside from the intense cheesiness, is that it insinuates that the devil had helped create firemen. After all, anything that is not of God is of the devil and God didn't give his Hindu deity of a man a tear. So clearly it was Satan. What provoked Emily's ire was the stern and willful ignorance that there are firemen in other countries. Firemen put out fires and rescue people because they want to save lives, not to honor a piece of cloth or an abstract idea of "country." Fires are not rival nations; they are a natural force as old as the universe. As such, firemen are heroic humans not heroic Americans alone.
After the man finished with this e-mail forward and noted that the congregants were not terribly impressed, he motioned for a fireman to press "play" on the CD player. Mariah Carey began shrilling the national anthem out in a disjoined fashion. People tried to sing along at the chorus, which started to move Emily toward tears. However, the attendees tried to sing the song as they had learned it. Mariah felt the need to backtrack. As such, the voices died away almost as quickly as they had started. Zack later suggested that they should have asked a human singer to provide the anthem and that he would have been glad to have done the honor. Instead, a beautiful moment was lessened by Mariah Carey moaning like a wounded ferret.
Emily looking strangely sexy or sexily strange
The formal part ended and we were all invited into the firehouse for refreshments. However, first we had to get by a frightening member of my high school graduating class. I feel the need to explain him and I need you to know that I am not using the least bit of my characteristic hyperbole. He really is this bad. He had absolutely no concept of how people behave in society. For example, he spent much of high school toting around a picture of a girl claiming that it was his Canadian girlfriend whom he had met over the internet. However, the picture was the sort that came with the selfsame frame his would show us. In fact, I used to pass the frames at Sears and greet his "girlfriend's" picture. He also had atrocious hygiene but self-righteously insisted he was healthier for it. He claimed to the Black Student Association and the Latin Students Association that he was both African-American and Latino, despite the fact that he was very clearly totally Caucasian. He was wont to make up ludicrous and easily disprovable stories such as how he was related to Bill Gates (who as we all know is of mixed Latin/African ancestry) and was a famous black belt in a martial art that changed names every week. In short, he was not someone with whom one wishes to engage in conversation if one does not want the conversation with his being hit upside the head in utter annoyance. Even the teacher would tell him to shut up. Zack said he could be an excellent actor if one wrote the part exactly like he already is and then convinced him that his role was serious. When I had to cast him in the play I was directing, I made him a zombie (but the head zombie). Given a part where he was supposed to be silent and awkward, he really was quite good.
We had to slip past him to avoid ruining our moods. We entered the firehouse easily, as he had turned to pester one of the congregants. The fire trucks fascinated Emily, she having never seen one up close. The inside of the firehouse was a bit like a rumpus room, which made sense once I gave it some thought but seemed immensely satiric at first. As we were looking at the pictures on the wall, the sociopath cornered us. Zack and I escaped to the other side of the hall, but M was still looking at a picture of an angel and fireman ice sculpture. Seeing that the sociopath was about to close in and droolingly try to hit on M, I muttered, "Wow, M, you should check out this... thing... over here..." As she came she bemoaned, "There was something beautiful and you missed it because you were a prick." I explained that I was rescuing her from the scary man. She giggled and said, "He smells like old soup."
Just chillin'
We decided against remaining in the firehouse, especially as Zack was especially keen on us playing skee-ball. We drove to the nearest arcade and summarily spent much of Zack's money in an attempt to win tickets. With the tickets comes great power. We seemed to be best when we were working as a team to hit seven crocodiles before they could bite us in a whack-a-mole type game. Had we only known that this was where out talents lay!
We got in a round of mini-golf. Zack proclaimed at the first hole that, should any of us get a hole in one, he would dance like a monkey. Nay, all of us should dance like the simian of our choice. This seemed like an excellent plan. As the game continued, the wager for hole in ones increased to shirtlessness, though Emily insisted that her bra was not pretty enough. And yet, there were no hole in ones. We arrived at the final hole. Zack insisted that he would get naked at some point during the night if we managed to get a hole in one. I got a three. M got a two. Zack, dear lad, got a hole in one. Emily and I turned to him and screamed, "Strip!" He promised that he would before the night was over, but not in the middle of the golf course.
fruit of knowledge  
Our secret weapon
We turned in our tickets for army men, rubber happy faces, and alien finger puppets that became our soldier in a war for all that was good in life. The battleground? Ruby Tuesday's. We ate slowly, thoughtfully, plotting our next move. We introduced more plastic toys to the table every time the waitress passed. She pretended not to notice, but I think we all know the truth of the matter. She was scared for her petty life and trying to rally her cowardly troops against us. But our toypower was not to be underestimated.
Unfortunately, during a change in course, one of my men (the happy faces) was lost to the enemies. I cannot imagine the indignities forced upon him by the enemy, but I am certain he died brave and with a smile on his face.
We drove to my house to watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Zack called to us from the back seat with, "I don't mean to brag, but I am completely naked." I turned and saw naked thigh. I looked forward as Emily petitioned me to assure her that he really was naked. He had covered his bits with his bandana, I told her, but he was most certainly as bare as the day he was born. At least he does not welsh on his debts.
So, all in all, I think we are going to be okay.

Soon in Xenology: We hang out with Dave and Zack. But not together.

last watched: Killer Klowns from Outer Space
reading: Lolita
listening: Cake : Fashion Nugget
wanting: more people to know that life really is going to be okay.
interesting thought: Days like I had help me believe in benevolence.
moment of zen: Seeing the sky churn.
someday I must: rescue my men from Hell's Kitchen.

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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