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01.02.03 10:40 a.m.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.

 -Anais Ninn  

Previously in Xenology: Dave was cool and wise. I feared change. Emily was a former Jew turned commercialized Christian holiday fiend.

Two Great Tastes
Yesterday, Emily and I went to lunch with Dave at Bacchus in New Paltz as this seemed an immensely nice way to spend the first day of the New Year. It was as it always is with Dave. We spoke on a variety of subjects, but it all ended up being painfully hilarious to us. For a taste:
Dave's not here, man!  
Dave (albeit months ago)
Playing with my calamari, I dipped it in Emily's bean soup. "Hey!" she bemoaned, "you got tentacle in my soup!"
Instantly I retorted, "You got soup on my tentacle!... Mmm... two great tastes that taste great together!"
"If you hadn't said it, I was gonna have to." remarked Dave.
Then, as could be expected, I accidentally said "testicles" instead of "tentacles" and Dave guffawed, "You put your testicles in my soup!"
This was not helped by the fact that Emily told Dave about a little indiscretion wherein my mother walked into my room while I, nude, was towering over Emily, fully clothes, and yelling, "Touch it!" (All in jest, of course)
What may be most important about this meeting, other than the fact that it is very good to see Dave again, is that Emily invited Dave to go skiing with us on the nineteenth. Never mind the fact that I had, at no point, agreed to go skiing. However, as my New Year's resolution is to be braver so I may not miss out on good experiences, I wasn't going to decline. Dave shared with us that, when he was in school, he was a part of a group that was going to go skiing. Shortly before this was to occur, Dave broke bones in an unrelated matter. He felt that this was a message from above the skiing was not for him.

The Monster in the Closet
Owing to my newfound and vaguely inappropriate adventurous streak, we recently visited a sex shop. Emily remarked, as we left Johnny D's for the relative amusement of her parent's empty home, that she had never been in that sex shop, though she sees it frequently. Ordinarily, I would have just let this pass but I am adventurous. We adventurous people are lacking in sense. So we visited.
We had to enter through the back door, which gave me slight juvenile amusement. As we were entering a sex shop, I felt more than justified. After one passes over the threshold, one is greeted by an eye level sign proclaiming that the buyer should be aware that all materials and products contained herein were only for governmental and scientific purposes. Of course, who would be so foolish as to belief that a sex shop sold anything other than test tubes and tax forms? Oh, and three foot dildos.
Emily, Zack, and I wandered through the stacks and stacks of porn. As M and I had discovered when we perused the adult section of her local video store, pornography is pretty often the least arousing thing on earth. I lifted a DVD and noted, "the resolution is so good that you can actually see her utter contempt for the viewer!" The only video that had any promise for slight arousal was from the seventies and billed itself as "'My Fair Lady' with a sexual twist." As I had been trying to find the parody porn (such as Forest Hump, Austin Deflowers, and Shaving Ryan's Privates), I was satisfied that at least one such video existed. However, I couldn't fathom wanting to buy anything from this establishment, so it remained at the bottom of the discount bin.
Emily kept picking up videos geared for the S&M crowd and, judging from the covers, it is a surprise there is an S&M crowd. I can see fuzzy handcuffs, but the idea of wanting to place jumper cables on a woman's nipples is frankly beyond me. Torturing the own with whom I am sleeping doesn't exactly give me the happy. I have heard anti-porn lobbyists proclaim pornography as the gateway to rape. I don't think this is wholly true or humanity would not be anywhere near as civilized. However, I do think that pornography that features the females trussed, tortured, dismembered, and consumed devalues and wholly objectifies that whole sex. Even if the killing is simulated, it starts justifying the action to much less stable souls. Likely they will not decide that schoolgirl is the other white meat, but they will be less inclined to understand that a woman has a right to be free of molestation and harm.
While we looked at the merchandise and tries not to touch anything that looked moist, I overheard the salesgirl having a fight with what I assumed to be her boyfriend or, at the very least, paramour. From what I could piece together, the salesgirl had "a feelin'" that this lad and what may have been her cousin where more than friends. His argument, as I extrapolated from her reactions, was to the extent that the salesgirl was paranoid and he hadn't cheated on her in weeks. She made no effort to keep this private conversation from the assembled perverts in the store, though she may have been right in assuming that they were more interested in "Debbie Does Roman Showers on Black, Amputee Midgets VI" than in an actual female (inasmuch as the salesgirl could be identifies as a female, she may have had some troglodyte in her blood). However, it should be noted that for $500 you could order "the perfect female" through this store from Hustler. It, of course, cannot speak but features removable orifices as the perfect woman must.
I felt quite protective of M in the store. While I knew that no one was going to fuck with Emily and leave the store intact, I didn't want some greasy pervert coming near her. I positioned myself between her and any strange party whenever they came within six feet of her. It is the postmodern equivalent of placing one's coat in the mud so a lady may walk across without damage.
After getting our fill and leaving as I inquired loudly, "Why won't anyone make eye contact with me?" we drove to get a bad horror movie to watch at M's. At the video store, we all chose the worst one we could find. Emily held up Carnisaur IV but it was no match for my The Monster in the Closet. Actually, it may have been a match had we not chosen at random. For its genre of intentionally schlocky, it was actually quite good. There was decent planting and pay-off and a coherent plot. Though if I had noticed that it was only rated PG, I might not have recommended it. From this sort of a movie, you expect a certain degree of senseless violence and nudity.

The rough plan for New Years Eve was to gather with Zack/Melissa/Tina/Stevehen and have something like festivities. It seems simply enough to the layman, but if you are a regular reader or just somewhat realistic, you know this is not what happened at all.
Zack, dear Zack, had come down with some illness that prevented his joining us. Liz too came down with a similar illness and thus Melissa was far too sad to go out without her Liz in tow. They aren't gay. They want you to know that. They are just ambiguously close. I invited Stevehen and he said he would have to ask Tina if it would be okay. I never heard from either of them again. Owing to all of the above, Emily and I ended up at my older brother's apartment sharing New Years watching The Devil's Advocate with the potentially Republican family of Dan's girlfriend Corinne. It was not exactly as I had imagined the night going, but they did deep-fry a turkey. There was a lot less fire than I expected, but it was still the highpoint.
You may be asking what happened to Emily's gift to me to take me to Salem for New Years Eve. First, Emily's car Plabo went over an embankment at the hands of Emily's mother. While it is still drivable, it is not roadworthy enough to make a four-hour drive. Second, we increasing realized that, save for Nathaniel Hawthorne's home, everything was very much closed. It would have been quite dull during the daylight hours. Third, though we couldn't have logically anticipated this, the weather was abysmal and would have prevented our trip anyway. Instead, we shall hopefully go for our anniversary in May.
My New Years resolution is to be a great deal more adventurous when it comes to trying new experiences. It is not that I suffer from a lack of bravery. If confronted with a ghost or a resident of Pine Bush (a.k.a. alien lemur moths!) I react in a calm fashion that unsettles Emily. However, should you ask me to do something with which I have no experience, I am decidedly terrified.
Let's take, for example, air travel. I have never, ever flown for a moment. I don't fully understand why airplanes don't fall down. It seems that they do just that every year or so. I don't worry about hijackers. I am fully aware than if anyone makes the slightest suspicious move, they will be tackled and beaten unconscious. I am just worried that the plane will fall out of the air. Emily tried to console me by informing me that she loves to fly because it is one of the only times that she is totally out of control of her life. This does not reassure me.
I chose this example for a crucial reason. I was so silently frightened of flight that I told Emily I didn't wish to travel to Florida with her in a few days to visit Disneyworld. I could have gotten to hang out at Disneyworld 100% free and backed out. As such, I will lack Emily for a week. I have already worked through my depression about this in the specific. Now I just have to work through it in the general.
I need to lead an exciting life or I will wither to ash.

Nightmare Before Christmas
This Christmas represented the first real one for the Pagan née Jewish Emily. Picture, if you will, a twenty-three year old Shirley Temple experiencing twenty-two years of repressed Christmas cheer all at once. In her car, she listened only to Christmas carols. She would serenade me with "Let it Snow" as often as she could. She reveled in making Christmas lists and treated candy canes as the mystical ambrosia of the one you call Claus. Given that I grew up with all of this, I more or less just smiled and let her have her fun though I couldn't always share her passion.
Kissing Emmy Claus
Obviously, I wanted this to be a positive, interesting and memorable experience. Two out of three isn't so bad.
When she arrived, I was sitting on my bed wrapping some additional gifts from the Land of Misfit Toys and watching Olive, the Other Reindeer. She informed me that she had, on her drive to my home, seen a kangaroo happily munching on a pumpkin chunk that it was gripping in its front paws. As I couldn't think of anything that she could mistake for a kangaroo, aside from a mutant squirrel, I accepted that it was one of those strange Christmas visions usually attributed to sugarplums.
Christmas Eve went quietly until moments before I was to go to bed. My mother informed me that my younger (though still nineteen) year old brother had left the house in moccasins, pants, and a short sleeve shirt on one of the coldest nights this year because my father was touching Bryan's new computer. Were I inclined to leave my warm house in a huff, I would return shortly thereafter because my toes were frozen. This was not the case and my mother was extremely stressed by the whole situation, as might be expected. She yelled at my father to go find him after ten minutes and screamed out the front door, "Bryan, get your ass back here, you are ruining Christmas!" I darted into my room to soothe Emily and assure her that Santa would most certainly still come and would bring Bryan home. In fact, he came back of his own accord, though he did so only because my mother was about to start up his car to go look for him. It is nice to know he has priorities.
On Christmas morning, the presents stretched across the living room floor. Emily was utterly shocked. I assured her that Santa is kind to us because we have some incriminating photo of the Missus and a few elves; most do not receive such bounty. We unwrapped for hours, taking turns behind two cameras with a dearth of battery power and recording space. And yet, it lasted us for eight whole days! Truly, this was a miracle.
Emily was surprised that she received so many gifts both from my family, good old Kris Kringle, and me. I sold my hair to buy her a watchband, which is unfortunate, because she sold her watch to buy me a comb. Or not. Perhaps I just bought her a lot of random things, including pajamas (which are currency in the land of M's people), and she provided me with the complete My So-Called Life. But the feeling behind it was the same.
After the presents were unwrapped and some of them opened, we made an effort to pack them into my tiny room. It was a good attempt, but the laws of physical space were against us.
Emily was desperate to get back to the Stepford Wives' house from whence she came to prevent the family from getting upset that she dared to leave their dog and cat to celebrate the holidays with her pseudofamily. She called them to see if the neighbors could possibly let the dog out to obey the call of nature so M didn't have to risk her own destruction to make sure Ms. Pussikins didn't make a mess on the immaculate linoleum. The family called my home to yell at Emily, but eventually grew sensical enough to place the human life of their daughter's teacher over the slight discomfort of a cat and told her to stay where she was. Nonetheless, Emily harbored a guilt complex about it for days.

Soon in Xenology: The call back. Time without M. Kate (I promise!)

last watched: The Devil's Advocate
reading: The Truth
listening: Leonard Cohen
wanting: a week off and a ticket to Florida.
interesting thought: There is always so much more beneath.
moment of zen: feeling my bond with Emily through the understanding of a future physical lack.
someday I must: understand Melissa.

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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