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02.09.03 12:45 a.m.

They say February is the shortest month but you know they could be wrong. Compared, calendar page against calendar page, it looks to be the shortest, all right. Spread between January and March like lard on bread, it fails to reach the crust on either slice. In its galoshes - and you'll never catch February in stocking feet - it's a full head shorter than December, although in leap years, when it has growth spurts, it comes up to April's nose.
However more abbreviated than its cousins may look, February feels longer than any of them. It is the meanest moon of winter, all the more cruel because it will masquerade as spring, occasionally for hours at a time, only to rip off its mask with a sadistic laugh and spit icicles into every gullible face, behavior that grows quickly old.
February is pitiless, and it is boring. That parade of red numerals on its page adds up to zero: birthdays of politicians, a holiday reserved for rodents, what kind of celebrations are those? The only bubble in the flat champagne of February is Valentine's Day. It was no accident that our ancestors pinned Valentine's Day on February's shirt: he or she lucky enough to have a lover in frigid, antsy February has cause for celebration, indeed. Except to the extent that it "tints the buds and swells the leaves within," February is as useless as the extra r in its name. It behaves like an obstacle, a wedge of slush and mud and ennui, holding both progress and contentment at bay.
James Joyce was born in February, as was Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, which goes to show that writers are poor at beginnings, although worse at knowing when to stop. If February is the color of lard on rye, its aroma is that of wet wool trousers. As for sound, it is an abstract melody played on a squeaky violin, the petty whine of a shrew with cabin fever. O February, you may be little but you're small! Were you twice your tiresome length, few of us would survive to greet the merry month of May.

 -Tom Robbins  

Previously in Xenology: I began, against my better judgment, to attend SUNY New Paltz again. Kate and I had a rocky history.

Customary Bitching
As evidently happens every semester, I have discovered a teacher for whom I am fast acquiring a distaste. He teaches - albeit in a loose sense of the word - my dramatic writing class. He has been mentioned before, so you are not wholly unacquainted.
Here is my complaint, though I welcome you to skip over this section for the meat below. My teacher is, quite bluntly, proudly ignorant. I could accept, though with a bit of contempt, when he circled in red the suggestion in a scene that the word "Satan" was derived from the Sanskrit for, roughly, "prosecuting attorney." He wrote in all capitals, "IS THIS TRUE?!" I sighed and hid the paper away. Given that he called this drama about angels "Too old-fashioned" and "not funny," I didn't wish to resubmit it to him. To my mind, he did not deserve to read it. I am not saying it was good by any stretch. It needs work. However, his criticisms were shallow and uninformed. When I submitted a different scene to him and was greeted with red circles around the word "wont" and the comment, "Is this spelled right?!" A simple dictionary would have assuaged him that this was, indeed, the proper word meaning "accustom to" or "likely." Yet he felt displaying illiteracy was somehow better.
All of this might be endurable, save that my teacher has the worst taste in plays possible. He will see a captivating drama and criticize it until the student gives in and makes it a slapstick comedy. He gushes over a play that ends in the protagonist being stripped naked and covered in animal feces, spending seven minutes pondering how to get a dog to excrete on command (finally settling on having the dog shit in a bag and someone pouring this onto the stage). Another play, he suggested for no discernable reason that the poisoned cake be made into the shape of a penis. The latter play had already suffered his touch, having the angelic figure transformed into a pirate. Again, for no discernable reason. A third play, that could have been a psychologically motivated drama, he is suggesting the author play for laughs if he desires a good grade.
He has made many of the students into his Yes-Men, as they will just parrot what the teacher has last said, no matter how inappropriate it may seem in the current situation. For example, the class after he criticized the aforementioned angel drama for the slightly antiquated style of speech of the angels (which makes total sense once one catches on that these are not humans) one of the students criticized a play using Sarah and Melissa as "being too high brow; no one talks that way, try using slang." This is a play that features lines such as, "We must destroy all men... slowly... with sporks," and, "A little afterplay is only polite after [alien] anal probing." It should be noted that I "borrowed" Melissa's and Sarah's speech from letter and conversations I saved. So, yeah, people do talk like that. I know, because I hang out with them.
Clearly, this man needs to be destroyed or at least beaten with Arthur Miller.

Stevehen and the Pancakes of Eternity
Emily and I felt that Stevehen could use some love, especially as he has not been around us of a few months, so we summoned him up to try to catch a movie. It mattered little to us that it was Superbowl Sunday at the time and mattered only slightly more that the earth was being covered with snow like powdered sugar in the Swedish Chef's hands.
We arrived to him a trifle late. I literally skipped and slid to his door, in a splendid mood owing to the quilt of snow gathering around my feet. Despite being two and a score, being outside in a snowfall reverts my to a playful grader schooler. All good men are.
Stevehen was pleased to see us, as well he should be. Tina had just left for Utica a week prior and many were treating him as though he would be unable to handle this physical separation from his love of several years. Emily and I were certainly not in this camp, though we were not about to speak of Tina lest we prick something in him. This night had nothing to do with Tina, save perhaps that it might not have occurred as such had Tina been around as she monopolizes our Stevehen-time.
We drove through the increasing snowfall. "We," of course, meaning Emily as no one seems to trust me behind the wheel of a vehicle that is not emblazoned with "TONKA" when the sky is dripping anything. The intent was to get a quick meal and then go see Bowling for Columbine, a documentary I had been trying to see for nearly a month with no success. The reasons I hadn't before dealt with one friend or another being too depressed to want to see indigo children kill others or terrorists massacring thousands of innocents. Spoilsports. As such, I was very excited to have the ever political Stevehen in tow.
We ended up at IHOP because their commercial led me to believe that that had some sort of quantum pancake that existed in all space-times simultaneously, thus becoming infinite on the event horizon. As it turns out, they merely mean they will bring me another plate with one fewer pancake twenty minutes after I finish the first. Nonetheless, I ordered by exclaiming, "I would like your infinite pancake please." The waitress was not amused, though I don't suppose I expected she would be. I confessed to the table in the waitress's presence that I very much wished to fling the ultra fluffy Pancakes of Eternity at Stevehen. And again, she was not amused. The question remains if she would have given me a new plate once I exhausted my supply of warm, golden brown frisbees.
Stevehen suggested we visit the nearby Barnes & Noble rather than seeing the movie because he hates me very much. Or he likes books. I always confuse the two. Therein, Emily and I attached ourselves to the occult book section, as we are wont to do, and were annoyed by a Pagan woman who didn't enjoy our discussion. Granted, my half of the discussion was about trying to give a near painfully white trash woman the most opaque and academic book on Wicca so she wouldn't decide she was the Queen Witch of the Hudson Valley next week. You'd be surprised how often that happens these days. Of course, I eventually just allowed her to order dreck from Silver RavenWolf, but I don't see why I have to make it easy for her. The Pagan woman, one of the cronies (see? See what I did there? Oh, well, it is very funny if you know the goddess cycle in Celtic myth) of a local store owner and a professed Pagan author (right... self-publishing in the bathroom of your apartment does not a published author make) and thus was beholden to attack strangers who might not be into paying $150 a day to listen to a lecture from a 300 pound woman who wheezes like a dying bagpipe about how all Pagans practice group sex and polyamory. Emily quickly made up a convincing story about how she had been to this convention, but didn't actually make any value judgments in her yarn. This sated the woman who dithered off when we returned to mocking a good 90 percent of the merchandise.
Not Starbucks  
Stevehen is not drinking Starbucks in this short.
We exhausted the fun of this after an hour and wandered down to the requisite Starbucks (Motto: filling America's veins with caffeine and toilet water for $7). I asked the clerk what bottled beverage she recommended. She seemed a bit startled, clearly about to be totally honest and reveal that all the bottled were just filled with the same colored sugar water. Instead, she suggested the green tea (lightly colored, less sugared water) that happened to be absent. Thus she handed me a random bottle and confirming my theory that it is all the same liquid. At the register, Emily and I flirted with her. M insists it was just talking about gelato and books but I know flirting when I am a part of it.
We all sat at the table and read. I scanned an interview with John Travolta, waiting for the usually question about Scientology that interviewers must ask if they want an interview with him. He answered as though it were a cult of bunnies and puppies that would love and protect his children and never, ever brainwash them into unthinking acceptance of crystallized space aliens and magical tin cans.
Emily read an article on a massage retreat in Bali that broke her to tears. I read the affective part and could understand her reaction as it detailed the reporters thought that she would soon have to return to a culture where she could not do Yoga for five hours a day. However my pathos was lessened when I read that the reporter was musing over this as she got a full-body, goat milk massage from some faceless native. It's lovely that the white women had a nice retreat, but this isn't spiritual enlightenment for the masseuse and teacher, it is making a living. I don't disparage the effect it had on Emily, but I had a hard time with my sympathy level when I started considering the reporter a spoiled brat.
Stevehen worked his way through a newsprint book full of opportunities for writers. As it turns out and to my immense lack of surprise, all of the desirable jobs to a man like Stevehen such as screenwriter or comic writer garner miniscule wages in proportion. If one wishes to make any real money as a writer, each story had better open with "I never thought it would happen to me, but one night outside the sorority house..." This distressed him and with good reason, though I have to applaud his initiative. Mine only goes so far that I am taking a few writing courses (one of which I have detailed above) and am trying to write a novel to which I do not know the ending or the names of most of my characters.
We then endeavored to drive Stevehen home as we had exhausted the fun of a bookstore. Actually, I lied. It was closing and they told us to vamoose. Bookstores are practically infinite sources of fun, much like chucking Pancakes of Eternity at friends. The endeavor to return Stevehen to his domicile was slow going. As it was Superbowl night, all of the burly plow drivers were still far too busy crying over the loss of their team (whichever team that may be, I have no idea who was playing), leaving major thoroughfares coated in several inches of snow. The lesson is plain; sport will always prevail over duty. Thus Emily sluggishly slid until a man in an ugly SUV rolled down his window at a stoplight and signaled for Emily to do the same. I didn't know what to expect but was nonetheless shocked to here him ejaculate, "Why don't you pick a fucking lane, bitch?!" at Emily. The answer was plainer than he was as the lines dictating the road were more than covered. However, this man felt like being a road raging ass was a better course of action. Emily killed him with kindness by retorting, "Why don't you pick one and I'll follow you?" Seeing that he couldn't get his rocks off yelling at strange women who are the victims of circumstance, he drove off in an effeminate huff. Poor baby.

A Hundred Visions and Revisions
I am about to say something that you may find a bit shocking, so I would like to make sure you are seated for this. Are you seated? Yes, I am aware you were likely seated given that you are reading this on a computer. This is dramatic effect, go with it.
Kate and I are getting on famously. No, seriously. I think that, even when she and I shared a bed, we did not get along quite so well as we do now. This is likely an exaggeration, but it makes my meaning clearer.
I know that I, I will survive...
She shares bits and pieces of her life with me, as though we had always been friends. I see her between classes and bitch about my dramatic writing teacher and she doesn't undercut and doubt my words (though it may help that she knows this teacher well). I know things about her now. I think I know with who she is in love. I know her thought process as she had ouroboros tattooed to her hip. I feel like she is definitely a friend in that way that Sarah or Conor are. I may not see them often, they may move to Paraguay, but we shall always mark the other a good friend.
Of course, this pleases me and I have informed her as such. It has been such a long and painful process to achieve this and I rather doubted the day would come. I think this was the opinion of many readers. What, I can't compare a girl with a soulless bloodsucker without you making suppositions?
The reason for the change is nothing drastic. I don't know that I can exactly place the reason. It just seems that all of our constant disagreements have calmed down. Nothing has been settled exactly. I am still quite certain people with darker eyes are less affected by bright sunlight. However, we can actually share verbal discourse that doesn't result in a fight. We actually hug in parting. She keeps saying we should hang out and I know she is sincere.
All of this means that she is invited to Emily's next shindig to celebrate her parents traveling Caribbean islands and leaving her at home. Whether or not Kate actually comes is almost a side note, though her attendance would add a lot to the party. She is invited without reservations (this does not mean you are not required to RSVP Ms. Kate!).
It's good to have her around.

Soon in Xenology: Shindigs, another Elza concert, college selections, Valentine's Day. Waitresses who are amused.

last watched: Short Circuit 2
reading: Report from Ground Zero
listening: Bree Sharp
wanting: conversations with my friends about ontology.
interesting thought: Emily is a sherpa bear.
moment of zen: realizing that I can handle emergencies involving bleeding, seizing patrons.
someday I must: figure out how my story ends.

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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