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04.18.03 12:48 a.m.

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.

 -Aldous Huxley  

Previously in Xenology: Melissa's friends sometimes do not terribly smart things. I didn't like New Paltz. Zack was in Sweeney Todd, as was Emily for a bit.

Spirited Away
Emily, Zack, and I went to see Miyazaki's Spirited Away before it was to be unceremoniously yanked from the theaters for having some intrinsic worth beyond marketing. It won some award at the Oscars, which is likely the only reason it was deemed worthy by Disney to be dubbed into English. Never mind that it has been applauded internationally as a triumph and the next step in the evolution of animation. It wasn't worthy to be in American theaters until anonymous judges gave its notably absent creators a fake gold statue at a vacuous ceremony.
When shopping before the movie, we were approached by a nice goth boy in Hot Topic (which is actually where goths are required to spawn according to international law). We had spoken to him several times in the past while shopping and had seen him at New Paltz. We assumed that he was going to try to sell us some new product or draw our attention to a shirt on which a non sequitur was emblazoned. Instead, he confirmed that we still went to New Paltz (I do, Emily does not) and asked if we liked Star Trek. I motioned over to Emily as she does and I do not. I have nothing against the Trek, I just have never acquired any taste for it. My geekdom extends only to vampires and Star Trek lacks this species.
Emily happily asserted her adoration for this program and he thus invited us both to a meeting of his Star Trek club at New Paltz on Sunday. Silently, Emily assured me that we would be doing this whether I liked to or no.
"See, people like you," assured Emily after we left, though it was clear this was to a conversation we were not having.
"What? No. He was just looking for more members of his club... right?"
Emily looked slightly exasperated. "No, silly boy, he was trying to make friends with you."
"Oh. Really?"
She kissed me then to stop my silly insecurity. I have lately become aware that there are aspects of my personality that have become acquired during my tenure at New Paltz that rather displease me. Aside from Lauren and Kate, neither of whom I see with any regularity, I spent my time on campus quite desperately alone despite my highly gregarious nature. However, as I am not already known to most of the student body, there seems to be very little reason for them to get to know me. I suppose I just need to quench my need for external validation, as this has lately made me rather introspective and silent. Thus, I have suppressed my intelligence because I feel that I have nothing to share (and yes, I am aware of the irony that you are reading all of this on my very public website so you needn't point this out).
This became quite clear to me a few nights ago. Zack and I had gone to a new cafe in Beacon (see also: gentrification) called The chThonic Cafe. They claimed that it is a Greek word pronounced "THAN-ik." We felt phonetics were a clearer path and called it "The Ch-Thonic."
Check and mate
As this eatery is attempting to be a very civilized cafe one hundred feet from a bodega, there were tables composed of chess boards. Of course we needed to play. There really is no choice when one is present.
Within four moves, I knew I was beat. I told him this, much abashed, and offered to concede defeat to forestall further embarrassment on my part. He would not allow this as he wanted to win sportingly. Damn sportsmanship. Within ten minutes, he had checkmated me. I was crushed. Do not think that I am so arrogant that I expect to always win at chess or that my ego is quite so fragile, but I hadn't even tried. I don't try to cultivate my dynamic intelligence anymore. I don't put forth the effort necessary to be considered an evolving person in my own eyes.
I lack confidence in my abilities. I am shy to show my intellect and abilities. I am now making a conscious effort to regain my faith in self, but it is difficult. I still don't want to speak, because I do not feel anyone is rooting for me.
After shopping and contemplating the role of self within a universe that may not care, we still had hours to go until we were to be spirited away. Emily kept poking Zack and me and chanting, "pancakes!" As such, we called Melissa and entreated her company at the nearby diner for carbo-loading.
Melissa arrived fashionably late. We queried her as to the location of her cohort in crime.
"She's off with Jamie. Jamie is like god to Liz. When Jamie is around, Liz forgets about the rest of her friends. I fucking hate Jamie."
Though none off us were about to defend Jamie against Melissa's verbal onslaught - least of all Zack given that she bought his deli and had him fired - we couldn't resist teasing her for the edge of jealousy in her voice.
Stuffing a French fry into my mouth, I asked, "Now why is it that people think you two are a couple?
Earnestly, she responded, "I don't know! I mean, my mom does. Liz's mom thinks I'm the best relationship she's ever had..."
"So does my mom," I added.
"And mine, and they only saw you once," smiled Zack.
We could not coerce Melissa's company for the movie. Obviously, she was going home to sit by the phone and wait for a call from her absent lover, Liz... or so she would have us believe. Nonetheless, it was honestly better than its hype suggested. Given that we heard absolutely no hype about it and really had no idea what the plot was, this was not hard. The theater was bereft of children but full - with the exception for Emily, Zack, and me - of slightly messy looking teenagers and twentysomethings that made it clear they were into anime in the same way that Hunter S. Thompson is into psychotropics.
Emily found it hilarious to the point of distraction that a girl named Sen was hugging a dragon. "Look!" she pointed, "Sen. Dragon. Sendragon. Xendragone. Hee!" I'd say you'd should have been there but I was and only could muster a wry grin.

This Is My United Stated of Whatever
"Do you want to go to the city, Woodstock, or Great Adventure?" This is how Emily woke me up on Wednesday.
I blinked at her and then glared at my watch. Emily was set to arrive to me at four in the afternoon and I briefly lived the fantasy wherein I had slept until the late afternoon. No, it was 9:47 in the morning.
"What about our picnic?" I asked as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. "We were going to go on a picnic at Breakneck. Zack was going to make us food and bring the au pair." This was not the non sequitur it sounds, the owners of the house at which Zack was house-sitting were trying to fix him up with their child's au pair who spoke little English.
"The picnic isn't happening. What do you want to do?"
Not breaking her neck
I first had to clear the idea of the picnic out of my head. I had just discovered this section of Breakneck a few days ago when Melissa and Liz kidnapped me. This was likely a wise move, as I had been spending far too much time in my room singing Rent and my parents were convinced I was having a fight with someone. (I suppose one could extrapolate thus that my voice is not yet opera quality.)
Melissa, Liz, and I exited the car a few hundred feet from the heavily graffittied tunnel that separates Beacon from Cold Spring. An armed guard protected the path ahead of us. Melissa is inherently frightened of police and thus practiced what she would say to him.
"Hello, Officer," she began confidently, "would my friends and me be able to travel up this path today?"
He glared at us through mirrored sunglasses (you can just tell) and quickly his authority level dropped from "heavily armed military police officer" to "rent-a-cop." He motioned us to the path but warned, "Don't go near that abandon building over there."
"Why not?" I asked, despite possessing better sense.
"There are mines. You will blow up."
My sense kicked in and I decided against asking why there were mines and why he was guarding them.
We settled on a cluster of rocks. I darted around, avoiding the edge if possible. Melissa sternly informed me that I was still too close. "One of my friends fell off this cliff and died."
"Really? When? Why?" I queried.
"A couple years back. He actually fell off twice. He was really drunk and stumbled off the cliff. Luckily he landed on another cliff fifteen feet or so down. But, since he was drunk, he got back up to tell his friends he was okay. He turned around and fell again."
"...And this is why drinking and height do not mix." I finished.
Sunset over the Hudson
I wandered on sturdy ground, trying not to let my unsalted peanuts and diet iced tea impair my judgment too much, taking pictures of the sunset and Liz from various angles until another couple happened upon us. They sat on an outcropping of rocks about ten feet from us and rather anxiously ignored us. Their intention was clear. They wished to have the kind of sex where one finds pebbles in sensitive areas for weeks. Happening upon us was interrupting their coitus. After twenty more minutes of gazing at the setting sun, we were moved to pity and walked back to the car. Or perhaps it was just getting too dark.
"So," said Emily, bursting my memory of the area, "what's on the menu today, sir?"
I was awake enough by this point that I could reason. "I don't want to go to Great Adventure. It is too late and would take too long. Plus, I really don't want to walk so much. And you are wearing such a pretty dress. If we go to Woodstock, we probably won't invite Zack and that is rude since he was going to make us food. So, I choose the city, because that is always a good time."
"City it is."
Such a pretty dress
Emily called Zack and woke him. "Do you want to come with us to the city to... ohmyfreakinggod! That is a huge spider! Get rid of it now!" she said as she burst from the car.
I looked around and spied an arachnid no bigger than my pinky nail. As Emily entreated Zack's company, I told the spider to get on a used lottery scratch-off so I could give him a better home than Emily's car.
"M, get back in the car. The itsy bitsy spider had left the building."
"It was huge."
"No, it really wasn't."
"Okay, but it had a huge presence! That was a spider with major presence. Like a grapefruit!"
I thought about this. "Grapefruit really don't have much presence actually. It is how they are chiefly mentioned. 'Wow, would you look at the lack of presence on that grapefruit.'"
"Oh, do shut up. We are going to pick up Zack."
After futilely seeking out an ATM to get money for the train tickets to the city, we found the house at which Zack was... sitting. He had told me that the owner of the home was the world's foremost authority on Buster Keaton, which I believed to be one of the best distinctions I had ever heard. Owing to this knowledge, he had spent quite a lot of time with Jackie Chan who is evidently quite a fan of Keaton. As soon as I entered the home, I sought the signed picture of the homeowner and Chan.
"Wait, this is Cap'n Hook. You are house-sitting for Hook?"
"That I am. He's really cool, judging from all of his books and movies. The whole house is pretty great. I've been snooping."
We corralled Hook's dog Goldilocks back into the house and were on our way toward the city.
Well, not exactly. None of us had enough money to ride the train, so we went to the nearest gas stations. It is some sort of cosmic law that all gas stations have to have ATMs. This one did not. We asked the proprietress where we could likely find the nearest one.
"You go to Cold Spring. That is the nearest one."
Seeing we had no other option, to Cold Spring we went. The tiny convenience store we found had an ATM, however it refused to do business with Emily. "But, why! I have money! I just deposited it! Stupid machine, credit my account!"
Taking out my card, I motioned Emily away from the machine. "Let me handled this. Hola, yo quiero dollares para tu. Por favor. Sesenta. Gracias. My bank speaks Spanish, you see."
"I'm really irritated that my bank doesn't speak Spanish... I mean, work fast."
With my $60, we could all travel to the city in the relative style of an off-peak train. I won a rock-paper-scissors match, so I got to rest in Emily's lap while she rested on my shoulder. Zack sat behind us and rested his mind, I suppose.
Emily and Zack
We were pleased to note that, despite what we had seen on the news, the city was not a military police state. It wasn't even a rent-a-cop state. It was just glorious, frenetic New York City.
"I used to be scared when I was in the city. I don't know my way around and thus would keep Dezi or any close at hand to navigate for me," I reminisced.
Zack stopped walking. "Hey, do you guys want to hang out with Dezi? His college is only a few blocks away."
We had no other plans (which is always a mistake when one is in the city), so we decided this was as good an idea as any.
He was, of course, overjoyed at our company. Evidently, he was supposed to hand in a final project that was a large chunk of his grade about an hour and a half after he met with us. Nonetheless, it seemed to him a good idea to join us for a meal at Sammy's Noodle House.
Sammy's has become our default location whenever we are in the city. It's not that the food isn't good. It is. However, neither Emily nor I can decide when Sammy's achieved this elevated status in our minds. It must be something they put in their veggie dumplings.
Over our meal, Zack asked Dezi about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"Which episodes did you help make?"
Dezi flopped back his mane and pronounced, "I made a few of the new ones, but I forgot to get them on tape."
I shoved a dumpling into my mouth to suppress the laughter I feel whenever someone with whom I grew up is achieving some minor fame that impresses me. I knew he was doing something with animation because this had been his dream for as long as I had known him. However, he was actually working on a show that I could watch. His name was in the credits. It is strange and wonderful.
We spent the rest of our time in the city walking through stores in hopes of finding a hemp teardrop necklace or smoke oil for Emily. The former had been a craving for weeks and the latter was to be a gag gift to her friend Kelly, who accidentally got some on her during her last visit and smelled like a barbecue for the rest of the day. We found neither, though Emily was please by a transsexual in one store who was not apparent as such until we heard hir voice.
Lack of seating hurts us all
Given that we spent five and a half hours doing absolutely nothing in a city with millions of things to do and have done to you, we decided we needed to go home. However, we decided this at rush hour and had to dash through subways in order to just barely catch our thain. Once caught, we noted the lack of seats. No, rather, there were plenty of empty seats but people were selfishly refusing to let anyone else sit down. As we passed, one woman shot me daggers and clutched her bag to the seat to make she I understood that her pocketbook had a seat and I did not. I showed admirable restraint by not swatting her.
Emily and Goldi
Emily, Zack and I sat in front of a door and tried to avoid murdering any arrogant bastards, of which there were many. Emily was suffering from a strong headache and thus cradled her head for much of the ride. Zack calmly read The Onion.
Once back in Garrison and the home of Hook, we decided to recuperate with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Hook's dog Goldilocks (who has a dreadful name and shall hereafter be called Goldi). Goldi had the attitude and energy of a lapdog on speed, despite being a hefty golden retriever. As we watched the film and ate mediocre pizza that cost twice as much as it should have, Goldi circled us desiring attention or food. She became possessed of a squeak toy and made sure we knew where she was, which was unfortunately three feet from us. Finally, exasperated, Emily and I tricked the dog and popped the squeaker. She didn't seem to mind.

Soon in Xenology: Marriage.

last watched: Spirited Away, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
reading: All the King's Men
listening: Rent
wanting: More kittens
interesting thought: I saw a man walk down the street bearing a cross.
moment of zen: capturing the gloaming.
someday I must: do something in the city.

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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