Thomm Quackenbush, author

05.30.03 8:11 p.m.

In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.


 -Mark Twain  




Previously in Xenology: I didn't much like New Paltz. I had a philosophy professor that should not be allowed to teach.

Can I Graduate
I have finally graduated from New Paltz. It feels concurrently as though it took forever to accomplish (and certainly would have had I stayed in their Secondary Education program) and that I just entered a few months ago. I suppose this is quite a bit of bathos considering all you have read from me on the subject. I am not fond that I went to New Paltz. Frankly, aside from meeting Emily, I think I could have done without this institution at all. My drama teacher said something apt, though he was referring to the abuse of editing in the production of my play, "It is over and can't hurt you anymore and will only get better in memory, right?" It should be noted that I politely dissented from this attitude.
On the drive to graduation, I experienced a bare minimum of emotion. I was a bit irked that I happened to be awake when I was well aware I had the day off, Emily, and a cozy bed awaiting my return. My father and mother were in the front seats, only occasionally sniping at the other for daring to continue existing. Emily and I sat in the back seat, lightly holding hands. I stared up at the wide blue sky and was intellectually aware that this should be a day that would be at the forefront of my memory always. Yet it just felt like a ceremony to celebrate New Paltz, an institution for which I have very little affection. The day wasn't about me, for I doubted my absence would be noticed next year. Or, I mused to myself, this year.
As I bid my family a quick adieu... You know what? That really isn't exactly true. Oh, I bid them goodbye upon arriving on campus so I could be checked in and categorized. This is wholly true. However, my family was not there. My mother and father were present and were behaving quite civilly considering how furious my mother is that my father had the gall to switch to a day shift so he could see more daylight. My older brother ostensibly had other plans elsewhere. I really have no idea what his excuse was. My younger brother, however, stayed up until five in the morning chatting up some chippie in California and thus had knowingly sacrificed attendance at my monotonous and uneventful graduation so he could sleep and inflate the phone bill all the more.
Emily (playing the role of moral support) and I found our way to the Student Union Building the aforementioned labeling. I was handed a green card and pointed to a sign that read "English". Well, that was rather easy. I turned around and spied Kate.
"Oh, Kate! How are you? You have an honor cord. I want one," I pouted.
"They were for sale in the bookstore. Twenty bucks," she explained. It was vaguely reassuring that I could have bought a shiny length of rope that represented accreditation. I certainly felt I deserved one and could not quite figure out why one had not been assigned to me, but credited this to a bureaucratic snafu (the native species of New Paltz).
As I had more pressing matter to which I should attend after filling out the card, I left Kate and Emily to their own devices for a moment. In the bathroom, there were half a dozen men flaunting themselves before a mirror and self-consciously fixing their hair clearly bereft of the notion that mortar board where their fates. I rolled my eyes and sought facilities on a higher, and therefore private, level of the building. Given how little time I actually spent in the SUB during my stay at new Paltz, I was surprisingly nostalgic. I had met Emily within these walls, and signed up for classes, and attended Pagan Student Union meetings... Sorry, that last one killed the moment.
After Emily admitted to me that Kate had largely and conspicuously ignored her existence while I was away, I was forced to send M to her seat so that I could prepare for the upcoming ceremony by standing in an overly long and disorganized queue by department. I pulled Kate to me and positioned her in front of me.
She looked at me smiling, "Oh, hi again. Such a long time. We should do this often." She adjusted my tassel and glared at her own before continuing, "I am still a bit drunk from last night."
"It is one of the better times to be drunk, I would say. I wholly support and advocate."
graduating  
Graduating
She looked at me over her glasses. "You don't drink. You are not the drinking type."
I mused a moment. "No, I suppose I am not," I bit my bottom lip in embarrassment and confessed, "Actually, I went to sleep early last night. Which is probably why drunkenness sounds like a good plan."
"I am not that drunk."
Kate and I stuck close by one another, which wasn't particularly hard given that the line moved with the speed of a sedated sea slug. Other people seemed rather flustered and nervous, but neither affliction touched Kate or me. I commented to Kate that the people around us looked as though they expected some sort of guerilla final before they graduated. Perhaps a gnarled English professor would jump from the bushes and demand I explicate "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". For Women's Studies, they would glare and asked, "Still a chick? Good, you can continue."
Kate remarked wryly, "I don't think they would ask if the student was a 'chick'."
"No," I assured, "they are reappropriating the word."
Kate glared over the serpentine river of black nylon before us before continuing, "Maybe they are going to pack us off to war. Like, Ashcroft will herd us into an aircraft carrier and we'll be in Afghanistan by morning."
This seemed like a believable scenario for Ashcroft, but not nearly evil enough for New Paltz. "You've got it wrong. They are going to push us into a meat grinder. All this time they were just tenderizing our sweet, sweet brain flesh."
The graduation was quite dull, which actually was an improvement over my expectations. Our keynotes speaker was Michael Badalucco from "The Practice". It should be duly noted that I have never actually seen "The Practice," so he was not instantly owed my esteem. I was interested in him briefly when he admitted the school had awarded him an honorary doctorate. However, my interest turned to bitter amusement when he later exalted himself for having donated a tidy sum to the school. Like so much in New Paltz, greasing the wheels with greenbacks ensures one's acclaim.
The valedictorian was completely unknown to Kate or me. We certainly hadn't voted for him. The depth and breadth of his speech was that he was always too busy to talk to us little people and he was vaguely sorry about it now. On the other hand, he was the valedictorian and we were just plebs forced to listen to him speak thus his regret was slight. He also included the obligatory drug reference and depreciating remark about the school, just so we all knew that he was cool. As a symbol, I hated him. He was the essence of all the people who were too damned self-involved to look three inches past their noses. He was the spokesperson for my complete loneliness while on campus.
As I left the stage, Jacki approached and hugged me. I wanted to tell her about the situation with Jim but, as it was both of our graduation, I held my tongue. The situation is that Jim offered me a job as a residential advisor at Summer Scholars this year. I was quite excited, though felt quite bad that I would be unable to attend Emily's cousin's massively expensive wedding in Lake George and Emily's competing in the national qualifiers for the Olympic team in Tae Kwon Do. Admittedly, the idea of staying in Knoxville for a week wasn't the most appealing but it did include an Emily with whom I could cuddle. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to be doing Summer Scholars again. What I didn't know was that Jim had made numerous romantic overtures to Jacki, who was to be another RA, while I was planning my schedule around Summer Scholars.
Hibachi sushi!  
Where we should have gone
She refused him, both because she has a long time boyfriend and because a romantic congress between Jim and Jacki would result in one of the parties' combusting. After weeks of Jim not responding to me, he explained that he had no use for me and was going to have a staff composed entirely of females (which does not seem proper) instead. None of these females would be Jacki, of course. This would have been permissible (though not welcome) save that Emily had already purchased her discount ticket to Tennessee assuming that I would not be joining her. At a sizable expense, I had to change my plans. Thus, I was less than a happy Xen.
Given all of this, it should be of little surprise that I left minutes after receiving my aptly empty diploma case for the icy grip of some desiccated academic.
My family went to Finnegan's to celebrate my victory over the forces of overwhelming and despicable bureaucracy. I wanted to go to Oshos, a Japanese steakhouse where the chef flings food over the diners' heads, but my parents insisted it would be too costly. Damn the cost, I can't live in a world without flying broccoli!
Bryan had joined us for the meal, clearly having ameliorated his condition using hours of long distance conversation. Emily did not take kindly to his fair weather brotherhood and chided him with an acerbic remark when the opportunity presented itself. Bryan did not seem to notice that he should have been withering in shame.
Incidentally, the meal cost my parents more than hibachi would have, which was only satisfying until I remembered with how much grease I had just ingested to punish my system.

Plagiarism
There are many resemblances between Jayson Blair and myself. We are both English speaking, homo sapiens currently living in the United States of America. We both have considered writing careers. Both of us wear glasses. However, there is also a crucial difference. He is a plagiarist. I am not.
My Philosophy of the Arts teacher (the one who decided I was liberal and thus an anathema given my physical appearance) decided that one of my final essays was stolen from an unnamed and unidentified website and thus felt the best course of action was to fail me for the course and turn the paper over to the Dean. Granted, the latter course of action is mandated by the SUNY New Paltz rules of conduct. However, it feels that he is abusing bureaucracy for petty ends.
Duh...  
Demonstrating the thought process behind the accusation
Putting aside the elementary fact that I did not steal anyone's work nor would I, this reaction is rather extreme. If a reasonable teacher suspected a student of plagiarizing an essay and failing the student for the essay would fail them for the class (the final is 30% of the grade), having the student write a new essay would be a more moderate form of punishment. It proves that the student does indeed have a comprehension of the material (and I do) and, as far as I know, that is rather the point of education. However, I am not a tenured teacher who can't be bothered to engage the students or confront the changing landscape of the modern world, so what can I possibly know?
On a side note, were I to steal someone else's essay, I am fairly sure I would have chosen one that didn't suck quite so much. My teacher, as I have bitched in the past, has done very little actual teaching for the duration of the semester as looking at vacation slides, listening to foreign operas, and hearing him read from his graduate thesis in a slurred monotone do not constitute very thorough and welcomed teaching practices. Thus, I had to piece together answers to difficult questions using very spare notes. I did so to the best of my ability, but it is rather hard to create something real from biased shadows on a cave wall.
I am going to have a meeting with the Dean in hopes of clearing this up. I'm going to be frank; I personally feel that my teacher was looking for an excuse to punish me for having long hair and the occasional penchant for fuzzy black shirts featuring smiling plastic skulls. I would have contested his bias to the head of the department, but he happens to hold that position. Thus, you can see my further confoundment. It has been suggested by fellow educators that, perhaps, my former professor turned my case over to the Dean because he was well aware that he was greatly biased against me and wished to spare himself further questions as to his professionalism. It has also been suggested that he is a small, vindictive, paranoid man who is going to feel his day has been ruined when he discovers that I have already graduated from this institution of lowered expectations.
I called Emily, among others, after having received his slimy epistle impugning my character. She felt, quite rightly, that I was panicked and in a rather bad state. I was pacing my floors of my home, drinking large, soothing gulps of spring water to steady my nerves and clear the fear from my mind. Even when I know I am innocent, being so accused can temporarily render me a bit like a caged animal. Emily decided her best recourse at this juncture was to spend the night with me after she got out of work and help me plan my strategy. There was, however, a condition.
I listened carefully to her request before asking, "You want to give me a make-over?"
Emily has begun a potentially lucrative career selling Mary Kay cosmetics. I asked her the moment I discovered this whether this was some manner of cult. She assured me I was thinking of Amway. Mary Kay doesn't even require her to wear make up, just be slightly perky. Of the many wonderful things she can vouch to be, perky is not among them.
"No," she replied, "not a make-over. Just a facial. And maybe some sort of hard treatment. I don't have enough product to give you a make over."
I was still concerned. "And I get to keep my soul?"
soulless  
Don't I look evil?
She assured me that they did not currently stock soul-removing eye shadow and a facial would be both safe and fun. "Besides," she continued, "I need practice and you won't care if you end up looking funny."
This seemed a pleasant enough distraction from the accusations against me, so I gave my assent to be exfoliated. If I lost my soul in the process, I could be guaranteed to think of some more creative method for dealing with certain abusive pedagogues.
Emily arrived and, after listening to me pout that I didn't want to have to deal with more ridiculous bullshit from the faculty of New Paltz, decided the best way to stop my tongue (short of using her own for the task) was to have me fill out a survey detailing my wants and needs for cosmetics. I decided that I needed an even shinier complexion and perhaps a horn. There was not a box to check for those desiring horns.
Thus, I was made over or orange, depending on one's perspective. Emily practiced her ingratiatingly upbeat speeches to me, though I was more interested in trying to bite her fingers and terrify her with the Realdoll site. By degrees, my feelings of academic victimization ebbed and my potent righteous indignation built. As long as I have my personal manicurist and make over artist there with me, I think I can face New Paltz down once again.


Soon in Xenology: My interview. Weddings. Parties. Nationals.

last watched: Pete's Meteor
reading: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale
listening: Leonard Cohen
wanting: Not to have to do battle at New Paltz once more.
interesting thought: Were there ever fur bugs?
moment of zen: Leaving New Paltz.
someday I must: Look with interest at a certain man's obituary.

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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