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07.09.03 12:25 a.m.

The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.

 -Anson Dorrance  

Previously in Xenology: Emily was a ninja. Macchio was a boil on the face of humanity.

Ninja Turtles
I awoke the next morning without Emily next to me. There was a note telling me that I was more than welcome to join her at the Wig Sphere and watch her fight. However, as it was still bloody early, yet too late to walk there, I opted to sit in the lounge and try to procure my requisite continental breakfast. I was dismayed by the lack of readily available waffle batter. Tennessean communist bastards.
Our Champion
Emily walked up to me with a confident stride while I nibbled on dry corn flakes. "How does it feel to be dating a National Champion?"
I smiled proudly and said, "Pretty darned good, but I felt that way before I was dating a National Champion. Can I see the medal?"
The medal was a hunk of bronze that could easily pass for a weapon in itself. "Who'd you beat to get this?"
Emily looked a bit sheepish, but was too woolly-headed not to tell me. "Technically, I fought Sharon Williams..."
My eyes got huge. "You beat Sharon Williams?! The girl on your closet door? That Sharon Williams?"
"No, you can't say that. The Olympics Nazis will kill me for that. I fought Sharon Williams and didn't, technically, score a single point. Well, I think I did but the judges disagree with me."
I bit the side of my lip and tried to work out the proper phrasing. "If you didn't score a single point, how are you a National Champion?"
"See, that's the thing. I got a buy for the first match, which meant that I didn't have to fight. Then I got assigned to fight Sharon Williams. And I didn't score a single point. So I got the bronze."
I can't pretend to actually understand how this works, which didn't stop me from pretending I understood how this works. We've got to keep this simple: I am dating a National Champion. She will kick your butt if you question this. Simple. Oh, and her placing at nationals means that she gets to go to Olympic team trials in Las Vegas.
"The best part," she added, "was that Macchio pointed out to me that the judge in the next ring was Michelangelo from the ninja turtles movies, so I was so distracted when I went into the ring with Sharon... Actually, that wasn't a bad plan." Just so you understand that we aren't giving Macchio too much credit, he also claimed to have severely sprained his leg immediately after seeing the competition, thus excusing him from fighting and summarily losing. Ordinarily, I would give him the benefit of the doubt in this matter, but his limp switched legs and occasionally disappeared altogether. Not only that, but he accompanied Morita to a bar the night before the crucial day of the competition, spent over one hundred dollars on drinks for underage strangers, got the car that M and I chipped in $200 to rent (and were expressly forbidden thereafter to drive or, in fact, ride in) towed by parking it in a fire lane of the bar that was less that 200 feet from the hotel - though given the fact that they got so sloppy drunk they were physically unable to walk this almost makes sense to them - , quite literally vomited all over their room, and thus Morita was unable to compete the following day because he was still hung over. To fully understand the gravity of this final charge, you must be aware that Morita had spent the past three months undergoing intense training and dieted to lose 20 pounds.
National Champion
In addition, he spent over $1500 just getting to Tennessee. All this he did just so he could blow it all the night before the competition buying shooters for strangers. No, this was no coincident or just bad judgment (though, holy Jesus, I'm surprised he didn't have severe alcohol poisoning). It is surmised that Morita, too, didn't quite feel up to snuff about fighting. Perhaps this was no conscious act. Perhaps he really lack the basic common sense that would warn one to lay off the overpriced tequila the night before the event you can been concentrating all of your efforts for a quarter of the year.
Or, perhaps, I am just deeply bitter that he dicked M and I out of $200 so he could drive drunk two hundred feet back to our hotel. I am petty that way.
After Emily's new of her success, it was decided that the group decided to visit the local zoo. Macchio and Morita better occupied themselves with cleaning up vomit so Housekeeping did not have to. Ordinarily, I would be wholly behind this, but our maid snidely refused to clean M and my room that day because they had previously and unbeknownst to me stepped on and broke my handheld computer. So they can bite me.
The zoo is really one of the few things in the area that both professes to be a tourist attraction and outside the clutches of Dolly Parton. She has her hand in just about every business venture available that may turn a profit. Her breasts are the disgorged eyes of some mammary Big Brother.
While I was positively delighted to be departing from the hotel to do something other than distend my stomach with homogenized Southern cooking from chain restaurants, our group did include the "precocious" young son of one of the other group members. To the father's credit, I firmly believe he is aware how perfectly grating his son's presence can be, but this did little to assuage my urge to epoxy his mouth shut so he could not lecture me about the advantages of a portable game system that has rechargeable batteries. I dealt with his company as best I could, by which I mean I told his exactly what I thought of him but smiled as I did it. Thus it was some form of joke and actually seemed to make him feel slightly more accepted.
The day was by no means cool, so Emily took full advantages of the various misting sprays set up for the guests' convenience. However, as our prepubescent and multiloquent pseudo-ward earned well deserved castigation (because, see, he is bloody annoying), Emily and I drenched ourselves to the core at each one. This, alone, is the benefit of young adulthood: Unlimited and ridiculous use of mist.
The exotic animals were vivacious enough, but Emily seemed far more intrigued with a house full of bunnies. I suppose, somewhere, our brier lapin is exotic fare - for observation, not dinner - but I was underwhelmed. There is a lack of excitement about any creature that I have owned. It would be a bit like being worked up over a cocker spaniel, which at least have the proclivity of biting anything that moves and widdling themselves when expressing any emotion beyond existential ennui.
To wit, in fact, it is possible that the fake animals better pleased Emily. This zoo offered its visitors the option to, for a measly couple of dead presidents, create plastic animals out of molten plastic in an overly large, hydraulic press. True, the quality of creature turned out was a few steps below what one can get from a supermarket vending machine. But you fail to understand, molten orange plastic is injected into a metallic tiger mold right before your eyes. True, one cannot actually see the plastic being injected, but a horribly misshapen and likely leprotic feline is ones reward for patiently watching the process and burning ones hand. Really, isn't that what this is all about?
However, the fake animal fun does not end there. Oh, no. In the gift shop, Emily admired a marmoset doll. So I, showing my Zen stealth, handed her a new toy. She quickly became entranced by monkey binoculars and was oblivious as I took the doll from her hand, purchased it, and stuffed it into my bag before her. Only an hour later, in the hotel room, did Emily become cognizant of the creature in the bed with her when she protested that I could not visit the vending machines for fear that she would get lonely. She quickly named the doll Jackson, after Jackson Pollock, and engaged it in a interspecies, homosexual affair with her teddy bear Axle. She calls this unnatural union a Bearmoset, and wishes you to know that she supports their love.
That night, M and I went to the fire works display at the Wig Sphere. I was frankly unaware that quite so many souls peopled the streets of Knoxville. However, I was left wish an immense lack of surprise at them, though likely because I am attached to my presumptions. There were certainly teenage social castes that I recognized from my interim in the Northeast, but it always seemed a thin veneer. Even when I spotted a girl bedecked in Goth apparel, she only seemed one degree divorced from the overweight lass, eating cotton candy from her empty eyed athletic boyfriend's fingers. This is not my trying to point out that people are pretty much all the same underneath. However, it seemed that these people are often more similar than they were different.
The elderly openly and loudly weep to hearing the national anthem played by an orchestra that seemed little better in talent and equipment than a moderately funded high school band. Given the "friendly rivalry" between the North and the South that is the cornerstone of the Patron Empire (slogan: we will engulf you in our Bosom of Monopoly), I imagined that they wouldn't be quite so fervent to overdub the bassoonist with their moaned versions of Key's composition. I wouldn't dream of taking this from them, it is wonderful they can be so passionate about the country on the fourth of July, but it was just unnerving to see the sober to enthused about a song.
The real fun, at least for Emily and I, was the fountain. It was a fifty-by-fifty square of pavement and grating that would spurt water in a pattern that was intended to look random. However, the water chose its mark with an accuracy that bordered on intelligence, so I choose to believe that it was being gleefully operated from slightly off stage with a man with a penchant for giving young girls their first experience with an ice water douche. That night, Emily approached me before bed. "I was really pissed that you didn't come to competition with me today."
I glances at the odd bulbousness of the rub fibers to I didn't have to see the disappointment in her eyes. "Yeah, I kind of figured that. But I thought tomorrow was the important day, so I was biding my early rising for then."
"Why on earth would you think that? Today was the fight that mattered; today was the fight that let me move on." These words had less anger and disappointment, though it had not wholly left. However, she truly was curious.
"Well," I began, embarrassed, "in moves and on TV, the final day is the fight that matters. So I sort of assumed all the other days built up to tomorrow. The fight royale. Where the best and brightest of the past few days fought for global supremacy."
She burst out laughing. "No, tomorrow is meaningless. I mean, it's important too, but it doesn't matter to the Olympics." I began to smile and opened my mouth, but she finished, "and you are coming or I am never speaking to you again. Or maybe no sex for a week. Maybe both. I haven't decided."
I did not contest this, as she was now the third most dangerous woman in her weight class. Also because I love her and wish to support her. But we cannot forget that she can kill me thrice before I hit the ground.
I was lethargic, keeping myself awake by having an ongoing mental commentary from Hunter S. Thompson and glaring at Macchio who would try to make a move on Emily at time she was still for more than ten seconds. He tried to put his head on her shoulders at one point, she but stepped conveniently out of the way and he went tumbling onto the ring.
Emily got the buy again, meaning that she need only fight one girl to continue. This is superb, though considerably strange. Unfortunately, the girl she was set against has been on the National Team for quite a few years. Emily got several points in and was one of the only competitors to do so. More important, at least to M, was that she kept this girls score down more than anyone else could manage. Granted, she did this at one point by getting kicked in the face and threatening the Fates with another chance at a broken nose, but she left the ring fairly successful in her own eyes. If, incidentally, with a black eye.
Sexy Champion  
Trying on hippy goods
We spent the final day in Tennessee wandering the streets. We were pleasantly surprised to discover something vaguely akin to a shop specializing in alternative religions (and marijuana paraphernalia) not two blocks from our hotel. However, we had six hours to kill, and this filled only one. Emily endeavored to walk down the street, but the heat was oppressive, the road long and bereft of things to purchase. We doubled back and found a small coffee shop that had just opened for the day. The clerk therein was of a people we recognized. He was an attractive boy in his mid-twenties. He had the practice nonchalance of someone possessing a bit of THC in ones system. The coffee shop itself was the bastion of a culture that should universally accept us. In fact, I felt a bit too conservative for the joint, but soothed my soul with a raspberry Italian soda. Emily talked to the boy about the alternative community on Knoxville.
"Man, it's cool here," her began, brushing his tousled black locks from his face, "like, there're definitely some good people around here. It's near the college, which is pretty much the party school of Tennessee, but it's not really that. There are just some good artistic types around here."
I chewed an ice cube carefully as Emily inquired after midwifery. I believe this is the touchstone by which all other cultures will be judged for M. I lack such a touchstone. I like looking in libraries, but an amazing library doesn't necessarily mean an amazing breed of people, nor a dingy library, dingy souls. At least I hope this isn't the case... After a few more drinks, I paid our tab and we set off for more exploring. Every bit of it was fruitless after our barista friend, so we went back to the hotel and watched VH-1 on the lobby television until the concierge called a taxi for us.
At the airport, I was frisked and prodded at by a security agent who made it clear in his tone that be believed I posed exactly no threat to the safety of this country and rather resented having to repeatedly wave a magnetic wand over my crotch. This didn't stop him from doing so, of course. Emily was standing by the sidelines in stitches and praying that I would pull an aluminum foiled cucumber from my pants. So terribly sorry to disappoint. The plane before our to depart to Chicago was cancelled owing to bad weather. "Oh, "a sympathetic Emily sighed, "that really sucks. I would hate to be cancelled like that. But we already had our trip to Chicago." I glared at her, though she couldn't know that she was dropping hints for the Fates.
we miss sleep  
We are so happy after a nap
As such, I was little surprised when Emily was called to the main podium using a bad amalgam of her first and last name worth of only me and my idea of pet names. I walked over, bearing all of our baggage on my back and sensing Emily's distress from thirty feet away. "What's the story?" I begged.
The officious woman behind the desk confided, "Emily had randomly been chosen because we have over booked our weigh restriction and..."
"Did you just say Emily was overweight?" I inquired. "I will have to be overweight too, because I am with her..."
"No," interrupted Emily, "I am not overweight. Well, yes, I am. But not like that." She turned to the woman, "and he is with me. So you'll have to take him off too."
We were sent to negotiate this at the front desk, though we were disabused of our any luggage that was not carry-on. The woman swore a sacred oath that she would come to the front desk to clear all this up in a moment. Emily and I have this terribly habit of believing authority figure when they speak in placating tones, so we waited in a line behind the disgruntled former Chicago passengers.
An hour later, we were still fighting to get our ticket on the next flight out of town. The man at the desk was accommodating, in that he gave us two free round trip tickets to anywhere in the contiguous United States (also known as Las Vegas). However, he failed to provide a paper ticket for Emily to their sister airline, and said airline refused to acknowledge that an electronic ticket and the word of the gentleman who was helping us was proof enough that we could fly home. Thus we were bumped, yet again.
Right about here, Emily gave the gentleman "the look." All women possess such a look in their repertoire. Oh, it may differ by degrees, or in style, but they all have it and Emily gave hers freely now. The gent was unable to get us home "tonight" so he would have to put us up in the adjoining hotel for the night. So we could leave tomorrow. At four in the bloody morning. Right about here, I gave him my look.
Emily and I decided to make the most of our misfortunes and enjoy a dip in the hotels pool before ordering Whore of the Rings on the hotel's pay-per-view. The hotel had not a pool but a lovely little room called a natatorium. This luxurious little extravagance was like a pool connected to a lagoon, with a hot tub attached for good measure. Never before in my life have I so enjoyed an aquatic experience, including the time my first curvy girlfriend and I tried to figure out if one could properly kiss underwater. If I ever amass some fortune from publishing or squealing out the position of an enemy combatant for the government, I am having one of these build. Possibly with a trampoline and some manner of floating wet bar.
Refreshed from our swim, we decided room service was in order from the hotels four-star restaurant. This is not to say we were hungry. This was merely done because we could. We slipped into silk pajamas and awaited the arrival of our food while teasing one another and watching an atrocious and pandering Sandra Bullock movie. When the waiter arrived, Emily darted behind the bed in order to avoid being seen in her silk jimmies. The waiter had the air of professional indifference that tends to mask utter contempt. He was also only a hair over five feet and wearing part of a bellboy outfit. He asked for my to sign for the food and I noted that there was a spot for tipping. The man had just gotten fifteen percent of out meal order just to walk it up to us, but I suppose some might want to give him more. I leaned over to Emily and hissed, "Hey, what do I tip?"
Emily's eyes were of startled anime deer. "I... I don't know. Um... $4?"
"Sounds good." I scribbled the number down and smiled at the waiter. He did not turn to me of face me for a second. He also did not bring silverware, so I visited the restaurant to procure some as our meal involved pasta. The place was posh, as was to be expected. However, the maitre de had long, raven black hair partially pulled to either side of her head in an affect of a child's pigtails. She walked with all the grace of a duck, as though her ankles belt the wrong way. She gave the airs of something exotic and poisonous, though she didn't speak a word to me. She just looked at me as though I might strike her or turn into her next meal. The dwarfish bellboy came out and stood back from me, equally as apprehensive. Perhaps, I thought, they did something to the food. "I... you didn't bring me silverware." He made no move to remedy this. She didn't even turn to acknowledge he was in the room. "So I would like if you would give me some. Perhaps from the basket full of cutlery behind you. If you don't mind." The hobbit gave me was I asked, but had no other reaction. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't the one in a dream.
Neither Emily nor I did much that could be considered sleep and "awoke" to find four AM spitting in our faces dispassionately. If I am to be spat upon, I would at least like to be deigned worthy of emotional response. Nonetheless, I affected the chipper demeanor that only comes from profound sleep depravation and hoisted my bags upon my bag and waddled to the terminal. I was not even tired, suffering from a delusion of mania. As long as I could keep somewhat coherent, I could be fairly sure I was not asleep.
Emily and I continued to chitter happily as we waited for the plane again. We watched CNN and I couldn't quite fathom how people managed to look kempt at a bit after four in the morning. Perhaps it had to do with the International Date Line. Or relativity? Squirrels? Too early.
The plane was dated. It was so old, they seats seemed to be upholstered in a vinyl/polyester blend that I will wager was quite fetching in the mid-seventies. The plane had propellers. I searched my semi-conscious brain for whether planes should have propellers. After prodding a cortex a bit, I ascertained that planes could have propellers and this likely made more sense in the world of physics. However, as I had just become comfortable with the belief that planes flew according to magic of some sort (possibly pixy-fed dragons?), I found such a crass excuse for powered flight a little unnerving. Propellers indeed! The lukewarm water served to us because there was no room or power for refrigeration did not ameliorate this. Nor did the "turbulence" that caused our sudden descent. Emily politely kept to herself the fact that this flight was the scariest she had ever had the misfortune to experience. Oh. Squirrels? Too early.
Our car ride home was, while safer, a great deal less coherent. I was ordered to remain awake with Emily to prevent our quick deaths on the road. So we began to speak in words that didn't always make sense and giggle at the sunlight dripping through the windshield. "Did you know," I stated randomly and certainly, "that all numbers break down to four?" Emily was befuddled. "Wha..? How so?"
"Quite simply. Pick a number."
"Um... sixteen billion, seventy thousand, eight hundred fifty three."
I squinted at her in anguish. I lacked enough fingers. "Well, fine then. That's... um... fifty-one letters. Give or take a few. 'Fifty-one' has eight letters. 'Eight' has five letters. 'Five' has four letters. 'Four' has four letters. Then infinity sets in. Four." She mulled this over. "That's not fair! Do it again."
And we did.
"This can't keep working!"
It did.
"Still not fair! What about words?" It must be noted here that Emily had not slept in over forty-eight hours. She is a very bright girl when she has had her requisite five and a half hours of sleep. Nevertheless, this was keeping her somewhat cogent, so I explained that it would always work. She began to devise a base twelve system where the letter value of primary numbers never equaled their numerical value. 6, if I remember correctly, was spelled "siiixxx."
She was still little pleased by this odd balance to the universe until she spotted a license plate holster bearing the legend "Cha cha cha." She began to bite the air to produce a cha sound. "Look!" she grinned. "Cha cha cha cha!"
"That is four chas. Four."
"Damn the number four to the deepest pit of hell."
"'Hell' has four letters."
"Oh yeah! Well so does 'Tennessee'! Eventually, I mean."

Soon in Xenology: More weddings. Parties. Witchcraft. Mantras. The Betsy.

last watched: Charlie's Angels
reading: Kingdom of Fear : Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century
listening: Shhh!! Sleeping.
wanting: Naps would be good.
interesting thought: Air travel has made my world quite a bit smaller, if more expensive.
moment of zen: my head hitting my own pillow.
someday I must: Watch Emily win in Vegas.

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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