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08.30.03 1:06 a.m.

Autumn is the bite of the harvest apple.

 -Christina Petrowsky  

Previously in Xenology: Zack met The Betsy and they started dating. Xen wasn't sure about this whole "teaching" thing.

Of Insidious Intent
Who the hell is that? Why do you smell like cinnamon?
"I'm autumn. Just wanted to remind you that I'm coming soon."
What? No! It's August. August has a restraining order against your kind. It's still summer. No.
"Won't you look forward to the leaves changing colors?"
That means they are losing all vitality and will soon drop, like the desiccated husks that they are, onto the ground to be trampled under boot-wearing feet. This is not life affirming. No more greenery and nights stargazing with Emily or midnight playground visits with Zack. No, I'm sorry. I will take my leave of you, good sir!
"What do you have against me? I bring you pumpkin pie and the Haunted Mansion."
Hmm... Pie is good, as is scaring children. But you also bring redundant classes and winter. This make my souls feel empty because I can't touch grass or enjoy the stars.
"I told you, I know nothing to do with winter. That's the Cold Miser. Besides, trees have to lose this leaves, it's the circle of life."
Pine trees don't.
"And you need those for Christmas..."
Hey, I thought you had nothing to do with winter!
"I only know about it through the grape vine. My holiday is Halloween. Which we both know you salivate over."
Oh fine. Can you at least talk to winter about the sub-zero temperatures?

A Hundred Indecisions
I have been having trouble sleeping for the past few nights. This hasn't been too much of a problem before today because I have nothing but evening classes and the library, though they suggested they would give me far more hours during the day, has given me none. In fact, they hired an elderly woman who vehemently refuses to answer the phone because "she doesn't understand how those work" rather than giving me weekday hours. So I am feeling the love, if by "love" I mean "spiritual and fiscal poverty."
Creepy Puppet  
This greets me when I go to class
It is no secret that the degree to which I am uncertain whether I want to be a secondary education teacher is great. I am not outright saying I do not want to do so, but I am in no way sure enough that it is reasonable that I am spending $20,000 and fourth straight semesters to accomplish this dubious goal. This would be the act that is keeping my nights restless.
Likely I should contact Dave or Jacki, my requisite teacher friends, and ask them just why they chose the profession. Dave, in fact, was in a very similar situation in grad school. He had been taking psychology class after psychology class and was kept from sleep by the cold sweat of total fear. He spoke to his counselor at school who eased his mind instantly by informing him that he did not necessarily have to be a therapist; he could teach.
As for Jacki, I think she just teaches to pay her way through grad school. Quid pro quo, if you will.
It should be noted that both of them teach at colleges. Can I teach at a college? I would do that. I have no great problem with this. Good, I feel resolved now. I will teach at a college.
Wonderful excellent.
My Mount Saint Mary classes have yet to horrify and repulse me. Do bear in mind, however, that these are still education classes and thus made of evil parts. After all, MSM sent me a schedule where every class title is completely incomprehensible. I had to actually attend the class before I realized "the,res,app adl" somehow translates to "Child and Adolescent Development."
As point of fact, this class has exactly two things going for it. Primarily is the fact that the teacher is not a nun. In fact, and bringing us to our second point of acceptance, she is a guidance counselor from the Pine Bush high school. She apologized in advance that she may be late because, and I am quoting, "things break down in Pine Bush." Despite her potentially sinister association (I refuse to tell her my friends and I make a sport of hunting aliens in her town less because I think she will sic the MiB on me and far more because I have no interest in her believing I am completely crazy), she gave the first impression of being the Anti-Jenks. She only begrudgingly said we should buy the book but was explicit that she would not be teaching from it. She feels there is a great deal more to learn from the personal experiences of herself and those teachers in the class. It should also be noted that my older brother's girlfriend of something like eight years happens to also be in this class. While it is comforting, a bit like having a sibling, I fear she may actually be in the business of reminding me that I have classes and work to do when I want nothing more than to be sitting in my room coding away for your nominal enjoyment.
I have had one other class, which was evidently on the nature of schools. This professor regaled us with his admittedly great resume by way of somehow informing us on the nature of schools. He seems to be slightly more of a hard-ass than the Anti-Jenks, but I believe him to be a good man who is interested in work for education sake, not for the sake of giving work. He, too, is from Pine Bush and solemnly atoned that "owing to some irregularities in some codes, Pine Bush always has a large budget surplus." Perhaps it is kickbacks from the tungsten mining and hybridization programs? Mayhaps the children are secretly training guard lemurs? Who is to say?

The Women Come and Go
I came home from work, gushing over the fact that nature had deigned to grant a perfect day outside. There were precisely the appropriate number of clouds in the sky and they all looked like they came from the brushed of the departed Bob Ross. Autumn was Cousin Olivering somewhere to the left, occasionally forcing me to think of jackets and jack-o'-lanterns, but August winds kept it from becoming a season regular just yet.
I summoned forth Zack, needing to desperately to share the day and hoping I could wrangle him into coming to a poetry slam in New Paltz. A guest at Jacki's party had invited me, though "invite" may be too kind a term. It was clear that this self-important and autocentic stereotype of a feminist college student merely required bodies, preferably warm, to support her personal fable wherein she is discovered at some charity slam for "her" coffeehouse and becomes the next Ani DiFranco. Honestly, I think I might envy her self-involvement. Her world is small and she is the biggest fish therein, at least to herself. Nothing exists beyond New Paltz and nothing needs to, save for Ani DiFranco (who, this lass reminded my twice, apropos of nothing, she had seen in concert).
Solemn Zack  
Incidentally, and only mentioned because Kate doesn't get much play on these pages these days, said hirsute, pretentious poetess is (or was) a housemate of Kate. She spoke of a party I think she had gone to with Kate, though she bowdlerizing dear Katherine's name by referring to her only as "housemate" while casting obvious sideways glances. It is possible that this story did not include Kate and this girl is just deeply weird.
I informed Melissa of my potential plans and invited her and her ilk but she tried to derail my well-formed spontaneous plans by inviting us to a barbecue at Angela's, once the girl got out of work.
Zack came to my house to feast on the joy of baked ziti. As we ate, Zack and my parents began discussing my writing. But what? In a bad way?
"I am surprised Emily stuck by you after some of those entries about Kate."
I tried to hide in my shirt, but they still found me. "But... it was a long time ago... and... um..."
Zack interrupted, "Those aren't even that bad. It's when he talks about Sarah that I am shocked."
"But I don't... Sarah and I were never... I mean..."
My mom broke in, "You are lucky to still have Emily. You know how Bryan talks without thinking? You write without thinking."
"No," I stammered, "I think. It's just... I'm sorry. I'll go now."
My father tried to defend me a little, but only at the very end, by pointing out that the evolution of my affections for Emily is very clear. Emily does, after all, win.
We began our drive to New Paltz once I recovered some sense of self-confidence, but Zack asked me to stop the car (not my self-confidence). "I don't really feel like sitting in some coffee shop and listening to angry girls rhyme their angst. Isn't our defining moment hanging out in playgrounds and talking?"
I smiled, "I do believe it is."
We pulled into a nearby park to further our plans. I peered next to our car and spied a young boy staring at me. "Excuse me," I asked, "might you know of any particularly nice playgrounds or parks?"
The small boy slackened his jaw, obviously searching his programming for the appropriate response for when older people speak to him as though he is an adult with a valid opinion. Poor thing couldn't pull up a valid subroutine. His mother offered, quite unbidden, that she did not know of any parks. I nearly informed her that I was actually speaking to her child, but decided she would not understand.
"Did you know that The Princess Bride is going to be shown here on Wednesday at dusk?" asked Zack.
I did not, but filed this away as an excellent way to spend a Wednesday.
"What about Madame Brett Park?" Zack presented after several moments of thoughtful silence trying to find a place.
I looked at him carefully. "I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about."
This was met with incredulity, as this is evidently a very popular place to spend one's time and is very close to my home. "I'm sure you'll know it when you see it."
Zack directed me down a street I had heretofore ignored because it did not look very accessible. It was an opening that served only as background in my mindscape; certainly not a place I would turn down. This is where I am an idiot, as the road was guarded on one side by a massive, dilapidated factory with a rushing river straight out of Tim Burton's wet dreams. I could only imagine what manner of fun could be had within.
The park  
Madame Brett Park Waterfall
We came to a clearing with a few cars and a bench. Had it been later at night and the weather tempestuous rather than idyllic, there is no doubt a mask-wearing killer would lumber out from between the trees. Damn the lack of violent psychopaths.
I stood in the clearing, mentally noting it as the perfect place to have had naughty teenage car sex had I only known about it five years ago. Zack called me over to the bench and asked me to sit.
I look at the view from the bench, some fast water flowing by a different section of ruined factory. "Wow," I began politely, "that's really great, what with the water..."
"Water. It flows beneath us. Water it is the lifeblood of earth. Water..." interrupted a quiet but authoritative female voice from beneath me. I looked between my feet for the source. "Water creates canyons. Water. It shapes continents..."
"Zack... is my ass talking to us? About water?"
"No, that's the talking bench. It detects weight."
I looked at the speaker under the armrest. "I'm kind of scared now... Let's continue on."
We got up, but the bench continued to lecture us on hydration. "It must be very lonely. It waits all this time for people to sit on it only to have them leave so shortly after."
"I bet when we leave it starts saying, 'water... wait! Don't go! I know about a lot of stuff! Like earth! And... and... fire! You kids like fire right? Air? You need air to breathe... don't go!'"
"Poor sad lonely bench."
Zack proceeded to show me the high points of the forest. "There is where I first smoked... and right there is where Eve and I first had sex. It's probably shallow, but the sex with her is amazing. Like shattering glass amazing. Now that I'm dating Betsy, and not having sex, I've been having the weirdest dreams, the kind thirteen-year-olds are supposed to have."
We stopped at a concrete box rise ten feet toward the leafy canopy. A rusted iron ladder provided our way to a top strewn with long forgotten "SVA loves GRH 4EVA" and "I wuz hear '74." Zack sat and looked off into the distance, a man made waterfall flowing over a recently toppled tree. It seemed an apt moment to smoke a cigarette and be contemplative, but he lacked both the presence and inclination toward the former. He filled me in on the fact that he feels perched on a precipice with Betsy. Their mutual affection is undeniable, however the physical and emotional distance that her return to MIT will provide is hard to ignore. During a romantic evening before she was to leave, they expressed their doubts. Doubts, as we well know, once introduced must be resolved one way or another. Nonetheless, they both confirmed their honest wish to remain close because, as Zack put it, "this is the most important thing to me."
"You know, we should go kayaking down this river."
I looked at the white water rushing over jutting rocks. "Perhaps a little further down?"
Zack laughed. "Of course a little farther down," he chided, "it's far calmer there."
The night tripped and we decided to explore another section of the park where one would be likely to kayak. We went past the parking lot to a third section of decayed industrialism and made use of its walkway. Pale yellow lights lit our way through the fresh mist.
"You are aware, just for the record, that this is exactly the setting for every horror movie made from the eighties on?" I half-laughed to Zack. The planks beneath us whined in amused agreement.
This other section was nearly a bog. The demarcation between forest and pond was completely unclear and I nearly made a leaping stride over a shrub into a flood that consumed the rest of the landscape.
We continued to wander, Zack disarmingly confident and myself skittish. I heard a twig snap and quickly armed myself with a sharp knife from my Leatherman tool.
Zack did not look back, but asked if I had just pulled out a knife.
"Yes. There could be muggers. Or monsters. You don't know," I defensively retorted.
He tried to calm me. "Listen, no mugger would attack us, it would be two against one. And as for monsters, their acid saliva will burn through your knife. So don't worry, there is nothing you can do."
I did not put my knife away until we were crossing the threshold of the destroyed building.
Before we left, I again called Melissa.
"Angela still isn't out of work. She won't be until nine. I'll call you then with details, okay?" quoth Melissa.
Zack and I managed to kill many hours with ice cream and the Internet as the barbecue plans were further pushed back. Eventually, my pager buzzed violently in my pocket, conveying the annoyance that Melissa felt at what she perceived to be my ditching her. I called back and assured her I would be visiting soon and to have a hot dog ready for me.
I left Zack at his home, so he could meet with Veronica one last time before she returned to the college oblivion.
Melissa seemed outright shocked when I appeared at Angela's doorstep. "Dude, I so thought you had ditched us!"
"Why on earth would I do that? I said I would come." I looked at the withered tubes of meat on the grill. "You know, maybe I'll do without that hotdog."
Angela's boyfriend arrived home slightly after I seated myself with one of the aforementioned animal products. Really, it was a bit like chewing on a soft twig. With mustard. Mario seemed to have already had quite a night, despite that it was not yet eleven. Melissa egged on his drunkenness, which was like watching a cartoon ricochet about the room, and derided Angela that Mario was far more fun. When Melissa went outside for a cigarette, I informed Angela that Emily and I liked her just fine and would like to hang out more with her when Emily moved in. She seemed grateful for the confirmation that she was likeable even when she doesn't want us to pour beer on houseplants.
We moved outside to watch Melissa smoke. I turned to speak with Mario, who was happy to be so acknowledged (there is little that doesn't make a drunken Mario happy). When I turned back, Melissa had purple fire in her eyes.
"So you don't like me? You want to hang out with Angela without me, huh?" she insisted, but there was a smile playing on her lips.
"Angela knows that's not what I said. I told her that Emily and I liked her and wanted to hang out with her. There was no mention of excluding anyone." I turned and looked at Mario's near rictus as he spoke with a friend of his from a nearby apartment. "Although now I'm not so sure I want to have anything to do with this Angela girl," I joked.

Arms That Are Braceleted and White and Bare
A dinner, Emily began to create what she believes would be my ideal girlfriend. "She'd have an amazing name like Analise."
"No, I don't like that name. It has 'anal' in it and that never bodes well. And it is too French."
"Funny, it's Dutch. How about... Isabelle?" she suggested.
"That works. What else you got?"
"She is tall and thin. She dresses nicely, kind of professionally. She wears appropriate jewelry..."
I broke in. "Appropriate jewelry? I am learning so much about what you think is important to me."
Hot dog hat  
"She also sings."
I stopped my teasing. "Oh. She sings?"
"Oh yes. She sings and plays the guitar."
"Hmm... Okay, you got me there. What does she look like?"
"I told you, tall and thin."
"That describes her body. Does she have a head?"
Emily let out a laugh, "Of course. She has blonde hair with dyed purples ends, shoulder length. And her eyes are heterochromic, because that's rare and beautiful. And she is pale."
"Not bad, not bad. What else you got?"
"Her last name is Hemingway. And she is rich. And has an apartment and wants you to move in. And her parents love you."
"Sexual experience?"
"One guy. Her boyfriend left her to fight in Iraq."
"What a fool he must be to leave Isabelle Hemingway... Can her grandmother be Elizabeth Bishop?"
Emily considered this. "I don't see why not."
"She went to Vassar, you know. What's her major?"
"International business."
"'International business?' That's so... pragmatic. Her grandmother is Elizabeth Bishop, you'd think she would have that literary flare."
"Oh, she does. She just wants to make money."
"I thought she was rich."
"It's her parents' money. Oh, and she drives an Escalade."
"An SUV?! Oh, no. SUV drivers are the devil!"
"Everyone has a flaw," she reminded me.

Soon in Xenology: More weddings. Lake George. Nuns. Dave. The city. Emily's realization.

last watched: The Medallion, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
reading: Ender's Shadow, The Alchemist
listening: The Laramie Project soundtrack
wanting: to live the life I've envisioned.
interesting thought: People reappear when they are needed.
moment of zen: seeing my world map grow.
someday I must: explore new, familiar places.

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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