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01.25.04 6:37 a.m.

The true joy of life [is] being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown to the scrap heap. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances.  

-Henry James


Previously in Xenology: Conor got kicked out of Bard. Zack and Kei had ephemeral feelings toward one another.

The Champagne Room
I dashed to Conor's house immediately after work. Emily was expecting us at her home in a hair less than two hours. Keilaina and Mike were to be at my home in half an hour, so the time constraints were palpable.
This, of course, did not encourage Conor to be any more expedient in his showering. I sat on the sofa, noting the diversity of his family's anime collection. Margaret called from the computer in the kitchen, "I would entertain you, but I am making a CD for The Matrix." I assumed that this made sense.
As I had little else to do as I waited, I fluttered about Conor's kitchen, looking at old photos of Margaret, Flynn, and him. I no longer have many photos from my childhood owing to a poorly thought out water balloon fight and so am intrigued by childhood photos of my friends. I once commented to Katie, while looking at a photo of her when she was five, that I had a hard time wrapping my head around the concept that this is the same girl I had just been fondling. If I remember correctly, she threw a pillow at my head and then agreed that it was off-putting.
All the photos of Conor, Margaret, and Flynn look precisely like them. As in, they do not look like disassociated childhood forms as I did with my bowl cut and round face. Rather, all the intelligence and insanity twinkled in their respective photo paper eyes, merely in a miniature form.
I explained all this to Conor, leading into that I now regard her as a complete entity in herself that intrigues me.
"She intrigues me too. I would willingly spend a lot of time with her..." he looked out the window of my car as we drove away and was quiet for a moment before diving into a different topic. "I have a story that will perfectly explain how reality is vague for Flynn and me. There are NASA monks."
"Monks from NASA?"
"Exactly. As you know, my friend Rock's father is Yul Brenner. For some reason, years ago, Yul was talking with an astronaut. Before he and the astronaut parted company that day, the astronaut gave him a phone number and said, 'If you ever have a medical emergency that doctors of which cannot take care, call this number.' Years later - when Yul was in The King and I - he lost his voice. It wasn't laryngitis. Doctors didn't know what to do, but said that he probably would never get it back. The show was opening in a week. Remembering the astronaut, Yul found the number and called. It was, of course, NASA. He described who he was, how he got the number, and what was wrong. They told him to wait where he was and they would have someone get him. An hour later, a jeep appeared. It took him to the gates of NASA, through them, past NASA to a small house in the middle of a field. This house was full of Buddhist monks. Evidently, the original mix of elements used in the spaceships was incorrect and the astronauts would return from their missions with high voices and it didn't always go away, so NASA had these monks on retainer because they were the only people who could fix it. Anyway, the monks began ululating and beating Yul with sticks. He quickly fell into a deep trance. When Yul awoke, the monks told him not to speak a word for three days and his voice would be restored on the fourth. Obviously, exactly this happened. This brings us to Rock. Rock, as I've mentioned, was the tour manager for The Band, as in The Band. They were set to play a show in Texas when one of the band members - I don't remember which - fell and broke his neck. The doctors said he would be paralyzed for life. Rock remembered the story his father told and called the number. This time, NASA told him to hold tight in the band member's hotel room. A little while later, monks appeared. Before I go on, there is an interesting side note. One of these monks was American. He had been convicted of grand theft auto and had fled the country to avoid prison, ending up in a Buddhist monastery, where he attained enlightenment. Then NASA hired him on. Back to Rock, the monks appeared. Rock told them what had happened. They told everyone to leave the room. For hours, not a sound was heard. No footsteps, no voices. Nothing. Then, the monks came out and told them that this man was not to move from his bed for three days for any reason. On the fourth day, he would be healed. Rock went back into the room. The band member said, 'Is an ambulance on its way? With all that screaming and sticks hitting the wall, I figure one must be.' Rock informed him that it was dead quiet when the monks were in there. Oh, on the fourth day, the band member was fine. Of course."
With this prelude, I felt our night was assured excitement.
We grabbed Zack on the way to my home. We arrived, expecting Mike and Keilaina to already be in my room, regarded the items on the altar nervously. In actuality, Keilaina had not yet left her house when we arrived, further delaying our egress. Egresses get angry when made to wait.
When they did arrive, I packed them into my room with Conor and Zack. It was all a test, because what could be more awkward for Mike than being forced into an enclosed space with close male friends to his new girlfriend? Seeing that he was not suitable flustered as we all chatted to Keilaina and given that this was the first time I was seeing my room since I got home from work, I decided change my shirt.
He seemed awkward, but I doubt we had anything to do with it in specific. The only gesture that seemed to give him pause was that I kissed Kei on the top of the head as I was passing her. I didn't actually think to do this, it just seemed like a proper gesture. Still, he said less than five words the whole time he was in my house.
"God! I hate Mike so much!" I exclaimed as soon as I had shut my car door. Mike and Kei were traveling separately.
"I know!" agreed Conor. "Does he ever shut up?"
"I don't think he does," said Zack, "I know I couldn't get a word in edgewise. Bastard... He's not spending the night, right?" This last question did not take the form of our running gag.
"No," I assured, "he will be going home after dinner. I can imagine few things more awkward that dealing with that scenario. The bedroom issues alone are enough to annoy. Certainly Keilaina and Mike cannot have slept in a bed together, they just started going out. Also, that's gross; there will be no further sullying of the futon, Zack. Nor can he sleep anywhere but the guestroom, because Emily's parents only barely endure our presence as is. Maybe outside in a tent..."
We managed not to lose The MiKei on the way to Emily's home, our pit stop before continuing onto Gasho.
[[So that's Mike?]] asked Emily's look.
[[We assume so, unless this is an elaborate charade]] I half nodded.
[[He seems young.]]
[[He is young. But he hasn't spoken much.]] said a shrug before we departed for the regal hibachi tables of Gasho.
M, good with chopsticks
Hibachi tables, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, are rectangles with three sides available for the patrons. The fourth side is the domain of the chef and encompasses much of the center of the table, wherein a scalding hot plate of metal is imbedded. As this can burn the salmonella off chicken in a few minutes, it behooves one to be neat about one's eating.
Emily and I sat on one end of the table, with Conor and Zack on the adjoining corner. Kei and Mike were enisled on the other corner, next to a couple of strangers who wished to impose their culinary limitations on our hibachi chef, forcing him to spend the first twenty minutes we were there silently appeasing their dietary restrictions. I could tell that he was annoyed but aware that these two were friends of the owners and it would be in his best interest not to subtly spit in their shrimp.
Mike and Kei, far from us
Owing to this set up, Zack and Conor chatted with Emily and me about the merits of sake, which we would not try, and the fidelity of love. We tried to include Keiliana in our conversations, but this was difficult both because she was on the opposite side of the table from us and because Mike had employed an annoying form of uxoriousness by lowering his head below hers when they spoke (he is taller, so this was an effort) and thereby obscuring her line of vision with his face.
"So," ventured Mike after a prolonged period of staring at Kei, "Do you like video games?"
"Do I... Emily, do I like video games?"
"I think you do," she smirked.
Sake, good for the soul
"We think I like video games, Mike," I called across the table. He had asked a question, for which he gets a point. We operate almost entirely on a point system upon meeting someone for the first time. I'm not precisely sure how quickly someone has to amass a given number of points before we acknowledge that they are raman (We are abiding Demosthenes' Hierarchy of Foreignness in a figurative way). It takes one million points to be considered utlšnning to us. Fortunately, that can be accomplished in about twenty minutes if one is likely to be acknowledged as belonging to our planet anyway. However, returning from my pseudo-anthropological classing, Mike could have attained several more points by asking Zack about music, Emily about martial arts, or me about books.
After our meal, which was good in respect to the company and food, but lacking in showmanship as our chef knew only one joke and repeated it several times, Mike left. (It is possible that the chef knew very little English and was certainly too old to be suitably flashy.)
"So what did you guys think of Mike?" ventured Kei curiously.
"He was..." I began, psychically begging anything to interrupt the end of my sentence.
"...Quiet," finished M. Sweet, darling, diplomatic M.
"Yeah, he is shy when he meets new people. He actually said that you would think he was quiet. Next time we hang out, we should do it in a place where we can talk and you can get to know him."
We got ice cream and candy bits to add to the mix and returned to M's house to watch Read or Die.
"Marina told me that she is The Paper from this," I noted as the DVD began.
"Yes..." conceded Conor cryptically, "she very likely is."
Read or Die concerns itself with a substitute teacher/secret agent with the ability to control paper. Ergo, her code name is The Paper. However, and this is crucial, all the otherwise Japanese speaking character will stop within a string of otherwise foreign word to add Da Pay-pa. While her ability to manipulate paper was hardly consistent, I had a begrudging appreciation for a secret agent who would rather be a substitute teacher and who respected books more than life.
Emily rather appreciated that her new cat Bruce Lee had decided that my stomach was a fine place to rest. Bruce Lee is Emily latest favorite animal from her new job. We all hold this unspoken fear that she will continually adopt new animals and will become the crazy cat woman that police eventually arrest because she has a hundred cats living in her apartment. However, as she adopted Bruce Lee because she (Bruce Lee is a girl) would place each of her hind paws on Emily's shoulders and her front paw on the top of Emily's head. There she would stay for hours as Emily did paperwork, looking at the people who came into the shelter.
After Emily had faded into sleep, Keilaina, Conor, and Zack turned the other room into a nest. Walking by on my way to The Land of Nod, I heard them whispering an argument.
I opened the door a crack and whispered, "No sex in the champagne room!"
"Come in here a second," Zack importuned, "I want to ask you something."
"Okay, what's up?"
"Kei, tell him what you just said," Zack insisted.
"I don't want to," Kei pouted.
Zack flashed her a glare and explained, "She just told me that she doesn't think Mike likes her enough because he doesn't do everything she tells him to do."
Story time  
Story time
I scoffed, "Heavens, Kei, how will you go on!"
"That isn't what I said," she protested, "You know how you test somebody to see how much the like you? Like you ask them to do something you know they don't want to do, because if they do it, then it means they like you?"
"Oh my god, girls really are that manipulative. I had never taken it seriously... Is there a vast girl conspiracy?"
"No, do you mean you don't make people do things for you?" she asked innocently.
"Is this a sexual thing?" asked Zack.
"No... not necessarily..."
"Hey, Conor, is Kei wrong on every level?" I asked him, though it was apparent he was asleep on the floor.
"Hwanama... gah," he murmured in response without stirring.
"See, Kei, even the unconscious know your feminine wiles are evil."
This lead into a discussion about our respective sex lives, as it is wont to do.
"So, Kei. We, by which I mean 'I,' found out who the illustrious nine are," I smiled. "Oddly, there are ten."
She grinned at Zack, teasing, "Who? I want names. I bet I'm better than most of them."
He enumerated them all, though it was clear there would be no way for Kei to have met 90% of them.
I lay on my back, listening to Kei insist that she is good at sex, and a joke formed in my brain in reference to Sex Partner Seven or Eight. "Hey, Zack, what's the best part of having sex with twenty-eight year olds? There are twenty of them!"
"She was actually 35," Zack informed us.
"Oh... The joke still works. And while we are on this sort of the subject of making people do things as a test, what would you make of a girl asking you to help her wax her legs." Noting Kei beginning to object, I added, "And Kei cannot answer. Yet."
Conor roused from his sleep and muttered while rubbing his eyes, "I would initially say it was probably a come-on, but I'd have to know the context. What lead up to this? This wasn't recent, right?"
"No! It wa..."Kei began.
"Shh! No peanut gallery. And no, it is ancient history. I had been hanging out with this girl for a while that particular night. I helped her dye her hair and she insisted that I didn't need to leave while she showered. So I sat in the bathroom, wondering how I should feel about the attractive, naked, wet girl five feet to my left, separated from me by a flimsy plastic curtain. Anyway, after the shower - during which I did see said girl naked for about half a second - we went down to her room for the leg waxing..."
"Now when you say 'leg waxing,' what are we talking?" asked Conor.
"Full leg, below and above the knee."
"How above?" asked Zack.
Zack and Kei  
"How above?"
"Not that above!" interjected Kei.
Zack and Conor turned to her, highly amused, and back to me. "Kei?" they guessed.
"Well... yes," she confessed, "But it is nowhere near as insidious as it seems. You know how I feel about you."
"Yes, you feel like I am a eunuch."
"Exactly, so I didn't mean to be so sexy," she grinned goofily.
"Too bad, I was prepared to be just as sexy."
"I was a virgin then, I wouldn't have let you do anything with me. Besides, you are anatomically ill-equipped."
Zack jumped to my defense, "Judging from the sounds issuing from their room before he came in, I'm pretty sure he's... equipped."
My eyes widened in shock, "You heard that? Oh... oh. I thought we were quiet."
"No, it's okay. I've encountered far worse sounds in my house. My parents are still very much in love. But, anyway, Kei was totally coming onto you, though in a very strange way."
"And I am equipped..." I added.
"So is Mike..." Kei began.
"And on that note, I will bid you goodnight," I interjected while escaping their room.
Zack and Kei (again)  
Good times, good times.
I awoke the next morning to the smell of pancakes being made by Zack. This is how mornings should start. I am willing to make pizza omelets every third morning, if that will seal the deal.
After being booted by M in favor of being punctual to her physical therapy, we returned to my home because I was honestly not ready to let them go. We lounged on my bed and floor, reading comics and just talking. It was almost perfect.
"What do you think you happiest moment was?"
Kei bit her lip thoughtfully and said, "I pass."
Conor laughed, "I'm not sure you can pass on your happiest moment. What about you?"
I thought for a moment, though it was an unnecessary wait, "My happiest moment was the first year I did Summer Scholars. I remember getting out of the shower one day... I think a Saturday... and looking out of the bathroom window to see all of these amazing people lounging in the grass, playing Frisbee. And Sarah sitting in the shade of a tall tree, playing guitar. I knew that, for that exact moment, I was where I belonged doing something that made me fulfilled. To this day, the smell of a certain kind of Tres Semme conditioner makes me smile. What was yours, Conor?"
"I was in high school. There were these two girls whom I loved. Not just liked, genuinely loved. Neither of them really knew that at the time. We were in gym class and it was after this really long run. The three of us just fell onto these mats, totally exhausted. We were talking and they decided that I needed different hair, so they both lay their hair on my face. I had curly blonde hair in one direction and this jet-black straight hair in the other. It was fantastic... What was your worst experience?"
Zack's property  
Zack marked Kei.
This required a bit more thought. "My worst experience... was the aftermath of kissing Kate when I had just gotten back together with Emily. Never before in my life had I hurt that much... had I felt so lost and disgusted with myself... so disappointed... in the days that followed, I think I must have felt the full burden of my soul."
The room was quiet for a second, and then Conor launched into a Bard secret that is as hilarious as it was horrifying. Of course, it is a secret, so I will only tease you with it.
Conor returned home to help Margaret write a proper essay to get into college, "which is ironic given that I have failed out of Bard and dislike writing essays."
"But you got into Bard in the first place," contested Zack.
"Ah, touchť."
Keilaina and Zack were curled up on my bed when I returned to the room after bidding Conor adieu. I climbed up and joined them. "This," I whispered to Kei, "is exactly why the Big Buddha made full-sized loft beds."
We lay for hours, napping enveloped in one another's arms. The day faded to gloaming, but we were timeless and together.
I may have a new happiest moment.

Soon in Xenology: The Betsy. The Invisibles. Melissa. Mike. Grant Morrison.

last watched: Read or Die, The Young Ones
reading: Apocalipstick
listening: either/or
wanting: More moments.
interesting thought: It is the small moments that define life.
moment of zen: napping with Zack and Kei.
someday I must: Nap with more people.

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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