Thomm Quackenbush, author

03.20.04 3:40 p.m.

When I was a child my mother said to me, "If you become a soldier, you'll be a general. If you become a monk, you'll end up as the pope." Instead, I became a painter and wound up Picasso.  

-Pablo Picasso

 



Previously in Xenology: Eliot broke up with Brooke. Xen appreciation of modern art was limited. Xen was supposed to tutor Margaret. Flynn needed wings.

The Rippling Brooke
The phone rang at the library and a pleasant and ironical voice on the other end greeted me familiarly before I could complete the greeting spiel that I believe makes me seem official or at least officious.
"Hello?" I asked in a way that clearly conveyed my apparent confusion but did not do the party on the other line the unkindness of explaining that I hadn't the slightest idea to whom I was speaking.
"Yeah, I got bad news. You and M can't have the apartment," the voice, now obviously Brooke, intoned.
"Oh. Why?"
"Apparently, Eliot called my mother for some reason and she berated him for losing me to find himself. So he is not leaving me, so we are not leaving the apartment. I'm so sorry."
I cut her off from further apology. "There is nothing to be sorry for. It is definitely more important to us that Eliot and you are together and happy. Really."
Brooke  
Brooke (she won't let me take a new picture because it stole her soul)
She was quiet for a few seconds. "That means a lot... Come see me after work."
At the appointed time, I slid quietly into Juicy. Brooke was smiling jovially at a tall man and was tossing a tomato into the air with one hand. I shut the door behind me, careful not to disturb her transaction as I sidled next to a stool.
Brooke saw me out of the corner of her eye nonetheless. "Is it four already?" she asked.
"Four fifteen, actually." I had stopped to get my mother dinner.
"Sit," she insisted as she crushed three cloves of garlic under the flat of a very large knife. These she tossed inside a very large juicer, followed by the tomato, several carrots, and a whole peeled lemon. Judging from the contents of a cup, these were not the first victims to this culinary experiment.
The juicer whirred its contents into a large glass, which Brooke then placed into a pink "to go" cup with a straw. I could not help but let out a half repulsed smirk at the thought of anyone drinking this concoction through a straw.
She lifted the very nearly empty glass to her lips and imbibed a small bit of the remaining liquid. She did this with neither a grimace nor gagging, to my impressed shock. "Want to try some?" she offered.
I was hesitant in taking this glass. The customer looked at me, clearly waiting for my honest reaction. "I'm really trying to cut back on juiced garlic so..." Brooke's expression did not change, thus it was not possible for this cup to pass me by. "Oh, fine," I conceded and drank the remainder. In my life, I have tasted many a thing that I quickly regretted having put in my mouth. Surprisingly, this barely made the top twenty. This isn't to say that it didn't burn my throat and push pure garlic through pores I did not know I had; merely that I have had worse. "It's like drinking salsa," I admitted.
Off my not immediately vomiting, Brooke's customer took a sip through his straw. "He's right."
Brooke did not take this as an insult. "That's the lemon," she brightly interjected.
"No," I smiled, "I am fairly sure it was the three cloves of garlic. It's actually not a bad aftertaste, though not for a beverage."
The man was not unamused at my assessment of his $7 drink. "I haven't been feeling too good, so this should clear everything out."
"...One way or another," I whispered to myself.
"That's exactly what all sick people should have: a whole tomato, garlic, lemon..." Brooke listed.
"And chicken soup?" I guessed.
Brooke shook her head to indicate that the only animal harmed in the making of this beverage was the gentleman about to drink it.
The man took another slip without demonstrating half my disgust with this drink. "Oh, could I also have a shot of wheatgrass?" he asked of Brooke.
Brooke obligingly pulled a handful of lawn clippings out of a large garbage bag and shoved them into a different juicer. The product was a shot glass half full of deep green grass juice, which evidently retails for $3.
When the man took his shot and Brooke's concoction and left, I turned to Brooke. "Okay, seriously, what does wheatgrass actually do?"
"Glad you asked. We have this helpful pamphlet."
Xen  
"Wheatgrass enemas?!"
This pamphlet, the obvious product of your nation's fanatical wheatgrass farmers, condescendingly revealed to the ignorant masses that wheatgrass is the world's most perfect food, can cure most any disease with ease and, if used properly, can likely restore your departed ancestors to full vitality.
"How much of this do you actually buy?" I asked.
"Exactly none. I don't actually trust the people who buy it. I also don't trust yoga, but that is a separate issue."
"So, if I am not massively inappropriate and intrusive, what's going on with Eliot?" I asked.
She sighed and offered to make me something to wash the taste of garlic out of my throat. "I don't totally know. He called my mother and she told him not to do anything rash. So, I don't have to move to Colorado. What sucks is that I had already e-mailed some friends for help and now I have to write them back explaining that I don't need there help anymore. It makes me look like a flake."
"You aren't a flake though. It's just a bad position. But you are sticking around for a while, and I can't get over how great that is. Also, I will have a fruit smoothie using whatever fruits you wish just nothing on the juicing menu. I don't think I could stand to drink a garlic smoothie."
I stuck around for a while, just sort of bathing in the fact that I might actually get to know Brooke and Eliot as people, not just two of my favorite library patrons (The other being a quiet woman who happily tells me to listen to the Tibetan book of the dead on audiotape) and friends of Zack. Gregarious though I am sometimes accused of being, it is not often I feel that I am in the presence of luminescent people (aside from the main characters and columnists for Xenex, whom I have all loved for years). When it is the right people, it feels like the whole world is conspiring in the conjoining.
Over a straw-cran-blackberry smoothie, we discussed our plans for the God Hates Fags counter protest. While the prior suggestions for banners and unifying statements consisted of phrases from the negative (Jesus didn't die so you could attack strangers) to the absurd (God hates shellfish), none really struck me as right until Brooke said we should all chant, "God loves me!" I certainly can see why he might.
"I am planning this series of paintings depicting the monsters that people were once frightened of. You know, like banshees, gorgons, and Yahweh."

Via the Puff Pastry
I went to my interview at the Dia dressed largely in dark colors. My mother had torn through my closet looking for a red velour shirt that is evidently ideal for interviews, but quickly abandoned hope when confronted with my room and conceded.
I arrived tens of minutes too early, which was fine given that I had never actually been in the Dia before and had no real idea of what to expect. From web research I had done while writing my letter of introduction, I ascertained that this installation of the Dia Foundation concerned itself with the modern art that was simply too large and strange for other museums. This told me very little as my only professional exposure to art was from a painfully apathetic and obnoxiously prejudiced teacher at New Paltz who did not bother to teach art beyond the 1600s, if by "teach art" I mean "show vacation slides from Greece."
Richard Serra's art  
Art at the Dia
The director of the museum was eventually paged to attend to our meeting. I knew immediately who he was, not because I had the slightest idea what he looked like but because the fit, late thirties guy sporting the goatee, bleached blond tips, and a black silk shirt opened to the third button could be no one other that the director of the Dia. He, however, looked right through me several times though I was four feet from his eyes. His assistants had to point right to me and give character traits before he focused on me rather than through me. I really had little idea what to make of his actions and tried to massage the thought away by assuring myself that I just so looked like I belonged that he didn't notice me. I am aware this is likely fallacious reasoning, but I had an interview before me and could not really deal with much more lack of certainty.
The interview was largely a blur. When in stressful situations, my brain causes me to have sporadic amnesia afterward. Once, I recall having a very emotional fight with Katie only to say something and promptly look all contexts and therefore give up and falling crying into her arms. While I hardly fell crying into the arms of Brad Jackson, I did regard my resume and letter of introduction as a life raft, trying to remember what I had written (or read it upside down) so I could cite them. I do recall him liking my passage crediting the Dia with the gentrifi... betterment of Beacon, a town I did regard as a slum for much of my life.
After the interview, Mr. Jackson gave me a pass to wander around the Dia in order to get a feel for it. I was almost certain I would have a job here, so I concerned myself with the rough floor plan first and the aesthetic appreciation of crushed cars second.
As Mr. Jackson had revealed that the attendants are required to wear black, it was easy enough to track them down. "Hi," I said to a girl I had known from my first year of Summer Scholars and who was now an attendant, "do you like working here?"
"It's okay. It gets a little monotonous some days." she sighed as she shooed a woman away from touching a priceless pencil drawing.
"Yes, watching bits of twine will do that." The aforementioned bits of twine were the work of Fred Sandback. According to Emily, he was a close friend of her family to the degree that she referred to him as "Uncle Fred" despite a lack of shared DNA. Fred became estranged from Emily's family immediately after having tried and failed to seduce Emily's mother. Many years later, apparently because he believed himself to be a bit of an artistic fraud, he killed himself in his studio. Angela tried to convince me it was suicide by ironic hanging, though Emily morosely informed that it was by gunshot.
Conor  
Basements are good
After a few hours of superficial examination of the art and interrogation of the staff, I left to pay a visit to Conor. When I arrived, Conor and Flynn's girlfriend Kate (but not Flynn) were sitting on the sofa watching the beginning of The Professional.
"The first time I saw this movie," I overshared, "I thought I was a pedophile I was so into Matilda. Of course, I was thirteen to her eleven-in-the-movie-thirteen-in-reality at the time and didn't quite intellectually grasp that she is supposed to be vaguely sexual. Hell, in the original European version, there are twenty-six minutes expounding upon her blooming sexuality during with she outright asks Jean Reno to fuck her."
"You are in good company," explained Conor, "except that Kate here has never seen any version whatsoever."
"So," I asked Kate, "where in Flynn on this fine day?"
She fidgeted slightly, either from my question or the young boy being shot on screen. "He is in Savannah, Georgia at the moment," she said sadly.
"He may be going to college there," continued Conor, "which would be excellently fine given that he needs to get away from everything that is here. His job, his house, his parents, me. It will be good for him."
I nodded questions at the lass to his left on the sofa.
"Yes," Kate answered forlornly, "this is going to suck with the distance. I live in Massachusetts, so I do not see him often as it is. This move would mean I see him considerably less often."
After Jean Reno rescued Natalie Portman from Gary Oldman, we obeyed the siren growl of my stomach and got overpriced and overcooked Italian food. Sated, we then spent several hours ogling the Cold Spring library (Kate is a library clerk as well) and their repository of junk books in the basement. Though I am certain such was not their intent, the dark, book filled basement operated on Kate and me with the same energy that casinos do with gamblers. Time became meaningless and we were shocked to note the sun had long set when we three emerged twenty dollars lighter for the effort.
Margaret  
I accidentally deleted the better picture of Margaret
Back at Conor's house, we prepared to watch the true find of the library trip, Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. Despite that most children of the eighties that I know have seen this ridiculous public service announcement using various Saturday morning cartoon characters to propagandize against drug use, it was reportedly only shown once because no one had bothered to secure the permission of Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield. If I remember correctly, it was shown one weekday morning instead of Captain Planet.
Margaret was conveniently lying on the living room couch, arguing with her mother in an English accent for no readily apparent reason about puff pastries.
"Margaret," I wheedled, "Margaret, Margaret, Mar-Ga-Ret." Let no one ever tell you I am not masterful at wheedling teenagers.
"He's right," interjected Elizabeth from the kitchen, "you really need to write out of schedule of when you two can meet for tutoring." She has that prescient mom-sense or perhaps just managed to notice that I had yet to do any tutoring with Margaret.
"Very well, mother dear," she enthused in her British accent, "but the price will be your puff pastry!"


Soon in Xenology: Tutoring. Apartments. The Dia.

last watched: Dawn of the Dead
reading: Transmetropolitan
listening: Tindersticks
wanting: Margaret to actually meet with me.
interesting thought: I'm not any less tired of this part.
moment of zen: Hearing the Brooke isn't leaving.
someday I must: Actually get an apartment.

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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