Thomm Quackenbush, author

03.31.04 12:52 p.m.

All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.  

-H. L. Mencken

 



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

Dia Redux
I was called back for a second interview at the Dia. I was quite understandably nervous, trying to prevent myself from feeling the polar opposites of overconfidence and paranoid inadequacy. A second interview alone was a good sign, I reasoned, but I could not imagine what I would be asked. I hoped that it would just be Mr. Jackson asking me when I could work and to fill out a form with my contact information, though I assumed that this could have just been accomplished via a phone.
Dia  
Take a good long look
Instead, he walked around the museum with me, asking me what various exhibits meant. While I had read bits and pieces of the hundred pages I was given, I hardly could explain each piece's significant as fully as was obviously required. Also, I suffer from oral test anxiety, exacerbated by the fact that this man obviously had numerous opinions and pride in each work so any pet assumption of mine would be insultingly amateurish at the very least. He did nothing to disabuse me of this notion.
I believe I can condense this second interview in one comment Brad Jackson made to me: "You have interesting friends, they know that the Dia Foundation fills up expensive property in New York City with copper tubes, rendering it 'unlivable,' and that those boxes are worth $6 million."
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I do not believe I have a job at the Dia.

Call of the Ren
I was walking around Cold Spring, having discovered during a break that the teacher I was observing would rather be alone than pestered by a grad student.
The day was warming up to deserve the title of spring, so my jaunt was correspondingly pleasant. I could almost see the verdant vibrations of grass yawning to life beneath the pavement and would have enjoyed the transitory novelty of insects had one not tried to fly up my nose.
I walked across the main street at the sight of a new (to me) store called byte [sic]. The façade was bright pastels but I nonetheless thought this was likely some manner of computer store where I could waste a few minute. Instead of indulging my tech-geekdom, I found an Internet café, quite hip for this conservative town.
"What can I get you?" the girl behind the counter purred. She was not coming onto me; I believe she just has the cadence of voice best described as a purr. Perhaps a warble, but that has none of the casual decadence that a purr might. She was wearing a daffodil yellow shirt and her short hair was held down by a black cap. She had a very honest and unpretentious smile, the sort that it best for greetings and farewells as it sticks to the back of one's mind and eyes.
"Um..." I had not, per se, decided I wanted anything to drink here but felt compelled to wet my whistle all the same. "I'll have tea. Bottled tea. From a bottle," I so suavely explained, grabbing a green tea from the cooler.
Sipping my faintly flavored water, I left, steeling myself for some serious wandering in the early spring weather with my limited selection of MP3s playing in my ears. On the waterfront, where years ago I had a moment with Kelly, I realized that I was still carrying thoughts of the clerk from byte. I blame the smile, though the eyes and cheeks are just as guilty. [[Can you live without going back to talk to her?]] I asked myself. [[Yes, of course. But I'll regret it.]]
I returned to just outside the shop, too nervous at first to go in. I sat on an adjacent bench to gather my thoughts. I had to at least talk to her, that much was clear. It was something more than the curve of her shoulder or the brim of her cap that placed her in my head, I decided. It was certainly not flirtation on my part, though I can't promise I wouldn't have made an ass of myself were I single. She... was just someone with whom I needed to share an interaction. I wrote out my name and this website, hiding the paper of my left sleeve in case it became necessary and walked into the shop.
My intent was to walk straight up to her and greet her warmly. However, I looked at organic granola bars and honey instead as my courage had waned and drained.
"You look just like my friend Dave," she said after a moment.
"I'm not Dave," I explained, "I'm Thomm."
Ren  
Ren
"You would be. I haven't seen Dave in years. Ren," she greeted, extending her hand.
"A pleasure," I blushed, feeling contrived.
I continued to linger about the store in a way I'm sure I thought was inconspicuous, if only because I would periodically pick up an item and grimace at its contents.
In the midst of a conversation with a customer, I overhead Ren say, "This is my last day."
"Last day until what?" I intruded.
"I am getting a ride down to Georgia and I am going to hike my way up the Appalachian Trail. Then I am flying out to England for a while. I'll be dirty and smelly and poor for the next two months."
"Sounds amazing to me," I sighed dreamily.
We chatted from here about her life and aspirations. As she was pursuing a life I envied, a life that seemed an art, I sought even more to know her. She, in turn, expressed curiosity about me.
"I am going to be a teacher, albeit reticently," I said.
"Why reticently? Do you not like the kids?"
"The kids are fine... for devilmonkeys. I think I could handle them better than most. It is the... politics of it. I want to help the world and get paid enough that I don't have to think about money. I also, unfortunately, want a job where I go home and it is over. I do not want to be my job... at least not this job. Instead, I am just giving kids practice tests for one Regents or another, getting beat down by an educational system that takes us for indentured servants. I am going to be twenty thousand dollars in debt when I graduate. I will work just to pay off the debt accrued so I could work. And now I am going to have to be the one to sell teenagers into slavery myself rather than open the world to them... I'm not sure I can do this in good conscience."
"It doesn't have to be like that," she reasoned, "I was selected to be pulled out normal school to attend one where I could express myself. I wouldn't be myself or happy if that didn't happen. You know you could teach in a place like that."
"And that would be amazing. But normal teaching just isn't what I want to do or be."
"What do you want to be, Thomm?"
"Hunter S. Thompson, without the mescaline. Nothing against drugs, they just aren't for me," I answered instantly.
"Who is Hunter S. Thompson?" she asked blithely.
"He is... did you ever see 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?'"
"No."
"Well... he is the father of gonzo journalism," I half-explained, not knowing how to describe what Hunter S. Thompson is, let alone who.
"So you want to be a journalist?"
I demurred slightly. "I want to be a writer. What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I don't know in the least, but content," she answered and went back to juicing some fruit for a customer. "What are you doing?" she asked me after a moment.
"What do you mean?" I answered obliviously.
Focusing her camera on a daffodil in a plastic pot, she stated, "You are leaning on the edge of that stool like you think I am about to do a trick."
"Who says you aren't?" I retorted weakly, adjusting my posture to seem less anticipatory. To me at this moment, the mere process of watching her dance against and with my expectations was trick enough for a spring day.
"Daffodils are the ones that do tricks." She said as she snapped a photo carefully.
Ren  
They might do tricks
"May I take a picture of you?" I asked, removing my camera from a small pouch on my belt.
"I can't promise I'll be as nice as the daffodils," she swore.
"I wouldn't want you other than you are. Though I must warn you, this may end up on my website," I disclosed and then added nervously, "A real website, not one of those random *NSync fansites on geocities."
"What is the point of your website?" she asked, genuinely interested.
"It is... it evolves. Originally, it was just about me, basically a personal site masquerading as a novella. Now, many of the main characters in my story have columns on sex, advice, living in New York City, social issues, and the like. It is a web magazine, which seems better. It also allows me to think of myself as the editor of this magazine, since I do the coding and small corrections."
She smirked at my bombastic description. "How would a coffee maid such as myself find this site?"
I handed her the piece of loose leaf that had found its way into my left pants pocket.
"Is this like your calling card?"
"No," I demurred, "I actually wrote that especially for you. Just before I came in here, I wrote in out, hoping that it would give me confidence to speak to you. This isn't a flirtation, I am much in love with my girlfriend; I don't want to be an ant just reacting to the world... Have you ever seen Waking Life?"
"Of course I have and I don't want to be an ant either. I'm glad we had this interaction." She smiled sincerely at me, acknowledging some connection.
I beamed despite my attempts to keep composure. "So am I. Even if these minutes are all we ever had. I hope they won't be. I would like to see you when you return from your trip in a couple of months."
"I'd like that," she assured me.
This is not where the story ends. When the school day ended, I returned to byte on my way to my home.
"Here, I want you to have this," I said was I handed over an amulet I happened to have in my pocket. I pretty nearly always have some vaguely supernatural doodad on me.
"What is it?" she asked as she gave it an appraising glance.
"It's one of the Seals of Solomon. I forget which. It's protective. You can give it back to me when you return," I explained as simply as I could.
"You are incredible. Everyone has just been so completely incredible to me," she sighed, her eyes glimmering.

Cup of Earl Gray
Emily needs to get out of her house; her parents openly say her presence there is "regrettable." While my house is no cup of Earl Grey and despite the fact that I am twenty-three going on a middle-aged Peter Pan, I don't feel the compulsion to work myself into exhaustion to live further away from that which I know and love, into a town presided over by crack addicts and ubiquitous security cameras.
Emily and I have such immensely divergent schedules. While there will ostensibly come a time when I shall have to make a practice of getting up as 6 in the morning - hellish as the concept may be - I do not lose all will to move when the clock strikes eight or nine or ten. That is a digression, I know, but will I be stuck in an unfamiliar and inhospitable place for most of the day awaiting the return of Emily from work? Even when she returns, it will be at eight or nine at night, giving us only an hour or so before she nods off. Is this quality time? Is this how domesticity is going to be? I'm not sure I am quite the domestic type, if this is the case. I do know that I don't want to see her hurt or guilty or annoyed because of this arrangement.
Xen  
None of this feels concrete
This apartment is becoming a bone of contention that is stuck in my craw (how's that for mixing metaphors?). I cannot so much as try to discuss this topic than Emily sticks out her bottom lips and asks me whether I love her or am abandoning her. There are other options, obviously. Like that I am not at all psychically ready to leave all that I know by the end of the month. Note that I am writing this on the very early 28th. Tomorrow I am supposed to see this apartment for the first time. Unless it has hot and cold running vegetable wraps, DSL that spins the heads of electrons, and other such obviously unlikely accoutrements, I do not think I will want it.
I was just slowly building the kind of life I wanted in Beacon and I was happy there. Even fifteen minutes away is too far.
I don't want Emily to lose herself in all of this. Not too long ago, Emily was wont to take off to Iceland for a few weeks with little notice. The wanderlust is draining out of her, filling up with a sense of unseemly responsibility. Emily works two nearly full time jobs and, despite the fact that she individually loves them both, is quite miserable about it. Rather than being in a position to let this money liberate her soul, it is liberating her body from her parents' house. That really isn't a very bad option, however, it just feels like a different set of chains. She is now constantly worried about money and she has so much more of it than she ever has before. However, it just represents new responsibilities and worries to her. She can't be happy with what she has because she has to work her coccyx to a nub to afford it. She today confessed how she really needs another day off but cannot take one because she would either be letting her school down or wouldn't have enough money to live in the apartment.
Have I covered that my contribution to this domesticity experiment is the monthly food bill and an Internet connection? I don't exactly have a bad deal, however its not a deal I feel I made. It is a deal that happened while I was asleep one afternoon. I do not in any way feel that this apartment is mine or a choice to which I did anything more that acquiesce.
I suppose the crux of this is that I am being forced to change aspects of my life where I am comfortably, but commensurable changes are not occurring on the part of the rest of the world. If I were getting seduced on a somewhat regular basis by a girl who was vivacious and pleased with what she was doing, with a girl I could believe is doing the right thing in working two exhausting jobs, then I would not be nearly as concerned over this move. However, this is not what I am faced with. Emily seems exhausted in every sense, has a fairly bad cold every other week, has periodic breakdowns over mistreated puppies, hates her parents in a stewing fashion, and sometimes I feel as though I am acting out part of her much needed escape. I am no rope ladder, no parachute. While I am hardly a wild stallion, I'm not sure I am cartworthy just yet. I am still very much boy-playing-man and am slow to change this. Now, I suppose, I will go back to bed with Emily.
At least the apartment is furnished, right?


Soon in Xenology: Tutoring. Apartments. The Dia.

last watched: Amadeus
reading: You Are Being Lied To
listening: Mingus
wanting: To feel secure in this decision.
moment of zen: Finding someone new who feels like pieces of me.
someday I must: run.

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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