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04.27.04 2:38 p.m.

In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.  

-John Ruskin


Previously in Xenology: Emily was the Broken Ninja.

Leopard Spots
I sit inside some dojang that Emily found, watching her to exercise. She made the sensei promise that he would tell no one that she is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but she is wretchedly bad at pretending to be anything other that an expert martial artist in this environment. She stands with tight posture, legs three feet apart. She prepares for pushups and puts her knuckles to the floor. She bends and stretches like normal people simply cannot.
As I write this, the sensei is teaching this class of four people what a snap kick is. Emily literally does front snap kicks in her sleep. I have had the bruises on my thighs to prove this.
She insisted that this was a wholly different martial art as she pulled me from my car the moment I arrived home from class. The only difference I see is that they count in Japanese rather than Korean. If you detect a hint of irritation in my tone, it is because this is supposed to be date night. Instead, I am watching her do very basic exercises. I know she is seeing through the lenses of excitement and the newness of this dojang, and I can forgive that. But that doesn't change that I want to be curled up at the apartment with her, enjoying our date night. Emily made sure she was not on call tonight so we could have dinner tonight and just spend time together despite our overloaded and incompatible schedules. Now she is considering taking up another activity to the exclusion of spending time with me.
She handed me ten dollars and told me to go get a sandwich from Subway while she worked out. I pointed out that Subway was at least a mile back and I was very hungry. Then she pushed me inside and looked sad so I didn't leave. She wanted me to do this with her, but it is only because she is nervous. She doesn't actually want me to be doing a martial art with her, she just wants someone familiar nearby.

Martial Arts Hall of Fame
Months ago, Emily received a letter informing her that she was to be inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, though she did not know why. Her Master had recommended her, of course, but even he was unaware as to what award would be bestowed upon her. What little we did know if that this was a distinctly formal occasion and the room would be filled with the contemporary luminaries of the martial arts world. I stared blankly at those words, as the only luminaries I seem to remember are very dead film stars and Jackie Chan.
"Will Jackie Chan be there?" I asked for clarification as I changed into my freshly ironed Russian Count Outfit. If Jackie Chan would me there, I might try to stand a little taller.
"No, but rumor has it Chuck Norris may be making an appearance," she answered from behind a closed bathroom door.
"'Walker: Texas Ranger' might be there? This is a treat. All of my friends - particularly Kate - will be so jealous." I slipped on my Doc Martin's, the most formal shoe I choose to own, and hopped up and down experimentally. I grew to six feet in this outfit, though the heels could only account for so much. The rest was anticipation of how Emily would look in her dress. She was not so excited for the world to see her in a dress. Aside from the omnipresent and undeniable fact that almost every American woman thinks they look like a zombie Miss Piggy, Emily had the added weight of the butterflies in her stomach. You'd imagine that butterflies wouldn't weight much, but these seemed to be iron butterflies spawned out of her fear of getting up on stage in front of a room full of expert martial artists. I think she felt that they would know she was not on top of her game owing to her knee injury and would rescind the award and mock her in a badly dubbed and translated fashion.
"Do you think I'll have to give a speech?" she asked me nervously, still refusing to open the door until she was finished dolling herself up.
"I most sincerely doubt they will. I can't imagine they would have all of the martial artists receiving awards - how many did you say there were? - thank their families and gods."
"Hundreds of people are getting awards, I think," she explained.
I straightened one of my lion head buttons, as it had curiously cocked itself to the side. "See, absolutely no way, given that this shindig is beginning at six and they have to feed us as well. You are safe. All you have to do it show up, look pretty, get your award, and give me a kiss."
The door slowly creaked open at this and I was greeted by the perfumed steam freshly showered girls produce. Emily stepped out wearing a well tailored black dress and the slightest bit of make-up. Her hair was gelled tightly in a bun, save for two ringlets on either side of her face.
"Well?" she asked nervously.
New Hotness
I gasped for breathe, as my lungs had filled with girl-shower steam and lust. "You look... fantastic."
She looked at her unshod feet. "No, I don't," she answered in a typically demurring female fashion.
"No, seriously. Everyone else? Old and busted. You? The new hotness." This did not convince her, but she honored my compliment by not disagreeing that she is an attractive person.
After several hours stuck in New York traffic in formal clothing, M and I arrived at the hotel. As we pulled in, we saw limousines dropping off other apparent martial artists. I assume Emily can sense where there is another martial artist in the area. It is an evolutional trait, passed down by successful ninjas.
The building was already teeming with people. It is a popular misconception that martial artists are somehow physically fit in a way that is readily apparent. This is clearly not so, as quite a lot of these people looked like sedentary accountants and bald dwarves. Perhaps this is a means of camouflage for who would expect an attack from a portly, middle-aged hausfrau?
M and some guy  
We don't know
We got our name tags and slid past the gathering of people into the main hall. It too was packed. I walked past a table and noted plates covered in refuse. Maybe, I thought, these people ate and ran? Or there were several meal sessions, in order to accommodate the crowd? This seemed faintly feasible.
I elbow M, and tilted my head toward the table being cleared.
"I know, I see it too," she confided. "Let's hope for the best. Let's hope that we didn't miss prom."
Emily was lead to the stage to greet some man she "just had to meet." I took this opportunity to query one of the servers. The one I chose was a leather puppet who had felt the need to draw eyelashes onto her face. It looked ridiculous to the point that I stifled a grin. I had more pressing matters.
"I see, madam, that you and your coworkers are clearing the plates away... when did this event begin?" I asked anxiously fumbling with my nametag.
She looked several degrees past my right shoulder and wheezed, "One... or two... it started. It's over now and we are cleaning up."
My face dropped sadly. "I see that, madam. Thank you for your time."
I sidled over to where Emily was standing and being given two plaques, one for her and one for her school. "Prom began at one, says the waitress over there."
Tony Clifton  
I'm almost sure Tony Clifton was there
"The invitation said six," she insisted, "but they did change the location. What gets me is that I called today and I spoke to the woman running all of this. She didn't say a word about a different time."
"This is the way the ninja prom ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper," I pouted.
"Judging from the number of nametags on the tables out there, this happened to a lot of people," Emily realized.
"Not to mention the limousines outside as we entered..." Emily was standing next to an old man with dyed black hair by this point and she enthusiastically asked that I take photos of them together. I did so agreeably. When she got off stage, I asked who the man was.
She burst out laughing. "I haven't the slightest clue. Everyone was just pushing me toward him and telling me I should meet him, so I played along. I'll ask my Master, he'll know."
M at KFC  
KFC: Dinner of Champions
"So, what award did they give you?" I wondered.
She twirled proudly and handed me the plaque by way of explanation.
"You are Woman of the Year?" I asked, surprised.
She smiled proudly. "Yes, I guess I am. The best part though? The person on the plaque is a girl, by virtue that they gave it a pony tail."
Despite having only barely attended this event, Emily wandered over to the sweatshirt booth to design a memento of the day. I walked over to a booth selling rings, because I am 3/10th magpie on my mother's side. Though they were the exact quality and type of glass and steel jewelry one buys from high school vendors, they were undeniably shiny. The bleached blond salesperson oozed, "They are nice, aren't they? Affordable too, because I know you martial artists have other things to spend your cash on, am I right?"
I shook my head. "Oh, I'm not a martial artist, my girlfriend is. I'm the arm candy. I just like glittery things."
This did not dissuade him from his spiel. "This is what the French call 'bling bling,' so I can't blame you for looking." As he said this, a flash went off behind us. I noted that he had smiled for the picture, even though the photo's subject was six feet behind us. Off my querulous look, he added, "I get in a lot of other people's photos."
"I have a friend, Zack, whose goal it is to enter a stranger's house and see himself in the background of one of their pictures," I told him congenially.
Xen at KFC  
Happy despite no Walker: Texas Ranger
He gave me a painfully artificial smile and said, "That's a great goal. You shouldn't play with him anymore." This seemed reason enough to walk away from the seller, though the growing voracious butterflies in my stomach were not helping matters.
On the way home, Emily and I, still fully dressed in our formal array, stopped at KFC to fill my stomach. Emily seemed uncomfortable with this proposition, but I saw no overarching problem with it. At worst and most likely, we will be the best dressed people within a two mile area. At worst, we can pretend that we just came from a prom.
Driving home with a box of popcorn chicken and the Woman of the Year by my side, the day didn't feel like such a waste. Even if I didn't meet Walker, Texas Ranger.

Soon in Xenology: The trouble with cops. The Howland Public Library earning my eternal disrespect.

last watched: Shadow of the Vampire
reading: Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels
listening: Indestructible Object
wanting: Accolades.
moment of zen: Sitting next to Emily and being proud.
someday I must: bring Emily to an award dinner for me.

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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