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05.02.04 1:53 p.m.

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.  

-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


Previously in Xenology: Kei was single. Xen was overworked.

I tried for tens of minutes to convince Keilaina over the phone that walking outside at night served a higher good than going to a bar. I pointed out how wonderfully this allows for deeper, more cathartic conversation, while bars are loud and not nearly as quasi-spiritual. Finally, she agreed to indulge my need to walk, though only if I were willing to later go to a bar to meet her friend Jen. I am nearly positive Keilaina only sees bars as a means to hangout with Jen.
"Fine, I am willing. Not totally enthusiastic, I'll grant you, but willing," I conceded.
She arrived shortly after, dressed attractively, in clothes that would fit both wandering and barhopping. Girls often have this mutant ability to combine form and function. I just wear whatever I find in my closet and hope that I can hike in velour.
"I met a boy," she exclaimed as we crossed the trestle.
"When did you meet a boy?"
"Okay, not 'met' met. But I'm talking to a boy. I found him online..."
"Oh no," I interrupted, "no good has ever come of the internet."
"No, no. He's not sleazy and I found him on a cool site. He goes to West Point..."
"Oh no," I interrupted again, "no good has ever come of West..."
"Be quiet, you. This boy is very nice. Unlike you," she teased as she skipped across the railroad ties quite a bit more adeptly than I expect most girls could in her shoes.
We stopped walking when we arrived at the back entrance to Glenham field.
"Are we supposed to be here?" she asked, curiously but calmly.
"In the strictest sense? No," I admitted, "But this was my grade school and I have spent many a night walking around, hanging from the playground fixtures, and doing little spells. I've only been harassed by the cops two or three times in all the years I've been here and they always buggered off or just ignored me. I'm harmless."
We sat on the swings as Kei revealed her romantic aspirations. I suggested that she find herself a nice hipster boy, though she was unaware of the term.
I swung pensively and tried to make out a reasonable description. "You know... like Zack, I guess. Except not Zack, obviously. Just a boy who likes music and is laidback. Ideally he plays some instrument and wears witty t-shirts. He would look like he could work at an independent record store or a cool coffee shop? It's hard to define; I think they are just 'know 'em when you see 'em types."
She pondered this for a moment when her phone rang. "Hi... yeah... nothing, I'm just at a playground... yeah, we want to hang out... okay, see you soon." She clicked off the phone. "We're going to Finnegan's," she announced.
"But... they square dance there. And they look at me cockeyed just because my shirt had hooks... hypothetically." My arguments were moot. Kei had walked with me, ergo I was indebted to go to bars with her. Also, I had made the grievous error of wearing optimistic sandals, and the spring night dew on the grass was turning my toes blue.
As we were leaving, we saw a cop car drive by. Keilaina nervously asked what we would do.
"We won't have to do anything. We aren't doing anything wrong. He can't really bother us," I tried to assure her.
As if to disprove my point, the cop got out of his car and approached us. I kept walking toward the road while he did, to emphasize that we were just leaving.
"What are you doing here?" he gruffed. The cop was shorter than me and very likely younger. His gruff seemed no more menacing than a sharpei.
I stopped and calmly explained, "My friend and I were just taking a walk by the apartments and passed though this field to get back home. It was much shorter that going up the hill and around, you see." Keilaina nodded in agreement, though she couldn't actually know the geography that made this a compelling argument.
By way of answer, he shone a flashlight at my face. I, understandably, flinched at the light. "Why do you seem confused?" he asked with intent.
I motioned for him to lower his light, a request he ignored. "Respectfully, officer, you are shining a flashlight in my eyes after I had become acclimated to the dark."
Before I could finish, he insisted, "I have to see you, you don't have to see me."
"I understand that, I was just explaining..."
Keilaina broke in, "We weren't doing anything illegal."
"Being here is illegal," he informed her, "It's after dark. You are trespassing." While this was technically true, I greatly doubted Glenham Elementary School had any compelling interest in prosecuting two twenty-year-olds who were doing nothing more insidious than walking. In years past, when I chose the steel basketball backboards as target on which to hone my slingshot skills, I could warrant that I was committing offense. However, they didn't care then and they certainly wouldn't now.
"Well, as we said, we were just passing through this field. No harm in that, is there?" I asked.
"Where are you headed now?" he asked Keilaina, choosing to ignore my question.
"To his house."
Pretty like a painting
He turned off his flashlight. "Good. That sounds like a good idea," he muttered and walked back to his car.
After changing into boots, we went to Finnegan's to meet up with Kei's friend Jen.
"She's really pretty," Keilaina assured me.
"Pretty like you?" I asked.
"Pretty like a magazine," she expanded. Magazines are so glossy and thin.
The bar was dead, which was somewhat a relief. The only occupants, aside from us, were a crowd in the corner making intermittent whoops and a bartender who was unable to provide Kei with the slightest appealing comestible.
Soon after meeting and greeting Jen, she got a phone call from her ex-boyfriend. "He's practically stalking me. He calls me, like, ten times a day, saying how much he loves me and all that," she confided.
"How long were you two together?" I queried, but she was already leaving the table to field this ex.
"They were together about a month," Kei added in Jen's stead. "Boys are like that with her. She inspires it."
"I seem to be immune," I mused.
Kei giggled, "Well, you also don't have a penis."
I narrowed my eyes to slits. "One of these days, Kei, it is going to attack you. It has fangs and... um... breathes fire."
"Oh, you mean like every other mythical beast?" she grinned.
Jen came back in time to see me trying to push Kei through the wall and, to her credit, just laughed. "We should go to another bar. This one is dead."
Keilaina explained in the car to the next bar that Jen is an immense flirt, particularly in bars. "She very rarely has to actually pay for a drink, since she seems to always be best friends with the bartender," she teased affectionately.
At the next bar, Jen dashed right over to the bartender and began chatting. Kei and I watched the Brobdingnagian bouncer play a game on video golf before flouncing onto a faux leather couch. Despite my prejudices against bars, this one was surprisingly nice. Occupied by no more than fifteen people, everyone was chatting amiably or playing pool.
"You know what this bar needs?" I asked Kei.
I considered this. "Hmmm... actually, yes. This would be a good Zack bar. If Zack patronizes bars. Which he should."
Kei watched a girl in tight jeans walk by before answering, "He would go to bars that served wine. And fresh fruit juices. And have music."
"As would most hipsters."
Jen quickly tired of this bar as well, as she somehow learned that the friend she was seeking was getting drunk elsewhere. However, Kei's stomach won the argument, and we made a quick side trip to a diner. Therein, the topic of nonsexual sleeping came up.
"You know," Kei explained to me, "I think you are the only person I could sleep with and be certain that nothing would happen." Even though this was indeed the case, I grimaced. I am not that much of a neuter. "Actually," she continued, "I was fine napping with both you and Zack. I guess you remove the penises of those around you."
I tossed a crouton at her. "You are aware that I hate you, right? ...Sorry, my lack of penis makes me bitchy."
"I love you so much!" she exclaimed.

I will have to make this quick, as I am just barely poking my head above the permafrost of my graduate work. Emily says that I complain so much that she feels that Mount Saint Mary should offer graduations to the spouses of those who get through the program.
Emily thinks of herself as my spouse.

Soon in Xenology: The Game of Curses. Rabid kittens. The Howland Public Library earning my eternal disrespect.

last watched: Shadow of the Vampire
reading: The Truth Behind Men In Black
listening: RENT
wanting: More time with Emily.
moment of zen: cold toes.
someday I must: make this up to M.

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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