Thomm Quackenbush, author

05.20.04 12:37 a.m.

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.  

-Henry David Thoreau

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen was a restless grad student. Keilaina was fired from PetCo.

Perversely Pure
Emily's sister Lauren has just graduated from NYU with a doctorate in biblical archeology. She is now Dr. Lauren. If anyone is going to find the Arc of the Covenant, it will be her. I cannot quite fathom any other job for which she is thus qualified, since the last person to get a job with that degree was her professor.
I was instantly impressed with the sheer immensity of NYU. It is exactly the sort of college one sees in romantic comedies where the quirky ugly duckling ends up stumbling into a chaotically perfect relationship, after all of the finding and losing and finding again. In sum total, it is singularly the sort of place that shouldn't exist by the sheer virtue of the fact that it makes too much sense to Hollywood. In the brick and mortar world of everyday mortals, the idea that this university is yawningly stretching its architectural arms over some of the most valuable real estate in one of the most expensive cities in the world is ridiculous if one stops to think about it. One rarely stops to think about it, which is why NYU doesn't vanish, to be replaced with condos and bodegas selling flowers of dubious authenticity.
NYU  
So strange, students live in their library
The ceremony was almost exactly what one expects of graduations, which is quite appropriate given that this was precisely the task before us. A commencement speaker came out after fanfare lasting no less than ten minutes. She, a dour and tiny women, approached the podium uncertainly and chattered out a poorly researched speech about a few artists, actors, singers, and poets that called this area of the city home, if only for a few months. As she chose Bob Dylan lyrics that were only even slightly appropriate for the stanzas misquoted and summed her speech up by insisting that the students shouldn't try to emulate these great people and instead lead unremarkable lives, Emily's father pronounced her the worst kind of intellectual charlatan and insisted that NYU should demonstrate more selectivity on future matters.
I admit with a degree of disquietude that I felt barely contained jealousy of these graduates. Not for the doctoral students, because I do not aspire to has those letters after my name, but those getting their Master's. I know that I, too, am on the track to get my Master's, but it is from some tiny, Catholic college nestled yards away from the sites of countless gang fights and drug deals. Additionally, it is for a pursuit to which I express a great deal less than certainty and comfort. These graduating students, on the other hand, are getting degrees from NYU. Was there a secondary education major among their esteemed ranks? There was not. I am unsure whether this is an academic pursuit to which NYU gives much thought, though they seem to give ample thought to journalism.
I realized - not for the first time - that I do not feel as though a Master's in education from Mount Saint Mary means that I matter in the world. I hear the glib aphorisms echoing through the back of my mind, oozing saccharine sentiments like "a teacher matters to their students" and "think of all the lives you will touch."
I am not selfless. My drive, while not to utterly glorify my name before Olympus, is to write and be recognized. I know scholastic achievement and professional success as a writer are not necessarily entwined, but we do not live in the world that had a place for the young Hunter S. Thompson. I felt that these hundreds of students parading before me in heliotrope robes will be in a better position to be seen in the light of day.
I don't think it is better to settle for half.
After the ceremony ended, Lauren, her soon to be husband Chris, Emily and I walked to meet Emily's parents at a French restaurant called Le Boeuf ala Mode, which seemed to roughly translate to my distinctly Anglo brain as "The Cow with Ice Cream."
The rain began and, though Lauren and Chris had lent me the use of an umbrella, my white shirt soon moistened to translucency. Emily declined to join me underneath, preferring the grey canopy of the city sky.
"My father taught me to ride my bike in this park," she gleefully informed, shaking the drizzle from her curls. "He told me that, if I rode long enough, I might see Mayor Dinkins."
"And that motivated you?"
She cocked her head as though trying to wrap her mind around my question. "Of course it did," she answered as though telling me that a great cause of the night is the lack of the sun, "It was Mayor Dinkins."

Adieu to the Land of How
I rushed out of the apartment and, despite the bridge traffic, managed to arrive at the library on time. I went behind the counter and checked in a couple of books M and I had out.
The assistant director walked up to the desk, though remained ten feet from me. His gaze never met mine as he told me to go into the director's office when I was done checking in the items. My stomach sank heavily into my entrails.
Last week, a woman had complained that I closed the library early. I had not, I had changed the sign because kids kept pulling the doors open and screaming to their friends. When they saw the sign, they stopped behaving like total asses, or at least did so elsewhere. A minute before we were to legitimate close, an obese woman gave a weak tug on the open door and walked away. I called to my coworkers to stop her, but they looked at me like dumb cows and made no movements, so I ran to get the woman who was leaving and told her that I would happily help her. I stayed several minutes late doing exactly that. So she complained to someone and all of my coworkers shirked responsibility, even though they had all given their consent to change the sign.
Bear in mind, I am not in charge on weekends, the librarian is. Nonetheless, I was the scapegoat. Not the racist hag who calls Indian people "monkeys" to their faces (and in front of the personnel director). Not the woman who steals from the till and does a terrible job of covering it. Nope, me.
Owing to this woman's complaint, the assistant director told I would be fired if there were any other problems. Therefore, I was the best clerk I could be. It was quite a lot like I am normally.
I finished checking in the items and walked to the back as requested.
"I assume you got our letter?" the assistant director insisted, not even putting forth the slightest effort to actually frame this as an honest question.
"No, I didn't." There were two slips that said there were packages for M and I at the post office, but we hadn't had the time or interest to pick them up yet. I had assumed that, since I had so recently given the library my new address, they were sending me a housewarming present. Emily didn't buy this at the time, nor did I really.
He was flustered, as he had clearly planned his screaming session around the fact that I had read these letters and, judging from his arrogant demeanor, should be licking his knock-off shoes in abashment. These letters were nothing so endearing as a greeting card. Evidently the letter was meant to bawl Emily out as well.
The personnel director was waiting in the office with a yellow folder. From this, she produced three receipts with highlighted marks.
"As you can see," she began, "you and your friends have a lot of items out."
"No, I don't see that. Those receipts are at least a month old. Almost all of those items are returned. Zack's account, for example, is completely clear. Not that I have any responsibility for what my friends take out," I added.
"No, these are from today," the assistant director demanded.
"But they aren't," I protested. I reached for Zack's receipt, which showed that an item dated from March was not yet overdue, as it should have been. They yanked the slip away from me, so I continued, "That receipt should have overdue items if they were due back in March, not to mention the fact that Zack's record has been empty for at least a week."
The assistant director didn't even dignify this with a response, but plowed on, claiming that I had checked a graphic novel out to Zack last week that was to go to the director's daughter.
"No, you aren't listening to me," I persisted, "Zack has no items out. At all. His record is clear and was last week. Last week when you are claiming I checked an item out to him. Go check his record. Anyway, what he has checked out has nothing to do with me."
"This is shit!" the assistant director exclaimed by way of explanation. I was taken aback, as I had been very calm and reasonable throughout this conversation, even though I was acutely aware I was being screwed. "Do you know how bad this looks to other libraries? We are on committees!"
"I know that, but Zack doesn't have anything checked out. Emily and I only have something like ten items out between us, none of which are overdue."
"Our director took it as a personal insult that you took an item from her daughter!"
"I am sorry if she felt that way, but I didn't check any item out that was supposed to go to her daughter. If you check the records, you will see that."
They did not care to check, again. Then, though my concerns we already being ignored, the personnel chided me that I had made Emily a VIP. This is a fairly meaningless distinction that prevents fines from being charged to her, should she accrue them. Of course, she wouldn't pay fines anyway because I would delete them. This is very much standard operating procedure and the woman chiding me had given VIP status to several of her friends. She has also deleted obscenely large fines in my presence, as fines are rather arbitrarily applied anyway. This particular offense of mine was committed over two years ago, when the library switched computer systems and I was playing around to learn the new program. Emily designation was thus not even slightly new and I was baffled as to why it was being brought up. "Again, I'm sorry if this is a problem, but she has been a VIP for years and this is the first anyone has mentioned this."
The personnel director clucked. "We don't make anyone a VIP unless they work for the library."
I cocked my head, confused. I knew for a fact that she had made her friends VIPs, since I was the one who had been checking items out to them for the past two years. Why on Earth was she lying to me, when she must have known I was aware it was a lie?
"Well, guess what?" the assistant director grunted, pleased with himself, "You are fired. Give us the keys back immediately."
I reached into my pocket, stunned that I was being fired. I unhooked my keys from the ring and slid them across the desk wordlessly.
Xen, quite irked  
Pretty close to how I felt
The overblown bastard rose from the director's chair and smirked. "We are holding your check until all your items are returned. Now you should leave."
Again, I was stunned. Even if I was no longer in their employ, I was a patron and they had no right to hold my check for being a valid member of their system. Still, I just wanted to get out of there and figured I didn't have much to say.
I started walking away, everything feeling too light to be real, when my supervisor grabbed my shoulder. "You should learn to be more responsible if you are going to be a teacher," she matronly admonished. I just glared at her gumption that she thought she had the slightest right to act so sanctimoniously when she had just been party to these lies. I pulled away from her hand quickly, not even able to form a sentence of retort to her advice.
As I passed the counter, I almost went behind it again to finish up my shift. No, I realized, this isn't what I'm supposed to do. I'm just supposed to leave and never go back.
I walked out of the door, one hand in my pocket fishing out my phone or car keys. I wasn't sure which one I needed more - connection or distance - but I was irked to notice that my key ring had become less cumbersome.
A car driving by slowed down and called out to me. As a storyteller, I am aware that this will sound like a lame contrivance, but it was my mother.
"What's up?" she asked happily. "I'm going to go get fingerprinted for a new job. Well, maybe a new job."
"I... was just fired."
She face dropped and she pulled over into a parking spot. I climbed into her passenger seat. The light wasn't filtering through the clouds right, that was obvious, because everything seemed a little washed out. I told her what had happened. She was comforting, but did have to keep her appointment with employment and drove off after a few minutes.
When I slammed my mother's car door shut in a frustrated-at-the-world way, I saw my favorite coworker... former coworker... across the street, likely on her way to lunch. She and I had actually hung out once, outside the confines of the library. I wanted to run over and cry to her that I had been fired. I stopped at the curb and realized, she already knew. Everyone in the library had known I was being fired. They had arranged coverage and written me a letter. I walked away from her receding figure and got in my car.
I sat for a moment as the weight of the revelation sank in that this had very much been a premeditated action. I don't merely mean a week or two. They had been trying for months to hire a new clerk. In fact, they had hired one girl, giving her hours that should have been mine. She rewarded their faith in her by not showing up for work several times and waiting until she was called to explain that she would not be coming in. A few weeks ago, my supervisor asked for my new address, but her manner was slightly off. I didn't think very much of it at the time, but enough to remember it. How far back did this stretch? Why was this happening? I did not feel I was shirking the onus for my firing and grew increasingly indignant as my brain began to see the pattern behind my dismissal.
When I arrived home, I plowed through my mental rolodex, calling my friends for commiseration and leaving messages when appropriate until Keilaina answered. In a sense, she was the ideal person to seek for understanding in this matter, as she had been similarly dismissed from her job at PetCo weeks after a new regime took charge. She was instantly consoling, putting voice to the utter betrayal I felt.
When I finally got a hold of Emily, a conversation I was dreading, she was horrified for me and couldn't fathom why this was done. "It makes no sense at all," she exclaimed, "you are highly trained and good with the customers, from what I have seen. And they just recommended you to get the apartment! What kind of a bastard does that?"
"Evidently the kind that runs the Howland Public Library," I conceded.


Soon in Xenology: Interviews. Brooke and Eliot.

last watched: Bridget Jones's Diary
reading: Little Green Men
listening: Fashion Nugget
wanting: a freaking job.
moment of zen: watching M get soaked.
someday I must: get a new freaking job.

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush