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06.19.04 11:17 p.m.

If we do not live, speak and think in the language of enchantment, including naming angels and recognizing spirits...then the soul will go out of our lives and communities, and we will wonder why nothing seems to hold together and nothing seems to have value any more.  

-Thomas Moore


Previously in Xenology: Xen was fired. Kei had a crush on every boy. Emily had a fetish for all things Tibetan. Liz was and is no more.

The plan was to grab Keilaina from my parents' house, where she would theoretically be waiting, and go to the Strawberry Festival in Beacon. According to the painted plywood boards strewn about Beacon and surrounding areas, this festival was to be a celebration of that more succulent of fruits in its various and sundry forms, quite possibly accompanied by whipped cream or, at the very least, Pete Seeger.
Mr. Seeger makes his home in Beacon, though no one can quite deduce why. I think he must have lost quite a bit of money in Atlantic City when in was a high roller in the music scene and thus wagered his self-respect for ten more chips. There isn't, or rather wasn't, a rich section where Mr. Seeger could make his nest, though he does a good job of never being seen unless he is doing a concert or speaking out on behalf of the Hudson River. There are, incidentally, far more becoming places along the river where one can protect for its continued health.
Keilaina had mentioned in passing that she might be bringing with her a boy who had caught her fancy, whether he was aware of his capture or no. Instead, she arrived alone, issuing vague apologies. While I always enjoy scrutinizing Kei's potential paramours (it is, after all, the sport of kings), I was not precisely dismayed that Emily and I would have Keilaina all to ourselves today. She is good company when we can get her.
Keilaina and Emily  
Emily convinced Keilaina within ten words of our arrival that she wanted to go to the dirt mall instead of rushing to the Strawberry Festival. We would make our way there, she assured Keilaina, but the strawberries were in no danger of running out. I put up no fight, or nearly none. Who am I to deny my girls the pleasure of slumming?
They flitted from booth to booth, trying on bootleg sunglasses or buying dubious purses. As point of fact, Emily discovered while trying to scratch the stitching on the faux designer label on her new wallet that it was actually just a sticker. She grabbed Kei's new purse and was pleased to see her label pulled right off as well. That is quality sweatshop workmanship.
I am grateful that Emily has Keilaina in her life. Emily feels that she has a lack of females in her life. Or, rather, a lack of people with whom she can do stereotypical girl things such as shopping and discussing make-up. I suppose a particularly flamboyant male would do the trick, but the only person so described is Emily's coach who harangues her far too often to discuss Mary Kay lip balm and sundresses. Keilaina, aside from her chromosomal advantage, is the perfect balance for Emily. She is not so blighted by femininity that she cannot appreciate M's ability to break things, and in fact find it cool. At the same time, she is more that willing to trounce through the woods and Kei can talk about the appropriate swimsuit to wear cliff-diving.
Pete Seeger was not apparent when we arrived at the Strawberry Festival. His press agent (or, if you will, grandson) must have neglected to inform him of this harvest fest. As though trying to compensate for Seeger's lack, the cockroaches of the musical stratum were crooning, warbling, ululating, or rasping their political messages (read as: rabidly anti-Bush, but only for the sake of holding true to their Bad Folk Musician Code and not actually because they held opinions more informed than the average eight-year-old) upon a grassy hillock.
The whole of Waterfront Park, where the festival was already very much in progress, used to be a landfill. This pile of refuse was not cleaned up as much as it was plowed under a few feet of dirt. Underneath the loam and bright plastic playground rested a festering half acre of Styrofoam, used condoms, and doll heads. Ironically, folk singers often choose this peninsula as a platform for their environmentalism. Where better to point off at the ominous horizon while old auto parts continue their slow corrosion? Or, for that matter, what a better place to hold a harvest festival for a city that is quite divorced from an agricultural background?
As Emily bought Tibetan goods on deep discount from a vendor who was just impressed that someone was actually knowledgeable about his wares, I wandered my way over to the food stands. I could not in good conscience eat something from the dirt mall and, though I was well away that the fare at the festival differed only by semantic degrees, I could somehow justify buying a souvlaki being smushed together by a disinterested man in lamb-encrusted plastic gloves. If it was unsanitary quasi-food, at least it was unsanitary quasi-food that I could only get once a year.
As I sized up the vegetables that would soon be a part of my meal (by which I mean iceberg lettuce and bruised tomatoes) someone called my name. I turned to see a geeky kid I had known in high school standing next to one of my occasional high school crushes. The former used to sit at my lunch table for a few years, until I decided that my lunch table was very likely at a nearby pizzeria. The other occupants of the lunch room table somehow discovered that this boy had a near Pavlovian aversion to Golden Earring's earworm of a song "Radar Love." They - compassionate, high school boys - sought to remedy his fear with immersion therapy by chasing him through the halls singing it whenever possible. By the grace of Saint Dympna, he took this surprisingly well and never opened fire.
The girl with him, Tara, was a soft-spoken but funny girl, too gently pretty for anyone's own good. She is what the archetypal girl next door should look like, though Hollywood would have given her grotesque breast implants and spackled her pale skin with caustic tanners. She looked rather frozen in time, her features still the blinking newness of adolescence. It is a bit obtuse to imagine that she should look older. The years between fifteen and thirty can take anywhere from a month to forty years, depending on the woman in question. Emily is a fine example of this, still occasionally meeting the condescendingly business end of someone thinking she is sixteen or seventeen at most.
I wonder if I looked changed to either of the people greeting me. My hair was still long, perhaps a little longer than it was when they knew me. However, after a male's hair passes the threshold of his shoulder blades, its length is ignored unless it reached freakish lengths. I no longer had braces, though they had both known me for several years before and one year after my teeth were so constrained. My sartorial style was no better or worse, slightly larger than necessary pants and a t-shirt. In fact, I was likely wearing largely the same jewelry. I had not gained weight, in fat or muscle. Had my face aged, stretching or filling out, rhytides creasing my lips and eyes when I smiled? No, that would be many years off. To them, I was likely no different than Dorian Gray.
I only smiled recognition and waved, my brain involuntarily trying to deduce if they were a couple. If they were, I had to give the lad immense credit. However, a bit of my brain vaguely murmured that I might have heard many years ago that they were somehow related. By the time I had my druthers about me once more, the pause of appropriateness had stretched just long enough that I couldn't approach them, not that I would have necessarily had anything to say to either of them after five years. "What's new?" was just slightly too self-effacingly referential. I hadn't made any attempt to stay in contact with either of them, nor they me. Besides, I seemed to recall behaving in an embarrassing fashion toward Tara in the past before I understood how to properly relate to the fairer sex. If I was still trying to piece them together from half-remembered anecdotes from high school, I was loathe to imagine what pieces of me they were fitting together.
Emily and Kei joined me moments later, the former wearing a new pink cotton shirt that made her look like a Nepalese peasant girl and I told her as much. "But you are my Nepalese peasant girl and it suits you."
Looking at the choices of meats, none of which were particularly appealing to her, Emily proclaimed that I was forbidden to have lamb in my pita. "At least," she threatened, "not if you plan on kissing me... ever again." As I had precisely these plans and very little interest in eating Lamb Chop (I can only eat foods I don't personally find adorable), I did not dissent from her proclamation.
"What about me?" asked Kei. "Can I eat lamb in your presence?"
"No, no one can eat lamb."
She ate Lamb Chop.
I poked Emily affectionately. "But you were not planning on kissing Keilaina, why should your personal politics affect what goes in her mouth?" I knew that this was precisely the sort of argument that Emily had heard during her slightly more militant years pioneering her first college's Women's Studies program, so they would innately click.
The argument twirled about in her head and she conceded, "Fine, Kei can eat whatever she likes, since I'm not going to kiss her."
"It would be hot if you did," I smirked. "Just so I have the rules clear, what if I kiss Keilaina after she eats the lamb?"
Emily glared at my attempt at twisting the situation again. "I won't kiss you. Ever again. It will have nothing to do with the lamb. Then, I will kill you both."
I got my pita full of chicken and pouted, "I think not being kissed by you ever again might be worse than the killing."
Keilaina and I sat on the grass, I munching on my chicken and she on her lamb, while Emily tried to hit the vendors up again. Keilaina showed me her first ex-boyfriend across the crowd, a tall, handsome boy who would not stand out at Abercrombie and Fitch. This boy had spoken with her on the phone every evening for months and then vanished. They were in middle school, though. It's to be expected.
I spotted one of the more affectionate former patrons of my old library near him and tried to focus on becoming inconspicuous. Perhaps if I thought hard enough of the color green, I would just become a pile of grass. That would be better.
But, no, she saw me and galloped over with a fond hello and a grabbing of my hands. "We miss you at the library," she confided. So they had noticed I was missing. This was much more than I expected of them. Perhaps the Indian patrons noted that they were being treated increasingly rudely, but I couldn't imagine this middle-aged Caucasian woman had any real attachment to my presence. She used to show me the pictures in her wallet, always of her next to some Hollywood celebrity. She insisted that she was an actress, though the truth was that she did odd jobs and occasionally was an extra. She never had a single picture of her family in her wallet.
"It is good to be missed," I said, noncommittally.
"Are you coming back in the fall?"
I bit my lip and tried to look kindly at her. She isn't a bad person, nor would she qualify as a crazy. She is just someone clinging to a dream and seizing the hands of any moderately attractive male that come her way. Still, I felt like I was trying to explain to a little girl that goldfish don't nap upside down. "No, I don't think that will happen. I'm pretty sure this is a 'forever' situation."
"Maybe when they get a new building, you will come back," she responded obliviously, forgetting, like so many, the meaning of forever.

Angela Supplants Liz
Angela is the light by which the rest of the world reads art books in hopes of finding pictures of semi-clad adolescents.
Melissa has pointed out to me - and Angela nods emphatically - that I only ever speak of Emily these days. I do not think this is necessarily so or, if it is, that is only because it is to her that I am most exposed as I am her near constant bedmate these days. I definitely try to branch this narrative out, if only because settling into domestic bliss and job hunting makes for a rather soporific story.
"Dude, you haven't even mentioned that Liz is not around anymore," reasoned Melissa.
"Sure I have," I insisted, looking to Angela for confirmation. That is the sort of thing that would come up while writing. You knew that Liz was out of the picture, right?
"No, you really haven't," responded Angela quickly and defensively.
As a means of reparations, I am now to tell you that Liz is not longer considered part of "the group," whatever that is. On Demonstanes's Hierarchy, she is not quite varalse, but she is barely raman. She is not the enemy and we can guess at the forces which drive her actions, but it isn't an activity on which we would want to spend much time.
I say "we" because I am part of the group by virtue that I am part of Melissa. I can't actually fathom where I stand with most of the people Melissa calls "friend." For that matter, I am a little shaky as to where Melissa's friends stand in her opinion. Angela is peaches and cream though. Don't you dare get confused on that point.
From what I witnessed and was told, Liz began to value a group of people who spent their time smoking a certain illegal herb. While Melissa hardly comes down on the side of the continued illegalization of marijuana, she has too often witnessed the toll addiction to any substance takes on a relationship. Specifically, it makes the addicted party quite boring. This does not just go for drugs, by the way. Obsession on one idea or activity to the exclusion of life is a bit opaque to anyone who isn't just as fanatical.
The Best Friend
Liz started pulling away from Melissa, opting to spend whole nights hidden in her trailer with stoners she had previously mocked. She also became bellicose. The relationship between Melissa and Liz was strained to the point of near mutual silence between them by the time they took their vacation together to Hawaii. The trip was already paid for and neither was exactly inclined to forfeit this merely because they had a quiet loathing for the other party. During the final nights in Hawaii and owing in no small part to drunkenness, they both managed to act in a more than friendly manner toward one another (torrid lesbian sex). When they returned, Liz assumed the nature of their relationship was changed; she thought that they were good friends at the very least. She began to call Melissa more than she had every bothered to call any of the boys with whom she had been. This shows an inherent ignorance as to the basic nature of Melissa; if one is going to slaver over her, one had better be damned sure she is on the same page. She wasn't even reading the same book. Melissa doesn't like those sorts of books. Too depressing.
Scorned by Melissa pointing out that they still weren't friends just because they had managed to have a few conversation and sex, Liz completely left Melissa's life. Melissa was largely fine with this. There was a predictable period of pronounced loneliness, because they had been nearly inseparable for years. However, Liz's creeping infatuation took the edge off of any residual platonic attachment Melissa might have felt.
Liz reacted poorly to Melissa getting over their friendship so quickly and apparently tried to turn her new friends against Melissa. This, again, shows a glaring ignorance as to the nature of Melissa. She does not care what inarticulate stoners have to say behind her back, but she will meet their cowardly disrespect with very public, very loud words right to their faces. She is the confrontational sort and she can certainly more than hold her own in any fight she got into with anyone who did not have a black belt. Because of this, it is very, very rare that she has any cause to prove her pugilistic skills.
Liz's role at best friend was gradually filled by Angela. She was not the first girl to assume the role of "Melissa's best friend," but she was the tallest. Angela was hardly a new acquisition in the friendship department; Melissa and Angela had worked together at the grocery store many years ago. In fact, I had a small crush on Angela when I first met her well over three years ago. Of course, she had a boyfriend in jail, so I thought it better than to express my crush... actually, pretty much up until this point.
Angela makes a better friend for Melissa anyway. While it was enjoyable to make fun of Liz to her face, Angela is ten times the better target as she actually understands we are ribbing her. The whole level of mocking discourse can be higher.

Soon in Xenology: Interviews. A wedding. A job.

last watched: Coupling
reading: Diary
listening: In Spite Of Ourselves
wanting: Not to be reminded that I am unemployed.
moment of zen: Old acquaintances.
someday I must: see M go to Tibet.

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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