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07.11.04 1:11 a.m.

How can you come to know yourself? Never by thinking, always by doing. Try to do your duty, and you'll know right away what you amount to.  

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Previously in Xenology: Xen was jobless.

Sloth Love Chunk
The car in front of me was going fifteen miles an hour through this thin back road that connects Walden to New Paltz. I could not pass him, nor could I figure out why some SUV driving prick isn't raging his way over the tree-lined streets as though he were sole possessor. Damn him for defying my expectations by driving so cautiously, but damn him more for making me later than I otherwise would have been given that I managed to get myself very lost on a very straight road.
When we were only a mile from New Paltz, I suddenly saw a female's head rise from his lap and fix her hair casually. Then, his pants likely still open, he sped up thirty miles and ran over a squirrel. Suddenly, while considerably dunned, all was right with my worldview.
Dave and Nikki were waiting in the parking lot of the Gilded Otter and had likely been there for half an hour. I was, as I've said, very late. Nikki gave me a firm hug and Dave and I did that awkward one-armed guy hug. As far as I can tell, most every heterosexual guy is incapable of the same sex full on embrace. We might get additional boy cooties and, given that we already have to compete with sexy lipstick lesbians and battery powered cucumbers, this poses an unacceptable risk. The full on embrace has been bred out of my species.
Since Zack was not with them, as had been my intent despite the fact that they had never met him, we began to walk into town. A few blocks up, we happened upon Flynn driving. He screamed my name from his window, and said something else that I couldn't quite make out. I half-apologized to Dave and Nikki for the company I apparently keep and kept walking until we reached a bank, where Flynn had pulled in and was waiting.
In the Paltz
"So, you are in New Paltz again?" I chided him as I approached. Before leaving for Maine, Flynn had called me up and told me that Marina, Conor's beloved ex-girlfriend, and he were in New Paltz and she wanted to meet me. When I drove to the outskirts of New Paltz and, in the process, traumatized myself by unwillingly being witness to an SUV pass me to run over a raccoon, I came upon an eerie old farm house nestled in the trees. Serials killers could have lived here comfortably, though the furniture suggested Ozzy and Harriet were more likely. I knocked and knocked, finally calling Flynn. He nonchalantly informed me that they had left for another location despite knowing I was less than a mile from them. He gave poor directions to this other location, which I could not manage to find in the inky darkness. For the record, I react poorly to getting lost, generally stopping my car and placing stressed calls to whomever I think it close enough to a computer to give me directions home.
"Yeah, I'm in The Paltz. Marina is coming down next week, you want to hang out?" he replied. It is a waste of effort to try to provoke chagrin in Flynn.
"Yes, I do," I replied, though I wasn't sure this was the truth. I had only a sliver of fate that I wouldn't find myself abandoned with a twitching and writhing bit of road kill again.
"Okay, we'll meet at the Center for Symbolic Studies. I'll have someone call you and give directions..."
"No," I broke in, my senses restored. "You will meet me here."
"Yeah, that's what I said." He smiled ingratiatingly and drove off. I was not holding my breath for a call.


When Flynn had disappeared into the row of cars inching up the street, my phone buzzed. It was Zack asking us to pick him up at his new apartment behind Gilded Otter. I felt a bit bad, as though I was ignoring Dave and Nikki, but not so bad that I was not wholly willing to make them walk back down the street to scap him up.
His new apartment looked nearly identical to his old, though it was a different complex entirely. The old one was lost because the upstairs neighbor felt that she was getting too old to traverse the stairs daily, so she bought the apartment out from under Zack and Heather. She did not, however, stop renting her old apartment. As I understand it, it is much easy to climb stairs when one owns both ends.
"So," I said happily to Zack by way of greeting, "Marlon Brando died."
This did not provoke the desired shock among the masses. It's hardly fun to report people are dead if one's friends aren't going to be the least bit taken aback. "I am suspicious," I added. "I read two days ago that he was $20 million in debt, now he's dead? Tricksy."
"Yeah," insisted Zack. "He's faking it. He has his own private island with a tiny Brando."

Zack, Nikki, Dave  
First, you've got to do the Truffle Shuffle.
In the course of walking a thirtieth of the rail trail together, two important facts were discovered about Nikki. First, and most importantly, she has absolutely no love of Goonies. While she seemed faintly aware of the Truffle Shuffle, One-Eyed Willy, and Sloth, no glimmer of childlike excitement came to her eyes. She insists that she fell asleep the last time Dave tried to make her watch it.
"You do know that we will have to leave you tied up on the rail trail, at the mercy of the birds and beasts," I asked coldly. Nearby crows cawed at this, showing their camaraderie.
"Dave won't leave me," she insisted proudly, squeezing him tightly.
Zack stood in front of Dave. "Come on, Dave. She doesn't like Goonies! Goonies never say die!"
We could not convince Dave to leave her behind for her crimes against classic eighties cinema but later, over lunch at Bacchus, we did discover how they got together in the first place. As I had supposed, Nikki was once Dave's student (as was I, though I was and am not a cute blonde girl). If we are to believe Dave's side of the story - and, frankly, I am inclined toward his version - Nikki kept trying to entice Dave to go to a bar with her. She claims she was just trying to cheer him up because he had seemed down and that asking him to go drinking with her was the best way to perk him up. He demurred time and again, because he was her teacher. Actually, it seems more likely that he politely declined because he wasn't yet ready to date however the fact that he was her teacher makes for a convenient and gentlemanly excuse.
After weeks of this, he finally agreed to have a drink with her. But he was still trying to be reserved. They would just go out to the bar that once and then... all right, maybe a few more trips out together wouldn't hurt anything, but he would return to his house alone... well, actually, there were these videos that he had to watch, so Nikki might as well come, but he couldn't trust himself around her so she would sit on the other end of the sofa... or next to him... that was good too.
Thus it was that Dave and Nikki began dating or, to put it as Dave did, "that's how Nikki seduced me." She disagreed, but wasn't able to offer a more convincing version of events. Coupled with the fact that she doesn't like Goonies, it's obvious she cannot be trusted. But Dave seems to love her, so we'll let her mortal sin pass.

Getting a Job Is Not the End of the World
I heard the explosions and walked to the corner of my parents' road. It may be my road as well still, but I am not certain. Walden, as a township, is no place I call home but the confines of my apartment constitute a residence, if not more. I have toothbrushes in both places, the modern man's version of flags. I place one down and I have claimed this lavatory in the name of Xenotopia and I belong a little bit, even in my absence. There is a toothbrush at Emily's parents' house as well, though it is desiccated and old, having been displaced for a newer model twice over.
I saw the burst of glowing pink tendrils crest over a large tree, the reward I had been expecting for walking toward the explosion. I waited a moment and I hear another bang, but could not see the light through the trees.
Cars drive by, slowing down to watch me watching fireworks. They do not see the fireworks as they are too close to the trees. To them, I am just a man staring at an unspectacular night sky, a tableau they could not reconcile.
After several minutes of partially obscured fireworks from Dutchess Stadium, a stranger walked up to me and asked what I was looking at.
I turned my head and saw him squinting at the tops of the trees where absolutely nothing was happening to his befuddlement.
Turning back to stare at the treetops as he was, I answered, "There are fireworks. You just have to be patient." I could tell that the man thought me either Zen or half crazy. Either way, he didn't believe that there were literally fireworks and walked off without a further word.
I feel I have been patient and, while my reward wasn't quite as instantly gratifying as thousands of dollars of fireworks, I now have two jobs. Yesterday, I had none, as was the case for many yesterdays before.
The first job offer came early in the morning. A man from Kate's company called to state that Kate had put in a good word for me and that they would like to hire me to be an external verifier. I was not wholly sure what this entailed, although I would work from home and get $8 an hour to do it. Neither of these seemed unappealing, though I had been trying to get a "real" job outside of the apartment. Being unemployed does not allow one the outdoor leisure time I had expected.
Hours later, I received another call, this one from the Newburgh Library. Given that I had been pestering them on a biweekly basis, I had given up on actually being employed by them. The excuses that staff had to be reassigned and more interviews had to be conducted just sounded like a polite, if bureaucratic, way of telling me I was not needed. Except, of course, that they were offering me a job starting immediately. When I consulted with Emily, baffled at the glut of employment after months of occupational aridity, she told me that her mother had been informed that the job was down to a far more qualified person and me. I got the job because the woman who interviewed me thought I was more creatively intelligent and would bring a positive energy to the library. As the job primarily will entail properly applying stickers, I am unsure as to why my hypothetical creativity should play a part. I'm not complaining, though.
Another earthshaking blast broke me of my reverie and thrust me into a new one where I imagined that the flashes and explosions are an attack. Most everyone thinks this at one point or another while watching fireworks, or I hope they do. I would hate to be morbid.
You'd be surprised how often this picture is appropriate.  
Navel gazing at doom.
I weigh how I would react to seeing the obvious signs of a ballistics attack only miles from my home. I waited for my brain to kick in and suggest scenarios by which I could make myself safe and am disappointed and uneasy to realize that I would not have a way out of such a situation. The best I could hope for would be that the battle would move in a different direction, but I was very much aware that any such hypothetical battle would proceed unhindered by me. I did not know of any subterranean shelters where I could wait out the skirmish and my parents' home is bereft of useful weapons. The only assets I could see were a fast internet connection to put out a call for help and get information before the battle found us and vague childhood memories of a cluster of forest that would keep me hidden for a few hours. Neither seemed a guarantee of a long life.
Survival becomes so much harder when the enemy isn't zombies.
The fireworks reached their crescendo and stopped suddenly. The sudden silence was ill-fitting and I could not shake the feeling that bombing attacks had actually occurred and I would soon have to hide in an attic from fascists.
The speakers crackled to life and murmured that people at the stadium should slowly move to the parking lot. I was surprised to be able to hear this, as I was miles away.
I walked the block back to my parents' house, awkward from imagined fears.

Soon in Xenology: A job in detail. Crouching tigers. Sex toys. Lake George. An old friend.

last watched: The Young Ones
reading: Dry
listening: Virgin State of Mind
wanting: To observe danger from safety.
moment of zen: That bit with the fireworks.
someday I must: actually work.

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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