Thomm Quackenbush, author

07.30.04 12:06 a.m.

Everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else.  

-Georges Simenon

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen was a writer, but you might not have noticed. Xen was an unemployed bum as well, but I repeat myself.

The Decay of Angels
I have begun my library job. It is nothing particularly challenging, I put stickers on books and enter data.
All of the software seems to have been created in the late eighties. This is odd, given that all of the computers are state of the art, most using flat paneled monitors and specially designed CPUs. When I got my first real bike, I mistakenly put the gears on both the easiest and most difficult settings, not knowing any better. I can almost smell the bureaucracy that gave the eccentric biddies with whom I work the technological equivalent. They don't seem to know the difference or that this is a wholly ass-backward way of doing things. I have watched them try to write e-mail by putting their address in the taskbar. I was too embarrassed to try to correct them.
Newburgh Library  
God herself desiccates here.
They all think me very young and irrepressibly cute. I don't feel the need to disabuse them on this notion, though I swear I have told them I am a grad and not a high school student ten times each. Once they are done twittering over me and are distracted by discussions of baseball or dieting, I finish all of my work in a flurry of keystrokes. It is better to be underestimated by them for now. These women occupying the hidden basement of the library (one needs a special key code to enter the floor; I memorized it the moment the director clicked it on in front of me, just in case, but played dumb when it was just offered to me later) seem to regard me as something of a pet. Aside from my supervisor, who gives me brief instructions on simple tasks and leaves me to it, I think I may be the office pet.
Emily informs me that I got this job, despite there being an enormous pool of applicants and my main competitor being more experienced than me, because the director (a friend of Emily's mother) thought I would bring fresh ideas and perspective into the library. As my job largely entails repetitive application of the proper stickers and the ability to scan using a light pen, I'm not wholly sure where my innovation is sought. I am not complaining, understand. A regular paycheck is suddenly a delightful novelty.
The library is nestled in the ghettos on Newburgh. This is saying quite a lot, as Newburgh is the Baskin Robbins of ghetto; thirty-one flavors and then some of disenfranchised, inner city culture on the banks of the Hudson River. It very likely was once a very nice place to raise one's children. The chipped face of a dejected Greek goddess peers from a brick house a few dozen yards from the library. All the windows are covered with yellowed newspaper for want of curtains. This place is not abandoned, nor is it atypical. There are these glorious old brownstones slowly chipping and fraying owing to apathy. They all rest on a red brick street, quaint though jarring save where large potholes have been filled in with black tar and stones. If Newburgh was gifted The Dia Museum instead of Beacon, each house on this street could be worth a king's ransom. All I can think about is how my high school civics teacher was nearly gutted on this street for being pigmentally challenged after dark. I will have to work after dark, of course. However, unless something quite drastic has happened since last I saw a mirror, I am not a sixty-year-old man who is barely sixty inches and I can, if necessary, provoke an aura that makes me seem not worth the effort of hassling. I will be okay.

Some of Us Have God
It is relieving, if not wholly pleasant, to no longer be under the burden of writing for money. While I was unemployed, I lent my skills to a friend of my mother who was taking a graduate class for which she did not wish to write papers. As such and despite my pronounced lack of certifiable knowledge of drugs, I wrote three major papers at $100 a pop. This is the literary equivalent of prostitution, I am sure, but my morals are easily swayed when I am unable to make my car payments.
Xen  
It was getting hard to focus.
While this was hardly art, my skill could not stand to be used without some aesthetic expression. Allusions to Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson were understandably unavoidable. Her forensics profession was none the wiser and I felt like a smartass with another $100 slipping through my fingers, so I saw no harm.
Despite the relatively easy money, I was stuck. I would sit, material in front of me and quotes highlighted and realize that I was blocked. As I didn't care one solitary whit about the material, this was annoying. I should just be able to turn out a fairly scholarly and heavily cited paper in a couple of hours, particularly with a monetary carrot in front of me. But I just couldn't. I wanted to be chronicling Melissa's former adventures with explosive drugs and heartbreak or typing a quick short story told entirely in a note chastising a former friend.
I only write as an altered state. It is not an easy state to acquire, usually coming long after the sun has gone below the horizon and most people are asleep. Perhaps the East Coast's fount of inspiration is less in demand and I can feel freer to gulp. To pass my cup to write essays blaming societal ills on drug use leaves me parched.
I need to write. It is kind of what I have instead of god.

System Failure
At the library, they pulled me into a training session for the next version of circulation software that actually acknowledges that one can use Windows. I caught onto the software in a few minutes, because I have recreationally used a computer since 1993, and was poking around at the features while most of the other people at the training session were asking how to close boxes and where they could find the ALT key.
The other person both aware of the basics of software and under forty-five was a hipster looking girl seated behind me. I caught her undisguisedly looking at me several times in a way that denoted interest, if not an urge to make conversation.
When the training session took a break, I dashed to the audiobook section to detoxify from the frustratingly lackadaisical pace of the lesson. The hipster girl followed, likely more interested in the proximity to the bathrooms than to my presence. Nonetheless, she introduced herself and I reciprocated.
"So, you used to work at Beacon?" she asked. One of my supervisors had intoned with this tidbit of information as a means to explain to the older women on either side of me why I seemed to know what I was doing.
"Yes, I used to work there." I saw no need to offer additional information, as I didn't much care for the topic at hand. She was not a former patron of Howland, I would have recognized her, and so the line of questioning could be an awkward one.
Sure enough, she offered, "My father... well, step-father... works there." There are two men who worked then when I was fired and one of them is a Garrison Keillor-esque perpetual bachelor.
"Who?"
She gave his name and I nodded agreeably. "He is the man that fired me." No use giving her fodder, not that this would necessarily be her intent. She seemed like a very pleasant young lady and - under different circumstances wherein her father had not behaved boorishly to me - I could imagine associating with her socially. Also, I had largely gotten over the firing. It annoyed me that I had gone through a dry spell monetarily for reasons that were never honestly revealed to me and had to depend more heavily on Emily and my parents for my survival, but a new job tends to take the sting out of losing the old one.
"Yeah," she intoned, "he felt really bad about that."
Despite myself, this momentarily made me feel a little better about the situation and I wanted to ask her if she knew why I was fired. Then again, I didn't actually care that much, nor did I want to get into the situation with her.
As she walked away, I got the feeling that the whole reason she had been looking at me was so we could have this conversation and I wondered if she got from it what she wanted.

Pigman
"That's Pigman's house," Melissa said as we passed an unpretentious and unremarkable vinyl-sided house. Off my cocked eyebrow, she continued, "Pigman is this hideously deformed man. He looks like he has horns, so I don't know why we called him Pigman. Anyway, we used to drive by his house and we could always see him sitting at the window, watching us though the blinds."
"For months, my friends and I were obsessed with Pigman. We used to walk by at night and just see him at the window with the light behind him, watching. Once, Liane and I just started screaming at him. I don't know why we did that; we were dumb."
"A few weeks later, Tanya and I visited during the day. We never went there during the day, ever. And we saw Pigman in the light. Pigman was a Tiffany lamp, that's why he was always in the window. We walked down to A&P and told Liane what we discovered. She was already having a bad day, but I think we ruined her life forever."
I looked up at the window, where Pigman no longer sat, and gave a small wave to the shadow of a lamp.


Soon in Xenology: Crouching tigers. Lake George. An old friend. A warm night of moth eating.

last watched: The Core
reading: First Meetings
listening: JJ72
wanting: more stories from Melissa.
moment of zen: just writing.
someday I must: poke a Tiffany lamp.

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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