Thomm Quackenbush, author

08.08.04 1:07 a.m.

Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.  

-Kurt Vonnegut

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen met Lauren, but you are allowed to have forgotten.

Stone Soul Picnic
Emily and I went to New Paltz to visit Zack in his habitat as waiter. This was, at least, the end goal. To occupy the time until this goal would be accomplished and while my appetite built for diner food, we walked the streets of New Paltz looking for organic snacks for our trip to Atlantic City tomorrow and partners for a threeway. The latter is purely an academic exercise, an outgrowth of our game where we pick attractive females out of crowds. The former, it could be argued, is equally as effete, as we both know we are going to end up with the health food equivalent of cheese puffs. The latter helps me gauge what Emily finds attractive about her own sex. They must be lithe of limb and taller than her, preferably with abdominal muscles visible from across the street. If they are Caucasian, she wants those women with close cropped, tousled blonde hair. As the skin becomes darker, the desired hair length decreases proportionally until she finally salivates like Pavlov's dogs over bald Nigerians.
We stopped by Starbucks, as Zack had mentioned that this was where Crimson worked. As Keilaina can attest, I am at a loss for describing what attributes attract Zack. He had adored girls that I would never have imagined him with and been lukewarm at best for girls I was certain would bring him to a boil. And, evidently, a barista named Crimson had caught his fancy.
Despite the presence of a girl with red hair (for, if you are named Crimson legitimately and are not a goth, you are required by law to be copper headed), we could not determined that any of the females behind the counter were Crimson.
"I could just ask them if they are Crimson," I suggested to Emily, who was exploiting our proximity to overpriced beverages by ordering tea.
"This seems like a very bad idea," she intoned confidentially. "How are you going to explain why you are asking?"
"By telling her that I know someone who likes her," I sing-songed.
Sipping her tea, she wrinkled her nose and said, "No. You are expressly forbidden."
"I still think it's the redhead," I pouted.
On our way to the diner, while I was still looking out the window and picking which people I could reasonable expect to want to talk with us (for the game of strange bedfellows had so devolved), I spotted Lauren. Her hair was browner, but she was unmistakably Lauren. I felt a sharp pang of regret at not having spoken to her in so long. As Emily was stopping at a sport store at the top of the hill, I ran down to flag Lauren. If I could not harass coffee-slingers, I could at least run frantically down a hill in the direction of a comely girl with whom I had only shared a few dozen words in the past two years.
Lauren Camarata  
As she once was
"LAUREN!" I shouted, though there was a man walking his dog between her and me. I did not break my stride, but, when the man stopped to look askance at me, I assured him that I was stalking the girl in front of him.
A look of recognition washed over her and her shoulders relaxed at realizing she was being stalked by someone who knew her. A smile bloomed to her lips and she motioned for me to sit down on a concrete wall and talk with her.
"I'm eating salsa because I'm sick," was one of the first sentences she said to me. "I figure, there is everything in salsa that is supposed to make you feel better: tomatoes, garlic... more garlic. So, this should be as good as chicken soup."
I could not contest this logic and so, instead, I asked, "I don't know if you are doing anything right now and I know you are sick, but would you like to come to the College Diner with us?" I asked this only as a gesture. While I would have adored her company and a chance to renew what a small friendship we once had, I didn't have any expectation that she would say yes. She was returning from a long day of work and was still a mile from home.
"Yeah, I'd love to," she answered, surprising me utterly.
As we walked up to the sports store together, I realized with a prick of surprise that, even though I lived my life quite happily since last we spoke, something had changed between us. Somewhere in between comments about photography and the fact that her housemate is the son of my former boss, she became someone whom I am going to miss. I didn't tell her this, feeling it was already much too forward.
Once Emily was retrieved from intentionally overhearing an argument being held between two middle-aged men about Michael Moore, we three made our way to the diner. Emily seemed perfectly at ease with the sudden addition of Lauren to our party and, when I noted this, informed me that she just assumed any girl after whom I would run would likely be invited along.
Zack seated us in a corner of the diner when we arrived, hopefully because this would give him the ability to sit with us when not tending to other tables.
Lauren Camarata  
As she is now.
We ordered and he walked off to help another table with refills. We that remained spoke few words. I was still nervous and confused that Lauren was here with us. Finally, randomly, I asked her what her middle name was. How can I in good conscience be planning her integration into my group of friends if I don't know her full name?
Lauren gave me a stare of pleased bemusement. "My middle name is Michelle," she began to answer. "It's after my aunt. My parents asked my older brother what my middle name should be and he said that I should be named after my aunt Michelle. They asked him if my middle name should be 'Michelle' and he said, 'No, her name is Aunt Michelle.' So I guess I'm actually Lauren Aunt Michelle."
I could not conceal my glee that my random question had provoked such a good little story and already gave Lauren a nickname.
When Lauren went to the bathroom, Emily whispered enthusiastically, "We should hook Lauren and Zack up."
"I don't know about that. She just met us, I think it's a little early to be pairing her off. Besides, Zack macking it with our new female best friend didn't work when it was Kei." I did not mention that I didn't like the idea on the grounds that I didn't want to lose Lauren all over again should things not work out or that we had no idea as to if she were otherwise romantically occupied. Zack's undeniable sexiness to artistic hipster girls could not be denied, but it was not an issue I was set to factor into the equation.
"Yes, but we didn't think that the Kei thing was really going to work out anyway."
I could not get a "touché" in before Lauren was back at our table and Zack was bringing out our food. I know this makes me a wretched storyteller and you will have to forgive me but, after some slight initial pensiveness the layman would think of as awkwardness, we four clicked audibly. It seemed that Lauren had long known us all and had just returned from a semester abroad.

VH1
After watching the decidedly strange Ginger Snaps 2, Melissa pronounced that she was now twenty-four.
"Damn, you are old," I half-joked. I am only half a year from being twenty-four as well.
"Yeah, I really am," she said, a little too morosely and definitely considering that we had just watched a movie about a werewolf.
"It's not that bad," I consoled. "We still watch good cartoons and ironic porn and such. We're still hip."
"No, Thomm. We are not hip."
"Yeah, we are. We were hip just a few years ago," I tried to reason, but I already felt less sure.
"We aren't. I talk to my clients and sometimes, I can barely understand what they are talking about. When I started working there, the eighteen-year-olds used to think it was cool that someone 'their age' worked there. Now, when they hear how old I am, they don't think it's cool. I'm not like them anymore."
I hugged one of her sofa cushions to my chest. "No, we are hip. We are. I watch 'I Love the 80s.'"
She grabbed my cushion away. "These kids don't remember the eighties. They never remember Kurt Cobain being alive. He is to them as Jim Morrison is to us. And you watch VH1!"
"Yeah, but only for the pop culture commentary, not for the videos. I don't even think they play videos..."
"It's still VH1. You just proudly admitted to watching VH1."
"But I don't dress like an adult... at least not during the summer... during the fall and winter, I am all about turtleneck sweaters and nice jackets... god I'm old. When did this happen?"
"Soon," she warned, "You'll be reading the Wall Street Journal and wanting to 'weekend' at bed and breakfasts."
I decided at this juncture to keep my mouth shut about wanting to go to a bed and breakfast, as my face was likely turning to dust.

Sucks to Be You
Recently, I messaged an old friend with whom I had not spoken in at least three years. It was not through want of effort on my part that I hadn't spoke with her. I had messaged her a few times a year, but she never responded and I had always passed it off to the fact that she did not see my messages or some other such explanation. In this way, my power of denial is profound.
After I found her on one of those on-line friend services and she denied that we shared a connection, I finally threw down the gauntlet and asked why she had stayed so silent in regards to me. She responded almost instantly that she thought I was too emotionally needy and thus didn't want to speak with me ever again. Given that she had not said one word to me in three years, I found this response utterly baffling. After all, she and I had once been very close friends. We talked on the phone long into the night in high school, played silly card games to predict one another's future, and were generally fond. While we were not exactly at the intimacy level of shared tokens and fond letters thereafter, I regarded her well and such sentiment was reciprocated last I knew.
I prodded on, as I do not simply accept that I am not worth knowing. She explained that I was too clingy to know based upon the fact that I called her once after Katie broke up with me and cried. As I was deeply sad that the woman I loved had moved on, this confidant came to the conclusion that I was an emotional vampire and cut me out of her life. Over three years later, she still maintains this opinion and stated that she would not speak to me again.
I don't deny that I was once in a profoundly bad place and I would very much like to shake my former self our of his Katie-centric stupor, I just can't quite fit my mind around the mindset that would abandon a years long friendship with him because she once ached as I did. This former friend had gone through a very similar break-up, you see. A boy she had loved for years whom she thought she would one day wed just left her one day to pursue a life without her. She wept and lamented, eventually growing past it. I am not cut a similar break.
I will not mourn her lack, obviously. However, I find in incomprehensible that a friend could be so callous at such a time and am further astounded that she continues to hold this static picture of me as I was at an unfortunate period in my life. While I am quite certain she could detail how she has progressed and evolved as a person, she is content to sketch me as a leech for entrusting her with a few ounces of my pain.

A Threesome
Emily and I want very desperately to move in with Zack. We have wanted some form of this for as long as we have both known him, quite frankly. In the past, we supposed that he was not in a fiscal or emotional place to move out of his home, which he quickly disproved by moving to New Paltz and managing his affairs at least as well as we have.
At the moment, Zack and his roommate are at odds. This is not quite at accurate, in fact. Were one to pour liquid nitrogen onto a penguin, it would be downright toasty compared to the status of their relationship. As such, we do not advise that you pour anything colder than some gazpacho on a penguin and then only if it has a towel nearby.
Several days ago, Zack and his roommate were supposed to go to the Ulster County Fair together. She had asked him weeks ago and he had given his word that he would. Zack, it should be understand, is physically incapable of being kept to promises weeks in advance that he does not write down.
Zack  
"Penguins?"
The Betsy, it seems, had arrived home from MIT and would only be in town for a few days. She, if only to promulgate her inscrutable relationship with Zack, made plans to do something with him precisely the same day as he was scheduled to go to the fair with him roommate whom we are going to call Heather if only because another female has entered this tale and I dislike pronoun confusion. Zack had forgotten the latter plans, of course, and was happily about to leave to be with The Betsy when Heather reminded him that he had promised they would do this together. Zack asked a question that I imagine is obvious given that his plans with The Betsy were simply that the two of them be together. He inquired if The Betsy could tag along to the fair.
Despite the fact that I find this to be an excellent concession all around, Heather shot him down as she did not wish to feel like the third wheel. I am not unsympathetic to her, as I well understand that The Betsy and Zack share a silent and tight bond that can make an outsider feel every bit that they are precisely that. I think that Emily and I may do this, though we compensate by using our powers for evil and to make up spontaneous jokes. While, as I said, I am not unsympathetic to Heather on this point, I have been privy to her engaging in foreplay with an associate of hers while other people in the room are trying to watch Cecil B. Demented.
Zack was not sympathetic and stated as reasonably as he could manage given that the blood between them was getting hotter than a penguin full of wasabi (penguins are the thermometers of the avian family) that he was going to spend time with The Betsy if this was his choice because seeing her was more important to him.
Heather countered that, if Zack and she didn't go to the fair together and alone, she was moving out. I savvy that the rest of this conversation may have been done in screams across the room, though Zack told it to me in a cool and resigned tone. The penguin, if we may continue his use, would be sitting in a lawn chair in Alaska with a mug of lukewarm cocoa judging by the hum of Zack's voice. Zack countered that he would move out of the apartment if that was her attitude as he had less keeping him there.
While this was not the precise ending Emily and I had desired for our own selfish ends, we gave twenty assurances that we would be more than happy to live with Zack, be it in his current apartment or in a different home we found together.
While I love Emily more than my toes or Belgian waffles, she just isn't enough people. Nor, I would like to note, am I enough people for her. The problem with modern marriage, to paraphrase Vonnegut, is that one additional person just isn't enough. There was a time not long ago that marriage meant that both parties were now a part of much larger extended families and would have a sense of community and belonging. Now, people get married and move away from their families. The wife has only the husband to confide what she would usually tell a bevy of sisters, nieces, cousins, and mothers. The husband has only the wife for the same purpose. We as a species are just not content with such a limited family. This, maintains Vonnegut, is the reason that so many marriages (including a few of his) end in divorce. We just aren't enough people for any other one person.
"What about when you two get married?" asked Zack as we sat in his bedroom. Heather was nowhere to be found. Incidentally, the phone and the television in the living room had also gone missing.
"You would still be welcome to live with us," I swore to him on both our accounts. "I can't imagine much would change were Emily and I married. Plus, I really prefer a life with a lot of Zack in it. Not, obviously, as much Zack as M, though."
my family  
I just want an additional family...
"All right," he conceded, "But I would move out if Emily got pregnant."
"Which I can't do until 2012 anyway," interjected M happily.
I nodded in agreement. "Because the world will end according to the Mayan calendar. Also because of the Olympics."
"I have to call Karen," Zack announced out of nowhere as he ironed a crisp white shirt for his job. Emily and I had lost all contact with the former conversation and were lounging on his bed, attacking one another with the aluminum foil that came in the iron's box.
"Wait... who?" I asked. I like to keep my friend's stories straight, in case I need to repeat them back later.
"You met her," Zack assured me, "you and Kei visited her house, but she wasn't there at the time."
"Oh, yes. Karen. She owns a toy store in Beacon and her cat has a crooked tail. Why do you have to call her?" Now I was just being nosy, but he started it by giving information out of nowhere. You can't tempt me like that and not put out.
"Her mother died."
Certainly an excellent reason to have to call someone, I thought. "Oh. What of?"
Zack answered as he pressed the steam button on his new iron. Heather had filched her iron back from Zack's room, as well, even though she never irons anything. Owning to the ironing, Zack's answer became obscured, save for the first hard C.
"Credenza?" I guessed. "They're vicious."
"No," he corrected, "cancer."
I was abashed and looked down into the creases of the foil, answering, "Oh, that's vicious too."
Emily glared at me, "You may not be going to hell soon enough."


Soon in Xenology: Lake George. A warm night of moth eating.

last watched: Ginger Snaps 2
reading: Watchmen
listening: Iron and Wine
wanting: a home with Zack.
moment of zen: missing Lauren.
someday I must: be more people.

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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