Thomm Quackenbush, author

08.19.04 12:27 a.m.

Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, "I'm with you, Kid. Let's go."  

-Maya Angelou

 



Previously in Xenology: Dan and Corinne broke up.

Lake George
Emily and I leaned against the painted black railing over looking the hotel and lake. My father was checking into our cabins, so we were stretching our legs in the way that we were just standing. Our legs were as shaky as newborn foals with none of the associated majesty, so this is forgivable. It was our longed for vacation; there was no use in taxing ourselves so soon by moving more than ten feet. There would come a time for obscene amounts of walking as Emily and I would be dependant on others for rides.
Looking as an orange smiling faced parachute slowly gliding by above Lake George, I asked Emily, "It feels like we are coming home, doesn't it?"
As if occupying a spot in the back of my head as well as heart, she began lilting "Home" by Paul Simon, giving the vista the added quality of seeing like a matte background from Dawson's Creek. While I can say nothing but good things of my love's voice, the feeling that Kevin Williamson was scripting my next action was unsettling.
The trip had taken a few hours, which we had spent in the back of my mother's car. After having made the trip to Maine in the front seat of my car, one would think the trip just a couple hundred mile upstate would be a treat, but we were both wasted from trying, and failing, to get Emily geeky glasses from Wal-Mart. When baited with the carrot of a week by the lake, any chore becomes doubly taxing that interferes with our immediately sitting by the shore with drinks in hand.

***

While searching through one of the many touristy headshops located on the main thoroughfare on Lake George, I happened upon a glass case full of forks distressed into various shapes.
"I used to know I guy who considered this his art. His weren't as nice as these though," I shared with Emily. Leaning closer to the case, I looked at the name on the business card held between two slender tines imitating fingers. The artist's name and location were exactly right for the boy I knew. "Actually, it appear that these are his work," I continued, perturbed.
motherforking bastard  
Fork him
Fork Matt, as he was so called my freshman year of college, was one of Kate's associates from her dorm. I suppose, by proxy, this only made him an amusing anecdote to me, but he was part of the midnight landscape of her dorm and we knew one another. He had seen me exiting the women's shower more than once and said little, which is certainly conducive of some level of association. He was a husky man in black, metal themed t-shirts, with a bushy ginger beard and thick glasses. Kate used to always tell me that he left the lingering odor of his body wherever he was, so she tried to keep him out of her room. Along with the faint odor of milk and mold, he also tended to fill the air with comments about art that were bizarre and pretentious in that they centered on flatware.
He was an art major (no surprise there) and his chosen milieu was fork stolen from the school dining hall. For knives and spoons he had positively no interest. I believe he is largely to blame for any increased college fees as relating to the dining halls.
As point of fact, he had given me one of his fork sculptures for my eighteenth birthday, along with a plate on which he had sketched a dragon. I considered it a curiosity and conversation piece for years and kept it on my shelf, if just so I could tell a curious party how I came upon them. I don't think I ever considered either to be art. Given that he is charging upward of seventy dollars for a couple dollars worth of fork, I now may be slightly more inclined toward seeing his artistic vision. I am a capitalist whore.
At my comment about knowing Matt, a petite girl behind the counter began expounding what a good living Fork Matt made from his art and how he had been displayed at the Guggenheim. She could not disguise the fact that she had something of a crush on him owing to his skill. I am chagrinned to admit how utterly jealous this made me. I am not an artist, at least not in this sense. One cannot wear a sentence I wrote around their wrist comfortably. Nonetheless, very often the news of one of my peers' successes fills me with regret, anxiety, and envy. Why aren't I making it? I'm prolific. I'm public. I'd very willingly sell out if I thought anyone was in the market to buy. I, as you may have noted, am a corporate whore.
This plump Modernist is living off of his art and I am writing on dirty hotel sheets on a vacation from my two jobs and impending continuation of my Master's. I feel as though I have given up the game before I got my piece on the board.
That goddamn top hat is mine or, failing that, the dog. I am tired of feeling stuck with the iron.
***

Lake George is staffed primarily by immigrants from Eastern Europe, and most of them are from the Ukraine. I expect that they are on work visas for the summer. While I understand that one can bring in good money at this tourist spot and most certainly agree that it is a beautiful place, I am nonetheless perplexed. Where are the Germans? The Brazilians? The (god forbid) Portuguese? Did some sly Pied Piper steal away the youth of the Ukraine and impress them into being waitstaff and tour guides on the shores of this glacial lake?
I demand answers.
As point of fact, Emily and I were perusing the shop Bell, Book, and Candle. Last year, we had found and bought matching silver and gold pentacle rings because, though we tend to be subtle heathens, we are ostentatious lovers. No much matching jewelry did we find this year.
"I know you," Ukrainian girl behind the counter exclaimed, apparently as startled as we were by her sudden awareness. She was the kind of tall and thin people term "exotically lithe" as though it were a very desirable tropical disease. She exuded an air of foreignness and hollyhock, her dark eyes looking at us through hair the color of pomegranates.
Emily and I froze as though we heard a predator overhead. "How do you know us?" I asked as casually as I could.
"I clean your room at Scotty's," she explained. "Number 68."
I glanced over at Emily, to confirm that this very specific knowledge was indeed something that should make me decidedly uneasy. From M's wrung smile, I was soothed that this was every bit as odd as I assumed. That is rare.
I did not fancy the idea that the housekeeper worked in a magic shop as well. People who have ready access to ancient thaumaturgical artifacts should not be privy to my underwear drawer. This is exactly how the Arc of the Covenant got Nazi-face melting powers.
***

As is an integral part of our yearly habit, we paid a visit to Great Escape. We had long made our pilgrimage there, only briefly erring by visiting a slightly more family friendly theme park down the street with a life sized Paul Bunyan threatening a gigantic Santa with an axe the size of a Buick. Nothing says wholesome like one mythical characters trying to behead another.
Great Escape was a thriving independent theme park when we began to make our visits more than a decade ago. Over the years, they were bought out slowly but surely by Six Flags. Now all of the individual rides are presented by Pepsi products. This is a mistake, given that the Poland Springs Log Flume pumps tens of gallons of filthy water at the patrons. Were I trying to peddle my bottled water, I would want to associate it with something slightly less likely to be primordial soup. Leave that to Campbell's.
Becky joined us, as this was her first vacation with us. She did not bring her two daughters to Lake George with her, much to everyone's relief. While we have grown to regard her daughters as part of the family, they are still the very loud and attention hungry relations who are the reason that I lock my bedroom door.
Becky is a significantly more compatible with my family than was Corinne in years past. Becky is just happy to have time away from her responsibilities and is laid back about the pace we accomplish our loose goals. With Corinne, she seemed always on the verge of boiling that we weren't sticking to her schedule. Even Emily commented that she felt that Becky was more a friend to her than Corinne ever was, a boat ride heart-to-heart last year excepted.
Corinne scares Emily  
Home Alone 3: Lost in Space
Dan is more himself around Becky than he ever was with Corinne. Corinne seemed to goad and him into begrudging acquiesce of sweater vests and such. The males in my family are not fighters for the most part. We will certainly meet confrontation head-on, we just don't have much use for it afterward. Under Corinne's thumb, he was tamed away from the wildness of youth, away from a life where he was the center of a community. It is certain that he grew to resent this, especially as the emotional and sexual rewards of a relationship with her dwindled. This slowly built within him toward the necessary conclusion. I cannot say for certain that his having met Becky while working at the Gap did not give him the required strength to part from Corinne, but the cleavage was inevitable.
Incidentally, while Corinne is still in Dan's social strata, I would not call them friends. It is something like this, as far as I can piece together. Dan's friend Max has long been a family friend, though his position in our lives obviously waning during the interim of Dan's relationship with Corinne. Max, after all, was filled with hot Cuban blood where his veins were not being rented out to various uppers and downers. This is hardly the influence Corinne would have micromanaged for Dan's life. Max had been the boyfriend of Kara for at least five years, off and mostly on. Max and Kara became pregnant, though Kara unfortunately more than he. Eight months and three weeks into the baby's gestation, Max left Kara for some - and bear in mind, the following is the only appellation I have ever heard the girl given - slut he met at a racetrack because the slut was precisely the sort of girl over whom he had always lusted but never thought he could get. To Max, The Slut was a step up in society. The baby was born a few days later.
My family  
Becky, Dan, Bryan, Emily, Dad, and Mom.
Max has since brought the baby to the racetrack, where said slut presumptuously referred to herself as his "step-mommy." Kara, even before the caesarian scar has begun to heal, was going out drinking with the whilom puritanical Corinne who has rediscovered the wildness that I presume once glinted like a gem in Dan's eyes. If this sordid and circuitous little play were not enough of a psychodrama, Dan's other best friend Kevin is romantically interested in Kara. Max is furious and jealous, the Cuban temper winning over the relaxants in his system. While he has no interest in Kara, despite the fact that she is recuperating at his parents' home from giving birth to his child, he also cannot allow that she ever be wooed again.
One might find it a trifle ironic that Corinne, increasingly priggish as their relationship progressed, is now hanging around precisely the bad influences away from whom she once pruned Dan. As a result, he is now slightly less a part of their lives owing to his one desires, because he has assumed the role of loving primary male caretaker for Becky's daughters. Irony is a hideous bitch goddess.
***

This whole endeavor is going far too quickly. I cannot manage to grab one single moment of it and say "this is vacation and I cherish it." I have memories, of course, but they have the same coloration as day-to-day living. I don't know or think that this is because I have done Lake George so often. Its familiarity is charming to me. I don't require adventure here, although I do in my general life. Lake George exists as a respite, a Shangri-La to hold in my mind during long days of tedious work.
We leave tomorrow and for this I am instantly sad. I live my life in a fairly stoical manner, not by any conscious effort but because I once found this the best way to fairly objectively observe and appreciate my surroundings. As I used to get maudlin that any positive event was ending, so much so that I would just hide in the middle of birthday parties as though the ending could not come if it could not find me, it is also serves as a potent defense against what was likely bipolar disorder by way of teenager hormones. But I want the experience of vacation. I have been looking forward to this for most of the year. Now that I am here, I can't alter my consciousness sufficiently to be here.
The portrait artist at the bottom of the mall stairs, the one who was a boating cap lama and who said Emily and I had artistic eyes and therefore he needed to color them, isn't here at all. The only artist - and I use the term loosely - that we can find is the hack who felt the need to sketch Emily and me with sunburn years ago. Emily wants to get an Olde Tyme Photo done, but it doesn't feel the same or right. I want to see the interpretation of a stranger of who Emily and I are, not some faux sepia glossy of her and me wearing gangster clothing.
I will make my own sepia prints.
***

She Who Must Not Be Named  
Death is yummy with a bit of mint jelly too
Emily was lying on one of the king-sized beds, rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while I got ready for the evening ahead of us.
Seeking to make conversations, I noted, "You'd still love me if I were a Death Eater."
"You have an odd sense of propriety," she stated, not looking up from her book. I glanced over at her, wondering if she was saying this because I was getting dressed in front of a very large, open window. Given that I do not think she was aware I was naked, I decided to credit her assessment of my propriety entirely on Harry Potter.
"Are you saying you wouldn't love me if I were a Death Eater?" I asked, concerned. "I'd still be me."
Continuing to not deign to look upon me, though I was at least wearing pants by now, she retorted, "No, you'd be a Death Eater."
"Are you telling me you've never eaten a little death? It's really quite nice with a little powdered sugar."
"Yes."
I cocked an eyebrow. "You've eaten death?"
She finally looked up at me. "What? No, sorry, I wasn't paying attention to you. I was reading."
***

Emily and I played a game of billiards and, as she outlawed sexual favors as a prize to the winner, she had to buy me an ice cream cone from Ben and Jerry's. It was not ideal, but I had to slake my oral fixation somehow.
Upon entering, I was displeased to note than the girl over whom Emily has fawned for the past three years was not working. Note that, when I say "fawned," I mean "exhibited attraction that only I and dust mites actually notice." Every year, Emily sees this girl and makes it plain to me that she can think of other fates for the hot fudge. Every year, she makes exactly no motion toward familiar conversation with this girl though this young woman makes it obvious to those knowledgeable in the language of bi-curious attraction that Emily is the bee's knees. I don't expect that Emily will indulge in her lesbian crush and would likely be a bit put off were she to do so. I can make sport of her true sexual inclination, however.
Though this short coifed darling was enjoying a day off, a girl I had taken to calling Alice in Ice Cream Land was scooping ice cream with her back turned to us. I leaned against the railing and mentioned non-verbally that syllogistically Alice was to me as the other ice cream maiden was to Emily. Emily nodded that she was well aware of this fact already. Alice was lissome and alabaster, with graceful features and blonde bangs pouring from her headband. She looked like she could have been a Nordic relation of Audrey Hepburn. Simply put, she was a splendid example of one of the more desirable physical archetypes of femininity that most readily attract me, just as boyish and slim lesbians entice Emily's gaze.
As we began to leave, Alice's coworker nudged her excitedly and motioned to me. Was my interest too plain? No, this was unlikely. I tend to be reserved unless spoken to directly, at which point I smile slightly too widely or laugh a little too readily. Alice turned toward me and, catching that I was looking back at her, gave me one of the most sincere come-hither looks I have ever seen. This was not a lusty note of mutual attraction. Her look probed deeper and was utterly unembarrassed. Infatuation upon ardor.
As point of fact, I cannot readily recall anyone looking at me through such eyes.
It has been so long since a woman in my presence actually found me in the least bit alluring. Most of my female friends see me as an asexual punch line. Keilaina teases that I have no penis. Melissa insists upon her continued sanity that I do not have sex. Perhaps best summed up, a teenager who was infatuated with me or the idea of me once told me that I was not the sort of man to whom women are initially attracted, but instead the sort of man who only becomes attractive owing to continuous exposure. She may have equated me to a mold for my effect of growing on people. This did not win said girl many points, though the ostensible truth of her statement stung deep.
This Ms. Liddell in tye-dye, who was exactly my type, exactly the sort of girl over whom I could easily have found myself sloppily crushing, saw my interest and raised me an invitation. I told Emily all of this because I am utterly translucent on most matters. It would do me no good to try to conceal the merest word of it. She saw that I was agitated and thought Alice's stare had made me uncomfortable, which it had to a degree. How could I feel that I was a loyal lover to Emily was part of me desperately wanted to go back to the ice cream shop and engage this girl in conversation? I wanted a connection with this girl. Not to bed her, though my libido ran through a quick fantasy involving her on the checked tile floor. I just wanted to talk to her because, ye gods, I am attractive to her.
Was it the way I leaned against the pole? The way I smiled? The way I let Emily have the first bite of the ice cream she had just purchased for me? It was not Alice who first noticed me, though was certainly appreciative for the hint. Or, possibly, she had noticed me earlier days when I sought to aggravate my dietary distress and her coworker was just letting her know I was there. No, this seems like a stretch. One should seek the simplest and most direct answer in these cases. How can I be wholly faithful to Emily feeling my heart pitter patter when certain blonde elves bat their blue eyes under their bangs?
I find the whole situation decidedly depressing, as I am a twenty-three-year-old man musing over a girl with whom I have exchanged no more significant words than the flavors of ice cream offered me. Still, I have had whole teenage flings that excited my soul less than a quarter second electricity from those topaz eyes.
At least she isn't Ukrainian. Or, god forbid, Portuguese.
***

The rains came soon after my Candyland contemplations over Princess Frostine. They beat down mercilessly for hours. We were back at the cabins before it we were spirited away.
Duck!  
A few webbed feet from our door
It was only after a few hours that it fully dawned on me that heavy rains would preclude the weekly fireworks display that is as much a part of our vacation as overindulging in rich foods. The fireworks, though enjoyed by anyone with a view of the lake, are shot off at the behest of the steamboat company to squeeze a fin out of the tourists for a cruise. If there is too much rain, there will be significantly fewer twenties entering their coffers, and tradition become unprofitable.
Emily waited nonetheless with the rest of my family on the porch. Nature was trying to make up to us the evident lack of fireworks with all her gusto. Thunder and lightning are just lacking when compared against pyrotechnics in the shape of hearts and peace signs. Every moment dashed slightly more Emily's wide-eyed expectation, like a little Jewish girls being told she won't get Christmas presents.
To pass the time and some of the alcohol bubbling through their bloodstreams, my father and senior brother engaged in a long and scientific debate as to whether the brand name party mix was nutritionally and culinarily superior to the off-brand. If only such keen and inquisitive minds could be harnessed in the sober.
The fireworks continued not to light the sky over Fort William Henry and, her impish delight deflated, Emily conceded that she would have to see fireworks elsewhere.
On the plus side, awaking to the lake at the bottom of our stairs and ducks paddling next to our cars made leaving a far more attractive proposal the following morning.


Soon in Xenology: A warm night of moth eating. Keilaina and her beau.

last watched: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
reading: Educating Esme
listening: Iron and Wine
wanting: a more significant vacation.
moment of zen: not watching fireworks with M.
someday I must: figure out the Ukrainian mystery.

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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