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03.18.05 10:34 p.m.

Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned.  

-George Bernard Shaw


Previously in Xenology: Xen? Not a teacher at heart.

And Vaster

Emily and I have left our apartment behind. I went there and cleaned out the last of it, my father helping to tear apart what was left of the loft bed that the new tenant will not be needing.

Removing the last load, I recited the Elizabeth Bishop poem "One Art" to the bare walls. The reverberation of it made my voice sound so much more tremulous, making me feel sadder for my echo.

I took my keys off my key ring and left them in the kitchen drawer.

Emily and I now live at my parents' home and I feel that I have regressed. This is not the life I had intended to have. I should be writing articles and getting paid. I should be living in a thriving community of artists. I should be able to afford my own life.

Hudson River School of Fish

The plan was to see the new exhibit from the artist who created the controversial "Piss Christ". His milieu is apparently fluids coming out of his penis, as this show was numerous photos of ejaculation. As entertainment, I am no precise fan of money shots and didn't imagine that his art would markedly improve my opinion. SUNY New Paltz, however, thought his seminal work goodly enough to have cleared out the entirety of their museum to his work.

I cannot rightly judge the quality of his art, as I was not at hand for its exposing. My fiendish feline friend had stolen both pairs of my eyeglasses, making me just late enough that New Paltz's museum was closed when I arrived. Jacki, my escort for the night, did not seem overly disappointed at missing the exhibition. She had, at most, two teaspoons full of displeasure.

Jacki was a vision of gothic loveliness as always. So few people can pull of the look without seeming like they are trying to pull off a look. Perhaps it is that I have only ever seen Jacki wearing corsets with her hair done up or fresh from the shower when we worked together at Summer Scholars; these are the only version of Jacki I have ever known and, judging from her stories, the only versions that ever have existed.

Jacki is single right now, a state she does not wholly lament. Her heart has yet to rejuvenate from her last relationship which occupied the majority of her adult years. She had very recently told some man that she was not interested in dating, which only seemed to serve to inflame his passions in a fashion that further disconcerted her and turned her from romance.
Kristen with Sarah hands

The night was not supposed to involve New Paltz. Instead, I was to drive for hours to watch Kristen play cello. Kristen, as you may remember, is Sarah's best friend. Last I knew, I was put off by both Sarah and Kristen, the former because I worried she was becoming detached from reality and the latter because she told Sarah than I felt this way. It should be noted that I had told Sarah to her face that I thought she was a bit crazier than usual. You can read the events here.

Owing to all of this, I was startled when Kristen called me a week ago. Even after she identified herself and asked for my company at her show, I was confused. It certainly sounded like Kristen, but I had been under the assumption that she didn't much like me. I had long since gotten over any sort of angst I carried toward her, as I tend to in most situation. I carry a grudge about as well and far as I would a large sack of lead knives. I am just no good at continuing to dislike people for whom I genuinely care. Thus, I was understandably relieved that she had behaved exactly as I did and made no mention of prior unpleasantness.

I did not go to her show, however, because it would require me to drive very far in the dark. I know my limits and getting lost is definitely high on my list of weaknesses. The reason I gave her was that I had previously promised Emily that I would go to brunch with her family early the next morning and, after promising it, had completely forgotten about it. Nice when one bit of irresponsible absentmindedness cancels out the trouble from another. I swore that I would be front and center at Kristen's next show, so we can only hope that I remember.

Jacki said that she knew of another art show happening and she was technically right. It was an art show. It just happened to be held inside a frame store packed to its gilded edges with tweed-wearing baby boomers eating shrimp and crackers. All of the art was the sanitized pabulum that is painted in order to sell frames, quite a lot of it from the Hudson River school of painting.

"What, exactly, is the Hudson River school of art? If I paint a mountain during sunset, am I a member of the school?" I asked Jacki. This seemed to be the only quality a majority of the works possessed. I could identify the location of most of them from having lived in the area most of my life and was almost positive none of these geological features ever looked so much like they were populated by Hummel figurines.

"You have to be sure to use soft focus, too," she informed. "The Hudson River school of arts was made in reaction to people trying to be innovative and daring artistically. Instead, someone said, 'Well, all of these points and cubes are nice, but let's paint a glowing mountain for some rich person to hang over their couch.'"
Gothic loveliness

"Makes sense."

We grew bored of the painting and dirty looks, the latter acquired from eating the free food and drinking the free wine, and made our way to the pet store that was conveniently attached. I lectured the bug-eyed fish about the Hudson River school of art until informed that the store had been closed for fifteen minutes. This was okay as I had started to feel quite bad that each of the tanks was occupied by several dead fish.

"How do you think the fish feel about living with their dead compatriots?" I asked as Jacki and I walked.

"Bad... yes, I would say definitely bad."

"They should scoop the fish out. That can't be good for morale. The fish's morale, I mean."

"Henry Rollins tells this story about when his friend and he were working at a pet store. They really didn't like the owner, so they would put all of the dead fish in this little crevice in the wall that only they knew about. Every day, all the dead fish went in the wall. They quit and, several years later, happen to be in the area. The store has been turned into an Italian restaurant. They go in and start chatting with the owner, talking about how they used to work there when it was a pet store. Finally they ask, 'Hey, when you tore down that wall, did you...' Before they could finish asking, the owner is screaming at them, 'You are the ones that did that?! It took me two years to find where that smell was coming from!'"

With this, we decided to go get dinner at an Italian restaurant advertising itself as the home of the world's largest fish and chips platter. It had been her intent from the beginning to visit this eatery, as it promised both fish and fun. Jacki pictured fish hats and sea shanties. Instead, would ears were assailed by the lolling of a folk singer. New Paltz, as you may know, is a college town. More specifically, it is a college town that, at one point, was considered the most liberal of the SUNY system. This is no longer the case, as a steady infusion of elementary education majors name Staci from Long Island has diluted whatever Age of Aquarius vibe the town once rightly held. Nonetheless, artists of every stripe still endeavor to make a living in and around the town. As far as I have seen, there is too little culture and cash to make a living solely with one's art, so it is a town full of waitresses with paintbrushes and baristas with banjos. This, I believe, was the case with our evening's entertainment.

It was not that she was in any fashion musically lacking. She was a perfectly competent, if nervous, musician who seemed to be working for the pocket change people were dropping into her faux crystal vase. It was just that she did not stand out. As I said to Jacki, "I bet you a monkey that she is going to sing Joni Mitchell." Jacki did not take me up on my wager, but pointed out upon our egress than no Joni was heard.

"Yes, that is obviously because she sang 'A Case of You' before we entered." I was not being contrary; I genuinely believe chance was on my side.

Our night came to a close with us both as ushers for the play "A Flea in Her Ear". We arrived thirty-five minutes after ushers were supposed to be at the theater. Then, we were told that ushers were to be wearing black pants and white shirts. I was wearing blue jeans, a black shirt, and Emily's peach Nepalese peasant shirt. Jacki, as has been stated, was a vision of dark loveliness in a blue corset.

I had hopes that we would be turned away for being late and poorly dressed. Then Jacki and I could have retired to her home, bake brownies, and watch bad movies. Instead, a thin man in a cream, cotton suit looked us over and pronounced us fit and necessary.

I was assigned to a corner and given some programs to hand out, which I dutifully did. Near me were two young ladies dressed as was evidently proper for ushers. They regarded me interestedly and the taller of the two made good on spare moments and asked me idle questions so she would be talking to me. It was really quite nice to feel as though I was an attractive entity to these girls, even if I am a eunuch to women who know me.

Soon in Xenology: Teaching

last watched: Empire Records
reading: Running From Safety
listening: Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks
wanting: paintbrush barista.
moment of zen: Being flirted with.
someday I must: finish my book.

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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