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09.16.05 11:29 a.m.

He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.  

-Raymond Hull


Previously in Xenology: Stevehen and Melissa hung out a lot. Xen had a thing for folk singers. Kevin was one sly bastard. Xen worked at a middle school for a bit.


"So which one of you is buying me coffee?" Stevehen asked from the front passenger seat. According to the rules of Shotgun, that seat is rightfully his until he ceases to date Melissa, at which point Angela and I will have to battle to the death for it. These same rules apply to the purchasing of beverages, as I am not benefiting from his staying hydrated.
Stevehen, reading  
Stevehen, in need of coffee

"Not me," Melissa responded, "I have no money."

Smiling back at me, he offered, "I'll let you put Justify Your Crap back on the site if you buy me coffee."

Having too little money to buy myself a hot chocolate - I have yet to acquire a full time job again - I stated that I wouldn't be doing that. He had the archives of his column removed because he felt he was not up to snuff as a writer - which is ridiculous given that his column attracted a good, though mute, amount of traffic - though he is working on a new column about the greatest Americans, which should be up before this entry is.

We were on our way to The Cubbyhole, a popular coffee shop within a block of Vassar college, to listen to Melissa's friend Kevin play music. He is reputed to be one of those musicians who provokes lust in those audience members who groove on guys. As an unofficial groupie for Jill Sobule, I completely sympathize with the phenomena.

We arrived at the coffee shop just in time to see Xoch outside, talking nervously to a half-circle of friends. Xoch was the main act of the evening. Krista, his roommate and coworker, had played me a little of Xoch's music prior to the concert. I had expected Xoch to be bad alterna-punk given her stage name. Instead, I heard anonymous angsty chick rock, nothing that I would cringe to hear but similarly nothing I would realize I had heard. Looking at her, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that she admired Pink or Ani DiFranco.

Xoch stood in front of the window of The Cubbyhole with her pelvis inclined outward, the subconscious gesture of flirtation and sexual availability I learned to notice in my few psychology classes. The flirtatiousness was not directed at anyone in specific, perhaps having simply grown a part of her posture through continued use. This subtle movement of her slim, denim clad hips would not be what most people noticed of her, but rather her crest of auburn hair. It was a small strip, a horizontal Mohawk, but distinctive enough to distract from any other part of her. This is not to say that it suited her elastically trim body, but it is likely what most everyone would remember of her hours and days after seeing her sing.

Melissa, Stevehen, Krista, two of her friends, and I hid in the back of The Cubbyhole, already rather packed with patrons. Kevin had not been informed that so many people were coming with the explicit intent of watching him play. This was for the best, given that he was experiencing pre-show jitters at the thought of performing in front of an audience of strangers; this was nothing he had ever attempted before.

The Cubbyhole is a small venue, but apparently lucrative despite and because of this. Even with a small group of people, it has a cramped air. The walls are a royal purple leading to a ceiling of dark blue, on which glowing stars and backlights are affixed. The light seems dim enough to justify that one is sipping a latte in the gloaming. The walls are covered in art work likely belonging to Vassar students; this is one of their popular respites and one needs little imagination and only the right timing to see Vassar freshmen scribbling bad poetry in the marble notebooks provided for just this purpose while sipping caffeine in its sundry permutations. It is perennially presided over by an aging hippy man, tonight wearing his dreadlocks back in a blue bandana, with skin the color of the cappuccinos he serves. I've never spoken to him, but his tired eyes have answered my request for peanut butter and jelly or, in the times of Katie and me, hot chocolates with various flavor shots. The Cubbyhole is a place I wish I knew better, a destination I would have liked to have gone between breaks in my classes from Dutchess, save that it keeps hours that start after dinner and end sometime before dawn.

Those that had money and inclination for drinks ordered them and Xoch started singing. She was overly exuberant, disarmingly so. Her mouth would expand impossibly for notes that did not require such extension and she would flail her limbs like a gecko on hot sand, an image only improved by her hair ridge. Her backup band was her doting, shorn husband, who played whatever instrument was required for Xoch's performance. I could not tell you what she sang, though at one point she donned a black feathered boa and said she was in a cabaret. She may well have imagined herself in one, in front of a starving throng of her frenzied fans instead of mellow Vassar students and curious on-lookers.

Zack and Cristin appeared moments into Xoch's second song, bringing Dan Kessler along with them.

"Is this who we are here to see?" Cristin asked skeptically, but politely once they were integrated into our rough grouping.
Zack, Cristin, and the back of Dan Kessler's head  
Arguing whether Xoch looks more like a lizard or the Statue of Liberty.

"Oh gosh no," I insisted, motioning to the man standing behind us perseverating slightly. "We are here to see Kevin. Xoch is the opening band as far as I am concerned. We are not here to see her."

Cristin's look of reprieved relief was only marred by Xoch launching into another song that we couldn't distinguish from the last. We listened as best we could, but I must lack the ear for critical discernment when it comes to Xoch. Her singing was not at all bad, she was just a trifle embarrassing to watch. I found more comfort in averting my gaze to Melissa or Zack when it seemed her limbs were in danger of snapping off. In a space as confining as the Cubbyhole, movements that are not natural and fluid seems all the more jarring.

From the queue of people ordering beverages, a girl walked over and greeted me.

"Hi," I drawled cheerily, waiting for my conscious mind to catch up to the vague sense of familiarity. She was into her next sentence of conversation before I remembered her as one of Coley's friends from high school, albeit one of those friends one has owing to proximity. I remember Coley looking down upon this girl and felt, at that time, that her reasons were likely sound. I had not thought of Coley in a long while and would have preferred a more direct reminder of her continued existence. When last I saw this girl before me, she was very pregnant and thus was likely to credit for one of the very young children darting incongruously between the legs of the crowd. We passed impersonal pleasantries of near strangers about our lives for a few moments before she asked what I thought of Xoch.

My brain immediately formed an accurate and honest appraisal of Xoch, but just as quickly discarded this for the sake of diplomacy. "She has a very nice voice," I said. This was still true. Xoch as a very pleasant and competent voice, her theatrics and tiara of hair just distracted me from noticing anything more pertinent about her.

"Yeah, she's awesome. She's my boyfriend's sister and I see her every time she plays," the girl responded, justifying my tact before being swallowed back into the throng, oversized coffee in hand.

"Is there a place around here to eat?" Dan asked me when the girl left. He would not interrupt me in the middle of conversation with someone else.

"Several. Juliet's, though that is more sit-down. And Chinese. They're good because they're open," I responded, and proceeded to leave the coffeehouse to show him the location of the latter, though it was only a few buildings away and was plain to find. However, I am still uncertain that he is the boy I once encountered and wanted to befriend, but only through exposure and concentration will I decipher if I am right.

While he ordered food and chatted, I came no closer to knowing if I knew him before, but I am certainly not averse to knowing him now. He seems keenly interested in music, though he wasn't but pleasant with regards to our night's entertainment. He seemed to have more politeness than sarcasm, a rare quality in members of my generation. He intends to become a professor of music in the future as well as to take Zack and his band further. I had managed to never see their band, as the shows tended to be on Wednesdays at midnight and were thus prohibitively late if I wanted to keep my jobs.

Dan and I returned in time to see Kevin getting on stage. He was calm and self-effusing, instantly charming the audience the moment he had settled into his stool on the stage. He did not seem prone to violent gesticulation nor to mime throttling the microphone while screwing it into air, so the coffeehouse patrons relaxed visibly. Kevin was far more my speed when it comes to musicians. His voice was soulful, which is a trite adjective to use, but it is also largely accurate. He was not merely mouthing words, but affirming their truth, particularly when he sang is song that he claimed made him want to have sex. Melissa and Angela seemed particularly pleased to hear this song, as they were vying to be his greatest fan.

When Kevin's set finished and it was made clear that Xoch would be returning to the stage for another session of calisthenics, Cristin, Zack, and Dan made it likewise clear that they had enjoyed enough music for the evening and didn't wish to hear more from Xoch. Instead, they wanted to walk around Vassar campus. When we explained this change of plans to Melissa and Stevehen in an effort to get them to join us, Melissa said, "Yeah, you go and have fun walking around Vassar," in exactly the same tones as if we suggested playing in the sewers.

Passing through the gates, I was struck pensive. Vassar stands as a potential I never realized, a path untaken. I walk around this campus and I am in love with the possibilities, the stories inherent in every sky spread tree and night blurred face, conversational vignettes fluttering around the circle of fifteen people inexplicably in the middle of a field. Simply sitting, one can't help but feel that this is a place where things happen. I never felt this way at Dutchess or New Paltz and most certainly not at Mount Saint Mary. Vassar is history and the psychometry overwhelms. I feel that I am only seconds divorced from the countless perfect moments this college could have given me, a fine membrane I can never penetrate.

"I would give up every college credit I have to go to Vassar," I told Zack.

"Why would you do that? I would never want to go back to college."

"Not college. Vassar. Can you imagine if I did go here? Who I'd be?" This wasn't so far off. They actually called my high school to ask me to apply, but they couldn't give me enough money in loans to allow me to ever be anything but in debt.

"You'd be a pussy," Zack answered instantly.

I paused, the answer appearing without effort, but seeming too crude for me. Still, I whisper to Zack, "Well, you are what you eat." I would likely have been very popular had I gone here, being a heterosexual boy possessing an open mind and reasonably good looks who tends to be particularly attractive to bisexual girls to outright lesbians.

"You didn't have to whisper that," he chastised, motioning to Dan and Cristin, "they wouldn't have had a problem hearing you say that."

"Yeah, but I would."

Though we kept walking toward exits without meaning to, the college trying to subtly remove those who do not belong, we ended up underneath a tree that arced and spread hundreds of feet. Dan kept talking about books he is writing and I was initially put on edge. I am not often competitive, but other people talking about books they are writing tends to prick up my ears. However, I had the feeling that these are tentative books, the ones devised on subways rides and at stoplights, but never committed to paper or screen. He already superficially resembles me, a bespectacled twenty-something with long hair in a pony tail. I can't allow him to also be a writer.

"I've decided that I am no longer going to let people who I don't really know find out that I am writing a novel," I responded to some tangent of the conversation. "I was at the library checking out a book and the woman behind the counter - with whom I have exchanged maybe a dozen words in the six months she has worked there - told me that she heard I was writing a book. When I told her yes, she asked me what it was about. I told her and she made it plain that she wouldn't read it. So, until I have actually written a book, I am not going to tell people that I am writing one."

"That sounds like a very good move," Dan assured me.

Sexism in Hiring

I have begun job hunting again, fairly confident that my permanent substitute job was significant less permanent than I had been promised and that a man was substituted for me because he resembled a popular teacher physically (and in no other way). I have been told that no decision has yet been reached, though, again, I was told specifically and in no uncertain terms that the job was mine. It has been a week and a half past the beginning of school. The man who interviewed me was stunned and annoyed that I have not been given a response yet, but he also reiterates that there is nothing he can do.

Had I known that my fall back job was not actually in place, I would have taken one of the less appealing though more certain jobs I was offered or applied in a different vein. Now, nearly a year of my potential teaching has been lost to bureaucracy and indecision. In the mean time and in direct violation of No Child Left Behind, the school has hired a bevy of busty women without sufficient credentials, including one woman who only has a bachelor's in math.

The hunt has not been fruitless, though it is dispiriting. I have applied to several preschools (jobs for which I am simultaneously horrifically overqualified and utterly underqualified depending on one's perspective) only to be rejected because I lack a vagina. Only women can apparently be caregivers to small children. Men are all sexual deviants. I know that I personal have no interest in adult women, with whom I can talk and laugh. No, give me a podling with no sexual characteristics any day. My penis certainly controls all of my decisions and leads me to want to be an utter waste of life by expressing sexual interest in human beings in their single digits.

There has been one prospect, a woman named Trish who seems to have offered me a job with her school-age program. Starting in November. When she creates a school-age program. I have to wonder why these children are in day care if they are school-age. It has to be better than toddlers, though. I do not fancy changing diapers, benefits or no.

And no, despite what the sexist women seem to believe, changing diapers is not a benefit. It is rare that I feel discriminated against. A few days ago, Emily and I were discussing our principal identifications, who we are before anything else. I said that I would not consider myself a white person or, after a moments consideration, a man. Emily says that this is because such things can be taken for granted. I am the majority, I control the country. Were I a black lesbian, I would proudly say that I was black, a woman, and gay as my identifications. I repeated that I am a writer and human being, possibly in that order. Dealing with people who do not want me because of a physical characteristic about which I can and would do nothing, I begin to see her point.

Soon in Xenology: Apple picking. Job hunting.

last watched: Coupling
reading: Candyfreak
listening: Chantal Kreviazuk

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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