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09.29.05 1:28 p.m.

Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes.  

-Oscar Wilde


Previously in Xenology: Xen got a Master's in dealing with pointless systems.

The Lamest Spy Ever

"I was calling to inquire as to the status of my application for a substitute or home teacher," I stated into the phone. I turn unnecessarily prolix when it comes to talking the bureaucracy in charge of getting me employed, a senior member of the "baffle them with bullshit" school of dialogue.

"And just when did you submit this?" the woman answered tersely.

I gave her the exact date and she asked where I delivered it.

"The board office at Dutchess South."

"I suggest you read addresses more precisely next time, we are no longer at that location."

Damn. The office had seemed dark, but there had been other letter under the glass door and I didn't think much of it. All of the signs in Dutchess South, as well as the glass door itself, explained that this was the location of the board office. How ridiculous of me to believe something I read.
Xen: super spy  
There is no spoon

Before the woman on the phone could say five more discouraging words, I had already put a butter knife and pair of tweezers in my jeans pocket and was finding my car keys. I would not be put off merely because my completed application was locked behind a door and I did not have the key. If I couldn't get it though prodding, I would charm someone into unlocking it.

I did not have to break out my masculine wiles, it turned out, as a butter knife was more than sufficient for the deed. I briefly considered delivering the rest of the board offices mail and many, many applications that were likewise mis-delivered, but decided against it. I doubted the gesture would be appreciated and, given the nature of the beast, I would probably get scolded for disobeying postal regulations.

In the midst of slipping my knife under the door, my phone buzzed to life with a call from Melissa. She had been dismissed from work for looking too sick. The irony is that she had called out of work the day before so she could have fun; she was the picture of rested health, therefore. Rather than go back to her parents' home and have to explain why she wasn't at work, she wanted to hang out at my apartment.

Holding the knife in my mouth while I deployed the tweezers, I said, "Fine. Good. When?"

"Half an hour?"

I looked at my watch. The actual address of the board office was only a mile or so away. I could more than manage. After my lame attempt as espionage, a time limit seemed only appropriate. I imagined my application would self-destruct should I now hand it off to operative Secretary Snow.

I found the generic office building and tried to hand in my application, but was rebuffed. I would have to make an appointment for delivery. Ka-boom.

"But I could have just mailed this? That would have been fine?"

"Yes," she said, busying herself with some paperwork to punctuate that our interaction was fast ending.

Ah, bureaucracy, I know you well. "How is your Monday, then? Open?"

She blinked back at me, almost startled I remained. "Yes, Monday. 1:30."

I got back to my apartment to find that Melissa had just arrived and was in her car calling to see when I would be there. Well, played, Bond, well played.

We talked about Hurricane Rita and its probably outcome, as well as the high points of her relationship with Stevehen until she decided to call him to see what he was up to. As he has yet to find the right job, the answer was that he was free to play and we went to get him.

Midway to his house, my phone rang unexpectedly with an unfamiliar, though local, number. What followed was a twenty minute preliminary job interview to tutor students. I e-mailed them my resume that morning as my daily deluge of applications and was a bit fuzzy as to the details of the position, so I faked what I could until the woman was satisfied enough with me to let me go.

I was shaken, but not stirred.

Stay Gold, Girlie

At work, there is this little girl who daily harasses me about writing. She is eager and precocious, as well as slightly annoying, so I obviously love her. What I did not love was what she was saying as I put her on a computer.

"I'll beat that girl if she thinks she can start with me. Knock her ass out!"

I grabbed her shoulder to make her look at me. "I'm going to be quite clear here. I do not ever want to hear you talking like that."

"But I will, one way or another," the girl protested, "She has to learn!"

I shook my head. "She isn't going to learn from you. You are too good for that. Don't get tough and hard."

"I'll do what I need to do."

"Stay gold, [Girlie], stay gold." I actually did say this to her, because I am just that lame.

This would have been all good and poetic and I would have felt that I really did the right thing. Maybe that girl would, even for a second, understands that she was too rare and good to be destroyed so she could pretend to be a ghetto gangsta who actually grew up in the best schools of Beverly Hills.

When I left work, I saw a crowd of kids in the parking lot around my car. These are kids I see every day, whose names I know, who I have helped with homework. I thought nothing of their presence there. As I got closer to my car, they dispersed and I got in. Looking into my passengers' seat, I knew something was wrong. My glove compartment was open and all of my paper - receipts for oil changes and minor repairs - were crumpled. I looked at the passenger's side door and saw that it was unlocked. They had broken into my car and thought the glove compartment contained something valuable for them to steal.

I calmly called the library and told the security guard that my car had been broken into, still not even connecting the fact that those boys had been near my car. In moments, the guard and a cop arrived and took my statement. A police report was made and I was told to call if I found anything to be missing.

I did not quite feel angry, but searched for the right name for how I did feel, before settling on disappointed. I am utterly saddened and taken aback that these kids, most of them no older than fourteen, already have the skill to break into cars and the lack of moral compass that would tell them what they intended to do it a very bad idea. Plus, to be frank, they were stupid about it. My car stereo was untouched. Even the change on my driver's seat remained. They just broke into my car for the experience of breaking into a car. They were willing to risk juvenile courts to they could rip off my receipt for JiffyLube.

Social Idiots

"I've added a new person to the list of women I want to sex up. I haven't actually removed anyone. Jill Sobule is still the top. But I've added someone new," I said.

"Who?" asked Zack.
Amy Sedaris  
Very cute

"Amy Sedaris."

Zack laughed. "Have you actually seen what she looks like?"

"Yes, yes I have. She isn't a looker when she is distorting her feature to play Jerri on Strangers with Candy, I will give you that, but she is pretty cute otherwise. Plus, I want her because she is a terribly funny woman. It's the sense of humor that makes me a lustbunny."

"I get that, I am with Cristin because of her sense of humor. And her amazing ass," Zack said.

"She certainly is a funny woman. I can't say that I've noticed her ass."

"She hides it well. You'd have to see her naked to notice."

"Well, I look forward to that then." It's nice to have friends with whom I can banter in this vein. Cristin, by virtue that she is with Zack, is something like a sister figure in my head, with clothing stapled on. But it's just nice to joke.

The evening's activity was to go to the Gadabout Film Festival in New Paltz. From what I could piece together, it is a traveling show of short films that are supposed to be somewhat skillful. Being in this festival is something about which film makers are supposed to brag. I had my most sincere doubts this would be the case.

While we stood on a corner in New Paltz waiting for a barefoot boy on a payphone (he did not believe in cell phones, according to Zack) to finish with his business, I watched the women coming and going and came to a realization. At some point of which I was unaware at the time, college kids became just that to me: kids. Perhaps some part of me processed that, a few months ago, I could have been teaching any one of them poetry or effective communications. It takes some of the charm out to realize they might otherwise been graded by me.

The film festival pre-show music was not hip enough for our tastes, by which I mean it was so dissonant and out of tune that we only approached the field where the films would show when we were certain the band was almost finished.
"Hello? Yeah, the film festival sucks."

As we sat on the grass, a group of people with nicknames more pretentious than Xen came and introduced themselves to us. They were friends with the barefoot and phoneless, thus set up camp next to us and lit cigarettes. You can't be a cool college kid if your mouth is not exhaling noxious fumes. Smoking has absolutely none of the Bogart or Dean appeal when a fuckwit with a stubble mohawk is doing it.

The movies themselves were, by and large, so fetid that they actually hurt to watch. A few movies were okay. Only one animated short involving the unlucky adventures of a frog actually made me feel that a minute and a half of my time was not being utterly wasted.

We ended our evening at the diner, where I spotted Jen, my deflowerer, walking up the foyer. I see her and she sees me and we both pretend for a moment that our eyes didn't lock. I would like nothing more than to invite her over and speak with her, Zack being the social lubricant that allows this to work. If she were alone - and why on earth would she be at an all-night diner alone? - I could have done this with a minimum of awkwardness, but she was with her brother and someone I assume is his girlfriend.

I say nothing to her, nothing direct. I say things around her when Zack is getting change for the tip, addressing their table and Zack to ask if he would rather Cristin be a superhero or stripper named Kitty Carbonite, the name a bastardization of our plan to encase children in amber as a behavior management technique. Jen's table votes stripper, as they would have to.

I think it is ridiculous to behave this way, but I do it because occasion demands it. I have known Jen as intimately - though clumsily - as a man can know a woman, though we were just kids ourselves. In this scenario, I shouldn't have to continue playing aloof as though I do not care about Jen or her life, regarding her with a cool distance. No, I am desperately curious. I am long since past any sting our break-up gave me, laughing it away as one of those funny stories that shaped me, like the old man on the park bench daring passersby to ask him how he got a striking scar. I do not want to know her sexually again, except in a vague way to prove to her that I am much improved. (Not that I feel I was particularly lacking in my seventeen-year-old incarnation. What I lacked in technique, I more than made up for in inclination and fervor, the benefits of teenage sex.) I just want to be able to sit and chat with her.

I am fumbling in my social mores. I do not know what is truly appropriate and will thus do what feels most logical to me, unless I have the chance to check myself against someone more socially reserved, a role usually played by Emily. In example, I was going to call Ann up and see if she wanted to come to the film festival with me, but Emily insisted that I did not know her well enough to extend such an invitation.

"Yes, well, that is the point. I want to get to know her better, so I should spend time with her in group social interactions, no?"

"No," Emily informed.

"But she gave me her phone number," I slightly protested, though I know she has won this debate by default. Ann had technically given both Emily and me her phone number, I just happened to have the envelope in my pocket.

I, as should be clear, did not call Ann, though I justified this to myself by saying that I thought it was rude to invite her away from an opportunity to see Dives Dives sing at the Mezzanine.

Likewise, I have flubbed my chances at normal social interactions with Jen by once calling her (I have a knack at not forgetting the patterns phone numbers make on the keypad, which is degrees different from actually remembering the numbers). Calling her and trying to chat as though we hadn't ceased being friends was a mistake, a fact which I fast realized once we were into conversation, but I was just so thrilled to be sharing pleasant words with her. So I play aloof, as though that will counteract my call nine months ago.

I don't know when I quite lost my ability to recognize where and when I transcend the bounds of what is likely a good idea. I am gregarious and, to an extent, superficial when it comes to such things. What I think to be a nice idea is what I want to do. I thought it would be nice to write a letter to Coley, for example, telling her that I was pleased to see her at the Mid-Hudson Pagan Network meeting and asking if I had missed anything particularly clever after I left. I waited many days to actually write this letter, composing it a few dozen times in my head before sending it. The finished product is fairly sterile, but I will not get a reply. I sent the letter to be honest to her and myself.

The space between interaction and e-mail is proper, Emily told me, for it suggests that I am not too desperate. This feels like the rules of dating, yet another venue in which I stumble about blindly hoping for the best results and - let's be frank here - often getting them. I saw Coley that day, felt overwhelmingly positively toward her. She did not seem to detest me, and some part of my brain clicked a box that said we now consider her a friend again. The box will uncheck itself without my knowledge or consent in a few weeks if she gives no response to my letter and I will again regard her as a distant associate I am sorry I do not know better, which I genuinely fear is the likely outcome. I am never particularly sorry that I am a social idiot, because at least I don't regret what could have been had I only been man enough to abuse my pride. Were I wise in these rules, I would never have approached Emily, and then where would we be? (My gods, where on earth would we be?)

Facts are facts. I pretty much know there won't come a world where I sit down with Jen and have tea, talking about our travels and adventures. Coley and I, despite my dearest wishes, aren't going to debate theology in the foreseeable future. They are glittering threads of what was once my life that I ache to weave back into the tapestry, particularly as other threads fray, but it is not up to me. I am not the weaver, just someone trying to step back enough to guess at what the Divine Weaver is making (though I am hardly a passive observer and like to give polite suggestions on what might look nice).

I wrote the majority of this while I was trying to put some distance between myself and dreams of geometric shapes. There is something unsettling about them. Not quite nightmares, but certainly nothing that makes me feel at all rested.

I refilled the water pitcher and have taken the dog for a dreadfully late or exceedingly early walk to ensure that he doesn't feel the need to wake me up in a few hours with a wet nose to the groin. I note with bemusement that I have some neighbors whose inside lights never turn off, the vague signs of life existing twenty four hours a day, even Saturday mornings at 5:30. This constant level of alertness, of activity, is something beyond me. Though Emily and I have very different schedules most days, we rest together for five our so hours a night. What life must be to only see your loves ones asleep.

Soon in Xenology: Job hunting. Ambivalent Elephants. Jill Sobule. Kei's wedding.

last watched: The Breakfast Club
reading: Prey
listening: Underdog Victorious

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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