Thomm Quackenbush, author

10.05.05 10:29 p.m.

Stop talking!
What a shame you have no familiarity with inner silence!
Polish your heart for a day or two: make that mirror your book of contemplation.  

-Mathnawi

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen got a Master's in dealing with pointless systems, but it didn't pay well.

Of Lesbians and Virgins

Dan Kessler called Zack, who was trying to concentrate on rolling fireflies up with his katamari, and informed him that Cristin and he would be driving two mystery friends to the show in Kingston.

Zack consulted Cristin, who assented. What else could she do but agree, given that it was Dan's show and he wanted these people there?

We arrived to his home to find that two of the mystery friends were already sitting on Dan's floor examining the instruments with the intensity of simians encountering the monolith. One of the boys had a goofy look, helped in no small way by his fading Mohawk. The other was androgynously slim and just smiled shyly and went back to prodding at the instruments with thin fingers. While Zack and Cristin greeted Dan and discussed arrangements for transporting the equipment, I glanced around the room at the media Dan had accumulated. It was a painfully good mix, literature like Camus sitting next to two Whitley Strieber books, the whole of the Narnia series. The movies were just as dichotomous, though I was obviously more inclined to what he read rather than what he watched. The CDs were too far away for me to see, but I assumed that he had to have a few exceptional ones in the roughly two hundred in sight.

Someone knocked on the door and I, closest to it through my unsubtle judging of book spines, answered to find two young girls. One was tall and slim, with frizzy dirty blonde hair and a wide smile. Behind her stood a shorter girl with shy blue eyes who seemed distantly familiar, as though I had known her as a child. I never would figure out if she knew me, but she looked at me as though she did. The taller one introduced herself as Marigo or Marigold. I did not catch it the first time, nor was it repeated in my presence again and I couldn't contrive interest and occasion to ask. Her friend told me her name, but I was by then too busy trying to figure out if I had misheard the first girl. The two boys, having normal names like "John," are similarly blessed to have had their names forgotten by me. Soon after, I would mentally appoint the boys "The Virgins" and the girls "The Lesbians," for reasons that will soon be clear, and so more specific appellations were unnecessary.

Dan opted for the Lesbians as passengers, asking us to take the Virgins with us. As such, I was cramped into the backseat with two boys who I imagined to be freshman at New Paltz. Literally from the moment the second Virgin's ass hit the cushion, they began talking. Exclusively to one another. About absolutely nothing. They very likely would not have agreed with me assessment. They would have said they were having deep and profound discussions about epistemology, what alien music would sound like, and other such pseudo-intellectual trash. They spoke in order to be heard by us and have us be impressed with the devastating depth of their knowledge. Cristin, Zack, and I were not impressed.

I wished Emily had not opted to go to an equinox ritual for her coven, though of course she couldn't. Her priorities were with them, rather than with listening to Dan play. Were she here, these boys would not be speaking. Primarily because her physical presence would preclude the two of them from being together and thus they couldn't engage in philosophical masturbation in front of us. Also, Emily majored in Religious Studies and actually uses her knowledge to consider the state of the universe, rather than impressing frosh lushes at Snugg's. She would have cut them off and squished them once they opened their mouths.

We arrived in Kingston and the Virgins darted out of the car to fellate one another over a discussion about the evolution of the inner ear.
Cristin, Zack, and Dan  
"We hate the Virgins"

"God, I fucking hate those guys," Zack exclaimed the moment they were an inch out of earshot. "I just wanted to scream, 'Just kiss, damn it.'"

"At least then they would be quiet for one second," I said. "The only time they said anything to me was when one of them - the one with the Mohawk - slammed into me."

Cristin was standing with her arms folded across her chest, obviously irritated beyond words. Zack asked her if she was angry. "Yes. For some reason at you. Mostly at those two and Dan. It's all Dan's fault we were subjected to that. He owes me."

We walked to where Dan was parked and gathered his stuff, less than diplomatically telling him that we wanted to cause grievous harm to the Virgins. He was copasetic with the idea, but suggested we might not want to actually cause physical harm to them. He can be so placid, as he only had to deal with the Lesbians, who seemed quietly absorbed in one another.

"Those two just wouldn't shut up," Zack growled again.

Dan motioned to Cristin and me but I shook my head in the negative. "When we get lippy, Zack gives us the backhand."
3FU  
3FU

The venue, 3FU, was locked despite Dan's insistences that it should not be. By the time we managed to find someone to unlock it, there was a crowd of fifteen or so sitting on the sidewalk, waiting to get in.

3FU wasn't the space I expected it to be. Instead of a coffeehouse or the like, it seemed to be someone's abandoned loft living room. One of the hospital blue walls was decorated with various eight by eleven drawings done in a variety of styles. There were sofas against each wall and the opening to the stairwell, as well as a small kitchen that reputed in signs to be full of snacks and drinks, free for the taking though a donation jar was provided for the more generous among the guests.

After we had occupied a sofa, the throngs started to pour in. All of the boys made me feel typical by comparison. I felt that we were all variations of the same model of hipster. I was the model with long hair and no goatee, Dan was the model with a goatee. He and I could have been from the same mold. The girls were of an equally similar bend, a base figure adorned like emo Barbies. Very few of the people who entered were on the outer edges of our chronological bell curve, over or under twenty-three by much.
Zack and Cristin, chilling  
Zack and Cristin, relaxing in 3FU

The activity of sitting in this donation-run loft performance space, watching anonymous bands play was highly nutritive to my soul. This is the sort of activity my ego tells me I should constantly engage in. I sat cross-legged and barefoot on the coffee table, contentedly munching of pieces of French peasant bread and a glass of apple cider (where did these come from? How would I have come by such things?), watching the people come and go. To my left, the Lesbians cuddled on top of one another in a way that invited observation (Wasn't that part of the point?), whispering in one other's ears intimately to drown out the dissonant music. There was this feeling that what we were doing was right in a very profound sense. That, in a culture where art is prosecuted, we had found a bubble of respite for a few hours and were in likeminded company.

On the end table next to our sofa, there was a small, fat, naked woman made of clay. Held between her thick knees was a slip of paper that was the right size to be a fortune from a cookie. It read, in its entirety, "Your life is coming to an end. Enjoy."
The Lesbians  
The Lesbians intertwined on the floor

Watching the second of the three bands playing tonight, I asked Zack why the guitarists all seemed to face away from the audience.

"That's really a question of human nature," Zack informed, "but it's mostly so they can see one another and collaborate instantly."

Dan's music was most fascinating to me, and not merely because he happens to be my friend. While the first two bands used the traditional guitar, bass, and drum ensemble with little deviation, Dan was his entire band. Under the moniker Ambivalent Elephant, he plays a keyboard and computer, mixing and remixing tracks in front of us to create something quite new, electronica with the bleeping of machines replaced by stringed instruments. It is startling to consider a mouse to be a musical instrument, but it was clear from Dan's concentration that he long ago fit computer peripherals into his musical schema. He sat on the bare floor, a computer in front of him, twirling knobs and pressing keys like a mad scientist. I cannot actually process what he did, I only know that the results were the most pleasant music I had heard all night.
Ambivalent Elephant  
Ambivalent Elephant (aka Dan Kessler)

After Dan, the place began to clear out. I waited outside of the bathroom that was currently occupied by the thinner of the Lesbians. In front of me, held by fishing wire, was a bright orange skull. "Open Me" its forehead demanded. Who was I to question? I split the skull in half. A scroll within informed "You are not your body. Do not fear. You will never die."

Dropping the Virgins back at Dan's house after a return car trip that was just as pretentious and vapid as the drive to 3FU had been. When Zack put on Gypsy songs for weddings and funerals, they expressed complete and insulting shock that Zack had far more cultured and cosmopolitan tastes than they had attained in half a semester of being music majors. Cristin, Zack, and I tensed, trying not to beat sense and humility into them. Exiting the car, the mohawked Virgin folded his hand in front of him and uttered, "May a thousand virgins bless you." Having spent the past few hours referring to them as "The Virgins" I stifled a laugh at this, which escaped when Zack said, "Yeah, I only need one virgin to bless me, thanks."

"We are now even for you making us come to the Xoch concert," Cristin informed me.

"Oh, no, I don't think we are even. I don't think we are even at all."

$8/$35,000

I've just put in my two week notice for my library job, which makes me feel about two inches tall. They've been very accommodating to me these past few months and I have largely enjoyed my time here. The plus side is that I am quitting this job - the first job I have voluntarily left since I was a freshman in college - to work at a company tutoring students. The hours are very similar, which means I still do not have a day job as such, but the pay is considerably better and more applicable to my degree area (as though anyone does what their degree suggests).

The interview to acquire the tutoring job was quick and familiar. I have almost lost my fear of interview, particularly those being conducted by perky and self-effacing women. We chatted for half an hour about the state of education in America - no actual interview questions - and then she asked how soon I could quit my library job to be in her employ. I told her I would put my notice in before the end of the day. As it is closer to my degree field and is three dollar more an hour and a shorter commute, I suppose I am happy. It is too soon to know for certain.

I had another interview to be a substitute or home teacher for Wappingers, though it seemed to entail my filling out paperwork in front of a notary and pleasantly wishing them a good day.

The final interview of the week went well. Perhaps, I realized in retrospect, far too well. I had been contacted by the school where Dives Dives works as a music therapist. They had been one of the places I gave my resume to when I went to the job fair, but I was still surprised to hear anything from them, given that I have no official background when it comes to special education.

The other shoe dropped and hard when I got assertive against my Mount Saint Mary programming - they had been explicit that we were never to ever ask employers how much money we would be getting and just be grateful someone was going to pay us.

"Oh, it starts at eight dollars an hour, but I'll try to talk them up to ten dollars an hour. No promises, though. After that, it is an increase of twenty-five cents an hour after six months, then again at twelve and eighteen. In a year and a half," the principal spelled out for me, "You could be making upwards of $10.75 an hour."

At present, typing this up at my library job, I make just a little under that. In my tutoring job, I will make four dollars more than that an hour.

Then, after I had decided that I would not be taking the job as forty-five minutes of driving each way was too much for so little money, he detailed the various responsibilities that would be expected of me. I would have to be there at seven in the morning to wake the students up, dress them, and help them with the amorphously threatening "hygiene". I would be expected to work holidays and he explicitly stated that I would very likely have to be there Christmas morning. There were no days off.

He was thrilled that I was still sitting there and mentioned in passing that they had a problem getting teachers' aides. I was there only because there was not tactful way to leave immediately. Unless he damned near doubled the pay, I couldn't even consider this. Even currently underemployed, I am more than aware that I can work a better job closer to my home for much more money. At this juncture, waiting tables during the day qualified as all of the above.

He showed me around the school, pointed out the large and previously violent student who had a reputation among the staff. He would be one of my charges should I take the job. Then he left me with the teacher, a petite and sweet girl who was overwhelmingly happy to think she had good help coming her way. I wondered what she degree had and regretted not getting dual certified in special education. I would almost certainly have a job then. She showed me around the school a bit more, but I was just trying to concoct a plan for vacating the school as quickly and tactfully as possible. I felt more than a little sorry to be taking up this young woman's time when I couldn't fathom taking the job. Had the principal made the requirements and salary clear over the phone, I would be working out in my apartment's fitness center and picking out which school districts I would be harassing that day. This is very likely why such facts were omitted.

I don't mean to sound cocky and I certainly do not feel that way. I feel sad and anxious. The fact remains that, as a high school students of seventeen, I made more per hour working at the children's museum. There was simply no way in which I could justify subjecting myself to this.

Dives Dives saw me and whispered for me to come over to her once the young teacher left. "How is it going?" she asked.

"Good, but I cannot possibly take this job for eight to ten dollars an hour."

"My god, is that really what they are paying?" It was clear that they were paying her considerably more, as they would have to. Even were she not a talented and certified woman, she couldn't afford to live on such a salary.

I got home, irritated the entire drive home to be in this situation. The principal plainly thought I would accept this job and Emily indicated on the phone that we should discuss my taking it, given my lack of prospects on the immediate horizon. My cell phone rang and died before I could pick up. When it was charged enough to turn on, I was informed that they did not have an application on file for me, just my resume. Also, I was informed but knew already, I had left my debit card there accidentally. The card had been cancelled before I had even reached my front door, one less reason to go back.

I do not know for certain but feel, when I called back, that the secretary had some indication I would not be her coworker. I'm sure she is getting more than ten dollars an hour and she did not have to spent of thirty five thousand dollars to deserve such a salary (what do I know, she may have).

The next day they called to formally offer me the job at eleven dollars an hour, which is still much too little. When I spoke to Dives Dives about this - the school routed messages for me through her once they knew we were friends - she said that I needed to take care of myself before I could consider helping out her school. She is right, of course, I can't do anything for the school if it will mean that I will not thrive in the effort.

Soon in Xenology: Jill Sobule. Kei's wedding.

last watched: Saw
reading: Many Waters
listening: Flood

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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