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10.12.05 2:20 p.m.

He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.  

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Previously in Xenology: Xen was way too into Jill Sobule.

Underdog Victorious

I am unable to compliment and reassure girls I know that they are attractive. Melissa in particular is keen to point out that my taste in the fairer sex and that of the rest of my gender varies greatly. This is no slight again Emily or Kate, though it may be against Jen.

What Melissa is referring to is who I place as my touchstone of ideal femininity. Most boys choose some Janie Come Lately in the acting or singing world. A Britney or Elle or Lindsay. They do nothing whatsoever for me. In fact, I refer to at least two of the above as leather muppets. The pinnacle of sexiness to me is Jill Sobule.

Right now, quite a lot of you are scratching your heads and wondering who the hell this girl is. Those that recognize her name may remember her as the composer of such classic songs as "I Kissed a Girl" and "Supermodel." Which is sad, as most people are fairly vague on the idea of "irony" and just think she is a bubbly lesbian rather than an incisive woman deft with parody about lesbian chic and, appropriately, how people view attractive females.

Jill is this achingly witty singer who can manage lines like "I can crack all your ribs, but I can't break your heart." How many folk singers to you know that can sing with pastiche about Mexican wrestling as a metaphor for love? Aside from Jill, I'm thinking none.

I find her beautiful, even when she isn't singing (girls become far more attractive to me when they are singing). I think if I knew her in any real sense, I would be ridiculously in love with her. Emily actually once said that she is frequently grateful Jill Sobule doesn't know my name, because there is no question in her mind that the bulk of my energies would go to wooing Jill, possibly to the exclusion of eating.

Therefore it has been said, perhaps with some reason, that it is hard to pick the girl to whom I will most quickly take, but I disagree. Just seek out the girl who looks like she is equal parts book mouse and folk singer. Skirts and glasses are a plus, though not essential. I like the diamond in the rough, because they have the most rainbows inside. No need for polishing, they are perfect the way they are, exploring their literary and artistic passions.

So you can understand why I was shaking like a leaf when Jill Sobule smiled up at me and, after suggesting clothing be removed, asked how I am.

"Hot," I replied as calmly as I could, concentrating my will on preventing my legs from perseverating as though I had run a marathon.

Jill had asked for someone to hold her computer up as she sang a protest song she was writing and thus didn't yet know the lyrics to. As I had done such a stellar job as her computer stand, I continued the job as she broke into singing "Hot in Herre" by Nelly, one of those song - as she put it - that probably shouldn't be sung while accompany oneself on the electric banjo. It was a burden of blessings for me.

The concert was improbably taking place in an old mansion on the Orange Community College campus. Apparently, a series of concerts were commissioned for this site, though I doubted it could accommodate a tea party.

Outside on the wraparound porch lounged people in their late middle age. Emily says a group of them unabashedly pointed to us as we entered, but I did not see it.

We entered to a room containing fewer than fifty chairs arranged in rows. The stage was no bigger than two tables touching lengthwise. This is hardly the set up you would imagine for a preschool recital, let alone a well known musician.

Most of the people not milling about outside were gathered around tables on which food was set like a potluck.

"Is this food I can eat?" I asked Emily out of the corner of my mouth. "Would such be permitted, do you think?"

"Well, we did just pay fifty bucks. I think that probably entitles us to refreshments," she replied and picked up a glass of diet soda. No one stopped us with tasers or unabashedly pointed at us again, so we assumed we were in the clear.

We found out seats on some cheap chairs near the back. There were nicer chairs in rows before us, the sort of furniture Pier Nine sells as facsimiles of antiques. Given the rest of the decor, it seemed possible these were originals. We were not allowed within five feet of them, however, having been shooed back to our chairs with assurances that these were for members. So good to be warned off by aging Baby Boomers with a sense of entitlement.

Jill was stunning in the most literal definition, dressed in a shirt shrift-like dress emblazoned with the Underdog Victorious symbol, a fist inside a woman symbol. She was much smaller than I had remembered her being and I was surprised at this. She is nearly the size of one of the children I teach, but my god how beautiful. She was much more intricately pretty than I imagined, with a sweetness and innocence I had forgotten if I ever knew it.

Jill descended from the staircase to our left and I had to pinch myself to keep from staring at her, which was exacerbated during MaryKate O'Neill's set, when Jill sat direct behind me and was loudly applauding for her friend. I tried to be calm, but found myself shivering slightly despite my intentions. I squeezed Emily's leg and motioned with my eyes to signal that we were but a few feet from Jill. She nodded that she was aware of this fact and that it did not much affect her, except to allow her to laugh at me. Her nods speak volumes.

I will not delve to deeply into Jill's set, since you won't believe how good it was anyway. You would just think I was love blind and fawning, and you'd be partly right.
Jill Sobule and Xen  
Jill Sobule

At the end of the show, Emily bought Jill's newest CD, which Jill signed with a scrawl.

Standing behind Jill, I hold my camera at Emily. "Is this appropriate?"

"Hey, Jill, will you pose for a picture with him?" she asked, cutting right to the quick.

Jill says that of course she will pose with me, and puts one arm around me. I think again how small she is and how hot her shoulder feels, which I suppose makes sense given that she spent the last few hours doing what she loved. I can't remember how she smells, which I realize to be a strange thought, but scent is so closely tied to memory and I want this memory to be strong within me.

I told Emily that I was too happy to make decisions for the remainder of the day, aside from wanting to spin around in circles.

New Beginnings

I hear something fall and the dull sound of it breaking, though it does not sound like glass. I do not look up from what I am doing, though not out of apathy. If I look at it, it will become real. Until I know what broke, everything and nothing is broken and that is something I can handle. Finally, after hearing Emily gasp and say no more, the curiosity is simply too strong.

"What broke?"

"My blackbelt egg," she moped, and with good reason. This egg is but an empty shell, its insides blown out - with the date of her first blackbelt test written on it that she was to test and receive her belt. She was required to bring the egg with her everywhere for one month. If she broke the egg within that month, she had to start again. It had resided for three and a half years since then on one bookshelf or another.

I expect Emily to be wrecked by this. The egg is such a potent symbol for her. Instead, she walks over to our altar and begins sifting through herbs and unguents.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"You'll see."

She puts the various ingredients into her miniature cauldron and lights them. She then squeezes the egg shells in her hand until they are tiny shard.

"To new beginnings," she stated.

"To new beginnings," I agree.

Don't Let

Later that day, I got a call from my mother telling me that there was an opening at one of the local elementary schools for a permanent substitute. While my first preference is not to smaller children, I felt more than able to cope if it would reward me with a regular paycheck. I called the school and was asked to come in post-haste for an interview. In the space of forty minutes, the principal had assured me I had the job and introduced me to every teacher in the school, along with much of the ankle-biting student population, as the new permanent sub.

About here, a reasonable person would assume that they indeed had a job. Not only had I been told, in just so many words, that I had the job, but I had more witnesses than I could count attesting to this fact. Obviously, I did not actually have the job and he reneged days later, stating that the board - who was perfectly willing to hire my cousin who has no teaching certification whatsoever - has decided that they can only hire people who are certified in elementary education. The fact that my name has a trailing "MS Ed" now is meaningless. It makes me feel a bit paranoid.

While I am on the subject of my degree, I should like to point out what an utter albatross around my neck I have found it. In more than one setting and on more than one occasion on this ceaseless job hunt, I have been told, and I am quoting here, that I am "super over-qualified." That is not a compliment; that is a statement of condemnation. I cannot be hired by some places because, gosh darn it, I'll just have to quit the moment I find a job for which I am "super appropriately qualified." I have insisted that I will stick around for a while and that I do not mind, just for the chance to have the experience. Then comes the issue of money. Given my degree, several places are required by the law they set down themselves to pay me based on degree level. It simply wouldn't do for them to hire on someone they will have to pay an extra forty-five cents an hour when they can get a high school student to work for minimum wage. My degree seems to preclude my employment.

Mothers, don't let your children become teachers.

Lotus Eaters

Despite being late, I was the first guest to Dives Dives's impromptu birthday party. The apartment has blossomed to fruition with the addition of Ann and her associated detritus. The interweaving of the artifacts of Dives Dives's and Ann's respective lives is seamless, as though they were long estranged sisters of the same flower child parents.

Dives Dives was busy in her bedroom steeling herself for the coming influx of friends and well-wishers, so I followed Ann into the kitchen, where I studied the content of their walls and refrigerator doors for insights into their collective personality. It's fine and dandy to make random assertions based on nothing more than intuition and lucky guesses, but others tend to agree with me when I can say, "they are lovely people by virtue that they have racks full of brightly colored plastic utensils," or "I find them adventurous by virtue of the picture on the freezer door of Ann sky diving."

In order to keep myself busy and fairly incognito as I read their magnetic poetry, I offered to help Ann with the cooking to the best of my ability. This entailed my boiling water to make rice noodles without burning their apartment to cinders, a feat a nearly managed anyway owing to how crumbly and flammable rice noodles seem to be.

While I cooked and read a queer rights poster above their window, I managed to blunder into a conversation with Ann about the appropriate pronoun to use for a girl I know who dresses as and attempt to be a gay man. Overall, I can't imagine that being particularly productive given that she lacks precisely that appendage that would make her both fully male and interesting to gay men, but that is neither here nor there. To me, this was strictly a question of grammar. If people are going to live lifestyles outside the binary choice of "male/female," there should be a series of pronouns (one addition to the language seems insufficient). Ann, a decidedly outgoing lesbian, demurred with an edge that said person should be allowed to be called whatever s/he wishes. In the war of political correctness, grammar is the first casualty.

Other guests arrived in time for Ann to rescue me from flaming rice noodles and I was dismissed to the couch to munch on the brownies I brought to the potluck. My dessert was at odds with the healthful and organic fare to either side of it and I sought to save my brownies' reputation by hiding them in my stomach. It did not even occur to me until much too late that not everyone enjoys things made from powder. A plateful of carrots would have been far better received, but we shall get to that.
Sally Brown  
Impromptu salon

While the party was small, under ten people, I found the conversation lively and interesting. However, I believe there is a law of society that, per square meter, every person you add to a social function inhibits conversation that much more. It's exponential. By the time that a horde of older hippies arrived, scattering flowers in their wake, I could no longer hear any of the other conversation. The couple with whom I was speaking was on the other side of the small living room but, for all the good it did me, they may as well have been on an island a mile away. I felt as though I receded into the wall paper and was no longer visible. Strictly, this is not true. One of the hippies tried to force feed me a flower as they were supposedly of the edible variety. I insisted that I liked keeping my memory and was therefore not in the habit of eating lotuses. This was met with bemusement.

Minutes later, another of the older hippies asked if I played the guitar.

"No," I stated. "I'm not musically oriented."

"How about the drums?"

"No, I am still not musically oriented."

"What do you play?"

"I don't. Music isn't my art."
Dives Dives  
Solos are best

Then, without another word, he turned away from me as though we hadn't been speaking and told the blonde woman behind him how little he liked brownies. By this point, there must have been twenty people in the apartment's living room and it couldn't comfortably accommodate more than ten. Ignoring my introspective moping, it seemed that some subcultures within the party were enjoying this experience immensely and soon they began to play music and dance. Dancing was a bit of a stretch when packed so tightly, so it more resembled the in-place twisting of Sally Brown once she ages thirty years and discovers wine.

While the music precluded conversation further (and I understand that I may be in the minority that enjoys conversing with strangers at parties), I was more than fine with music once it involved Dives Dives singing sitting alone and playing guitar. I find the quality and passion of Dives Dives's music intoxicating. Therefore, I was little pleased when the ponce who ignored me for not being a musician felt that he had the duty to "improvise" along with Dives Dives's original songs, thereby detracting from the purity of her music because he thought it should involve him.

Dives Dives gave up playing solo, to my sadness, in order to strap on an accordion and play a spontaneously created song with Ann. Ann's verses tended to involve disliking penises and all those who bear [sic] them in her presence and Dives Dives reminding her that there were men at the party and she shouldn't write off a whole sex. There are few things cuter than a sung rant involving a squeezebox.

Incidentally, the healthy, organic food gave me horrible food poisoning that laid me up for days, something that has never happened with my brownies.

Soon in Xenology: Kei's wedding.

last watched: The Aristocrats
reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray
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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