Thomm Quackenbush, author

02.18.06 10:31 p.m.

Do not fear your enemies. The worse they can do is kill you. Do not fear friends. At worst, they may betray you. Fear those who do not care; they neither kill nor betray, but betrayal and murder exist because of their silent consent.  

-Bruno Jasienski

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen worked for hazard pay in a profession that didn't much like him. But he liked writing.

Straight Outta Heritage

It was yet another Monday and I found myself in Newburgh, albeit at a different middle school. This school seemed slightly better funded, possessing technology a decade and a half old or less. Perception is everything to middle school students; someone in a designer pair of shoes is actually superior to someone wearing an objectively better pair without a logo. By the same logic, the student body will perceive themselves to be better than their North Junior High classmates who are known to have an older building. The students went as far as to tell me this, calling the other middle school "the ghetto school" with no sense of irony given that they are three miles separated and filter into the same high school. I was further informed that those North kids are all morons. Violent, stupid, poor, and - dare I say it? - ugly. The Heritage students consider North kids inferior and pity them when they aren't busy feeling contempt for those wretches.

Before first period, I got a good look at the one piece of expensive technology both middle schools posess: the metal detectors. Despite how reputedly dangerous my home district of Beacon was, I never actually walked through a metal detector until I flew for the first time. The security here is comparable in procedure, metallic objects passed through in hard plastic trays and wands passed between legs like the preamble to hentai. Long lines of students systematically assuming the position to be frisked. I think, if I were forced into this dehumanizing position daily as a prerequisite of my education, I would petition my parents to move immediately. Yet this procedure is a necessity. "Homicide" is a checkbox of their referrals. These students, it is implicit, are all murderers if given a moment's chance. From the moment they enter the building, they have this idea drilled into their heads. If they aren't packing a weapon, someone else may be.

Of course, they could just walk in through the large front doors, where there is no medal detector or guards waiting but then they'd have to walk all the way around the building! The only thing preventing a massacre is their laziness and lethargy. Gods be praised they don't get a nutritious breakfast.

At least this is a little nicer than the other middle school. Toilets that flush and fireboxes that are actually attached to the wall go a little further to making these children realize that they are actually citizens and not prisoners. Anything that lets the children be able to regard themselves as developing human beings rather than dangerous beasts is beneficial.

Still, even with a majority of working lights in each ceiling, the students miss the distinction. I am tired of scolding students that they would better serve black history month by actually studying a paper about it and not using it as a projectile to - and I am quoting here - "knock out niggers." What these students do not seem to be able to grasp is that there is a "Man" and he wants to keep them ignorant and violent. He likes nothing better to read about gang activity increasing. The most rebellious and dangerous thing these kids could do is study and excel despite the community in which they are growing up. Acting like they do not care and being willfully stupid is precisely what "The Man" wants them to do. It creates an artificial lower class of people who could otherwise transcend and be truly human. Ignorant children serve as superb cannon fodder and grist for the prison industrial complex when they reach eighteen. Their ignorance self-propagates even more children like themselves, as it is very rarely the studious sixth graders who get knocked up. They fulminate on the lowest levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need, unable to conceive of anything higher than meeting their physiological and safety needs. They cannot feel anything positive toward those who actually can conceive of and attain love, esteem, or self-actualization. They will cut these people down as quickly as is possible to prevent introspection and awareness that it is their own throat they are cutting. Gods, I wish I could take that as more metaphoric.

Government snakes patronize and condescend, painting a vibrant people with a brush of "welfare moms" and "deadbeat dads." Congress pretends that all these people care about is bread and circuses, or McDonald's and reality TV. Corpulent white men in Italian suits paid for by tax payers gloat about what a "problem" these inner city folks are, safe in the knowledge that people ignored by obscenely underfunded and poorly run school districts aren't going to think about voting for anyone. Such people, says the self-fulfilling stereotype, only vote against "immoral" people, which means the senator has a job for life if he keeps waving his miniature American flag and pledging allegiance to Paul wearing the vestments of Jesus. A truly informed populace would be the death knell for our current breed of politics and that is something politicians can never allow. They like their jobs. Why on earth would the government actually want to arm these people by informing them of the world outside this cave? Why tell those darn ghetto dwellers that they have a right to dissent or that they are actually legally owed the education being deprived of them? Just throw a pair of repugnantly overpriced, sweatshop sneakers and a racist/classist stereotype at them and they will get out their gats and shoot each other up, right? Push them through the system, illiterate and frustrated, then whisper that you just can't teach poor people anything. They must be from an inferior stock and deserve what they get. After all, if they wanted an education, they would have been born to richer, paler parents somewhere else, right?

I'm really bitter when I am not stupidly idealistic.

Dream Girls

I am sick with a cold and exhausted from waking up too early. I am stuck at work until two, jostled from a special ed classroom with two students and no work to one with seven and detailed work I will deign not to follow.

But I am in happy because I was deeply in fatuous love with two girls this morning. Okay, so it was a dream, but it is a dream I am turning into a story for Vale Falls. This was the reason I woke up early and if I followed my instinct, I would have left my earplugs in and written down every detail while I was half conscious and everything was vivid. Now all I remember are the two girls, a few settings, and bits of pithy dialogue. Hopefully more will come as I write the story out. The quality of the story and the feelings it inspires in me are more than worth my sleep deprivation. My subconscious mind is such a good writer that I am genuinely sorry these women are not actual flesh and blood. I care so much for them that I will have to write this story in the first person, something I rarely do anymore with fiction. I prefer to be on the outside of my character's heads, looking in selectively.

I must have looked like a madman getting out of my car at my job because I was arguing with one of the characters as to her motivation for something she said in the dream. It wasn't really out loud, just whispered conversation and only from my side. I'm not crazy, my characters don't use my mouth, only my head. I do see how that could still mean I am not in my right mind. It feels very natural to talk to them when I am alone in my car and trying to suss out what is going on in my stories. Perhaps it might help to have fewer stories or characters renting space in my brain at the same time, but they all need to breathe and grow.

I've told Emily that I feel I am only transcribing my stories. I am consistently surprised with the notes I have taken or the foreshadowing I was not aware I had implemented. Maybe they speak to me always through dreams and this is just the first one I have remembered clearly.

It is unsettling to feel the lingering effects of two powerful crushes for women that existed only for a few dozen minutes as products of one's own psyche. Perhaps it is a very narcissistic state, but I feel no connection to them as my creations. They are just people who don't actually exist, not aspects of me. I've read stories that posit that artists involuntarily peek into other plains of existence, where they end up writing the lives of people who they've plainly never met. I do not think this is the case here. The women wore the faces of people I have seen on social networking sites, but I know these people in my dreams are not actually them. This was just the face my unconscious mind put to them.

Rereading and revising my stories, I sometimes find myself involuntarily acting out the gestures of my characters just so I can get a feel for their headspace and can properly articulate how they move. I do it mostly for the female characters, but I have mostly been concentrating on them recently. Perhaps it is because I am male and better know the gesticulations of my sex, though I rarely feel that my male characters match the depth of the females.

Murgh Tikka Sagwallah

I invited Dan Kessler to join Emily, Kei and her Dan for what was to be Emily and my make-up Valentine's dinner at Tanjore, an Indian restaurant in Fishkill that used to be called the Taj Mahal. I do not know the reason for the rechristening (or possibly rehinduing?) but business was certainly busy enough this night that I felt guilt for arriving early and sitting alone at one of their larger tables to accommodate my invisible guests.

I had and have genuine concern that Dan is not handling his break-up with Ann nearly as well as he lets on, thus necessitating getting him out of the house to examine him further. Even as a teenager, when I welcomed the end of some relationships, the feeling of inadequacy and rejection permeated unbidden. I don't quite know what to make of the whole situation, as I can only politely prod for small nuggets of information without seeming hurtful or psychoanalytical.
Dan Kessler  
It'll be okay

Ann has always come off to me as a fervent lesbian, albeit one who has at least had congress with members of the other 49.9% of humanity that happens to be blighted with Y-chromosomes. She can therefore be said to have made an informed decision toward her deviant lifestyle, not that I fault those people who know from birth upon which gender or genders they would most want to lay lips. I find Ann irreverent and aloof, which can be very good qualities, though she is very attached to her identify as lesbian. Dan is the sensitive artist and, from what I know of his romantic history - and I may be inclined to remember badly for effect - he has had a run of passionate girl who were slightly off-kilter. As is plain, he has not yet found the one, or at least a one. (The grammar of that hurts me, but not as much as the phrase "an one.") I am not a believer in only one soul mate. There are many combinations that can be pleasing.

Even with a man like Dan to call her own, I have a hard time believing that Ann would look past an identity of which she is proud. GLBT can be a very strong community, even in one's own head, and it not something to turn one's back upon lightly for a sensitive, intelligent boy. Except in Chasing Amy.

Dan said they were never really together to begin with, which is a cryptic statement that is only going to elicit my mind to run through the various permutations of being together, but not. The likeliest one is that they were dating in a way but not a couple. For all I actually know, they were both a particle and a wave. I know they were taking it slow and asexually, which seemed wise as a general rule for most any relationship. Perhaps it is just simpler to end something that never had an actual beginning.

My own lesbian love Emily came to the restaurant straight from Gold's Gym, to which she has just purchased a membership because she so enjoys their steam room. On this evening, she, rosy cheeked, told me how a naked girl with intruded her upon during her steam, as Emily put it, "the perfect body." Knowing Emily, I can picture this woman's body with no effort, small breasts and a very streamlined everything else, an elf with a pixy cut. Emily had to fight to keep from covering her own nudity with a towel and to keep eyes contact with this girl's rather than letting this descend into the sort of erotic Skinemax fantasy that would exponentially increase the hits to this column. I teased her for not flirting, but she assured me that not all women are bicurious.

Emily was dressed very well in a blouse that would have been low-cut had she a bra that wasn't a sports bra. I so love seeing her dressed up, ringlets of hair framing her pale skin like a Russian doll. While my feelings for her certainly transcend the flesh, she does have some cute flesh.

Dan knew the Indian fare far better than Emily or I did. I just kept repeating "Murgh Tikka Sagwallah" aloud so I would not fumble when I ordered my chicken in spinach gravy. I mispronounced it anyway. Dan, however, could look over the menu and easy select what would be most delicious to him, though this place has nothing but delectable foods as far as I have experienced. Then again, I limit myself to what I can pronounce.

I enjoy having friends who are more cultured than me in one way or another, as it always means I have someone from whom I can learn and experience new things. I wonder if Kei's Dan feels this way about Emily and me. I know that he enjoys our conversation and experiences, as he doesn't feel he has many other local friends with whom he can discuss books, movies, and politics.

moo

I despise these cattle call interviews. It puts the applicants on such an uneven ground, hundreds of us and six people to hire. Teachers are treated like expendable and faceless resources, something these interviews are construct to make certain we never forget. I doubt the most of other teachers are cynical or bright enough to think of it in those terms. (A little social psychology is a dangerous addition to one's mind) Despite what some may think, teachers don't have to be smart and most certainly are not, they just have to be one assignment or chapter ahead of the kids.

There is a stupidly competitive air to cattle calls; the overeducated livestock sizing each other up, mooing backhanded compliments. "For someone so obviously young and inexperienced, you have a nice suit." Yeah, thanks, I'll just be ignoring you now.

I did wear a suit to the interview, as I need every advantage I can get. The problem is, the suit is a uniform, a camouflage against the other hundred men in dark blue or black. It is like zebras, very startling if one is alone, but crowds of them make it hard to know where one teacher ends and the other begins.

Cattle call is an apt image. Women in business suits herd us with their hands not casting the pearls of their words on our bovine ears. We line up in snaking lines, just for the slight chance - thousands of applicants and maybe fifteen positions - that we will get a job instead of a bolt to the temple.

The day was an exercise in futility, as applicants stood in spiraling lines like the Milky Way just to have out hands shaken and our resumes put into boxes. There would be no interviews. This could have been done on-line and had been. This was just another test to see if we were willing to waste a Saturday morning.

When 11:30 hit, they announced that we had to evacuate the building by noon. I was able to get out of these before they turned on the hoses.

Soon in Xenology: Dives Dives's show at the Mezzanine. Premature enlightenment.

last watched: Cool Runnings
reading: Future Shock
listening: Dives Dives

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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