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05.14.06 12:29 p.m.

If you can stay in love for more than two years, you're on something.  

-Fran Lebowitz


Previously in Xenology: Emily's father was fading. Xen met this girl named Emily. Dan B moved here.


I received a call from the Summer Learning Institute for Gifted Studies, a summer program at Vassar College with whom I had interviewed a month ago while suffering from a bad cold. Despite this affliction, they were very interested in having me teach theater courses to sharp bratlings for $750 per two-week course. The man said that he might like me to do as many as four and I said I would be thrilled for the opportunity. Thrilled and exhausted, but thrilled nonetheless. Teaching theater at Vassar is a much nicer gig than most any other job offer I've had thus far, though I am trying not to get too excited. Fate still has that damned brandy snifter of anguish, after all, and it looks to be emptying every moment.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

"Do you have any change?"

I search my pockets and hand over a solitary nickel. Emily takes this, upturns her head and drops it to the table, where it disrupts the meals of the other diners in the Tuscan Grille. Then she picks it up again and holds it in her fist. Turning it over, it cannot fall.

"I showed this to my father when he said that he wasn't feeling supported. It is the same coin, same hand. The support can be whatever he thinks it is. I don't think he got it."

Quasimodo's Prom Date

Note: The below is written with tongue firmly in cheek.

A change has come over me since beginning my interim in the MSM library. Eighteen-year-olds have ceased to be physically attractive people. Instead, I am forced to see them as students, entities to whom I could have taught poetry or effective communications a year ago. It might help that MSM is lousy with ugly people. Emily informs me that NYU, her soon-to-be grad school, is peopled exclusively with the blazingly attractive. After the comeliness filter goes through ten other settings, the used-up grounds are enrolled at MSM for the most part. Not everyone is Quasimodo's prom date, but it is a greater than average percentage.

During long inactive hours there, I have mulled the situation over and over in my head hoping the solution will come. The best that I have come up with is that there is some sort of subsidy available to the very ugly, though I cannot imagine how this is marketed. I have noted a larger concentration of the legitimately disabled. Does MSM consider homeliness a disability? Or perhaps MSM's status as a Catholic college encourages the enrollment of those whose parents were less than selective in the distribution of genetic matter? I, being a heathen, have no sexual prohibition beyond those I set for myself. As long as she is a consenting adult, there is no problem. As such, masturbation is far from a sin to me. As I therefore take my knickers off exclusively for love and have kept my partners low and since it therefore allows me to take lust out of the equation of daily interaction, masturbation is nearly a sacrament. So, any sperm of mine that might one day inseminate will be young and fresh, rather than desiccated, two-headed tadpoles celebrating their tenth year of bouncing stupidly about the vas deferens.

Far from taking my genetic point of view, Melissa pointed out to me that ugly girls tend to band together and so they would have gone to a college where they thought they would fit in and have less competition. Where the ugly girls go, so to go the ugly boys and a new generation of ugly people is pushed toward their parents' alma mater. The saving grace is that they are not supposed to be in the dorm rooms of members of the opposite sex, which will be more than enough to prevent rampant spawning until in the confines of unprotected marriage.

I recently heard that the Pope was considering lifting the prohibition on condoms and the like for Third World Countries, where AIDS is as common as a cold. I'm sure I could convince him though shadow puppets to extend this exception to Catholic colleges. As long as alcohol is present or there are light switches, this will continue to be a problem.

I would like to add, if only for my own reputation, that I draw a great line between those who are not Audrey Hepburn and those who I above call ugly. There is a distinction, if only one I see. There is a quality - a fullness of soul, if you will - that transforms even the plainest of girls into a beauty before she utters so much as a syllable. This strength of character shapes people quite literally. I do not think I am alone in seeing this. Conversely, one may have all of the earmarks for fantastic physical beauty and yet be revolting. One does not have much of a gift if there is nothing beneath the shiny wrapping paper.


I have been with Emily for five years. Five years ago, you first read my entry mooning over this strange girl I met and thereafter wooed, which means that there is a possibility that you have been my reader for at least as long and that is a more intimidating proposition than the fact I've been with M so long.
Xen and Emily  
Deeply in love
Did we know that is would come to this? No, certainly not. Though I insist I have entered almost every romantic or erotic liaison with the intention of "forever" on my mind and lips (and soon after, their lips and a few other select bits best not mentioned in polite company), it was a vague concept and forever so rarely comes in this world. There have been doubts - both foolishly grave and gravely foolish - that this relationship would endure, especially as I detoxified my blood of vestiges of a former flame named Katie. It is nothing of which I am even remotely proud, save as a writer who is better when conflicted.

Five years. I don't think I could make a commitment to a single idea for five years and, indeed, few have survived a half-decade of weathering. Yet Emily does. Indeed, she only improves in my esteem. The secret is that I don't spend much time on the topic of time. I am grateful whenever I wake up or fall asleep next to her. (The two do not follow as closely as one might think.) That is all and it is most all I need. In an earlier relationship, likely because I grew increasingly aloof and disinterested as my passions waned for her or waxed for another, a girlfriend suggested that we date with a time limit, something like three months. If, after the three months were over, I still liked her well enough to want to fondle her, we would renew our spoken contract. If not, not harm and no foul, though that was plainly ridiculous to me even then. I don't remember if I renewed, though we obviously did break up eventually. With Emily, there was no term limits, though I am sure the idea of terminating me was appealing to her on a few occasions I try not to mention. I have, on occasion, proceeded fumblingly with her.

During our sushi picnic at Bowdoin Park - my idea of a pleasant anniversary - I asked her what she wanted out of the next five years. She enumerated the likelihood that she would be helping children in Darfur or similar, but there was no question in her mind that I would be at her side or, at the very least, eagerly waiting at the airport for her return. (When she repeated the question back to me, I gave my usual one word answer: "Publish.")

Five years ago, I couldn't have told you honestly that I expected a five-year anniversary with anyone, no matter how idealistic my heart. I could have told you I wanted it, but I am hardly the same person now.

Even though our anniversary trip did not turn out as planned - we were to bike to the park together, but her bike wheel was off-center and wobbling - it was still okay. The quality of company excused our disappointment. We drove instead, which kept our godawful store-bought sushi a little fresher and our cake a little less mushy. At the park, we lay together on a blanket and looked at the branches of an overhead tree, whose leaves, Emily insisted, were music notes. Later, because her sunglasses distorted the color of the sky and tree (she told me that we see the sky wrong anyway and that it is actually purple), she pronounced that it was a crystal tree.

"I wish to god that I could believe you were coyly alluding to my story," I sighed, shielding my eyes from the sun.
Not Shane's  
The sky, violet

"There is a crystal tree?"

"Yes, Shane falls out of it."

"You could just pretend I was referring to that then. It does look like crystal," she said, offering me the glasses to prove it for myself. The leaves turned a shining gray green.

I handed her back the glasses and she said, "Close your eyes and we could be anywhere right now. We could be under a tree in Africa waiting for the elephants to pass."

"Why are we waiting for the elephants?"

"Because they're cagy like that."

There passed a quiet moment between us before I said, "Let me rephrase: For what purpose are we waiting for the elephants?"

"Oh. So we can take their picture. Obviously."

After our picked over meal and instead of my planned hike - Bowdion Park has lovely and secluded trails - we played a lackadaisical version of Truth or Dare, though owing to our lethargy and the presence of a gaggle of children on the adjoining playground the game was mostly "Truth." No matter how long I know her, she always seems to surprise me, which isn't as much of a good thing as one might suspect.

Afterward, our passions piqued, Emily suggested we pay a visit to Giggles, the local adult boutique to make the occasion more memorable. This, dearest reader, is the mark of an awesome girlfriend.

Potato Homunculus

Over greasy appetizers, Emily ended up lecturing Dan on the topic of modern witchcraft and its antecedents. He took this all very well, as I think he knew that getting Emily the Religious Studies Major engaged in a discussion of theology is going to provoke a painstakingly detailed response to unasked questions. (I don't talk too much, its just that since I'm so interested I assume everyone else is as well. -M) It wasn't even close to proselytizing. We heathens are a non-evangelical faith and the better of us realize that concepts like ritual nudity and a holiday all about sex can be a bit hard to swallow, pun not even remotely intended. The broad assumption is that there are innumerable paths to the divine and it isn't our place to tell someone they are walking theirs wrong.

I think this marked the first time we had hung out with Dan outside the company of his dear wife and I think this meant a lot to him. We were not merely tolerating his presence in an attempt to be around Keilaina, but indeed could appreciate him as a sovereign entity. They are quite different in several respects and I wonder how issues like their respective stances on homosexuality play out in their marriage.

It is easy - much too easy - to see only the surface of people, the container rather than the contents. In this state, one can hate another person effortlessly, but it is impossible to love them. Dan unfurled his history - the details of which are not my business to share - and be shifted into greater focus, shadow giving definition to the light. I've read enough psychology text books and have an analytical enough nature that I am constantly searching people for the artifacts of their past history that makes them something more than the immediate person before me. The light defuses and they are perhaps a little less fiery, but more of them can actually be seen, words and gestures having antecedents. If all is quiet enough, one can almost see their future as well as past.

Emily and I are a good match in that we are both focused on dissecting people without leaving scars. Our minds whirl and reel as we record observations to discuss later at length and we are instruments of something a little greater, the synergy of our psyches gentle pointing from different angles. It sounds cold and sterile, though it is anything but. Our hands get dirty and we actually understand the person before us, taking the journey of their past with them on the stage of memory and coming to the beginning where we see them for the first time.

Dan's journey has been a long one, for those of you who feel problems cease as one gets further from either coast, and it is hardly at its end. He is ever seeking for something more. Not definition exactly, though there was a time this was so, but a greater purpose. This one Starbucks town won't hold him for long, as he hopes to move to Buffalo and attain a degree. We didn't much discuss the contents of the past year or so, as he has been here. As far as we had previously been concerned, Dan spouted fully formed from a potato in Keilaina's backyard one day. We had heard vague rumblings that he was an autonomous being away from Keilaina, but who believes fairy tales like that? No, he was a potato homunculus for certain.

Soon in Xenology: Graduation. The Brooklyn Artists Gym.

last watched: Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
reading: Lady Chatterly's Lover
listening: Between the 1 and the 9

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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