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07.12.06 10:37 p.m.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.  

-Marcel Proust


Previously in Xenology: Xen agreed to do things that terrified him. Xen had nieces. Kei married Dan B.

Term Limits

I drove past SUNY New Paltz on the way to Zack's afternoon show at Rhino Records when my phone buzzed. It was Zack, of course, informing me that I was late to his show by a good two hours, as it had been pushed up to 2:00 without his knowledge. He arrived just in time to be pushed onto the stage. He played his set and left. As my consolation prize, he asked me to come over to his house and I told him I would. Eventually.

As I was in New Paltz, utterly unaccompanied, I decided that fate had placed me here for a reason. I just didn't happen to know yet what that reason might be but was eager to explore its shape and taste. I first tried Dives Dives, who I greatly missed. She informed me that she no longer lived in Rosendale, having moved into the former home of her boyfriend Auratus's grandmother, just fifteen minutes from my apartment. I didn't press why the grandmother no longer occupied this dwelling, feeling my imagination could fill in the blanks. The transition to living with him has yet to find its ease, as they are having the predictable quarrels of new cohabitants. Living with one's romantic partner is a difficult trick and it kills more than a few relationships whose individual parties lack proper communications skills. I feel that it should be required to live with one's partner for a few months prior to marriage, just to make certain the couple can function as a unit and not merely snog all the time. Back to the point, Dives Dives was too far and too busy with fixing up the house to her liking to drive to New Paltz this day.

I popped in and out of shops, fingering the merchandise and finding nothing worth further depleting my bank account. Nothing else came to me. I felt that what I sought was not a what but a who. I didn't know just who this who might be - that's really the point of these sorts of quests - but I did not find them by pursuit. The hope was by sitting very still on a bench where once Emily drew the very bricks of the street, I would be the one found. It was past five on a Sunday, by now the shops were closing and the streets were emptying as people file into bars or out of town. My chances grew slimmer every minute.

Just as I was preparing to follow the latter tact and leave the town to the roaches and lushes, Zack called, giving me directions to the Bakery and telling me to meet him there in a few minutes. I dutifully followed through, figuring a destiny involving dinner was still a fairly nice one.

The Bakery is currently the jobsite of a Mr. Dan Kessler, whom I had not seen in a while. It was awkward to see him in a way, as I was still fumbling in my solitary interactions. Emily's mere presence does so much to smooth the edges of social dealings, knowing that I can and will fall into entertaining banter with her should there be a lull while a third party in our conversation made a customer an organic tofu sandwich. As it stood, I loitered about in the small shop whenever Dan needed to return to actually serving customers.

Dan seems to be doing well for himself, or at least living his life on his own terms, which is admirable. A sandwich shop, even one in a college town peopled by girls with dreadlocks, is not his destination, but it is one of the many weighing stations of the soul before he gets where he needs to be. His talent is not made for all markets, but it is ideal for a market that has not fully found him. Until it does, New Paltz is not bad scenery.

Zack arrived, at least giving me one other person to whom I could speak. We got our sandwiches and retired to the faded wooden tables behind the shop. I cannot recall of what we spoke, though we did break the toothpicks that came in our sandwich and spent several minutes divining the future using them. The future is apparently full of little bits of broken wood. Zack asked if I was still a Pagan, apropos of some conversational turn. I told him I was, finding the question a bit odd. It isn't actually a phase - quite the fourteen-year phase if it was - much as I occasionally dislike some people who wear the label and much as I know he finds it one of the least comprehensible aspects of my personality. I am fairly reasonable in other respects. Then again, I do not often feel the need to share with most people (anonymous internet critters excepted) that I wander around with a vague sense of purpose that is, more often than not, fulfilled. While I don't live in another world, mumbling in fairies and telling sweet girls that the fate of the world is in their hands out of nowhere, I do sometimes operate by my own logic.

After our dinner, we wandered to the ice cream shop where Cristin is presently employed. Her journey is not unlike Dan's and she seems likewise copasetic with her lot. She could be spending every day in an office environment, slowly ascending that corporate ladder, but it isn't what she wants for herself. She is willing to sling ice cream well past midnight so she can have life on her terms, making movies and cuddling next to Zack.

Perhaps that is the lesson of this stage in my life. Many of my friends have coupled off and, in the coupling, combined fates. Dan B. and Keilaina are soon to leave the hallowed shores of the Hudson for Buffalo. Dan was willing to drive cross-country and leave everything he knew because he was so in love with Keilaina, Buffalo is a small sacrifice. Keilaina is leaving this place to help give Dan his dream of being an architect. I do not know what life she will find there. Melissa and Stevehen, as has been detailed here, are leaving for Albany. The sacrifice is not as large, but they are also not in pursuit of something as concrete. They merely want to be together on their terms, to live together at the very least. Given the job and housing market in the Hudson Valley, they see this as far from their grasps. But, for love and a sense of something greater than remaining here, they are vacating. A cynical part of me wonders if any of this is permanent, but it isn't. Maybe they will return. Maybe they will all expatriate to Canada. Maybe I will. But we'll do it on our terms.


Summer Institute for the Gifted forces me to alternate between abject panic - feeling I am in so over my head - and Zen comfort. As long as I relax and realize I have the ability to call upon a startling amount of prior knowledge to suit my needs, everything feels like it will work out. I can say this because I have yet to teach Creative Math Paths or robotics. So far, I can skate on my charms and trust group discussion can make up the difference between what I know and what they expect me to know. Math, even creative math, tends to be a bit more definite when it comes to answers. Robotics, at the very least, is a binary option. Either their robot works or it doesn't. I am fine and dandy at coding - this was a point I specifically recall imparting upon my interviewers - but assembly is a bit beyond my ken. For a $30 activity fee, I was expecting nothing more ornate than LegoBots. The director called me into her office to ask how I felt about this class and stressed that I could not be friendly with these students in the least, as hardware and soldering irons will be present. Well damn.

Still, while my expertise is in programming and artificial intelligence, I think I can fill three weeks worth of class with discussing and making robots with middle schoolers. My main aptitude is in filling time in a way that seems terribly productive. This is nothing that I am going to let cause me to lose sleep. Much.

Cold Spring

I walked down the main street in Cold Spring with my headphones singing to me, adding a better soundtrack than the murmuring of the growing crowd. There was a time when down this street seemed long, though plainly a time before multivitamins and moderate exercise, when my fifteen-year-old heart had yet to grow with the rest of my body. Or perhaps merely a time when I would have dithered into each shop or met a friend of a friend of an acquaintance who had heard these stories about me. Cold Spring is all over covered in this viscous sludge of memory, twenty-three years of mine and many more of my parents', who respective grew up and attended high school in Cold Spring. Maybe the walk has only become easier now that the street is so well lubricated in recollections that I no longer need bother to actually look at anything.
Avuncular Xen  
I'm mad avuncular.

Earlier, my mother had called me and told me to meet her here for a parade and fireworks. I wandered down the street to the dependable chemical toilet on the waterfront (an actual chemical toilet, not the Hudson River) and back up again before calling and asking where she was. Instead of coming to the parade, she was waiting to pick up my younger brother Bryan, who has scored temporary work at a dollar store that considers low, low prices applicable both to merchandise and paychecks. Lovely to think that a boy with his Bachelor's in Speech Language Pathology is able to find nothing more promising in the job market. He cannot afford even the gas for a car on his minimum wage salary, to say nothing of the necessary accoutrements like a car, so she must play chauffer.

My mother advised me that my brother Dan and his growing brood would be at the parade and I should hook up with them. Returning to my car because my sexily tight arty shirt became prohibitively hot in the less salacious way, I found them parked only a few spaces away.

The parade was nothing about which to write home, even for those participants unlucky enough to be in starched uniforms in ninety-degree heat. The word "parade" conjures to me images of floats and festivities. It does not bring to mind row after row after row of fire fighters and women's auxiliaries, which is the dish I was served in my na´vetÚ. And, much like the person ordering a meal that turns out to be quite unpalatable when finally placed before them but still hoping for a worthwhile dessert, I choked down a little of it and picked at the rest. Then, feeling like a good uncle, I pestered my niece Ayannah and threatened to eat her delicious elbows.

Around Yannah and Leelee, I do actually feel avuncular, particularly when I am not overwhelmed by the urge to tell them patently ridiculous things and remind them that I do not have their best interests in mind. I hold their hands so they are not stolen and will admonish them as feels necessary. I would not for a moment consider the change as profound as the change Dan underwent in becoming a card carrying dad, but it is an aspect of my adult persona that I like. It is good to have nieces and charges, basically any creature for whom I am remotely responsible and whom I can rile up only to send them back to their parents to put to bed.

We eventually found the fireworks, though we stumbled through briars and blackberries to dead ends before we did. Before they started, mostly to amuse myself, I lay on my back and had the girls individually put their stomachs to my feet. They leaned in and I propelled them into the air, urging them to put their arms out and be airplanes. They were ravenous from this attention, though I made them pay the price of calling me their favorite uncle. It is less the adjective of that title I need than the noun.

The fireworks genuinely were worth the company of the townful of people jammed into a fenced in field and the forty-five minutes of parade preamble. It could have been that the town elders saw fit to blast Aerosmith and White Snake from the PA system while the fireworks unceasingly blasted into the air. I wouldn't want to assume.

These would likely mark my last fireworks for a while, the end of the excuse given by the fourth of July. The next time I gazed up into the sky and wanted the horizon glow red just for a moment, I hoped to have Emily in my arms.

Jacki's Kevin

I met Jacki's new boyfriend, though I suppose she has had him long enough that living with him and moving into Zack's old house is a reasonable step for her. He is nonetheless new to me.

Kevin greeted me at the door to his bedroom, shirtless. -3. He then proceeded to talk about how cool I must be without my prompting him. +5. He is goofier than I would expect. Jacki's last serious boyfriend was a very intense goth guy, which I think is one of the reasons Jacki and he would not have worked out in the long run. Jacki needs someone more laidback, sweet and funny. Kevin and I chatted amicably, no initial awkwardness. I had, after all, seen him in just his pants. +2. Which were faded leather, for which he gets +2 for owning and -2 for wearing to the movies, for a null gain.

Jacki showed me her bedroom, for what I realized was the first time. For a non-Pagan, the top of her dresser sure looked like an altar, including an athame, a skull candle surrounded by various crystals, all on top of a red velvet cloth. Her bed is draped in red velvet and curtains hang from the four posts of it. I asked Jacki to excuse me for a moment and politely informed Kevin that his girlfriend kicked ass. He agreed. +1. We then chatted about how Snow Crash has put me off writing and he seemed to get how it might, having only heard a synopsis of the novel. +1. We made our way to the movie and, while I got money from the ATM, he apparently bought my ticket. +8. As we sat, he asked if he got popcorn, would I eat some as well. I said I would, and he promptly bought the biggest size he could. +2.

In total, Kevin's score for the night is +16. He gets my definite approval and I look forward to including him in wacky misadventures in the coming months. It's not every day that one meets a boy who can look good wearing eyeliner and yet not seem the least bit pretentious.

The story of how they ended up together is almost the stuff of a romantic comedy, albeit one directed by Tim Burton and scored by Danny Elfman, and I won't do it the least bit of justice explaining it in full. As such, an abridgement: Girl reads poetry. Boy sees girl read poetry. Girl notices boy seeing her read poetry. Neither speak. Girl promptly forgets about boy, feeling that it was just the cosmic closeness of two people who will never meet. Months later, boy compliments man on a line in a poem he wrote. Man informs boy that his colleague, girl, wrote a response to that line. Man puts boy in touch with girl. Boy and girl hang out, discuss poetry a bit. Eventually, snog. The end.

Soon in Xenology: More Summer Institute for the Gifted. Fleeing.

last watched: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
reading: Snow Crash
listening: Jill Sobule

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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