Thomm Quackenbush, author

08.27.06 11:44 a.m.

Events of the past two years have virtually decreed that I shall wrestle with the literary muse for the rest of my days. And so, having tasted the poverty of one end of the scale, I have no choice but to direct my energies toward the acquisition of fame and fortune. Frankly, I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me.  

-Hunter S. Thompson

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen accepted Eris as his personal savior. He tried to nicely invite an insecure and lonely girl to watch fireworks, only to understand why she was insecure and lonely.

Chassa 2.0

The gods do not mettle in the affairs of mortals because they do not need to. They have me to do it for them. Especially Eris.

I should have known that the night would be promising because it began with the brightest shooting star I ever remember seeing. I wished one of those wishes ill advised in fairy tales and continued to the Fishkill block party. Emily was not with me, attending to her Paganism elsewhere, and I fought to convince myself that there was no goodness and certainly no stories in staying home. If I believed I would actually write, I might have been convinced that dealing with a glut of society was a bad idea, but it had until this point felt like a wasted day.

The party was crowded and loud, which can be said for most successful parties. It was primarily composed of people waddling past middle age and teenage couples composed of tightly dressed blondes and drunken pre-frat boys. This is to say, it was not full of my people, whomever they may be this week. My people may not patronize moonlit block parties and it is a shame.

I surveyed the gathering from one end of Main Street and back, finding only a podling wearing much too much black clothing for an August night. I knew her in an instant from across the street even after having seen her only once and a year ago. Chassa. She was standing still next to the giant speakers blaring oldies and trying to look sullen. It was hilarious. I walked next to her and, not breaking my pace, said, "Hey there, Chassa!" It she was surprised, I did not see it.

Figuring that, if my people were anywhere here they would be in a coffee shop, I entered the most artistic one I could find. Instead of my people, I found my blood and the plan formed immediately in my mind. I would have fun at this party if I had to make it myself. I offered to buy Bryan a drink if he would do me the pleasure of buying him a drink in exchange for following me around and letting me introduce him to Chassa. He knew by description who I meant-few people wear ankle length bondage coats to festive summer affairs-but agreed to my terms nonetheless.

Chassa was difficult to find, to my dismay. Bryan's drink had emptied and I knew I could only hold him in my power so long as his mouth was filled with chai tea. "We are going about this all wrong," I announced to him after a moment, "Teenager goths can always be found slightly to the left of something very bright; they can only really be gothic in contrast."

Indeed, we immediately found her sitting under a streetlamp, perhaps hoping that its light would glint off the hooks on her coat and freak out the happy and drunk normals who were enjoying themselves too much to note the angst in their midst.

I plopped down next to her and sang, "Hiya Chassa! We met a year ago at the fireworks, remember? Anyway, this it my brother Bryan. I told him Goths are always found next to something bright and there you were. Good show."

"Wull, I'm not a rilly a goth, I just dress this way. I like anime a lot and I don't think Goths do that," she shrilled. How I did not miss that voice.

I smiled widely at her. "Hey Bryan, what do you think of that?"

"Well, at Marywood, most of the Goths liked anime so..." he began.

I pointed at nothing and yelled, "Look, a distraction!" and walked away from them. I mingled thereafter and met with some old friends for a bit. Whenever I passed by that curb for the next hour, they were contentedly chatting away. I felt that I had properly wrecked my mischief for the night.

When I passed and they were not speaking, I called Bryan and demanded to know where he was, which was on his way home. "And," he said, "you were wrong about her age."

"I doubt that. How old did darling Chassa say she was?"

"Twenty-one."

"Bollocks. If the girl is a day over 15, I will be shocked."

"Did you give her your number, since she is clearly claims to be legal?"

He paused for a moment. "No."

"Then I am going to, since you to not have the cajones, gringo."

I reached into my pocket and found a business card to the coffee shop. On this, I scribbled his name and email address along with the postscript, "Do not lie to him about your age. Lies do not befit you." I found her sitting on a stoop, glowering at a bit of fried dough. I dropped the card in her lap and walked away, feeling I had done more than enough to amuse myself. She won't contact him because she isn't sure what just happened, but it was enough to appease chaos.

Something Different

I reached the climax of my second reading of the day. My audience chitchatted through the first few paragraphs and fell to interested silent past the first page. Cars pass in the background, but I almost cease to hear them except to plan my sentences for their interruption. All that exists to me was the electronic screen in my hand filling in for the print-outs I could not make, the flaking wood of the porch under my head which I use to steady myself, the edging quaver in my voice, and the quality of their silence. It is a very loud silence, remarkable given that there can be no more than fifteen people listening to a story I first began to write in lieu of a first date with a girl named Eileen. For years, the story went unfinished, especially since the romance ended before it could begin and I simply didn't care to do the same with my story. I finished it years later and forgot about it until the night before the Something Different Art Festival, to which I was invited as a presenter.
Something Different  
Something Different

I tried not to falter for a moment in my reading, save for the Doppler cars. I knew what was coming. The romance on which it was based fizzled and finally popped and I do not ascribe to the notion that stories fill in where reality disappointed. The audience's silence was sharply angular. We were outside, but I imagined a sigh that drank in the available air as I drove in the point that this was not going to be a happy ending simply because it was just too much of a fairy tale. I finished, grateful that my story made its point and ended quickly. And there was a moment where they waited for redemption, for me to give up the real ending, but it did not come. Then, for the second time that day, people applauded for me and I actually believed I deserved it because, just for a moment, I had made them hate me. I took them on this journey, dehydrating a month of my life into six or seven fictive pages, and they felt the shock I did.

I was apprehensive about even attending this festival, to be perfectly frank. I first received an invitation through a social networking website and was thus unsure that it would turn out to be anything. When I heard that it was being held at a private residence, I was double concerned. After a series of emails with the organizer of the even, a man name Kenyatta, and a conversation with Emily, I became convinced that I had to do this because it was precisely the sort of thing a writer does. I can't simply call myself a writer because I like the sensation of my fingers flickering over the keyboard, now could I?

I was particularly confident going because Emily was going to be my escort and social buffer. Unfortunately, she got her weeks confused and was already double booked by the time I had sent my confirmation email to Kenyatta. So I was obligated to attend, leaving me to have to find a new buffer in the guise of Dan Kessler. At the very least, Dan is very musical and he owed us a favor for picking him up more than fifty miles away in the middle of a torrential storm days before. He readily assented and I did not have to apply the slightest degree of guilt to convince him.

We arrived on the street and found ourselves in front of a house bedecked with a few Mylar balloons. In front was a spray painted sign bearing the legend "Something Different," and the porch featured a selection of people listening to a man play an acoustic guitar and sing. Before we could approach beyond simple reconnoitering, they warmly welcomed us into the house proper.

There was not a feeling that we were intruding upon someone home, which had been one of my worries in learning this event would occur in a home. Nor did this have the feeling of a venue, which had been my hope as venues have a degree of formality and impersonality that would make it easier to escape the reading I said I would do. Instead, it felt as though we were entering a friend's home midway through a party. This is not a complaint, mind you. It was very welcoming and salubrious to mingling, just unexpected.
Something Different Art  
Some of the paintings

The two rooms not partitioned off by bed sheets were covered in painting in various styles. Our host Kenyatta, a man I could not yet have picked out of a crowd, had done one set - a sort of mixed media graffiti. The others were done by a man who hung back and watched as two attractive young girls tried to decode a series of graduated green lines. Dan and I looked over the mixed media works, he calmly and I more nervously. From behind us, an affable voice stated that one of us must be Thomm. As I had a fidgeting handful of printouts, I took the blame.

Kenyatta is a large man with an Afro. He had a very accommodating smile on his face, like he was thrilled that more people had shown up, especially people who had told him they would perform. He was several inches taller than me, putting my eye level at the enormous turquoise and tan beads he wore, each large enough to use for a game of ping pong. I had been struggling to picture what the organizer would look like and he defied my attempts, but I instantly felt like he was a friend. When I next give readings, I doubt I shall be so fortunate.

After offering us drinks or ice pops, the latter which Dan accepted, Kenyatta went off to attend to other guests. Dan and I made the circuit of paintings, not giving any deep consideration until we came to the two attractive young women. They were still pouring over this small canvas with its many lines.

"What do you see here?" the shorter, darker one asked us.

"Am I supposed to see something?" I asked, as this would gauge whether I made an honest go of it or just did my best to come up with amusing gibberish. I was told that the artist had hidden various words in the lines. They had managed to find the word "burn" and an expletive, the latter much easier to find as it was perfectly centered. There was still at least one message and Dan and I did our best for a few minutes before wandering off. When we returned ten minutes later, the girls had been clued in by the now absent artist that a squiggly mark was an "s." The girls were reverse engineering from this that the phrase was "casual sex," though they couldn't quite make out anything that should read "sex." Dan diagnosed it as "casualty" and I was sent to the artist for confirmation.

"Is the missing word 'casualty,' because the girls were really hoping for 'casual sex.'" I looked over at two older guests and added, "Let me rephrase."

The word, indeed, was "casualty" and I was completely willing to go that far for the joke.

When I returned to the house to convey my findings, both Kenyatta and Dan asked when I was reading. I mumbled that I would get to it soon, right after the guitarist finished this song. Dan advised that the rules of gigs stated one asked to go next and that I should do this. Swallowing my cowardice, I asked the guitarist if I could be next and he immediately stopped and sat eagerly for a story.

Leaning against a partition in the wall and feeling a bit lightheaded, I began, "This is the third chapter of a novel I am writing that I swear I am going to finish soon. Given that it is the third chapter and also the introduction of the protagonist, it is possible I have wasted two chapters." This said, I did my best to read from Delirious. I finished and they applauded or I assume they did. There was definitely a clapping noise and impressed sounds from the attractive women, but that might have just been the sound of the blood as it returned to my head.
Dan Kessler with bug  
That is not what I Chapman stick looks like.

In order to prolong the time until my next reading as best I could, I suggested to Dan that now might be an excellent time to set up his Chapman stick and play. I had never heard Dan play anything besides a computer. While the sampling and mixing was skillful, it was also beyond my ken and so I was keen to hear him play something more conventional, even if it did happen to be an instrument that no one else I have ever met plays. The Chapman stick, or "Chapstick" for short as Dan joked, is basically as its name describes. It is a long stick, resembling in no small way of form or function, the fretboard of a standard guitar. It is played mostly by tapping or fretting the strings rather than plucking them. As it lacks anything from which it can acoustically project its sound, it is an electric instrument. An adept player, which I soon discovered Dan to be, must be able to play bass, chords and melody lines simultaneously, making it sound as though he is accompanying himself. Dan played impressively for half an hour. People drifted in and out of the room, muttered their wows and were off to look at paintings or sit on the porch. The benefit of Dan's playing is that people listen, enjoy, and don't feel it necessary to stick around for the end. The stick produces an ambient sound, only noticeable when he stops playing and it becomes much too quiet suddenly. When Dan finished, the only one who remained was the guitarist, who asked a dozen questions. Dan and he went off into a world of musical jargon and I nodded in appropriate spots.

Kenyatta caught me before my next reading and said that it was plain I was nervous, but I had no need to be. Everyone was captivated by what I wrote and my skill as a writer was obvious. I thanked him, looking at the floor, unused to this level of praise and not sure by which filter organ it would be processed. Dan listened to this and added, "You know what would make you better? Paper. Read things off of paper."

We stuck around the festival for four hours, until Emily called and said she was done with her many activities and wanted to hang out with us. Dan and I said our goodbyes to the assembled, Kenyatta thanking us both effusively for our contribution to the event. A girl by the name of Jonquil personally thanked me as well, said she had taken one of my cards and would be checking out the rest of my book. Then we hugged, because it seemed the most appropriate gesture.

In all, I look forward to the next event at which I am invited to read.

Soon in Xenology: Teaching

last watched: Children of Paradise
reading: Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult
listening: Fashion Nugget

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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