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09.30.06 10:36 p.m.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.  

-Joseph Campbell


Previously in Xenology: Xen could be a bit too Zen, but he liked scaring people.

Black Cloaked Lolita

It takes a special kind of twisted mindset to enter a genuinely haunted house masquerading as a spook house (like gluing a horn onto the forehead of a unicorn because no one can see it for what it truly is) to find a latex mouth to strap to your torso. The "appliance", as they have taken to calling all their prostheses, is a slavering rubber dickey with rows upon rows of malformed foam teeth. I find it in some dark plywood corner where its prior wearer left it marinating in fake blood. What this appliance has to do with pig farming - the supposed purpose of my role - is far from clear, but I will play the role as best I can with a ravenous beer belly.

I run through some potential skits in the hour and forty-five minutes between when tickets go on sale and when a group actually enters. I know from experience that the only way I find a good shtick is to improv against a few teenage jackasses who demonstrate the faintest shadow of bravery by paying $22 to threaten actors with lawsuits for scaring them. Aside from causing their friends to waste hundreds of dollars cementing the opinion that they are effete - the actors just aren't going to expend the effort if it won't be appreciated and know it is against the rules to punch twits - they give a good idea of what doesn't work. Despite my lower gaping maw, punning how I now have another mouth to feed falls flat. Only the categorically and criminally insane use puns, but it rings hollow with inbred pig farmers. However, starting with a loud "sooo-eeey!" and ending trying to get people to reach into my torso for organs to feed my pigs ("the teeth are really very soft," I drawl, "so are my ma's and cousin's, but I repeat myself.") tends to creep them out just enough.
Touch my liver, bitch!  
Just reach in. I ain't gonna bite ya.

I pass the time by chatting with a paint speckled 16 year old trapped in my closet with me. She talks of typical high school things, of boyfriend troubles and a future career as a fashion designer. I enjoy her company exactly to the extent that I will never have to deal with her in a more professional setting; I do not sub for her district and associating with her in this context won't jeopardize future discipline.

My brother Bryan, who is working an adjoining scene, pops in occasionally to flirt with the girl over the fact that she was born with only one ear, though she long ago had this remedied. As a former speech pathology major, her malady fairly fascinates him. This being my first night, I point out cute Mansion girls to Bryan only to be told the jailbait age of each. Clearly he had tried his luck with each the first night he was there.

While Bryan tries to chat up the black-cloaked Lolita, I eat an apple I picked that no longer tastes of the orchard. This is the first of the bushel that doesn't have that transcendent crispness and I mourn it. It means all the rest have turned and they are now just apples instead of apples-I-picked. It is a critical distinction, like realizing the idea of sitting at home bored with your girlfriend seems a lot more appealing than terrifying strangers for free.

The groups come and my teenage friend impales her hand on a jutting nail. I find her staring at the growing pool of red in her palm, petrified and pale, and get her help. She is bandaged up and eschews the idea of going home, instead recasting herself as a ghost on the FrighTrail. So powerful is the hold of the Mansion that even a blood sacrifice won't keep the young actors away.

cloud of ironic detachment

The only thing that keeps people from thinking I am insane is my inaction. I emerge into the high school cafeteria and for a moment I want to yell, "This is the only today you will ever get!" I can see myself doing it for a moment, can feel the rush through my nervous system and purse my lips closed to stop any sound. It scares me how close it feels. My superego holds me back; I like having fairly regular work and my outburst would inexorably end it here.
It's like they cannot see at all

The students wouldn't hear me anyway. Opal clouds float in the turquoise sky and all they will ever see is the next class or the slowly expanding sweater of a classmate. They don't know how perfect this day is and I am at least deviant for caring so much. They would just mock and thus not a one would care.

So many, not just high school students, reside in a cloud of ironic detachment. I should know; I feel like I am just stepping out of it. It is easy and comfortable, but it is hiding, not living.

It is fashionable to make a sarcastic remark and let everything splash off, actually absorbing stimuli and participating in your life somehow passť. I know so many people who glide through their lives tearing down everyone and everything, as though caring for one second would reveal that no amount of attempted destruction builds anything.

But I am not so bold as to think I have some insight worth sharing loud enough to ring off the cement brick walls. If I were them, I would just have made a sarcastic remark to my friends so I wouldn't be a stranger in the cave.

Like the human capacity for languages, we have a capacity for rationalization. Whenever anything trips that circuit in our brains that something is incongruous, we just start filling in holes and hiding what cannot easily be shoved into sarcastic schema. I've lived so much of my life not seeing flowers, but boxes that say, "FLOWER" instead. I no longer feel I do that. In important ways that have nothing to do with actually being able to pay my bills, I feel a lot more adult now that I ever have before.

Even if I do want to yell at teenagers for being teenagers.

Soon in Xenology: Dirt Road Roots.

last watched: Little Miss Sunshine
reading: The Catcher in the Rye
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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