Thomm Quackenbush, author

10.28.06 8:43 p.m.

Worry is a misuse of the imagination.  

-Dan Zadra

 



Previously in Xenology: Emily had lofty goals in the city. Xen made bad life choices.

New York State of Mind

We sit on the steps of the Silver Center at NYU. To my left someone has covered pumpkin colored vomit with a translucent plastic bag and it quickly causes me to fall into a conditioned response. When I hear the plastic rustle, I hold my breath to avoid the aroma of nausea. I consider pouring my bottle of water on it, but decide that this won't make it clean, simply give it more surface area for the breeze.

You've just got to love a college in the middle of the city. I could note no demarcation between city and the college, aside from the occasional NYU flag hanging from a building. I know I've been to NYU before but it was from a more favorable angle that allowed me the illusion that it was more than city blocks. I am used to colleges that exist as their own self-sustaining communities with a visual barrier that lets you know when you are in the aegis of the institution. NYU is more New York than University and I imagine a minority population of the campus is lost tourists.
Emily  
The Royal Rainbow

Emily and I woke up at a time officially designated as "too damned early for a Sunday" to take her kids from the Baird Scholarship program to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We wait half an hour on these steps and only attract one of the kids who RSVPed, a freshman premed student from upstate. She straddles the line between where "cute" turns from complimentary to patronizing. It is strange to see someone of sexual maturity defer to Emily as an authority figure. Emily wears a matching rainbow hat/gloves/scarf combo and still gets carded for R-rated movies. While she undoubtedly knows her stuff, it just seems a logical fallacy to put her in the same schema as one's high school principal and grandmother.

Emily is rightly annoyed to have wasted her time and money getting to the city and planning this excursion only to be largely stood up. Our premed friend opts to return to her dorm to study for midterms, effectively canceling our trip to the Met. We cannot really blame her though; what freshman girl wants to spend her day with two adults?

We thus wander the city for hours, having no other goal but following Emily's fancy as she shows me the apartments into which we should one day move. We can presently afford all of two square feet of their economical price of $550 a foot. You all better intend to buy ten of my books each a month.

After a few hours of walking, we meet up with Emily's college friend Kelly and her friend Jonathan for lunch. Despite both working for DisneyWorld, they had just come from a short vacation at DisneyLand, which they preferred to their own workplace given that it is filled with aspiring actors and singers hoping in vain to be discovered. The ability to take such bicoastal trips on well-planned whims is one of the many perks to having real jobs.

We do not eat anywhere typically New York, instead choosing Dave & Buster's, a chain restaurant that reminds me of Chuck-E-Cheez for adults. Even chain restaurants are infected with city flair, open air McDonald's dripping in neon or, in the case of this restaurant, a receptionist three floors below the restaurant to direct us and recommend dishes.

It must be utterly simple to be a writer in the city. People offer themselves like upscale call girls for the opportunity to be written about. They don't know they are doing it in much the way that habitual flirts unconsciously thrust their hip out toward attractive strangers passing by. A writer need do nothing more than rush through Grand Central Station late for a train to be propositioned by an Icelandic woman rambling into a cell phone or a Caucasian father cradling his African daughter in his lap as she plays with a handheld computer.

Who noted the author noting everyone else? In whose stories will I appear?

"Why, yes. I do love children"

Despite their apparent necessity in my life right now, I am tired of job interviews.

I just had an interview at a private school for children with learning disabilities. They offset a salary $10,000 less than I would get at a public school with benefits like insurance with a zero deductible, great retirement, almost four months off a year, free meals, free run of the facilities (including an indoor heated pool, a stable of horses, and tennis courts), and a free on campus apartment with all utilities covered by the school. The catch is that they are a conservative school and, aside from having to further cut my hair, I would not be allowed overnight guests to whom I am not married and they already caught onto the fact that I am only affianced and not wed. It didn't seem to occur to them that cohabitation is de rigueur for engagement these days. This would be a deal breaker. I toil in the learning mines so I can be with Emily, not so I can abandon her. She says I should take the job if it is offered to me, but I don't see how I really can.

I know I am getting way ahead of myself. While I feel I impressed the administrators with my answers, it would not be the first time that I did excellently on the interview and still didn't get the job. Last week, I interviewed to be a leave replacement English teacher at a local inner city high school. I bantered with three administrators for over an hour, but they went with another candidate (though asked me to sign up to be a sub for their district). Two weeks ago, I interviewed and taught a sample lesson for an inner city school in Westchester. That school did not bother to tell me they were rejecting me. They simply didn't tell me anything.

One aspect of all of this that bugs me is the cost. I have to lose a day's pay at a period in my life when each paycheck already barely pays my bills and I borrow cash just so I can afford gas. When a minute cannot be spared on the school's end to let me know they aren't hiring me, I feel more than a little degraded. Of course, I can't exactly decline an interview, as each one could be the opportunity. It is gambling, though more poker than slots, and increasingly asks for stakes I can ill afford if I want to survive.

Today, I went to an interview at the local prison. It went well, as my interviews do of late. If I accept the job, I would be teaching inmates reading and math at the early elementary school level. While this would cause me to earn more in three hours than I do in seven subbing, it puts me in an unusual position. While stated or no, when I am subbing, I am there for the kids who are going to succeed; the winners. This is not always to say the smartest or best-behaved kid, but the one in whom I see the most potential. I best like eleventh and twelfth grade because those students who want to drop out have. In a prison setting, there aren't any winners. These people are there for crimes I don't care to imagine. They have failed at society and are in remediation for seven to twelve years depending on good behavior. Some are never going to get out. While I find it highly indicative that these criminals are far more students of the street than Rhodes Scholars - if they were educated properly the first time, how much emptier we would find our prisons - I shudder at it being my direct problem.

It was a strange interview, passing people who know and work with my father in his capacity as a corrections officer, walking through bulletproof glass that is locked behind me, trying to ignore the fact that a guard is shoving a man up against a fence and checking him for weapons as the petite interviewer tells me about the facility. I can't ignore that this all scares the hell out of me, that I feel claustrophobic in the middle of the field that separates the prison proper from the building in which I would teach. If something should go wrong, I can't dive out of a window and into relative safety. My students are locked in, but so am I. It is not a position I relish. I wonder if they can sense my inner monologue, liberally spiced with mantras of "terror, terror, terror". How on earth did I end up in this situation? I got an advanced degree so I would be marketable, but this isn't the market I intended.

Emily is either the eternal optimist or simply knows my buttons well. "This would give you a lot more time to write," she says. Since she is in classes most days when I would be working, it shouldn't much affect her anyway. She isn't wrong. I really could change my schedule so that I have almost four-day weekends and still make more than I do now.

It is always about sacrifices somewhere. I can have a low paying but high benefits sinecure in a pastoral private school, but I can't have Emily (or my hair). I can have a lot of money, but not a lot of hours and only by working evenings with those unfit for society. I can keep subbing and barely tutoring and slowly asphyxiate on my mounting, unmet bills. Maybe something else will come up, but it feels too damn much like a losing hand.

Of course, the house has yet to show their cards and this is nothing but an exercise in navel gazing until I am actually offered a position.

Soon in Xenology: Serial killers.

last watched: Little Miss Sunshine
reading: Still Life with Woodpecker
listening: Tidal

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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