Thomm Quackenbush, author

11.19.06 4:05 p.m.

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.  

-Charles A. Beard

 



Previously in Xenology: Emily missed her father, Xen was an oddball.

Pete Seeger

"We're in Beacon, where are you?" I ask into the phone.

"Singing with Pete Seeger. You'll find us," Dan Kessler responds.

We drive down the only road in Beacon the counts and see a semicircle of people occupying several blocked off parking spaces. In the center of the humming throng is, as promised, the aforementioned folk rock god.

I first met Pete Seeger in high school. My chemistry teacher, a man with a ponytail that always put mine to shame, convinced me to take a ride with him to Riverfront Park to talk about environmental preservation with Pete Seeger. My teacher said Pete Seeger's name as though it should excite me so I pretended I was thrilled as this old man told me about the sloop club and that the park on which we stood was built on top of tons of garbage that collected in the Hudson River. I think this was supposed to be the first of many meetings, but it was the only I attended. I was young and more interested in trying to kiss Jen Egan than ecological reform.

If Pete was old to me almost a decade ago, he seems ancient in the streetlight with only a banjo to cover his frailty. I still don't really know him for more than the newspaper song on NPR's The Media Project.

People stand around him lighting candles, giving the affair a funereal air, except that their dirge is Jingle Bells.

I find Zack, Cristin, and Dan huddled on the circumference. I am disappointed that Dan's friend-who-he-kisses Lora is not in attendance but she ranked playing her own show over adding another voice to the Second Saturday celebration. It is simple to spy her absence from a distance, though I've never met her. She was described as having pink dreadlocks, which are hard not to notice.

We leave shortly after, having more than gotten our kumbyayas out. I only need one song to feel justified in telling people that I once sang with Pete Seeger.

Emily is in a splendid mood. She had recently spoken with Zack's mother about our renting the Howland Center for our wedding. The call ballooned from simple information to the sort of conversation I imagine women have on this subject. She wanted to have our nuptials on a day abutting a Second Saturday to give our guests something additional to do. She began to muse how much her father would love all of the gallery openings and antiques when she felt the stabbing realization of his death once more. How easy it must be to forget for a moment.

Spoilt

There are blessings in our every complaint. I barely see my fiancée during the week, but this means I have a wonderful fiancée worth missing and she is absent so often because she is getting her Master's in saving Indo-Asian babies. I have a low paying job I don't always like, but I do have a job and it will hopefully be a stepping-stone to a career. Plus, it allows me ample time to read and write, which is what I want to be doing anyway.

The rain pours down in visible waves as I exit the supermarket. I watch as people scream and run as though they were in danger of burning. I have to remind myself that November in New York so rarely brings warm rains and I must enjoy it while I can.

If anything, I am spoiled with privilege.

Then Who's on First?

Written in the second person for no good reason.

Eric smiles his puppet grin at you and says you look like - and he pauses for a moment, balancing insult against compliment and you wonder if he is aware that you refer to him as Eric the Virgin and if the appellation offends him - the pimp of the Beltane festival. You opt to thank him, aware that your many rings (a silver and a gold dragon, a bat set with a garnet and a claddagh) can be taken in various ways and this description rates as fairly accurate, despite the fact that you are otherwise dressed in a subdued fashion, blue jeans, a green Hennessy shirt, and a black jacket - nothing descript or obtrusive.
Carla Rozman  
The talent

Dan Kessler, who brought you to 60 Main to kill time before the party, comes up and jokes around with Eric. Soon, they get involved in a short debate as to who could school whose ass in chess, an argument that can be best resolved by actually playing. You watch only momentarily, chess not being the best spectator sport and you having other things on your mind. You go outside, past the folk singer taking the stage, to write. To purge.

There is this girl, because there is always this girl. It is uncomfortable in the truest sense to see someone in whom you see a spark and to do nothing because you cannot contrive a thing to say that won't sound like some corny pick-up line and that isn't remotely how you intend it. You have a darling fiancée who goes out of her way to buy you the last Blizzard of the season and who makes organic, white bean chicken chili from scratch; you are not looking for a date. More that you feel you know this somehow and cannot figure it out on your own and want to enlist her help. It helps and hurts that she does happen to be sort of attractive, because it undermines the purity of your intentions. It introduces the doubt of flirting. And your eyes lock, hers a few shades lighter and sweeter, and you feel the magnetism of the spark and feel she might too until she looks away to her laughing friends and you to yours and you wonder if you are making inappropriate eye contact with a stranger in a strawberry sweater. You feel it is too likely a nothing you are trying to build into something to keep yourself amused and involved. It is far from your best quality.
Crowded kitchen  
Most popular place to be

Dan comes out after a few minutes to check up on you. You have not ventured far, only to the smokers' bench feet from the door. Leaving the company of a packed coffeehouse for the solace of cold air and a PalmPilot is not normal, but Dan understands the impulse toward artistry at inopportune moments and needlessly apologizes for interrupting. You ask about the girl and he asks if you mean the young looking one. You uncertainly nod your head - how young is "young looking"? - and he identifies her by her relations, though you don't actually know any of her siblings by name.

You both return to 60 Main to watch the beginning of a folk singers set. She, a woman named Carla Rozman, is musically talented and self-deprecating, so you plainly think well of her as she sings songs titled "Guilt" and "I Like Insecure Men". She isn't trying to be something she is not. If anything, she is too much herself, but it gives her a light beyond the Christmas strands behind her.

Midway through her set, Dan brings you back to his place to pick up his new antique sarod, a stringed instrument that twangs curry powder and Bollywood. He calls it the Indian banjo to give you some context. There is some resemblance, but only that they share some long distant ancestor, the sarod a lemur to the banjo's marmoset.

Dan drives you and his sarod all of five hundred feet down hill to the party. As you get out of the car, you see descending the hill Strawberry Shortcake and her companions (who you do not feel obliged to give such twee names, as you do not remember their actual names moments after being introduced). She looks at you, pleased to see your familiar face. You look away for the same reason.

Inside the house, she flutters around the kitchen - the largest room in the apartment. You decide the spark you felt is focused between the heart and sacral chakras, making it invalid and you a bad person for watching the Shortcake's movements as she flashes an open hand three times to denote her age, the other hand occupied by the third beer you've watched her drink.
Dan  
He can only play obscure instruments

Despite the dearth of space, people arrive in waves more steady than those under the moon's pull. New rooms open and are occupied. Slogging down the hallway is an exercise in controlled falling, which you master as necessity demands. There are no exposed light bulbs, each covered by a tapestry, giving the party the ambiance of an opium den sardine can.

There are at least five rooms aside from the kitchen, though you are only aware of two people who live here, a boy named Chris - familiar in surname only - and Marigo the Lesbian, who plainly is not.

Dan begins to play his sarod and soon other instruments metamorphose out of the air. Eric produces tablas - Indian bongos - and plays them in a flurry of movement, his hand tarantulas dancing a tarantella. He has many more levels than you have previously given him credit for. He provides a visual metaphor of this, removing a wine velvet jacket for a silvered shirt under which he has a final and even better shirt. You joke that, if he removed his skin, his skeleton would be gold and jewels.

Incidentally, whenever someone mentioned the tablas, you thought for a moment that they were saying "topless". When you share this observation, no one finds it particularly funny.

Attractive women, most wearing some variation of short curly hair, people the party. In the haze of hand-rolled cigarette smoke, alcohol vapors, and improvised Indian music, it is simple to lose sight of one curly head in the crowd.

On the way back to the maharajah from an enclosed, rooftop porch, you pass by the kitchen, where the Shortcake is on the kitchen floor, cuddling with a woman you recognize as the other of the Lesbians. You comment on this and Shortcake informs you this is her sister. They look up at you with twin eyes and you suddenly understand the spark and feel much less like a hebephile. All you saw in her was the echoes of her sister, who sings like a dove trapped in Ella Fitzgerald's throat.

You settle onto the bed near Dan as it saves your having to mingling and make introductions with people whose names you have no chance of remembering. You've already met twenty people and remember only four new names. You have nothing to contribute to the music, even when handed a tambourine-like instrument, so you intermittently wiggle in rhythm with the music. It is not graceful, but it is participatory enough.

Eventually - you don't know when, as time flows irregularly this night - a dreadlocked girl enters and promptly catches your attention. She did not have short, curly hair, but displayed a puckish smile larger than seems possible or prudent. She identifies herself to someone by the door, who could not hear her over the sarod. She claws the air, stating at a distance that she is Kat. As she is so very much Emily's type, you make it a temporary objective to study her habits. She notices this and begins interacting with you nonverbally, frowning and shrugging to ask why you aren't happy. Finding no simple gesture of retort, you take out your Palm and scribble, "Just absorbing". She smiles in understanding. Later, after she catches your eye and sticks her tongue out at you and you reply in kind, you figure she has passed whatever obscure test to which you were putting her and is friendly enough for conversation. When she comments playfully about the attractiveness of other girls and identifies herself as a jazz major to explain her association with, as she puts it, "the Kessler" (meaning she is at least a freshman in college and therefore not jailbait) you tell her, "You and me? We're friends now. Just thought you should know." She seemed amenable.

In leaving the room for a brief respite on the porch, you hand Kat your card, which you have been twirling between your fingers for minutes, saying, "Here, hold onto this. I'll be right back." It is as sly as you can conceive of being and fits well with the silliness of the rest of your interactions with her.

While getting some air, which you are only doing as an excuse to leave the room for a minute and therefore give Kat your card, you look up and see a shooting star. Another partygoer said the meteors weren't starting until near dawn, but mumbled something suspect about "European time," something celestial bodies are loath to obey.

You stroll back to the room, trying to rally people to action. Kat is holding a star and you think she has practiced origami against your contact information, but it is only a glow-in-the dark bit of plastic that has fallen to the ground as an omen that the sky is falling and it needs witnesses.

In ten minutes, Kat, her friend who may have been named Victoria, an elf named Leanna (who opts to call you Xen) and her boyfriend, Eric, Dan and you are outside and walking to some uncertain garden. You have a feeling that there were others with you, but the hour was late and the night, dark. It was easy to lose them to one type dimness or the other.

Passing from a lighted street to a black one parallel to the Wallkill River, Kat reminds us that she is from Brooklyn and thinks we are crazy. This is only exacerbated when someone starts talking about the colony of student too poor to afford the dorms, who camp in the forest. You assuage Kat, but when dark shapes move toward you and someone utters the ominous "what is that?" you grab her to protect her. Or she jumps toward you. It happens quickly and automatically, and you feel embarrassed when you release her. Neither of you says a thing about it, so perhaps you are making much of nothing again.

Everyone waits near a dragon made of old tires and stares heavenward, the aroma of the nearby sewage treatment plant intruding on an otherwise fine night of stargazing.

In all, you see one more shooting star, but it hardly seems the point.

Soon in Xenology: Thanksgiving.

last watched: Reefer Madness: The Musical
reading: Book of Dreams
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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