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12.17.06 7:33 p.m.

If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.  

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Previously in Xenology: Xen applied for jobs. Then he got one that required moving and a wife.


I follow Emily through the crowded city streets because it is my default program. I have never given myself the opportunity to learn how to get around on my own, beyond the factoid that most streets are alphanumeric and therefore sequential. Having reached a dotage of nearly 26, it seems that I could likely manage another night without figuring out just where the hell I am. Granted, I would be at the mercy of cosmopolitan jackals if Emily darts too far ahead - as she is doing since her sense of direction got twisted and she forgot that there was a huge park in the middle of the city and the ballet starts in a few minutes. There is always the subway, though, which I suspect knows exactly where I want to go and will bring me there if I ask it nicely and ignore the singing hobo.

We arrive at Lincoln Center with minutes to spare, Emily's reputation as a demonic butterfly secure and my legs tense. One cannot run in the city; it attracts the attention of the jackals as it reeks of tourist. Instead, one adopts a hurried gait that is all shin and hamstring inches in front of the rest of one's body.

"We are in the fourth tier," Emily states, looking at our free tickets to The Nutcracker.

"What tier are we on now?" I ask as we begin our ascent.


When we reach the third tier, I suggest setting up base camp and trying for the summit once we acclimate to the thin air. Emily, ever the sherpa, keeps climbing knowing I will follow for fear of mountain jackals.

We reach the strangely packed fourth balcony, the elevator dinging insultingly at our backs, and are herded to our seats by apathetic flashlight wavers. Not only are our seats quite so high, but we are the backmost seats in the nosebleed section. We could not be higher or farther away without pressing against the back wall. The action begins, a pair dancing while looking through a keyhole that magically illumines the Christmas scene behind the scrim. I lean over and ask, "I really am not being sarcastic, but are those children?" They are proportionally smaller than a fingernail at this height and could easily be adults in purposely childish clothes. When a man passed me on the staircase with binoculars, I scoffed but realize now the error of my ways.

"No, those are really children," Emily maintains with impressive visual acuity.

This marked the first ballet either of us had attended, though we generally imagine ourselves relatively cultured people. I, however, felt like a philistine as I began to feel drowsy midway during the first act. It is such a sitcom cliché for the overweight, boorish, and homely male of a couple to snore during the ballet to which his tolerant and far too beautiful wife drags him. I refuse to fall to trite writing, though the familiarity of the music is so soothing. It is hard to reach the age of five - to say nothing of twenty-five - without hearing Tchaikovsky's score used and parodied by cartoons, commercials, and other popular media. While I may never have seen humans dance this, I easily superimpose animated rabbits.

I don't have a learned context to which to apply the dancing of the New York City Ballet, best evidenced that two dancers kick toward one another and my brain anticipates a fight. It is skillful, I'm certain, and genuinely catches my attention a few times. And no, not just during the ballet belly dancing, though I cannot deny the hormonal intrigue of a flexible, half clad girl who could fit in my pocket. I've always wanted a Tinkerbelle. The audience applauds as though seeing fireworks when a male dancer drags around the sugar plum stage a female standing on the toes of one foot. While neat, it falls into the category "Something I Could Probably Do" and therefore less worthy of such vociferous applause. Perhaps they are trigger-happy after the candy-striped man jumping continually through hoops.

As the curtains close for the last time, Emily mentions there is an opera here next semester. What choice do I have but to follow?


Emily thinks I am making too little of my birthday or that, rather, we should as a rule make more of birthdays.

"We will next year," I promise.

"That's what you said last year," she replies, though I don't remember. I don't doubt it, but feel I am likely right this year. Next year, I will have been at the prep school for a year, having not had to pay rent or utilities. I don't think it is utterly naïve to think we will have saved some money that can be put to memorable frivolity.

Twenty-six feels not one bit different than twenty-five, as twenty-four felt at twenty-five. I hold some hope for thirty. Liv Tyler tells a story of how she cried when she turned eighteen, since seventeen was such a good age for her. My father is not a rock star (or two actually, since Todd Rundgren raised Liv) and I will wager Liv Tyler could have had an eighteenth birthday party that cost more than my college education without batting an eye. I will not, however, wager much since I am living paycheck to paycheck at present. All that changed for her was that her likely relationship with a guy nearly twice her age could no longer result in his arrest for kiddy diddling.

I celebrate my birthday by substituting at an inner-city high school. They won me over by telling me I got to show videos all day for my $100 per diem hazard pay, which means I get to spend all day in the dark revising Delirious or writing here. Showing movies is pretty much the best part of subbing as it generally means one does not even have to look at the kids after taking attendance. I am a good teacher, but I know a perk when I see one.

In the evening, Emily takes me to the Hudson Buffet and for a split ice cream sundae. It isn't much, but it fulfills the only thing I asked of her, that we spend my birthday together.

Little Doggies

"Put this on," Emily insists, handing me a brown, bulky shirt from the backseat of her car. She keeps driving toward the Dover Plains train station, though we will turn around mile before we get there. She wants to survey the area as if to find its redemption. This part of New York has the near monotony of Kansas cornfields. The mountains keep the horizon from disappearing into forever, which would be overwhelming.

"What? Now?" I begrudgingly remove my jacket, my head inches from the windshield as I contort. "You know, this is how James Dean died."

"Take that shirt off before putting this one on. You'll be too hot," she admonishes.

Pulling my

"And take off your jewelry."

I slide my rings off and see Emily doing the same. "No, I am the only one in their employ. You don't have to pretend you are conservative. I would really rather you didn't." I don't want Emily to have to compromise in the least to accommodate me. I am so utterly proud of her, as one should be of a partner who can expound on the cultural conflicts in China and conjure a lime marinated steak taco dinner party with equal aplomb.

We had just come from the prep school that will soon be our home. The head of the school showed us our tiny-but-rent-free potential apartment and reminded me again that my hair needs to be shorter. (So, Xenites, mail in pictures of your haircut suggestions soon.) Emily is rightly enamored with the campus, walking to the gravel track and contriving a way to see the indoor pool. I would have showed her more, such as the stage I hope to make mine, but she felt they may not forgive us our trespasses quite so early and would prefer to save their good faith should they ever figure out that we are dirt-worshiping heathens. Boasting of nonsectarianism does not suggest they will react beatifically to pentacle tapestries, cracked Buddha statues, and altars to Anubis.

Failing to get to the Dover Plains train station, we stop at the staff Christmas party at a local restaurant. We were somewhat invited by the head of the school during our impromptu tour, but that did not mean we felt particularly welcomed. I stammered with nervousness, as did Emily. In meeting the principal, she bloomed, prematurely but understandably addressing herself as my wife and being usually charming. Next to the towering and avuncular principal, she looks even more like a precocious teenager and it occurs to me that I never made her age clear. There are students as old as twenty-four and I would not relish confusion.

I shake hands with two older gentlemen, catching neither name when introduced, too confused when called "the new language teacher". I look over shoulders and pick out those staff members that could remotely be in my age bracket, which Emily helpfully labeled as anyone thirteen to forty. I saw only two, who could both have been family members of faculty. I may well be one of the youngest teachers, but Emily says the school's pamphlets suggest I am also one of the better qualified on paper. We shall see if this translates as well into life; Emily thinks I will find it difficult that I cannot interact with the students as I do while subbing. I believe I will find my level, as I nearly always do.

Anemia is not a one-horse town by any stretch of the imagination. It is a one-streetlight town, newly installed and regarded as a minor god. There are, however, so many horses as to necessitate the dry cleaners' advertisement that they now wash horse blankets. When Emily and I wandered the town to get a feel for our new home, we happened into a small store that specialized exclusively in horse accessories. They do not have the sort of people to support a proper coffee shop, but this saddlery thrives.

If nothing else, this should be an adventure. Now where is my cowboy hat?

Soon in Xenology: Moving. Marriage.

last watched: Akeelah and the Bee
reading: Goodbye, Columbus
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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