Thomm Quackenbush, author

02.10.07 7:15 p.m.

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.  

-Kahlil Gibran

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen needed frequent escapes from Anemia, where he toiled in the child mines.

Mentor

Having a mentor is a bit like being assigned a best friend while on campus. K, my mentor, is a sweet blonde girl in her vague twenties, with optimistic eyes and tolerant smile for her students even when reiterating the same material for the third time. While I may express bemusement at some of the prep school's choices, I've met no one on campus with whom I get on better and applaud my being assigned to her. On the perilous first days in their employ, K's assurance that this would get easier was one of the ropes to which I clung. (My other metaphorical rope was Emily placing my Uglydoll Icebat on the toilet with a note reading, "Icebat said he is sorry you had a hard day! He wants you to sleep well, and have a better day tomorrow...")

Emily and I went out to see Pan's Labyrinth with K and her boyfriend and just chatted. It was tentative, neither K nor I seeming to reveal much of our personalities for fear of revealing too much and creating an awkward working relationship thereafter. By the end of the evening, she seemed more than copasetic with what glimmers of my private life Emily and I granted (that we are liberal, gay positive, spiritual people, though this last quality wasn't made specific) and so I imagine she will be sticking around for a while.

Best of all, it was great to have someone experienced as to the ways of the school so I could confirm that I was not going crazy and the perceptions I had were more than grounded in reality. Emily had heard enough of my bitching and couldn't distinguish which parts were legitimate complaints and which were pissiness brought on by sleep deprivation.

I try to make our relationship a more equal one, exchanging a container full of Emily's vegetarian chili for a packet of reproducibles for my classes. It is nothing K requires or likely even notes. I want a friendship with her and not merely have a working relationship and so I need to convince myself that we are otherwise equal, her seniority at the school aside.

Joker

Emily twitches and grimaces as the train continues its slogging cityward. The trip seems long to me, but I don't make this trek nearly twenty hours every week as M does. This adventure feels ill advised as M insists for the third time and with a frown that I need to pick what we do in the city. Owing to its locomotive bookends and present frigidity, the city holds no magic for her. It is the world of classes and training, not metropolitan amusements.

This trip began as a Girls' Night Out with Emily's NYU friends to see Augustana at Webster Hall. Men were explicitly forbidden until one girl invited her boyfriend. Then another did. Soon they all decided to skip the concert and do karaoke instead, leaving Emily to her own devices. It was this fact that convinced me that I should not merely drive her to the train station but escort her. Such fiscal spontaneity is the benefit of having a steady salary and no rent.

The novelty of the city remains potent for me. On the way to dinner, we pass a barbershop where a nearly bald man is getting what is certain to be a severely overpriced haircut and it is no wonder why this is called the greatest city in the world. The city is an amorphous blob of brick and neon connected by the underground, equal parts fear and wonder. I love NYC because it is well beyond my capacity to ever begin to understand it.

After waiting in the freezing rain outside Webster Hall while a huge bouncer eyed me, Emily motions for me to join her inside. The venue is dimly lit everywhere. Even the bathrooms have the overhead lights off, the only illumination coming from weak blue spotlights treating the toilet bowl and urinal ice as stars in need of soft-focus. The effect is undoubtedly intended to be hip, though I would not care to feel I was being interrogated by Smurfs with attending to the call of nature. People crowd in nonetheless, even the line for the coat check room attaining Leviathan proportions until it spirals.That's Jesus, right?

The theater proper was another story. Though still dimly lit, the blue replaced by red bulbs, the atmosphere is expansive. The hall is presided over by the mute and poorly constructed gods of many cultures, Quetzlcoatl making time with Ganesh, Jesus glaring daggers at Pan. And, for some reason, Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a minor god in any pantheon. Emily and I retreat to a higher floor, neither one of us as keen for the pit as we had been in our younger days.

The opening band is Vega 4, a band whose members are all English speaking but make a point of noting that none are English or American. Emily says this makes for a better show. American bands don't understand how to play an audience as European ones do, a fact made plain as the Northern Irish bassist and Southern Irish lead singer (or vice versa) divide the audience into rival factions and set us to fight one another through the power of applause. My side loses, but only because no one loves the bassist as much as they love the singer. Their music was various and enthusiastic, but no songs stick in my head. Standing on the balcony, I could clearly see their set lists taped to the stage, which rather denigrates what little faith one could have in the spontaneity. They may say they are taking requests, but it is only so they have an excuse to swallow some beer. I won't imply that they are somehow lessened by the fact that they are the opening band and not the headliners. The four teenage dancers swaying to their music and screaming song titles at every opportune silence lead me to believe that they have better groupies than I will. That's not Jesus, right?

Every American boy fantasizes at some point that he could be a rock star. It does not matter that, as is the case with me, he may not actually have any musical talent of which to speak. It does not matter that his voice is flat and tone deaf, or that he does not have hours a day to crunch his way to the requisite rock star abs. He wants to be on stage, to see the glinting of a hundred eyes watching him sing, to know that he is sweating and women are actually fighting to get closer to his perspiration. He wants to tour the world, hanging out with a couple of great friends and making something magical every night. Most of all, he wants to skip out on the travails of adulthood, to escape into this world where it is not only acceptable but encouraged to drink, smoke, keep odd hours, and dress in clothes that would garner incredulous looks in the most liberal college town. Rock star are our rebels, our adolescent whims made flesh. Done right and with the proper contract with nefarious spirits, this can continue well into one's sixties. Even when done wrong, it is a hell of a ride.

While the archetype of rock star remains more constant than what the term literally means, I see the concept of concert shifting. When once fans held lighters to the heaven, their jerrycurls and Jersey bangs a sulphurous burnt offerings to the gods of the proscenium (possibly the Joker), they now hold aloft their open cell phones. While the fire warden if no doubt thrilled at this evolution, dull blue light doesn't capture the raw energy of open flame; the divine does not live in plastic and isn't well pleased by your kitten background; you can't light a joint with your antennae. The only benefit to phones, and one made as clear as daylight when the bands take the stage or do anything beyond standing still, is that they can capture pictures. Before the music can begin, hundreds of tiny flashes go off, overzealous lightning bugs screaming in the ruby night for a mate. Before I am seen as too critical of the gathered throng, I should point out that my own flash was far too weak to show anything worth seeing.

Emily and I see only the first two and a half songs that Augustana sings, as they came on fifteen minutes later than advertised owing to being overly careful and diligent. They do not open with Emily's favorite song, nor could she really expect it. I expected little, to the extent that I though Augustana was fronted by a woman. We want to stay longer, but our other option is missing the last train back to Amenia and getting stranded in the city. This would be too much adventure for one night and the city might swallow me up.

Kittenhood

"Two things," I state as Dan sits next to me in 60 Main after having devised an instrument of a coffee can and duct tape that is played by dropping it on the floor. "One, weren't you hungry? And two, weren't we supposed to hang out with Shulie?"

He jumps up, shocked out of his social haze of chatting with broad cross-section of hippies, from an elfin girl with beginner dreads to a graying man with wide hole in the underarms his shirt. By the time I think to mention this, I am fairly sure Shulie will have been out of class for an hour.

We make our way back to Dan's apartment, where two messages are waiting from Miss Shulie, but we do not end up seeing her for reasons I cannot remember. There is a fondness between Dan and Shulie, but it stops short of a romance despite how much I urge him on. I will hear no guff about how she is not "girlfriend material". She is a good egg.

Instead of her company, we attend to Dan's former need for sustenance and find ourselves having an Important Conversation, the kind one cannot usually plan or know in advance one will have. He mostly has the conversation and I listen. This serves us both. When I say I listen, I mean just that and not waiting deafly for my turn to speak. He has much to say, to confess without sin, to explain just why he is sitting in Bacchus with me in New Paltz rather than following any other thread of destiny. In a very proximal universe, he is the star of the Boston Conservatory of Music. I feel I know so little about him in these moments as my perceptions glimmer and shift, as I fit him into new schemas. I've vaguely known and approved of his existence for a decade, long before sculpting crises entered our lives.

I'll grant that our friendship is still in its relative infancy. Actually, more like toddlerhood. There will be secrets to learn on both sides and the nature of perceptions is to change. If they remain stagnant, they quickly become false and useless. His opinion of me has changed on occasion, so reciprocity is only to be expected.

Dan says that he needs to leave New Paltz in the not too distant future. Much as domestication has rendered all cats in a permanent state of kittenhood, New Paltz and its sister college towns render their inhabitants eternal college graduates, full of bright hopes and promise, but no actual follow through. He has lived this dilettante life for enough years, playing late night concerts before working the morning shift at the bakery, but he wants more out of his life. New Paltz can only render one fat and comfortable, poison for any artist.

Soon in Xenology: Wicked Faire.

last watched: Midnight Cowboy
reading: Say You Want a Revolution
listening: Reprieve

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush