Thomm Quackenbush, author

02.17.07 1:06 a.m.

Learn to limit yourself, to content yourself with some definite thing, and some definite work; dare to be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not and to believe in your own individuality.  

-Henri-Frédéric Amiel

 



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

Wicked

We stop at a rest stop for a drink to chase away Emily's road hypnosis and run into several people in rennie garb standing in fast food lines. They are not unexpected but nevertheless glaring, picking up their trays from Burger King instead of whole turkey legs or watered down mead.She wields the Keyblade!

"I remember why I don't like ren fairs. These people look unnatural and so geeky." Her amnesia is understandable given the psychological trauma of our brief tenure at New York Renaissance Faire five years ago.

"As opposed to your friends?" We had intentions of meeting Emily's clanmates at Wicked Faire, where they would undoubtedly be dressed to put rest stop wenches to shame. Well, further shame.

"Yes," she says, ignoring my amused slight. "My friends get decked out and look good in garb. They wear stuff that is made for them and not just generic peasant blouses. Plus, it's pretty close to how they look all the time." I can't contest the latter point; I have a hard time picturing her clan in anything but leather vests and bodices with bookshelf cleavage. Like Superman, a business suits would be their ill-fitting disguise.

Emily and I arrive in the convention center parking lot and are uncertain we are in the right place given the lack of foam swords and pale, frostbitten midriffs. "Check the bumper stickers," Emily commands.

"'Cruxshadows'... That's a goth band, good sign... 'I heart my labradoodle'... 'My dog is smarter than your honor student'..."

"Dog show," Emily pronounces, glumly watching a football dog in a pink sweater waddle before our car. Before we give up and form a new plan, we spot a woman with long pink hair, a freak beacon urging us on.

We debark and follow this woman and her leather jacket clad escort at a steadily closing distance until we are nearly on her. Emily then asks them if they know where they are going and confesses that we had been following. I add that I had been checking bumper stickers and was thrilled to see pink hair, a comment that garners more baffled looks than I feel it deserves. With no other conversation, this couple enters the dog show and leaves us to find the rennies alone.Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

Wicked Faire is billed as a Renaissance Fair for adults. This is not to say that the attendees are any more mature or the subjects more authentic (now with real bubonic plague!) but the wares being peddled often deserve the designation "adult". There was much less nudity than I anticipated, but likewise less clothing than would be wise or flattering. The event's website heavily implied that the (not officially sanctioned *wink* *wink*) after parties were little more than free-for-all orgies, a thought all the more jarring given that it seemed plain that no one cared to card at the door and there were enough bound proto-nymphets to give Humbert Humbert the willies. This year's theme cribbed heavily from internet memes, offering unresolved rivalries between pirates and ninjas. Emily scoffed that this justified her casual state, given she was closer to being a ninja than a twit with panties on his head.

Emily and I make our way to one of the vendor areas - this faire has little else to justify the $15 admission - and I quickly offend a man at the first sex booth to which we come, who asks if I am interested in sampling any of his wares. Most of these involve my paying a chunk of my salary for corporal punishment or the privilege of licking sundae fixings off the feet of people I would politely decline if they flirted with me. Without looking up at him but with a smile, I assure him that I don't need a single thing on the menu. If anyone is going to be whacking me with a paddle, it will be Emily and with good reason. Then, we will put our hot fudge and whipped cream over a bowl of ice cream. Vanilla ice cream, thanks very much.

We soon find Emily's friends, who act copasetic or apathetic to my presence. There had been some concern that they still harbored grudges over the Xenology entry about their festival. If they did, I give them credit for not making it known. I had no interest in causing a scene and tried to be on my best behavior in their presence, waving and smiling as though we had no unfortunate history.

As I wander and give Emily space - fulfilling her directive of getting pictures of pirates to send to her friend Kelly - a tall, bearded, scurvy dog strolls past. "Hi, Gil," I greet. "I'm taking pictures of pirates. You should let me take some of you." It affects me not one whit that I had not seen him since early August or that I would not be seeing him at Summer Institute for the Gifted this summer. For all my emphasis, he could have been returning from the restroom. I knew that I would see him again eventually and this context made enough sense. He demurs being photographed until he finds his friend and fellow scallywag Timna.Why do they call us pirates?  Because we ARRR!

Before I can reconnect with Emily, I see vampires from Sanguinarium, Sabretooth, creator of many custom prosthetics to better resemble the walking undead. Technically, I just see the Sanguinarium ankh, which is enough to catch my attention given that it emulates batwings and blades. This is the sigil for many real life vampires, though I am certain many so-called vampires would shudder to hear me think so. But, realizing I have no more to say than that he and I are on the same email discussion lists, I hover stupidly at an adjoining booth and thereby end up fingering cards with the URL for Partially Clips, one of the webcomics I read [aloud, to Emily] regularly.

"Those are free," a woman says. "You can take one."

I stammer that I know the cards are free, but that I am already a fan and would therefore be a waste of cardboard.

"Would you like to meet the man who does them?" she asks, but it is really just rhetorical, as I will meet him now. I know the author is the graying, bearded man before me because he is looking expectantly for my acknowledgement. While I talk about the delight in having fans who do not know me on sight, I get the feeling he would prefer that we do.

Partially Clips is a clip art comic, but arguably one of the bests of its genre. Granted, I don't know the genre terribly well. Technically, I read 128 webcomics, but many have not updated in years. There are likely ten thousand such comics befouling the web and more to come. I have been led to believe that webcartoonists suffer something of a high burnout rate. As such, I follow somewhere in the neighborhood of forty comics whenever they are updated. Despite this socially regrettable number, the only other comic I read that is close to being a clip art comic is Daily Dinosaur Comics, which uses identical art every comic and manages to remain nonetheless fresh. Partially Clips at least has the benefit of repeating different art in each strip.

Rob Balder, the author of the Partially Clips, proceeds to talk to me about his newest comic venture Erfworld. I had not heard of it as I just read the newest comic and close the window, ignoring any explanatory text or links off site in favor of reading someone else's comic. When he mentions that he is doing this with Order of the Stick creator Rich Burlew, I shuffle uncomfortably and mention I haven't read that comic in years. I just couldn't reconcile stick figures with a fantasy world enough to keep reading during one of my purges of comics that I didn't absolutely love, but I couldn't say this. I feel that I am a bad fan that I have trouble remember specific Partially Clips comics that he mentions as a basis for Erfworld, since I just enjoy the comics individually and there is no continuity. He speaks with me long past the time where it is clear that I am not going to buy any of the merchandise he is selling, where it become clear that he is just happy to have encountered an interested fan. This makes me more uncomfortable and I excuse myself to find Emily.

Finding her is simple, as people move out of my way as though I were no more substantial than a stiff breeze. I am functionally invisible to those in garb. As long as I do not make eye contact, they cannot see me because I do not immediately telegraph an excuse for interaction. I lean against a wall and they pass silently. Even the harlot begging people to stroke her wood - perhaps a little fuzzy as to the correct use of sexual entendre - looks past me to middle age men in codpieces and women old enough to have practiced midwifery upon her mother.

As I muse my invisibility, I make the mistake of peeking into some dark room within which equally dark people dance. At first, I think I am being hijacked by a friend (which is not so farfetched, since I also saw Jamie there) and so only offer token resistance. When I notice it is a strange boy, I offer genuine refusal and fall to my knees, as this person does not happen to care that I am telling them no and digging in my heels. Dusting myself off, I am about to protest that I lack the melanin to be even slightly good at dancing when he tells me to buy something from their booth to assure that I am fantastic.

"I don't think I need to consume to assure strangers of my fantasticness."

"I think you need a new word," some complicit woman snarks.

"And I think strangers should not bodily drag neologists into their failing booths," I smile back, though she misses the finer points of my retort to the loud music.

Emily and I cruise around the main room a few times, feeling that there must be something here for us, but we come up empty. We were at this festival for almost less time than the trip took and are rather bored. Short of committing ourselves to the rivalry between the pirates and ninjas, we can imagine nothing to keep our interest until the orgy takes hold and their differences are forgotten through awkward interbreeding. We pass from their dubious graces, unnoticed, and reenter the real world via the dog show.

Soon in Xenology: Stickshifts and safetybelts.

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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