Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Bumps in the Road Remind Us | 2009 | Place Settings "

01.26.09 3:17 p.m.

If I were invited to a dinner party with my characters, I wouldn't show up.  

-Dr. Seuss

 


Caste Party

There is an etiquette to parties, depending on their exact species. At a kegger, one does not make a show that one is not drinking unless they are acting as a designated driver, allowing at least three sluttier girls to get righteously plastered. At a formal gathering, one refrains from discussing bodily excreta, especially at the dinner table. And at a geek party, one doesn't announce that they've developed a game based on references to odd subcultures, as this might be taken as offensive.

Also because Hannah, Daniel, Melanie, and I really have no grounds to cast aspersions. We don't consider "geek" to be especially pejorative - we certainly know enough about the various subcultures to choose our targets well before arriving - and so must select smaller factions that are safe to mock (such as furries, the punching bags of the internet). We only pick what qualifies for points, never determining how many points each is worth nor what qualifies as winning. Like a drinking game, there are no clear winners, just people who are slightly less on the floor.

The occasion for the party is our friend Jenn's birthday party, though many of the guests (all, aside from us and Jenn's quasi-boyfriend Jeramy) are there to commemorate the birth of one of the other several January babies in attendance. As such, it makes our game a little safer, as we are less likely to be overheard scoring points off one of Jenn's friends.

When we arrive at what we assume to be the house, I get on tiptoes long enough to peek in a window and see a woman taking her clothes off and sliding into a dress she will later call steampunk. I announce too loudly that this was not exactly the high point of my life as a voyeur, then hope the party is loud enough that this remark has not been heard. Still, though this woman is no one I yet know, it guarantees that this is the right house. Since nothing on the invitation suggested that this is a dress-up party, nor do I imagine we would be keen to dress-up, it assures us that all our minutes of game planning would not be fruitless.

We enter and are introduced around. Several more of the attendees are costumed... I assume. The clothes are extravagant, but I did bring a guest who is rarely without a tie (Daniel laughs that his tie tack is his "flair"), so this might actually pass for casual wear. When an otherwise attractive woman with the bridge of her nose pierced by two peach balls wanders by to greet a corseted woman, it perpetuates a certain tone for the evening and I am eager to see how this party develops.

(Incidentally, Jenn is immune from our tittering judgment. Her wings are small and cute - she makes and sells these at faires - and we are comfortable enough in our hypocrisy to exempt our friend.)

A guy with whom I went to college does a double-take upon seeing me. "What are you doing here?!" he demands.

"We are Jenn's crew," I say.

He replies that it is good to see me, then leaps up to call Alison, a girl I dated over a decade ago, to inform her of my whereabouts. She served as one of his hags at SUNY New Paltz (though Melanie informs me the preferred nomenclature is now "fruit fly", something I find far too ridiculous to perpetuate), but that was at least six and a half years ago. I watch him pacing and gesticulating in the foyer, informing his cell phone of the wackiness of my continued existence. When he returns, he assures me that she really didn't care where I was as though this were my personal failing.

"How are you not gay?" he then asks, motioning to my velour shirt.

I motion to Melanie, who is petting my shoulder. "I like vagina quite a bit."

Hannah smirks at me, her lips the red shine of a candy apple, and I stop her before she can inform me that I know everyone.

"I take credit - or blame - for knowing that one, since I snogged a girl who years later became his friend, okay?" I don't, however, remember that his name is Michael until we are leaving the party hours later. We'd only hung out a few times, either during Pagan Student Union at New Paltz or in someone's dorm room as we watched Buffy on Tuesdays; we were never close.

This initial introduction is the only time Jenn addresses me by my given name. For the rest of the party, as new people arrive and look askance at the strangers, she tells people I am Xen. I affirm this by writing this on my plastic cup, assuming this qualifies as valid ID. Pseudonyms are encouraged with this crowd. In fact, to Melanie, some man says, "For here, I am Lorenz." She immediately asks what he is to go.

The person I assume to be the default hostess, Seo, scowls at the two cakes she is frosting, hair combed up and the color of a cotton candy bruise. I'd only met her once before, on my solitary date with Jenn, but she is absolutely the sort of person one remembers. OkCupid, the site which I credit for knowing all of my friends at the party, assures me that Seo is a high friendship match with me, but I met Jenn first and feel that she is therefore forever Jenn's friend. She doesn't seem happy when, ten minutes after we arrive, I point out that the frosting of the portion of the cake nearest to the oven seems to have melted into a butter-cream puddle. I can appreciate a woman who takes her frosting seriously.

Melanie and I score quick points in our game, as someone alludes to being OtherKin. I give Melanie a pad from my bag, which she quarters into a graph so we can keep track of our points, but she never goes beyond her three red lines and writing "Thomm | Melanie | Danny | Hannah" as a header an assigning herself four points for a masturbation reference I miss.

We move into the dining room and, while nibbling on things, observe a conversation about planning food for an Apocalypse-themed party (which must include meat patties dyed to approximate Soylent Green, lots of diet food to symbolize famine, and Cool-Whip to represent The Stuff from the eponymous movie). I mentally assign us all points for this, whether it is geeky enough or not.

Hannah drifts from us and begins chatting with a fifty-ish, ostensibly gay man in an Army kilt about her decision to enlist in the Navy. Melanie, Daniel, and I move throughout the house, play with ferrets, eat more, watch a bit of an episode of Scooby Doo featuring characters from the Batman pantheon (more points for retro-kitsch), but Hannah and this man are still chatting when we return.

When Hannah eventually separates from him and sits next to Melanie and me (sharing the same chair) seeking to be part of our group again, we make no mention of the duration of their conversation. When he soon after comes over and strokes her hair repeatedly though he is old enough to have fathered her twice, we are polite enough to let him get out of immediate earshot before teasing her about her new boyfriend. She cringes and I tell her, "You can't talk to a guy at a party like this without him assuming you desperately want him."

As if to underscore this point, as I return with more soda and pass through a narrow space between chairs and the table, Michael takes the liberty of smacking my ass in front of his boyfriend. I glare at him and hurry back to the safety of Melanie on my lap.

This furthers the theory that we are fomenting that, for those who consider themselves in the "geek" social caste, there is a misapplication of flirting. Instead of being subtle, there are single entendres which seem to serve the same purpose as a baboon's red, swollen hindquarters. "Yes I am in heat. I am always in heat and may not be picky. Please pay attention to this." Even if this somehow escapes notice, they are not remiss in suggesting group gropes or, as I just experienced, taking liberties with their target's personal space. While I well understand the appeal of a good platonic cuddle, indiscriminateness in affection comes off as a bit desperate when few here would really have any reason to be. Also, there are innumerable ways one can better express that they wish to get to know me than swatting me.

Hannah, Melanie, and I end up in a conversation with Jenn's quasi-boyfriend. They'd been seeing each other for months, ever since things did not pan out between Jenn and Daniel, and seemed to be getting on well. Though I feel less of a reason to gently interrogate Jenn's friends than Hannah's, I still wanted to know what went on beneath that mop of curly hair. At the very least, I wanted to form the Jenn Clique in case Seo's friends turn feral and we have to fight them off with spatulas. We ended up debating the virtues of role playing games and the ridiculousness of the Incan boy on Captain Planet (even more points!), so he seems to be a good sort.

Suddenly, the party erupts in a bawdy song I know from having worked the Renaissance Faire eight years ago, though only the skeleton of the lyrics. Within half a verse, the entire house - aside from my crew - is singing in unison. I cannot imagine how to calculate the points for this and, had they moved onto another sing-along, I might have found it in my heart to be jealous.

Eventually, we notice that we had not seen Daniel in a while. I poke my head into the dining room and foyer and don't see him. When last I did, he was talking with a girl my younger brother dated seven years ago, Jesse. I look around a bit in the living room, finally noticing the contrast of red and black against the wood paneling, a crowd obscuring him.

"I found him!" I announce. "Let's pester him."

"Don't cock block!" Melanie chides.

There is a half a pause. "He's talking to Jenn, love."

We both smile innocently at Jeramy, who I think has missed this exchange, and are now ethically required to dart over to see how he is doing, interrupting a conversation on occult thoughtforms. Jeramy sits next to Jenn and she leans into him, her wings brushing his shoulder; they make a cute couple.

We talk a bit, mostly about how everyone is getting tired and if we should go. The party is no less lively. In fact, they have put on Clash of the Titans and are noting the shortness of the tunics and the homoerotic supertext, but we don't intend to crash here.

Before we can confirm the plans for our egress, Michael squeezes past, saying, "Going past the Ambiguously Gay Boy."

"There's no ambiguity," I state. "I have a girl on my lap. Not gay."

Melanie nuzzles me. "Yeah, I promise you, he is very straight. I'd know."

He offers some retort, but Melanie considers it gibberish and leaves him be.

In the end, I am declared the winner of our game by virtue that I somehow work the four-bit genocidal rape game "Custer's Revenge" into conversation and am overheard by a woman in garb who alternates between assuming I am joking and being revolted. She makes a show of moving away from me once she settles on the latter. I do not consider this a win by virtue of the fact that I am the one to make the geekiest reference without any intention of irony. Damn.

Soon in Xenology: Underestimation. Moving pieces.

last watched: Death at a Funeral
reading: A.S. Byatt
listening: Jonathan Coultan

" Bumps in the Road Remind Us | 2009 | Place Settings "

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