Thomm Quackenbush, author

More Love and Less Paperwork | 2009 | Quantum Entanglement

10.09.09 12:54 a.m.

If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attention.
Go and pour them down the sink.
 

-G.K. Chesterton

 


Between Sobriety and Oblivion

Stevehen  
Cause of, and solution to, all life's problems

"We have to stop at the mall," Stevehen says.

"Why?"

"I'm wearing a Red Sox shirt and sweatshirt and I don't want to get harassed. Plus, I think I want to wear a suit jacket over a t-shirt. I think it's a good look."

I offer him both of these articles, but he declines. "I wear a children's large jacket," he says, ensuring I will bring him if just to witness his attempts to wriggle into children's clothing.

I am unfamiliar with sports rivalries as a rule, aside from having testosterone enough to know that the Red Sox are from Boston and we are not. Still, I have never encountered anyone in New Paltz who cares enough about sports to get obnoxious. Were his clothes proclaiming Dave Matthews Band a superior jam band to Phish or proselytize for the Church of Sarah Palin 2012, some patchouli scented fists might forget their vows of pacifism, but for no sin less mortal.

We stop at the department store where he is a manager. On my off hours, I have avoided my workplaces unless forced, but a 20% discount is reason enough for Stevehen. Within minutes of entering (just after he successfully proves the petiteness of his shoulders with a minimum of wriggling), he is drawn into a dispute with a customer over a forged receipt, shouting, "I don't care what you do, I am not working!"

We leave without his camouflage, let the sports fans be damned.

Stevehen chose New Paltz for its bars, though I am walking distance from a reasonably good Irish bar I have no reason to patronize. Years ago, he spent long enough at the eponymous college to be a semester from a Bachelor's, but stopped short. He still harbored some flattering illusions about the town, of which it was quick to disabuse us.

We were unequivocal that our aim was not nubile coeds, though I do not know if Stevehen was aware that women in New Paltz can generally be filed into one of two unfair stereotypes:

  • those named Juli (with a heart over the I and - for some reason - an umlaut over the U) who are majoring in Early Childhood Education with a minor in art because they, like, totally want to spend all day playing with little kids and finger paint. The Julis grew up on Long Island, which they still instinctively pronounce as though the space is after the first N, i.e. "Lone Guylind". They attended this SUNY because they heard a rumor fifteen years expired that this is a party school. They tend to "date" (for a few hours a night) men with fake, carrot orange tans and perpetual, sexually transmitted lip puckers in the presence of cell phone cameras.
  • those named Joni, with dreadlocks the color, consistency, and - on a good day - smell of a tree in autumn. Whatever their real names, they have forgotten them in a cloud of nag champa and pot. The few who attend the college in any legitimate sense confuse their hobbies for majors, eventually earning Bachelor's degrees in jazz bassoon using the inventive logic that someone must succeed with this. These are the blessed ones, the Jonis who will have a chance when released into the wild. They are the ones who will one day lop off the dreads and seek MBAs. The other Jonis, those who without hyperbole spend every night sitting on the stoop of 60 Main playing empty pickle tubs stolen the restaurants on the street, seem to have no destiny or foresight beyond this night. They don't attend classes ever, nor do they work. They could be dangerous if cut off from their parental umbilicus. They are not above begging for spare change, faking homelessness. Failing that, they are not above actual homelessness. Gods help you if you offer them your leftover food, though. That used to be an animal, you bastard, and white pasta was invented by George W. Bush to sterilize Jonis of African descent. Besides, all you really need is sunshine and music (and conspicuous open containers of Pabst Blue Ribbon) to thrive, man.

As I immediately stated upon arrival, it was far more likely that we would while away our night mooning over our absent awesome girlfriends, to which Stevehen agreed. Even among the 10% or so of non-stereotypes, there was not a one prettier or wittier than his Suzie, so it amounted to looking at an unctuous buffet when he has at home something nourishing that won't give him a social disease. Plus, I threatened his life should he ever think otherwise.

In the first bar (which I had erstwhile considered a decent restaurant with exceptional waffle fries), I nurse my ice water as Stevehen explains his finer points of bar etiquette. The only bar I have come close to frequenting was Cabaloosa, and I was only there for the dancing. While I can't imagine ever personally needing to heed his advice, I am a writer and ought to know.

He conspicuously places a dollar bill under his coaster when the bartender brings him his first, then second, four dollar beer. "It's important to do this. Let them see how much you tip, that you aren't cheap. After awhile, if you keep tipping like this, the girl behind the bar might give you a free one." It seemed to me a potentially sizable investment for little return, but that is excepting the matter of pride, which vastly inflates the drunker one gets.

We last long enough at this bar for Stevehen to finish two beers and the bartender to ask to refill my water three times. This is not the experience Stevehen had anticipated, something more social where his alcohol-fueled tutelage would be more practical. No one talks, yet everything is unnecessarily loud. The patrons drink and stare up at muted flat screen TVs showing different but in no way captivating images. I don't see the point in ignoring one is in public; wouldn't it be cheaper and more efficient to stay home and watch the game with a six-pack at your side, thus freeing up bar stools? Where is the pleasure in this?

"Not, obviously, that we are going to, but what is the protocol for chatting up a woman in a bar?" I ask. "Kate used to have no end of success in college."

"You just offer to buy them a drink and hope they want to talk to you."

That doesn't seem especially efficient, but advantageous for the women concerned; I don't expect I will be having strangers offering to buy me drinks for a few potential moments of my time unless I stumbled into a gay bar. Perhaps the etiquette of gay bars introduces a more level playing field.

We move across the street to a bar Stevehen pronounces a dive. I disagree, but largely because they have in the past made me complicated and delicious chicken sandwiches. He insists that this is the sort of place where unemployed steel workers drown their troubles and avoid their wives. I watch Stevehen swallow another beer. I then steal stools from lonely men at the bar, stools left open in hopes women will ask if they are taken, moving them parallel so I can observe potential depressives unmolested.

Some generic women pass by, fiddling with cigarettes and lighters, active Julis. Stevehen says we should follow them to where the action really is. They exit, light up, and become immobile. He follows suit until all nic-fits are quenched.

"What will we do now?" he asks as the women attach themselves to likewise forgettable men and wander away.

"We go to the coffeehouse and plan further," I reply, though I expect this to be the terminus of the evening. I drink coffee only slightly less than alcohol, which is to say never, but coffeehouses are much more for me than bars. At least there, I don't have to pretend I care about some unspoken etiquette that more than likely is made up as occasion demands.

"So, do you two have a date?" Stevehen asks as we walk, in reference to a prior entry where I joked that Daniel would be my best man by default.

"What? For a wedding? No, no, Melanie is twelve. We have just decided that we will get married at some point, not before she has her Bachelor's and possibly not before she has her Master's. I'm in no rush, I like where we are."

We settle on a couch in the back of The Muddy Cup, infinitely cozier than we have been in the past hours on bar stools. Stevehen criticizes a nearby table of three women, only one truly guilty of the sin of unattractiveness by virtue of an excess of gums. In reply and to distract him from his targets, I point out the pretty but slouching woman behind the register, Annette, who once entered into an affair with an unmedicated schizophrenic who believed she was a robot that he, an angel traveling back in time every day, had to reprogram with sex. As she serves customers their chai with a hesitant smile, it seems an odd story, something too improbable to be true despite the casual dictates of reality. It seems too much for Stevehen even to mock, instead almost arousing pity. The coffeehouse is peppered with the stereotypes, but they are concerned with nothing more than conversation with their friends. Here, they don't need to be more than they are, don't need to focus on sports rivalries or aborted majors or nebulous relationship statuses, because one doesn't come here to lose or find oneself. It is a way station between the bars and college, between sobriety and oblivion.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job.

last watched: Zat˘ichi
reading: Skinny Legs and All
listening: Garfunkel and Oates

More Love and Less Paperwork | 2009 | Quantum Entanglement

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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