Thomm Quackenbush, author

Instead of Throwing Heads | 2011 | How the Dragon Got a New Lair

11.13.11

The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.  

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

 


Of Authors and Uncles

Amber, Alyssah, and Xen  
Like this, but with her brother

There are few more anxiety inducing situations for me than meeting for the first time my partner's significant family members. With Kate, it was so bad that I would hide in her basement whenever I came over and would struggle to speak to her parents when they made me dinner (to be fair, they did threaten to have me arrested when Kate ran away from home, which is bound to make anyone a bit skittish). With Emily, I worried I would accidentally become a Holocaust denier when I attended Passover with them (specifically, that I would mean to ask for him to pass the gravy but would accidentally say "the Holocaust was a lie." To her father's credit, he found this fear hilarious). I barely met Melanie's parents, but she assured me that they disapproved of me as a concept, though they were perfectly pleasant and apparently liked me enough as a person (though they may have decided I was not especially bright as I was too shy to blind them with how I am when relaxed). Amber's mother and sister seem to like me and I am certain I rank as much better than any previous beau.

However, I have never before met a family member in the process of reading my first published novel. As if this were not enough to make me want to crawl out of my skin and into a nice tub of Valium - and it is - her uncle asked Amber to remind me that he possesses and is proficient in the use of multiple firearms, in case I should fail to curry his favor.

The weekend preceding this meeting was unexpectedly one of the best Amber and I had yet had. It began, at my mother's behest, with a trip to Chuck E Cheese to entertain and keep control of my nephews Aayrn and Aydan. Amber played with Aydan, our designated nephew once we were full of "pizza", at least as many games as I did hoping our duty would be fulfilled once we had exhausted our supply of token. (Given the surprising goriness of some of the shooting games available to Aydan, I can see why a plastic, printed sign on the front door claims the "restaurant" will press charges against anyone possessing an actual weapon on the premises. An hour of this and I was ready to form a gang and rumble against the chipper animatronics, a situation defused only by the fact that Chuck E Cheese sells both beer and wine. How could a rumble in a place where a giant rat can serve me alcohol?) It was charming to play at being a family unit of three for a few hours, especially when the youngest member was both out of diapers and able to be returned once we wished to resume being childfree. I appreciate a woman who can more than tolerate my mother and brother's sprogs in such a potentially trying situation, no matter how often my mother and I tease that Amber ought to scurry into the overhanging plastic tubing and retrieve one of the boys.

The next morning, we woke early (for Amber) to attend an 11/11/11 11:11:11 ritual at the Dreaming Goddess in Poughkeepsie. The ritual itself was unremarkable - mostly women sitting on the floor humming, visualizing the vortex painted under the carpet, as Rhianna read to us (to the accompaniment of her partner Sue playing the flute) an email a South American shaman had sent her about the questionable import of the occasion - but for the people trying to come in to browse because the store was technically open. These people seemed to think their commerce took precedent and had to be shooed away and locked out.

After the brief ritual - it being contingent on the right thoughts being sent at the precise minute, rather than dwelling on rather more plodding celestial events as is usual - Amber mentioned she was nearly famished and would like to have lunch. I offered her the options within a two block radius of the shop - they are both plentiful and varied owing to the shop's proximity to Vassar College, incorporating every continent not full of either wallabies or penguins - and she shrugged. I forced her to decline tempura, felafel, egg rolls, and pizza until she allowed that she might like sandwiches at a pool hall, maybe. This is as good as her decisions - at least per food - tend to get.

I rambled to her about how I used to patronize this place over ten years ago, how an ex tried to coerce me into trying her clove cigarette back by that table, how a friend snagged someoneís phone from the floor over there and then watched as they called it again and again, how where we sit is exactly where I picture Lane and Franny sitting at the beginning of Franny and Zooey. While I did this, the waitress - overly apologetic and with an accent I could not begin to place - tried to get us to place an order other than water and tea. Having lived in the area so long, I realized that I have built up innumerable and often conflicting attachments to a place I do not think I have visited in six years. Yet, being present with Amber, everything else had sprung to life anew and I felt remiss not to narrate what only I could see around us. She has taken it upon herself to read my journal from the beginning, but there is so much that occurred before it made sense to me to begin explaining my life in writing, so much that I feel that I can only now figure out how to describe properly.

That evening, because I posted that I was yearning, my friend Chris came over and played, at first, Killer Bunnies with us. On my recommendation, he had bought a set, though we play with Amberís so he can get a feel for the game as I know it. Despite his having come to my book signing over the summer and occasionally running into him at the coffeehouse where I tutor, we have not really had occasion to hang out since he came over to my apartment the day Melanie left me. To be honest, I have no firm concept of what occurred that day, though I recall jabbering and repeating myself for however long he was over (possibly many patient hours). I think in a very real way that I was in physical shock that day and am grateful that this did not seem to taint his perception of me, especially given that that day was the first time since high school that we had spent significant time together.

I had set up a small wire mesh table for our use, since it seems at best impolite to have him play on the floor as Amber and I tend to do. He offered us a freezer bag full of fancy chocolate, which neither of us end up eating. I don't remember who wins either of the rounds we play, though he is a far more aggressive player than I am (in most games, as in life, my goal is to minimize personal damage and not make enemies who are inclined to crush me). We then play Munchin and Fluxx, both games of which I have limited experience, but get over my anxiety of unfamiliar games enough to enjoy.

There is something warming about having such a night at home, however geeky it might seem on its surface. I have long reached comfort with my inherent geekiness. I do, after all, privately decode cryptography, research perceptual disorders and historical anomalies, and publish fantasy novels. Geekiness is my lot. But it is not geekiness that made me happy this night, but rather that I have this nook in my life where it is possible to just be with two people I care about without having to consider conflict or being silently apologetic to either. This has not always or recently been a paradigm I allowed myself to welcome into my life.

Which brings us to the meeting with Amber's uncle. I would like to preface by saying that I am aware he should have little against me. Yes, I do hold his niece in the confines of me bed most every weekend, but I have largely honorable intentions. I am not anything so crass as an unemployed musician, just an underemployed novelist. I treat Amber at least as well as she deserves and feel I am helping to aid her in bringing about the best in herself.

I knead requisite details out of Amber after she gets the text saying that her uncle and aunt would like to having dinner with me tonight. Amber is not close with her father - he has not been a part of her immediate family since she was a child - and I am aware that her uncle essentially fulfills this role in her life, despite living in the South when he is not taking agonizingly long road trips to Maine with Amber's mother.

"Is he very religious?"

She shrugs. "He is not. My aunt is Born Again, but I don't think she will have a problem with you."

"And they guns. Tell me about the guns?"

"He has guns. A lot of them. He was in the military."

I contemplate this. "So, would it be safe to assume that he is of a Republican state of mind then?"

"I would not discuss politics if I were you," she airily warns.

"What if he asks me my intentions?" I say in mock panic.

"He won't."

"But if he does?" I prompt.

"I don't know," says Amber. "Say what you like."

"I will tell him that I intend to marry you," I tease.

"Not until 2013!" she retorts.

We meet at her mother's house seconds ahead of them. I shake hands with all and chat with Amber's mother and hope for the best. Her uncle, a man who seems ideally suited to the role of a gruff but approachable father figure, mentions that my book could have used more editing than it ended up getting. While I agree (the first run of it had a typo five words in on the back cover that made me cringe), it still makes me feel tense. He allows that it has a good story and is keen to read the sequels Amber has informed him I have written/am writing, but all I can hear is that it has noticeable errors. We enter the house and he makes a direct reference to my book that I find so startling that I believe I stammer for a moment and look a bit like a deer in the headlights until Amber rescues me.

He flips through a bound manuscript of my novel Artificial Gods, which is decidedly rough as I was using Amber as one of my two beta readers. He begins to read a bit and notes that it mentions a character who obviously survives the first book, then offers to read the whole thing and offer his critiques, if I would like. I do not believe there is a polite way of saying, "I respect you entirely and I am certain you would have much insight, but I may have to dig beyond the Earth's crust, shave my hair, and live as a mole person if you continue to read my books in front of me, sir," so I make ambivalent sounds.

We eat at a local brew pub, which presents an immediate issue. The acoustics are such that it is a challenge to hear what it being said across the table. As if this were not inconvenient enough in a situation were I am expected to answer questions from near strangers, her uncle is slightly hard of hearing. As such, I volley back wrong or at least imprecise answers to what seemed to him to be direct questions, thankfully almost entirely what genres I read rather than how I occupy his niece's time.

Despite all this, I get the feeling that he roughly approves of me, as much as said approval is necessary. When we return to the house to watch a show together, he proceeds to continue reading We Shadows as I sit five feet away, my fingernails making red crescents on the bottom of my palm as I resist burrowing into the dirt and discovering my mole person destiny.

Soon in Xenology: A job!

last watched: Torchwood
reading: Hunter of Shadows
listening: Stone Temple Pilots

Instead of Throwing Heads | 2011 | How the Dragon Got a Job

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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