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Hades and Persephone | 2013 | Artificial Gods and Real Authors


The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.  

-Muhammad Ali


New Year's 2013

I make this look good

We meet Daniel for sushi, which is as good a beginning to a story about New Year's Eve as I can think. Though the stated plan for the evening is to wander about the events at the Stockage District in Kingston, he is confident that it will be so full as to be off-limits.

He told me an hour earlier that he would be bringing a guest of the female persuasion, which made me break out into an improvised dance over the phone. Daniel has a curious knack for attracting the interest of the woman who serve him coffee or food, though he is disinclined to ever take those relationships beyond that of server and customer. Relationships end, after all, and he likes where he gets coffee enough to not want to avoid these places simply because he has ceased to have sex with someone. (Of course, there is no indication his guest registers as a romantic prospect, but it is more fun for me to pretend she may.)

Even as I am pulling up to the restaurant, I sense that this will be a holy night, one that I remember for a long time after.

The guest is shorter than Amber and wears thick-rimmed glasses. I have been in the coffee shop where they met and I do not recall her, but that does not mean much. I wonder if she is meant to be Daniel's type and, if so, what his type constitutes.

Over our meals, Daniel and I veer into a conversation of the sociology of pornography. "Not, of course, that I have ever seen pornography," I add.

"No, of course not," says Daniel.

I mention Stoya, a porn star whose blog I occasionally read by virtue that Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer link to it. The latest one involves her objection to having to curtail her escapades on camera because the credit card companies through which her websites get payment have lists of things that she cannot say or do, even if these are acts she adores off camera. There must be incessant explanation that everyone in the scene is enjoying him or herself, or it must be stated in nearly flashing letters that the scene is a consensual act between adults. There can be no mention that any organ below her belt serves a function other than sexual (she finds it particularly obnoxious that credit card companies are averse to her menses, as it smacks to her of shaming her for being fertile). "What gets me, though, is when she mentions all the preparations she must undertake behind the scenes. There was mention of a cold water enema that clears her out but only for a matter of minutes before the scene is either cut for the time being or scrapped entirely for, in essence, being German fetish porn. It is information I don't want in my head when combined with Stoya, a woman who is just too ethereally pretty for porn."

"I would say she is too smart," says Daniel.
She makes bloody everything look good

His guest doesn't say much of anything.

An elderly man at the table beside us mentions that he wants to venture into self-publishing and I bristle, wondering aloud to Amber if I ought to give him my card and a quick admonishment against it.

Daniel then mentions to his guest that I write and Amber makes things. He asks how I would define my stories to the guest.

"Well, have you ever read Neil Gaiman?" I ask, but she hasn't really and I am not sure how to approach a point of comparison then.

Daniel makes an obvious aside to his guest given my hedging. "He's actually very good."

"Neil Gaiman?" I interject because praise makes me awkward. "Yes, he is a fine writer."

After dinner, we park in our usual lot in Kingston, which I felt certain would be packed and inaccessible. This does not bode well, as nine-tenths of the fun of this evening will be other people.

Wall Street is barricaded off. On the far end, men are busily wiring up a five foot disc of the Earth surrounded by hundred watt bulbs and tiny versions of the sun and moon. They pass beer bottles between them because it is still New Year's Eve, even if they have to work, and it would be a shame to meet midnight sober.

We run into a man in a long topcoat and a sparkly pink cravat, who reappears often throughout the night. Daniel says that he own one of the storefronts in the area, though he does not use it for commerce (there are signs in front warning people away from using any of the doors, in fact). He is followed by a young man with a high quality video camera, who gives me apologetic smiles each time. Whenever we see him, he is interviewing people - usually underage people - but it does not seem as though this footage will see public airing. Daniel suggests, as if the pink cravat were not circumstantial evidence enough, that the word on the street is that he is given to hiring very young men to work for him in uncomfortable situations.

Daniel, Amber, and I settle into BSP Lounge well before they start charging a cover. His guest finds us soon after. Many people are dressed in 1913 style clothing, as was the intended theme. Amber wears the same blue, prom-style dress she wore last New Year's Eve, supplemented with black stockings, under the auspices that classy dresses have always been in style. I wear a purple shirt, black slacks, and a black jacket with a priest collar (which Daniel says he covets, meaning at least that I am well dressed), reasoning that I do not give a damn what people wore in 1913 and that they would likely dress as such if they had the means. Daniel, as always, is dressed in formal black with a swirling gray tie and so he cannot be judged as even having been aware of the theme. His guest is dressed, but certainly made no effort toward acknowledging or rebelling against 1913. The people surrounding us, however, are dressed as though they are time travelers with wardrobes for every era, the women in dresses with bustles, the men in suits and spats, their mustaches waxed. There are those hipsters with ironic facial hair glued on, but they are the minority.

I offer to buy Amber a drink and she opts for an absinthe. As I've only read of the drink and its pseudo-mystical intoxication, I am interested enough to shell out the $7 to observe it in close quarters. When the bartender only pours pale green liquor over ice, I all but sneer. Delivering this cup to Amber, she echoes my instinct. She takes a sip and then asks how it was prepared.
If this was not a component of your New Year's Eve, I win.

"No, he's supposed to put some water on the bottom and then pour it over a sugar cube."

"I don't think he is up for such showmanship."

She sips it. "This is terrible. Want some?"

I can smell it from where I'm sitting. "Absolutely not. That is licorice, which should never be ingested."

I explore the rest of the club to get a feel for where the promised burlesque will be taking place. Before us, on the stage that months ago hosted amateurs in the art of clever stripping, is a screen on which is projected a Fatty Arbuckle movie streamed from A friend of Daniel's guest, whom she discovered quite accidentally and then glommed onto, intones that Fatty Arbuckle crushed a woman to death during sex. I say that I heard that was an urban legend, as Arbuckle is not larger than the late John Candy, himself not known for negligent homicide. The air is dense with a mélange of period music, mostly ragtime and early jazz, coming out of the DJ's iPod. I wander to the back room, decorated in antiques. A photographer takes pictures of people, providing props where necessary, though I am wary of him.

I ask the coat check clerk, a diminutive and comely woman with black hair and precise bangs, if the burlesque will be taking place on the gray and black wooden stage that cannot be more than four feet square, surrounded by only a couch and a few antique chairs which are likely no longer meant to seat people. She affirms that it is.

"Ah, I thought maybe it was down those stairs."

"No," she says. "That's the dressing room. If you go toward it, I'll have to knock you out."

"I wouldn't want that!"

"No, you wouldn't. I am stronger than I look." She gives me a cute growl.

"Oh, I bet you are."

She smirks. "I'm not sure if I ought to be insulted."

"I wasn't going for an insult. You are tiny, but fierce like a..." I bite my lip. "Sorry, all I'm coming up with is an ant, since they can lift fifty times their weight, and that's not really a compliment, is it?"

She gives an indulgent shake of the head. "Not exactly. You don't go up to a woman and say, 'You are quite the ant.'"

"True. Okay, then you are a queen bee," I announce, then wince. "Actually, no. I don't think they are particularly strong. They just pop out kids to serve them and wow, I am no good at this!"

She giggles and I think there is a moment where I am supposed to say more, where she would not be precisely against continuing with this banter over drinks, but I just smile and tell her I had better get back to my friends.

Approaching them, I say, "So, I just shamelessly flirted with the coat check girl."

Amber rolls her eyes. "I just cannot leave you alone for a minute, can I?"

"Apparently not. It was quite accidental." I sit and give her a kiss on the cheek in penance, smelling the licorice of her lips.

Daniel's guests decide that her feet will be too cold to bear, so she excuses herself to run home and get wool socks, leaving us with her friend, his curling blond hair and beard pouring out of his hoodie like a lion's mane. This friend does not seem bothered by the fact that we were strangers to him only minutes ago and contentedly finishes off the beer she left behind and chats amiable. When the beer is finished, he soon after wanders away.

As Amber and I stand to squeeze into the backroom in preparation for the burlesque. Daniel says this is about the most awkward time to leave, but he is done for the night. I am pleased to have kept him out of his apartment even this long.

We squeeze into the back of the club, now filled with all the fancily dressed folks we had been ignoring. I feel without justification that they should clear out of my way. Amber and I obviously deserve comfortable seats (or the space to sit) during the burlesque far more than they can. For some reason, none of them seem to agree.

The MC, a vivacious and tall woman named Jess, instructs us on the basics of cheering, prompting by lifting the hem of her skirt, "Now, if the ladies show a little leg, what are you going to do?"

The crowd gives a half-hearted cheer.
"If you cannot appreciate a titty shake, I am not letting them come out!"

"They aren't going to come out for that! Do better!" She shows off her calf again and they understand. She repeats this for her shoulders and then shimmies. She doesn't seem sure of our interest, but she summons forth the first dancer anyway.

It is difficult to translate the experience of watching talented burlesque dancers. Yes, they were both lovely and made good use of their limited stage space, but it is hardly sufficient to talk of the seductive flutter of a peacock feather fan when one could have seen it. Amber and I cheer loudly enough that people around us give us dirty looks before joining in themselves. Burlesque is not meant to be silent.

Through the ebb and flow of the subsequent four shows, Amber and I manage to obtain seats on the only couch, which we refuse to relinquish, even when a middle age and likely drunk man on the other end of the sofa starts trying to put his arm around me from two people away, weakly apologizing that his hand does what it wants.

Around midnight, after having seen four of the burlesque shows, Jess announces that the ball is soon to drop on Wall Street. As we are clearing out, Jess compliments Amber and me on how enthusiastic we were. "You were amazing!"

"No, you were." I reach into my pocket for one of my cards, because a funny burlesque MC is the sort of woman I want to have as a friend. (I later find out that she has been instrumental in organizing all of this New Year's Eve in Kingston.) She is already melting into the crowd, but her friend sees the card.

"Want me to give this to Jess?"

"Would you?"

She snatches it and darts after Jess. I shrug to Amber. In a moment, Jess reappears, a huge grin on her face, with a hand out. I, in my immense suavity, shake it rather than correctly assuming that she wants the card I just gave to her friend.
Available for weddings and bar mitzvahs!

The street is filled with people. I gather that most are well beyond drunk as they merrily greet everything around them - Amber, me, pink cravat alleged pedophile, a light pole, snow - with a slurred "Happy New Year!"

It is not quite like meeting the new year at Time Square, but watching a ball descend on midnight, outdoors in the cold, surrounded by sauced merrymakers is not a bad way of doing it.

After the ball drop, we dash through the crowds to get to Duo. I want the first thing I eat of 2013 to be delicious. On the street, there is a fire truck and an ambulance facing one another. While I was prepared for the possibility that we would be unable to get seats, I did not think it would be because Duo caught fire.

We clear the door as medics bring a woman out on a stretcher. We wait a moment, startled and not sure of the etiquette of obtaining breakfast when someone is having one of the worst beginnings of the new year that I can envision. A waitress pops her head out of the door and says that they will be opened in half an hour.

We take a walk about the street, but there is no place warm for us to stand. The crowd has dissipated such that they are no longer turning the street into a furnace of body heat. BSP is so packed they are turning people away. As we leave, we see Daniel's erstwhile guest with the lion-maned fellow. She seems anxious as she asks, "You're still here?"

"Yes, we watched the burlesque, then the ball drop, now we are off to breakfast." I think she stopped listening before I started speaking, though.

When we return, there is a cadre of older people waiting ahead of us. I count them and figure that there will still be room inside. A man in his seventies grumbles to his companions, "It's bullshit. They don't need extra time some woman had a stroke! How does that increase their prep time?"

I am willing to wait patiently for French toast.

Amber and I are soon seated in Duo, eating our breakfasts, stealing large bites from one another's plates. At the table to my left, a middle age, self-proclaimed sex expert lectures an overgrown frat boy that the best way to figure out what the "Jewish Puerto Rican bitch" (his words) wants in propositioning him is to ask her. This seems a fine setting for Amber and me to enumerate our resolutions.

Mine begins with sleeping more. I go too long too often without enough sleep. I prioritize exercising and writing, preparing for work, reading a bit more above sleep and it drives me crazy in a very literal way. "Naps are not a sign of physical slovenliness," I proclaim, "they are a sign that I am listening to my body. It will reward me with stable emotions, hormones that stay in check, social finesse, continued cleverness, and the ability to write prose that does not make me wish to gag." This small break from work and its requisite 6:30 alarms has reminded me who I truly am and that I need to preserve and care for myself. Without sufficient sleep, I find myself in an irritable daze, not quite myself and given to snappishness. I eat and drink to ameliorate my deprivation, but only make it worse with caffeine and sugar.

Taking a mouthful of French toast, strawberries, sour pears, and whipped cream, I continue, "And I am going to make sure that calories count. If I have to spend extra time working out, it is going to be because of something that was delicious, not a snack food I barely remember." I have already compiled a list of foods that I refuse to have in the apartment purely because I want to eat them constantly despite their nutritional paucity (Chex Mix, Riceworks chips, cake, brownies). Eating should be an act of physical necessity or emotional joy, not something to alleviate boredom. Thus, for all the calories implicit, midnight breakfast at Duo is acceptable as it is amazing and I am delighted to include this in the evening. This change will not be one that curbs my happiness, but that insists upon mindful eating.

"But you are pretty good with most of the things other people resolve," says Amber. "You work out, you write. You don't drink or smoke. You're already pretty sexy." She looked down at her dress. "I think this dress will be a part of my New Year's resolutions. If I ever can't fit in it, it is time for a diet."

"I like working out. It's a habit. And I love writing. I don't think I need to resolve anything about that. Maybe to take more notes even if it is an odd time to do so. I think I can get away with that by now."

All week leading up to tonight, Amber had been reviewing her resolutions from last year to prepare new ones. She succeeded at some without trying ("Love Thomm even more" for instance). Others were done halfway, generally in how much she intended to sell. Her resolutions for this year are thus not new, though they are more exhaustive than mine. She wants to push herself from her social anxiety even more, she wants to further legitimize her business and art, she wants to love me even more.

Driving home that night, I feel like I am have crested a mountain peak. I can see how far I've come, all the scrabbling I had to do to keep from tumbling, all those times I was sure I would never make it, when I carried too much for too many who only held me back. And I can focus on what it in front of me, a dawning world of violescent promise.

Soon in Xenology: The Discontinuity. The Ship of Theseus.

last watched: FLCL
reading: How to Write Scary Scenes
listening: Julie London

Hades and Persephone | 2013 | Artificial Gods and Real Authors

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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