Thomm Quackenbush, author

Ludwig Montesa | 2013 | Success in the Arts

05.06.13

"Why did you do all this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you."
"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing."  

-E.B. White

 


Holly and Dan

We met Holly and Dan at a sushi restaurant. I had been corresponding with Holly for a few weeks online, where she found me on the dating site I still use to passively acquire new friends. She wrote to me first, which was nearly unprecedented until recently. In the prior month, two other people had contacted me and then vanished after a few messages, this after well over a year of apparent silence on the site. I felt I was justified in being slightly guarded, particularly that I couldn't be absolutely certain that these were not three faces of the same person playing a curious game. (This is not so much wild paranoia as a hypothesis based on prior experience.)

I believe it was Holly's art site that convinced me it was nigh about time we met. It was too smooth, too lovely to be false. The art was skillful, the sort I would want hanging from my walls or decorating what would immediately become my favorite t-shirt, especially as it touched upon our mutual geeky love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Also, the web address contained her name, which would have been a very nice touch were this an elaborate ruse to steal my liver. For this touch alone, she would have earned any filter organs she yanked from my split torso.

Despite her lovely art, I might have hesitated a bit longer, but she stated from the beginning that she was happily in a relationship. In all this, I want to make clear that she was never less that witty, affable, and sweet. All this suspicion was on my side, from having reacted with horror at people who introduced themselves and then, once it seemed I began to drop my guard, asked how I felt about polyamory and/or Jesus and/or drag queening (which is to say, it's fine if you enjoy these things - alone or in combination - but it is likely a safe assumption that I do not wish them to be the reason you are contacting me). The fact that she was happily partnered implied she was a degree safer.

Dinner was pleasant, though I remained on my guard. To me, it felt as though I released strange, multicolored homunculi onto the table, one by one, each tentatively representing some aspect of myself I have found to be an acquired taste that has repulsed other people. Buffyverse scampered a bit and Holly would nod, as she had her own twin homunculus practicing gymkata beneath the table. Weird Sense of Humor covered himself in wasabi and ran screaming around the edges of the table before soothing his agony in some soy sauce, which produced enough chuckles that he felt he was not completely stupid for this gambit. Bad Movies fell off the table after failing to amuse immediately, but no one seemed bothered by his tumble. Academic Interest in the Paranormal peeked his head out, but couldn't be coaxed from his cage. Obsessive Writing eloquently introduced himself with much bowing and then went back to scribbling down everything that he imagined people thought of him. By dint of the fact that Holly and Dan failed to fail any of these cloaked tests, it could be inferred they passed.

Dan, about whom I knew little more than that he existed, seemed the more outgoing of the pair, which surprised me. Holly had been the face of this couple and had been the one to contact me, so I imagined her partner would be a bit demur. Coming into this, I knew a bit about Holly: she is a painter and clothing designer, she teaches art at a high school, she has sufficient geek cred by virtue of having painting my favorite representation of Spike and Drusilla. She is taller than I imagined based on her pictures, but I hadn't formed much of a mental picture of her despite having seen pictures of her. Dan seems boisterous, but genuinely interested in what other people are saying, not simply waiting for his turn to shine again as I have found with similarly outgoing people. He was dark hair peppered with light strands but a young face, making him indeterminately aged (I discover later that he is roughly my age and that Holly is the older of the pair).

I am not myself with them for the first half hour, but rather the version of myself I wear for mixed company (at least while releasing figurative homunculi). I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were, for them to be disconcerting or unpleasant. The longer they remain interesting, the more palpable the tension becomes that they might not be and all of my increasingly pleasant feelings will be wasted once they mention that they are in the Klan, descendants of Thomas Midgley Jr., or regularly slaughter puppies for an evening's entertainment.

The evening ends without incident. "Well," I say to Amber as we enter the car, "they are clearly serial killers and we can never speak to them again."

We see them a week later, as both Dan and Holly had mentioned a movie night they hold every week and it seemed a good testing ground. If there are meat hooks dangling from the ceiling, scattered and smashed human skeletons, and vicious attack dogs everywhere, I would have my answer. Instead, they are almost too perfect. They live in a converted photographer's studio set back on a dirt road, surrounded by yard and trees. Dan works with computers and it shows as there is an entirely section of their bedroom devoted to multiple screens and his ergonomic keyboard. The screen on which the movies are shown is connected to a projector and wireless keyboard. Above the staircase to their second floor bedroom is a fiber optic ball at least three feet in diameter. I begin noting aspects of their home as though they are fictional. What do high ceilings and a bowl of Peanut M&Ms say about them as characters? They both help with this, unwittingly, by showing me all their wonderful toys.

In giving us the tour, Holly leads us to the guest room and Holly jokes that we are welcome to move in. It does not appear to be a murder den, but it is likely in the best interest of serial killers to keep these subtle.

Amber and I melt into the couch sized beanbag chair with fuzzy pillows and happily answer Sporcle trivia question read to us by Dan, who moonlights as an MC for bar quiz nights and seems a natural for this.

From then on, movie night (or Noctilucent Cinema Club, as it comes to be intentionally pretentiously known) with Holly and Dan becomes one of the parts of the week I most look forward to. The themes Dan picks tend not to be straightforward, such as bizarre time travel movies (The Butterfly Effect and Run, Lola, Run) or the works of Kevin Peter Hall (Predator and Harry and the Hendersons), but that only adds to the fun of it, particularly since I enjoy terrible movies and so am happy no matter the quality of the night's fare. (It is also never slaughtered puppies, so that helps.) Their occasional friends who show up seem to be good people, the sort central casting would hire specifically to attend a movie night, cutely edgy and just urbane enough that they remain approachable.

When I miss a movie night, owing to Amber's busyness in preparing for the Pine Bush UFO Fair and my feeling under the weather, I am antsy for a week. Several time, Amber and I are the only two that show up (and occasionally stay far too late given that Holly is a teacher and it due at work in under seven hours), which gives us a chance to have long talks after we run out of movies. We see vacation photos and the evolution of their couple costumes each Halloween (Leeloo and Dallas, Audrey and Seymour), more artifacts for me to piece together.

I admit, part of my delight in them is that they constitute that rare species called "couple friends". I could have a dozen close friends (in theory, but I don't think I ever would, since I am a bit too fond of being left alone), but friends who are a stable couple provide for fellow couples a quality and perspective that would otherwise be lacking were we to have friendships solely with the single. (Amber and I like them enough, both individually and as a unit, that I am going to refrain from addressing them either as Dolly or Han.) I've had this rarely in my life (Kei and Dan are the most notable examples, and I loved Kei long before Dan came into the picture) and it still takes some getting used to.

Also, I am stuck on this concept of the transactional nature of friendships, which is a rather sterile and cynical way of considering things. I cannot figure out what I contribute to their lives that was worth seeking me out initially. I see very clearly what they contribute to my life - a weekly social outlet; the fact that they make Chinese food, Thai tea, and calzones for refreshments; good conversation about topics to which I can interject; a large screen on which I can make Amber play an emulated version of Bubble Bobble - but I am a bit fuzzier on the topic of why I am the recipient of these things. I'm not averse, of course. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, really. It just seems like karmic largess which I may not have earned. Granted, I don't remotely pick my friends by what they can do for me nor have I met a single worthwhile person who did, but there remains a niggling worry that can only be sated by more movie nights.

Soon in Xenology: BAMCon

last watched: The Illusionist
reading: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
listening: Evelyn Evelyn

Ludwig Montesa | 2013 | Success in the Arts

Thomm Quackenbush is the author of the Night's Dream series - We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods - published by Double Dragon Publishing. He has previously written for Cave Drawing Ink, Broken City Magazine, Paragon Press, and The Journal of Cartoon Overanalyzations. He likes when you comment.