Thomm Quackenbush, author

Suicidal Tendencies | 2017 | Immemorial Day

06.01.17

I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there's a pattern to my life, and if there's a pattern, then maybe I'm moving toward some kind of destiny where it's all explained.  

-Jonathan Ames



Trash Buddy

We were digging through the donation bins at Bard on Wednesday, May 24th, around 7. We found you on the far edge of Bard, near the Manor building. I was climbing to peek in the dumpster for things that ought to have been donated. I wore a t-shirt with a skull on it and black pants ill-suited to the task (I am certain of this last article because I tore them and was irritated that I had not changed into jeans after work). You were on the other side, opening fortune cookies, reading the fortunes, and tossing the cookies back into the dumpster, because you don't eat the cookies. You read one about finding a new friend, which I thought was a fun coincidence. My wife asked who I was talking to – she may have assumed I was just muttering to myself jovially over a great bit of refuse – and I immediately called you my Trash Buddy. Trying to get a new angle on the bin, I found what I labeled a "grenade full of honey" and showed you. It was unpleasantly sticky and I regretted immediately picking it up. 
We four – my wife, our friend Madeline, you, and I – were destined to be a fine team of scroungers until some security guard who had the air of "I'm getting too old for this shit" threatened to call the cops because we were trespassing. But we were not trespassing. I bet he just wanted to keep all the best cast-offs to himself. Then he tried to play good campus security guard by telling us that the other guards would have immediately had us arrested, implying that he was the cool dad. I was not fooled. I suspect you weren't either. 
We walked only a little way under his baleful gaze, then you took a fork in the path so you could maybe hit up a few more bins before leaving. This was the right move, as he literally drove his car ten feet so he could tell at the three of us to get out before he had us arrested. He didn’t notice you had snuck away.
Anyway, you seem a good sort. I don't expect you'll read this – I myself do not read Craigslist Missed Connections, but it seemed slightly better than shouting into the night – but the worst case is that I amuse some wanderers on Craigslist. I suppose, to prove you are yourself and not another, you should roughly describe what you look like? I don't really know the etiquette. Oh! When Security Guard asked us who we were, what did my wife (the short brunette, not the other woman) answer? 
This is definitely not intended as a sex or romance thing. There are just other donation bins at expensive private colleges in this world that need rooting through. Safety in numbers and all that. You can be our lookout guy for a quarter of the take.

I do not expect a response. That was not my primary goal. For a week, no response comes. Then a woman emails me that she is also the sort of pick over what Bard students leave behind. The man I described sounds like her friend. I give what physical description I can recall. She affirms that this is her friend and she will suggest he write to me.

Again, I don’t expect too much from this. I google the woman’s name and see that she is a twenty-three-year-old artist. Does that mean that he is likewise in his early twenties? That would be unfortunate, though I remember him with some gray in his hair and expect this means he is closer to my age. Or, given that she is an artist, has she tricked me as a part of her newest piece?

No, that doesn’t scan. She is not a performance artist.

A few days later, he sends a quick email and I reply in kind. Then, he sends one line, his phone number and two video games he likes.

I do not contact him for days and consider not doing it at all. I do not like calling people or talking on the phone. I exhausted that in my teen years or when technology allowed me to have significant conversations without opening my mouth. I do not play many video games – I have too much guilt to let myself relax long enough to get into them, though I apparently have no such issue about reading a dozen articles a day on the internet. I am not sure we have enough in common to perpetuate contact.

I finally decide that I am being petty and maybe he is perfectly fine. I text him – which involves his phone number but not speaking – and, once I affirm that he has unlimited texts, we have a few conversations. Some curiosities appear, such as that he hasn’t had social media since 2012 and that he doesn’t have internet in his home, seeing it as a needless expense for something he would only use fifteen hours a month. On the former count, I approve entirely, though I still make plans on social media and need it for my professional identity. The latter count is confusing to me, since I consider the internet an outlet into the world. Then again, we work at different financial strata at present. He is in construction and maintenance. I teach for the state and am thus able to consider internet access a utility, not a luxury. He also only has a flip phone, mistrusting smartphones and no doubt not wanting to spring for a data package. He says he is slow to text because he has T9, a term which I have to look up. Once I understand that he is just tapping multiple times on the number pad, I ask him for less expansive answers.

He makes art of cast-off things, which I feel almost goes without saying considering all that went before. He is curious, but I like curious things. Yet I am apprehensive of a next step, which would be inviting him to a social event I had not planned that does not occur at either of our residences, which is tricky given that he doesn’t have social media. (As a point of modern etiquette, it goes from that to a social occasion I did plan, but at a neutral location, such as to the movies or a public meeting. Then, dinner at a restaurant. Then, coming over to my apartment. Then, hiking. Then, regular hanging out. Then, road trips.)

I feel the need for friends, but I am hesitant to decide he is one in absence of my excuses for gradual acclimatization via the internet.

I’m not lonely. It’s hard to be truly lonely when one has a doting wife. I do feel that I need at least one male friend. When I was a teenager, almost all my friends were girls. Most men do not seem to be looking for closeness, or that they find it in ways I don’t process. They get it from getting emotionally invested in sports, but they don’t really talk because talking is gay.

For someone who is describes himself as more introverted than not – despite the fact that I teach and conduct panels in front of packed rooms – I am gregarious. When put in the right situation, I make friends, but I tend not to be in the right situation or they aren’t the right friends. The paradigm has to be just so for friendship to catalyze.

I want people in my vicinity whom I can stand to be around. Sometimes, people are near me and I want to be anywhere else. There is nothing specifically wrong with them, but likewise there isn’t something especially right. I might be able to admire them, but I wouldn’t want them in my messy home. I can talk with them, but we cannot be quiet in the other’s company. If I could type on my computer or scribble in my notebook while other people chatted a table away, occasionally engaging and interacting, that would be the ideal arrangement, though most people find that rude. I hate feeling as though I have to keep people entertained and have liked the moments where I am just around someone without the pressure of having to do anything specific.

I wonder, too, if most people are lonely. People project this onto their spouses and wonder why the relationship is strained. Vonnegut talked a good game about how the problem of most romantic relationships is that “you are not enough people.” >Amber, for her multifarious virtues, just isn’t going to be a proper male friend, for instance. I have friends with whom only a select sort of activity is ever done. I enjoy the hilarious awkwardness of well-intentioned bad movies, but many people cannot stand them and look askance at my fondness. I don’t know too many who would delight at investigating a supposedly haunted house or sitting in a field for hours looking for UFOs, but these activities speak to something in me. Sitting in a diner or café, almost silently working on individual projects can sound like Heaven to me and is a pointless waste to many. I would love to share these, but I cannot with everyone nor would I expect to. For all my feeling I have few to no close friends now, I know hundreds of people. But, of course, knowing them and feeling known by them are very different things. If anything, it makes it feel lonelier, because I can look at a vast ocean of people (or my Facebook friends list) and think “None of them are quite right.” It was acceptable to have a dozen people near me who didn’t understand me beneath hair dye and copious jewelry when I was a teenager, but it is junk food now. I want to be nourished in the company of another. I would rather get my calories from one meal that is delicious and filling then pounds of unsatisfying snacks.

There are broken people looking for someone to patch them up or smooth them out. For my attempts to discover new people, I am unnerved when I feel someone is too desperate, too eager to make something more of my acquaintance. I hope I have never come off in this fashion because I see myself as self-possessed and confident. I am not yet starved for companionate, platonic love. I am capable of discovering it in the wild.

Those I find most unsettling are marked by prior traumas that have twisted what might otherwise have been a sure gait through the world. If you try to save a drowning person, they are liable to take you to your watery grave. They push you below the surface to try to get one final breath. I doggy paddle well and stick to the shallows. On dry land, I will keep a victim alive, when it is no threat to my own breathing, but I cannot be trusted to rescue a stranger who continually dives into the deep end without her swimmies on in hopes of future CPR. It is technically human contact, if contact cheated out of the rescuer. I’ve swallowed brine on my way to my own shores, so I don’t respect those who drink it as a trap, so I will pump it out of them.

I will chat with a friendly stranger as we paw through a dumpster. I will post a Missed Connection, expecting nothing. I will maintain misunderstood profiles on social networks. But I won’t gamble my life to someone who just wants someone, but not me. I am not a fungible commodity, nor are they. There are no perfect people, perfect friends, so I won’t allow myself to avoid potential, but I also won’t push my breath into professional drowning victims.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Age.

last watched: Mystery Science Theater 3000: I Accuse My Parents
reading: Norse Mythology
listening: Temple of the Dog

Suicidal Tendencies | 2017 | Immemorial Day

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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